So, Iíve been endurance racing for about 12 years from 26Ē XC bikes to 29Ē hardtails including one speeds. Iíve had 5Ē travel bikes and just sold a full suspension 29er for the DiamondBack Mason. Yeah, I fell hard for it. Granted, I did not demo all of the All Mountain 29Ē hardtails on the market as some were not available. But, researching the AM 29 inch hardtail with short seatstays brought me down to a few that I prefered.
I received the Mason earlier this year thanks to Tony E. and my friend Jim D. Due to a few things that took time to get to set up my Mason, this review is finally being written. I now read that all the Masons for this year are sold out. Hopefully, youíll see one on the trail near you. I also read that the 2014ís will be even better!
The one item that stuck out in my research of the AM hardtail segment, was the slack head tube angle the Mason sports. 66.5 degree head tube angle is to me super slack. Iíve never ridden a bike with such a slack angle. My DH bike from back in the day was 69 degrees! That was a when DH was just beginning. Considering the stock build, this bike is a pretty good deal for itís sticker price. Yes, the parts are not light (not the aim of this bike) but they do get the job done and will last for years. As youíll see below, I swapped out a bunch of parts from my personal inventory. Mostly as a personal preference and to keep the ability to reassemble the stock bike.
The stock SRAM X-9 1x10 drivetrain is spot on. Iíve been riding this set up on my XC bike and am glad this was the stock spec. Out of the box, it has shifted great with no adjustments. The Race Face Respond cranks in white nicely match the white stem and black Respond bar (740mm). If you wanted a granny gear, the RF cranks can accommodate the lower gearing. The Type 2 rear derailleur has been working as advertised keeping the chain slap to a minimum. Great spec!
The stock Avid Elixr 5 brakes were quiet and stopped the Mason effectively. On the DB website, 203/180 are noted but the Mason showed up with 180 front and 160 rear. Not a big deal since a 200mm adaptor was included with the bike. Another future upgrade! When I demoíd the Mason at Mountain Bike Oregon, it did have the 203/180 combo and I never did once experience brake fade. The Avidís did perform well, quiet and I would have kept them except I prefer the newer XTR brakes. If you are keeping your bike stock, youíll be good with them and can be upgraded later.
This is one area that I have kept mostly stock. One of the items that I wanted to try was the Kind Shock Drop Zone dropper post. A great choice and a must for any AM bike. I like the way the stock grips looked but I prefer a little thicker grab for my hands, so a set of ODI Rogue grips replaced the stock ones. The Race Face Respond bar and stem are just right for this bike. The stem nicely matches the stock cranks for a nice looking kit. Maybe Iím alone on this one, but I donít mind the saddle cover as itís pretty comfy compared to my saddle of preference (Fizik Arione). One awesome touch that DB made was the rubber end pieces the protect any painted surface that your bar my come in contact. These are the BEST bar plugs around. DB should sell these as aftermarket items. Iím rather picky when it comes to the small things on my bike and the bar end pieces rank high on my like list.. Again, DB did a great job specíing the cockpit on the Mason.
Frame and Fork
This frame is tough! Made from Weapons Grade Aluminum, this frame is built to take it. My experience with short seatstays is pretty limited. Iíve ridden short stays on my one speed, since they were sliders, but these were way shorter. Yes, this is built for AM. And yes, it will give you some feedback from the trail. Itís a hardtail. The frame can handle a 2.4 rear tire and getting a higher volume tire under you will reduce trail chatter. I am riding a large for my 6"+ frame. I'd suggest going with the sizing of your current bike as a guide. The frame has a long top tube but that is due to it's slack headtube angle.
What can I say, the Fox 34 CTD TALAS fork is what makes this bike. If you look around, the AM bikes I researched all had the 32mm stanchion forks. This fork will plow through anything you can throw at it. Granted, I probably will never need this much fork, but the confidence it brings is huge. Having the TALAS function really helps on any steep pitches you encounter on your ride. Iíve tried to run the fork in the 110mm mode for all my climbs but for me it wasnít needed. I've read that the fork has a 51mm offset too. I haven't confirmed this yet.
Riding the Mason
From my first ride at MBO to my home trails, this bike just wants to ride aggressive and fast downhill. The steeper, the better. With the 66.5 degree headtube angle the Mason handles any decline with ease. I ripped the Mason down a very unfamiliar trail and felt very comfortable the whole time. At the bottom, I couldnít believe how ďeasyĒ the trail was compared to the comments I heard before dropping down it. On my home trails, it has brought my skill level up another notch. Hitting drops or any little side stunt on the trail are way more inviting than my 120mm full suspension 29er that preceded the Mason.
Climbing on the Mason was a little different than my normal XC bikes. During my time on the demo Mason, I did experience a bunch of steep short climbs with the fork fully extended. There were a few times that the front end wandered about. During these times, you need to concentrate on the front end and keep your weight forward. I dropped the fork and the front end behaved just like my XC bikes. In the 110mm mode, the Mason feels like any other bike with a lower bottom bracket. Going from my XC bike to the Mason (fully extended) made me feel way high in the saddle. This isnít particularly a bad thing, it was different than what I was used to. The added height has given me comfort going over logs and step ups. At first my climbing ďfeltĒ slow but that could have been me more than the bike. Now, I climb pretty well and figure itís was my fitness more than the bike. The stiffness of the frame does have the side benefit of...instant acceleration. Coming from a one speed, one tends to stand and mash, the Mason rewards you with forward motion.
One side benefit I didnít figure on, the Mason is great at my bike park. Drop the saddle and the bike feels like a BMX bike (sort of). Take the flow line, the pump track or the jump lines, this bike rails it. After this revelation, Itís a constant battle as to which bike to bring to the bike park. Thatís a good thing!
I would like to see a few things added/modified to the next Mason. Two water bottle cages would be welcomed since I do like to ride without carrying water on my back for those last minute rides. Placement of the water bottle mount could be lower on the downtube so bigger bottles can fit better. And lastly, the cable management under the top tube could be a bit better organized. Out of the box, the dropper cable was routed on the underside top tube while the rear derailleur was routed on the outside of the top tube. This routing didnít play nice with the dropper post. Maybe different mounts could be utilized. Again, this is nit picking on my part. Of course some will want Stealth cable routing too.
My upgrades to the Mason are as many but the overall character of the bike is still there. I upgraded to XTR Trail brakes (200/160 rotors) since I have been spoiled by these brakes since they have been available. Plus they were taken off my previous ride. I swapped out the stock cranks for a set of E*13 XCX SS cranks/bb since I run 170mm cranks on all my 29erís and wanted something lighter for the Mason. I have the 2x Shiftring if I want to get some lower gearing. Some Industry 9 XC wheelset/Stans Arch rims that came off my F/S bike too. Love the flexibility of the I9ís! Just swapped in the 142 axle ends with no problems! For tires, I wanted more bite than stock. Went with a 2.3 Geax Gato front and Maxxis Ardent 2.2 rear. So far theyíve been awesome. Need more time on them since mounting them last month. I did swap out the grips to some ODI Rouges for my personal preference. Will be going to ESI Chunky soon.
The upgrades dropped a little over 3 pounds off the bike. The Mason is down to just under 26 lbs. The weight weenie in my rejoiced!
If youíre looking for a bike that can do many things and donít need full suspension, then the DiamondBack Mason is for you. Or if you want to try an ďall mountainĒ 29er the Mason can do that too. Not saying this is THE one bike for all riders, this bike can do it all and do it all well. This is my go to bike for fun trail riding and would be great in an enduro race.
Enjoy the ride.
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Thread: DB Mason Review