Monday, October 4, 2010

Airborne Taka Mountain Bike Review

What I've Put it Through

Airborne Taka Mountain Bike
Over the course of the past month I have had the opportunity to throw everything I've got to throw at the Airborne Taka.  It has been spared no abuse and received no coddling!

Bottom line: you could drop a bomb on this bike and it probably wouldn't feel it!

To begin with, I did a good deal of urban riding to break the bike in and get familiar with how it handled.  I rode numerous stair sets, aired off tons of drops, and thrashed it and bashed it on most everything I could find in the little town of Dahlonega.

The first day that the Taka really tasted dirt was at Big Creek.  (You can read a full-length post about it here.)
To summarize quickly, check out this video from that day:


Taka at Big Creek from Greg Heil on Vimeo.


As I mentioned, this was only the first day that I had it out in the dirt.  After this I continued to consistently step up the speed with which I rode it and the size of features that a threw it off.

After riding at Big Creek, the next big challenge was a full day of  chairlift riding and technical downhill trails at Sugar Mountain in North Carolina.  I spent 6 hours that day riding up the lift and then flying back down the mountain on my Taka.  Unfortunately my camera died right away that morning and I didn't get any video of the terrain, but that day of riding and testing was crucial in helping me see what the Taka was made of, as well as developing my personal downhill skills.

Since then, I've continued to spend time jumping and dropping in urban settings.  In addition, I have been riding the Taka on everyday trail rides because my Zeppelin Elite is busted up and out of commission. I have been able to rail the Taka down trails that are pretty burly in their own right, but that I am already accustomed to riding. Thinking that my normal riding terrain aren't be challenging just because I normally ride these trails on a 5" travel bike is a mistake.  While they aren't the biggest and baddest trails in the Southeast, as one of my riding partners mentioned just a few days ago, "Bull Mountain is pretty dang close to full-blown all-mountain riding." The Bull Mountain loop contains tons of long, high speed descents littered with all sorts of rocks, jumps, berms, and nasty root drops and washouts.  It was very interesting to feel how a dedicated downhill bike handled these obstacles as compared to an all-mountain rig.  More on that below.


How it Rides: The Burly-Factor
Make no bones about it, the Airborne Taka is a burly beast of a mountain bike!  This downhill machine is designed to shred any sort of sick terrain that any rider can throw at it.  I can easily say that this bicycle can handle much rowdier terrain than I personally have the skills or the guts to ride.  Over the course of the riding described above, I still felt like I was still able to sufficiently put it to the test.

Rear Suspension
When tackling the terrain of Sugar Mountain, the Taka just soaked everything up!  Repeated ledge drops, countless roots, baby heads galore, loose scree, and rough rock slabs were no match for the 8" of Marzocchi suspension. The frame is absolutely bomb proof, and the slack geometry and burly tubes were perfect for the constant barrage of steep-trail-nastiness.

The Taka takes to the air like it was born to fly.  Since the word "Taka" is actually Japanese for "falcon," I'd say that's a pretty accurate assumption.  Whether I sent it off of big ledges, stair sets, natural lips, man-made tabletops, or just popped it off of a roller, the Taka absolutely loved to get airborne!  The frame geometry and wide  handle bars are comfortable in the air, and the suspension guarantees a soft return to the ground.  Due to the weight of the beastly Bomber 888 dual crown fork and the relatively light frame, the Taka is very front-end heavy. It took me a while to get used to the balance of the bike and to learn just how much to loft the front end when launching a drop, but after a little practice time, compensating for all of that weight up front became second nature.  I imagine most downhill bikes are similarly front-end heavy, so it wasn't really a big issue. When I first started riding it, several people told me to get the feel for the balance of the bike before I really sent something huge.  After a little adjustment time, getting big air on the Taka could not be more fun!


Making the effort to pedal/push the Taka up to the top of some of my gnarliest local trails paid dividends in understanding the Taka. Descending down familiar terrain proved very enlightening, because instead of worrying about what was around the next corner I was able to focus entirely on flying as fast as I could!  Nasty terrain that normally forces me to finesse the Zeppelin down it, seemingly right on the edge of disaster, hardly registers on my radar with the Taka. On the Taka I am able to bite off larger chunks of trail all at once without worrying about the consequences.  The plush suspension, slack geometry, and burly tires and other components dominate all sorts of natural obstacles.  In addition, this bike also corners predictably and rails berms like no one's business.

Conclusion: I have punished this bike in every way that I know how, and it has taken that punishment with a smile! The Taka simply responded: "Is that all you got?"

Down and Dirty

Component Breakdown: The Burly Factor, Continued
Several of the Taka's components really stood out to me over the course of my test rides as absolutely reliable due to their consistently awesome performance.  And for this value, they are especially outstanding!  (Scroll down to the bottom for comments on the cost.)

Fork: Marzocchi Bomber 888RV 200mm (Dual Crown) 
Marzocchi Bomber 888 Fork
This is a real beauty of a suspension fork!  With 8" of travel, a big dual-crown, and a thick thru-axle this is no feather weight, and so the Taka is very front-heavy. But as per my review above, I don't think that in any way detracts from the overall bike performance.

