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We give Zerode’s Tani­wha a thor­ough TEST with a bonus over­view of Pin­ion’s C1.12 Gear­box. En­duro’s Stain­less Steel con­ver­sion BB gets BEAT DOWN and we cri­tique Black­burn, Dy­naplug and Gen­uine In­no­va­tions in a VER­SUS show­down of tire plugs.

I am what I am

The Zerode Tani­wha is a head-turner. In to­day’s age of sub-op­tions of niches of ben­e­fits of dif­fer­ence and rein­ven­tion, turn­ing heads trail­side says a lot. Par­tic­u­larly for a Kiwi brand that hasn’t been read­ily avail­able in the States and cer­tainly hasn’t had a heap of mar­ket­ing dol­lars thrown its way ei­ther.

A side­long glance at the car­bon-framed, 160-mil­lime­ter-travel, 27.5-inch-wheeled Tani­wha could leave wide-eyed scru­ti­niz­ers flum­moxed as to where the elec­tric­ity is hid­ing.

It isn’t hid­ing. A pair of ro­bust, “Mad Max”-es­que ca­bles en­ter the low-slung cylin­dri­cal drum of the Pin­ion C1.12 gear­box, evok­ing an im­age of a moped from the ’90s or a space­ship from the fu­ture. One thing’s for cer­tain, it doesn’t look like now, even if now is wrought with change.

Geo­met­ri­cally, the Tani­wha isn’t pre­tend­ing to be any­thing other than what its travel im­plies: a shred­der. Our size XL test bike had a roomy-though-not-ridicu­lous 475-mil­lime­ter reach, a 65-de­gree head­tube an­gle, steep­ish 74.5-de­gree seat tube, short­ish 431-mil­lime­ter chain­stays and a sprawl­ing 1,236-mil­lime­ter wheel­base. It’s a mod­ern rip­per built with highly par­tic­u­lar top-notch parts that Cy­cle Mon­key, Zerode’s U.S. distributor, stands be­hind—as should be the case for $9,500.

Get­ting sprung

Un­sprung mass. Sounds al­most naughty, doesn’t it? Re­gard­less, di­min­ish­ing un­sprung mass has quite the ef­fect on the Tani­wha’s rear-sus­pen­sion per­for­mance. The lighter, lower-in­er­tia rear wheel lessens the forces tra­di­tional sus­pen­sion bat­tles to over­come. This is cour­tesy of repo­si­tion­ing the de­railleur, cas­sette and ex­tra hub weight into the cen­tral Pin­ion gear­box. As a bonus, our Tani­wha’s sin­gle­speed hub al­lows for stronger, sym­met­ri­cal wheel lac­ing. Feed­back from the now-lighter rear end can be di­rectly tran­scribed by the shock—even more so with the sim­pler sus­pen­sion de­sign the Tani­wha touts. Zerode claims the sum to­tal of this has led to an op­ti­mized wheel path, an op­ti­mized sprung-to-un­sprung ra­tio and ideal weight place­ment.

It is what it is

Zerode wasn’t kid­ding about un­sprung mass. The Tani­wha con­forms to all ter­rain at any speed with a level of sen­si­tiv­ity, re­sponse and

devo­tion that I’d never ex­pect from an air-sprung shock. The Cane Creek DB Air CS was po­ten­tially a pos­i­tive cul­prit, but there’s more to this than just the high­end rear damper. I crept shame­lessly gin­gerly down a steep, loose, fist-sized boul­der chute at a speed so halt­ingly slow I was cer­tain I’d be sen­tenced to a manda­tory foot-down re­assess­ment of things. I awaited the static, locked feel­ing of rear sus­pen­sion bat­ter­ing its skid­ding way over boul­ders, a feel­ing I’m ac­cus­tomed to on many full-sus­pen­sion designs when it’s time to rely on ge­om­e­try alone to hard­tail my way through things. The stut­ter­ing never started with the Tani­wha. I had ful­lon, em­bar­rass­ingly good trac­tion, like I gained a bonus bike within the ride­pace con­tin­uum—slow-speed spe­cific: the hot new cat­e­gory. It was dif­fer­ent enough that I couldn’t re­fute it, there it was. I’d glazed over when hear­ing about height­ened sen­si­tiv­ity ear­lier. I’m en­grained in a slow speed = right­ful self-pun­ish­ment men­tal­ity. The Tani­wha proved oth­er­wise. It had un­canny trac­tion, re­gard­less of speed.

