First Ride: Forbidden Dreadnought – Video
-High-pivot suspension design
-154mm rear travel, 170mm front
-Sold complete with XT or SLX build
-Sold frame-only with Fox, EXT or Push shock
-Compatible with Ziggy Link for mullet builds
-Supple over large high-speed chatter
-Stability increases the moment you need it
-Optimal balance and traction between the wheels
-Smooth climber in rough sections
-Not playful, in the traditional sense
-Feels slightly sluggish on long, smooth climbs
-Idler pulley brings extra friction, demands extra cleaning
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Small, up-and-coming bike brands have it tough right now. And I don’t just mean right-now right-now, when trying to buy an SLX derailleur is like waiting in line for a loaf of bread in Leningrad. I mean right now, when the brands that are already out there do some pretty damn spectacular stuff. The new kid really needs something outstanding if they want to … stand out. That may be what makes this whole high-pivot suspension craze so appealing. All it takes is a little leap of faith, and your prototype comes out of the mold with a trending hashtag built-in. But after the short time I’ve spent on the Forbidden Dreadnought, it’s clear that “high pivot” is not just a buzzword to Forbidden. It’s just part of why this bike rides like nothing I’ve ever ridden. That may be because I’ve never ridden Forbidden’s debut model, the Druid. On paper, the Druid is more tame than the Dreadnought, with “only” 130 millimeters of rear travel and 150 up front. But on a high-pivot platform, the rules we expect those numbers to follow, just might not apply.
Briefly, high-pivot designs raise the main pivot of the rear swingarm, putting the wheel on a more rearward path as the shock compresses. It moves in the natural direction of an impact, and also lengthens the wheelbase as you approach bottom-out instead of shortening it, making for more stability when you need it most. But to prevent the drivetrain from fighting that rearward motion, high-pivot bikes need an idler pulley to redirect the load-bearing part of the chain to be in line with the pivot. Thus concludes our exhaustive course on high-pivot fundamentals which, again, are only part of the story.
There’s also Forbidden’s Rate Control Linkage. Actuating the shock is a linkage structure that produces a fancy, dynamic leverage curve. As it approaches its sag point, it ramps up quickly, leaving the first bit of travel sensitive to small bumps, especially on steep descents when the rear end is unweighted. Then, the rate of progression slows down and the curve straightens, offering a consistent platform of support well into the mid-stroke. Finally, it ramps up again to resist bottom-out near the end-stroke. It’s similar to what Evil does with their D.E.L.T.A. link, but I found it yields very different results on the Forbidden Dreadnought.
The geometry numbers on this bike are comfortably modern. 63.5-degree head angle and 484-millimeter reach on a size large. Nothing unexpected. It’s enduro, and it’s 2021. The more interesting story is in the chainstays. The rear-center measurement on Forbidden frames increases throughout the sizes, though nothing’s unexpected there either. Norco, Devinci and now Santa Cruz do it on some models. But it’s usually an increase of 5mm. Forbidden rear centers increase by 14 millimeters between each size. And they start short, just 422 millimeters on the size small, a feat made possible by the rearward axle path that isn’t jamming the tire into the seat tube as the shock compresses. But follow that through the range, by the time you’re at a large, the rear center is 450mm. The XL I tested stretched 464mm from hub to bottom bracket. And like I said, it gets even longer as the shock compresses.
I noticed this within my first 50 feet on the bike when, as I do in my first 50 feet on every bike I ride, I tried to pull a manual. But the Dreadnought did not let me. The harder I pulled, the harder an unseen hand held the front wheel to the ground. On an Evil, that supportive mid-stroke pairs with a short (and shortening) rear center that invites manuals, bunny hops, and whatever else the kids are doing these days. I worried the Dreadnought was gonna be a big long stick in the mud. But wooo boy, was I wrong.
The Forbidden Dreadnought, at 154mm of rear travel, is significantly more supple than my personal bike’s 165mm. And not just in overall per-impact bump absorption. The very initial impact is deadened significantly more effectively than on a traditional bike. It makes it not just smoother, but quieter. I found myself floating through fields of half-buried rocks that are the best test of suspension performance this side of a dynamometer. But then something really interesting happened. I started going into sections a little faster. I started braking later, or sometimes not at all. There was something more going on here than just good suspension.
