Looking at the Transition Smuggler’s specifications, it can be a confusing bike to classify. It promises burly trail riding ambitions but with a mere 115 millimetre rear travel most would have some doubts. The recommended fork travel of 130 millimetre and 29-inch wheels might restore some faith in its trail riding abilities.
After riding the Smuggler, it all becomes very clear. Do not mistake the bike for an XC/trail crossover bike. It's an unapologetic trail bike. Yes, you could build it up with lighter XC focussed tyres and components but that would be limiting the bike's true calling. The burly Maxxis tyres and Pike are perfectly suited to properly enjoy the Smuggler.
The SRAM drivetrain and Easton/ Novatec wheelset have been faultless thus far with the component choice suiting this bike to the T. The only issue has been the SRAM Guide RS brakes which had to be warrantied early on in the test period. As Andrew Haylett at Stoke Suspension explained, in the heat of summer, issues with the tolerance between the piston and the lever bore can cause the piston to jam. Andrew sent the brake set off to Cape Cycle Systems who were happy to fix the problem. They have been faultless ever since, surviving the 2017/18 summer without a hiccup.
The RockShox Pike and Monarch is one of my favoured combinations. Neither of which gave me any issues. Of course, a dropper seat post is a must for any self-respecting trail bike, and RockShox's renowned Reverb was more than up to the task over the 12 months.
- FrameTransition Smuggler
- ShockRockShox Monarch RT3 DebonAir
- ForkRockShox Pike RC 130 mm
- CranksetRaceFace Turbine (currently Lyne Pulse)
- ChainringRaceFace 30T (currently Lyne 32T)
- Bottom BracketRaceFace Turbine X-Type
- Rear DerailleurSRAM GX
- ShifterSRAM GX
- CassetteSRAM XG-1175 10-42T
- ChainYBN SLA 11
- BrakesSRAM Guide RS
- RotorsSRAM Centreline (180 mm front; 160 mm rear)
- HandlebarRaceFace Atlas Low Rise 785 mm
- StemRaceFace 55 mm
- GripsRaceFace Half Nelson
- RimsEaston Arc 27
- Front HubNovatec D881SB
- Rear HubNovatec D882SB
- TyresMaxxis High Roller II 2.30
- SeatpostRockShox Reverb
- SaddleSDG Circuit
On the trail
The Smuggler is a bike that cannot be judged by its geometry, travel numbers, and wheel size alone. The bike is far more capable on the trails than the figures might suggest.
I rode the Transition Patrol a couple of year’s ago and was surprised by the soft initial travel with a smooth but aggressive ramp up at the end of the travel creating an encouraging bottomless feel. On the significantly shorter travel Smuggler, with the same GiddyUp suspension, Transition have managed to replicate a similar suspension feel.
On the trails, this translated into a mightily capable trail bike pushing way beyond the limits you might place on an ordinary 115 mm bike. It can bash its way through the roughest rock gardens and boost off some decent drops without any sign of struggle. Even when you run out of skills, the Smuggler has some big bike ability to pull you back from the brink and safely back onto the trail.
The Smuggler is not the most playful feeling bike on slower, marginal gradient trails. Perhaps betraying its 115mm travel once again. The bike sits low in the travel which means that the rear end feels planted rather than poppy. A great thing for rowdier trails but when pinning it down tamer trails I often flicked the shock into the mid support setting for a bit more fizz.
Being 6’4” tall, 29er wheels are my happy place. On an extra large frame, the bigger wheels feel proportional to the frame. At my height, I also appreciate a roomy cockpit and the Smuggler provides that. The stem length and handlebar width (55mm and 785mm respectively) have been spot on. Some might point to the 67.5-degree head angle as not being slack enough compared to modern trends but I have yet to find myself getting caught up on the front. In fact, I feel for this type of bike, the head angle is spot on for the majority of South African trails.
While the Smuggler excels at being an exhilarating descender, climbing is not this bike's forte. Don't get me wrong, it’s not a bad climber but compared to the latest trail offerings from other brands, the Smuggler is a touch sluggish. I had the idea to try a lighter, better rolling rear wheel but after some consideration, I gave in to the Smuggler's trail crushing desires and thought it best to rather play to the bike's strengths.
Of course, this bike is built for riding serious trails with the indomitable Pike fork and High Roller II tyres, which in the 29er guise could plough a field with the grip they provide. All of which adds up to a weight of 14.5 kilograms with the extra large frame. Not the most nimble but by no means overweight considering the extra large frame size, wheel size, and build kit.
The Smuggler is built tough. If you're the sort of rider that treats your bike badly, the Smuggler won't begrudge you. You can confidently throw it in the back of a bakkie, crash head over heels through a rock garden, or generally ride like a hooligan and all the bike will lose is some paint. The aluminium Transitions are certainly worth a look if you're the sort of person who buys a bike every 5 to 10 years.
The new Smuggler and Smuggler Carbon
While reviewing the Smuggler, two new models were announced. First was a new aluminium model boasting more travel, a modified suspension and geometry changes with Transition's SBG design. More recently they revealed the much-anticipated carbon fibre Smuggler frame for those looking for the stiff feel of carbon and some weight savings.
The new bike bumped the rear travel from 115mm to 120mm and from 130mm to 140mm on the front. The geometry sees a major slackening of the head angle from 67.5 to 66 degrees. The seatpost has been steepened for a better climbing position, while the frame reach has also been slightly extended. The fork offset has been shortened to 42mm (Fox) or 44mm (RockShox). Transition call this new design Speed Balance Geomtery (SBG).
The new Smuggler certainly makes some promising changes. But if you can get your hands on a good bargain on the previous frame, the "old" bike still has a lot to give. That is, of course, if you are not considering the magic of carbon which (I'm speculating here) will probably be a noticeably different feeling bike.
In the end
Enjoyment is the core measure of a good trail bike and Transition have nailed that with the Smuggler. While fast climbing can leave you a bit stiff the next day, the Smuggler has had me whooping and smiling all the way down the trails. Coming away completely satisfied with the ride each and every time.
Find out more:
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