This phe­nom­e­non was just as present at high speeds. The Tani­wha faith­fully kept pace through hard hits and chat­tery sec­tions. In a word, it felt calm. It’s an eerie feel­ing, as though the rear of the Zerode is fo­cus­ing more in­tently on the ground than other bikes. A my­opic un­flinch­ing sen­si­tiv­ity. My­opic in the good way. It’s con­stantly closely an­a­lyz­ing the ground cre­at­ing un­en­cum­bered, smooth re­ac­tions to ev­ery­thing.

What giveth also taketh. That sen­si­tiv­ity trans­lates just as well on the as­cents, mak­ing the Tani­wha an ad­e­quate, even de­cent, climber. But there is a soft­ness to the sus­pen­sion. Climb­ing with the shock open re­veals a lack of mid-stroke sup­port. The harder I ped­aled, the deeper I sank with the fork buoy­antly nos­ing up­ward. I made note of steeper climbs, ex­per­i­ment­ing with fore/aft weight place­ment over the frame. But the Tani­wha liked to fall through its sen­si­tive soft­ness, re­gard­less of front-to-back rider bias while as­cend­ing. This is the flip­side of less­en­ing un­sprung mass. It in­creases sprung mass, and it takes some get­ting used to. Even when run­ning the rec­om­mended 30-per­cent sag, Travis En­gel, Bike’s gear edi­tor, who also spent time on the Tani­wha, had to ag­gres­sively tune his low-speed com­pres­sion to com­bat it. Us­ing the Climb Switch less­ened the ef­fect quite sig­nif­i­cantly, but the soft­ness seemed to echo through it.

Shift hap­pens

Shift­ing the Tani­wha’s Pin­ion gear­box is just like shift­ing a Rohloff hub. I’ve spent plenty of trail-rid­ing, bikepack­ing and com­mut­ing time with a Rohloff XL driv­e­train. Re­gard­less of the dis­ci­pline, so long as you’re not in a hurry, things click along in a con­sis­tency that you adapt to over time. Some­where in the gear­box ether, some­body once said you can shift un­der load. This is not so. Shift­ing un­der load throws gear­box and Rohloff driv­e­trains into gear-jam pur­ga­tory. It takes a lot of force on the shifter for it to be even pos­si­ble, so it won’t hap­pen ac­ci­den­tally. Just don’t do it. Dry shift. This is where Pin­ion and Rohloff shine. Stop ped­al­ing, shift, start ped­al­ing. Legs can keep on spin­ning so long as no force, really none, is ap­plied to the driv­e­train.

Though the Pin­ion twist shifter takes some force to move, it al­lows you to grab as many gears as your wrist may reach. This didn’t seem nec­es­sary, as the shifts be­tween the C1.12’s 600 per­cent are 17.7-per­cent jumps, a bit big­ger than SRAM Ea­gle’s av­er­age of 15.8 per­cent. So, I pre­ferred one-at-a-time wind­ing through things over dou­ble-shifts, but maybe old habits die hard.

Ped­al­ing the Tani­wha is dif­fer­ent as

well. The rear wheel is light and quick to spin up, though you’re push­ing along a low, sig­nif­i­cant cen­tral mass. It makes for a mix of an easy but not sprightly feel—it’s as though you’re quickly push­ing against some­thing then re­sist­ing speed. Af­ter ad­just­ing, the here I am cen­tral feel be­comes an as­set as the low-slung weight is pre­dictable and planted, keep­ing the tires glued. You can hang off the front and counter-steer eas­ily into cor­ners, the bike du­ti­fully fol­lows track­ing smoothly over sub­tleties. Land­ing is con­trolled and as­sur­ing. Over­all, the low-ish 352-mil­lime­ter bot­tom bracket feels lower than the num­ber im­plies with the bike’s weight sur­round­ing it.

Gear­box drag is no­tice­able when spin­ning the cranks quickly, par­tic­u­larly in higher gears. At slow speeds or low torque, I felt drag-free. Part of this could be that there is such a deep well of low gear­ing avail­able. Easy is really, really easy. Al­most too slow to main­tain bal­ance.

Neil Flock from Cy­cle Mon­key ex­plained that the rea­son more drag is felt at higher speeds is the shafts within the Pin­ion gear­box are mov­ing faster against the seals, which have a dy­namic fric­tion value. Pedal faster and the shafts have trav­eled that much far­ther across the seals, cre­at­ing that much more drag over­all.

When coast­ing down­hill, there’s no drag. Start to pedal and you can feel that you’re turn­ing over the in­put shaft’s spur gears, it’s a per­cep­ti­ble on/off feel­ing that’s no­ticed if it’s a pro­longed, but not steep down­hill, when you’re oc­ca­sion­ally throw­ing in pedal strokes to main­tain speed.

