Is Mondraker’s radical geometry just daft-looking stems or a genuine advancement?


MondrakerFGWhat is Forward Geometry (FG)?

Most bikes are designed to ride with (relatively) long stems to get the reach and fit right. Mondraker has ditched that concept and built the reach into the top tube of the frame, lengthening the whole bike while keeping the handlebars in the same position. Its Forward Geometry bikes are built for weird-looking 30mm or even 10mm stems.

  • Short stem pushes riders’ weight further behind the front axle
  • Super short 10mm stem sharpens steering
  • Extra long top tube incorporates the length of a normal stem
  • Slack head angle and long top tube creates long wheelbase for extra stability

Why go to all this effort?

It’s to give you a better position on the bike when things get steep. A long stem puts your weight further forward so you need to shift backwards or risk going over the bars; with an FG bike your weight is already back, even in the neutral riding position. That gives you more leeway to move the bike as you want by shifting your body weight.

How does an FG bike ride?

Like a downhill bike: that super-short stem matched with a wide bar definitely adds stability when you’re descending.

What does it mean for our bikes now?

Just chucking on a short, 30mm stem probably isn’t going to be right for your bike — it’s designed for a long stem so your total reach (the bike length + the stem length) will come up short and make the bike feel small. A 50 or 60mm stem and a wider, 750mm bar will keep your reach roughly constant (because you’re reaching outwards on the bars rather than just forwards). “You’ll basically lose your fears when the track is steep and your confidence will multiply,” says Mondraker designer Cesar Rojo.

  • Jimmy Dee

    And I don’t think you are wrong there. I just feel that your opinion is limited to your own preference. Granted, my opinion is probably also limited to my own preference, but my thoughts on riding always involve versatility as a key goal. We used the same bikes for DH sections that we did for climbing up the hills, and for the triple black diamond stuff and for rolling around downtown casing stairs and riding on fountain ledges etc… Perhaps the difference there is that the harder the trail got, the *slower* we rode. You can’t ride too fast when you’ve got to pick your way through a series of precise drops that border on trials riding to prevent being launched into the thick forest, 50 feet in the air…

    The Mondraker is probably quite suitable for the “DH” style riding on the fire roads to get back to the car though.

  • Alex Roberton

    Fair enough, personally I prefer a longer bike because it is much harder to increase the stability of your bike on a rough downhill compared to the slight loss in manoeuvrability that the extra length creates, but that’s just my opinion

  • Jimmy Dee

    You are missing a key point. The change in the Mondraker geometry does not push your weight back in relation to the rear wheel, it pushes your weight back in relation to the front wheel. Essentially, this is lengthening the wheelbase. This makes the bike less ‘tippy’ forwards, but also backwards. I have said in almost every comment here that this makes the bike more ‘glued’ to the ground. This is a result of having a longer wheelbase. According to them, they retain the hand position of other bikes – which in many cases for off-the-shelf bikes is too far forwards anyhow – and move the front end forwards.
    For many riders, the stem is one of the first places to customize the cockpit to your own riding preference and personal geometry. Back where I grew up, almost every bike has a stem replaced basically on purchase. Now you could say that this is due to bad geometry – I won’t disagree – but the bottom line is that *it could be changed quickly, cheaply and easily*. Add that length into the frame and that is no longer true.
    Again, this comes back to the basic fact that DH has one priority – stay glued and stable – while other forms of riding require more control and maneuverability.
    DH riding is currently more about long sweeping courses where you go fast, hit some berms, ride some planks, do some jumps etc. It’s more about hitting a line and “point and shoot”. Most of the trails that the Mondraker would be best at are little more than ‘oderately challenging XC trails, ridden fast and with some jumps’.
    I grew up in the North Shore area where that kind of riding is basically “the trail that gets you to the trail” and a lot of the actual trails involved picking your way through obstacles, a quick run, then doing some precision drops etc…
    My “big DH bike” is a moderately customized Cdale Perp1, which is strong enough to handle just about anything, has the angle to descend anything, but is a bit too glued to the ground to handle that type of riding. I can only imagine that the Mondraker, with its extra 3 inches of wheelbase would be even worse.
    And as a DH “point and shoot” rig? I’m sure the Mondraker performs better. But only for that type of riding.

