The Trail Pistol is the newest offering from Denver-based Guerrilla Gravity, which fills the gap nicely between their relatively new Pedalhead hardtail, and their staple shredder Megatrail, which I reviewed last year. It is an affordable mid-travel handmade aluminum bike with adjustable geometry engineered for the vast majority of riders on almost any terrain.
The Trail Pistol is equipped with 120mm of rear shock travel via Horst Link suspension, with proprietary settings labeled “Crush Mode” and “Plush Mode.” The frame can accommodate two different wheel sizes: 29er and 27.5+. Crush Mode is optimized for 29er wheels, which maintains a steeper head angle, lowers the bottom bracket, and helps the bike climb better. Plush Mode, on the other hand, is better-suited for 27.5+ wheels, because it not only slackens the geometry out a bit by one degree, but reduces the suspension progression, which coincidentally also allows riders to use the same fork for both wheel sizes. The stalwart, handmade 6.5lb aluminum frame also boasts a new feature termed NUTS (Necessities Under the Saddle) which is one of the most innovative yet simple ideas I’ve seen in a while, allowing riders to securely store a tube and CO2 cartridge on the downtube. There is also room in the front triangle for a side mount water bottle cage, making it easier to eliminate the heavy pack on shorter apres-work rides.
Frame Fittings (from ridegg.com)
- 30.9 mm seatpost with stealth dropper routing
- 49mm headtube, fits tapered steerer tubes
- 210×50 metric shock size
- ISCG05 chainguide mount
- Threaded 73mm BSA threaded BB shell (greatly reduces creaking)
- 55mm chainline
- ISO brake caliper mount
- 12×148 rear axle, offset 3mm to the driveside for optimal chainline and clearance
- Universal Syntace axle and derailleur hanger
- Max fork travel: 140 mm
- Max tire size: 27.5 x 3.0 (actual measured widths)
- Max tire size: 29 x 2.6 (actual measured widths)
Specs and Geometry
My medium test rig was set up a bit custom compared to the three build kits offered by GG on their website. I only had this bike for a short test period (two weeks) and was given the option to ride the 29er setup or the 27.5+ wheels. I chose to ride the 27.5+ for the first week, then swapped the wheels for the 29er setup for the second week. My test Trail Pistol also included a Pike 130mm fork, RockShox RT3 Deluxe 120mm shock, SRAM GX drivetrain, SRAM Guide RS Brakes, and a KS Lev Integra dropper post. The 27.5+ setup had Raceface Aeffect 40+ wheels with a Maxxis Recon+ in the front and an Ikon+ in the rear, both a 2.8″ size. The bike weighed in at 31.92 pounds without pedals. The 29er setup had DT Swiss XM481 wheels with Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR 2.4s front and rear, respectively.
Geometry ranges accommodate riders as small as 5’3″ and as large as 6’8″. Head angle stays constant at 66 degrees across all sizes in Crush mode, and steepens to 67.4 degrees in Plush mode–with a 130mm fork (you have the option to use 140mm forks). Bottom bracket height is a respectable 13.3″, and the abbreviated 16.9″ chainstays are perfect for this well-balanced trail machine. More geometry measurements can be found here.
This bike was tested exclusively on the Colorado Front Range, including popular trails such as Apex, Dakota Ridge, Green Mountain, Staunton State Park, and more–exactly what this bike was designed to ride.
With the 27.5+ setup, the bike felt a little sluggish to accelerate, commensurate with most portlier wheel sizes. The 29er wheels, on the other hand, felt spry and eager to get up the hills. The plus wheels have more rotational weight than the 29ers, of course, and the lag time to speed up from a stop was palpable. The Trail Pistol was not slow by any means with either wheels, but the first few pedal strokes with the mid-fats required more torque and power than the 29er wheels. Once up to speed, however, the bike maintained momentum well and kept it as long as the Pistol wasn’t pointed straight uphill.
Overall this bike handled climbing like a champ. Both wheels had distinct benefits. The 27.5+ wheels had the advantage of an increased footprint to grapple up and over technical sections with confidence. However, the rotational weight and rolling resistance really worked to slow it down on long, sustained climbs, and this became even worse on steeper ascents. Even with a lower tire pressure, the Maxxis Recon+/Ikon+ tires lost bite when there was loose over hardpack, and I found the bike slipping over dusty rocks where meatier tires are not normally fazed. I strongly think that a knobbier tire on the rear would have corrected this.
Not surprisingly, with the 29er wheels this bike was noticeably better going uphill and rolled fast over everything I pointed it at, unexpectedly earning me a PR on a climb I never look forward to. The Minions dug in and held on to every soft and loose trail feature, and gave me renewed confidence in the prowess of this bike. At 32 lbs, the Trail Pistol never felt heavy or sulky with these wheels, and it was even easier in the Crush Mode.
