I first saw the Zen TRAIL frame on display at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Already a fan of hard tails–I own three–the long, low, and slack steel bike caught my eye. Portland-based Zen has been making bikes for years–just for other brands. This year Zen has launched their own line consisting of five models covering road, cross, gravel, adventure, and trails.
The TRAIL frame features all the touches you would expect of a modern bike. The 44mm head tube allows you to use straight or tapered steerer forks. The rear dropouts can be run either as 135 quick release or 142×12 thru axle. A hole in the seat tube allows routing for a stealth dropper post. Very short chainstays (430mm/16.9in) and ample tire clearance means there’s only room for a single chainring up front, though.
If you do choose to go with the 142×12 rear, you will need to purchase a DT Swiss rear axle separately. RockShox’s Maxle uses a different thread pitch and will NOT work with the Zen frame. Something to keep in mind to keep your build going smoothly.
At first, the frame appears to be painted black, but in bright light it looks like a very dark green. There are a couple accents on the seat tube–one yellow section and one clear coated section of raw steel–that keep the bike from looking too utilitarian. The Zen logos on the downtube are raw steel as well and look great. A reflective decal is applied around the “Z” on the head tube.
Here’s the geometry chart from Zen’s website (I’m on a size 19):
Zen is currently selling the TRAIL as a frame only, meaning it’s up to you to select the build kit. This is typically how I build most of my personal bikes–not because I’m particularly picky about parts, I just enjoy the process of seeing it all come together. The TRAIL frame will be available from Zen this July for $1,299.
I already had a set of American Classic’s Wide Lightning wheels and an Aion fork from SR Suntour ready to go for this particular build. Full reviews of those components will come later, but initial impressions for both are very favorable. The wheels are light–crazy light when you consider that they’re nearly 30mm wide internally. The Aion fork is Suntour’s mid range offering, and it felt stout and smooth.
There will be other components swapped out, but I wanted to get the bike together for our #BrutalLoop ride, so the remaining parts were either lying around my shop or stolen off my other bikes.
- Frame – Zen TRAIL
- Size – 19″ (2330g / 5.14lbs actual weight, with seat post collar)
- Fork – SR Suntour Aion 125mm
- Wheels – American Classic Wide Lightning 29 (setup tubeless)
- Tires – Maxxis High Roller II front / Minion DHR II rear
- Cranks – Shimano SLX
- Chainring – Race Face N/W 30T
- Shifter – Shimano Zee
- Rear Derailleur – Shimano SLX
- Cassette – Shimano XT 10 speed (11-36)
- Brakes – Avid XO 160mm rotors
- Bar – Race Face Atlas 740mm
- Stem – Thomson 50mm
- Post – Thomson 30.9x367mm
- Saddle – WTB Volt
- Pedals – Shimano SLX Trail
Weight as currently built (with cages, pedals, sealant in the tires, etc.) is a respectable 27.2lbs / 12.3kg. Just switching to some lighter-duty tires would drop a pound or more off the bike.
So far I’ve gotten two rides in on the bike. One was a quick 10-mile shakedown ride, just to make sure everything was put together correctly. I was impressed enough with the ride of the bike that I decided to use it the following day for our #BrutalLoop. Taking a hardtail on a 40-mile ride with 7,000 feet of climbing may not sound like the best idea, but I don’t regret it at all. The bike has the smooth feel you’d expect from a steel frame, but it also felt plenty burly in the chunky stuff. The only thing I was missing was a dropper post.
I’ll be riding this bike extensively through the summer, so be on the lookout for the final review!