Minimal travel, maximum fun; the Transition Spur punches way above its weight
Transition Spur joins the downcountry mountain bike wave. Sporting modest amounts of suspension travel but not shying away from aggressive geometry.
Transition Spur need to know
- 120mm travel ‘down-country’ bike with 29in wheels
- Pivot-less flex stay rear end saves weight and cost
- SBG geometry pairs slack head angle with short fork offset and long reach
- Collet pivots, threaded BB, integrated frame protection, EnduroMax bearings and a lifetime warranty provide peace of mind ownership
To be honest, I dislike the term ‘down-country’ as intensely as I love the bikes it encompasses. Short travel trail bikes, done well, are some of the most rewarding bikes to ride on the planet. Everything that makes people rave about a good hardtail – accuracy, engagement, that back-to-basics approach that relies on skill and fluidity rather than bravery and strength – but with more grip, more comfort and <dons flame suit> more fun.
2020 is fast becoming the year of the down-country bike, and, for me at least, the most exciting model released to date is the Transition Spur. I mean, take a look at it… what a weapon. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that continuous line from the dropout to the head tube is simply stunning, and anyone who thinks otherwise should have gone to Specsavers. Or Barnard Castle.
What you can’t tell from the photos is how little it weighs. Yes, it has bulging, hench tubing profiles and a head tube thicker than a rugby player’s neck – as befits the new design language adopted by Transition this year – but the bike itself is hella lightweight. Our size large test bike with SRAM X01 build came in at 11.25kg on our scales. That’s less than Transition’s claimed weight and just 200g more than the Scott Spark AXS I rode a couple of months ago – fixed seat post included. Compare that to other down-country models launched recently, such as the YT Izzo (12.68kg), Norco Optic (13.9kg), Orange Stage Evo (13.8kg) and Yeti SB115 (12.68kg) and you can see just what an advantage the Transition has on the scales. Unsurprisingly, this also has a huge bearing on how the Transition Spur rides.
And on that note, I want to get the bad bits out of the way first, because I don’t want the last things you remember reading about this bike to be negative. That lack of mass is a double-edged sword. On the one hand the Transition Spur is effortlessly easy to pick up and put down where you want on the trail, it changes direction with just a fingertip force, and you can get it up to speed with just the bare minimum of purposeful pedal strokes. But you don’t shed weight and strip away material without impacting stiffness and solidity. Indeed, I can actually feel the top tube of the Transition Spur compress when I squeeze it between my fingers. And on the trail, it took one corner to detect there’s also a slight disconnect between the handlebars and the contact patch of the front tyre. Point the bar in one direction and the front wheel takes a split second to follow. Somewhere in the steering system, precision is being lost.
So I began the task of tracking it down. First I fitted Torque Cap end caps to the DT Swiss front hub. With a much larger diameter than the standard fit items, they increase the surface area of the interface between the hub and the RockShox SID Ultimate fork, stiffening up this vital area. Then I tightened the spokes, and finally I swapped the compliant OneUp handlebar for a really stiff Renthal unit of the same width. Without adding a load of heavy parts and destroying the Transition Spur’s intoxicating energy, these three changes really helped synchronise the Spur’s outputs with my inputs and restored my faith that it would go in the direction that I pointed it.
Secondly, the BB on the Spur could be lower. Bearing in mind it comes standard with unfashionable 175mm cranks, even running 30 per cent sag nothing came close to so much as kissing my pedals. Transition could have definitely dropped the bike by 5mm and switched to 170mm cranks for a more planted feel. It’s not a deal breaker, as the wheelbase means stability is never in short supply, but who doesn’t love that feeling of scraping your heels through a loamy corner that a low BB affords? And the Spur could easily give you more of those moments without running into problems with excessive pedal strikes.
