Having ridden the Spartan briefly last fall, I had some expectations coming into this. And while I wasn’t way off in my initial impressions, there are certainly some things that became more apparent after riding the bike for a couple weeks.
First, the fit: as I mentioned above, the Spartan doesn’t feel long and stretched out like a lot of the bikes on the market these days. It’s not short to the point of being out of the ordinary (it’s still longer than, for example, a Pivot Mach 6), but it might feel a bit cramped to some people.
At first I wasn’t a fan, and I wished I’d bought a large. But after spending more time on the bike, I’ve come to appreciate it. The smaller size makes the bike noticeably more maneuverable in tight spots, and it also makes it a bit easier to keep my weight over the front axle while climbing.
The lack of length means the bike does give up a bit in the stability department—the Spartan is less inclined to mindlessly hold a line at speed. It likes to dance down the trail, not plow through it. And that more or less sums up the Spartan – it does very well when ridden actively, but it’s not a monster truck through the rough.
Now all of this isn’t to say that the Spartan is unstable – it still sports a sub 66° head angle and a 1161mm (45.7”) wheelbase. So to be clear, this isn’t a little darty trail bike. But if I’m drawing fine lines and small distinctions between bikes in this class, I’d say the Spartan is a bit more playful than, for example, the Specialized Enduro or the Giant Reign.
The rear suspension is fairly progressive, and it doesn’t have any inflections or platforms in the curve. This makes for a rear end that’s very predictable and gives the bike a ton of pop. Some people say that the fastest way through a rock garden is in the air – and if that’s your mentality, then you’ll likely get along with the Spartan pretty well.
Gaps between natural obstacles that felt like a bit of stretch on my Enduro are easy to double up on the Spartan. And if that doesn’t work out quite right, the rear end will still (usually) take care of you—even running a bit over 30% sag, it takes some doing to bottom out the rear end, and I never experienced any harshness when I did hit bottom.
The rear end feels very supportive, which contributes to that playful, poppy character. When I pump through something on the trail, I don’t feel like I’m wallowing deep into the bike’s travel. And this was consistent even as I fussed around with air pressures in the rear shock—I don’t find the Spartan to be one of those bikes where exact sag is 100% critical to making the bike ride correctly.
Under hard braking, the Split Pivot did its thing; the rear end stayed active under braking and didn’t seem to cause the rear end to pack up.
The rear end does seem to give up a little bit in the “motor over everything” department. It’s not harsh by any means, and it’s still more supple than (for example) the Rocky Mountain Altitude, but it doesn’t completely level the trail like some other bikes. The rear end will occasionally hang up on more square edged hits—the bike definitely likes to be ridden lightly and float through chunder, rather than simply pointing and smashing.
The Spartan corners with authority, no doubt due in part to its relatively low bottom bracket height. Also, probably related to that same popiness that I noted above, I found I could pretty effectively load up the suspension and launch out of corners.
It helps too that the frame, and particularly the rear end, is decidedly stiff. The stays on the Spartan make the rear end of my old Enduro feel like a wet noodle. The downtube—and particularly the bottom bracket area—are massive.
Any possible flex has been reduced to a minimum. The frame on the Spartan isn’t a featherweight, but at least that extra heft went to a good purpose; the Spartan achieves pretty close to DH-bike levels of stiffness.
In my initial write up on the Spartan, I’d commented that it wasn’t overly impressive in the pedaling efficiency department. This is one area where further time on the bike changed my mind—the Spartan actually pedals pretty well (for a 165mm travel bike, at least).
When casually plodding along there’s some noticeable bob, which I think is what I was noticing at Interbike. But the more force I put into the pedals, the more the suspension firms up. Even with the rear shock in the open (least damped) position, I can sprint and actually feel like I’m getting somewhere rather than just humping a bowl of oatmeal.
I find the Spartan to be significantly more efficient than my Enduro was, which helps me overlook the extra pound or two that the Spartan is carrying over the Enduro.
I mentioned a few bikes above, but here’s how the Spartan stacks up against some other bikes that I’ve spent at least a little time on.
Climbing / Pedaling Efficiency
The Spartan is pretty dang good. It’s better than the Specialized Enduro (all variations), the Giant Reign, the Knolly Warden, and the Rocky Mountain Altitude. It’s a smidge better than the Transition Patrol and Intense Tracer, about on par with the Pivot Mach 6, and maybe not quite as good as the Breezer Repack.
Leveling out every little thing on the Trail
Extremely supple suspension can make a bike feel more stable at moderate speeds, but it sometimes comes at the cost of playfulness. An active suspension absorbs bumps, but it sometimes also absorbs rider input.
The horst link bikes like the Specialized Enduro and Knolly Warden tend to be more supple over small bumps, and the Giant Reign also does well in this regard. The Repack was quite active, but it gave up a bit of ground on bigger hits.
The Spartan is a bit more similar to a Transition Patrol, a Pivot Mach 6, or an Intense Tracer; not harsh by any means, but they don’t make the trail a sidewalk.
I do, however, find the Spartan’s suspension to be more supportive than the Mach 6 or Tracer, and because of that, it does better pumping the trail and popping off of small obstacles.
The suspension on the Spartan does really well at taking big hits, but the slightly smaller feel to the bike means that it doesn’t necessarily have the stability to match the suspension capabilities. Sizing up would certainly help this.
Purely talking about the suspension, the Spartan does a bit better than the Specialized Enduro and Knolly Warden, and far better than the Rocky Mountain Altitude when the rear end is really getting crushed. The Giant Reign probably takes top honors here: a nicely progressive rear end combined with slack, stable geometry makes for a bike that can shrug off big hits like a DH bike.
Stability vs. Maneuverability vs. Playfulness
DH bike stability is at one end of the spectrum, trail bike maneuverability is at the other end, and a combination of suspension characteristics and geometry affect how any given bike in this travel class lands in that range, and how playful any given bike feels relative to its peers.
Of the ~160mm bikes I’ve ridden, the Giant Reign and the GT Sanction, sit at the decidedly stable end of the spectrum. A notch below that would be something like the Specialized Enduro 650 (with the older 26” version being a bit less stable, and the 29” version being a bit more stable) and the Transition Patrol.
The Spartan (along with the Pivot Mach 6 and the Knolly Warden) are a bit more on the maneuverable, playful side, although each of those can effectively be made a bit more stable by sizing up. The Breezer Repack is probably the least stable, and that mostly has to do with the steeper head angle.
When Devinci first released news of the Spartan, I’ll admit to being pretty dismissive. It’s too heavy, I thought. And yeah, the Spartan isn’t a featherweight. Despite having lighter components, my Spartan weighs over a pound more than my Specialized Enduro Expert.
So what changed my mind? For starters, the Spartan pedals pretty well for a longer travel bike. That in and of itself makes getting uphill a bit less miserable.
But ultimately, I’d say the thing with the Spartan is just that it’s an all around fun bike. It pops really well, and it’s the kind of bike that really encourages you to be in the air as much as possible. That extra weight that’s loaded into the frame makes it quite stiff, which means the bike really lends itself to being ridden hard.
If you’re looking for a bike with the sole intention of recklessly plowing through minefields, the Spartan isn’t the first bike I’d pick. But if you’re an active rider and like to air off of everything the trail has to offer and come into soft corners with two wheels drifting, or if you’re someone who punishes frames and needs something burly and stiff, then the Spartan is right up your alley.