Haro Sonix VL120S – Pro Review
Author: Derek Mau
Date: Oct 31, 2006
I recently sold my Titus Racer-X and was without a mountain bike. Not a favorable situation since some of the best riding in Northern California is during the fall and I had nothing to ride. Woe is me (insert frown here). A call to my riding buddy, Francois, set me up with a Haro XC trail bike with 5 inches of travel. Hot diggity! A cross-country “demo” bike with mucho travel and in almost new condition. In exchange I promised to write up my impressions of the bike. Sounds like a fair trade to me.
Duration Product Used:
4 days (12 hours of riding time) on NorCal fire roads, technical singletrack (ST), buff ST, crazy downhill ST, and rock gardens.
Specs and Features:
- New Virtual Link 120mm/Five” travel frame
- Manitou R7 Elite 100mm travel fork w/ S-Type SRL rear shock
- Avid Juicy 5 hydraulic disc brakes
- Shimano LX RapidFire shifter w/ XT rear derailleur
- Truvativ Stylo GXP crankset
Frame | New Virtual Link suspension featuring patent pending VL120 technology
Size | 16"
Frame Shock | Manitou S-Type SRL
Color | Battle Gray
Fork | Manitou R7 Elite 100mm
Headset | FSA Orbit MX forged alloy cups, ACB bearings
Crank Set | Truvativ Stylo SL GPX 22/32/44
Bottom Bracket | Truvativ GXP
Derailleur Front | Shimano Deore
Derailleur Rear | Shimano XT
Freewheel | SRAM PG980 9-speed 11-34 w/ aluminum cog carrier
Chain | SRAM PC-971
Pedals | Shimano SPD-M520
Control Center Components:
Handlebar | Ritchey Pro Rizer 20mm rise x 620mm wide, 31.8mm
Stem | Ritchey Pro V2 (shorter Thomson stem was used during test)
Grips | WTB Moto Grip
Derailleur Shifter | Shimano LX Rapid Fire
Saddle | WTB Rocket V Race, CrMo rail
Seat Post | Ritchey Pro V2 30.9 x 400mm
Seat Post Clamp | Haro Race Lite
Hubset | Pivit SL hubset 32h
Rim | Sun DS2-XC 32h
Spokes | DT Competition 14/15 butted w/ alloy nipples
Tires | WTB Exi Wolf Team 2.1 folding bead (rear), Kenda Nevegal 2.35 folding bead (front)
Brakes | Avid Juicy 5 hydraulic w/ 160mm rotors
Brake Lever | Avid Juicy 5 hydraulic
Day One – First Impressions
I rode the Haro Sonix VL120S bike at Pleasanton Ridge to work out the details and get an initial feel for the bike. It had been a long time since I've ridden an XC trail bike with more than 3 inches of suspension travel.
I had to spend some time setting up the bike to fit me before taking it on the trail. This is normal procedure before taking out a "demo" bike. Below are the adjustments I performed before hitting the trail:
- installed a shorter stem
- installed Shimano PD-M545 pedals
- tightened many loose bolts
- adjusted seat position/height
- added air to the rear shock (~100 PSI)
- adjustments to the front shock: air pressure reduced from 70 to 60 PSI, increased rebound
- rear dérailleur cable tension adjusted to cleanup shifting alignment
Pleasanton Ridge is a small park with hiking and biking trails. Bikes are only allowed on the fire roads. Not much shade and the riding can be pretty boring. The ride starts with a one mile climb (up a fire road) with 90% of the trail exposed to the sun. The backside of the park is more climbing - on fire roads - with a few short, super-steep sections. Upon starting out on the climb I immediately found out that I had to apply extra weight/force to the front end to keep it from tipping back. Moving to a shorter stem had changed the fore/aft weight balance of the bike. The cockpit position of the Haro is a lot more relaxed and laid back than my XC racer. The second thing that I immediately noticed was the creaking noises coming from the suspension linkage. I think my grandmother’s rocking chair on her rickety front porch made less noise than what was coming from the linkage of the Sonix. On a quiet afternoon, away from the bustle of civilization, the creaking noises can be pretty annoying.
Side note: generous amounts of chain lube applied to all the pivot points eliminated the creaking noises. IMO, it wasn’t the most elegant of solutions, but it stopped the creaking during the test period.
One other apprehension was the weight of the bike. The Sonix VL120S weighs in at 28 ½ pounds. I am a lightweight rider, only 125 lbs., and pedaling heavy bikes becomes a factor on the longer riders of three hours or more. In the back of my mind I was dreading the climb due to the weight of the bike, but it wasn't really that bad at all. The bike moved smoothly up the hill and I rarely lost traction - even on the really steep sections of the trail. Lockout of the rear shock was ON for a majority of the fire road climbs, otherwise pedal-bob was really annoying. Out-of-saddle climbing was good and I didn't feel too much loss of energy through the suspension. Technical climbs (I imagine) may be a little tricky while trying to keep the front wheel planted on the ground. (more comments regarding fore/aft balance later)
Finally, after about 30+ minutes of climbing (the boring fire roads), I got a chance to do some fast descents. The bike felt stable and soaked up the bumps nicely. I hit a couple of small jumps (emphasis on small) and I liked the way the bike stuck its landings. Quick impression: "comfy." Definitely felt confidence inspiring. I think the Sonix is going to be a good rig for Downieville. More feedback after I return from Downieville.
