As I approach my 48th birthday I continue to reject the reality that I’m no longer the fast guy. In my mind, I’m one off-season away from champagne showers and smug podium expressions. As with any normal mid-life crisis, I need to prove to myself that I’ve still got it. Therefore, I’ve committed to a handful of 2023 Enduro races, which will not only test my fitness and descending skills, but my ego too.
Driven by foolish affirmation and overreaching objectives, my next step was to identify the best setup to tackle this challenge. As a flat pedal devotee with a penchant for rocky, high-speed terrain, high-pivot suspension seems like the optimum design for my style and preferences. With all this in mind, I ended up choosing a Forbidden Druid.
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What are the benefits of high-pivot suspension?
If you’ve spent any time researching your next trail/enduro bike you’ll notice the industry’s rekindled infatuation with high-pivot suspension. As one of The Pro’s Closet’s elders, I certainly remember high-pivot prototypes from the days of yore, like the BALFA BB7 and Honda’s mysterious RN01. However, I had chalked up these oddities as experimentation in mountain biking’s adolescent years — a phase, like a tribal tramp stamp or JNCO jeans.
As an industry, I was certain we had matured to exceedingly more intelligent suspension designs. The last decade has been dominated by low-pivot 4-bar, VPP, Horst, and DW-Link configurations. Was the resurgence of high-pivot yet another example of what’s old is new again, or did the evolution of technology and geometry unlock new advancements from previous concepts?
Either way, a ground swell from small-volume, bespoke brands triggered a deluge of high-pivot awareness which has progressed from back-alley black magic to mainstream acceptance. Now, a wide array of brands, including the likes of Cannondale and Trek, are reviving this trend in their gravity-focused products.
I won’t go into the specifics of high-pivot suspension as Bruce wrote a comprehensive overview covering the pros and cons which you can reference here.
In short, the design allows for a more rearward axle path, devouring square-edge impacts like Pac-Man on Adderall. The inclusion of an idler pulley minimizes pedal kickback, providing a Cadillac-smooth sensation through the rough stuff. Furthermore, due to the rearward travel, the wheelbase elongates under compression. This results in an incredibly stable platform at speed; ideal for treacherous rock gardens, but arguably not as lively in corners.
The story I’m telling myself is that stability equates to consistency and consistency is the alpha and omega in Enduro racing.
Why the Forbidden Druid?
Frankly, I’m a sucker for divergent perspectives and counter-culture ideology. Dark horse brands can be the catalyst for progression. For example, the shift toward steep seat angles and long, slack geometry was pioneered by Transition, Mondraker, and a handful of other modest manufacturers. The point is, creativity, intelligence, and execution can emerge from anywhere.
Most manufacturers are leveraging high-pivot designs on longer travel, gravity focused products. There seems to be a collective understanding that high pivot attributes are less beneficial on shorter travel platforms. However, Forbidden caught my attention for their application of a linkage driven, high single-pivot design, mated to a 130mm trail bike. The bike features cutting edge technology and refined craftsmanship, but conceptually is still punk AF!
You may be asking yourself, with all the competent options available, why was I going to bring a knife to a gunfight? There’s certainly more tried and true choices in the 160mm to 170mm range. Even within Forbidden’s own lineup, the 154mm travel Dreadnought is by far more capable and purpose built for the task at hand. So why the interest in the Druid? Was I consciously creating an excuse for poor performance. Was this an alibi to soften the inevitable blow to my ego?
In my mind, I’m playing to my strengths. Or said differently, minimizing my weaknesses. A demanding job and three children under the age of fifteen has eroded my weekends to shuttling kids to soccer games and the occasional rip up the nearest trail. The result is unmistakable DAD fitness. I can rely on several years of muscle memory to navigate the handling aspect, but I’ll need every advantage available on the fitness front. My theory is that a shorter travel platform will provide more support for the transfers and pedal-oriented stages.
The Forbidden Druid build
I can’t leave well-enough alone. Bikes today are meticulously refined by engineers (who are far more intelligent than I) to achieve optimum balance and riding characteristics. For some unknown reason, I possess an unproven and foolhardy arrogance that “I can do better” and whimsically discard the considerations for OE spec like a pretentious aristocrat waving off the maître d'.
To their credit, Forbidden has very competitive spec options targeting tiered price points. The XT build would certainly suit my needs, but as mentioned above, my needs are blinded by my desire to create something that is in my eyes — superior.
At 6’1” I’m between both the Large and the XL. I empathize with those that find themselves in this purgatory state, as there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. In my experience, I prefer a larger bike with a longer reach. This provides more space to move fore and aft on the bike, and combined with the longer wheelbase, makes for a straight-line weapon. The downsides are front wheel traction in the corners, switchbacks can be challenging, and wheelies/manuals take some relearning. In the end, I still chose the XL as the 485mm reach isn’t that radical compared to the latest offerings from the likes of Canyon and Mondraker.
