As described here World Exclusive VIP Tour of Lenz Sport Factory, I recently borrowed a Leviathan 3.0 from Devin Lenz to test out on my local Colorado Front Range trails. Just a week before, I had demo’d a Niner RIP9 (Big Kahuna Bikes RIP9 demo pic and sizing question), so I thought I’d write up some of my observations and comparisons.
I realize that a ride report on a Lev 3.0 is basically three year old news on the 29er front. However, I suspect that there are many of us “bandwagon” types now reading up on FS 29ers after all you trail blazers did the heavy lifting and made it possible.
There were some definite inequalities in the comparison. First, the Lev has 3 inches of travel, compared to 4.5 on the RIP9. (Leviathans are also available with 4 inches of travel, but as my kids learned in kindergarten, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” I was happy Devin was willing to lend me any bike, and not about to get picky regarding the travel.).
Second, the White Brothers fork on the Lev was not nearly in the same league as the Reba on the RIP9 demo. Mikesee sent me some suggestions on getting rid of a really annoying top-out “clunk,” but I just couldn’t find the sweet spot in between “clunk” and “molasses rebound.” Eventually, I got used to it, but it did detract from the overall ride.
Third, the trails were in much worse shape when I rode the Leviathan than when I rode the RIP9. Up in the hills above Ken Caryl and Willow Springs (where I ride on the Front Range), the trails today were wet, muddy, snowy, and generally pretty slimy. Things were a bit drier and tackier when I demo’d the Niner bike.
Here are a few shots of the Lenz XL demo bike. The build quality is excellent, and the frame just oozes attention to detail. I do think the graphics and logos are a bit cheesy looking; something a little more subtle would help the bike display its “gravitas” on the trails. Not a big deal because you can’t see the stickers that much when the bike’s wearing its natural protective layer of dirt and mud. [Note that these shots were taken AFTER the Lev got a post-ride cleaning… I was afraid that internet pictures of the bike with a full cocoon of mud would disqualify me from future test rides courtesy of Lenz Sport. ]
Anyway, here are my thoughts. Your mileage may vary. Caveat emptor. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Fit and geometry:
The Lenz felt too short in the top tube for me. The XL frame has a top tube of 24.5 inches, which felt pretty tight for me (at 6’3” with long arms). Unfortunately, while going up to XXL increases the top tube length to 25.25 inches, it also increases the seat tube length to 23”, which would result in too little standover clearance for me.
At first, I felt pretty cramped, but after my first ride I became more accustomed to the different fit. Note that the XL-sized RIP 9 has the same top tube length as the XXL Leviathan, but better stand-over clearance.
The Niner RIP9 has a steeper head tube angle (71.5 degrees compared to 70 degrees on the Leviathan). Honestly, I thought both bikes maneuvered well at slow speed and neither felt twitchy at speed.
Again, this wasn’t really a fair comparison. The Leviathan at 3” just wasn’t as smooth as the RIP 9 at 4.5”, but still did pretty well. I was definitely getting bounced around on the bigger rocks. It also felt a bit less smooth than my Turner Burner (at 3.5”), despite my running the shock with a fair amount of sag (about 1/3 the total travel). Another factor: the Leviathan had a Manitou S-type stable platform shock, which I had no experience in setting up. So I just adjusted the air pressure and went riding. It’s possible that spending more time fiddling with the shock may have tuned the ride more to my liking.
Probably because of the fit, I had more trouble keeping the front wheel of the Leviathan planted on really steep climbs than I did with the RIP9 (the Lev also had riser bars vs. flat bars on the Niner). Both bikes were better than my 26er, though.
The Leviathan felt really balanced and handled extremely well -- a nice blend of stability when it mattered and maneuverability when I needed it. I made it around switchbacks I’ve never cleared before. Took some drop offs without feeling any ‘endo-itis’. Generally had a great ride and felt in complete control despite the wet/muddy/slimy/snowy conditions.
I’ve only taken three rides on 29ers (one on the Niner and two on the Lenz). On my final ride, I definitely cleaned more stuff than I did on the other two, but to be fair to the RIP 9, I was also getting acclimated to the 29er ride when I rode it first.
The Lenz could use more mud clearance. It’s pretty tight around the rear tire (see photo below). The conditions today were about the muddiest I’m likely to ride in, and at a few points I had to stop to clear the glop out of the swing-arm. If you ride frequently in wet conditions that transform dirt into lovely clay gumbo, you might want to take note.
Also, the bike is supposed to have a BB height of 13.25 inches. When I measured it (see photo), it was more like 12.75 inches, even with 2.55 inch tires. [An interesting side note on the mental power of preconceived notions: I had read the Lev’s geometry specs before my ride, but didn’t measure it until after my ride. As a result, I felt distinctly higher up than I did on the RIP 9, even though it turns out the Lenz has a lower bottom bracket height.]
And just for comparison sake, it would be great if one of you RIP9 owners could measure your BB height to compare to their stated 13” value.
The list price on the Niner is $325 less than the 4.0 Leviathan. However, the Lev is made by hand by a friendly, helpful, hardworking, and pretty all-around decent-seeming guy.
Niner bikes told me to expect a 6 week wait on an XL frameset. I think the Lenz frame would be in the same ballpark, except that I’d also figure on more scheduling variability from a one-man shop. If Devin gets the flu, your bike’s gonna get delayed.
Scientific ™ Analysis.
I’ve been playing around a bit with the Linkage demo suspension simulation software (you can download it at http://www.bikechecker.com/). Unfortunately, the Lenz Leviathan isn’t in the web library, but the Lenz Spankster is, and appears to have similar travel and suspension design.
Here’s a comparison of the Niner vs. Lenz suspension leverage ratio (Niner is the green line)
Here’s a comparison of the pedal kickback. Even though the graph would indicate that the Niner has more pedal kickback when the suspension is compressed, I couldn’t notice it on either bike.
And finally, here’s the plot of rear axle path through the suspension’s travel.
What does this all mean? Who knows, they both feel pretty good on the trail.
As much as I liked the Lev, it comes down to fit for me. Assuming that the Lev 4.0 has a smoother/plusher ride, I’d be really tempted to raid my kids’ college funds and get the Leviathan. But the XL RIP9 will fit me better.
Unless maaaaybe Devin could attach the front end of an XXL to the seat tube of an XL...
And if you don’t agree with me, remember the words of my favorite philosopher Jack Handy: “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Because then, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away. And you’ll have his shoes.”
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