Surrey Hills MTB


Transition Smuggler

Les Arcs MTB 2017: So what MTB do you take to the Alps?

The Alps. They are beautiful, they are awesome, they are total-and-utter-shit-grin-inducing-fun.

They can also be bloody scary!

Particularly if like me (and I suspect most normal riders) you spend 99% of your time on local trails which, with the best will in the world, are mostly ‘hilly’ rather than ‘mountainous’.

I can still remember my first Alpine (Morzine) MTB adventure and the feeling of total joy when we all got to the end unscathed. Tim W and I exchanged a look at the bottom of the last run and exhaled in simultaneous relief. How in the name of holy bananas, we had thought, that had been managed was an utter mystery, because if I’m honest the kit we rode and the skills we had were frankly not up to the job!

I for example did Morzine 1 on my Giant XTC 26er – that would be Giant’s super light, short travel, narrow bar sporting XC bike with precious little suspension up front – dear God.

However to put that in perspective, Andy C did it (and another subsequent trip) on a RIGID On-One HARDTAIL! But he’s not human, so that’s to be expected.

Anyway, enough reminiscing – in 30 days (yep, that’s one calendar month chaps!) the TFITers are wheels down in Les Arcs for “The Foam Tour” 2017 and with this incontrovertible fact in mind I thought I’d take stock of the steeds we’ll be taking with us this year and also the kit they run. If you are Alps bound for the first time this year and are wondering what it is everyone else rides, hopefully this will help.

Bikes and Suspension

Our bikes, they are many and they are varied. We have MTBs from Transition, Specialized, Mojo/Nicolai, Whyte, BMC, YT Industries and Orange. They are all awesome in their own way and the kit they dangle does the deed week-in, week-out for our normal rides. But they are, in essence ‘trail’ or ‘Enduro’ focussed (whatever that actually means) bikes and not downhill monsters by any definition.

As per normal we are taking the usual “Cove” of Transitions. This year we have a 50/50 split of David D and Matt W on the Transition Smuggler with me and Bob M on the Transition Scout. The Smugglers have 140mm travel up front (up from the stock 130mm) via a Rockshox Lyric and a Rockshox Pike with 115mm at the back coming from Rockshox Monarchs. The Transition Scouts have 150mm Pikes at the pointy end and 125mm from a Monarchs at the back.

Mark T will be unleashing his Mojo/Nicolai Geometron on the mountains this year which is just a mostly terrifying concept. After having been “rudely unseated” from his Spesh Stumpy last year it should be an interesting ride for him. Mark’s Transformer Geometron (although this is subject to change – or rather it depends which button he presses or something) will be running 130mm at the back and 150mm at the front provided by Fox Float X Evolution and Fox Float 36.

Stephan F will be back on his Specialized Stumpy FSR with “enhanced tail end bounce” – after having riding a couple of donor 29ers during his ‘chainstay-gate’ episode, Steve has upgraded his rear to run a 130mm Rockshox Monarch RCS Plus in conjunction with his 140mm Rockshox Pike at the front.

James G will be back on his YT Capra with it’s “monster / more than capable” suspension, 170mm front and 165mm back provided by a Rockshox Lyric and a Rockshox Monarch plus. Arguably the most ‘Enduro’ of the bikes we ride, James’ steed is very much at home sprinting down the side of the most vertiginous Alpine mountain.

Malcolm W will be back for the second time on his Whyte T-129 with a crazy maniacal grin on his face no doubt. Malc rides the shortest travel of the TFIT 29ers with the Whyte equipped with 120mm from a Fox 34 Float at the front and Fox at the rear but that was no hindrance to his enjoyment in last year’s trip.

Andy T on the Carbon 27.5 Stumpjumper,  RockShox Pike 150mm, Fox CTD 140mm and complete with the SWAT opening to hold beer, pasties and painkillers (and some would say a small nuclear power plant to make him ride that fast…)

Both Tim, Tig and Craig will be on their trusted Orange 5 Pro 26ers. As Orange say, if aint broke, it don’t need fixing. Nimble and solid, trail absorption comes from 140mm Fox at the front and rear.

Lastly Andy C will be back on his now very familiar BMC Trailfox riding like a proper hooligan once again no doubt, enjoying the benefits of suspension like no other mortal man has deserved (having ridden the Alps three times on a rigid forked single speed On-One!). Bounce is provided from a Rockshox Pike RCT3 160mm up front and a 150mm Crane Creek DB Inline at the back.


