A number of brands are launching hardtail frames with trail bike geometry numbers and fork travel. So, what’s the advantage? Yes, a hardtail, not a full-suspension bike, can be a trail bike, folks. A hardtail can offer much more than just a fun time on the trail, and the Kobain is Devinci’s answer for the growing segment of riders looking for aggressive hardtails infused with more modern geometry. This Canadian bike brand aimed to build a machine that was robust, fun, versatile, comfortable and cost-effective. With these standards set, our test riders eagerly geared up and charged towards the trails.
The Kobain frame is made with a 6061-T6 alloy that has modern amenities, such as internal dropper post cable routing, clearance for 29×2.6-inch tires, a tapered head tube, Boost 148 spacing and a thru-axle front/rear. The design comes with a 130mm-travel fork; however, we can bet some riders will go to 140mm. It’s good to keep in mind that this will radically change the bike, but more on that coming up.
Here is the best way to break it down: The Kobain’s geometry is typically found on a full-suspension enduro or trail bike. For comparison, we will run these numbers by you. The wheelbase of the Kobain in size large hits right at 1220mm, which is just 4mm longer than the large full-suspension Pivot Switchblade. The Kobain even has the same reach at 470mm as the full-suspension Pivot we mentioned. Along with that, the head tube, which is slackened to 65.5 degrees, and the 75-degree seat tube angle on the Kobain are both only 1/2 a degree off from the geometry of the Switchblade.
Devinci currently offers two affordable build-outs of the Kobain model. Each option uses the same frame and material; they just vary in components and color options. The base model is a blue navy color simply called the Kobain Deore 11S, which starts right at $1399. This base model includes an entry-level, 130mm, Rockshox 35 Silver R Coil with an 11-Speed Shimano Deore drivetrain. The step-up build that we tested, the Kobain SLX 12S, has a more performance-oriented Marzocchi Z2 Rail Sweep fork, which also has 130mm of travel, along with a Shimano SLX 12-speed group. This build-out runs about $500 more and comes in a full sand colorway.
The drivetrain is a combination of SLX and Deore components from Shimano. Devinci stuck with Shimano’s two-piston brakes at the front and rear with stamped 180mm rotors. We ran a Maxxis Minion DHR that measured right at 2.6 inches at the front and rear. To test weight savings, we did swap to a lighter alloy option during our testing. The Kobain’s handling is achieved with Devinci’s very own 35mm stem clamped to Race Face 780mm handlebars. Priced well and decently equipped, the bike’s total weight does come in a little below a hefty 32 pounds.
We were able to take advantage of the 130mm of fork travel on our test rig with zero issues or hiccups. The newer chassis of the Marzocchi Bomber fork design adds stiffness while providing a plush feel on the trail. The Bomber Z2 has a top-of-fork, simple sweep adjuster that goes from firm to open to lockout on the fork, or you can fully open the system with plenty of positions in between. If you have this fork, it is worth checking out the online tuning guide for help dialing in the ride. With our preferred sag of 20-percent set for this type of hardtail, we headed for the dirt.
DOWN AND DIRTY
The Kobain is very similar to a hardtail from another Canadian bike brand, the Rocky Mountain Growler 50, which we tested back in the August 2020 issue. This style of bike is designed for a rider who wants an affordable hardtail that is worthy of more aggressive trail riding. This rider wants something that can push the limits, stand up to a wide variety of terrain and hold up on long days pedaling with the crew. The frame geometry on both of these bikes is meant to sit long and planted. These two bikes offer modern, full-suspension-bike, enduro geometry embedded in a hardtail design.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a dedicated climber, but don’t count the Kobain out, either. Yes, it is a “hardtail,” but that doesn’t mean it is a lightweight cross-country machine. It’s heavy with the stock bits and would not be our first pick to achieve a personal record up climbs. As mentioned, we did try to save some weight by swapping to a lighter wheelset, but we also converted the bike to tubeless. We were not expecting the heavy, long and slacked-out geometry to perform at cross-country race pace; however, the Kobain offered a better climbing position and more efficiency than the Rocky Mountain Growler. This was partly due to the Growler’s 140mm of travel and it being 1.5 degrees slacker at the head tube and longer than the Kobain. The Kobain proved to be similar in smooth or rougher sections of climbs, but was a bit nimbler than the Growler in tight corners. The 2.6-inch tire width provided the additional traction needed on loose climbs. We run lower pressures on this type of bike to gain more traction and increase compliance on an already-stiff frame.
Honestly, the Kobain takes us back to our roots riding mountain bikes; however, the modern geometry creates a new level of confidence that allows us to flat out shred when going downhill. The bike remains stable and can handle a heavy-hitting, fast-paced trail for a hardtail. Since it is a bit shorter and not as slack as the Growler, the Kobain doesn’t feel as stable when fully pinned, but we were able to move quicker with the Kobain through corners, and the durable Shimano components all held up very well to our abuse. Overall, both bikes feel like hardtails, but the Kobain had enough speed and composure for us to keep up with our full-suspension buddies.
MODS AND UPGRADES
Priced right around the same amount, both the Growler 50 and Kobain are a superb mix of affordable components paired with desirable modern mountain bike features. Out of the box, there are a handful of riders who would change a few things to help minimize weight. Number one, get rid of the tubes on the Kobain and run tubeless. Keep in mind that the bike does come with valves but will require rims to be taped. Going this route will save weight and also allow you to run lower air pressure. Beyond that, some might go wild with carbon upgrades to enhance their trail experience, but we can honestly say that it is refreshing to ride such a capable, modern hardtail at this value.
While it might not be everyone’s style of riding, we enjoy the benefits of modern, aggressive hardtails. The Kobain is a solid machine that puts its rider in a confident position to take on the trail ahead. Riders looking for this type of bike should not dismiss this mountain bike with a price tag of less than $2000. It delivers multiple modern conveniences and offers value-driven components that had no problem keeping up with all the tricked-out, full-suspension bikes on our ride days. The Devinci Kobain won’t disappoint you on your next ride.
CATEGORY: Aggressive hardtail
WHEEL SIZE: 29″