MBA Bike Test: Viathon M.1

Viathon M.1

Consumer-direct hardtail that performs
Direct-to-consumer sales have exploded over the last few years. Retail giant Walmart is so serious about the continued growth of e-commerce that it has expanded online offerings to include more premium products. Walmart has even created a new proprietary high-end bike brand called Viathon Bicycles. Walmart’s first mountain bike is a carbon hardtail that will be available only on their website—www.viathonbicycles.com—and not sold in any Walmart store. With models starting at $2400, these are far beyond what you’d expect from a typical department store bike.

Without a dealer involved, Viathon requires consumers to install the seatpost, handlebars, front wheel and pedals (not included) to get rolling. The bikes are shipped in a unique box that opens from the side rather than the top, so the bike can be easily slid out. Inside the box, preset torque wrenches are included with instructions and an 800 number should additional assistance be required. We slid our Viathon out of the box, eager to see what this new brand was all about.

The smooth contours of carbon give the Viathon a svelte look. This bike will appeal to cross-country riders and racers looking for a no-nonsense, functional bike. Designed to be ultra lightweight and deliver speed, the Viathon’s aim is efficiency. The size-medium frame we tested weighs just 1,035 grams with a derailleur hanger and mounting hardware for three water bottles.

COMPONENTS

SRAM’s Eagle XX1 drivetrain is the highlight of an elite component package. The single-ring, 12-speed shifting performance is combined with featherweight Stan’s Crest CB7 carbon wheels. Carbon is utilized throughout the cockpit, with FSA’s K-Force flat handlebar and a 12-degree stem. The SRAM Level Ultimate brakes with 160mm rotors complete the high-end part spec.

SUSPENSION

Viathon equips the M.1 with two clever features that challenge the common definition of an elite cross-country bike. First, this hardtail gets more than just the usual 100mm-travel fork. Viathon has chosen a RockShox SID RLC with 120mm of travel. Second, the designers chose to mount a dropper seatpost as standard equipment on the M.1. We were eager to get on the trail to see if these features could truly benefit the bike’s performance.

A 120mm fork and dropper post give this hardtail racer a playful demeanor.

DOWN AND DIRTY

The ease of acceleration is notable from the first pedal stroke on the Viathon. With no excess fat, the M.1 moves efficiently down the trail.

Power to the ground: The Viathon M.1 is a willing climber.

Climbing: Getting up hills was, dare we say it, enjoyable on the Viathon. The M.1’s frame geometry naturally positions the rider’s body forward. The short top tube, combined with the steep seat tube angle, puts the rider over the front of the bike, which keeps weight on the front tire to reduce unwanted wheelies when grinding up even the gnarliest ascents. Additionally, the longer chainstay length positions the rider’s weight in a balanced position for climbing that helps keep the rear tire planted on the ground when the climbs get really steep.

The flow: At slow speeds, the Viathon’s geometry works well to assist quick and precise movements on technical trails. When speeds increase, some hardtails can quickly reach their per-formance limit. That’s where the little extra suspension travel is appreciated. The Charger is RockShox’s premium damper that is installed in all its best forks; the fork performs well. We were able to set up the fork with 25-percent sag, which allowed the suspension to absorb small chatter yet resist bottoming out on even the most abrupt compression.

When it came time to point the bike down steep terrain, the Viathon proved more capable than many of its elite cross-country competitors, thanks to the RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost. Just a push of a button quickly lowers the saddle 125mm, which can make any XC bike more capable going downhill. Many racers forgo this advantage because it adds nearly a pound to the overall bike weight; however, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the additional weight when picking up this feathery, 21.6-pound machine.

MODS AND UPGRADES

The 12-degree stem and flat bar setup could feel too aggressively aerodynamic for some riders. If your need for comfort outweighs your need for speed, you might want to flip the stem to utilize its 12-degree rise potential for a more upright posture for longer, all-day epic rides. Depending on your geographic location, you might also want to upgrade to tubeless valves and tire sealant. In some parts of the Southwest, tubeless is nearly a necessity to avoid flat tires, and one positive byproduct would be the additional weight loss of going tubeless, reducing overall bike weight by approximately 1/2 a pound.

BOTTOM LINE

A premium parts spec enables this carbon hardtail to perform at the top of its class. And the addition of a few unique components—a dropper post and longer-travel fork—give the Viathon capabilities that extend beyond race-only applications. And, by offering a 60-day return policy, new or used, Viathon aims for customer satisfaction.


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