Every bicycle frame material has its list of assets and detriments. Folks who have felt the je ne sais quoi disposition of a well-crafted set of steel tubes often express a unique connection to their bikes that carbon and alloy enthusiasts don’t always appreciate. Heat-treated 4130 CrMo seems to move better with our mostly-water-bodies than any other tube ingredient, flowing with the legs and forgiving our mistakes with a familiar grace.
I recently had the chance to test ride a Production Privee Shan N°5 full-suspension 29er in the Black Hills of southwestern France, not far from the bike’s Andorran birthplace. Having owned 10+ steel frames throughout my cycling obsession, I was beyond pumped for this first full squish encounter.
The Shan N°5 is a fully customizable frame that can be purchased with or without a shock. The rear end has a fairly linear suspension kinematic, which is why all three of the shocks Production Privee offers with their frames are air-sprung. The bike I rode was built up with a Storia V3 coil shock from Italy’s Extreme Shocks that employs a hydraulic bottom out to ramp up the end of the stroke, and it fit the bike quite well. The coil was accompanied by the maximum recommended travel up front, featuring a 160mm Fox Float 36 with GRIP2 damper. The Shan N°5 geometry is optimized for a 150mm fork, but its owner wanted to max out the descending character up front.
The additional centimeter of fork travel brought the Shan N°5 headtube angle to someplace slightly slacker than 64°, which in turn shortened the 453mm reach a touch, and raised the bike’s deep 36mm BB drop by a few millimeters. With the recommended 150mm fork, and 51mm offset, the Shan N°5 frame has a 76° seat tube angle, 437mm chainstays, and a 1218mm wheelbase. The frame can chameleon between 29″ wheels or 27.5″ (with at least a 2.5″ tire) simply by changing the shock extender and dropouts. However, the geometry table is measured around 29er wheels.
|€1,249.17 frame alone, or €1,457.50 with a shock
|S – XL
|Classic (pictured), or Martini Limited
|140mm rear, 140-160 front (Optimized for 150)
|29″ or 27.5″ with at least a 2.5″ tire
|Ed Black anti-rust coating
|Heat treated 4130 CroMo steel
Damien Nosella of Production Privee says that they chose to build with steel for its geometry, tolerance and comfort, dynamism, strength, reliability, and maintenance characteristics. Several of the steel frames I have owned were covered in extra gussets and gadgets to strengthen various joints, whereas the Shan N°5 is a simple and clean set of tubes. It’s clear that manufacturing with the material has progressed far beyond those overbuilt hardtails. A full read of the company’s Why Steel? philosophy can be found on their website. Now let’s dig into the bike’s ride characteristics.
I rode the Shan N°5 with a good friend, near his home in southwestern France. Both days were spent pedaling and sliding around the diverse tracks in the Black Hills, where the variety of singletracks that wind through the forest will impress any globetrotting dirtbag.
The first day kicked off with a steady rain that later tapered to a mist, keeping the stone-lined tracks tricky throughout. We rode the route of a local enduro race, climbing to the peak of six or seven long descents over roughly 4.5hrs of moving time. On the first ascent, I noted that I could feel the bike’s super slack headtube as the lead wheel wondered a bit while pedaling. After an hour or so the wondering-wheel sensation dissipated, and the bike started to feel natural. This sensation of familiarity and a forgettably natural fit that I have found in other steel bikes I’ve only just met was a theme throughout the test ride.
The stone-strewn tracks we descended were the “soapy” sort of wet that forces you to ride the lowest line on the trail, or nervously slide into it. Keeping the tires planted and poised for the next rock, the Shan N°5’s steel tubes absorbed just enough of the trail’s chattery energy to maintain an extraordinary grip characteristic. The bike was certainly dancing a jig beneath me, but in a more predictable manner than I would have expected.
For the second day’s ride, we chose a much softer valley to land in, replete with deep loam and brightly glowing winter moss. I have missed this sort of forest since moving to Europe, and was stoked to smell the gently warming earth under warm winter sunshine.
Feeling right at home on the Shan N°5, I was able to twist the throttle a bit further in the deep dirt, and was quickly taught the meaning of “too much traction.” Between the bike’s forgiving frame and well-tuned suspension, it gripped the ground so tenaciously that it was laughably difficult to break the tires loose when necessary. In addition to its overall ride feel, the prevailing characteristic of the Shan N°5 is its earth gripping abilities. That’s not to say you can’t bound about with the bike, as you certainly can, but the suspension and geo were undoubtedly designed with traction as their primary objective. There are a load of elements that combine to make great traction, including trail composition, tires, air pressure, suspension setup, kinematics, and frame compliance. This bike has those last two nailed out of the box.
That trail-velcro sensation provided a hoop-hollering thrill in tight turns, where the bike can be leaned over as far as speed allows. Corner speed is the number one element to winning any gravity race, and with this bike, there are no excuses for dragging the brakes through the apex. If you’re on your game, the Shan N°5 is right there with you.
The Shan N°5 is a bike for folks who want to dial in every element of their custom build around a solid chassis that’s designed for fun as much as it is for pure speed. I would certainly line up for an enduro race with this bike, or take it on a weeklong backcountry backpacking trip.
Some readers might be wondering what this steel full-suspension 29er weighs. While I don’t know the number, I can say that it didn’t feel overly heavy compared to other bikes in this category, and its weight certainly didn’t factor into its capability on the trail. The bike feels balanced and composed, just as it should.