Let’s start the review by immediately revealing the price; this is a 29er for $549. In one fell swoop I’ve turned away the experienced mountain bikers and I’ve made everyone else think to themselves, “That’s a pretty good price for a 29er, what’s the catch?”
Reid Cycles have been around for a few years in the Australian market and know very well they they are serving the budget end of the market. In Sydney their large retail store is opposite Sydney Uni, and they serve droves of cash strapped Uni students with budget bikes. But what you want to know is whether their 29er MTB for $549 is any good; I will give you a short and a long answer.
The short answer is, if you are new to mountain biking and if you have a very tight budget and can’t spend more, this is surprisingly good value for money. It is far from perfect, but you get a lot of bike, you can go off-road, and you can have a bit of fun. It is well worth reading on and taking the long answer on board as there are a few things worth knowing before you take the plunge.
Overview of the Reid Xenon 29er
Let’s begin with the concept of 29ers; this refers to the wheel and average tyre diameter on these bikes. 29 inch wheels on mountain bikes have become increasing popular in recent years and their advantage over benchmark 26 inch wheels is that they roll over obstacles with more ease, albeit at the cost of steering control and weight. The popularity of 29ers can be condensed to: “they are fun to ride”; I won’t confuse you by letting you know of the trend for 27.5″ wheels.
The bike is a hard tail, no suspension at the back, but it does have a front suspension fork. The hard tail is good choice for a bike in this price range as, frankly, a full suspension bike at this price point is worth avoiding (which is why supermarket bikes are so bad). A highlight of the Xenon is the hydraulic disc brakes, front and back. Spec’ing these hydraulic disc brakes was a good decision; compared with ‘old-style’ cantilever or V-Brakes, disc brakes generally offer more reliable braking across all weather conditions.
The bike is 27 speed, 3 chainrings on the front and 9 cogs at the back, and features (mostly) Shimano Acera components. This is a larger gear range than you probably need, but similarly it can be convenient. In the Shimano hierachy of mountain bike components, Acera is pretty close to the bottom, but remember, if the gears are setup well, and you look after them, you can enjoy reliable and long-lasting shifting.
Hydraulic disc brakes, a large gear range, and attractive design
The Nuts and Bolts
My initial pick-up date for the 29er was delayed slightly when the mechanic discovered that the small shipment of Xenons brought in for review were missing grease in the bottom bracket (where the pedals pass through the frame) . Luckily for everyone, this was spotted and rectified. In the entry level bike segment where margins are tight, quality control is crucial, and this is part of the business that Reid has been striving to improve. To deliver on this they offer free servicing for 12 months, along with 2 years warranty on parts and a lifetime warranty on the frame and forks. As a customer, this is really good insurance on your purchase.
Freshly greased, the Reid Cycle mechanics had their hands full
There was still a gremlin in the system; on my first pre-ride check the rear wheel was ‘out of true’, a little wonky. It was annoying to discover this after returning home, although it was something I was able to fix myself and provides an opportunity to share a useful tip. When you buy a bike from Reid, the staff are friendly, so ask to have the mechanic check the bike thoroughly from top to bottom. This will save you returning to the shop the next day.
I was caught by suprise on my first ride with a second gremlin in the seat post, with the seat unexpectedly tilting up after about 20km – all it needed was proper tightening, which was something I assumed would be completed in the factory during the initial assembly.
On the right side of the equation, the gears were setup well, shifting was great right ‘out of the box’ and remained precise and punchy for the duration of the review. That said, the thumb shifters were not kind to me; while gripping the bars (and not shifting), they pressed into my hands (at the thumb) rubbing off skin. I tried to rectify by rotating the entire shifter mechanism, but to no avail. It comes down to the basic design of Acera shifters which don’t have the elegance and ergonomics of a high-end shifter and were not working well in combination with the broad handlebars.
As a package, the bike looks good, the paint-job and matching of black seat tube, white forks and blue hubs tied in well. Reid spec’ the bike at 14kg which is very heavy, the flip-side is that the frame is also very sturdy.
Shifting was great, although the Shimano Acera thumb shifter design is unrefined
The large range of 27 gears make the Xenon 29er quite versatile
Hitting the Sydney Mountain Bike Trails
I took the bike, as is, directly to the Sydney trails which feature rocky and sandy firetrails as well as technical and bumpy single-track. Rather than fitting cleats, I stayed with the flat platform pedals.
Yes, the 29er effect is nice – compared with a 26″ bike you easily roll over rocks and obstacles; a 29er is a comfortable option. The side-effect was less accurate steering, as though the bike was stumbling rather than elegantly traversing. This was compounded by the ‘flexy’ wheels and fork, so the more technical the trail, the more sloppy the ride.
Where the Xenon shines is braking; the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are pretty awesome for a bike of this price. The braking was reliable in different conditions, although they did lack the modulation (ease on and off) of higher-end hydraulic brakes.
The Kenda tyres were good performers on the Sydney trails, but I was expecting problems with grip while negotiating rocky sections. Of course they don’t compare with super grippy Schwalbe Nobby Nics, but they were much better than anticipated and quite versatile.
After some good news about the bike, it is time to focus on the deal-breaker. The front suspension forks are terrible; heavy, flexy and no rebound damping. The Xenon is spec’d with Suntour XCT-MLO forks with 100mm of travel, lockout option and pre-load adjustment. The 100mm of suspension travel is fine, adjusting the preload dial didn’t seem to have much effect and I did use the entire travel regularly. The lock-out, which you can flip on to remove all suspension, is not a good feature for riding offroad – suspension simply makes sense on bumpy trails. Rebound damping however was a problem – after taking a bump, the suspension abruptly, almost violently returns to the initial position sending a jolt through my hands.
As a weighty beast, not designed for air-time, with effort I launched the Xenon off a few jumps to be rewarded each time with the jolt from the front suspension (as the fork extended mid-flight)… not nice.
[note – read the update below regarding updated forks]
The Xenon 29er is let down by a lack of rebound damping in the Suntour forks
While I am not a fan of the forks, it is a hell of a package for $549. This bike will be good fun on forest trails without too many rocks, drops or obstacles. It can still handle more technical trails but the jolts through the fork will be annoying once you get the bike working. This is a bike on a budget, and with the included warranty and servicing it should be your first choice ahead of any supermarket mountain bikes.
The Reid Xenon 29er mountain bike would likely suit people new to mountain biking who are keen to go off-road, but not overboard. It’s a ‘take it easy’ bike that will let you explore trails.
While you can order from Reid online, Reid Stores are located in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide and I highly recommend going instore, making sure you have the right size and getting the mechanic to check the assembly. Further details on the Reid Cycles Xenon 29er and store locations are online.
UPDATE – MAY 2015
Reid inform BNA that this model now has an updated fork, “Suntour XCM 100mm with hydraulic lock out and thicker stanchions at the same weight”.
I have not trialled however improving these forks is a step in the right direction.