The Banshee Prime pictured above is more familiar. A product of Canadian boutique frame manufacturer Banshee, it’s an example of the trend bike for 2017: long-travel 29ers. We are to understand that boost axle spacing has finally enabled wheels to be strong and stiff enough to do 29er Enduro bikes justice and as such, this year has thus far delivered a slew of ‘new’ 29ers with a lot more travel than you’ll ever require.
Headline numbers from the specification sheet are impressive: 135mm of rear wheel travel, 449mm of reach (in size L), bottom bracket only 335mm from the trail surface and a 66.5-degree head angle. Banshee has engineered the Prime frame with a number of clever features too, allowing adjustable geometry and compatibility with current axle standard and different wheel size options.
You can run the Prime with either a boost 148x12 rear hub or the more ‘traditional’ 142x12, and appealing to those with incurable build OCD are tyre options for 27+, 29 and 29+. Plainly, this is a remarkably adjustable frame for whichever trail-to-enduro build you would need, but most of them run a 160mm fork up front, as wide as possible 29er tyres and the latest Cane Creek squashy bits in the middle.
Although the defining feature of Banshee’s Prime is inarguably its KS-link suspension, most observers would comment on the oddity of a ‘new’ aluminium frame in 2017. It’s true, we have all become followers of the string-and-glue cult that is carbon-fibre, but if you are going to be rushing rock gardens and risking an ‘off’, aluminium’s ability to absorb impacts with greater resistance to a single strike critical failure, is not to be discounted.
It’s a disarming attractive frame with strengthening arches between top- and seat tube and above the bottom bracket. If you have a thing for quality metal fabrication and industrial design shaping for the sake of function, instead of fashionable form – you’ll be taken by the Prime’s presence.
The linkages are cleverly designed and aligned too and its Banshee’s suspension engineering which is a significant part of its boutique brand appeal. Scotsman Keith Scott (no, really, we’re not making it up), is Banshee’s kinematics guy and with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and experience at Rolls-Royce aerospace, he understands a bit more than most about making your bike’s wheels track the trail, even when the trail is trying to OTB you into every possible feature.
Scott’s suspension design is called KS-link and it functions on the principle of separating front and rear axle forces by connecting the two-triangles which combine for a Prime frame, with two short links. Most bikes feature a chainstay which pivots on the front-triangle, but a few brands add links instead. The idea here is that you decouple pedalling forces (less climbing bob) and improve rear suspension action during braking. A debit is that you have additional bearings and linkages requiring maintenance – but for those who ride bikes which feature a lower link keeping the frame together, there’s often no going back.
- FrameBanshee Prime (L), Orange and Lime
- ForkMRP Ribbon 160mm
- ShockCane Creek Double Barrell Inline 200x57
- StemChromag Ranger 40mm
- HandlebarChromag Fubar 780mm
- GripsCsixx Lock on
- SeatpostRockshox Reverb stealth 125mm
- BrakesSRAM Guide RSC
- Brake rotorSRAM, 200mm Front 180mm Rear
- ShiftersBox One push-push
- Rear DerailleurBox One 11-speed
- CassetteSRAM GX 11-42
- ChainKMC DLC, black/yellow
- CranksetRaceFace Turbine 175mm
- ChainringRaceface Cinch 30T round
- RimsCSixx XCM, 32 hole
- HubsBitex, boost
- Front TyreeThirteen TRSR 2.35
- Rear TyreMaxxis Aggressor 2.30
- Bottom BracketE13 BSA30
- PedalsShimano XT
- Bike Computer / Power meterGarmin 500 / PowerTap G3 Hub
- Price: Frame + Cane Creek Double Barrell Inline ShockR28 000
- Price: buildR90 000
Do the bits work?
The most sensible South African Prime build could best be classed as Cape ‘Duro, with cSixx XCM rims (25mm internal with frame colour matching decals), an unusual e*thirteen TRSR 2.35 up front and Maxxis Aggressor 2.3 rear, 30-tooth Raceface chainring driving Turbine cranks, with cadence transferring into XT trail pedals. The helm pays homage to Mercedes-Benz roadster tradition, it’s a two-spoke steering wheel - a contemporary interpretation of the original 300 SL.
Steering the long-travel 29er is an 800mm cSixx END low-riser handlebar, kept in position with something fittingly Canadian: a Chromag Ranger 40mm stem. Or you could go combination Chromag, sacrificing some of the cSixx’s trail chatter damping, with an aluminium Fubar.
There is one other 135mm 29er available in South Africa, but it’s carbon, which means the Prime is quite a unique offering. Banshee prides itself on the suspension function of its bikes and with a 160mm MRP Ribbon and Cane Creek Double Barrell Air Inline CS (most elaborately named shock on sale), it’s extraordinarily comfortable traveling over rock strewn technical terrain at speed.
The Cane Creek is hugely adjustable and if you have the discipline to configure it properly (testing settings and noting them, instead of just fiddling haphazardly with the four parameters of tune: LSC, HSC, LSR, HSR), Banshee’s KS-link suspension delivers the paradoxical – perfect ‘pop’ off launches and an innate aptitude to smooth even the worst moonscape of trail braking bumps.
Long-travel bikes are great for monster trucking down technical trail. They build momentum effortlessly, regardless of terrain, insulating you from the worst of deflections - but at times their slack geometry and ample suspension travel can mitigate against agility and dull steering responsiveness.
The secret to appropriate geometry is not a number in isolation, but how all those angles combine when you are onboard and pointing down a steep trail, dropper out of the way and weight down low. Inherently long-travel 29ers should be that bit more difficult to flick into corners or around features due to the gyroscoping effect of those big wheels and wide tyres. Banshee’s counter to this, with the Prime, is that reach number of 449mm. It gets you really centred over the bike, in a comfortable position that loads weight on that front tyre, which means when you do lean it there’s turn-in, instead of understeer and the inelegant sound of panicky brake scrub.
Any bike with a sub 68-degree head angle will make concessions in tight terrain climbing agility, but the advantage – again – of Prime’s considered geometry, and the reach measurement, is that you are in a position to pull on the bars a bit, torqueing the cockpit into and through steep switchback climbs, without initiating energy sapping quarter wheelies. It’s obviously not a seven-day stage racing bike, but you’d be entirely comfortable on any of the South African three-day stage racing classics, which prioritise trail riding.
The bike industry’s moving away from aluminium. Custom and craft frame builders use steel and for all the rest, the trend is carbon. Despite this, there’s something about the security of an aluminium all-mountain bike and that singletrack experience of not subconsciously seeing the carbon repair bill (or frame failure risk) in all those features you are attempting to ride during a highly technical trail session.
And that’s the principal appeal of this Prime: it has geometry numbers to match the most contemporary carbon bikes, with a notably advanced and proven suspension linkage, and very little critical failure terrain impact risk. The grams in difference between Prime and a comparable 135mm carbon frame (about 500g), could be offset by reinvesting the saving in purchase price towards lighter wheels or cranks – which is where the true weight saving gains are made, because they are rotation components, unlike a frame.
For those who appreciate the boutique appeal of a low-volume manufacturer, that exclusivity of ownership and clarity of design vision, Banshee’s Prime is a world of future-proof 29er built from a material many still trust more than they’d admit to. In a world where even the top echelon of gravity racing has converted to bigger wheels, imagining Banshee’s Prime as the DH-racer’s trail riding training bike, is not too far off its purposing.
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