Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Airborne Goblin Final Review

After putting over 300 tough, dirty miles on my Airborne Goblin, I finally feel confident enough to write an authoritative review. Most of my first impressions of this bicycle were spot-on, but I want to take the time to talk at more length about this amazing mountain bike!


As I mentioned in my first review, coming from a heavy dual suspension bike to the Goblin heralded a night-and-day difference in climbing ability. I felt like a rocket when I jumped aboard the Goblin! In fact, the Goblin is so much fun to ride that I've only done one or two rides on my 26er dually since I got my new rig. Of course, that does have something to do with the fact that I needed to pile up the miles in order to review it, but the speed with which I've been able to power through the singletrack has been refreshing!

Of course, this isn't the lightest of mountain bikes. I put it on the scale and my 16" frame with a completely stock build, a pair of pedals, one water bottle holder, and some mud weighed 28.57 lbs. But when looking at this weight, you need to be aware of two things:
  1. This bike only retails for $1,200. That is a pretty respectable weight at this price point, especially considering the large wheels.
  2. If you want to spend some money to upgrade, you can drop weight fast!
Really, I have no complaint where the weight is concerned. This bike just climbs well, and does so at an affordable price.


As I mentioned in my initial review, a true test of the Goblin's descending prowess would have to wait until I got home and on some gnarly, nasty trails. Well, I can safely say that I have put the Goblin through the ringer, and it has truly outperformed my expectations!

Coming from a 5.5" trail bike, it did take me a little while to adjust to riding a hardtail again. After my initial adjustment period, though, I was railing the downhills in style! The big wheels are super stable at speed, and the Goblin's geometry is confidence inspiring in challenging conditions. Due to the lack of serious suspension, I had to be a little more precise with line choice and slow down more through some sections, but that's simply due to the nature of this style of mountain bike.

After I'd been riding it for a while, I found myself ripping through berms at top speed, blasting through rock gardens, and popping off every roller and little drop off I could find! Landing on flat ground from drops 2 feet or greater was kind of painful, but that's just because it's a hardtail.

I've long heard about how 29 inch wheels feel like they have an extra inch of suspension, and now I can definitely attest to that as well. The big wheels did a fantastic job of soaking up small bumps and trail chatter!

One of the only downfalls in the Goblin's descending abilities is due to the fork, which I'll talk about in just a second.

Component Breakdown

RockShox Reba RL 29 Dual Air w/Lock-Out, 80mm
This RockShox Reba RL sports 80 mm of travel, complete with lockout. The lockout is a great touch for the extended climbs, and the action of the fork is very consistent and predictable. This is a great little fork that offers excellent performance!

However, in my opinion that's the issue: it's a little fork. I will admit, 80 mm might be enough in some parts of the country, but around here it feels woefully small on the rooty, rocky, washed-out high-speed descents that I frequent on a daily basis.  All of my hardtail 29er riding compadres are running forks that are at least 100 mm, if not more.  But, my LBS did mention that the Reba RL 80 mm can be converted to 100 mm of travel, but it is a rather in-depth repair requiring the fork to be disassembled, which of course costs $$. I haven't had the cash to throw at it, but one of these days I may get this upgrade done. 

SRAM X7 2x10 Drivetrain
Someone recently posted a topic on the forums and simply asked: "What did we do before 2x10?" And now I ask you: what did we do before 2x10? 

I have absolutely loved my 2x10 drivetrain: it's simple and intuitive, and it just plain keeps on working. I wrote a full review a few months back after my first 2x10 experience, and I have to honestly say I still feel the same way about this drivetrain. The only change may be that I am even more in love with it! All of my drivetrain components have held up very well during the last 300 miles, and I couldn't be more pleased!

Avid Elixir R Brakes
The Avid Elixir R hydraulic brakes are paired up with 160 mm rotors to provide reliable stopping power, no matter the condition. I have been impressed by every brake I have used from Avid, and the Elixir Rs are no exception. They provide excellent modulation as well as brute force when needed. Airborne made a great choice when they speced these brakes! 

WTB Trail 29 Wheels
The WTB Trail 29 wheels aren't the lightest hoops on the market, but they are a super reliable choice for a $1200 rig. They are right at home on any 29er in the sub $2000 category!

Airborne Alloy Flat, 640 mm wide, Handlebar
At first I had a hard time adjusting to a narrow flat bar, but after riding it for 300 miles I can say that I've readjusted well to the narrowness. It has provided very precise handling in all conditions.

In the future, I might step up to a wider bar mainly due to my personal tastes. I have had some minor issues with hand numbness during long, rough descents; I attribute this to the short travel of the fork and the stiff, short bars. But again, in a different part of the country, this is probably a non-issue. For extended use, I'll probably make a few adjustments to fit my personal preferences and local terrain, but no big deal.

Kenda Small Block 8 2.1" Tires
The Kenda Small Block 8 is an extremely fast-rolling tire, and hooks up wonderfully in the right conditions. However, they do not perform well in wet, loose, or chunky conditions (or any combination of the above). Unfortunately, we have an abundance of all of those conditions here in the mountains of North Georgia. With natural springs and perpetually running streams and rivers in every low area, sections of the trail are chronically wet with sticky globs of clay even in drought conditions. Loose patches of sand, gravely stretches of singletrack, larger rocks lying loose on the trail, and gravel roads can be found around every corner. 

In order to better handle these conditions, I've recently switched over to a 2.2" Kenda Nevegal. The large knobs grab well in all of the conditions listed above and have significantly increased my confidence in the Goblin's handling. They are definitely heavier and I can especially feel the weight difference when accelerating out of a corner, but I personally would rather have increased traction and rock-solid handling than sheer speed. 

