Believe it or not, many of the mountain bikes we get in for review for Singletracks aren’t the exact style of mountain bike we’d personally prefer. Sure, many of them are excellent bikes for the intended application, and some of the bikes (such as the Trek Superfly 100) come close to what I’d personally look for in an every day, every ride, mountain bike.
For my personal preferences and my personal riding style, I think a full-suspension 29er with about 5-6in of suspension travel would be the perfect fit. I’ve never had the chance to do a long-term review of such a bike… until now.
When it came time to look for a test rig for my summer road trip, just such a mountain bike was my target, and Diamondback Bicycles came through! In for review this summer is Diamondback’s Sortie 3 29er, a full-sus trail bike with 120mm of suspension and a 69.5-degree head tube angle.
The Sortie 29er is available in numerous versions and build kits, including a top-dollar carbon framed-version, dubbed the “Black,” with a full XTR build that breaks the cash register at $7,000 MSRP. The rig I have in for review is the 3, which is one step down from the Black. The 3 features a 6061-T6 aluminum frame and a Shimano XT build, and rings up at a price of $4,000 (MSRP).
In addition to a 69.5-degree HT angle, the Sortie 29er frame features a 73-degree seat tube angle, 455mm chain stays, and a 1107mm overall wheelbase. For more geometry numbers, be sure to check out this page.
The aluminum frame itself features a tapered head tube for stiffness up front, along with “a hydroformed top tube, a butted and formed downtube, a seatstay bridge,” and, very importantly, a 142x12mm rear through axle. While most bikes of this caliber come with through axles front and back these days, this is a key component that still bears special notice and attention.
The core of Diamondback’s full suspension mountain bikes is the Knuckle Box rear suspension linkage. According to Diamondback,
The Knuckle Box, or bell crank, is the core of our single-pivot four-bar suspension platform. Optimally placed pivots equate to a low leverage ratio, and ultimately to superior pedaling efficiency and small-bump compliance. This also allows the shock to work more efficiently and reduces pedal induced motion. It also reduces overall load on the system which will lead to improved shock and bearing life.
What I appreciate most about the Knuckle Box, however, is the placement of the linkage and the rear shock. The Knuckle Box linkage gets all the suspension low in the main triangle, which keeps the center of gravity on this bike very close to the ground. It also lowers the upper bar of the rear triangle, so low in fact that one bike shop mechanic, on first glance, thought the Sortie had a 29in rear wheel and a 26in front wheel, due to the low-slung rear triangle making the rear wheel look huge. No, they’re both 29in wheels, but the rear triangle does have a very unique look.
This low center of gravity pays out serious dividends on the singletrack, especially when pinning it on fast descents. The low CG allows this bike to absolutely rail through corners, and provides a very playful-yet-steady ride disposition. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself… for more on the ride qualities of the Sortie 3, stay tuned for my final review after my summer road trip concludes.
As I already mentioned above, the Sortie 3 29er comes hung with a full Shimano XT build. It should go without mentioning, but Shimano XT brakes are simply some of the best mountain bike brakes on the planet. Also, the 2×10 XT drivetrain has consistently impressed me to the point that this self-proclaimed SRAM fanboi has denounced his old gods and accepted the eastern Shimano drivetrain lords. If I was to build up a bike of my own right now, Shimano XT is what I would choose!
Note that the XT rear derailleur is of the Shadow Plus variety, Shimano’s version of a clutch-style rear derailleur, which drastically reduces chain slap and chain skippage on rough descents. Personally, I think every medium- to high-end bike should come with a clutch-style rear derailleur these days, but especially an aggressive rig like the Sortie.
Suspension duties are handled by a Fox 32 Float CTD F.I.T. 29 Air fork with a 15mm quick release through axle up front, and a Fox Float CTD adjust, Boost Valve “LV” eyelet 190x51mm Air shock with rebound adjust in the rear. As I mentioned in my Trek Superfly 100 review, the Fox CTD suspension is reliable and easy to adjust on the fly. The suspension on the Diamondback Sortie 3 is very similar to that on the Trek Superfly, just with longer travel and a few additional adjustments.
Immediately after I received the bike, I made a few changes to the spec to fit my personal preferences and riding style. There was no way I could get my cockpit low enough with the stock riser bar (which also wasn’t quite wide enough for my taste), so I slammed the short stem, flipped it, and installed a 730mm Thomson carbon flat bar (stay tuned for the review).
I also immediately made use of the integrated dropper post mounts under the frame’s top tube and installed a Gravity Dropper Turbo seat post with 5in of seat drop. Stay tuned for that review as well.
As for tires, the WTB Wolverines are currently my favorite all-around tire. But for the aggressive Rocky Mountain riding I was planning, I decided to swap in a knobby 2.35″ Kenda Nevegal I had in my shed for the front tire.
Also, the choice of the 2.2in wide Wolverine for a rear tire on the Sortie is a little questionable. With the thick chain stay protector that comes stock on the bike, the rear tire has almost zero mud clearance. Upon landing big jumps and drops, the rear tire will flatten out enough to rub loudly on the protector, and possibly even the left chain stay. However, after some riding, I decided to keep the Wolverine on the back. Sure, there’s not much clearance right now, but I figured that after some rough, rocky riding, the tread would wear down a good bit, providing more clearance as I went on. Plus, I wasn’t expecting to encounter much in the way of mud in the dry Oregon mountains, so that issue was eliminated.
Usually I try to weigh my bikes stock before I make changes, but in this case I was short on time and made some component changes right out of the box. With the addition of a dropper post, heavy SPD pedals, heavier front tire, but the added lightness of a carbon bar, the Sortie 3 tips the scales at just under 32.5lbs:
Since this is a 29er that’s made to get freaky on the descents as well as the climbs, I think that’s a pretty respectable weight.
For my take on how the Diamondback Sortie 3 29er handles big-mountain singletrack, stay tuned for my final review!
Many thanks to Diamondback Bicycles for providing the Sortie 3 29er for review!