Bike Test: Litespeed Unicoi Endurance XC

Litespeed has been designing titanium bikes for over 30 years, and the Unicoi design has been in its quiver of short-travel XC race bikes for some time. Named after the Northeast region of Tennessee where Litespeeds are made, the Unicoi features a unique frame design that’s eye-catching to say the least. Although the Unicoi looks like a full-suspension bike, Litespeed refers to this bike as a rear-damped hardtail. The damping is handled by the Unicoi’s integrated uni-strut dual-spring system. This bike now rolls on either 29-inch or 27.5-plus-inch wheels and is optimized to run forks with travel ranging from 100mm to 140mm. The MBA wrecking crew couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put this new unique “hardtail” to the test on our local stomping grounds, so we ordered one up and headed out to our favorite trails. 

 WHO IS IT MADE FOR? 

The Unicoi is designed for riders looking for a versatile cross-country/marathon bike that will go the distance. Litespeed checked off the boxes required to compete at local races or enjoy all-day epic adventures. Having the ability to swap between different wheelsets, as well as fork travel, gives riders the ability to customize their bikes to the trails. With the Unicoi, there’s no need to spend more on another bike; this versatile machine can be adapted to work on a wide range of trail networks. 

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

The Unicoi is made from titanium tubing, except for the carbon fiber chainstays. Other features include a 44mm head tube, internal dropper post routing, sealed cartridge bearings and a PF30 bottom bracket. Our test bike came with Shimano’s XTR group, along with a Fox Factory Float 34 fork and a pair of Reynolds Black Label 27.5+ wheels.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

The Unicoi is equipped with Shimano’s 11-speed XTR drivetrain, featuring an 11-46-tooth cassette and a 34-tooth chainring. A pair of Shimano XTR brakes with finned Ice Tech 160mm rotors was added. The Reynolds wheels were laced with high-engaging Industry Nine hubs. More and more bikes these days are getting away from water-bottle mounts, so it was nice to see that with the Unicoi you can run up to three bottles. 

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Suspension setup: The Unicoi has 45mm (1 3/4 inches) of rear-wheel travel that is provided by a sliding stanchion driving directly into the top tube. Inside the frame is a mainspring to handle compression and a rebound spring to help keep the damper from topping out. 

The uni-strut damper is serviceable and comes loaded with a spring rate made for average-sized riders. Litespeed claims this spring will work for almost everyone; however, two different additional coil springs are included for riders looking to fine-tune the shock feel. The factory-installed yellow coil spring is the firmest of the three springs. A green spring offers a mid-weight setting, while the gold spring is the softest. 

Moving out: The Unicoi proved to be a reliable bike built for the task. Don’t let those plus-size tires fool you; the combination of Maxxis rubber and Reynolds wheels provides a light feel. The bike rolls quietly and confidently, and you don’t notice the extra mass when you are pedaling the Unicoi.

Climbing: The Unicoi climbs well in and out of the saddle, propelling you forward with every pedal stroke. Steering is nimble, even with 2.8-inch tires, so it’s easy to navigate around tricky sections of the trail. 

Titanium bikes, when built right, can enhance your climbing and cornering abilities, and this Ti-combo Unicoi does just that. It springs back when you are out of the saddle and hammering, but not too much, because the carbon 17.5-inch chainstays keep the bike’s flex in check.

The Reynolds Black Label wheels are a great addition to this bike as well, with Industry Nine hubs with 3 degrees of engagement and a six-pawl freehub. We found it most helpful when we were climbing steep singletrack and had to come to almost a complete stop and restart again. The quick hub engagement allowed us to have full contact with the pedals when we were in a jam.

The rear Maxxis Ikon+ tire is a good fit for dry, loose conditions. The small Ikon knobs bit into the dirt and kept the tires in contact.

Cornering: Cornering was sharp and exact. When you point the 67.5-degree head-angled Unicoi, the bike steers with ease. With the combination of the Fox Factory Float 34 fork and the Maxxis Rekon Plus front tire, the Unicoi felt right at home in hard-packed, loose conditions.  

Descending: Descending on the Unicoi with the 120mm-travel Fox Factory fork was better than expected, and it did not waiver when we pushed it hard. On very steep and loose technical descents, the Unicoi loved to get thrown around; however, when you do push the Unicoi on the descents, it quickly reminds you that it has a damper to soak up the small stuff and not a shock with linkage. That said, when compared to a traditional hardtail, the Unicoi offers a plush and enjoyable ride. 

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

A few upgrades would enhance the way the Unicoi rides, starting with a wider handlebar, which would allow you to ride fast, technical trails with enhanced confidence. A set of 29-inch wheels and lightweight racing tires would allow riders to compete at their local cross-country events. The flat Prologo saddle takes a little getting used to, and at the end of the day many of our testers would have preferred a wider saddle with more comfort. Adjusting the friction on the uni-strut damper to slow down the rebound might help smooth out the rear end of the bike. When running plus-size tires, you will likely feel a bobbing effect of the tire, especially at lower tire pressures, but a quick tweak of the friction damper does the trick.

Playing around with the tire’s air pressure on plus-size wheels is a must. We usually air up our tires more on the climbs and slowly let out air during our descents in hopes of finding that magical pressure.

BUYING ADVICE

The Unicoi is more of a hardtail with a bit of cushion than a full-suspension bike. The Unicoi is designed to be a fast, cross-country/marathon bike that requires little setup and maintenance. The Unicoi will excel on most cross-country racecourses or long adventure rides.

Titanium is a magic metal that is light and durable, and when it is used to design a bike frame, it can last many years without losing its beneficial ride characteristics. If you have never ridden a titanium bike, we recommend you throw a leg over one.  We suggest giving this uniquely damped hardtail a try as well. litespeed.com


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