Exploring the limits on a bike that has potential for epic rides and rowdy trails
Fresh from a tenure with enduro bikes, Ben swaps big hits for more zip. Does the NS Synonym promise of XC pace with enduro attitude add up?
NS Synonym TR 2 need to know
- Aggressive “down-country” trail bike with a full carbon frame and 120mm travel
- Rolls on 29in wheels to maintain momentum and keep speed and efficiency high
- First “XC” bike to come from NS with a focus on big days in the saddle
- Available in four frame sizes and two price points
I first set eyes on the NS Synonym at Eurobike last summer, the bike standing out because as I’ve always associated NS with dirt jumpers and the more extreme end of mountain biking. Initially struck by the smooth clean lines of the carbon frame, I got more drawn in by the intriguing geometry of the first hardcore XC bike from NS. Numbers that revealed a bang up-to-date 490mm reach on the size large. The head angle is progressively slack too at 66°. Sounds more like an enduro bike, right?
Upon closer inspection of the specification it’s clear that this bike is targeted at aggressive XC, or dare I say it, the “downcountry” category. Call it what you what, the Synonym TR 2 seems like the perfect antidote to the burly smash-fest that the Nukeproof Mega provided as my previous longtermer.
I’ve had a couple of rides on the bike already and first impressions, although brief, are positive. The progressive geometry inspires confidence and even though the relatively narrow 760mm handlebars and rangy 60mm stem look somewhat retro, all seems good so far with the fit of the cockpit.
Granted, there’s more clutter on the handlebar than I am accustom to, and after changing the grips to my favourite DMR Deathgrips, I have messed around with the positions of the controls quite a bit. There’s a left-hand overbar dropper post remote for the X-Fusion Manic seatpost, which I have mounted as close to the grip as possible, making it easy to locate.
More confusing is the remote that simultaneously locks out the Fox fork and shock. I have pushed it inboard a little bit so I don’t hit it by accident when adjusting the saddle height, an added benefit being that it also forces me not to tamper with it, as I still can’t figure out when it’s open or closed simply by looking at it. As such, I have a little bounce on the saddle to check whether the suspension is open or closed. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it over time, but my first impression is that I will mostly keep it in the open setting, and keep the rear suspension fully active. It is, after all, only a 120mm-travel bike.
Much to my relief, the first rides on the NS revealed my initial thoughts on seeing the bike to be accurate. Get to the top of a steep descent and it doesn’t feel like a marathon race bike. Instead you drop in fast and want to smash through roots and rocks full of confidence, then quickly realise the limitations of 120mm travel.
I also think the front end might be a tad too low for me. I have some spacer shuffling to do and the rise on the bar is minimal, so there’s plenty of room for adjustment as we become better acquainted.
More pressing are the tyres. They came with tubes fitted so I need to convert them to tubeless, and while I have the 29in wheel out, I’ll probably swap the dry weather Maxxis Rekon/Ikon combo for something a bit more aggressive, and better suited to winter conditions.
Tweaking aside, I can’t wait to get out of my depth on this bike. It’s certainly going to be loads of fun exploring our limits on a bike that has so much potential for epic rides and attacking rowdy trails. Hopefully the NS Synonym is the one bike that can truly claim to do both of these jobs well.
NS Synonym TR 2: month 2
Bike parks are not the usual domain for XC-style whippets, but the NS Synonym seems to lap it up anyway. As I stated last month, its modern geometry inspires confidence but can get you into trouble if the tracks are rough and loose. Seeing as most bike parks have a good selection of groomed trails, I’ve enjoyed the speed and ease at which this bike rips through the flow trails and red-line jumps at Windhill. In fact, I’ve never ridden an XC bike that has made me feel so confident. What’s more, it’s a breeze to pedal back up, which is a massive bonus as I much prefer to ride than push.
To boost the bike’s potential I have made a number of small changes to the spec; fitting a wider, higher-rise bar and a shorter stem. I’m hoping the vibration-damping Spank Oozy Trail 780 Vibrocore bar will make up for the lack of fork travel, and I instantly noticed how much easier the bike is to manual with the shorter, 48mm Split stem.
Interestingly the modified riding position hasn’t degraded the bike’s climbing ability, even if the higher front end has certainly helped in the steeper chutes that I’ve ridden.
One niggle is with the Fox lockout lever. It’s a bit plasticky and its function is counterintuitive — depressing the lever and tensioning the cable opens the damping on both the fork and shock. Releasing the lever locks out the suspension and requires very little thumb force (there’s a faint click). This is fine once you are used to it, which I’m not, so I’ve mounted it further inboard on the bar as it’s easy to knock accidentally when I’m searching for the dropper remote. So much so, that on a couple of occasions I have got to the bottom of a rocky downhill and discovered that I had mistakenly released the lever and have been descending on an almost rigid bike.
Now, as much as I loved riding fully rigid in 1989, I wasn’t quite expecting time travel and the subsequent arm pump that I have encountered at the push of a button. Initially I put it down to rider error, but having moved the remote inboard, it’s happened a couple of times, so it’s definitely releasing by itself in larger rock gardens and on stutter bumps.
I have played around with the cable tension and it seems better now, but I will be speaking to Fox about solving the problem once and for all. I’ll update you with my progress next month.
NS Synonym TR 2: month 3
It feels like the rain hasn’t stopped in the south for over a month now. And although I’m blessed with some great winter riding gear, the bike still needs a regular deep clean and more maintenance this time of year. But that’s what bike testing is all about, right? And it does mean that I’ve ridden in some pretty horrid conditions, which has highlighted a couple of shortcomings in the Synonym TR.
The first one is tyre choice. The original Maxxis Rekon/Ikon combo was quickly replaced by a meatier WTB Vigilante/Trail Boss mix, but now it’s so sloppy I’ve switched to a Vigilante on the rear too. With the bike in the stand, I also upgraded the wheels to All Mountain Carbons from Hunt. Not only did they chop off a substantial amount of rotational weight, the wider rim profile and subsequent lower tyre pressures have given me greater confidence in sloppy ruts and extra grip when needed most.
After riding in a storm of biblical proportions, the SRAM Level front brake developed a strange judder when applied, the lower legs of the Fox 34 Step-Cast fork dancing around like pre-teens at a junior disco. Inspecting the pads and rotor revealed some inconsistency in pad-wear and a strange residue left on the rotor. I gave both a quick clean, reset the pistons and that seems to have cured it. I can’t fault the performance of the fork though, even if the geometry of the Synonym means a Fox 36 wouldn’t look out of place up front.