By Mikey Spear – Performance Content Contribuor, Nashville, TN
As the leaves are now gone here in middle Tennessee I can’t help but get excited for the most wonderful time of the year: Hardtail Season. For me this is a simpler time when I put the full suspension bike away and work on skills that have gotten sloppy from letting my rear travel correct my mistakes. Be it your only bike or part of a N+1 scenario a good hardtail has its place in most bike stables.
Being someone who cares less about race day and more about fun trail shenanigans, I’ve always had a hard time finding the right hardtail. Up until a few years ago most decent hardtails were race inspired jackhammers, but the recent trend of “Hooligan Hardtails” has taken hold and we are being rewarded with a slathering of true trail bikes. When I first saw the 2018 Bighorn my first thought was “whoa, that looks pretty good”.
I am a sucker for a bike with a raw finish, and the Bighorn 1.1’s raw aluminum with a blue decal treatment caught my eye immediately. Throw in the geometry, the 1×12 Sram Eagle GX Drivetrain and the Rockshox Revelation fork, I knew it was a bike I had to throw a leg over. A few weeks later I had one of my own built up and was ready to see what it was all about.
The Bighorn strikes a fantastic middle ground for me. This is a bike that truly defines the trail bike category well. It’s a bike that isn’t afraid to get a little loose on the way down but doesn’t leave you bummed to point it back uphill.
The first thing I noticed was how this bike helps make climbing fun. The 27.5+ platform really inspires you to take lines on the way up that you might not otherwise take. I’ve been finding myself monster trucking up and over rock croppings that I had, until now, been taking cheater lines around. The Nobby Nick tires with the speed grip compound hook up fantastically without feeling too slow. Even in the thick fall leaves it was fairly hard to break traction on steep switch backs.
On the way down this thing shines most on the fast and twisty stuff. The 67.5˚ head tube angle feels snappy through tight fast singletrack, not labored like some of the more “enduro” specific hardtails I’ve ridden. While I admittedly have not ridden it yet on any epic sustained downhills, I will say I am impressed with how it handles on the shorter steep technical sections we have around here. The plump 27.5 x 3.0 tires smash over things that a 2.25 would hang up on, and provide a bit of “micro suspension”, smoothing out small rocks and roots. They also hold incredibly well in turns, it’s like they dare you to lean the bike over just a little more in every berm.
With that said I think the biggest surprise to me with this bike is actually how well it jumps. I expected the bikes tires to feel weird and clumsy in the air but after only a few laps in the jump park I was hitting all the same jumps I would on my full suspension trail bike. The geometry feels pretty balanced and the 150mm dropper post and low standover mean you can easily get the seat out of the way. Overall I’m super glad that Fuji didn’t just slap a super slack head angle and an “enduro” sticker on last year’s model. You can tell that they really put some thought into a bike that’s meant to go up and down equally well, with fun being the main focus in both directions. No matter where you go or what you do #bighorndontcare
Over all I have been pleasantly surprised with the Fuji Bighorn and can’t wait to put more miles on it. It is a true fun loving trail bike that encourages you to find new lines and try new things. And at the heart of it that’s what hardtails are all about: Progression. Whether it be an off season training machine or the only bike in your quiver, the Bighorn has so far proven itself as a perfect do it all hardtail. Stay tuned for a long term review down the road!