Best post-ride pub topic ever? Possibly true, but whereas Rockshox seem to be winning out in the suspension of choice at the moment for TFIT rides, tyres, well let’s just say the choices are many (and ever evolving – I suspect there may be edits here):

  • Specialized Butcher Grid front and back for both me and Bob M
  • Specialized Butcher Grid front and Slaughter back for Stephan F and Matt W
  • Maxxis High Roller front and Maxis Minion SS rear for James G
  • Maxxis Minion SS front and Forekaster rear for Mark T
  • Maxxis Ardent EXO up front and Ardent Race rear for David D
  • Malc, Bob, Tim, Tig, Craig, Andy T, Andy C I have no idea – but they will be tyres. Probably


“There are many MTB brakes, but this one is mine…”

The variety in brake choice is less varied here but the requirement is the same – good stoppers with a reluctance to fade under descents of up to and indeed over an hour! It still amazes me how those pokey little brakes from Shimano, SRAM, et al actually manage it, but they do. That said I will never forget being behind David D in Morzine as the “stopper-pots” boiled on his Gary Fisher. Hysterical (with hindsight) and terrifying in equal measure!

The brake choices for the TFITers are pretty much uniformly Shimano XT, with one set of Zee’s, James G’s SRAM Guide RSC 4 pots, Matt W and Tim W running Hopes and rotor sizes ranging from 180 mm up to 200 mm.


To full-face or not to full-face – that is indeed the question! Most of us (I suspect because we are all so devilishly handsome – *cough*) will be opting for full-face lids just because you’re in the Alps and it’s fundamentally a good idea. Bob has recently purchased the latest incarnation of the Bell’s Super helmet, the Bell Super 3R which looks cracking and feels lighter than the Super 2Rs.

Bell Super 3R/2R converts include David, me, Matt, Mark, Andy C, Steve F, Andy T, James, Bob and Malcolm with chinguards “very much” attached. Craig and Tig have their proper full-face lids and Tim is the last of us hard enough to brave the trails with his normal helmet. Cos he’s hard. And a bit mad…


So there you have it – a variety of kit on a variety of bikes with an extreme variety of riders. In summary it seems that Rockshox are the mostly favoured of forks and shocks, with 140mm or more travel the norm up front but a wider variety of shock travel to suit the individual bikes geometry.

It will be interesting, once again, to see how our very much “trail” focused bikes hold up in the Alps. We’ve come close but they’ve not yet been overfaced in Morzine/Les Gets/Chatel (yet) but what about on the back-country trails of Les Arcs? Only time will tell.


The Benefits of having a broken bike

Now luckily with the sort of person you get riding with us in TFIT, they are normally very receptive to lending less fortunate accomplices various pieces of equipment, including their newest and dearest bikes. The only proviso it seems is that you have to give a write up afterwards (and the usual ‘you bend you mend’ policy) so here goes…

With the chainstay well and truly knackered on my Stumpy, Mark was quick to lend me his Specialized Enduro 29er. Notwithstanding the fact that it needed some tlc (fix the flat tyre, degunk drivetrain and get all 11 gears operational). With that done and with some extra pressure in the shocks and fork we headed off for our usual romp in the Surrey darkness. It was on my way to the meeting point I felt an urgent need to raise the saddle as even in the ‘up’ position my knees were far to close to my chin.

That quickly sorted we were off, I can only say that this bike was like wearing a comfy slipper, the handling felt almost exactly like my own wheels, but with the added bonus that the monarch plus rear shock was a revelation, ground hugging, plush without excessive bob and still plenty of deep down grunt when everything got a bit more vertical and quick. Some quick Strava times confirmed that this is a bike I could live with very happily. I would put some thicker sidewall tyres on to help with a couple of sideways moments, and tune the front brake to prevent it being so grabby, but otherwise a very stable machine.

A week later and it was a very kind Matt who offered his very new and incredibly shiny Transition Smuggler, again in the 29 flavour.

Now, there was a slight difference in the condition of this bike. I did find a speck of dust on the frame, but thought I’d leave it, just in case that was how Matt liked it. I also resisted the urge to change any of the shock/fork pressures or the positioning of handlebars or saddle as Matt has a micrometer and he’s not afraid to use it. To be honest though his size is fairly similar to myself so this wasn’t really much of an issue.