    It’s like saying that you’re a better mountain climber because you work better on prepared and worn hiking trails, but ignore anything more technical and specialized like scaling rocks, handling ice and narrow ledges.

  • Alex Roberton

    While I agree in mountain biking it is necessary to not have your weight on the front wheel almost all the time. Some weight must still be transferred for hard braking and steering. Forward geometry is designed to move your weight further behind the front wheel, ie the same effect as leaning back has on your cog, this means that on the mondraker you should in theory be able to weight the bike more equally and therefore be faster due to the increased grip. If a rider cannot get used to and push this new technology then they will miss out on the benefit of it. Also motocross as a sport has had a much longer time to develop geometry and technology than mountain biking, this is why all motocross bikes share very similar geometry and travel, unlike mountain bikes in the same category. Advances in mountain bike technology can also be traced back to motocross origins, due to the fact the technology already exists there. These advances include but are not limited to: wider bars, dual crown forks, inverted forks, procore, disc brakes

  • Jimmy Dee

    Which would be true – if the critical factor was where your center of gravity was in relation to the front wheel. However, a lot of mountain biking (in my experience) has to do with control over the front wheel by exercising control by moving your center of gravity around the center of the rear wheel.

    CoG in relation to the front wheel prevents endos. True. For this, the Mondraker Geo is sufficient.

    CoG in relation to the rear wheel allows a lot more control for everything from climbing, doing drops, controlling the direction on fast descents, controlling the bike in low traction situations, fine control over steering by weighting and de-weighting the front wheel and many other aspects of the ride.

    Hence my statement above where this type of geometry might be suitable for a DH only bike where stems are already usually short enough and where the terrain is perhaps a little less technical. In other words, the bike would remain ‘glued to the ground’ and that would be good.

    When you start getting more technical and control becomes more important, the Mondraker would be harder to ride *IF* your personal geometry didn’t match what they designed the bike for. Naturally, if your style of riding and your physical dimensions matched what they expected, you’d probably be fine. But if you weren’t an exact match (ie someone who probably would have shortened the stem if the bike had the same geometry and a longer stem), you’re screwed.

    This probably is more specific to people whose riding style falls between XC and full on “point and shoot” DH.

    Also, I would not call motocross the pinnacle of 2 wheeled anything. For starters, it’s got a motor which deflates any real level of achievement, it’s a good cross between MTB and video games in my humble opinion…

  • Alex Roberton

    Hi Jim, I have to agree with Danny here. The idea of getting your weight back on a descent goes back to older bikes with rubbish geometry, weighting the front tyre is important for both braking and steering control especially on the downhills. Mondraker forward geometry therefore puts the rider in a position where they do not have to lean back because the front wheel is far enough away to have no need to. The rider can then enjoy the benefits of more control of the bike on the steepest sections of trail. Inspiration for this cockpit design can be seen in the motocross world. Which is arguably the pinnacle of off-road two wheel performance geometry. Cheers

  • Jimmy Dee

    No. I’ve done some frame design in the past and I’ve got a pretty solid knowledge of the biomechanics so I don’t generally read too many articles like that. 🙂

  • Danny Milner

    As I say, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and like all geometry related changes it has its downsides. 😉
    Just out of interest, have you read my longtermer verdict for the Dune Xr and Chris Porter’s sizing matters articles elsewhere on the site?

