-29er with 160mm rear and 170mm front travel
-XT LTD spec option has 180mm fork
-High-Pivot, idler pulley suspension design
-Eats up gnarly terrain like it was born for it
-Short chainstays help the bike corner well
-Clean execution of the HP design
-Idler and chainguide adds complexity to the drivetrain
-Extra pulleys create friction and require more frequent drivetrain cleaning
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Sometimes it really seems like there’s a sort of bike industry illuminati that gets together to decide what every company is going to make next. I mean, how else could all these bike companies have simultaneously decided to each redesign their enduro bike with a high-pivot configuration?
Where do they meet? Probably a castle somewhere. Or an Area 51-type situation.
Wait a second, let’s be realistic here.
They meet on Zoom like everyone else these days. Why journey all the way to the castle and risk getting COVID every time it’s time to decide what the next hot color is going to be when you can do it from the comfort and safety of your own home?
But the real mystery is, who let the idler-pulley lobby into the meeting and how’d they get so much sway? Perhaps we’ll never know.
What we do know is that high-pivot bikes have an uncanny ability to mob through rough terrain because their rearward axle path allows the rear wheel to more effectively duck out of the way of incoming gnar. And, the absence of front derailleurs on modern mountain bikes presents an opportunity to start getting weird again. Bike engineers love getting weird.
And I love it when they do, because even though I’m still not convinced all these extra pulleys are worth the hassle, the new Devinci Spartan HP is one hell of a whip. To begin with, before we start talking about how this bike rides, I’d like to take a moment just looking at the thing. The people responsible for the Spartan’s industrial design deserve a round of applause here, because most high-pivot bikes don’t look as clean as this one does. And let’s not pretend that looks don’t matter.
The toptube and seatstays create a single, clean line across the bike, that the chainstays and chain itself also sort of run along. Also, the idler pulley is integrated right into chainstay, with a cover that matches the shape and hides the pulley from view. It’s actually a very elegant representation of a relatively complex system, cluttered only by the lower chainguide hanging out in space below the elevated stays. Unfortunately, the lower guide is required, because without it, the chain would grow too much throughout the travel and create a situation where you’d have either no chain tension in the small cog, or too little chain to make it to the biggest one. But looking at the bright side, it does make dropping the chain really hard and drastically reduces chain slap, which in turn reduces stress on the derailleur clutch. And look at all that chain-wrap on the ring. That could really extend the life of the chainring. We love to talk about how high-pivot bikes increase drivetrain maintenance, but there’s a chance that the Spartan could actually help some things last longer.
If—and this is a big if—it’s kept clean. This bike drags the chain through two more pulleys than most bikes do, so keeping the whole thing clean will be key in making it last—and also keeping it from making a ton of noise and driving you crazy.
But, Devinci did a ton of development on the whole system to make it as robust and drag-free as possible. They actually had a whole extra year of development time on the new Spartan HP (for reasons that for once have nothing to do with COVID), which gave them time to really dig into the idler part of the equation. Engineering drivetrain parts isn’t something that most people who design frames for a living have experience doing, so it took time and support from partners who do, to create something that’d hold up.
You can’t just slap a plastic derailleur pulley on there and call it good. Because the idler is up on the tensioned side of the drivetrain, it receives a shitload of stress. To make matters worse, there’s very little chain wrap on the idler so all of the force is spread across just a few teeth. It’s a scenario that’s perfectly designed to carve meth-head teeth into a jockey wheel in no time. But with the extra time Devinci had, they were able to make something they’re confident will hold up. The idler is made out of a durable steel and houses a large diameter bearing that’s designed to operate under high loads. In their own testing in the lab and on their often wet and muddy home turf in Québec, Devinci is seeing the idler last through two chains. Oh, and on the topic of chains, the Spartan HP does not require two chains to be spliced together. Both SRAM and Shimano sell stock chains with 126 links, which is enough for this bike.