That long-and-lengthening rear center, as I partly expected, was keeping my steering calm and stable. It was a new sensation, and I had taken for granted that my body would always tense up near bottom out. A steepening head angle and shortening wheelbase would suddenly change my bike’s personality and I’d have to react. That wasn’t happening here, but neither was something else that I hadn’t even considered. As the rear center lengthens on the Dreadnought, my weight distribution stays consistent. It doesn’t shift off the front wheel and onto the rear. It digs in and holds fast, and I don’t even have to try. Naturally, it forces you into the good habit of weighting the front wheel so you can stay in control. Suspension, geometry and traction were all suddenly optimized, and all for the same reason.
The supportive leverage curve plays a role here too. Especially given that this bike “only” has 154 millimeters of rear travel. As you’re charging through chunk at Ludicrous Speed, pushing the rear wheel out around a corner, or preloading to unweight and pop over an obstacle, it happens instantly. Instead of wallowing like the Cadillac it is, it snaps to attention, even though I was running it at the very deep recommended 37-percent sag.
That said, it doesn’t like big pre-jumps into berms or frivolous manuals. If the terrain wills it, you can leap off it or dip into it. But it’s not a BMX bike. That support and moderate travel are for getting shit done, not getting distracted. And anyway, the bottom bracket is low enough, that if this bike were blowing through its travel, I’d have had my toes in the dirt more often than I already did, which was precisely often enough.
Now, we’re going to talk about how the Forbidden Dreadnought climbs: It’s not bad. If you got as excited reading about the descent as I did writing about it, that’s all you need to know. But let’s get more specific. Climbing long, smooth fire roads and trying to do it quickly is not this bike’s strong suit. The little nagging noise and drag that you sign up for when you have an idler pulley is just enough to notice. I don’t feel it through my feet or even in my knees. It’s that subtle. But an hour into a climb that I’ve done a dozen times in the past few months, something just feels a little slower. Once I’ve pedaled long enough, it starts to feel like my fatigue got a 2-minute head start. Really, not that bad in the big picture.
Surprisingly, I have zero complaints about steep, technical climbs. In fact, when I was just past the sag point, grunting up a cruxy rocky section, the suspension was perfectly indifferent to what I was doing. In fact, here again the rearward axle path worked its magic. With any bit of momentum, it’d float right through stuff. And when you’re really scrambling up something, that little bit of drag gets diluted in ways that it just won’t on a long, light spin.
But the Forbidden Dreadnought likes to keep its drivetrain clean. It’ll shrug off fine mud and dust, but not wet sand. You know that sandpaper sound when moist, coarse dirt coats your chain? Well, it’s worse when there’s an extra gear grinding it up. And it’s not easy to wipe off. After my setup loop, I added a small rag and a slightly larger bottle of lube in case there’s a messy creek crossing below a long pedal. I wipe down the chain, floss out the idler as well as its guide and the lower tensioner which, by the way, help prevent the chain from falling off but make it a pain to get back on if it does.
I normally wouldn’t end a review with a nitpick, but the idler pulley was a deal breaker for a few folks I bragged to about this bike. And it seems to strike a chord more trenchant than just the increased drag or extra maintenance. As if there’s something impure about it. As if it spoils the simple elegance of that century-old configuration of two sets of gears connected by a chain. But it never crossed my mind while I was riding. Outside of those narrow nitpicks, I was not thinking about the idler as I was riding the Dreadnought. It wasn’t in the stories I told about how this bike handled the chaos that I seek out on the trail. What has stuck with me is how much the Dreadnought has redefined what I think a bike is capable of.
Find them at forbiddenbike.com
Photos and video: Satchel Cronk
Product Availability and Pricing
I didn’t want to spoil the mood by putting this in the body of the review, but because it’s 2021, this bike, like every bike, is hard to get your hands on. Right now, the Forbidden Dreadnought is available only as a frame, and only with an EXT Storia or Push Elevensix shock. By mid-summer, there should be an option with a Fox Float X2 as well as a complete XT build with an SLX build soon to follow.
The XT build I tested goes for $6,500 which, for a bike lacking nothing but carbon wheels (which its target audience might not want anyway), that’s squarely in the not-too-bad category. The frame-only options, that are available right now, especially the EXT and Push options, do come at a premium, but that’s to be expected. This bike is not chasing a price point.
There are two colorways available on the Forbidden Dreadnought at launch, a clean matte black called Stealth and a bold blue fade called Deep Space 9. Then, in Q2, there is another fade showing up called Nerds.
And now that you’re all the way down here, here’s that website again: forbiddenbike.com