Bike Check – Banshee Prime

Many moons ago, I was deep into the analysis paralysis zone of choosing a new bike to replace my Ibis Mojo HD. Eventually, I settled on the Banshee Prime after riding Banshee’s Spitfire a few times last summer. I had thrown a leg over a few plus bikes as well, and wanted a certain amount of future-proofing, which the Prime delivered – 27+, 29 and 29+ wheel setups were all doable with various dropout options. I knew what I liked from my previous bikes and also what needed to change, so I took the plunge and ordered up a large frame…

The Banshee Prime

For 2017, Banshee updated the Prime by hydroforming various frame tubes [top and down tubes are the most obvious recipients of this treatment], adding strength and stiffness while reducing weight slightly. Further changes to the frame included the elimination of the “high” geometry position, leaving “neutral” and “low” as options that can be easily set at the dropouts. With 135mm of rear travel and a 150mm fork in front, frame geometry is 66.5 degrees for the head angle and 75 degrees for the seat angle in “low” [full frame specs here]. If you haven’t been keeping up with changes to frame design, this might seem a bit odd, but it’s right in line with similar bikes from other high-end companies. The slacker front end provides excellent handling on the way down, while the steeper seat angle provides great weight distribution for the flats and climbs. More on that later.

The rear suspension design is the KS Link, a dual link system similar to [but not the same as] designs from Pivot, Ibis, Intense and others. In terms of feel, it’s closest to the DW-Link designs of Pivot and Ibis. Where the Ibis feels quite firm and the Pivot kind of vague [IMHO], the Banshee is nicely planted but still lively.  The suspension kinematics have been tuned for Enduro, which I think means “going fast downhill without sucking on the climbs”. Other frame details include a threaded bottom bracket, front derailleur and stealth dropper compatibility, tapered head tube, and a bottle mount under the down tube.

The Build

The Prime is so much fun! The socks make the outfit. Photo: A. Cunningham. 

Over the winter I was waffling on Shimano vs SRAM, but rolled the dice and went with the SRAM Eagle X01 group. I’ve been riding 1x for a few years now, so that wasn’t a factor. The big thing for me was that the last time I wasn’t on Shimano shifters was 1992! Suntour XC Pro was one helluva drivetrain… Brakes were initially SRAM Guide RSC, but I quickly swapped them for Shimano XT stoppers – it’s just personal preference. Wheels are from NOBL, tires are Maxxis Minions [DHF WT + DHR2 DD], the fork is the MRP Ribbon, bar/stem/seat from Chromag, ubiquitous Rock Shox Reverb Stealth, and Shimano XT Trail pedals round things out.

“Wait, what about the shock?” Ah, yes, the shock. The stock offering is a Rock Shox Monarch Plus RCT3 with a Low/Low tune for compression and rebound. After 4 months of riding, I installed a DVO Topaz. I am very happy about my choice. More on that later.

The Ride

Have you ever put on a pair of new shoes, stood up and thought “oh hey, that’s really nice”? That’s what the first ride on the Prime was like for me. It just worked well from day one. From the initial setup, I’ve made few changes. The seat has been moved forward a few mm, bars rotated back a few degrees, but that’s about all. Except for the shock.

Climbs

Even on the first ride, I was impressed by how well the bike climbed. My Ibis was a good climber, despite the 160mm of rear travel. I was worried that I’d be fighting the Prime all the way up, with severe wheel flop and significant wandering occurring when things got steeper. Imagine my surprise when it just chugged along, tracking whatever line I wanted it to. The extra low range of the Eagle gearing certainly helped, but gearing can’t fix handling. Tire selection certainly makes a difference to traction, and the Maxxis DHR2 provides a staggering amount of grip out back.

The steeper seat angle was a revelation. On previous bikes with angles in the 72-73 degree range, I was always fighting to keep the front wheel on the ground when things got really steep. Even with a longer fork and bigger wheels, I didn’t get that looping-out, uphill-wheelie feeling. At the same time, the front end never felt heavy or sluggish. Switchback corners aren’t a problem either – just keep the power coming and around you go. This bike was made by wizards or something…

My only climbing gripe was how the bike felt when subjected to square-edged hits while climbing. Even small root steps caused the rear end to feel like it had far less travel than it actually possessed – it was quite bouncy at times. I changed tire pressure, shock sag, and rebound damping many times in an effort to get the feel I wanted, but nothing worked. Eventually, I swapped out the stock shock for the DVO Topaz. BOOM! Even riding around the back yard I could feel the difference. On the trail, the improvement was dramatic – the back tire stayed glued to the ground, no matter how sharp the impact. I run my rear shock wide open, and I’m impressed with the lack of bob, even out of the saddle.

