An asymmetrical swingarm is needed due to the forward pivot position. The forged yoke, from which the chainstays head rearward, drops substantially around the bottom bracket on the drive side of the bike to give clearance around the front mech and chainrings. The whole rear triangle pivots on this large single pivot, but rather than driving the RockShox BAR shock directly, a twin swinging link system is used. This separates the bushing in the shock from side loading, increasing the lifespan, and allows some tuning of the compression ratio (how much the shock is compressed for a given amount of rear-wheel movement).
Up front, Suntour provides the 30mm stanchioned XCR fork with a compression damping based lockout lever. This allows the fork to be locked out and a minimal amount of tuning.
Fast rolling Kenda Kharma tyres contribute hugely to the overall ride of the bike. Light and fast rolling, they add to the speedy feeling Combi S’s ride, but when it comes to pushing hard in corners or on loose surfaces, they are left seriously wanting. Thankfully the smooth transition between centre and side knobs means that, when they let go, they go gradually rather than without warning.
An eight-speed drivetrain is a notable downgrade on the Combi, but the biggest issue is with performance. The plastic shifters flex more than others, and combined with the water trap of the cable loop, make for a much stiffer action. We never had an issue with being unable to get the gear, but they lacked the light action of the Deore units fitted elsewhere.
One area where things are bang on, though, is the contact points. The SDG Bel Air saddle is often found on machines costing twice this price. The full width bar, soft, narrow grips and matching stubby stem mean that everywhere you touch the machine is perfectly placed and comfortable. Top this with the best brakes on test, and things start to look up.
With the pivot in line with the middle chainring, there is minimal pedal feedback when the suspension compresses. This means you can get on with the job of enjoying the trail rather than worrying about the pedals moving around.
Unfortunately the shock and forks let the ride down a little. Suntour’s XCR forks are prone to diving. They can be propped up slightly with a third of a turn on the lockout lever, but they bob when climbing and dive when braking. This diving also means the rear has a tendency to extend when seated and braking hard. Your weight is thrown forward under braking and rear suspension wants to return to full extension. Braking into corners can unsettle the bike, requiring a few metres of trail for the bike to regain its poise. On the plus side, the swing link seems to prevent the bike using all its travel too quickly.
Despite the stated weaknesses, the Combi is a joy to race around technical trails. The light weight and fast rolling tyres mean it carries speed well. Cheaper components are soon forgotten as the perfect geometry allows you to climb without feeling cramped, before you turn around and make the most of Commençal’s legendary slack head-angled stability. Chassis stiffness, both pedalling and on rough trails, is the only real downer. With a rear end as stiff as the Claud Butler, this would be close to the perfect entry-level full bouncer.
MBR RATING: 9/10