And before we’re done with the gripes, that seat tube conning tower looks cool as ice, but if we tightened the seat post clamp enough to stop the post from rotating in the frame, then the OneUp dropper would get stuck halfway through its travel every time we raised it. Word from OneUp is that this can sometimes happen when the post is fully slammed in the frame (as it was for our saddle height), but reducing the travel by 10mm and raising the post 5mm in the frame should cure the problem.
How it rides
Now the good bit – raving about how it rides. The Spur suffers from chronic small bike syndrome. That’s to say it is in utter denial about its size and stature. It’s constantly dragging you in over your head, squaring up to terrain it should have no right to fight. And yet time and time again, you both emerge unscathed from these scraps with an elevated heart rate and an unhealthy desire to go back in the ring for another round. It’s the classic Jack Russell taking on the neighborhood Alsatian while all the other pooches watch nervously through their paws. If this bike was a cartoon, it would spend most of its time cloaked in a whirling, tumbling cloud of mayhem punctuated by a random pedal or handlebar poking through the dust.
What lets it get away with blue murder? For the most part it’s the capable geometry. Transition hasn’t been afraid to unleash the full extent of its SBG (Speed Balanced Geometry) on the Spur. That means a slack sub-66º head angle paired with a 50mm stem and short 44mm offset RockShox Sid Ultimate fork. Not forgetting the generous 480mm reach, genuinely steep seat angle (both actual and effective) and low-rider aping standover height.
This gives you all the tools you need to chuck the minimal mass of the Spur around like a dart while still retaining the high-speed stability of a spear. You’re always low on the bike and well-centred between the wheels, ready to respond when the bike gets out of line – which it does. Regularly.
I’ll stop short of saying that climbing on the Spur is a pleasure, but it’s certainly no chore. That steep seat angle keeps the front end from lifting on steeper sections, while there’s enough stability from the rear suspension under power that you don’t need to reach for the pedal platform on the RockShox SIDLuxe shock on long, gradual ascents. Incidentally, should 120mm (we measured 116mm) of rear wheel travel be too much for you, a shorter stroke shock with the same eye-to-eye will lop 20mm off the total travel.
Transition’s GiddyUp suspension design follows its familiar rocker link-driven format with a slight twist on the Spur. Instead of the usual Horst link on the chainstay, the entire swingarm is one-piece, saving weight and simplifying production. Instead of a pivot, the stays themselves bow to accommodate the variation in angle between main pivot and rocker as the suspension compresses. It’s an oft-used trick pulled from the sleeve of engineers when building a short travel suspension bike.
The graphs show a fairly linear rate of progression, with around 30 per cent more force needed to compress the suspension at bottom out than top out, and with the shock in play that translates to a predictable response that never spikes or pulls the rug out from beneath you. There’s reasonable levels of grip and plenty of support when pushing the bike into the dirt for traction when dropping into turns. You don’t feel like you’re getting more travel than you bargained for, but there’s never a spiky edge when the suspension hits the buffers. As if the Spur has learned Morse code, you simply get a constant stream of dots and dashes through the soles of your feet – communicating everything you need to know about the terrain beneath your wheels. And that message comes through loud and clear thanks to the blissfully silent ride. In a straight line over washboard trails there’s almost a swan-like calmness to the Spur’s chassis that belies the mayhem going on at the axles.
If all that wasn’t beguiling enough, the Spur displays a propensity to pile on speed that makes you believe you have metal stars mounted to the heels of your shoes and you’ve just pressed them firmly into the flanks of the down tube. I have no idea where it gets this acceleration from, because the travel and the weight both point to a bike that should struggle to retain momentum, rather than gain it at will, but when it gets its head down, it just flies.
I like the Spur then. I like it a lot, in spite of a few flaws. None are deal-breakers though, and although Transition should know better than to omit something as simple as the Torque Caps from the spec, I can forgive that mistake. Out of the box it’s still a blast to ride, and with a couple of simple mods can unlock its full potential. If I was in the market for a down-country bike that absolutely nails the brief, and was lucky enough to have £6k (£5k for the GX-equipped model) burning a hole in my pocket, this would be top of my list.