Tires are naturally a very personal thing, and I do think the Small Block 8 is a decent stock tire choice, and would be excellent for long-term use in some areas of the country (including on trails just 30 miles south of where I live). I just thought I'd share my personal tire choice for my local conditions.


Final Thoughts

After thinking back over the last 300+ miles spent on the Goblin, I have enjoyed every single minute of it! I've just received a new prototype in the mail to test, and while it's designed more along the lines of my traditional riding style, the thought of leaving my Goblin sitting in the shed makes me feel so sad on the inside. This is an excellent mountain bike and performs just like a quality hardtail 29er should! 

It's even better when you consider that, at $1199.95, it matches or bests all of the components on bikes such as the $1619.99 Trek X Caliber. The Goblin truly fulfills Airborne's mission to build mountain bikes which provide quality performance at a a price the average Joe can afford!

Your Turn:
Do you have any questions that I can answer about the Airborne Goblin?


Greg Heil June 29, 2011 at 10:51 AM  

Whoops, did I say that? ;)

Anonymous,  June 29, 2011 at 1:13 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kevin Roberts,  June 29, 2011 at 1:27 PM  

You know Greg, I have a solution to your "Goblin in the shed" problem...just box it up and send it to me and ill put it through some hard WV mountain trails...they are rough on bikes and more recently rough on me. I had a spill yesterday.

Greg Heil June 29, 2011 at 1:40 PM  

One comment has been removed due to a violation of my posted Comments Moderation Policy

Second person who commented on the first, thank you for pointing that out and for responding. Your comment has been removed as standing by itself, it looks kind of out of place.

When leaving a comment, please refer to the comments moderation policy for guidance if in question.

It's not wrong to reference another bicycle or bike company, just make sure it adds to the discussion and bounces off the original article or another commentator in some way. If not, you are just spamming, and that will not be tolerated.

Greg Heil June 29, 2011 at 1:43 PM  

@Kevin, Haha I like this bike too much to give it away!

What happened when you wrecked? Did you come out of it ok?

nitsuj June 29, 2011 at 6:24 PM  

Trade ya a Rockhopper 29er for it...especially if you want to feel what a truly shit fork is like!

Greg Heil June 29, 2011 at 7:23 PM  

Haha no thanks! :D I have owned bikes with truly crappy forks before, but the fork on the Goblin is nice, it just isn't big enough for my local terrain. But there are lots of areas where 80 mm is plenty of travel....

Jeremy (GoldenGoose),  June 29, 2011 at 7:44 PM  

Just for comparison sake, what GA trails would you pass on the HT 29er for your FS 26?

Greg Heil June 29, 2011 at 10:01 PM  

Anything with lots of rocks, roots, drops, or jumps. Windy Gap, Tatum Lead, Bull Mountain Loop, Mountaintown Creek, et. all. I'm thinking on most everything else I'd almost rather go with the 29er now....

dgaddis June 30, 2011 at 10:40 AM  

There really is something nice about a simple functional hardtail. I've got two 29er hardtails, one with an 80mm fork and one with a 100mm. I don't notice a ton of difference between the two...but I also rode rigid for a while, so even 80mm is a lot hahaha. Greg, you should convert the wheels to tubeless, that will help a lot, both with a better ride and weight savings - 29er tubes are nearly half a pound EACH! The ghetto Gorilla tape method works great with those WTB LaserDisc rims - I did that to my set. I did use tubeless ready tires though.

So what will you use for Fools Gold - 26" dually or the hardtail 29er?

J.B.,  June 30, 2011 at 4:29 PM  

i love my 29er rockhopper pro. My reba fork performs well at 80mm. Going from a spring shock to an air shock I couldnt feel much difference (could be a noob thing) but I LOVE the adjustablitiy of it.

Did you notice more flex in the corners? It may just be me, but my Specialized seems to 'flex' rounding fast berms at speed. Could be tire pressure but sometimes I almost feel like Im on a FS bike. I also went from riding an entry level Haro to a mid level Specialized so it could be frame geometry or materials. :shrug:

JB,  June 30, 2011 at 4:31 PM  

my fault, its a recon, not a reba but still an air fork. My bad.

Greg Heil July 1, 2011 at 8:10 AM  

@dgaddis, I have considered going tubeless. We'll see....

As for Fools Gold, I know I said I was going to do it, but I thought the entry fee was going to be like $100 and not $175. I don't know if I can justify spending $175 to ride trails that I ride 4+ days per week for free. We might just get a group of guys together and do a 50 miler the weekend before or after and then just grill out and have some beers to celebrate.

@JB, yeah air sprung forks are definitely a big step up, and the adjustability is awesome! I didn't notice any serious flex into and out of hard, fast berms, but I did notice that while the big wheels don't necessarily make it impossible, if you're going into a set of back-to-back-to-back s-turn type berms that I really had to be on top of it and jamming hard into every corner or else it would sort of run away on me. Felt pretty stiff and responsive, though!

dgaddis July 4, 2011 at 7:47 AM  

Where are you seeing $175?? I registered a few weeks ago, only $104 including the 'convience' fees and everything. You really should do it! It's a ton of fun. Hundreds of people, and best of all - fully stocked aid stations.

Greg Heil July 5, 2011 at 10:14 AM  

Ah you're right! I was totally looking at the 100 mile price. Hmmm.....

Also, If I do it, think I'll ride the dual suspension because it's just so much easier on the body!

Anonymous,  July 6, 2011 at 9:37 PM  

what trail did you take those pics on?

Greg Heil July 8, 2011 at 7:30 AM  

Most of them were taken at Rope Mill in Woodstock, GA, but a couple were shot at Fort Ord in Monterey, CA, and the ones of the new tires were taken at home just after I'd switched them out. The video is from Monterey, CA.

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