Despite the insistence that this is a trail machine through and through, it’s obvious from the off that the designers at Diamondback UK are more inclined towards ‘slacker XC’. They’re not opposed to climbing, it’s just that they see it as a necessary evil, rather than the be all and end all. For an 18in frame the Apex is small. It has the lowest standover height, despite having the joint longest forks. This is partly down to the miniscule head tube. Not only is it short, but it also houses a hidden headset, so the bars are low — 15mm of spacers are provided as standard, but this only takes the bar to the height of the rest of our machines without any spacers. Once the fork sags, there is no denying the lack of elevation at the bar.
Attached to the head tube are some heavily hydroformed tubes. Swages and ridges enhance front-end rigidity, and the rear of the bike is not lacking in manipulation either. Reminiscent of an mbr fave, the Whyte 19, the chainstays morph from oval to round through triangular mid-sections. This all adds up to a rear end that’s as comfy as both steel hardtails on test — a very rare accomplishment on an aluminium frame.

At 130mm of travel, the Manitou Slate Super shares the title of the longest travel fork on test with the P7. Rather than having a travel adjuster, Diamondback has chosen a lighter model. Sadly, its performance cannot compare. Like the Slivers on the Fisher, damping control is limited and the narrow 30mm stanchions flex too much to keep the front wheel where it should be. The extra length of the fork — and corresponding reduction in bushing overlap — reduces accuracy.

To suit the riding likely to be done, wide rims have been specced. Alex DPP20s are a 500g, 26mm-wide rim that can take a fair bit of abuse, and improves the profile of wider tyres, such as the WTB MotoRaptors fitted. Despite the 2.24 label, they have a massive carcass and the tread wraps right round the curve of the tyre. They are not fast rollers, but traction is first rate. Possibly more suited to the rockier test ground of the designers than the loamy south, but a good all-rounder all the same.

LX brakes are a theoretical upgrade over the Deores on the Genesis, but in the real world they perform identically — they work well, they’re powerful enough for XC riding and they’re reliable. Pads are cheap too. FSA finishing kit graces the Apex and, while it performs no better than the good quality, non-branded stuff fitted elsewhere, it does give you bragging rights at the trailhead.

The steep seat angle limits the length of the Apex cockpit when seated and can make long climbs a drag. It’s difficult to get a stretch and make full use of the lower back muscles. The front centre and wheelbase are not overly short and, when stood up, balance between the wheels is good. Raising the front end (longer steerer tube, higher rise bars or spacers) would knock it into a pretty much perfect position. The forks let the bike down, but at least the geometry lets you ride around the weakness.

The UK-based designers of the Apex should be applauded for being brave enough to build this bike. It’s aimed at a specific group of riders that are usually served by more expensive micro-brands. The low standover height and compliant rear end make the bike a joy on demanding terrain. The low front end and short top tube limit the ‘long moorland hack’ compatibility, but more riders are finding places to play rather than getting in the miles. If you’re one, and you’re looking for a fun new bike, then you could do a lot worse than checking out Diamondback’s new UK machine.