Cross-country bikes have been evolving, becoming longer, lower, slacker and more capable. While there are still some companies producing more race-oriented designs, BMC has released its Agonist in a category of its own for the cross-country rider looking for something a little rowdier. With a sporty suspension design and more relaxed geometry, the Agonist was designed to be a fun ride on rest days or an efficient yet capable bike for backcountry adventures. We have tested some seriously capable XC bikes this year and were eager to see just how much the Agonist could handle.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Agonist is in its own category with 110mm of front and rear travel and a comfortably progressive geometry that is slightly slacker than its XC race-driven counterpart, the Four-Stroke. BMC designed the Agonist with an efficient pedaling platform suited for everyday cross-country and adventure riding with the ability to be competitive at the occasional weekend race event.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
BMC uses several clever pieces of engineering in the Agonist frame that we would expect from a Swiss company. The Agonist was designed with 110mm of front and rear travel with a 69.5-degree head tube angle and 73.75-degree seat tube angle on 29-inch wheels. At the heart of the Agonist is BMC’s Advanced Pivot System suspension that resembles a single-pivot design that’s known for its efficient pedaling platform. The APS has three different positions that are controlled from the handlebars via a DT Swiss remote. Up front, the Fox 32 Float uses a two-position damper controlled by the same remote. The settings on the shock are tuned for climbing, pedaling and descending. BMC designed the shock to be a little firmer for more pedaling support during those long days in the saddle and when climbing.
The Agonist is one of the sleekest-looking bikes we have had in the test fleet, with full internal cable routing and an integrated mud flap over the lower link. Inside the main frame are built-in guides to help with the cable routing and prevent any unwanted rattling. BMC built plenty of frame protection into the Agonist with a guard on the downtube, chainstay, and mud flap that protects the lower link and pivot bearings.
There are two levels of the Agonist—the 01 (tested) and the lower-end 02. The 02 version has the same frame design and geometry with 29-inch wheels and 110mm of travel, but with a carbon fiber main frame and aluminum rear triangle. Our test bike uses BMC’s lightest carbon fiber in the main frame and rear triangle. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can opt for the Agonist 02 that starts at $3799. Our test bike is the highest-end build kit with a retail price of $7500.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
BMC went with a full Fox Factory suspension setup with a Float 32 fork up front that gave us plenty of adjustment and a smooth ride. This level of the Agonist came with a SRAM X01/XX1 build kit and a 34-tooth ring up front that gave us a little more top-end speed when descending. Keeping the overall weight down was a set of SRAM Level Ultimate brakes paired with 160mm rotors for more of an XC feel.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Suspension setup: It took our test riders a few rides to dial in the suspension, in particular the rear shock. Up front we ran 20-percent sag with two volume reducers and the low-speed compression set about halfway in for a little extra support. BMC put a guide on the top of the upper suspension link with hash marks to help with the suspension setup. The Agonist was designed with a softer setting (more sag) and a firmer setting (less sag). We started with the softer setting, but after a couple rides, we increased the air pressure for a more efficient setup.
Moving out: Our test bike came stock with 740mm-wide flat bars and a short 60mm stem. This combination leans heavily towards cross-country riding with a slightly more aggressive position. Even with the narrower bars, we had plenty of real estate for the brakes, shift lever and remote lockout. The remote lockout is an over-the-bar design that isn’t the most ergonomic available, but it does have a distinct feel when locking and unlocking the suspension. The stock Vittoria Barzo tires are fairly high volume, especially for a 2.25-inch-wide tire with a versatile tread pattern. Our test riders settled at about 23 psi in the front and 24 in the rear for the majority of our test riding.
Climbing: After our first few rides on the Agonist, we were convinced that the Agonist was a very efficient climber. With the suspension in the firmest setting, the Agonist resembled a hardtail that was ready to conquer any mountain. Out of the saddle, the frame and rear triangle were stiff and complemented the shock tune, especially during long fire-road grinds. The middle setting on the shock didn’t offer quite as much pedaling support but worked well on rolling terrain and climbing technical singletrack.
We were impressed with how easily the Agonist could be controlled when hitting steep pitches or technical climbs. Our test riders found it easy to shift their weight over the front of the bars while maintaining traction out of the rear tire.
Descending: BMC designed the Agonist in hopes that it would be an efficient climber but also be able to handle some rowdy descents. The geometry is progressive enough for a bike in this suspension category, and the extra 10mm of travel was appreciated. With the remote unlocked, the rear suspension was active and supple over chatter and minor hits. On bigger hits, the APS design had quite a bit of progression at the end of the stroke that wasn’t overly harsh.
Cornering: The Agonist is a comfortable bike in the corners, especially at lower speeds. Our test riders had no issue controlling the Agonist through tight switch-backs. At high speeds, the Barzo tires didn’t give us quite as much confidence as something a touch wider might. The low standover height made the Agonist easy to lean over and gave our test riders plenty of clearance at high speeds.
TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?
We don’t like to harp on companies for not putting dropper posts on cross-country bikes, but the Agonist deserves one. All of our test riders agreed that a 120mm or even 150mm dropper post would drastically increase the descending capabilities of the Agonist. The stock Barzo tires offered minimal rolling resistance but didn’t give us quite as much traction as we wanted, especially when descending. Going to a wider or slightly burlier tread design would make descending a bit more fun.
BMC did a quality job with the Agonist. The progressive geometry and added suspension travel make for a bike that is quick, efficient and fun on the descents. This bike does have its limits, though. It is not a do-it-all bike for technical all-mountain riding, but it does provide the cross-country enthusiast more versatility than a true race bike would. www.bmc-switzerland.com
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