Overall, the Haro worked out really well for me on the trails at Downieville. The five inches of suspension travel soaked up a lot hits on the trail and was well-mannered on all of the descents. The VL120S is not going to match the plushness of a true DH or freeride rig, but the bike offers a lot more active suspension control than a hard-core XC bike. The Virtual Link rear suspension, combined with the Manitou RL7 100mm travel fork, did an excellent job of making my ride more than enjoyable while ripping down 14 miles of downhill ecstasy.
We arrived Friday afternoon and setup our campsite a few miles outside of Downieville. Herb and a few members of his Versus DH team (all of them expert class riders) arrived later and we took them on their very first run at Downieville. Since it was late in the afternoon, we decided to do the shortest route and come down on Pauley Creek, Butcher Ranch, and on to 3rd and 1st Divide trails. The Versus boys were totally thrilled and I had a lot of fun zooming behind them on the Haro. The bumpity-bumps never caused any chain drops, the shifting was precise, and the Avid Juicy 5 brakes kept me out of trouble with no apparent fading during the entire ride.
Saturday’s ride had more climbing than yesterday’s warmup – 22 miles with no more than 1,000 feet of climbing on fire roads (20%), OHV trails (20%) and singletrack (60%). Kathy, of Downieville Outfitters, graciously shuttled us to the top of Packer Saddle. From the top of Packer Saddle we rolled out for almost four miles to Gold Valley on the fire road for some easy climbing before getting to the good stuff Downieville is known for. Keeping the rear suspension locked out for the fire road climb got me to the Gold Valley trail head in good time and with minimal effort. Gold Valley eventually connects with Butcher Ranch Trail somewhere in the middle. The start of Gold Valley begins with some nasty baby-heads on a very rough OHV trail. Picking a line was easy because I did not have to rely upon using finesse when on a small travel FS bike or hardtail. My past rides at Downieville have either been on a hardtail or on a FS with only 3 inches of travel. Navigating the Haro through the baby heads was easy. The bike was soaking up the hits like a ’78 Cadillac and tracking cleanly through whichever line I chose. My comfort level and confidence was increasing, along with my speed, as I progressed down the first few miles of our descent into Gold Valley.
A lot times I get bounced around on the rough trails when the speed gets faster. In the past this was due to my light weight and riding stiff XC bikes. Today this wasn’t the case. The Sonix VL120S was an excellent choice for Downieville and could carve any line I chose while maintaining good traction. There were a few sections where climbing was involved, but the smooth climbing performance of the Sonix made the ascents almost forgettable.
I only had one mechanical problem for the day – both tires flatted, almost simultaneously, less than 100 yards from the entrance back into town. If I had not flatted, then my day would have been almost perfect. Shifting was flawless; no chainsuck; braking was smooth and predictable. Overall, it was one of my best weekends of riding at Downieville.
One More Test Ride – Soquel Demo Forest
Since I had so much fun riding the VL120S at Downieville, I decided to take the bike out to one of our more popular cross-country rides – Nisene Marks Demonstration Forest located between Soquel and Aptos. Today’s ride would be a good test of the Haro’s climbing performance. The ride starts with a 4-mile climb on a fire road and finishes with a 4-mile climb on another fire road. Sounds like fun? Actually, the fun is everything between the start and finish climbs. Lots of twisty, flowy singletrack with plenty of trials, log jumps and log crossings to make it interesting. There are even a couple of small rock-garden sections to keep you alert.
Finding the fore and aft balance while climbing was easier now that I’ve spent some quality time on the bike. No more lifting from the front end as long as I remembered to shift some weight forward to the handlebars. I did come to the realization that there was a lot of rear traction for the climbs based upon my weight distribution with the shorter stem. In the saddle, out of the saddle -- it was all good. The rear wheel rarely lost traction on any type of surface. Keeping the rear shock locked out during the fire road climbs eliminated the pedal-bob and my climbing motion always felt smooth. Climbing on the singletrack trails, in full-squishy mode, was pretty damn good. The rear tire maintained good traction on the short steep sections of the trail when going over roots and loose terrain.
“Railing” the downhill sections was a blast. Just let the bike go and feel the flow. A little modulation of the brakes kept me in the groove all day long. Even launching off of a few log jumps was totally out of character for me. The landings felt like Kerri Strug sticking her vault landing in the ’96 Olympics. Amazing how a good handling bike can instill confidence in a rider. I do admit bunny-hopping requires a little extra effort because of the bike’s weight, but I consider that only a minor hinderance.
Smooth and efficient climber if you remember to lock-out the rear shock for long, extended climbs. Active suspension on technical climbs maintains rear-wheel traction really well. Good performer for an XC trail bike. Gotta love the Avid Juicy brakes.
Main pivot is loose and makes a slight clunking noise. All pivots points must be lubed thoroughly to eliminate the creaking noises. Could not dial-in a rebound response fast enough to suit my preference with the Manitou R7 fork.
I give the Haro VL120S 3.5 chilis out of 5
$2640 for the complete bike
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