The Transition Bandit is to trail bikes what HD TVs are to cathode ray tubes. Its builders are based in Washington State just a few miles from Vancouver: the Bandit is a cross-country/trail bike sculpted by moss-filled mountain forests, vast scars of bedrock and roots like angry sea monsters.

Consequently this 130mm frame is incredibly stiff, extremely tough and, despite being remarkably good to pedal, focused far more on high-impact fun than lightweight all-day climbing. It’s also one of the most amusing, goading and pleasurable bikes we’ve ever ridden – a near-perfect balance of gravity performance and real-hills usability.

Ride handling: Sensational – this is no ordinary trail bike

Before we rode the Bandit we wondered if it could justify its price. After all, the excellent Norco Sight 2 is £2500, and
not exactly flimsy. Is the Transition just a posh, boutique frame for
those who like to be different? No. This is a sensational bike, and
distinctly different from a ‘regular’ trail bike.

stiffness like this you must look to 160mm bikes such as Specialized’s
or Orange’s Alpine, not other 140mm bikes. Even the Sight feels
skinny and whippy in comparison.

What all this solidity brings is
fantastic tracking and brilliantly rich feedback – you
always know what each wheel is doing, no matter how hard you shove it
into messy, rocky, rutted turns and trails. True, the 140mm Fox Float 32
with its 15mm axle is the wibbliest link, but it’s a light,
Kashima-smooth compromise for the bike’s trail remit.

at the Bandit as a competitor of the Sight, the Lapierre Zesty, the
Trek Fuel EX and so on and it seems a little heavy and expensive; look
at it as a 160mm play bike with 130mm of sweetly pedalling travel and
you get it. We rode it round the blue route at the Forest of Dean, then
hit several of the downhill runs: it was equally at home on both.

pedals like no 160mm bike ever could – rarely even needing the ProPedal
damping – yet offers much of the straight-tracking poise.

strongly rising rate to the lush, Kashima-coated rear suspension means
it doesn’t just sink through its travel, and it pushes back nicely as
you shove it into berms, roots and jumps, giving the bike a poppy,
fun-loving feel.

It’s a contrast to the more linear
fork, but the Bandit’s compact nature and a mid-engined feel – its mass
is tucked low against the rear wheel – means it’s unconsciously easy to
weight/unweight the front. In fact, its character is more hardcore
hardtail than anything else – up for making everything fun, loving a ton
of body language, and totally real-world usable.

Frame equipment: Pretty yet super-tough; worth upgrading bars and seatpost

Transition has pulled off a good trick: the Bandit looks skinny and low key, though there’s a beautifully mad green colour option if you frequently find yourself a) sick b) stoked or c) pumped. Peer closer at that svelte frame, though, and it’s built like a train. The strong-walled tubes thunk to the fingernail flick test, the rear dropout plates are as thick as steaks and the pivots look like bullets pancaking into a Terminator.

Transition claim 6.8lb (3.08kg) for the frame and shock, while we weighed the complete bike at 13.67kg (30.14lb) with the optional 520g Reverb seatpost.

The finish is impressive, with deep paint and a lacquered lustre that washing instantly restores. It still scuffs under cable-rub, but otherwise has a hardwearing longevity few bikes can match.

It’s a pretty bike, but one created to be used, and used hard. Transition obviously believe in it: they offer a two-year defect and lifetime crash replacement warranty.

That hard use will inevitably include mud, and the Bandit’s got it covered. Those elegant long stays are strong enough to do without a bridge, so there’s nothing for clag to build up on, and plenty of room between the chainstays even with 2.35in High Rollers.

You could fit a 2.5in tyre if you wanted, though you’d probably be missing the point. A Shimano ‘e-thru’ 12x142mm rear axle means the tyres start rolling over on the rim well before the frame flexes significantly, but we’d have preferred a quick release (QR) screw-thru such as the Syntace X-12.

You can easily lose the little security bolt on this one, and it takes two Allen keys to remove the wheel. Still, the 12mm axle option is new this year, and we wholeheartedly recommend it over the QR skewer dropout.

These frames come up small. The effective top tube on the Large is under 600mm and that, combined with a short 60mm stem and a handlebar that rises too high, creates a very upright position.

Given the height of the super-strong tapered headtube (check those bad-guy-cheek-scar welds), we finished early rides crouched under badly aching shoulders. Though we could have flipped the five-degree Truvativ stem, we chose to fit a more suitable lower-rise bar instead.

The SRAM X7 2×10 gearing is perfect – great ground clearance and all the ratios you need – but you may want to use the guide mounts (ISCG 05) to stop the chain leaping overboard. You should also seriously consider the RockShox Reverb adjustable post.

Standard on the Bandit 1 and an option here, it’s another perfect pairing and well worth the extra £250. It doesn’t hurt that the Reverb is the best dropper out there.

The rest of the kit is extremely solid. We swapped the bar, and would also swap the attractive looking TBC Park ‘n’ Ride saddle (too narrow) and possibly the front disc.

At 160mm it’s arguably undersized, though we never had an issue – partly because the Bandit so rarely wants to slow down. A 180mm disc would make big stops much easier, however.

If you love Cotic BFes, Cove Stiffees and the like, this may be the bike to take you full suss. And if you love to descend, corner and jump those cheeky woods trails faster all the time, but want something to pedal rather than push, the Bandit is that bike too.

article was originally published in What
Mountain Bike
magazine, available on Apple
and Zinio.