I’m saying all of this before talking at all about how the bike rides because these are considerations that people should think about before choosing a bike like this. It’s a different setup than most of us are used to, and it requires some consideration. After getting the some of the nuts and bolts questions off the table, we can get the the ones that relate to ride experience: How much drag does the idler and chainguide add, how much energy does it cost me on the climbs, and is the tradeoff worth it?
Multiple tests have been done on several of today’s idler-equipped enduro bikes and they all come to the conclusion that they add a negligible, almost undetectable amount of extra energy to pedal. Beta’s own gear editor Travis Engel conducted his own experiment with a Forbidden Dreadnought that showed very little difference between that idler-equipped bike and his Scott Ransom.
But, there’s a vibration difference that will convince your brain otherwise. All the idler-equipped bikes I’ve ridden make it feel like I’m pedaling through a gearbox that’s sucking power away from me. Again, according to the data, it doesn’t take more energy to get these things up hills, but it certainly feels like it does when going back and forth between a normal bike and a high-pivot one. Having said that though, lots of things feel different at first and take some getting used to. After a few consecutive rides on the Spartan, the vibration I had been sensitive to early on started to disappear. Like people who live near a feed lot. After a while you stop smelling the shit in the air.
The real question is the tradeoff one. Does this thing ride enough better than everything else to make it worth the cost of drivetrain complexity? I’m still not totally sure of the answer myself, to be honest, but what I do know is that this bike rips.
It’s a surprisingly amazing climber. After my brain canceled out the drivetrain vibration, I realized that it’s really efficient and will scale the steepest, most technically difficult climbs my legs and lungs can handle. The shock lockout isn’t necessary and only serves to reduce traction on sketchy climbs, but is just fine to use on smooth climbs to save a bit of energy. The steep seat angle helps in the climbing department as well, and the head angle isn’t so slack that the front wheel wonders all over the place on the way up. Talking about climbing isn’t always the most exciting thing, but experiencing a bike that looks like it wouldn’t climb to save its life, actually haul ass (relatively speaking) uphill most definitely is. It pedals through technical undulating terrain without any funky bobbing, squatting, pedal kickback, or wheel hangup, which really makes it ride lighter than it is.
But that pales in comparison to how fun it is to descend on. All high-pivot bikes have a similar, almost magic feeling of destroying rowdy terrain, but not all of them are as controlled as the Spartan HP in corners, or as supportive when you need them to be.
The Spartan HP is fast in a trustworthy, confident way. Apparently, the Devinci Global Racing enduro team is running three to four seconds faster on one of the tracks they test on with the new bike compared to the previous one. That’s huge.
But sort of not surprising after having spent some time on the bike. It’s a massive departure from what Devinci has been making for years. Most of the company’s bikes have always been more progressive feeling than plush, which for me translates to less overall traction and control. I like active suspension when I’m descending. I like it when my tires are able to track and stay in contact with the terrain, which hasn’t always been part of the Spartan’s DNA. But it is now, and I really dig it. A lot.
Having the confidence to go faster, brake later into corners and let it rip make me forget about the two extra jockey wheels on the bike. At least temporarily. When it comes down to it, I still can’t shake the idea that this isn’t the simplest way to make an excellent bike. Even though the Spartan’s 160mm of rear wheel travel feel like as much as the Specialized Enduro’s 170mm, the Enduro is arguably simpler and arguably as good at climbing and descending. Same story with the Evil Wreckoning, or the way simpler Commencal Meta AM.
The high-pivot design does give the Spartan HP a unique ride quality that those other bikes don’t quite have, but I’m not totally convinced yet that it’s special enough to put up with those extra drivetrain parts. But then again, I think I still have a somewhat irrational mental hangup with idlers in general despite Devinci’s admittedly nice execution. One thing is certain though, when it comes to overall capability on a variety of terrain, this is by far the best riding Spartan Devinci has made.