Inspired by Dan Atherton’s riding in the Dyfi, the AM.170 is a long travel, mullet wheel enduro bike that's available in an incredible twenty two size configurations.
We’ve seen it the Atherton AM.170 perform at the highest level in Gee’s latest Ridgeline IV video where he ventures high into the Dolomite mountains on an epic trip, but how does it stack up against the best enduro bikes on the market? We took this boutique long-travel rig out first on the Athertons’ home turf at Dyfi bike park and then straight into the local tech trails of North Yorkshire. This test may be tagged as a ‘first ride’ but we’ve put a serious number of hours in on this AM.170 in M1 spec.
It’s stating the obvious that Atherton bikes have come a long way in a relatively short space of time. But when a manufacturer of a relatively niche design, using inherited technology from a failing brand, turns it around in such a spectacular fashion, it’s something that bears repeating.
Need to know
- Mixed wheel size mountain masher with 170mm frame travel
- Unique frame construction combined with DW6 suspension offers a unique ride quality
- Fox 38 Factory fork drivers 180mm travel, with 4-way adjustable damping to match the DHX2 coil shock
- Available in 22 size configurations.
To add to multiple glowing bike reviews, one of Atherton’s most spectacular achievements is scoring World Cup and World Championship DH wins against the biggest and most affluent brands and teams on the planet. The Atherton DH rig is definitely competitive then, but how does this translate to its latest 170mm travel big hitter sharing the same DNA, technology and production methods?
Dubbed the AM170, this is the bike Dan Atherton wanted for ripping up DH tracks and massive jumps in Dyfi bike park, and riding the local natural techy steeps and still be able to ride back up to the top again under his own steam.
No surprises then that it’s solid and pretty hefty, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a one-trick-pony freeride or mini-DH bike, I quickly discovered it still pedals and climbs very efficiently for how capable it is.
Like every Atherton bike (this is the fifth), the frame is made in Machynlleth from a skeleton of carbon tubes bonded into 3D-printed titanium lugs.
I’ve ridden every Atherton bike so far and followed their progress from the somewhat rough and raw first AM150 prototype, through multiple refinements to the point now where the brand is clearly exploiting the full potential of the unique construction and DW6 suspension design.
Atherton bikes sees customisation and rider fit as a critical part of the puzzle, so it offers 22 size options, reflecting low, regular, tall or X-tall seat tubes and reach numbers spanning from 410mm up to 530mm. Now if that sounds crazy, well it kinda is, but thanks to Atherton’s fit calculator, that factors in arm and leg length as well as rider height, it remarkably easy to land on a good fitting bike.
Offering so many options is clearly easier when your frame’s made by bonding tubes together, rather than needing extremely costly carbon moulds for each individual size. But the downside to Atherton’s approach is that it’s more time consuming than having a traditional carbon moulded frame. Atherton bikes have to wait 16 hours for its sole Renishaw additive machine to lay down powdered titanium with a laser to produce the titanium lugs. These component parts then need significant hand-finishing before tubes of any dimension can be inserted. Artisan? You bet.
This build process obviously lends the Atherton’s bike a unique look, but less obvious is the DW6 6-bar suspension layout with an additional, barely visible, link behind the bottom bracket. It adds weight and complexity, but as we delved much deeper into this in the AM130 review, it’s clear that it also affords tuning suppleness and progression with neutral pedalling characteristics. It also retains low levels of anti-rise; presumably contributing to Atherton’s signature composed ride character that’s really stable and calm under heavy braking on the steeps.
Another factor to the smooth and damped ride feel is Atherton using custom lugs for each application and understanding the tuning of the carbon tubes that connect all of the lugs. This is key to the ride quality.
Adapting the thickness and rigidity of the carbon tubes adds compliance and damping in certain zones of the frame and it means that even with rock-solid lugs and pivot hardware, the frame feels sturdy, but not so bony and stiff as to reduce off-camber grip and comfort.
How it rides
Once on board, a low top tube and straight-through seat tube keeps the AM170 down away from your knees and thighs, so the bike fades into the background as you ride – the neat cable routing and effective frame protection keep it from rattling your ear drums too.
The rubberised frame protection isn’t as elegantly finished as some of the big brands though, and the corner of the downtube protector had already started to peel away slightly during testing.
With so many options on AM170 builds, I won’t delve into the sorted specification too much, aside from a special mention for Hayes Dominion A4 brakes. This choice was originally dictated by the DH race team’s sponsorship, but all the riders loved the brakes so much that it was a no-brainer to offer them to the public. With Galfer pads, power is ridiculous (arguably class-leading), but there’s less modulation than Hope’s latest stoppers and the stubby lever blade doesn’t quite have a big enough ‘hook’ at the fingertip.
Plenty of brands use similar geometry on their longer travel enduro rigs and even share the familiar Fox 38 fork and DHX2 shock, but Atherton’s DW6 suspension and the damped chassis manage to bring something different to the table.
From my first ride at Dyfi with team rider base settings on the suspension, the bike seemed to glide almost effortlessly across rough ground. So you get the sense that you’re always cruising along with lower vibration levels though the chassis than many equivalent travel bikes. It’s no sofa though. The AM170 rides precisely and sharp, but never bites back, does anything weird or unsettling and holds its shape so well, you can hammer without feeling like you’re the one getting hammered.
The AM170 is so neutral in fact, you could argue it’s a bit middle of the road. To me, this is where the magic lies though. It just feels right in every area. With minimal tweaking and set up, it’s anything but boring when the bike is so sorted it compels you to tackle ever harder trails and bigger jumps. As such, I ticked off more features and nailed steeper sections at Dyfi than on any other bike I’ve ridden there, including similar long travel rigs from big brands like Canyon, YT, Evil and Specialized.
Aside from morphing me into an Oakley jump line addict desperate for another hit, the AM170 offers a solid foundation to tweak its character. Playing with the compression dials on the Fox suspension can yield results from plenty of support for sends and big berms, to a slink-down-the-steeps bump swallower. And remarkably, it works equally well in either guise.
So where many bikes with distinct characteristics tend to pigeon hole themselves, the AM170’s neutrality allows a broad range of tuning for a broad church of riding possibilities. It also stands out for being a far more efficient climber and pedaller than a bike this capable has any right to be.
My only complaint then, was having to give the AM170 back before my Alps summer holiday. Because, for riding DH tracks, Morzine steeps and a blend of natural enduro trails, I struggle to think of any other bike I’d rather ride than this rounded package that rides lighter than the scales suggest and looks unique to boot.