Welcome to the new school- Transition Smuggler v Banshee Phantom Review
This wasn’t meant to be a bike test, all I wanted to do was demo a few bikes that I wanted to buy for myself to help me decide. But in deciding what I wanted to buy, I needed to jot a few notes down on each bike, which quickly became me sharing my thoughts on some random bike forums, which then led to me doing something I’ve not done in the best part of 3 years; picking up the virtual Descent-World pen to share my views with anyone who cared. Not being a bike review, I also have no photos other than a camera phone, so I better make the words worth it…
I’d decided some 12 months that the world of wagon wheels was for me. I’m a tall rider and have always been of the go through it rather than jump over it school of thought, so for me none of the downsides of the lack of “flickability” of a 29er really mattered, plus with the new school geometry starting to make waves, they were supposedly getting over this one achillies heel. Over the course of the last 12 months I’ve tried various great bikes, but none of them quite clicked, then over the last few months of various trade shows and launches, 3 bikes came up that really started to float my boat. The Kona Process has been the first mainstream brand to really spearhead the short travel, long, low and slack revolution in 29er geometry, but following very quickly on the Kona’s coat tails were the Transition Smuggler and Banshee Phantom, 2 bikes that really piqued my interest. The 3rd musketeer was the Trek Remedy 9.8, but I’ll write more of that another day.
Fortunately for me, Pedals in Edinburgh stock both Transition & Banshee, and after a few months of pestering James & Ryan to get hold of the newly announced Smuggler, not only did I get my mitts on it for a demo, but it would appear that aside from those lucky enough to get to Interbike demo day, I might have even been the first in the UK to swing a leg over one. So on a dreich autumn day, it was off to the Tweed valley to put the bikes through their paces back to back.
I chose Glentress as the best test venue. It would allow for a decent mix of trail centre, fire road bashing and some off piste natural riding, most importantly I could ride trails I know like the back of my hand, which is always helpful in really gauging how a bike performs. With a loop loosely based around this years Scottish Open Enduro course planned, it was a long grind almost to the top of the forest, plenty of time to see how the climbing legs of each bike fared.
It immediately became obvious as we spun our way up that the Transition had the edge, not least because my riding buddy who has never been known to beat me uphill, was quite happily snapping at my heels on the Smuggler while I was on the Banshee. It’s worth noting that the Banshee did weigh in a couple of lb more, and was shod with wider rubber and chunkier wheels, which certainly plays into this, but there was a noticeable zip about the Smuggler that the Banshee lacked when you really got out the saddle to push it up the steeper stuff. A tire change may have closed the gap, but there’s less that can be done about the weight difference between the two. 1-0 to the Transition.
Downhill things were a little more even, when it was twisty the Transition felt sprightly, fun, and coming out of tight turns into hard acceleration the same traits that separated the two under power on the climbs was obvious, the Transition jumped forward while the Banshee felt occasionally a bit lethargic. The Banshee started to edge ahead a little when the downhill got steeper and more tech, for the most part due to the levels of grip, however it’s really difficult to tell whether this was down to the bike or the tyres. I did actually set the faster times (that’s proper GPS authenticated times, not something my smartphone guessed…) on the steep tech stuff while on the Transition, but it didn’t feel quite as comfortable- Still very comfortable, just not so much. When you opened up the throttle on wider fast stuff, the Banshee certainly felt more stable of the two. Let’s call descending a draw, or horses for courses depending on where you might do most of your riding.
So what of the much vaunted new school of 29er geometry? Well the fact they are 29er seemed completely non-noteworthy, in the best possible way, i’m not going to get on a wheel size rant, these are both simply awesome riding bikes regardless of wheel size. Travel wise, at 105mm on the Banshee and 115mm on the Smuggler, you’d be forgiven for looking over them as XC machines, but if ever there was a lesson in geometry over suspension travel, this was it. Not once did I yearn for more travel, though I did at several time yearn for the balls to push the bikes harder to find their limit, I didn’t manage. I’d guess that limit might come once you get into high speed, big hit, Alpine riding, but given most of us manage that once a year if we are lucky, why lug around more bike than we need for the rest of the time? Give me long low and slack and I’ll be happy regardless of how many inches you give me at the rear. That said, at 330mm above the dirt, an extra 5mm on the BB height wouldn’t have hurt in helping keep the power down in the rough stuff on the Transition without smashing pedals, that said the stock build is, strangely in my opinion, a 175mm crankset, so if you’re building your own then a set of 170s should see you right. Oh, and while we are at the geometry tweaks, it I’d trade off a bit more length on the chainstay in exchange for a front derailleur mount……..maybe I’m not that new school after all….
It’s a head to head so there’s got to be a winner? The new Transition Smuggler for me is the better bike. True at times I felt a little more comfortable on the Banshee but those were few and far between, the Transition edged it in pretty much every area.
So given the whole point of this was to buy a bike for myself? Maybe! Check back later in the week for my views on the Remedy 9.8.