The Tani­wha shines at higher speeds, steeper de­scents and on longer rides. Hunt­ing around throw­ing in ex­tras and quick laps try­ing to make the most of a dwin­dling time win­dow, it can feel like a strug­gle boss­ing the big bike around. Find­ing a longer ride to set­tle in on an ex­tended climb, then enjoy all as­pects of a var­ied de­scent feels re­ward­ing. On longer, out-there rides, there’s also a smug sat­is­fac­tion know­ing you don’t have a de­railleur hanger flap­ping in the breeze, ea­ger to flirt with an irk­some rock face.

Put­ting on the big kid undies

With the cen­tral weight down at wheel level, it can feel a bit like things are heaped over the svelte Derby car­bon rims, even though they boast a wide 35-mil­lime­ter in­ter­nal-rim width. So, we fixed the prob­lem. Why? Be­cause we’re Bike Sci­en­tists™ and can’t help do­ing things that we really shouldn’t.

We put 2.8-inch toothy tires on the Tani­wha. It was splen­did. The soft­ness of the sus­pen­sion was bal­anced by un­tamed re­bound in the big tires. Ev­ery­thing seemed more hon­est; this is a bike that can use some heavy-handed throw­ing around and the big tires liked it. Sup­ple sus­pen­sion met smoother-rid­ing tires, which sounds like too much but felt meant to be. The low-slung Pin­ion be­came prop­erly propped and sup­ported, it no longer felt like cen­tral weight with ane­mic limbs, the bike be­came a com­plete pack­age and was more play­ful with­out feel­ing any heav­ier. More taste, less fill­ing, mis­sion suc­cess.

The Bon­trager 2.8-inch 27.5 XR4 Team Is­sue tires mea­sured 2.7 inches on the Derby rims, and we mea­sured greater than 6 mil­lime­ters of clear­ance ev­ery­where sur­round­ing the tire on the XL frame and also sur­round­ing the tire within the fork arch and crown, even when fully com­pressed. That said, check with mom be­fore try­ing alone at home.

So who’s ‘Sen­derella’ for now that she’s put vo­lu­mi­nous rub­ber on her car­bon slip­pers? And who’s she for with­out the volup­tuous treads? Ei­ther way, the Zerode Tani­wha is a bike for some­body who pri­or­i­tizes ut­most sus­pen­sion per­for­mance be­yond all else. You get a metic­u­lously tuned, down­hill-bike-wor­thy sus­pen­sion feel in a 160-mil­lime­ter chas­sis. And like that down­hill bike, you have to pedal it, which won’t be the end of the world but def­i­nitely won’t be a high­light. Along the way, you can side­step a lot of driv­e­train main­te­nance and shrug off bro­ken de­railleur hang­ers while de­vel­op­ing a cal­cu­lated, me­thod­i­cal shift­ing tech­nique. It’s a dif­fer­ent bike that’s ab­so­lutely cer­tain about one thing: It’s dif­fer­ent.

Pin­ion also uses three mul­ti­pli­ers but un­like triples, there is no over­lap in Pin­ion’s C1.12 gear­box. This means you have 12 com­pletely unique gears, each evenly sep­a­rated by 17.7-per­cent steps to com­pose a mas­sive 600-per­cent range.

That sounds like a lot of range. It is. SRAM’s Ea­gle is 500 per­cent. Yep, 600 is enor­mous.

But Pin­ion’s in­ter­nals look noth­ing like the cas­settes we’re fa­mil­iar with. Peer­ing within the black box looks to re­veal the in­nards of an evil clock tower. Like the one in “Dick Tracy.” Ok, fine, it was a draw­bridge, but ei­ther way, there were mas­sive, round, metal in­ter­lock­ing cir­cu­lar gears ready to crush a damsel in dis­tress. Pin­ion uses these gears, so they’re evil-guy ap­proved, which is nice.

The gear­box is sealed and con­tains four-sea­son gear oil that you’re in­structed to change once ev­ery 10,000 kilome­ters (6,213 miles) or once a year, which­ever comes first. Chal­lenge ac­cepted.

The sin­is­ter, toothy in­ter­lock­ing discs are a com­bi­na­tion of spur gears and a he­li­cal gear. When they in­ter­face, they cre­ate a gear ra­tio based on the teeth of the two rings, just like your front chain­ring con­nect­ing to a cog on your cas­sette via the chain, sim­ple enough. Rather than have 12 round metal gears en­gag­ing with an­other 12 round metal gears, mak­ing for an enor­mous gear­box, Pin­ion uses three mul­ti­plier gears. We’ll get into the specifics of how this works, but for now, just think of the mul­ti­pli­ers like a triple chain­ring, caus­ing gross changes in gear ra­tios.

