I should begin this section with a bit of a qualifier: the other bikes that I was riding back to back with the Maiden — a Trek Session 9.9 and a Devinci Wilson Carbon — were top-of-the-line builds. Riding bikes back to back like this is great for highlighting differences in the frames, but it’s a little bit unfair for something like the Maiden Park, particularly because its suspension isn’t as tunable.
That said, there were a few things that immediately jumped out about the Maiden:
1) The frame is burly. I’m not a big enough guy to really have issues with flex on most DH bikes, but the Maiden is one of the stiffest frames I’ve ridden.
2) The rear end feels really short. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been spending more time on bikes with longer rear ends, but I felt like I was behind the rear axle for most of my time on the Maiden.
The short rear end thing is a topic of some debate these days. For a long time, the Specialized Demo was the go-to bike for a short rear end. But now Specialized (along with plenty of other brands) has lengthened their stays, and other companies (like Trek) have had longer stays for years.
So which is better, long stays or short ones? Plenty of people have their personal preferences on the subject, but I find that shorter stays feel a bit more playful, and it’s easier to put your rear wheel exactly where you want it. The bike feels a bit whippier in the air, and it’s far easier to wheelie and manual.
Longer stays, however, seem to work far better in rough, technical terrain. It’s easier to keep weight centered on the bike, which helps keep the rear wheel from hanging up in holes. It also makes it easier to shift your weight around slightly to maintain traction in corners.
To put it another way, the short stays on the Maiden really make it feel like a park bike. The longer stays on (for example) the Trek Session make it feel more like a race bike.
On the trail, I found that the Maiden jumped well and was pretty entertaining to ride on trails like A-line and Dirt Merchant, but it felt slow in rougher, choppier conditions. For example, in the A-line tech section near the bottom (which was, per usual, hacked to shit and full of brake bumps), the Maiden didn’t float through it nearly as smoothly as the Session or Wilson. It seemed to hang up in the holes rather than skip over them. And hanging up in the holes would slow me down, which in turn meant that I’d get even deeper into the next hole and slow down more, etc., etc.
This isn’t to say that the suspension didn’t feel like it was working; the Maiden felt pretty active, and I wouldn’t say it felt harsh. It just didn’t make bumps disappear to the extent that other DH bikes do. To be fair, higher-end suspension components almost certainly would have helped the Maiden out in these situations, but the inability to really float through chunky terrain is a similar feeling that I’ve gotten on the older Specialized Demos that had similarly-short rear ends, and I rode those with various high-end shocks mounted up. So while a nice shock on the Maiden might help, hanging up in holes is somewhat inherent to the bike’s shorter design.
On bigger drops and hard landings, the Maiden was nicely composed — no complaints on that front. The stiff frame doesn’t noodle around, and the relatively progressive suspension ramps up enough to keep from bottoming out harshly.
In terms of pedaling efficiency, I didn’t notice the Maiden to be particularly good or bad; I’d call it fairly average for a DH bike.
When on the brakes, I thought the Maiden felt a little less composed than some of the other bikes I was riding. It wasn’t terrible in this regard, but it wasn’t fantastic, either. Again, though, some of that could almost certainly be improved on the higher-end versions of the bike with more adjustable dampers.
Short rear ends on DH bikes are going out of fashion, partly due to rider preferences, and partly due to the simple fact that most frames have bumped up to 27.5” wheels and it’s trickier to cram a bigger hoop into a short bike. But notwithstanding industry trends, there are certain situations where short chainstays shine, and there are plenty of people that really like how a bike with short stays rides.
If you’re one of those people who like short chainstays, or if you’re someone who values a more playful bike over something that’s as fast as possible through rough chunder, the Maiden is very much worth a look. It’s not the bike I’d pick for winning races, but if I was in the market for a burly bike to send some large-scale jumps, the Maiden would definitely be on the short list.