I opted for the Fox Factory 36 as the Grip-2 damper is unmatched, it’s plenty stiff, and orange is fast. The Druid was designed around a 140/150mm fork, but will accept an axle-to-crown measurement of 571mm, which is equal to the 160mm option I chose. I swapped out the air spring to PUSH’s AC3 coil conversion. I’m hesitant to refer to this as an “upgrade” as the coil greatly reduces tunability, but the suppleness at the beginning of the stroke can’t be beat. The conversion adds a bit of weight, but in my opinion it’s worth the sacrifice.
The bike comes stock with the Fox Performance Elite Float X, but my love for coils and the planted feeling they provide had me looking at other options. Cascade Components makes aftermarket linkage that increases travel by 15mm and adds additional kinematic progressivity, allowing for a coil shock (check with Forbidden regarding warranty annulment). I chose the FOX DHX2 for its reliability, tunability, and well, it’s orange.
Continuing the FOX theme here with the Transfer Factory post. I’ve seen some gripes on the forums, but I’ve used the Transfer Factory on several bikes and have avoided any issues. In my experience, it just works.
SRAM is certainly leading the technology race. Their AXS models are easy to set up, relatively intuitive, and surprisingly durable. In my opinion, Shimano still holds the title for exceptionally accurate shifting, but the clean lines and price points for SRAM’s wireless platform is hard to beat. I ended up selecting SRAM’s X01 AXS group. I could have saved some money with the robust GX AXS line, but I was swayed by the adjustable shifter ergonomics on the X01. The details matter!
Crankset & pedals
If you don’t know 5Dev Components then you’re missing out. These guys machine all parts in their San Diego facility and have an array of anodizing to match your Grateful Dead tribute rig. I picked up a set of the Trail/Enduro cranks, a 32t chainring, and All Around pedals to add additional street cred.
This is a hotly debated topic and leans heavily towards personal preference. I can find no wrong with Shimano brakes. I love the bite point and stopping power. That said, I went with SRAM’s Code RSC’s. I had them on my previous Yeti SB130LR and was impressed with their modulation. To improve braking power I stepped up to 220mm HS2 rotor up front and a 200mm HS2 in the rear! Some might say this is overkill, especially on a trail bike, but it’s the best upgrade I’ve made to date. Full stop (no pun intended).
For bars I selected a carbon ENVE M7 with 40mm rise. Combined with the tall stack height (648mm) I’m sitting far more upright. This additional height hasn’t sacrificed cornering traction, but I haven’t had enough time on the bike to make a final judgment.
As for the stem, Industry 9’s A35 is a machined work of art. I decided on the 32mm length to keep the steering active. For the saddle, I stuck with what works for me. WTB Volt is a classic. It’s not the sexiest thing out there, but neither am I.
Stock geometry with a 150mm fork yields a headtube angle of 65.6°. With the 160mm fork, the angle is slackened to roughly 65.1° while slightly raising the BB. In order to balance weight distribution and return geo close to original BB height, I added a -1° degree Wolftooth Geoshift angleset. This further slackened the bike and lengthened the wheelbase, but it feels ultra stable and hasn’t handicapped me on the switchbacks.
Industry Nine was kind enough to let me test their Hydra Enduro S carbon 29ers. The Hydra engagement is instantaneous, and really shows it’s worth on the technical climbs. What was most surprising was the compliance and tracking of the Enduro-S compared to my ENVE M730 wheelset. I assume this is due to the lower spoke count and 22mm profile; regardless, the wheels have performed flawlessly and inspire the confidence to open it up.
Instead of the traditional Maxxis or Schwalbe configuration I tried out WTB’s Verdict and Judge combo. I selected the Light casing for the Verdict, and the Judge is only offered with the Tough casing. The rear took some considerable wrestling to mount, and even the Light casing was more robust than most DH options. This resulted in predictable cornering support. The Verdict/Judge has excellent grip on loose rocky terrain, but aren’t necessarily fast-rolling. This was exacerbated in the muck as they don’t seem to shed the mud. I may opt for another option as the season approaches.
Do-dads and whatnots
The guys at JANK Components are making some cool 3D printed stuff that just makes sense. I picked up this direct pump mount to hold my OneUP Mini Pump and EDC tool. The tolerances are really tight so there’s no rattling or concern of losing the pump unknowingly. I also picked up this creative under-cage AXS battery storage. It’s incredibly secure and gives me that peace of mind while out on the trail. I’m running an Occam Designs Apex tube strap that uses a BOA system to secure a spare tube. There’s less expensive velcro versions, but this one just looks really clean and minimalistic. Lastly, I picked up this cheap lap timer from Amazon. I mounted it to my handlebar to document how slow I really am.
I’m really pleased with the spec and performance of the Druid. Unfortunately, winter on the Front Range hasn’t been cooperating and riding has been limited. The bike still needs several hours of saddle time to finalize the setup. However, I can confidently say that it won’t be the bike that’s holding me back this summer.
Over the years I’ve created similar self-challenges and I’ve come to understand that it’s the process that inspires me to continually test myself. My next adventure may be a grueling bike-packing trip, or ill-advised downhill series. TPC's model allows me to trade-in my bike for something else. Something to inspire my next adventure. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next owner of this Druid?
If so, contact me @oldpoorandugly to compare lap times…
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