My old Enduro SL really was a little haggard by the time I succumbed to pressure from Specialized HQ asking for it back. So after a short hiatus, it was with some excitement that I received my 2008 longtermer: the all-new and UK-specific Commençal Meta 55XT.
First impressions were good; Commençal’s usual clean lines and slick graphics had me swooning, while the thought of riding a Shimano drivetrain after several years on SRAM was already giving me an itchy trigger finger. Here was a bike that had won our admiration, collecting two perfect 10s along the way, and almost single-handedly rejuvenating this quirky Andorran brand. Expectations were high indeed.
My euphoria diminished as I slung the bike on the scales. A smidge under 31lb with pedals was a little more than I’d hoped for, and almost identical, pound-for-pound, to the Enduro I’d just given up.
I really started to get worried when the angle finder settled at 68.5 degrees on the head tube. So far, I had a bike that weighed as much as my old long-termer but gave up half an inch of travel front and rear and gained two degrees at the head tube. The figures weren’t adding up and question marks began appearing in my head. How would the geometry affect the ride? Was I taking a step backwards? Had the Meta 55 lost its mojo?

The more I measured, comparing the results to last year’s Ultimate Trail Bike-winning Meta 55.1, the more changes became apparent. Visually, most obvious is the new swingarm. Gone is the triangulated creation of yore, now spruced up with
a single beam that contemporises the looks and reduces side-loadings on the linkage. Additionally, mud clearance is now truly phenomenal.
Aside from the relocation of the front derailleur to a stub on the mainframe, and a couple of slender gussets at the head tube, the remaining changes affect the geometry. According to official figures, the ’08 frame has had half a degree added to both head and seat angles, bringing them to 68.5 apiece. However, the 55.1 we tested last year measured 66.5 and 66.3 respectively; a league away from the factory figures. ‘C’est ne pas possible’, said Commençal designer Nico Menard, although he did admit that in-house tolerances could account for half a degree either way (67.5 – 68.5). So, the discrepancy remains a mystery, but recent production changes have tightened the standards, and all the ’08 bikes that we have measured match official figures.
After a year struggling with Specialized’s E150 fork, I now have a tried and tested Fox Float RL at my disposal. To tie-in with distributor Madison’s Shimano connection, the Meta 55XT comes adorned with new XT throughout. Only the chain and cassette come from (cough) SRAM (cough). Race Face supplies the 70mm Evolve XC stem and seatpost, while the in-house bar looks weedy but, at 26.5in, is a decent width. Sun’s Equalizer rims are shod with excellent Maxxis’ High Roller tyres. Interestingly Commençal mixes sizes, mating a 2.35in at the front to a 2.1in at the back, a decision that helps placate the effects of the steeper head angle. Overall, it’s a solid spec and excellent value for money. Apart from the grips, there’s nothing I’d consider changing.
Ever noticed how sequels rarely seem to live up to the original? At the moment I’m a little worried that the new Meta 55 will follow this trend. As I haven’t had the chance to swing a leg over the 55XT in anger yet, all this is pure conjecture. You’ll just have to wait until it’s had a good hammering to find out if the new bike is a disappointment.

Bike Weight: 30.82lb (with pedals)
From: Madison 020 8385 3385
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Size Tested: Medium
Frame: NUTS SL aluminium
Fork: Fox Float 140 RL
Shock: Fox Float RP2
Front Travel: 140mm
Rear Travel: 140mm
Hubs: Shimano XT
Rims: Sun Equalizer
Spokes: Stainless steel
Tyres: Maxxis High Roller 2.35F/2.1R
Shifters: Shimano XT
Front Mech: Shimano XT
Rear Mech: Shimano XT
Cranks: Shimano XT 22/32/44
BB: Shimano XT
Brakes: Shimano XT, 180mm F/160mm R rotors
Saddle: SDG Bel Air
Seatpost: Race Face Evolve XC
Handlebar: Commençal 6061 riser
Stem: Race Face Evolve XC