I wrote up Part 1 – Concept for the Mega Krampus and Part 2 – Mega Krampus Build Details of this extended review series in 2019. I had intended to get Part 3 – Mega Krampus Ride Review posted in late 2019, but I kept putting it off. The main reason for that was that this bike kept surprising me and every time I thought I had it figured out I learned something new. So I just kept riding it excited to see what would happen next. Well it’s 2020 and I’ve ridden the Mega Krampus a ton. Far more than I thought I would. To the point where I’ve decided to sell my full-suspension winter bike. And it seems like it’s time to put my thoughts about how it rides onto the blog.
I’ve considered getting a custom hardtail for a long time. Aside from the fact they aren’t cheap the two main reasons I didn’t do so were 1) MTB geometry and standards were changing so fast it felt like I’d end up with an expensive obsolete bike that couldn’t take new parts I wanted to use and 2) since I don’t love riding hardtails on our uber techy local trails the bike would primarily get used for bikepacking, which is only a small part of the riding I do annually. It just seemed like it could be a waste of money compared to a much cheaper production hardtail I could use for a few years and sell when I wanted something else.
When I ordered the Mega Krampus it seemed like MTB geometry and standards had run their course. At least to the point where I wouldn’t be tempted to want to change anything for a long time. I also realized with my Surly Krampus that even if I’m not keen on shredding a bike on trails any more it can live a long life in a less demanding role in the fleet like urban assault/pub bike. However, I was still a bit worried the Mega Krampus would spend a lot of the year gathering dust since I really preferred riding FS bikes on our local trails and I had the Surly Krampus for urban riding mayhem. I did have a few friends that were riding their modern hardtails on our trails and loving it. Part of me thought they were insane and part of me thought maybe they were onto something. So I pulled the trigger with Peter Daam.
My initial rides on the bike let me know that it was really long compared to what I was used to. I had planned to run a 50mm stem, but even with 12 deg backsweep bars that was too long from saddle to bars. I tried a 35mm stem and a 30mm stem. I liked the handling on the 35mm stem better and the seated position of the 30mm stem, but it made the bike too twitchy so 35mm stem it was. The 74 deg STA [Seat Tube Angle] sags out more like 75.5 deg and that feels pretty steep for me. I can ride it all day, but I couldn’t handle a steeper STA for longer rides. So it seems we maxed out the geometry in STA, Effective Top Tube and Reach.
It was clear the frame had a nice amount of flex to it. That’s great because I hate overly stiff frames and one of the benefits of going custom was steering the design towards more flex. Of course you don’t want a mountain bike to feel like a noodle either and I am happy to report no matter how hard I push the bike in technical terrain too much flex is not something I ever notice. Where the flex is most apparent is when climbing and hammering as hard as I can on rolling terrain. The bike just leaps forward and all my effort seems to result in very efficiently powering the bike. To coin a term popularized by Bicycle Quarterly the Mega Krampus loves to “plane”. That was something I hoped it would do, but it’s a hard thing to engineer in without some trial and error so I am glad we got it right the first time.
The HTA [Head Tube Angle] is fairly slack at 65 deg static and more like 66.5 deg sagged. Rolling around town and on level trails this doesn’t feel too slack and the front end doesn’t have any wheel flop. My main full suspension trail bike has a sagged HTA around 64 deg so that helps set my expectations. With a 35mm stem and 780mm wide bars with 12 deg backsweep the steering feels very neutral. Bar height is just below my saddle unsagged. I’ve tried raising the bars a bit and that feels great for non-technical terrain, but when I have to really throw the bike around on tight techy trails it makes the handling more awkward.
I’ve left the adjustable CS [chain stays] in the shortest position at ~424mm. That feels pretty good. Our trails tend towards slow, steep and technical. I should experiment with longer CS positions. I’ve just been lazy. Having the back wheel tucked up close to the BB makes for really great climbing traction and enhances maneuverability when things get tight. I’ve been running 29 x 2.6″ Maxxis Rekon tires front and back. They are on the small side for casing volume and fit the shortest CS position with lots of clearance. I’ll be throwing on some 29 x 2.8″ Rekons shortly and I may have to adjust the CS backwards a touch at that time.