The ride I did on this was a little different to our usual Thursday outings as I was with my nearly teenage son, so just a 9 mile trip starting from Puttenham and heading over to the Crooksbury pumps and jumps. Again immediately I got jealous of the ability of the rear shock (another Rockshox offering) and has me wondering about upgrading my Fox CTD. This bike was another ground hugging trail smasher, for myself I would raise the stem and handlebar upsweep to get me into a more comfortable position when attacking a downhill section or getting airborne, but when on uphill, gentle or flat terrain this bike was effortless. But oh my god the SRAM XX1 drive train was like a dream, so light and precise. A mere four hours later of washing and cleaning and the bike was ready to give back to its owner.

So just another thank you to the boys in question, it’s a good eye opener to realise the pro’s or shortcomings of your own equipment.

And if any TFITers, needs to borrow my bike (and I’m not using it) then just ask. I might just need to injure my bike more often.

Crooksbury on a Smuggler

So it looks like Hoong K and Stephan F had some shenanigans up at Crooksbury Hill this weekend which I thought I’d share.

According to Leigh B this little section is known as the “Whoop Whoops” – which is a deeply appropriate name I think. Still fairly sure I could not find this if my life depended on it though!

The T Factor: A “Cove of Transition Smugglers”

It was a few years ago when I was given the opportunity to be propelled into “boutique bike ownership” when some piece of scum broke into my shed and relieved me of my lovely Specialized Stumpjumper. Not that I was furious or anything but I just hope he rode it under the nearest lorry the very next day. I was, however, very fortunate to have a decent insurance policy that allowed me to put together a lovely bit of kit.

So I tried out a few options first, I borrowed a Whyte G150 works and took it to Wales, very nice but just didn’t set my pants on fire..

Then I read loads of reviews and borrowed my mate’s Transition Bandit 650b and I thought “Woohoo !! Pass me that fire extinguisher” – the Bandit just had/has that little something extra, it has a sense of urgency, a familiar feel to it and is such a great bike. So I nabbed the last battleship grey, large Bandit frame my local Transition supplier could get his mits on.

Life with my Bandit was lovely. It was a very confidence inspiring bike and very pretty. Bike Parks were sessioned, and the Alps were well and truly “beasted”.

Anyway, fast forward a couple of years or so and another piece of filthy scum relieved my mate of his Transition Bandit 29er (David D). Mr D then proceeded to buy a “rescue orange” Transition Smuggler, at the time Transition’s new short(ish) travel 29er. When David brought out his orange beast I wasted no time and swung a leg over and what do you know, I got the same feeling I did when I first rode the Bandit 650b. The seed was sown…

However, I was initially unsold on the “bigger wheels are best” argument though, I simply loved my Transition Bandit too much. But then then I came across a cheap Transition Covert 29 frame and built up a bike to either keep or sell. Of course, once built I took the covert out for one or two TFITs and the revelation was definite – riding the Covert absolutely sold me on the benefits of the 29er wheel. They just roll better, and I’ll concede that 29ers are slightly less nimble (note the use of the word slightly) but there is a palpable difference, AND for the type of riding we do in the Surrey Hills it has to be the wheel of choice.

However, the was an issue with my Covert. It was a lovely bit of kit (and a large frame) but it was just way too small for me. And not just me, everyone who rode it commented on the very “compact cockpit”. That said, more modern 29er geometry (i.e. the Smuggler) gives you a spacious, low and relaxed “cockpit” that I love so very much, without the need for pesky front mechs anymore and the rear chainstays can be shorter promoting rigidity in the rear triangle.

What’s not to love?

So, after a bit of contemplation I realised there was only thing for it…

I had to sell my beloved Transition Bandit 😱…

Then buy a Smuggler frame and put the bits from the Covert onto that.. If I’m honest it took me a fair while to pluck up the courage. But my pants collection was burgeoning and needed burning, so I did it, and she is now entertaining a very nice chap in Sheffield.

Transitions current colour scheme is not exactly jaw dropping and it’s the only disappointing thing about the whole brand, but you can’t have everything I suppose. So, a matte black frame was procured.



Me being me, I absolutely was not going to just leave it at that! So I got my local spray painter to do his thing and sprayed the front triangle. After much procrastination I settled on the surprising bit – an “oh so choice” red..

