Bike: Bulls Black Adder 29
Size Tested: Medium
- Frame: Carbon
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT 2×10
- Brakes: Shimano XT
- Wheels: WTB XC-25 Lite, 29”
- Fork: Rockshox RS-1 Solo Air, 100 mm travel
Blister’s Measured Weight: 22.5 lbs (with XT pedals and bottle cage)
Size tested: Medium (46 cm)
Reviewer: 5’10”; 143 lbs
Test location: Colorado Springs, CO
Test duration: 5 weeks
In the past year or so, we’ve seen a number of European brands jumping into the US market by bypassing retailers and selling directly to the consumer. In 2015, Bulls Bikes joined the consumer-direct game in the US with a variety of road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes available for purchase directly from their website.
I’ve spent a few weeks on the Bulls Black Adder 29, which aims to deliver high-end XC performance at a price far below that of many comparable American brands.
Black Adder 29
The Black Adder is the premium carbon hardtail in the Bulls lineup. It’s available in two different build options for the US market: the Black Adder 29 (featured in this review) and the Black Adder Team 29.
The Black Adder 29 retails for $2899, and comes with a full XT group, Rockshox RS-1, and WTB XC 25 Lite wheels. Upgrading to the $4099 Black Adder Team 29 will get you an XTR group, a lighter cockpit, and a Stan’s NoTubes Crest wheelset.
It’s worth noting that Bulls updated the Black Adder for 2016 around the time I was doing this review. The most notable changes were shortening the chainstays and replacing the 2015 model’s rear quick release with a thru axle. Components stay largely the same between the old and new versions. With these changes, the Black Adder gets a price increase from $2899 to $3699.
A Brief Word re: Consumer Direct
One of the best things about walking into a shop and buying a bike is that you’re basically guaranteed to get as much assistance as you need, especially if you stroll into a shop looking to spend thousands of dollars on a new ride. When you finally make the big purchase, you’ll walk out with a properly adjusted bike that fits you and is already set up for your weight. All of this can be accomplished without the consumer knowing a thing about bike geometry, setup, or assembly.
With the consumer direct model, brands can’t be as hands-on in their relationship with customers, so the consumer-direct process had better be efficient and user friendly. I’ll touch on that with respect to Bulls Bikes later in the review.
Sizing and Geometry
Bulls made a great decision to include a sizing tool on their website to make sure customers are ordering the right bike. Based on my height and inseam (5’10”; 33”), Bulls sent me a Medium (46 cm) Black Adder. 46 cm is about 18 inches, so the frame is between what most brands would consider to be a Medium and a Large. Bulls continues this trend with the two other sizes available – a size Large has a 51 cm / 20 in seat tube, and a size Small has a 41 cm / 16 in seat tube.
In short, a Black Adder 29 in a given size is going to run slightly bigger than a Specialized Stumpjumper HT in the same size. Bulls still covers a similar range of sizes as other brands, but you might run into trouble if you’re on the really low end of the height bell curve. If you’re under a 29” inseam and/or standover has been a problem for you on other size Small frames, I would suggest finding a Black Adder to try before ordering one.
Geometry-wise, the Black Adder is very much a devoted XC machine. A 70.5° head angle, 73° seat angle, and 455 mm chainstays separate it from any bike in the “trail” category, hardtail or otherwise.
The top tube length on a size Medium is 590 mm, which is on the shorter end compared to other XC bikes — for comparison, a Medium Stumpjumper HT has a 593 mm top tube. Keeping in mind that the Medium Black Adder still has a longer seat tube than the Stumpy, this difference is actually pretty significant.
Essentially, the Black Adder’s front triangle is taller than the Stumpy’s, but not as long horizontally. Therefore the Black Adder’s short frame should therefore pair nicely with a longer stem (think of this as the opposite of what’s currently happening to stems and top tubes on today’s enduro bikes). The 100 mm FSA stem spec’d on my bike made up for the length taken out of the top tube and put me in a very climbing-oriented position on the bike.
Package and Build Impressions
Impressively, the Black Adder arrived pretty much ready to ride right out of the box. All I had to do was attach the bars to the stem, put the front wheel on, and throw on a pair of my own pedals. Included in the box were a multitool, pedal wrench, and detailed instructions for getting the bike fully assembled. I would have been happy to see a shock pump in the box as well, but that’s a small complaint.
The rims came already taped, so setting the bike up tubeless was simply a matter of removing the tubes and throwing some sealant in. After putting the bike together, I did a quick lap around the block, and was pleased to find that the brakes and derailleurs were already set up perfectly.
The Black Adder’s carbon frame is pretty sleek, with graphics that match the components nicely. As expected for an XC-race bike, the frame can accommodate two bottle cages, with ample room for two full-sized bottles.
Cables are routed externally along the down tube, which is a bit of a surprise. Internal routing looks nice, but is generally a pain to deal with. So Bulls seems to have opted for user-friendliness over looks with this choice.
The frame lacks any kind of routing for a dropper post, reflecting the bike’s race day intentions.
Most of the components on the Adder are light and high performance enough for high-level XC racing, but are also sensible and reliable. The inclusion of XT brakes and drivetrain is a great choice, and I was particularly happy to see that Bulls spec’d the bike with a 180 mm front brake rotor up front.
Additionally, Bulls managed to spec the bike with a Rockshox RS-1, which is impressive considering the complete bike is only $2899. (An RS-1 on its own retails for $1865.)
Two aspects of the package struck me as slightly odd. First, a 2×10 drivetrain on such a weight-conscious bike seems quite unnecessary. If I could change anything about the build, I’d spec the bike with a 1×11 drivetrain. This would boost the price tag a bit, but I have a feeling that most people considering this bike would want to throw a 1×11 on it anyway.
Bulls also chose to design the rear end around a quick release rather than a thru-axle—though the 2016 version does use a thru-axle.
All in all, Bulls has put together an intelligent package.
NEXT: The Ride, Changes, Etc.