  • Jimmy Dee

    I am referring to the basic idea of taking the stem length and putting it into the top tube. I am not trying to define stems as “normal length”. I am referring only to the common. And for stock bikes, it’s almost always too long. Once it is in the top tube, the frame cannot be adjusted quite as easily as it could be by simply swapping the stem – something that I have done for every bike I’ve ever owned.
    I don’t believe that I said that you had to be in a specific position for the whole ride. But the farthest back you can get *is* governed primarily by how far forward your hands are. In my experience, most bikes on the showroom floor usually have a stem that is too long – now that’s not necessarily true of DH bikes and my Perp wasn’t too long at all. But that was because the stem was already a stubby. So I don’t know how you’d take that length and put it into the frame…
    My assumption therefore is that the Mondraker is based on the idea that OEM manufacturers typically use cheap stems (which are almost exclusively way the hell too long), then take this length and put it into the frame, thus making the frame itself too long for no reason other than “other manufacturers are stupid and cheap”.
    I’ve not ridden a Mondraker to be fair, but I’ve ridden an *awful* lot of bikes in the past 20 years or so. Generally speaking, I’ve always found the easiest bikes to ride having smaller frames that I can get my body position moving around. The harder frames to deal with are the ones where I can’t get my weight far enough back in terms of the rear wheel. I know that DH bikes tend to like to keep the person’s weight between the front and rear wheel, so you feel ‘glued’ to the ground, but my background involves more technical riding with more time spent with the front wheel in the air. Pushing the front wheel farther forward and not letting your hands get as far back seems like it would suit that “glued” feeling, but not be very suitable for more technical terrain. From my experience, my “glued” bikes are the least versatile. Not bad for going down fast, but pretty crap at just about everything else. Of course, I’m also not a DH’er and the only places I’ve ever ridden that resemble a DH course are the trails and fire roads that get you *to* the trail.

  • Danny Milner

    Hi Jimmy,

    Sadly i don’t have the time to get drawn into a long discussion about geometry, but i will raise a couple of points. Yes, i am aware that bikes some with a variety of head angles, and those head angles can be tuned – although rarely in isolation. Yes, i am also aware that the only other fixed contact point, and influence on CoG, on the bike are the bars.
    Forgive me if i’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but you mostly seem worried about not being able to get your weight far enough back with FG? But mountain biking isn’t just about getting your weight off the back. It’s a dynamic activity where you’re constantly shifting your body around and changing your weight balance depending on the slope of terrain, the grip levels and the attitude you want the bike to take. Even downhillers – who spend all of their time going downhill – don’t ride with their bum hanging over the back wheel for the whole run.
    On a trail bike, it’s even less of a Holy Grail.
    You also seem to make quite a few assumptions and generalisations:
    What is an optimal position?
    What evidence is there that the top tube on the Mondraker is too long?
    Is it too long on every size, or just one size?
    What is a normal length stem?
    Are all these authors and test riders you mention the same height? Do they all ride in the same way and like the same style of geometry?
    Have you ridden a FG Mondraker?
    It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but in quite a few situations it excels, and it’s a trend that’s being increasingly adopted by the industry.

  • Jimmy Dee

    That’s more to do with head angle. Bikes are available in a variety of head angles. I have a bike with a 66 degree head angle (which can be made effectively slacker with shock sag and adjusting the fork) and another with 69 degrees. There’s a pretty big difference there.

    Also, my center of gravity on my bike is only partly related to my feet. The other place that my CoG is anchored is… my hands… Bring the hands back, bring the butt back, CoG goes backwards – regardless of what happens with my feet. Most of the manipulation of my CoG on my bike happens from extending my arms and moving my butt back, not changing my foot positioning.

    If you think about it, if I have a bike that has a stem that is too long (ie most retail bikes), I can buy a shorter stem and get optimal position. If I buy a Mondraker that has a top tube that is too long because it’s based on other bikes that have stems that are too long, I’m screwed. There’s not one single thing that can be done about it. The geometry of a bike with a normal length stem is suitable for riders of a variety of sizes. The geometry of a Mondraker is suitable only for riders that match the physical dimensions of the authors and test riders. This makes the bikes great for custom builds for sponsored riders. And pretty bad for average Joe and Jimmy guys like me.

  • Danny Milner

    no, because your front wheel would be much closer to your feet than on the Mondraker.