The key difference to the 2008 model Meta 5.5.1 is the elevated swingarm. One advantage of this new design is that it increases stiffness where the Contact System linkage connects to the swingarm. This results in less side-loading on the small links and increased bearing life. Another spin-off is that Commençal can now attach the front mech to the frame, rather than mounting it on the swingarm. Early versions of the swingarm were butted but Commençal has since put some material back to improve stiffness.
Less obvious is the change to the attitude of the bike. Commençal has steepened the head and seat angles. and increased the down tube length to compensate for the reduction in the front centre that comes with the steeper head angle. Even with the extra length, our 2008 test bike has a shorter wheelbase than last year.
Instead of driving the shock directly off the swingarm, like on the ’Dale and Orange, Commençal employs a series of small links, which it calls the Contact System. The suspension is still a single-pivot design but the links allow the suspension engineer to better tailor how much leverage the swingarm exerts on the rear shock in different segments of the travel. Overall, this makes the Commençal noticeably less sensitive with regard to sag set-up; basically, you can run it soft, but it still won’t bottom.
Mavic EX721 rims (where the 21 indicates the internal rim width in millimetres) are perfect for fatter tyres. Maxxis High Rollers are fitted as standard, with a 2.1in on the rear and 2.35in up front. This is great for trail centres and hard-pack trails but if you are riding a lot of natural stuff, you may need extra grip on the rear.
Even if the in-house handlebar on the 5.5.1 sweeps back too much for our liking, its 27-inch width, combined with the 80mm Race Face stem, is fairly close to the set-up we normally run. SDG has improved the reliability of its I-Beam system and increased the saddle’s torsional stiffness, making it a much more stable perch. All that’s needed are a set of lock-on grips.
The Meta 5.5.1 is not the plushest bike on test but that’s not to say that the suspension isn’t effective. Interaction between shock and linkage allows the rear end to really absorb bump energy, rather than simply moving the swingarm out of the way. The suspension seems to react in proportion to the bump force but it is a bit chattery on stutter bumps. This could be because the shock has the firmest low-speed compression tune that Fox offers, but without trying one with a different tune we can’t be sure.
Even with all of the geometry tweaks Commençal has managed to maintain the fun factor of the Meta 5.5.1. It’s easy to flick about and has lots of pop for springing out of turns. Climbing performance is good in the middle ring but it has more feedback in the granny than the Lapierre or Tomac. But the biggest difference that we found with the 2008 Meta 5.5.1 is that steering stability isn’t as good as the ’07 bike, nor is resistance to ‘pitching’.
Even with the geometry tweaks, the Commençal Meta 5.5.1 has retained its playful character. It’s super-easy to manoeuvre and incredibly good fun to ride. Suspension performance is superior to the Orange and could be improved even further with a different shock tune. While it’s debatable if the new elevated swingarm is stiffer or even as stiff as the one it replaced, we have no doubts that the 2008 Meta 5.5.1 doesn’t allow you to push it as hard or hang it out as much as the 2007 version. It’s still a great trail bike but the subtle balance has been upset ever so slightly.
MBR RATING: 9/10