Downhill

😀

Okay, I’ll say more than that. The Prime just wants to go fast. It’s smooth and stable without being sluggish. Point it downhill and it’s like a hawk screaming out of the sky toward its prey. Small steering inputs are all that’s required to dodge trees and rocks at speed. I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s best at going downhill fast. That said, this bike makes me a better descender. I’m more confident carrying speed into corners and technical sections. I’m even airing out sections that I used to just rumble through. Why? Because I can! 😀

Coming off of 26″ wheels, I did have some concerns about agility, but that hasn’t been an issue. It doesn’t require loads of body English to get the bike to go where I want it to. Cornering is actually quite good – lean the bike a bit and it holds a solid line without any trouble. Line changes through rock gardens and roots are easily handled. Overall, I’d call the handling neutral – not sluggish, but not twitchy.

On jumps and drops, the Prime might not be as playful as a smaller bike [the wheelbase is actually a little longer than my DH bike’s!]. However, that extra stability leads to better outcomes when the take-off or landing is less than ideal. The amount of pop can be easily dialled in via the shock – a little more air and a little less rebound damping can help you generate a fair bit of skyward motion. Landings are controlled and predictable. Credit where it’s due to the RockShox Monarch, this was never a problem for it. Still, the DVO Topaz feels a smidge better, with a bit more bottom-out resistance.

Banshee Prime Review

Oh, the places you’ll go…

Components

Fork: The Ribbon from MRP is a new model for 2017 and quite a bit different from the Fox 36 forks I have been using over the last 7 or 8 years. Independent positive and negative springs, on-the-fly ramp adjust, and pressure-relief valves on the lowers make it fairly unique. More importantly, it has been plenty stiff and is very easy to tune. I do not miss independent high and low compression adjustment. At all. I also don’t miss TALAS either, which is surprising given the Prime’s higher front end.

Wheels: NOBL TR36 carbon rims laced to NOBL hubs. I’ve been using carbon wheels for quite a while, so I’m used to the feel. Now, the hubs are something special, specifically the rear. It uses a clutch mechanism that has instant engagement, no drag and is totally silent. Coming off of Hope hubs on 2 prior bikes, it was kinda freaky to just hear silence on the trail. I like it, although I have to yell more so people/bears hear me creeping up on them. I’ve already mentioned the Maxxis tires – they are really good. However, I ripped open the EVO casing DHR2 tire after 12km of riding. I replaced it with the Double Down version, and it has been great ever since.

Drivetrain: SRAM Eagle X01 with a One-Up 30T ring. The best-shifting system I’ve ever had, and that includes Dura-Ace and Chorus. The angle of the chain when it’s on the 50T is crazy. I’ve already snapped one chain [$$], and I hope I can go for a while before popping the next one. I am going to replace the BOOST chainring with a standard one to reduce the angle a bit.

Brakes: Shimano XT M-8000 with 200/180 rotors F/R. I love the feel of these brakes. The rotors are whatever I had in the Tickle Trunk at the time, and are a little noisy. I’ll switch to proper XT rotors one of these days…

The Rest: Bar, stem and seat are from Chromag. I’m used to Selle Italia Flite for my saddles, but I am quite impressed with the Chromag Lynx DT. It has a great shape for mountain biking, and it’s actually comfortable to get out onto the nose for extended climbs. The Cutlass carbon bar and Ranger stem are solid. They do their job and I don’t worry about them. Post is the ubiquitous Reverb Stealth. Grips are whatever SGC was handing out. Pedals are Shimano XT Trail. I have been riding one version or another of the XT pedals for about 20 years. I like them.

Weight: 32 pounds including pedals and some dirt.

Overall Impressions

The Banshee Prime is a remarkable bike. When I ride it, I feel like I’m getting away with something, like I found $50 on the sidewalk and there’s nobody else around to claim it. Every time I hit the trail it feels great – smooth, fast and confidence-inspiring. It’s just Prime!

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