Speaking of tires the 2.6″ Rekons on 30mm internal width rims have really impressed me. I put them on as a fast rolling “touring” tire thinking I’d replace them with something more aggressive come winter. However, I started riding from home to the trails instead of driving, which is ~1hr of riding each way and having that fast rolling tire seemed so nice I decided to wait and see how they performed in winter before I made a change. Well they did so well I never did swap them out and I rode the Mega Krampus far more than I expected. In terms of climbing and cornering traction the Rekons have exceeded any expectations I had. I’ll now just attack whatever comes my way and I am rarely left really wanting. Now that said Rekons are not an aggressive knobby tire so don’t get me wrong you can’t ride them like a DHF/DHR. There are portions of each ride, particularly when it’s wet, that I wouldn’t mind a real knobby on the bike.
I started out riding the Mega Krampus on some rolling BC XC style trails. So rooty and rocky, but not too steep. I didn’t trust the Rekons at first so I was tentative, but the more I rode the bike the more I trusted them. The Mega Krampus feels very balanced. Because of it’s length and slack HTA I can ride in a forward position comfortably, which provides lots of front wheel traction and allows the rear of the bike to be light so it can roll over rougher spots without being too harsh or flatting. The bike feels great on skinnies and other precision obstacles. During these initial rides I came upon a fast section of trail with big chunky rocks that has caused me grief even on my FS rigs. For some reason I decided to just charge through on the Mega Krampus and it handled that chunk better than any of the previous “enduro” bikes I had ridden on that section of trail. That was my first “Whoa!” moment, but there were more that followed.
With some easy riding under my belt I took the Mega Krampus out on increasingly harder trails with steeper climbs and descents…lots of rocks/roots and as time passed wetter and wetter conditions. The results were really impressive. I ended up riding about 90% of what I would normally be comfortable on locally. That’s far far more than I would have told you was likely when I ordered the bike. It’s a hardtail so I can’t sit and spin through the rough. It requires a more active riding style. When it comes to tech climbs…especially wet ones…I have to charge up with extra momentum and keep the power down the whole time. On my FS bikes it’s easier to tractor up at a medium pace because that back end is soft and it hunts for traction more easily. Coming down I have to respect the fact Rekons on a hardtail offer a limited amount of traction. So picking good lines, steering rather than braking hard and being okay with some sliding all come into play.
I should note when I started to mountain bike back in 1987 rigid bikes were all that you could buy and it was quite a few years before front suspension was a common thing. So I have had lots of practice riding bikes without rear suspension. Riding the Mega Krampus I am definitely in scalpel mode most of the time rather than sledgehammer mode. It rides best when I am precise. But, as we all know at some point shit gets crazy and you find yourself plowing into a rough section too fast and there is no choice other than to ride it out. The Mega Krampus bounces around, but as long as I focus on keeping my weight on the front end and steering forcefully it gets through with as little drama as anyone on a hardtail could expect under those circumstances.
So far so good, but what are the bad aspects of riding the Mega Krampus? There is no way around the fact it is a hardtail. Slamming into square edges fast or jumping into rocks is not fun. I’m less likely to take a blind drop on it than on a FS bike. If the terrain gets really chunky I have no choice, but to slow down more than on a FS bike. I’m out of the saddle more and I am putting in punchy efforts more than my FS bikes. Slippery off camber sections especially with wet roots are harder to navigate. Picking lines carefully makes for a slower ride than charging down the middle of a trail on a FS bike. It’s a long slack bike so it’s not as nimble as something more towards the XC side of the spectrum. The 65mm BB drop and smaller volume 2.6″ tires resulted in enough chainring strikes I installed a taco bashguard. Like most modern geometry bikes I have ridden the Mega Krampus needs a bit of speed to come alive in a poppy playful sense.
My favourite rides for the Mega Krampus leave from home then maybe roll along 10kms on the road/paved bikepaths, then cruise 15kms of easy to moderate dirt trails to get to a hardcore MTB network where I’ll shred it up for 10kms on slow janky tech trails with tons of climbing and afterwards roll home on 15-20kms of easy trails and road. Ending up with 40-60kms on the day and a nice mix of different terrain to keep things interesting. The Mega Krampus is not the best at any one part of the ride, but it’s a fine bike to be on no matter what comes around the bend. That character really suits a bike made for exploration.
I am excited to see how the 29 x 2.8″ Rekons perform. I expect it will be fairly similar just a bit more squish when things get rough without hampering the bike when I am just cruising and trying to cover ground.