Banshee is a legacy MTB brand with more history than most. Born on the North Shore in the heyday of skinnies and the freeride movement, they were known for building heavy, burly bikes that got the job done in an industrial sort of way. Fast forward 20-plus years and it’s all changed. Or has it?
The Banshee Prime is a 29-inch-wheeled, 135mm rear wheel travel trail-ish bike. I say trail-ish because it’s really not your average trail bike. Looking closely at the frame, a “Born On The North Shore” sticker on the down tube gives a nod to the Prime’s lineage, and a hint of what’s to come when you swing a leg over it. With up to the minute geometry that’s pretty aggressive for a bike in its travel bracket, an industrial sort of look with a bunch of neat CNC’d components, an understated raw metal looking finish and a solid build, it’s easy to see where the Prime came from, despite Banshee being now owned and operated by a completely different bunch of people. Personally I love that.
Banshee Prime geometry and frame specs
You can see our ‘in for test’ article for an in-depth breakdown of the geometry, but I’ll summarize some specs and numbers here too.
- Rear Travel: 135mm
- Front travel: Designed for a 140-160mm fork
- Sizes: M, L, XL
- Wheelsize: 29×2.5″, 27.5×2.8″ (compact dropouts), 29×2.8 (long dropouts)
- Frame weight: 8.6lbs (3.9kg)
- HTA: 65/65.5º (based on Fox 36 150mm fork)
- STA: 76.1/76.6º
- Reach: 470mm
- Chainstay: 450mm
The Prime currently is only available as a frameset with no complete builds. While this is a little unconventional, it actually somewhat works in their favor right now since many of the supply chain issues won’t affect them — ie sourcing drivetrain components. Another point of note is that the Prime, as seen above, has swappable dropouts for a ‘compact’ and ‘long’ mode to fit 29+ size tires. The bike on test came with the compact dropouts for conventional tires. Banshee’s dropouts are the same across pretty much their whole range of bikes, so not only do they have the compact/long option but they are also available in Boost or non-Boost. This means that should someone have parts from an older bike and maybe they want a more modern frame for whatever reason, it’s easy to hang the older parts off of the new frame.
My test bike came set up with the 12x148mm dropouts and a sturdy, tooled thru-axle that uses a 6mm hex key for fitting/removal. Also included is a cartridge bearing, Banshee-branded headset that isn’t anything special but does the job, and a Fox Float X Performance Elite rear shock.
The Banshee Prime uses the brand’s KS2 suspension linkage, which is similar to Maestro and DW-link in that it’s a multi-link platform, however it does ride quite differently than those bikes. The KS2 linkage results in a leverage curve that is quite progressive with a low leverage ratio (under 2.5:1). The initial portion of the axle path is rearward, meaning it should carry good speed through square-edged hits and it has high initial anti-squat which means it should pump and carry speed well. Banshee says that the anti-squat has been optimized to work best in-sag for pedaling and reduce as the bike moves through its travel to minimize pedal kickback.
Other important specs include a threaded 73mm BSA bottom bracket shell, ISCG05 chain guide mounts, 185x55mm trunnion mount shock, a 30.9mm seat post diameter, a tapered ZS56/44mm head tube and IS brake mounts. Personally I would have preferred to see a post brake mounts, but I’ve never had any sort of issue with IS mounts. The frame also has a flip chip at the dropouts which allows the geometry to be changed between a neutral and a slack setting.
Banshee Prime frame details
The Prime is a handsome beast. I say beast because despite its beauty, it ain’t light. With a claimed frame weight of 3.9kg or 8.6lbs, my complete build came in it almost dead on 35lb — that’s 2lb heavier than my Reign 29 Advanced with the same parts hung off it. Giant carbon frames do tend to be pretty damn light, but the Prime is definitely what I would call on the porky side for a 135mm-travel bike. Does that even matter though? Perhaps not.
Back to the first part of that sentence though, it is a handsome beast. Considering Banshee is a small brand, they have gotten a lot of the small details pretty damn right. The cable ports are two-piece anodized aluminum affairs that fit with a small allen screw. They look neat and make for easy cable routing. There’s no cable port cover at the derailleur which I think looks a little odd given that every other cable port on the bike has one, but it doesn’t really present an issue. I’m also not a huge fan of the way the cables route under the shock and to the chainstays. It means cables rub on the BB shell, though they are quite tucked out of the way.
