Bike Test: The MSC Hunter RR

Founded in 1999, MSC offers a complete lineup of bikes with everything from ultra-light, carbon cross-country race versions to World Cup downhill rigs. In 2010, MSC products will be available in the United States, and we had the opportunity to welcome their 6.7-inch-travel Hunter RR all-mountain bike to Southern California.

The Hunter RR is designed for the aggressive trail rider who depends on tough components to handle the rigors of high-speed technical descents. The Hunter RR combines lightweight cross-country components and tough all-mountain bits for a bike designed to tackle the entire mountain.

The aluminum-framed MSC Hunter is available in three models, and our Hunter RR test bike is the flagship version. Designed around MSC’s MPS2 rear suspension, the single pivot operates through a swing link to provide 6.7 inches of travel. The goal of the MPS2 suspension is to achieve a coil spring-like plushness with the light weight of an air shock.

It’s undeniable that the Hunter RR is one eye-catching ride. The gold highlights run throughout the pivot hardware and decals and up the lock-on grips. The Hunter is equipped with a 6.3-inch-travel Fox Shox 36 TALAS RLC fork, KS telescoping seatpost and a HammerSchmidt FR two-speed transmission. The Mavic CrossMax SX UST wheelset is one of our favorites, and the 2.35-inch Maxxis High Roller UST front tire and 2.25-inch Maxxis CrossMark make the perfect setup for trail riding on the loose-over-hardpacked trails of Southern California.

The Hunter RR has a lifetime warranty. It is also available for $500 off the price of our test bike if delivered without the Hammerschmidt transmission.

Ergonomics: The Hunter’s attractive lines and swooping tubesets call for you to climb aboard and hit the trail. In the saddle, you’ll experience a very slack seat tube and a narrow-feeling, 26-inch-wide, MSC carbon fiber handlebar. The 70-millimeter, MSC all-mountain stem is perfectly at home on a bike of this caliber.

Pedaling: When power is put down to the Hunter’s 170- millimeter HammerSchmidt crankarms, the bike accelerates quickly, both spinning in the saddle and standing during sprints. The Hunter is a very efficient pedaling machine, so on most rides we left the Fox RP23 shock untouched and in the open position. This setting provided a supple yet firm ride and improved traction over rocky climbs. When long climbs loomed ahead, we switched the Fox Shox RP23 shock ProPedal lever into the third position to virtually eliminate any unwanted suspension movement.

The HammerSchmidt FR transmission offers a two-gear range (38/24) out of a single-ring configuration. On the flats and rolling hills, we experienced very little drag on the drivetrain from the planetary gears moving inside the system. However, when sprinting toward obstacles and on slight uphills, drag definitely became noticeable in the higher gear.

Climbing: The telescoping seatpost is one of the best products of the last five years, and once you’ve ridden with one for a while, it will be hard to ride without one. The all-mountain category is the ideal segment to take advantage of seatposts like this, because they allow the rider to extend the seatpost to optimum climbing position for lugging long-travel bikes uphill. Then you can drop the seatpost for aggressive descen-ding and push those burly components to the limit.

The Hunter RR has a very slack 69.5-degree seat tube angle that becomes more exaggerated the higher the seatpost is raised. In order to achieve the optimum climbing position, we had to slide the saddle as far forward as possible to keep our knees over our toes. The MSC saddle rails were not long enough for us to properly position ourselves for long climbs, and that made for some rough uphill riding on the nose of the saddle.

On steep climbs, we mashed away in the smaller of the two HammerSchmidt rings and didn’t notice the drag felt from the larger ring. The HammerSchmidt drivetrain really makes its mark on long-travel bikes with less than ideal geometry for climbing by providing them with gearing to reach their desired location. If you’ve got nowhere to be but the top of the mountain on your long-travel bike?and all day to get there?the HammerSchmidt was designed for you.

The Hunter’s slack seat angle makes it very easy for the front wheel to come off the ground when you are mashing gears uphill. Utilizing the Fox TALAS 36 fork’s adjustable travel helps the rider keep his weight over the front end.

Cornering: The Maxxis High Roller front tire has a ramped, fast-rolling, center tread but prominent side knobs for digging in when leaning the bike over at speed. The Hunter’s front and rear suspension are very well-balanced, and ripping through swooping corners and undulating trails is truly a blast on this bike. The Hunter is definitely at home on more wide-open and flowing terrain than tight, switchback-filled trails.

Descending: With almost seven inches of rear wheel travel and a 45-inch wheelbase, the Hunter is a stable descender and capable of handling whatever you throw its way. The compact HammerSchmidt transmission and 170-millimeter cranks have great ground clearance over rocks and logs, allowing you to focus on the trail ahead. The balanced suspension inspires confidence to push yourself every time you hit the trail.

The Hunter is equipped with several of the right components to rip down technical descents: the ultra-tough CrossMax SX wheels, tubeless Maxxis tires and a telescoping seatpost. However, the 26-inch-wide MSC carbon handlebar inhibits the Hunter’s descending ability to some degree.   

Braking: The key to making the most of the Hunter’s 6.7 inches of rear wheel travel is to hit the Avid Elixir brakes before gnarly sections of trail and lay off the binders so the suspension can do its thing. The Hunter uses six-inch rotors on both the front and rear wheels. These rotors are sufficient for most trails, but riders testing the descending limits of this bike will be wishing for a larger front rotor to help keep speed in check.
Notice the Hunter’s sleek internal cable routing. Although it looks great, the plastic inserts the cable feeds through repeatedly came loose and were a hassle to fit into the frame.

Unless you regularly ride through tight, tree-lined trails, swapping to a 27- or 28-inch-wide bar would be a great upgrade for this very capable bike, because it would reduce front-end twitchiness on steep, unpredictable terrain.

The Hunter is a new player in the U.S. all-mountain market. We can’t overlook the fact it is about $500 more expensive and five pounds heavier than some recently tested American brand carbon fiber all-mountain competitors.

Other than a few simple component swaps (handlebar, saddle and front rotor) we were impressed with how the long-travel MSC Hunter scaled technical climbs and made light work of some of our more challenging trail routes. MSC pulls out all of the stops on the Hunter and incorporates  several of the sport’s latest technologies. Mavic’s tubeless all-mountain wheels, Truvativ’s HammerSchmidt transmission, high-end Fox suspension and a telescoping seatpost all work together perfectly for a fun all-mountain ride.