UK designed aluminium hardcore hardtail rolling on 27.5 inch wheels.
Now that the Mettle full suspension bike has disappeared from the range, Identiti has become a small but dedicated hardtail brand. So small in fact, that there are currently only two models on offer: the Dr Jekyll dirt jump bike and the AKA trail hardtail tested here.
At first glance the aluminium AKA frame looks much like any other trail hardtail; with its boxy seat stays bypassing the seat tube and running straight into the low-slung top tube. The frame also has a tapered head tube and ISCG tabs on the bottom bracket shell, Identiti making full use of the mounts by fitting an MRP chain guide. No bad thing, given how much the rear end and ultimately the chain gets bounced around when you have no suspension on the rear to absorb impacts.
Take a closer look however and you’ll notice that the AKA isn’t just another cookie cutter hardtail. With slotted bolt-on rear dropouts it offers 15mm of chainstay length adjustment, so you can set the chainstay length anywhere from 420mm to 435mm when running a 27.5in rear wheel.
This is a great feature, as it allows you to change the weight distribution of the bike to suit your riding style, or use the adjustable dropouts to keep a similar weight distribution across all three frame sizes. So yes, Identiti has size specific geometry and adjustable weight distribution. And, if you’re a real sucker for punishment, the adjustable dropouts make converting the AKA to a single speed painless.
And there is an additional benefit to the adjustable dropouts that’s not immediately apparent. They enable Identiti to use one frame design to accommodate both 27.5in and 29in wheels. The idea being that you run the 27.5in bike with a 140mm travel fork, and the 29er with a 120mm fork. This approach is not without compromise though, as you have to run the dropouts on the longest setting to get the 29in rear wheel to fit. Also, while the BB drop is going to be similar on both options, the actual BB height on the 29er will be considerably taller. And it’s the primary reason we opted for the 27.5in version, as the 298mm BB height is pretty much optimum for a hardtail.
So the 27.5in AKA tested here gets a 140mm fork, and on this top-end build it’s the MRP Ribbon. Now, most air-sprung forks have self-equalising positive and negative air chambers, not the MRP Ribbon. Instead, it uses two separate valves – one for adjusting the positive pressure, which is balanced to rider weight and preferred sag, while the negative valve influences how easy it is for the fork to get moving, and also impacts the sag.
MRP calls this FullFill technology as it’s fully adjustable. Yes, it’s more complicated to adjust than a design with a preset bypass port, but the real beauty is that you get to fine tune the balance between both air chambers. It also means MRP isn’t encroaching on Fox and RockShox’s intellectual property.
And it’s not the only thing that MRP does differently, the webbing on the brace faces forward instead of rearward, and while it looks odd, it stops the brace filling with mud. The damping on the Ribbon is also really composed, so even though it has the same travel as the Fox 36 Rhythm on the Nukeproof Scout 290 Elite, we didn’t have to over inflate it to stabilise it.
We know from experience that the oversized Renthal Fatbar 35 carbon handlebar is bomber solid, so we were surprised to detect some additional give and comfort in the front end of the AKA. And it didn’t take long to discover the source of the improved compliance…It was the Gusset S2 soft lock-on grips. With ample rubber and an asymmetric design, these £20 grips provide better damping than can be achieved with sophisticated manipulation of carbon layups or handlebar profiles.
And it wasn’t the only comfort enhancement we discovered on the AKA. When swapping the stock Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres for our Maxxis control tyres we unearthed a Halo Turbolite Evo HD tyre insert on the rear. And much to our relief, removing the stock tyre was still relatively easy. And given that the AKA was already the lightest bike on test, ditching the insert only improved matters further.
We’d also ditch the cooling fin pads on the Shimano XT brakes, because they rattle, or, better still, go for the next AKA model down that comes with SLX instead of XT, as SLX is every bit as good. We’d keep the XT shifter pod though as being able to dump two gears at a time is a really nice feature on any bike, but especially useful on a hardtail as pushing a slightly taller gear helps keep your feet glued to the pedals when running flats.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a bike fast, but within the first few pedal strokes the AKA showed that it clearly has pace. Especially out of the blocks. Now, whether that’s down to the shorter/stiffer rear end, rapid engagement of the Identiti rear hub, or even the smaller and lighter 27.5in wheels is impossible to say with any certainty, so we won’t even try.
And the riding position clearly plays a part here too. The low BB height makes you feel in, rather than on, the bike, so it’s easy to keep the pedals loaded. The bar height and reach on the medium size puts your hands in a really good position relative to your feet too, which makes it easy to use your entire body to wind the bike up when sprinting. And, because the MRP Ribbon fork is calm, yet supple, pedal inputs aren’t being absorbed through the suspension either.
Now, this pace really depends on the gradient and how rough the trail is. On smooth flowing trails with sculpted berms and jumps the AKA is without doubt the fastest and the most fun of the three bikes here. Get it on rougher terrain however and the smaller wheels/tyres provide less margin for error, and nowhere to hide when charging down rougher, steeper trails. Most noticeable though, is now much slower the smaller wheels are on bumpy climbs, even though the AKA is the lightest bike in test. In fact, next to the 29in wheeled Nukeproof Scout the AKA was both harder to maintain speed on and to balance on.
So if you were ever in doubt about the improved roll over that 29in wheels provide, riding both of these bikes back to back really highlights the difference. It also highlights how much easier it is to accelerate smaller/lighter wheels. Ultimately the Identiti AKA is less versatile because of the smaller wheels and regular tyres, even if it’s stacks of fun once you get it on the right style of trail.
Identiti’s AKA has a clear bias towards mucking around in the woods or carving up the local pump track, rather than winching your way up rocky bridleways. That’s not to say you can’t do everything on the AKA though. And yes, the 29in build would expand the AKA’s horizon further, however because Identiti uses the exact same frame, albeit with a short travel fork, the BB height on the 29er also goes up which makes it less appealing.
With it’s short back end and peppy pedalling response the Identiti AKA is more about getting high on jumps and feeling the flow on groomed trails.