Ok, un­der­stood on our triple anal­ogy, but how does Pin­ion’s gear­box ac­tu­ally work? It’s a game of shafts but never get­ting shafted. For starters, there’s a top shaft and bot­tom shaft, both stacked with gears. Seven gears each in the case of the C1.12. But let’s break the sys­tem down to its six es­sen­tial parts, and these are Pin­ion’s names:

In­put Shaft. It’s the bot­tom shaft. This is what the crank spin­dle slides through. The four gears clos­est to the non-drive­side are per­ma­nently mounted to the in­put shaft, like a pinecone. Force trans­fers through the crank’s spin­dle to the in­put shaft, en­ters the gear­box, and the magic show be­gins.

First Sub-Trans­mis­sion. This is com­posed of the four non-drive­side-most gears on the top shaft and the four cor­re­spond­ing gears on the lower shaft. Pedal force trav­els from the In­put Shaft through these gears first and cre­ates the ini­tial gear ra­tio. That force trav­els through only one pair of cor­re­spond­ing gears at a time, but we’ll cover that later.

Sec­ond Sub-Trans­mis­sion. This con­sists of three drive­side-most gears on the top shaft and their cor­re­spond­ing three on the lower shaft. These pair­ings cre­ate a gear ra­tio that fur­ther mul­ti­plies the ini­tial gear ra­tio. Al­though force trav­els through these sec­ond, think of them as your front chain­rings, as they cause big changes in ra­tio. Again, only one pair­ing is en­gaged at a time.

Out­put Shaft. This is a hol­low tube that fits over the drive­side of the In­put Shaft, right back where we started. It is able to spin freely on a set of nee­dle and car­tridge bear­ings. The lower three of the gears of our ‘triple chain­ring’ anal­ogy are per­ma­nently fas­tened to the Out­put Shaft. On the out­side, the chain­ring is af­fixed to the Out­put Shaft.

Shift­ing Shaft. This is the up­per shaft where seven gears spin freely and in­de­pen­dently from one an­other. Or, at least, they would if their teeth weren’t locked against those of the gears on the In­put and Out­put shafts. Em­bed­ded in the hol­low Shift­ing Shaft at the cen­ter of each of these gears is a pawl which, when ac­ti­vated by the cam shaft, locks the gear around it to the Shift­ing Shaft. One gear from the First Sub-Trans­mis­sion and one from the Sec­ond Sub-Trans­mis­sion will be en­gaged at all times, and the mul­ti­ply­ing com­bi­na­tion de­ter­mines the over­all gear ra­tio.

Cam shaft. This re­sides within the Shift­ing Shaft. Two ca­bles en­ter­ing the front, non-drive­side of the Pin­ion gear­box spin a tiny plan­e­tary gear on the end of the Cam Shaft and ro­tate it, caus­ing spe­cific pair­ings of pawls to flip up or down, or­ches­trat­ing the shift­ing process.

How it all comes to­gether: Ex­am­ple time. While we pedal along, the force moves from the In­put Shaft to the Shift­ing Shaft through the con­nec­tion be­tween which­ever pair of gears we’ve en­gaged in the First Sub-Trans­mis­sion, cre­at­ing our ini­tial gear mul­ti­plier. The force then moves along the Shift­ing Shaft to the gears we’ve en­gaged in the Sec­ond Sub-Trans­mis­sion. Next, the force trav­els to the Out­put shaft, which is con­nected to the chain­ring. If the mul­ti­pli­ers pro­pel the chain­ring at a speed faster than the cranks, you’ll be in a harder gear. If it is go­ing slower, you’ll be in an eas­ier gear.

The Pin­ion gear­box poses a new so­lu­tion to an un­changed arena of bi­cy­cle de­sign: shift­ing. Yes, in­cre­men­tal changes have evolved into 1x sys­tems span­ning large ranges with im­pres­sive ac­tu­a­tion, but they still rely on a de­railleur, quick to be marred by a ma­li­cious rock. Pin­ion brings ro­bust range through Ger­man over-en­gi­neer­ing. Worth its weight? Ride one to find out.

PIN­ION C1.12 GEAR­BOX | $1,300 | 3,273 GRAMS, TO­TAL SYS­TEM WEIGHT The eas­i­est way to think about Pin­ion’s com­pli­cated C1.12 gear­box trans­mis­sion is by en­vi­sion­ing a triple chain­ring. Yes, we all know triples. Three rings in the front con­duct gross...

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