The I I sold a few other bits from the shed and built up a truly lovely bike giving me the following kit list for my Smuggler:

  • SRAMXX1 drive train
  • SRAM Guide ultimate brakes
  • Rockshox Lyrik 140mm Solo Air forks
  • Rockshox Debonair RT3 rear shock
  • Hope 4 hubs
  • Hope bottom bracket
  • Hope headset
  • Hope bar end plugs
  • Eastern Heist 30mm rims on stainless spokes
  • Race face 150mm dropper
  • Race face turbine stem 50mm
  • Race face turbine 780mm bars
  • HT X1 pedals
  • Race face grips
  • Fizik Gobi saddle
  • Specialised Butcher tubeless tyres

So last night’s TFIT was the first ride of the Smuggler and last night was…, well, just bloody fantastic! It really is a great bike (and I don’t think the guys noticed the steam from my smouldering undergarments in all that slush and mist…)

It says something about a bike when you can swing your leg over for the very first time and feel like your totally at home and ride with a proper grin on your mush, bristling with the excitement and promise of even merely delving into the greater performance and capability that a new, different bike brings.

There definitely is a “T” factor..

First notes, well I’ve never ridden Rockshox before and I know there will be lots of setting up and dialing in required. This is obviously awesome because it gives me plenty of excuses to “just pop out for a bit” up to the Punchbowl and back.. as if excuses are needed.

And finally, now we are Smugglers x2 at TFITs, the collective noun for The Smuggler was rightly decreed last night.

David D and I now ride as a Cove of Smugglers….

Roll on the trails of 2017…..

Matt W

Trail Days

Now I’ve got to be honest – nothing quite beats that ‘new bike’ feel.

The joy. The utter pleasure. The all encompassing frisson of slinging your leg over what is always a substantial outlay of cash. It’s awesome. Of course there is always the n+1 rule and a lot of us are blessed with experiencing that joy more than once. Those with n+1 bikes are many.

And then there is Matt W.

Matt is what you could refer to as a ‘frequent renewer of bikes’. Since I’ve known him he’s had 5 (I think) and he’s now moving onto his sixth. Yep, Matt has acquired a new bike and I believe if I have interpreted the ‘bad poetry hints’ on Whatsapp correctly, his new Transition Smuggler will be getting it’s first outing this evening.

It’ll be bling. It’ll be custom. It’ll be a thing of unfeasible beauty. It will without a doubt be 100% Matt. As with all prototypes, details are a little thin on the ground at the moment (I’ve seen the frame but not the finished product) but I will post something here as soon as I can so we can all revel in the creation.

And speaking of new bikes – a few of the TFITers have signed up to the excellent sounding “Trail Days” run by Specialized. It’s a free demo day of the latest and greatest that the chaps from the US have to offer from the Turbo Levo, all-new Enduro, Stumpjumper and Rhyme models.

I am very interested in having a crack at the Stumpjumper – which has always been a personal favourite (until I discovered my Bandit) and riding it on vaguely familiar trails will be awesome. We’re heading to the session at Peaslake on 21st May.

I highly approve of manufacturers showing off their hard work this way – and let’s be honest, it’s always gonna makes that n+1 decision that bit easier to make!

Tricked out Transtion Smuggler

So the Transition Smuggler – is it the fastest bike in the west? David D (and I suspect Matt W) certainly agree and so does by the looks of things (thanks to James G for the link).

They posted an article looking at Alex “Krunk Shox” McGuiness’ Smuggler, which helped him power to first place by some 11 seconds at the GoPro Mountain Games Enduro event.

It’s well worth a read, if you have or are thinking about buying a Smuggler or indeed if only for the kit choice on the bike. I’m very interested in Alex’s tyre choice of Specialized Butcher and Ground Control Grids (with impending Alpine things on he horizon). These could be definite contenders for my Transition Bandit.

Oh and also – massive kudos to Stephan F who put in a massive performance at the Tidworth Enduro this weekend and only went and picked up a 6th place!

Transition Smuggler – The big orange

Ever played racing games on a console? I had a PS4, and spent a significant amount of time playing F1 racing games. I loved the fact that the tracks were based on the real thing. Even to this day, I can identify an F1 track just by seeing a few corners. Thing is, those games required a degree of dedication, you race the same track a hundred times before realising that if you just braked a little later in that corner, and hit the gas exactly on the apex of the next one, you could go flat out through the 3rd, and suddenly things were getting quick. I think this sums up my riding experience so far on the Smuggler. It’s capable of so much more than you expect. Yes, you can point and shoot, but the options open up with the increased ability to get a wagon wheeler to change direction on a dime.

