After 3 years of downhill riding and racing experience on a 2012 Specialized Demo 8 (Large) across the US and Canada – I decided it would be a good year to upgrade to a new and different bike, test the benefits of 27.5" wheels for DH, and get in sync with a bike manufacturer that represents qualities we respect at DoubleBlackBikes. It dawned on me after reading a Vital MTB article on the Canfield Brothers Direct-to-Consumer Approach that these guys represent a similar set of values we have here, so I’ve made the leap to a 2016 Canfield Jedi (Large) for this year and had a chance for a first ride last week. Here are my first impressions:
Comparing the bikes - there are numerous differences in design and specification. The most noteworthy are a slacker head tube angle, Canfield’s F1 Rear Suspension, and 27.5” wheels. But I did keep some things the same: a Cane Creek Double Barrel with a base tune, Manitou Dorado forks, and the Shimano Zee brakes. Keeping both the changes and what remained constant in mind – I set out to gather some observations during a day of riding at Bailey Mountain Bike Park near Asheville, NC. This is a place I’ve ridden numerous times on my Demo, and I was interested to see how the Jedi felt out on the mountain. I was optimistic I could evaluate and compare the rides, being as objective as possible about how the frame design was changing my ride vs. how the larger wheels were changing the ride. This wasn’t my first time on 27.5’s. I have ridden 27.5 DH bikes from bike park rental fleets – and I had some prior impressions on the value the larger wheel brings to the table.
The trails at Bailey Mountain range from fast and flowy, to steep and technical, to tight and twisty. Almost all of them require significant braking at times and fairly dynamic riding to keep speed in check for switchbacks and tight turns. Based on what I understood of the Jedi design, and other reviews - I was looking forward to the steep and technical, and a bit apprehensive about whether or not I would be happy with how it handled the jumps and tight berms.
I started the day conservatively on one of the blue flow trails called Banshee to get a feel for things and validate that my build-work was solid. The Jedi was tight and confidence inspiring. Right from the start I was reminded how much better the 27.5” wheels handle the braking bumps that are typical on intermediate flow trails. I did my best to capture that observation early on, in hopes of isolating it from other changes I would feel that could be attributed to the Jedi’s design. Banshee is a trail with relatively small table-top jumps, medium to tight berms an some other flow features. From experience, I know that my fore/aft body position is not always ideal in tight berms, and in my experience on the Demo 8 I was occasionally shifted off balance to the rear when accelerating out of tight turns. On the Jedi, I was expecting to feel the awkward behavior that other reviewers have described in tight turns. I'll explain: conceptually, because the Jedi’s wheelbase does not shorten when the suspension is compressed to mid-stroke in turns you won’t get the advantage you experience on most other bikes where the wheelbase shortens a bit under similar compression. Some reviewers have mentioned this takes a bit getting used to. Here is how Canfield Brothers describes the suspension movement and benefits:
Combining 9 inches of vertical travel with 3 inches of rearward, the Formula 1 Suspension shrugs off square-edged impacts that slow down other designs. This is achieved as the rear wheel moves up AND back out of the way of impacts, versus packing up into trail obstacles as with more traditional designs. Riders have described the Jedi as “hovering” in rough terrain. Not only does the bike simply glance off impacts and keep accelerating, but the rearward axle path is more in line with the front wheel’s axle path along the plane of fork travel, maintaining a more consistent and stable wheelbase under compression, versus more traditional designs that actually result in the wheelbase shrinking under compression leading to decreased stability when you need it most. To further keep the rider in control, the idler pulley isolates pedaling forces and negates any braking or suspension feedback.
The Jedi was definitely different than my Demo in turns, but it didn’t feel awkward to me, nor did I experience the same mistake I would occasionally make on the Demo. My conclusion is that a relatively constant wheelbase in turns may actually be better suited for my riding style and ability. I look forward to negotiating the long, sweeping, off camber turns out at Snowshoe and Beech Mountain to see how the Jedi handles wide-open, high speed turns.
I’ll admit that jumping is not my strongest skill – but I do enjoy trails like Dirt Merchant (Whistler) and Powerline (Snowshoe), and I don’t shy away from jump features on the Cat 1 race tracks in the region I compete in. So how the Jedi jumps is important to me – it’s a fun part of downhill, and I enjoy it when there are well built jumps and drops to hit. It’s no secret that the Jedi is one of the heavier downhill frames available these days, but being realistic – that’s not really an issue for me in the air. At 45 years old I’m not in need of a light bike I can flick around. What I need is a bike that is composed coming off the lip of a jump, predictable in the air, and a smooth as possible for landings. After a few runs down their jump trails I had the confidence to start sending things. On 'Day 1' of riding this bike, I had the courage to take on a steep, blind, table top jump the builders threw right in the middle of the DH race track. I had never attempted this before. I also hit the Olde Gregg step down show here without a lead, and with only a few prior attempts to help recall the proper speed. The Jedi is the smoothest landing bike I have ever ridden – and that’s important for a guy like me that occasionally cases the bigger jumps on the mountain. One more thing to mention in this portion of the review: the Jedi pedals very well. I found this bike a much more stable pedaling bike than my Demo, and for some reason it was just easier to get on the pedals between jumps.
Tackle The Technical
After having tested the Jedi on trail conditions where it has been criticized by some – now it was time to venture on to Jumanji and Olde Gregg and ride conditions the Jedi was built to excel in. Jumani is a proper DH trail that has recently been used for Race #3 of the Downhill Southeast 2016 Series. It is steep and rough, with technical off-camber, root infested switch backs. There are loose rocks, man-made jumps and berms, high speed step downs and wide open rocky sections with turns. Admittedly this is perhaps my favorite trail on this side of North America. With a few hours on the Jedi under my belt, I was confident my initial setup was good enough to push things a bit. Dropping in I carried solid speed and was able to get a good impression of how the Jedi would handle the rough stuff. The bike distinguishes itself here – even from a bike the the Demo 8 which is known to remain fairly active (suspension) even when braking. The Jedi just smooths things out better – even the braking is less ‘choppy’. In my experience with other bikes, once the rear brakes are 'on' things stiffen up a bit and each rock or root you strike results in jarring motions and inconsistent braking. Not so on the Jedi.
The next most notable observation was just how fast the Jedi picked up speed when coming off the brakes after a turn or other braking zone. Granted, I can’t distinguish how much of that should be attributed to the 27.5” wheels, but it was a really impressive change from my Demo all things considered. Frankly, with less than one day of experience on the bike it was a bit intimidating how fast this thing was. I gathered observations throughout the day of this rapid acceleration and controlled, smooth braking in rough conditions. I’m really looking forward to this racing season and to get back to Beech Mountain Bike Park to ride the Pro Rock Garden there.
First Ride Summary
In summary – after one day of riding the 27.5 2016 Jedi - it just became my favorite DH bike ever. I think the combination of confidence inspiring control, dramatic improvements on rolling speed in the rough, and improved pedaling will give me an overall advantage in racing. I consider the Jedi ‘on par’ with the Demo for jumping, and again in contrast to other reviews I think the Jedi suits my style and abilities better in the turns. So for comparing the 'Fun Factor' I think its probably a draw between the two. Both very good bikes for a fun day at the bike park.
Next Time I’ll offer up riding and racing impressions from Beech Mountain and Snowshoe – where I will be able to experience how it handles wide open flat turns that are sometimes off camber and loose. This is another area I hope to leverage the advantages of the Jedi’s design as well as the 27.5” wheels.
Discussing the Jedi with the Owners of Bailey Mountain Bike Park - Jennifer and Guy Miller. Photo credit to Guy Miller