This fork performed perfectly in every situation!  Its active travel and controlled rebound have saved me from crashing many times on drops that I have taken too slowly and jumps were I have landed way too far forward.  One particular instance that I have in mind happened as I was flying down the last drop-laden section of Bull Mountain.  I had launched off of a washed-out root drop a little awkwardly and my weight got too far forward over the fork.  The trees were just blurring past, and as I landed with my weight squarely on the fork I knew I was going to eat some dirt.  I was wrong!  The smooth action of the suspension absorbed the impact, but didn't bottom out harshly or rebound roughly like a lesser fork may have.  Instead, it predictably rebounded to its fully-extended length allowing me to set my rear wheel back on the ground where it belonged.  The smooth, predictable action of this fork saved me from a bad high-speed crash!

Until now the forks that come spec.ed on the other Airborne bikes have failed to impress me.  The Marauder's is mediocre at best, and having put hundreds of miles on the Zeppelin's, I am growing to dread it when the trail gets truly aggressive. (Read more about the Zep's fork here and here, and the Marauder here.) The Taka's stock fork couldn't be more different: I love it!

(Note: the new Airborne models soon to be released are being spec.ed with overall better suspension.)

(Clarification: The Taka rings up at the cash register for $600 more than the Zeppelin Elite, which is a 75% increase in price. This is the cause of the significantly nicer suspension, and some of the bigger-name components. Click the links for my overall impressions of the Zeppelin Elite and Marauder, which are not bad at all!)

Avid Juicy 3
Brakes: Avid Juicy 3's (Hydraulic)
I don't have much to say about these brakes besides that they stinking work.  These bad boys with the massive discs will stop you on the steepest terrain in a heart beat.  One of my friends (who's not used to downhill bikes at all) hopped on to take it for a ride and said that he was more afraid of the brakes than he was of the trail! Easy one finger breaking and great modulation?  Yep, the Avid Juicy 3's have it!

Maxxis Downhill Tires
Tires: Maxxis Minion DH 2.5"
Like the brakes, these tires just do their freaking job: they keep you solidly attached to the ground.  The big lugs, wide girth, and renowned name are all confidence inspiring.  That confidence is well placed because these tires offer up amazing dependability! If they weren't so stinking heavy, I'd put them on every bike I own.



Specs
Here are the technical specifications for the Taka from Airborne's website:


Frame:

6061 Aluminum 8" Travel All Mountain/DH Single Pivot Suspension w/1.5" Head Tube MTB, w/Sealed Bearings
Fork:Marzocchi 888RV 200mm Dual Crown
Rear Shock:Marzocchi Roco R Coil-Over
Headset:FSA Orbit Z 1.5"
Brake Levers:Avid Juicy 3
Brakes:Avid Juicy 3 Hydraulic Brakes
Rotors:Avid Juicy 3 203mm
Shifters:SRAM X-5 Trigger 9-Speed (Rear Only)
F Derailleur:N/A
R Derailleur:SRAM X-7 Mid-Cage
Cassette:SRAM PG-950 zz-32t 9-Speed
Chain:KMC X-9
Crank:FSA MOTO-X 40t w/E-Thirteen LG1 Chainguide
Bottom Bracket:FSA MOTO-X
Pedals:NONE
Rims:WTB LaserDisc DH 32h SV
Hubs:WTB LaserDisc DH 32h (F) 20mm Thru-Axle
Spokes:Black 14g Stainless
Tires:Maxxis Minion DH 2.5
Handlebar:KORE Torsion Race 35mm Rise, 31.8mm Dial, 710mm Width
Stem:KORE B18 Direct Mount 31.8mm Clamp Dial, 350mm Length
Saddle:WTB Pure V Race
Seat Post:Kalloy Alloy 30mm Dia., 350mm Length

Also, the weight for a 19" frame, no pedals, is 40.8 pounds.


Chain Guide
Chain Guide
Issues
Any of the issues that I've had with this bike have been very minor, and really don't bear a great impact in my mind on the bike's overall performance or value.  


The first thing that needed to be addressed right out of the box was the length of the seat post.  Due to the interruption of the seat tube by the rear shock, it is necessary to significantly cut down the seat post to be able to drop it all the way for all-out downhill riding.  This is an easy fix though, and once done you're good to go!

Secondly, the seat post clamp is quite interesting. None of the current Airborne models come with quick release levers on the clamp, but instead just have a bolt with a hex key head. While this doesn't affect the performance of the bike whatsoever, it is annoying to have to break out the multi tool every time you want to tweak your seat height.  Also, when doing those adjustments make sure that you don't over tighten the bolt because they are easy to strip out!  I did this on one of my clamps.  Fortunately, I was just able to grab the one off of my other bike.  Obviously this isn't a big issue (and I'm pretty sure it will be fixed on all of the new Airborne models), but I decided to include this information as an FYI.