Significant Geometry changes

A quick shout out to the thieving scum that stole my Bandit 29 – May the fleas of a thousand camels invest your nutsacks. But comparisons must be drawn. A long wheelbase on a 29er grants you instant stability by default. Especially at speed. Downside is you need to fight it through the corners – that thing wants to go straight – steam-train straight. The Bandit (and we are talking the original Bandit Two9) was light and fast in a straight line, but from that point on, you are mostly just a  passenger. The first thing you notice on the Smuggler is the front feels light. New skool geo sees the rear wheel tucked right up close to the bb. With an offset downtube to make space for the front ring, discarding a front derailleur option all together. Shorter wheelbase means more maneuverability. Combine that with a light front end, and new options open up on the trail – because you go look for things to pop off – over or around. But it does take some getting used to – mainly because in my case – the bike is far more competent than the rider. Worth noting that even with a light front end, I have never had too much of an issue with the front lifting on the steep stuff.



Ok, I got some abuse for my pressure setting scribbles. Thing is, this bike could be considered as short travel by today’s standard. There 115mm of rear travel – and you want to make use of all of it. The revised Geo is so dependent on the suspension settings, I think it’s easy  for the bike to feel lifeless without some attention. A few psi and rebound clicks can make a big difference. The 140 Pike RTC3 upfront does what it says on the tin. It has a tendency to dive through the travel, but tweaking the rebound seems to have solved that. I think I’m pretty close to the sweet spot on the shock. Its getting to the point where I can stop worrying about it and get on and pedal it.

Other stuff

I love internal cable routing. Its made me realise I have a stupid irritating creak in my helmet. Its so very gratifying to just hear rubber on dirt. I love wider rims. Tire profile looks better, its so much easier to get the tires on and seated, even with a hand pump on the trialside. I love 115mm seat drop. Getting the saddle really out of the way keeps me up and out of the saddle far more than before. I’m still thinking about the lack of an extender cog, but for now I’ll need to MTFU with the 1×10. It’s not a light bike, and requires graft up the hills, but boy – the return on investment is huge.

The Smuggler is a an Audi quattro rally. It’s a Labrador with a tennis ball. It’s Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt. Heck – its Emily Blunt. And I like Emily Blunt. A lot.

Matt Damon & Emily Blunt On Set Of "Adjustment Bureau"
Gratuitous picture of Emily Blunt. Just because.






What rhymes with orange?

It’s been about 3 months of waiting. That’s 3 months of second guessing, review hunting and component checking. Not that I had any hesitation about the Smuggler, but there are still decisions to be made about bars, stems, drivechain, brakes, rims, tyres and so on. And 3 moths to review every aspect of anything to do with a new steed, sometimes even delving into page 2 of google searches.

As a riding group, we have all reached certain collective conclusions about our bikes. We all adopt certain standards as they become available and accepted. Examples include wider bars, bigger wheels, 1×10 drivechains, dropper seatposts, and tubeless tires to name a few. So if you can tick at least some of those boxes, given a certain price point, and a fairly recent manufacturing date, its unlikely you will end up with -dare I say it – a lemon.

Pleased to report that the Smuggler is certainly no lemon, and the Plastow ride, while not offering any thrills (beyond the outstanding food – thanks again for arranging Mark) that the bike feels completely neutral and comfortable. When I did cash in a pink ticket for a brief blast down Yogurt Pots, it really did feel very good indeed. I won’t try and define in words why, short to say I felt a bit like a passenger on a wild train ride. I got spat out at the bottom of ‘pots, and had to go and have a sit down under the trees to compose myself. It was a solid strava pr, and while I could not match the feat on Barry’s, this was more down to me getting tired (South Africa’s cheap beer and beef took its toll). I was left wanting more, and that, at the end of the day, must be the best litmus test of any bike.


The smuggler’s new inside shrine home. The only two areas of consideration, those pedals are bottom of the Shimano range, so hope they hold up (not the one’s I asked Tom to get, but he forgot). I am also still thinking about the lack of an extender cog, not sure if I am doing myself any favours on the steep stuff.

*With some exceptions – I’ll not name names.

All dressed up..

My new steed awaits. But new rims only arriving later this week. I’m in the US next week, with only the weekend left before family hols down to SA for two weeks. So if my maths is correct, I will have two days to play with new bike before the Enduro session on the 10th April. So close yet so far. 😦 If you do find yourself new Hindhead, pop in a take a look, she’s hanging above the counter in Tamed Earth. Looky only, no touchy.

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