Why It Matters: Transition’s Aluminum Sentinel and Scout
Everything old is new again
If you want to track how quickly our industry can change, look no further than the Transition Sentinel. When it was released four years ago, it famously specced a fork with a reduced offset. If you’re new enough to riding that the term “reduced-offset” doesn’t mean anything to you, welcome! Reduced-offset describes forks that position the front wheel slightly less far forward, putting it closer to the fork’s steering axis. A standard-offset 29-inch fork puts the center of the front hub 51 millimeters forward, while reduced-offset 29-inch forks measure around 42 to 46mm. The reduced-offset fork offered several benefits, including making steering more stable at high speeds as well as putting slightly more weight on the front wheel (for better traction) despite modern bikes’ ever-lengthening front-center measurements forcing the front wheel farther and farther from our center of gravity. Within just a couple years, standard-offset forks nearly disappeared. It happened quickly enough that it wasn’t only Transition’s doing, but they were the first to popularize it. And they introduced it first on the then-new, long-travel 29-inch Sentinel. And the Sentinel was exclusively available in aluminum.
The Sentinel was the most aggressive 29-inch bike Transition made at the time, and it featured 140mm of rear travel and 160 up front. A step short of the super-enduro 29ers of today, but it was remarkably long, even while the rate of frame-lengthening was at its peak. The Sentinel took a lot of chances, and there was no telling then that it would have the influence that it did. It seemed like the choice to introduce it in aluminum was a way for Transition to dip their toe into the long-travel 29er pool and if the water was nice, go all-in with a carbon model down the road. But Transition must have had some idea the Sentinel would be more than just an experiment because, just a few months later, a carbon model arrived. That was unusually quick, but it was similar to the pattern many brands would use: Release an alloy bike, and then some number of months or years later, follow up with a carbon version. This was especially true early in the last decade when carbon was steadily making its way onto more and more aggressive bikes. The ground positively shook when the Santa Cruz Nomad and Specialized Enduro got carbon models added to their lineups. But then, once carbon took hold, most high-profile new bike releases would see both carbon and aluminum versions released together, day-and-date. This is how big players like Specialized, Trek and Giant tend to do it. It’s even been true of more boutique brands like Santa Cruz, but not as much recently. Something is changing.
Carbon has arrived, and the vast majority of updated or entirely new high-end models from major brands are now being introduced only in carbon. And then, at some point, maybe, an aluminum version will hit store shelves. This is how YT did it when they updated the Jeffsy a few years back. The alloy Jeffsy didn’t get the new design until about a year after the carbon one did. And we can likely expect the same on the newly updated Capra. Or more famously, the Ibis Ripmo AF and Ripley AF followed their carbon predecessors long after the carbon versions had made these models into household names.
When the Sentinel was updated for 2020, it came in carbon with no alloy option in sight, and given the new environment around carbon, there was no word if or when we would ever see one. Same goes for the 27.5-inch Scout that was updated in a carbon-only version that same year. But as of today, both bikes will also be available in aluminum. Transition is marking the occasion with one of their signature irreverent launch videos, which often poke fun at the mountain bike industry, but rarely as directly as this one. The gist is that mountain bike brands have pushed for more and more carbon primarily in order to pump more money into the industry.
Problem is, something doesn’t quite feel right about how Transition has put this. The fact that both of these bikes were first introduced only in carbon (as were two of the other three most recently released bikes in Transition’s catalog) shows that carbon is Transition’s first priority. That’s not because the folks at Transition are unfeeling, money-hungry bureaucrats. They just want to make bikes that can compete in a world when a lot of riders want the light weight and‚—let’s be honest—the overall durability of carbon. Those bikes are also more expensive and, yes, offer more profit. It doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy behind it.
With that being the truth, we can likely expect more of these late-stage alloy model releases. Especially for a mid-sized brand like Transition, it may take up too much bandwidth to produce a full lineup of both carbon and alloy bikes at the same time. And even though there is not a cabal of industry big-wigs behind it, it simply makes sense for the carbon bikes to come first. Transition is not the first brand to take this approach, but their launch video positions these bikes in a way that will speak to riders who will always prefer aluminum frames. Whether for the price, the impact-resistance or simply the counter-cultural cachet, alloy ain’t dead. It just may show up late to the meeting sometimes.