Zerode Taniwha

The Legend that is Taniwha is real. And it's here.

I can't quite believe it. After years of wondering if Rob Metz, The man behind the Zerode DH bike, would ever put his 27.5 trail bike version into production before I was too old to ride and realised I preferred lawn bowls is close to shipping to it's first customers. In a few short weeks you can be riding one if you got your order in quick smart.

Here it is. There's not much to dislike . All carbon. 160mm travel. 65 degree head angle. 27.5" wheels. No rear mech, cable, cassette or freehub.

I also can't believe that Rob let me have one of the four pre-production versions to ride and write about first. Well obviously Rob must be a smart man to make this radical gearbox driven bike all on his own, and it takes a smart man to recognize the global phenomenon that is well on it's way to being so it would have been pretty stupid to give the bike to one of those soon to be left in the dust global online magazines now wouldn't it?

So you must be thinking wow, Rod must be stoked. And I was. Sort of. I have been hassling Rob to hurry up and get this bike into production and promised that I would buy the first bike out of the factory (get in line). Rob and I go way back to the 90's when he was a young whipper snapper and we raced DH and I pretty much let him beat me at every race by a huge margin so I knew he would repay me by granting my wish and here we are.

Behind that skid plate is a bunch of cogs and oil. You don't touch it. Just change the oil every 5000 km. After 25000 km it will need a service. I'll be long dead by then.

Rob's Zerode G1 (and G2) DH sled has been around for a while and was unique in that it not only had a gearbox but a super high pivot location that gave the bike incredible square edge bump performance so when I heard the news that Rob was going for a more traditional lower pivot point with this Taniwha trail bike I was a little disappointed.

All the gearbox weight is around the bottom bracket area which is the ideal place to keep the handling neutral

So it was with a little trepidation that I picked up Ali Quinns' (Robs new business partner and a riding buddy of mine) new Taniwha and hauled it off to my favourite riding spot to put the bike through a rigorous testing regime. Mt. Victoria in Wellington, where we have some of the best bike testing terrain in the world. Roots, rocks, drops, jumps, gravel, tarmac, steeps, mud, clay, walkers, dogs and even a male only dating site on the brow of a secluded knoll where it's ideal to test your sprinting or braking depending on which way you crumble your cookie.

There's some things missing here. I was totally surprised at the change in a bikes behaviour with this light rear end and constant chain vs pivot and cog location. 

Dont pay any attention to the stealth tape. That's Ali trying to keep his bike looking as good as possible while waiting for his invisiframe clear tape kit. As it's basically a single speed design a tensioner is needed to take up the slack. Cranks and front ring are both part of the Pinion package. When you back pedal the chain and cog don't rotate. You can change gear just sitting there eating your sandwich.

My trepidation was multi faceted. There were a few factors that had me sure I was going to struggle with this bike.... The single pivot location. A heavier bike due to the Pinion gearbox. The grip shifter that is the only option for said gearbox and the fact that I know I'm not a huge fan of single pivot bikes, mainly due to the suspension lock up under braking that (I thought) afflicts this design (turns out my thinking here is a bit old fashioned). To top that off, I consider Rob and Ali as mates and I would be treading a fine line with any negative feedback I had about the bike. Yes, all of a sudden I was wishing that I was at home on the sofa with a nice cup of tea in front of the telly waiting for Home and Away to see if Billie would finally tell VJ that the baby wasn't his and would Katrina forgive Martin his lies and get back with him before he meets someone else.         .

I was sure I would struggle with the grip shifter but I adapted pretty quickly. 

It doesn't matter how ham fisted you are, if you wreck the pivot bolt threads, you can just chuck in another threaded insert. Collet style pivot axles throughout. Here's the brace to join the seatstays. That must add some stiffness and extend the bearing life

Super tidy internal cables to the gearbox. The rear brake routing is all external for easy removal and servicing and no cable at all to the non-existent rear mech.

Lets get to the ride huh. After fettling about with shock and tyre pressures, twirling the rebound and compression settings to where I like them, I took the Taniwha for a few quick one minute loops on our new Super-D jump line to make sure I had it dialled and nearly threw myself over the bars. It was immediately noticeable how light the rear end felt and I had to add another couple of clicks to the rebound out back to bring it under control.

