£1,499.99 Old-school car­bon racer that's se­ri­ously smooth

Mountain Biking UK - - WRECKED & RATED -

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.

The frame

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.

The kit

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.

The ride

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

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