Rear Shock Bolts
Finally, there were issues with the bushings on the rear shock bolts of the model that I received. The company providing those parts sent incorrectly sized bushings which caused a little side-to-side slop and up-down knock in the rear end right out of the box.  I've talked to Airborne about this and they are working on a fix for the bikes that are already out that have this issue.  But the number of bikes with bushing issues are very few, and most of them ended up with the Flight Crew Members.  I've been assured by Airborne that all the bikes being sold no longer have any issues with the bushings.  In fact, I went riding with Patrick, one of the other Flight Crew Members, over the Labor Day holiday.  Both of his bikes had zero play in the rear end--they were in perfect condition. This was an isolated incident and is being/has been rectified, but it did hit the bike I'm reviewing so I decided to include it here.

Value Factor
The Airborne Taka truly shines when you consider its value.  There are 4 factors that play into deciding what the true "value" of a bike is:
  1. Price
  2. Weight
  3. Components
  4. Performance
All four of these factors are interrelated to some degree.

Since we are analyzing the value of a downhill bike, weight should be tossed right out the window.  Still, the Taka is a pretty light DH rig.  As I mentioned above, the 19" frame fully built without pedals weighs in at 40.8 lbs.  In comparison, the Airborne Marauder which sports 6" of travel weighs in at 38 lbs.--less than 3 lbs. less than the Taka. 

I covered the components in detail above, and they are rocking!

The performance of this bike was also covered above... and it was excellent!  So what does the value assessment come down to?

Price. After having determined that this is an all-around sweet downhill mountain bike, it all rides on the price.

Simply put, the Taka's price is shocking.  This fully built downhill mountain bike is currently selling for only $1,399.95 at GiantNerd.com.  $1,400 for a fully built downhill rig with a plush 8" of travel and amazing components?  That is a freaking steal!  I really don't know how Airborne can sell them for this low.

If you are shopping for a downhill bike and are on a budget, the Airborne Taka is for you!
Just look at the cheapest downhill bikes that I could find for a few other brands:

Obviously, comparing these bikes isn't exactly comparing apples to apples. There are big differences in everything from suspension design to components to frame material.

But if you are new to downhill and are shopping for a bike that can tackle the nastiest of terrain and not totally break the bank, the Taka is a must-buy! As you can see, its $1400 price tag is a fraction of the competitors' bottom rung downhill rigs. This value is insane, is why MtnBikeRiders.com obviously gave the Taka the "Best Value" Editors' Choice Award.

Bottom Line: 
This is a beastly bike for dirt cheap.  If you want to ride downhill, buy it! 


Full Disclosure: Just so we're all clear, I received this bike for free (which is totally sweet) as a member of the Flight Crew for the purposes of reviewing it.  I still get to say what I honestly think, which I think you can see from the post.  Also, this is my first time riding a full-blood downhill bike. But you don't have to just take my word for it.  Check out MtnBikeRiders.com's review here.


6 comments:

Jeremy October 4, 2010 at 8:33 AM  

Great post.

I want to point out something however. You stated: "Until now the forks that come spec.ed on the other Airborne bikes have failed to impress me."

Please note that the forks on the bikes are completely in-line with other product in the market at the same price-point. Airborne could certainly put a much better fork on there, but then the bike would cost more. The Taka is the most expensive bike currently in the line and the 888 fork is inline with how much the bike costs.

I think that the statement you made above is unfair without taking that into account.

Greg October 4, 2010 at 8:53 AM  

Hey Jeremy,

Thank you for the clarification. The Taka does come in at $600 more than the Zeppelin Elite, which is a 75% increase. That's significant, and is the cause of the nicer components. I guess I would just like to say that in the "value" section I mentioned the four factors that play into this: price, weight, components, and performance, and that they are all interrelated. As I mentioned in the main reviews for the Zeppelin and the Maruader,
http://www.gregridestrails.com/2010/04/airborne-zeppelin-elite-first.html
http://www.gregridestrails.com/2010/04/airborne-marauder-review.html

Those bikes are still great rides, especially for the price. Heck, I ride my Zeppelin Elite 3-4 times a week and have been riding it that much for months now.

I guess it would be appropriate to add a line of clarification to that part of the post... I can go do that now.

Thank you for pointing this out.

-Greg

Greg October 4, 2010 at 8:57 AM  

Clarification added.

Jeremy October 4, 2010 at 9:24 AM  

No worries!Thanks!

I've got your rear DR hangars for the Zeppelin and will send out today.

Jeremy

Greg October 5, 2010 at 7:59 AM  

Awesome, thanks Jeremy!

Anonymous,  October 6, 2010 at 8:39 PM  

Greg great post. You should add this post to Giantnrd so potential customers will see it when they are looking to make a purchase.

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I love Jesus, and I think he likes it when we have fun and get all crazy. As a result, I like to ride my mountain bike. It's a whole lot of fun.

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Mountain biking, plain and simple. Trail reviews, ride reports, and philosophical musings induced by delirium from grinding up way too many vertical feet.

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