Cranking through rolling, flatter sections generated a much livelier and welcome feeling to the Trail Pistol with both wheelsets. Due to its well-balanced suspension and neutral geometry, far less power was required to keep the bike going on the flats or undulating terrain. The Trail Pistol loved to take on really rooty sections, sailed over long doubles, and excelled in tight, twisty corners where longer trail bikes often struggle. With the mid-fat wheels, I felt the bike excelled in loam, hard pack, and over rooty sections. The 29er wheels were much better in loose-over-hard pack, and with rockier sections.
Pointing the Trail Pistol downhill produced the most surprising results, and is unquestionably the most fun I had testing it–and not just because it was downhill. Regardless of how steep or rowdy the terrain got, the 120mm shock handled much larger features than I expected, and did so gracefully. The 130mm fork gave the front end just a little extra height that was not only perfect for rolling over bigger obstacles, but maintain precise steering.
The Trail Pistol had a discernible connection with the trail, and some slight adjustments in riding unlocked some big advantages of the suspension. For instance, with the larger footprint of the mid-fat wheels, leaning forward in turns resulted in more tire-trail adhesion, and the bike felt glued to the corners, especially in hardpack. I had a hard time finding a breaking point for the tire traction to slide around corners unless I locked up the rear brake hard. The bike just kept soaking up trail obstacles, especially in turns, and kept hanging on. With lower tire pressure (14-16psi), I was able to rail and even drift in corners, once I learned to brake and lean at just the right time, and keep considerable speed coming out of corners.
The 29er was a different feel altogether. The Minions had downhill-esqe gripping power as well, but less rotational mass, which made the bike more flickable and nimble. The large wheels rolled over everything with smooth, consistent precision.
The medium bike that I tested was designed for riders 5’9″ to 6’1″. Outfitted with a 40mm stem, I still had to push the saddle all the way back to fit on this bike. I swapped the stem for a 50mm one after five rides, and it felt perfect. At 5’9″, the Trail Pistol still felt a bit small relative to other bikes, so I caution riders who are closer to 6′ and considering a medium.
As always, try before you buy, and if you want to set this bike up as a playful trail bike (short stem, wide bars, etc….) you may consider sizing up if you can negotiate the standover height without any problems.
29er or 27.5+?
This is a personal choice, but it is clear that I had a lot more fun on the 29er wheels. It felt like a completely different bike: it climbed better, had no issues with traction in loose dirt, and rallied hard downhill. I could not believe the speed it kept through rough and rocky sections that are usually reserved for longer-travel bikes, like the Enchanted Forest and Apex trail, but this bike was faster than any bike I’ve ever ridden through that section. Faster than the Nomad. Faster than the Bronson. Faster than the Mach 6. Faster even than the Megatrail. That is impressive.
The plus-sized tires were a blast in most circumstances, and they might be ideal if you ride a lot of loamy, rooty terrain. I think they would also work well in light snow. As I mentioned, the Recon+/Ikon+ combination worked best on hardpack, but I would opt for a tire with chunkier lugs.
If you do elect to run a 27.5+ setup, finding the right tire pressure is key. Like full suspension fat bikes, there is a sweet spot to balance the undamped tire pressure, and the damped fork/shock to maximize traction without impeding the shock and fork performance. Once you find it, it’s pretty amazing.
Also, the side water bottle mount is very nice to have, but note that it will only hold about a 21oz bottle and that once you put the bottle in place, it is difficult to change the shock rebound settings while riding. I also found it difficult to re-install the bottle while pedaling. Nevertheless, it was really nice to have.
Crush Mode vs. Plush Mode
I tested the bike with both settings, and preferred the Crush mode with 29er wheels best overall. This setting, however, was more bouncy on the downhills, so if you want a more planted feel through gnar, the Plush mode with 29er wheels is an excellent compromise. It was very easy to swap between the two modes by removing a single bolt in the rear suspension, and flip a chip. It took less than 60 seconds.
Admittedly, I did not have this bike for very long, but I put as many hard miles on it as time allowed on an excellent variety of trails. Despite the 32lb weight, it was quick uphills with the 29er wheels.
It had no difficulty whatsoever muscling up and over technical features, and more importantly, the Trail Pistol felt rock-solid on the flats and the downhill sections. Unlike some other 120mm trail bikes I’ve tested which felt a bit squirrely when the trail got ugly, the Trail Pistol was able to negotiate gnarly terrain with ease and felt planted when the trail would normally bounce other bikes around. The tried and true Horst Link suspension was well-mated to the fork/shock setup, and the bike felt level and capable even in the most difficult terrain.
Even more impressive, despite riding it on double-diamond sections of trail, I was unsuccessful in pushing the Trail Pistol to its full potential. I would not hesitate taking this bike on world class technical epics with sustained punishment like the Whole Enchilada. If you are looking for a mid-range travel, handmade-in-the-USA trail bike, with adjustable geometry, you should give the guys at Guerrilla Gravity a call and demo one.
Thanks to Guerrilla Gravity for sending the Trail Pistol over for review!