NS Bikes Define AL 170 is a big-hitting aluminium enduro bike with 180mm front and 170mm rear travelMullet wheels mix a 29in front and 27.5in rear.
With big travel and mullet wheels, the enduro-ready NS Bikes Define AL 170 is easy to pigeonhole… or is it?
Can you identify a bike’s intended use by travel alone? I don’t think you can, and the new NS Define AL 170, an aluminium enduro bike that boasts 170mm travel and comes with a 180mm-travel fork and mismatched wheels, is a prime example.
There are two models in the Define AL 170 range and both use the same chassis – the 1 here and a sibling called the Define AL 170 2. That model has a RockShox Zeb fork instead of the Fox 38 and a coil-sprung X-Fusion rear shock, not the air-sprung Fox X2 you see here. Yes, it is a heavier build but it’s also £1,100 cheaper and, when I spotted it on the NS website, it looked like a bike you could take to BikePark Wales for a dirty weekend or find some steep off-piste to let your hair down.
Now, the reason I’m banging on about the Define AL 170 2 when I’m supposed to be doing a comprehensive first ride on the 1, is because I’m convinced that they’re different sides of the same big-bike coin.
The Define AL 170 1 is essentially a long-travel bike with aggressive geometry that you can pedal to the mountain top and ride down it, whereas the coil-sprung Define AL 170 2 is the kind of bike you’re more likely to sling on the uplift.
And there’s overlap. At the heart of both bikes is a hydroformed aluminium frameset. It’s nicely put together and has some cool features like the hybrid cable routing which runs inside a recess on the underside of the down tube. This means you can’t see the cables from the side, so they don’t spoil the clean hydroformed lines, but you can access them easily for maintenance or servicing.
There’s also a geometry adjust feature built into the lower shock mount and by flipping the offset chip you can change the BB height by +/- 5mm and the head tube/seat tube angle by roughly half a degree. The default setting is the lower one, and having spent some time in this configuration I can’t see anyone changing it (except maybe out of curiosity) especially if you use this bike for its intended purpose.
The specification on the Define AL 170 1 is totally in keeping with its hard-charging attitude. The Fox 38 Performance series fork and X2 rear shock steal the headlines but NS has really sweated the details elsewhere. The in-house components are not just labels; there’s some real thought gone into the design of the stem, for example, with its interlocking twin face clamps, similar to a Renthal Apex stem.
Maxxis High Roller II tyres come stock and although the 2.4in rear tyre is a little narrow on a big-travel bike, NS has done the smart thing and opted for the tougher, reinforced DH casing out back. The bike also gets the excellent X-Fusion Manic dropper post – it’s low profile, uses a multi-adjustable remote lever and is length-specific across the three frame sizes. The size medium featured here gets a 150mm post, the large has a 170mm and the small a 125mm drop.
The drivetrain is entry-level SRAM NX Eagle with an 11-50t cassette, but it’s nice to see a Truvativ crank with an oversized DUB spindle, not the cheaper third-party components you get on a lot of bikes. NS has been dead clever with the brake spec too – it’s fitted budget SRAM Guide RE brakes with 200mm rotors. They offer top performance at a competitive price, which is why they’re previous winners in mbr disc brake tests.
NS Bikes Define AL 170: how it rides
When a bike turns up with a burly 180mm fork and boasting 170mm travel at the rear, it’s usually party time. Not so with the AL 170 1. In fact, on our first rides together there were no fireworks, and I wasn’t attempting crazy lines or hitting big doubles without a care in the world. And I reckon there are a couple of reasons for that. First, it comes up short on rear travel, I measured it a touch over 160mm. It’s only a small short fall but the rear suspension also didn’t feel that compliant or capable, which isn’t what I’d expect from a bike with this much going on at the back-end.
In its defence, NS Bikes does say that it put the focus on pedal efficiency, which explains a few things. The bike climbs really well and sprints out of turns with ease, but it also feels pretty firm when hammering through rough, rooty sections. If this sounds familiar it’s because when I reviewed the Define AL 150mm last year, I said pretty much the same thing – no wasted energy stomping up the climbs, but it didn’t seem to have the travel advertised.
So while the NS Bikes Define AL 170 1 is efficient on the ups, it’s also muted on the descents. Which is why I’ve asked NS if I can get a spin on the coil-sprung Define AL 170 2 for a first ride later in the year. Hopefully that’ll be the bike to finally get the party started – watch this space.