The lines on the Banshee Prime frame just look right and it’s honestly one of my favorite bikes to look at, especially with the tinted, clear lacquered finish. It’s easy to clean and looks amazing. I’m a big fan of the industrial type of look they’ve gone for, harking back to Banshee’s roots of over-built monsters. While the Prime isn’t exactly over-built, CNC’d yokes, links, and other pieces give it that aesthetic, while at the same time having a really clean look with tucked-away cables and organic looking hydroformed tubes flowing neatly into the two-piece shock cage.
A couple of other nice details include the molded rubber chainstay protector that helps keep things relatively quiet, and pivot bolts that feature laser-etched torque spec, taking the guesswork out of maintaining pivots and other such things. This is a detail that I’d be happy to see on every full suspension bike, particularly when there are no tech docs publicly available. But that’s a grievance for another day.
Building the Prime
With parts shortages a common theme the last couple of years, Banshee seem to be pretty stoked to be able to sell their frames with dropout options that makes them fairly flexible. Somebody could buy a frame to replace something that’s a little older, maybe an old frame cracked and they want to transfer their components over, which makes a lot of sense. Not everyone is running the most up to date gear with boost hubs etc.
With that in mind, I do have access to a pro workshop with all the fancy tools I could ever need, but I decided to see if I could put this thing together in my basement with minimal tools. Typically running cables and hoses is one of the hardest things on a build like this, assuming all bearings etc. are good and don’t need any attention. Thankfully the cable ports are a pretty decent size near the head tube, and the covers fit in two pieces meaning you can fit them after the fact. The cables and hoses exit the downtube underneath the shock through a couple of equally generous sized holes where they go under the lower shock mount and the dropper cable goes up the seat tube, the brake hose gets zip tied to the non-drive chainstay and the shift cable routes through the drive-side chainstay.
I’m pleased to say that I required no fancy cable-routing tools and the ‘lucky poke’ method worked a charm, and for anyone else attempting this, my word of advice is to run the cables before doing anything else ie fitting the fork. Being able to move the frame around makes things a lot easier. The sharp bend from the down tube to the seat tube in the dropper cable was the hardest part, but I got it done.It’s worth noting that the bike didn’t come with any sound-deadening, and so I fitted some foam cable sheaths over the cables inside the frame so as to keep things quiet. Otherwise the only specialist tool I required was to fit the bottom bracket, which most competent home-mechanics are likely to have, and the rest of the build went as smoothly as any other.
In terms of components, I simply transferred everything over from my Giant Reign advanced 29, the only parts that I needed to get hold of being a rear IS brake mount adapter and a threaded BB. For the fork I’m running a Rockshox Lyrik Ultimate running 160mm travel. Wheels are Santa Cruz Reserve 30 rims lace to Industry Nine 1/1 hubs wrapped in a Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO+ on the rear with a Cushcore and an EXO casing Maxxis Assegai Maxxgrip. Keeping me moving forward is a Sram GX Eagle drivetrain and slowing me down is a set of Code RSC brakes. Cockpit is a mix of Oneup dropper, North Shore Billet Stem, SQ Labs handlebars.
Riding The Prime
We’ll start with climbing manners, as usual. The Banshee Prime is not a difficult bike to climb on, however getting on the bike it initially felt a little short in the top tube compared to other bikes I’ve ridden recently, which I’m going to attribute to the 470mm reach and relatively steep seat angle. It took a little getting used to but it makes the Prime cockpit actually quite a comfortable place to be, and I suspect a lot of people will feel the same way, with the super-long reach trend becoming more popular. The shorter reach means that it isn’t hard to keep the front wheel weighted while climbing and it never feels like it wants to wander. Weight distribution is pretty damn great and the Prime combines a well-mannered front end with good rear wheel traction.
The KS2 linkage means the Prime feels really supple off the top, resulting in good climbing traction and me scratching my head wondering if I’ve gotten the sag right. While there isn’t a ton of pedal-induced suspension movement, it does feel unusually plush, like it has more travel than it does. But again. that doesn’t result in bad climbing performance, and honestly it’s pretty easy to move uphill with little time wasted spinning out the rear wheel. I very rarely felt any need to use the climb switch on the shock.
The extra heft of the bike does make itself known from time to time and it’s certainly no race whippet, nor is it a slouch. It’s somewhere pleasantly in the middle. The weight of the bike is most noticeable when climbing longer, smoother, sustained climbs — ie on the road — where a lighter bike might climb a tiny bit faster, or have a smidge more acceleration off the line. However for the most part, climbing is pleasant.
