KTM AERA 29 COMP
£1,499.99 Old-school carbon racer that's seriously smooth
KTM’s Aera Comp is dated in several ways and the carbon frame cuts into the component budget, but the bowed tubes and skinny stays create a flowing ride feel, and the handling isn’t as sketchy as you might expect.
Compared to the boxy BMC, the KTM is all about skinny tubes and curves. What’s essentially a slim head tube is only oversized on account of a ledge that curves up from the triangular down tube and two reinforcing ribs dropped down from the diamond-shaped top tube. This gradually flattens and curves back, before splitting into triangular seatstays. The extended seat tube gets a quick-release (QR) seat collar to hold the skinny seatpost. It also kinks halfway down, but the chainstays are still quite long. They start deep before expanding inwards in a triangular section and then tapering back to the old-school 135mm QR dropouts.
The down tube also curves and tapers, before flaring out slightly to support the press-fit BB. The rear gear cable runs inside the top tube, while the front is routed through the down tube to feed the side-swing front mech. This is a clamp-on unit, so moving to a 1x set-up won’t leave you with redundant mounts. There’s only one set of bottle bosses.
While the Aera is KTM’s more affordable carbon XC offering (a bit more cash gets you the premium Myroon), the composite chassis still cuts heavily into the kit budget. The RockShox Recon Silver fork has steel stanchions and less-sculpted lowers, so it’s heavier than the Rebas on the other bikes here. It’s got a QR axle too, which reduces tracking stiffness. There’s no chain-taming clutch on the Shimano XT rear mech, the Deore shifters are 2x10 units and the M396 brakes have a stretched lever feel, thick bar clamps, split-pin pad retention and cheap rotors.
The Aera’s ‘slammed for speed’ character is confirmed by the fact the stem logos only read right if it points down, not up, and the bar is just 700mm wide. While power pickup from the Shimano rear hub can be slow and clunky, the wheels are the lightest on test and the Schwalbe tyres are quick-rolling and smooth. Just be wary of poor grip in the wet.
Considering that its geometry and equipment look archaic by the latest trail standards, we got on with the KTM surprisingly well. The supersteep 71.5-degree head angle and narrow bar in the down-sloped stem
took some adjusting too. But taken as a whole package, the steering felt relatively well balanced, in terms of reaction speed and weight.
The KTM’s steep, twitchy, shortreach character means you’re less likely to accidentally push it into situations where the flex in the fork and front end, the limited wet-weather grip or the woodenfeeling brakes will suddenly become a serious issue than you might be on a slacker, more aggressive bike. There were definitely times when the compliance in the frame kept the tyres sticking through corners or on climbs when they’d almost certainly have spun out otherwise.
That said, if you’re a powerful, punchy rider looking for a more trail-capable ride, then the Aera isn’t the right bike for you. The front end puts you on the defensive as soon as things get steeper or more technical, and the bowed frame and slim stays lose a noticeable amount of peak power between pedals and rear wheel. Relatively slow pick-up doesn’t help, and the cheaper kit levels negate any weight advantage gained from the carbon frame.
When it comes to rougher terrain, though, that flow and flex definitely helps the KTM sustain speed and pedalling rhythm. The steep steering lets you twist and dance through tight lines up climbs too, and its lively overall feel meant post-ride feedback from most testers was much more positive than their initial reactions suggested it would be. www.flidistribution.co.uk