Australian Mountain Bike
Transition Smuggler Carbon
Here at AMB we get to test a whole lot of bikes. Sometimes a bike can be awesome but you’re still happy to send it back once the review is done, as you just prefer the bikes that you have paid to have hanging in your shed. Among the other bike testers I have had the opportunity to throw a leg over a really wide variety of test bikes. The Marin Gestalt X11 in this issue was something a little left of centre for us to test, but so was the YT TUES that Ryan Walsch tested a few issues ago. A downhill bike is super specialist, and not really the bike many of us grab to just go, well, mountain biking.
It was time to line up another long term test bike for AMB, and the rough brief was a bike that suited going mountain biking. Something to rip trails on, ride some lines blind when travelling to other parts of the country, and something that would handle itself doing shuttles or long pedal ups. The need was for a capable trail bike, with a preference to 29er wheels. The geometry would need to be modern, with a stiff frame and dialled handling being preferred over long travel.
When you start narrowing it down, there actually aren’t too many bikes that fit that bill. A Specialized Stumpjumper ST fits, also a Yeti SB130, and even the new Norco Fluid FS for something in the lower price brackets. Of course there are more options, but once I started looking at the Transition Smuggler, it looked to be the best fit.
Available in both carbon and alloy, the Smuggler is a 29er trail bike that marries 140mm of travel up the front with a stout 120mm out the back. Transition are based in the Pacific North West in the USA, the land of loam and roots. As the icon on the back of the seat tube says, their bikes are engineered to party. And it was actually a visit to Bellingham for the Shimano Deore XT 12-speed launch that put me on the trails with one of the staff from Transition, who truly showed how the bikes were meant to be ridden. With no illusion that having the same frame would equip me with the same abilities, this did bring the Transition Smuggler to the front of mind, and thanks to local suppliers Super Sports, we have a new long-term test bike. This frame will see a couple of different builds and many different parts tested over the coming months. Super Sports sell the frame alone and a variety of whole bike builds as well.
The Smuggler is pretty damn solid. As I was building this up from a frame kit, it was easy to pop the frame on a scale. The large frame without a headset or the rear through axle was 2.99kg. On the one hand, pretty light. But also pretty solid, which is what you would expect from Transition. The down tube is hulking, heading south from a massive head tube that is also a nice and short 110mm, helping keep your weight on the front wheel when you need to load it into corners.
The main pivots and swing arms also have a similar girth, and there is a rubber guard incorporated into the down tube for protection from rock strike. We did add a Frameskin kit for an extra level of protection though, for scratches and the like.
The rear suspension is a four bar linkage, driving a custom tuned Fox DPS shock. It
“THE SMUGGLER REALLY RESPONDS TO BEING RIDDEN HARD, BOTH FROM PEDAL INPUT AND ALSO WORKING THE BIKE.”
pedals really well with only a bit of bob, and Transition have designed the Smuggler to be pretty plush off the top while ramping up hard in the end of the stroke so you can get plenty of use out of the 120mm of travel.
The frame has a few sweet features that will get a nod of approval from mechanics and seasoned riders alike. The external brake hose is super nice as if you’re stripping your frame down or even swapping parts (like I will be) you’re not cutting hoses all the time. The frame kit came with two foam liners to keep the cable outers for the dropper and rear derailleur quiet, although feeding the outer into the chain stay was fiddly, the downtube was easy thanks to access from the bottom bracket. The bottom bracket is threaded, with ISCG mounts too. So servicing at home is easy, without the need for specialist press fit tools.
At the front of the bike, the headset uses cups and isn’t reliant on drop in bearings. This is awesome for longevity, and we have a Cane Creek Hellbender 70 head set in there as Dirt Works reckon it’ll handle anything that comes along for the Smuggler.
I built the bike up with a Marzocchi Bomber Z2, although a Z1, or Fox 36, or other large fork would not be out of place at all. This bike was also the test bed for the Microshift Advent group set, and a sweet RaceFace Turbine R stem and Next C bars that are being tested out.
ON THE TRAIL
This is the important part. If you have ever looked at Transition bikes you will have seen their SBG, or Speed Balanced Geometry come up. Transition were one of the first brands to really push what we now call ‘modern trail geometry’. That is a longer reach, a slacker head angle and a reduced fork offset along with a short stem. Of course you can add shorter chain stays and a steeper seat angle to this mix as well. The general idea is that the slacker head angle and longer reach delivers the high speed stability we all crave. But the reduced offset fork reduces the trail of the fork, or basically it brings the front wheel a little more back towards the bike, which does help stop the wheelbase becoming too long. Add a short stem for quick steering input, and you end up with a bike that has high speed stability, while maintaining agility to change direction and a wheelbase that still gets around corners when climbing. It’s all a balance, but the steeper seat angle (75.8 degrees) helps keep your weight forward when going up, and the shorter chain stays (430mm) help with climbing traction, maneuverability and keeping the wheelbase in check.
The smart thing with geometry like this is that when you get on the bike it just feels right. A 475mm reach isn’t crazy for a large and
actually still 15mm shorter than my new XC bike. But unless you’re on a bike that’s come out in the past couple of years, it is still likely a longer reach than you might expect. With the Smuggler built up with a Marzocchi Bomber Z2 with a 44mm offset, I got pretty close to the 43mm that Transition design the bike around.
Transition say the Smuggler is their doit-all bike, and I was impressed by how well this thing got me to the trails on the mix of multi-use trails and back roads I use to get to proper singletrack. This isn’t a bike to judge on it’s climbing or sedate trail prowess, but the benefit of riding a bike that is so wellmannered for riding like this means you know you have a bike that’s going to be easy to get along with for big days on the bike.
Living near Brisbane, I don’t have descents longer than about 6 minutes that are really close by. And most are barely half of that. This means that when you’re on a trail heading down, you tend to have a dig. The Smuggler really responds to being ridden hard, both from pedal input and also working the bike. From loading the front tyre into corners, to driving through with your feet to push out, the Smuggler urges you on. I’m not one to launch off things willy nilly, but anytime I did find the best line choice was up and over or off, the Smuggler was super composed.
The build you see pictured and listed here was a fun way to start, but just before printing we set the Smuggler up with a Shimano Deore XT M8100 12-speed group set (see below), and some NoTubes Arch Mk3 rims laced to Deore XT hubs as well. The build started with my own XC wheels, and while they have a nice 29mm internal rim, they’re not super stiff and with the 2.35” tyre (the max rated size for the Transition Smuggler) there was a little bit of scuffing and buzzing on the inside of the swing arm. Hopefully a stiffer wheel, and a slightly narrower internal width, keeps this at bay.
My journey with the Transition Smuggler has just begun, and with a new group set just fitted it’s time to take it a little further afield. I’m really impressed by the composed ride when just chilling on the trail, but in all honesty the Smuggler just wants to snap into action most of the time. It does spring forward under a short pedal stroke, and easily switches direction on the trail. I think it’s going to be a whole lot of fun over the coming months, so follow along our social and web feeds to see what parts are hanging off the bike, and how it’s going.