When it comes time to descend, the Banshee Prime is sort of surprising. For its travel figures you’d expect it to be relatively light on its toes and harsh in the back, and while it is relatively nimble, harsh it is not. Pairing a 135mm back end with a 160mm fork seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but the geometry on the Prime tells a different story. Running the sort of geometry that you’d find on a big mountain bike, or an enduro bike a couple of years ago, the Prime feels confident and stable, happy to be thrown into trails that I might think twice about on other bikes with a similar amount of travel.
The Prime doesn’t feel nervous when things get fast, likely in part thanks to the lengthy 450mm chainstays. That said, the one thing that took me some time to get used to on the Prime was cornering, possibly due to the chainstays. Executing turns is a little slower than with some other bikes and I found myself struggling to feel as fast on the exit unless I really muscled the bike through it, but once I figured the bike out a little better I found that it really liked to be leaned over hard and it would grip and shoot me out the exit nicely.
Despite a slight imbalance in travel, the Prime actually feels pretty well balanced. The rear suspension somehow manages to feel plush off the top with surprisingly good small bump sensitivity, and somehow also ramps up in a way that doesn’t feel at all obvious, with no harsh bottom-out events. Somehow it feels like it has a lot more travel than it does, and honestly there were very few occasions when I found myself wishing for more travel. It lends itself more to a style of riding of finessing it through technical features rather than point and shoot through the worst line possible, with a little extra give when you screw things up.
The Banshee Prime isn’t quite the nimble short travel weapon that you might expect from something like the Ibis Ripley AF, and instead is stable when the trails are fast and chunky or steep and technical, but it still has the get up and go to be thrown around unlike a truly big bike. It doesn’t quite dance around like some more nimble bikes, and it doesn’t quite climb like a lightweight carbon whippet either. What it is then, is a versatile trail bike that masquerades as something bigger than it is, a mini-enduro bike if you will. It’s easy to ride without being over or under-biked, and it doesn’t require a pro rider to get the most out of it, though it does have the brawn to be pushed hard when asked. Honestly I’m a big fan, usually preferring bikes like this over big bikes with all the travel.
There wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the Prime, with the exception of some minor frame details and a little more weight than I might like. But in reality, that makes little difference. Cards on the table, I did have an issue with a creak coming from the frame. With help from the friendly folks at Banshee we diagnosed a frame alignment issue, and they quickly shipped me a replacement frame. If my experience is close to the consumer experience — which from what I can gather is the case — the Banshee team are extremely easy and pleasant to deal with. Priced at $2,599USD, I can forgive a little extra frame weight if it means a solidly built bike with a great ride and excellent customer service, and it’s certainly a good consideration as a frame-up build for somebody who wants something a little more niche.
- Price: $2,599 (frame only)
- Buy from Banshee dealers.
- Feels like it has more travel than it does
- Balanced and stable geometry
- Amazing looking
Pros and cons of the Banshee Prime trail bike.
- Needs a heavy hand in corners
- Frame details could use some refinement
Nice to see Banshee get some media coverage. Really smart fun bikes at a good price, especially if you have some good used parts laying around. I have their Paradox HT and it may be my favorite bike ever, and a friend has a Prime he loves.
Stoked to see this review. My friend has the Banshee Paradox hardtail and absolutely loves it. I’ve tried it a few times and even though it’s way too big for me (he’s 5in taller than me) it rides awesome. I looked hard at their Enduro bike when I was shopping. Love the raw alloy look.
You noted the shorter reach, but not that it’s matched to a much higher than usual head tube length. That takes up a lot of the space people usually have of spacers, and makes for effectively longer reach.
Banshee seem like the best bikes for truly tall people. The tall headtubes help. My friend who has one is about 6-3 and says it’s the best fitting bike he’s ridden.
That’s true it does have a long-ish head tube which certainly will contribute to that shorter reach. That said it’s comparable to a lot of current bikes trending towards longer head tubes, for example the Santa Cruz Hightower – which only has a 5mm shorter HT in size L and a 5mm longer reach.
Honestly I found the Prime really comfortable to ride, and having spent some time on longer bikes recently, the Prime was really nice to climb aboard and not feel stretched out on the climb.
I wonder how this compares to my Fezzari Delano Peak. Delano a 135er as well, and also can do 140-160 fork. I’m plannig to replace the default 150 fork air spring with a 160, but so far I really like it as a good all-around trail/all mountain bike. I think it comes in a hair over 32lbs will everything on it, including water bottle cage.
Can you compare it with Banshee Titan ?