Feeling like I had it sorted I took to the tarmac to suss out the pedal stroke and get used to the shifting. This bike pedals well. The main pivot is in line with the chain and as you don't change the chain height at the rear cog you get a consistent feel in all gears. I'm a stair climber not a spinner so I always use the compression lever but I felt it was unnecessary with this platform and only used it to firm up the rear and get it to sit a little higher. The gear shifting takes a bit of adapting, especially using a grip shifter, and you need to ease off the power to shift. If you are a sensible rider (like me) then you should be doing this already so it wasn't a huge issue for me.  The gear range is an incredible 600%. This is like running Sram Eagle 12 speed but with a 60 tooth rear cog instead of the 50. If there was a brick wall handy, I would've had a crack at climbing it. The Pinion system works well. There's no delay, shifting is precise with a definitive clunk into each new gear. Mashing the gears doesn't seem possible. If you have too much power on the pedals it just wont change, not even at the shifter , so it's like it's locked until you ease off the pressure. Steep climbing takes the most adaptation so sprinting up a hill through the gears is tricky. Shifting into a harder gear as you sprint off down the hill is a lot easier and minimal backing off the pedals is necessary. I reckon once you have a few rides on a Pinion it will become second nature. The technology can be read about here at Pinion

This is what's inside. It took me a few seconds to understand exactly how it works (whatever, I still don't know what the blue knobs on the Fox forks is for)

With all that boring shit out of the way I hit Hippys jump line and got up to my normal riding speed pretty quickly and felt at home right away. Well, not really at home, more like in a luxury penthouse. There was a lot of new sensations to take in immediately. The back end feels like it's not really there. Even just a simple turn feels like you're gliding. Stoppies and skids have a whole new feel. I was getting fairly excited and I had to stop and jabber excitedly to Ben Wilde who was tailing me down the hill. Even he was impressed by the way I was throwing the bike around on my first run. I just had to go and smash some steep roots so we shot down V-trail to hit the 10cm high root bed before a hard right berm. This is where I was sure things wouldn't go so well. Boy was I surprised to float over that section under hard braking like never before. 

Look, I know I sound excited and I know you've seen me like this before. But I was gobsmacked. The Taniwha felt so light and nimble. Strong and silent. I put in a couple more laps on the other trails trying to find a weak point. There isn't one. Under power the bike just glides. That unchanging chainline speaks volumes in that department. Also surely that gearbox weight at the base of the bikes centre must act like a keel on a yacht stabilizing it in the corners. It rails pretty good.

If we look at the geometry and think about that gearbox weight it should ride like a heavy hitter and really only shine on the steeps and when ridden hard. But it feels like a spritely trail bike. I know you want to know the weight. I did weigh it but it had a bit of loam in the tread so I don't want to tell you as it's not really fair. But after comparing it to a few other bikes of this genre I can tell you that it is about the same weight as a few and maybe one to two and a half pounds heavier than some of the lighter 160mm sleds on the market. But it rides like it's 4 lbs lighter. There's about 700 grams taken off the rear end compared to a traditional geared bike and I'm astounded at the performance enhancement. In fact I think I can say that it is almost as different as riding a bike with Plus wheels.

Yeah yeah yeah, I hear you say, Rod's on mushrooms again...Yeah well, reserve your criticism until you ride this bike. I'm excited for the bike industry. I haven't wanted to dwell on the gearbox as I was more interested as to how this concept would ride. I mean, we are all sick of bent derailleurs and worn cassettes and snapped chains and opening our wallets. not to mention the new dreaded phenomenon of narrow/wide chainring wear and the subsequent grinding under load especially when your chain is wet. Is this the future? I thought the weight would have to come down to really grab me as I'm a huge fan of a snappy lightweight trail bike. But I'm sold already. I reckon I could XC mission this bike to hell and back. Sure I didn't get a huge amount of time on it in varied terrain, but I like to think I'm a good judge of a bike and I fell for it. Big time.

As for the frame itself, it appears to be well thought out with a strong looking rear end, good cable routing, a collet axle system with removable thread tabs and the geometry suits me just fine. The bikes are available online through the Zerode site and there are a few build/frame options and a sweet green colour option too. If you factor in the removal of a bling XX1/XTR groupset then the pricing is pretty good and don't forget that maintenance wise, you'll be spending a whole lot less in the months/years to come.

I sure hope I get to ride this bike some more and I'm happy that I have given you readers at least an insight into how this bike has made me gush a little (ok, a lot) and as I read this piece back to myself I'm comfortable that this bike has freaked me out enough to warrant my behaviour. Just ask Ben Wilde. He's the one who had to jam on his brakes to stop ramming me when I just had to stop to scream in his ear how frickin awesome this bike feels on the trail. Bring on more gearbox bikes I say.

There'll be an XL size coming next year

One can only fantasize about the lack of stress no derailleur, cassette and the associated wear and cost the ownership of a Taniwha will bring to the whole family. Yes, the wife will benefit too, what a great selling point. (sorry, husband/partner too)

With it's beefy rear stays it reminds me of a Nomad up front with a Patrol rear end.