If imitation really is the highest form of flattery, then the engineers at Raw must have blushed when they saw the Privateer 161, because when we first set eyes on a naked prototype of the 161, we instantly mistook it for a genuine Madonna
From the four-bar rocker-link suspension, to the one-piece main pivot and shock-mount assembly, the parallels between the Privateer 161 and the Raw Madonna are uncanny. Both have generous reach measurements, the Privateer 161 P3 tested here, which is equivalent to a size large, boasting a 490mm reach. And, just like the Madonna, it has proportional chainstay lengths across the size range to help balance handling. So there are four different rear triangles each offering different progression curves, travels and chain stay lengths, which we’ll dive into in just a minute.
Even the suspension curves are similar, both bikes starting out with a high level of anti-squat which drops off sharply but remains safely above 100% at sag to guarantee a sprightly response when you stomp on the pedals. Granted, the frame finish on the Raaw is of a higher quality – and you’d expect from one of the best enduro mountain bikes – and overall it looks more polished and refined than the Privateer, but that’s to be expected when there’s a considerable difference in price.
To make life as a privateer enduro racer easier, the rear brake hose on the 161 is routed externally. The gear outer is also external on the front triangle before disappearing into the chainstay to protect it from chain slap – a wave- like rubber strip stops the chainstay getting lashed by the chain. The 161 also has additional cable guides on the head tube to reduce cable rattle. Our test bike was far from silent though, and it wasn’t until we removed the small protective cover on the SLX rear mech and increased the tension of the clutch mechanism that peace and quiet was finally restored.
While proportional chainstays help balance weight distribution, they can also change the amount of travel a frame delivers. So while the Privateer may well pump out the full 161mm on the P4 size, our P3 test bike with a 6mm shorter rear end measured 154mm, that’s 7mm shy of claimed. No big deal, as most bikes we test underdeliver on travel. The 161 gets a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, and with the large/medium tune it runs mid-range compression and rebound damping for an 80kg rider, leaving plenty of latitude for lighter or heavier riders to fine-tune the damping.
Set to 25% sag on the shock, we were still able to use the full measure of travel, so while the 161 has a progressive suspension design, it’s not so rampy as to limit travel.
RockShox really struck gold with the Lyrik Ultimate, because pound for pound it’s still the best-value enduro fork on the market. Yes, if you’re really fast, heavy or riding an e-bike, then the 38mm Zeb would be a better option. For anyone on a tighter budget though, the Lyrik Ultimate with the Charger 2.1 RC2 damper is more than enough fork. To offset any concerns about stiffness from the 35mm chassis, Privateer makes full use of the oversized Torque Caps to bolster steering precision. An added bonus being that they make it much easier to locate the front hub and 15mm axle.
Magura brakes are slowly making their way back onto bikes and it’s easy to understand why. The MT5’s have a smooth, progressive lever feel with plenty of power in reserve, with none of the grabbiness present in Shimano’s four-piston brakes. Granted, there are still some question marks regarding durability, but there’s no questioning their performance. Privateer’s sister company supplies the Hunt Enduro Wide V1 33mm wheels. Freehub engagement is rapid, but the H-Lock bead on the alloy rims made it more difficult to seat our Maxxis control tyres than on the DT Swiss rims.
Our test bike had been well used before we got our grubby mitts on it, and didn’t come with the stock Shimano SLX chainset. Given all of the scuff marks on the tips of the crankarms, it’s easy to guess why. If you run 25% sag on the shock, which roughly equates to 30% at the wheel, you shouldn’t have any issues with unwanted pedal strikes or bent crankarms.
Privateer 161 performance
For a big bike, the Privateer 161 is remarkably agile. Yes, the longer chainstays and increased anti-squat make it more difficult to pop the front end up than on the Vitus, but due to the lighter damping it’s still easier to push into it travel and use the suspension to get the bike off the ground. As such, you can change direction surprisingly easily.
The light touch to the compression damping can make the rear end feel a little flappy at times, but thanks to the length in the frame the bike remains stable even when things get hectic. Also, with the high front end you never feel like the length in the frame is pulling you on to the fork when riding down steeper trails. In fact, the way the front and rear tyres brake traction in unision makes the Privateer feel very predictable and easy to ride fast.
Hit a berm really hard or square a turn, and there’s a hint of flex in the rear end. If we had to pinpoint its origin, we’d bet on the undersized Horst-link pivots just in front of the dropouts. That’s not a criticism though, just an observation, as it’s this touch of flex that enables the Privateer to find traction on off-camber trails and thread its way more easily through disjointed rocks and roots.
Get on the gas and it’s not as not as quick to accelerate as the Vitus, possibly because it’s not as stiff, but bigger bikes are also harder to wind up and use the handlebar for leverage. And while the super-steep seat angle and bolt-upright riding position that goes hand-in-hand with it feels weird initially, it rapidly becomes your new normal. OK, so if you’re sitting down pedalling on flatter terrain it can feel like the pedals are slightly behind you, but then this bike wasn’t designed for riding flat terrain. Steep up and steeper down is its forte, so if it’s a trail bike you’re after, check out the 141 from the same stable.
Privateer has hit the ground running at full tilt with its first mountain bike. With light wheels and high-end suspension components like the RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, 161 focuses on what matters most. So even though the alloy frame is not the lightest, the bike masks its 16.04kg weight incredibly well. The ultra-steep seat angle will divide opinion though, and with the relatively high anti-squat and proportional chainstay lengths, Privateer could certainly slacken the seat angle a touch without impacting the 161’s climbing ability. That said, if you’re grinding up steep climbs to drop your saddle and bomb the steepest descents, it’s the way forward.