Not a "This-bike-is-awesome" review, or "I-love-this-bike-review", but a reasonable review with to-the-point pros and cons of going with a budget singlespeed from our friends at BikesDirect.
I've bought a handful of bikes from BikesDirect... most all required some tinkering and making it my own, but really - no complaints about the company. Decent customer service, fast shipping... and you have to understand what you're getting into when getting a box bike. You have to put it together, make sure everything is there, understand that these are mass produced bikes and you're not going to get that local bike shop value of free tune-ups/adjustments nor possible store discounts on future purchases. It's a bike-in-a-box.
I've ridden both 26" and 29'er single speeds over the years, and I've always been skeptical of the alluring 27.5 - or 650b - wheel size. For the most part, I've read how the 27.5 wheel is a great "in-betweener" and how you get "the best of both worlds". And I'm here to say - I call bullshit.
I'm not saying that these folks are liars, I'm saying that the 27.5 wheel size is quite disappointing compared to what the online enthusiasts make it out to be. I thought, with this wheel size, I was going to dominate my trails... roll over everything as easily as my 29'er does... but fling it around with razor sharp precision like I did with my old 26" wheeled bikes. Not quite.
What I experienced was a very confused wheel size. The 27.5 disappointed me when compared to the benefits of the 29'er, and disappointed me when compared to the benefits of the 26" wheel size. To me, the 27.5 wheel size just kinda feels meh. It does what the 29'er does, but shitty, and it does what the 26" does, but shitty as well.
I'm sure if I bought a $2,000 27.5 bike, I'd be singing a song of a different tune. But remove the make-up, fake eye-lashes and boob job from a smoking hot porn star, and you got a 6 at best.
So, let's talk about the bike...
Since selling my beloved On-One Inbred 29'er singlespeed, I swore to the heavens that someday I'd be back on one-gear. I fucking love singlespeed. Makes me want to eat steak.
I had $400 burning in my pocket, and approached this in a weird way: Ever build a bike because you have a component you want to use? That was my deal. I had this rad, anodized blue, 780mm Race Face Atlas bar that needed to shred the gnar.
After deliberating over another 29'er singlespeed (nah... already did that), then looking for a used 26" Redline MonoCog (had that, too... should've never sold it. That's what we all say, though) and a BikesDirect Fat Bike (too shitty of components to consider), I went with the 27.5 - because remember, I drank the 27.5 Kool-Aid at that point.
I slapped the components I had waiting for it (the bar, seat post clamp, 70mm stem, Oury lock-on grips, orange KMC 410 chain, Crank Bro. Mallet pedals), and went on my way towards Wilder Ranch Loop.
Fun... but weird. Really weird. First, I had to get back to the feeling of a rigid fork. Second, I hate those fucking tires. But, all in all, the bike did what it is supposed to do: ride.
After a couple of rides, I started to feel this bike was lacking. Lacking in geometry, kinda fucked gearing... just lacking. So, I proceeded to dump more money into my "budget" bike.
BikesDirect uses the same frame for the Gravity 27fiveFS (which has a 100mm suspension fork) and the Gravity 27fiveSS (which has a rigid fork). So, one of the major problems with this bike-in-a-box is the rigid fork is NOT suspension corrected. BikesDirect should equip this bike with a 29'er rigid fork to mimic the geometry that of a bike with a 100mm suspension fork.
What the bike comes with is a fork that has a short crown-to-axle length and the bike rides more like a flat bar road bike or commuter than a MTB. The rider position is more forward and the steering is sharp, which lends itself to lessened high speed stability. Sure, it steers well at low speed, but feels sketchy at bombing fire roads.
In this picture, you can see the huge difference between what the bike came stock with and the Salsa Chromoto fork, which is suspension corrected for a 1) 27.5 bike with 100mm of front end travel or 2) 29'er bike with 80mm of front end travel.
I hate these tires. Some people like them, but for a MTB application, I cannot stand them. Don't worry, if you like these tires, I give them application props at the end of this review.
I spent the $120 to upgrade to Specialized Ground Control's in 2.3. Which, in turn, changed the overall wheel diameter. Which fucked up my gearing, so now comes my major beef...
The 27.5 with the larger, real, MTB tires, is essentially the same overall diameter as my 29'er wheel. The stock 33X18 gearing the 27fiveSS came with was fine with the Small Block-8's in 1.95, however, changing the tire size significantly affected the gearing. I had to revert back to the gearing I had on my On-One Inbred 29'er SS - and that is 32X20. Also, you can see the Salsa Chromoto 29'er fork installed which is 100mm suspension corrected for a 27.5 wheeled bike. I'm using a shit load of headset spacers to make up for that steep headtube angle, even with the suspension corrected fork. Notice the difference in rake on my Specialized Crave and the Gravity 27fiveSS.
Well, what was supposed to be a "budget" purchase ended up being an expensive endeavor - this shit always turns out this way and I should've known better. If you are not super serious about MTB'ing, or looking for a gravel commuter (there are rack mounts), out of the box with a possible gear change, the 27FiveSS is pretty cool. It's cheap, durable, and only $350, a steel cog to gear it down for commuting is less than $10. Keep the Small-Block 8's on there for that. But, if you're like me and want to actually MTB with it, either 1) expect to dump money into it or 2) save and get that $2,000 27.5 I talked about earlier.
I still stand firm on the 27.5 Kool Aid. I'm going to keep this bike and ride it as long as I can before I want something else or get bored. But really, consider the 29'er SS before the 27.5 wheel size. Having ridden all three wheel sizes in SS I still believe the 29'er single speed truly has the biggest benefits for one-gear riding.
That... or get a BMX bike and fuck all. #bmxnotspandex
#bikesdirect, #gravityfiveSS, #650b