Field Test: Commencal Meta HT AM Ride
Making plus-size hip again
- Aluminum hardtail frame
- 160mm fork travel
- 27.5+ wheels and tires
- 65-degree headtube angle
- 445mm reach
- 74-degree seat angle
- 432mm chainstay length
- Internal cable routing
- Plenty of tire clearance
- Can run 29” wheel in the frame
- Do-everything geometry
- No dropper
- Fork can’t fit a 29” wheel
- One bottle cage mount
29.8lb / 13.5kg
Of the nine bikes we tested for the value bike Field Test, two had something we’d basically forgotten about: plus-size tires. The Commencal Meta HT and Diamondback Sync’r both sport 27.5×2.8-inch tires, but there’s only one that testers would want to bring home with them. The Commencal had us rethinking the death of plus-size.
We still all agreed that 2.8” tires don’t need to be on full-suspension bikes, but trail hardtails are the perfect application for plus, where the extra meat improves climbing traction, descending stability, and technical prowess. But big tires can’t make a bad bike good, and luckily the Meta HT has solid bones.
The frame is a real standout when compared to some of the hardtails in the mix. It’s actually really nice, and we don’t even have to add the caveat, “for a 1,500 dollar bike.” The Meta HT frame will compete with any trail hardtail regardless of price. Most importantly, the geometry is appropriate for what the bike is trying to be, which of course is in the name: All-Mountain.
It sports a 65-degree head angle, runs a 160mm fork, has short 432mm chainstays, and a roomy-enough cockpit. The 445mm reach number on the size large seems short, but with the slack 74-degree seat angle, the toptube is actually longer than the Stumpjumper. Testers reported that the bike fit comfortably despite seeing numbers we’re not used to. Hardtails don’t require the same reach or seat tube angle numbers as full-suspension bikes do. It’s nice to see Commencal recognize that and make a bike that simply rides well rather than following trends that might compromise the bike’s intent just to make it look interesting on paper.
Featurewise, the Meta HT AM frame has a nice, low-slung standover, internal cable routing with the ability to run the rear brake on either side of the headtube, tons of tire clearance, a nice integrated chainstay protector, and all the rest of the things you’d look for in a modern frame, like tapered ZS44/ZS56 headset fitment, Boost axle spacing, and of course a no-nonsense threaded bottom bracket shell. There’s just one thing missing: a second bottle mount. There’s one on the downtube, but most hardtails have a second one on the seat tube. The Meta HT doesn’t. The reason for this is to maximize dropper seatpost insertion. Bottle mounts protrude inside the tube and limit dropper insertion, which would be a bad thing.
Speaking of dropper posts, this bike doesn’t come with one. But Commencal does offer this exact build with the addition of a dropper post for 200 bucks more. Get that one, or BYOD (bring your own dropper), because dropper posts are absolutely required. Don’t listen to your Primal Wear-jersey-riding uncle when he tells you dropper posts are for people who don’t know how to ride. Trust us, it’s one of the most important inventions to mountain biking, period. With that public service announcement out of the way, we can carry on with the rest of the Meta HT’ AM’s spec.
Which isn’t too bad for a $1,700 bike (this time we do need the caveat). The RockShox 35 fork can get a bit overwhelmed at speed, the SRAM Level brakes aren’t crazy strong, and the SRAM SX drivetrain isn’t the most responsive, but it all works just fine. Commencal does spec the bike with a 200mm rotor up front, and we didn’t experience any lack of power in Tucson.
The Maxxis Rekon and High Roller tires on the other hand are top notch. They’re probably the same tire’s we’d choose, too, though it’d be a good idea to put something with bigger lugs on the back if you ride in wet conditions often. The Rekon rolls really efficiently though, which helps a ton with such a beefy tire.
The plus-size tires dominated much of the discussions around this bike’s riding characteristics, and climbing was no exception. We noticed exactly what you’d think we’d notice about the big meats—they’re a bit slower to accelerate, but offer a ton more traction than standard tires. And since hardtails can use all the traction advantages they can get, especially on the loose, chucky trails we were testing on, we all agreed that a little plus in our lives isn’t such a bad thing.
We were definitely able to clean more technical climbs with less effort on the Meta HT than on other hardtails in the test. When you’re constantly fighting for grip, the larger contact patch of the plus tires helps a ton, and in these conditions could even save energy over a lighter standard tire. There was a lot less weight shifting and monkey humping needed on this bike than other hardtails in the test, simply because the rear was hooking up better.
Up front, the 160mm fork and 65-degree head angle didn’t seem to hinder things in the slightest, nor did the more traditional seat tube angle. The reasonable reach helped on the climbs as well, and made the bike feel quite well-rounded. Mike Kazimer and I agreed that the bike’s not-too-out-there geometry makes the bike well suited for all types of climbing. It might not be the quickest-feeling climber when it comes to acceleration, but it’ll tractor up some impressively steep and technical features if you’ve got the legs, lungs, and skills to make it.
There’s no getting around the fact that this is a hardtail. It’s a point we couldn’t stop ourselves from making despite very much not needing to. But Mike Levy asked straight-up if it’s as capable as an all-mountain full-suspension bike. The answer is of course a resounding no. But, in an apples-to-apples comparison, it’s remarkable how much more smash and plow the Meta HT has than the Salsa or Marin hardtails in the test.
Between the longer 160mm fork, slacker head angle, and big 2.8-inch tires, the Meta can definitely haul some ass. We found it to be right at home on the loose, techy, often kitty litter-covered trails in Tucson. There was never an opportunity to get it on any real extended steep terrain, but for the slow-speed tech, tight puckery moves, and mid-speed pinball-type descents, it proved to be a blast. It won’t beat a full-suspension bike, but that’s not really the point, is it? At least for me, I wound up hooting and hollering more on the Meta HT than I did on any of the other bikes I rode in Tucson. That was after manually dropping the post, of course. Definitely splurge for the one with the dropper—it’s worth much more than the 200 bucks it’ll cost.
Photos by: Tom Richards