Polygon XQUARONE DH – First Ride

Spring last year was the first time we saw a bike with Naild R3ACT suspension in the wild. The suspension system was new, unconventional and definitely a head turner. A little later in the year, we saw Polygon release their EX 9, and now, building on that they have the new XQUARONE DH.

Probably the most successful unreleased bike ever, the XQUARONE DH has been a pretty poorly kept secret, raced under the Hannahs since Crankworx Whistler 2017 and taking multiple visits to the podiums. Finally, the curtain is pulled back, the camouflage paint job removed and we can take a look at the bike in all its glory.

The History

Although released today, the XQUARONE DH has been about for a while now, mostly due to its riders wanting to ride it before it was ready. The bike was ‘ready’ for 2017 Whistler Crankworx, with no intention of being raced, but Tracey had a go, liked it, and that was that. Well, perhaps not so simple, chatting to Mick he was pretty surprised given that she doesn’t always like change to bike set up and even runs her brake levers at odd angles, but precisely the right odd angles. It was simple essentially, her times were faster, so that was that, the bike would be ridden.

With this momentum behind the bike, the race was on to get the bike and Mick sorted for World Champs in Cairns. Mick went on to a stream of races where he either landed on the podium or if he didn’t, it was because he crashed. It was clear where this was going, and it seemed like the bike made them faster

The mix of people is, as always, key to projects like this. Darryl Voss, the man behind the Naild R3ACT suspension is there, of course, coupled with Zendy from Polygon being open to new ideas. Mick and Tracey are then the perfect test pilots and have let the project truly fly.

The Bike

It’s fair to say that previous bikes using the R3ACT system have come in for a serious internet forum beating for not being pleasing on the eye. Beauty may well be in the eye of the beholder, but the XQUARONE DH incorporates the design much better than the trail bikes and holds it’s own with a robust and ready-to-rock confidence. Polygon admits the looks are polarizing but cite the times against the clock as the true test of a bike’s capability.

With 218mm of travel, the frame packs in plenty of suspension into a gravity bike that still incorporates the pedal friendly feel of the Naild suspension system. Ridden by not just the racers, Sam Reynolds and Kurt Sorge have been shredding the bike for months and using it in an entirely different way. It’s a gravity bike for all types of plummeting and hooning.

Pedalling efficiency in the XQUARONE DH was always going to be important and Polygon worked closely with the NAILD team to create a system that offers ‘a truly capable downhill bike that can also be pedalled back up a majority of trails’. A bold statement if ever there was, and I doubt many will be keen to pedal a DH bike up a hill, but if any suspension system can make this work, Naild is the one.

When ridden with the suggested sag, the XQUARONE DH has between 98% to 110% anti-squat value throughout the entire gear & travel range. Polygon’s goal while designing the new XQUARONE DH bike was to make a bike that is fun to ride. This is their reason for building this bike around 27.5 wheels.

The uniquely shaped frame is fully carbon fibre and weighs 8.8 pounds (with shock) and top specced complete bikes weigh less than 32 pounds. The head angle sits at 63 degrees, the back end is short and stiff and is designed around 440mm chainstays with Super Boost 157mm rear wheel spacing. Reach numbers come in at 450mm on the large. To further add stiffness there are incorporated 34mm Torque Caps on the non-drive set of the rear hub to keep the rear wheel tracking straight and true.

The XQUARONE DH utilizes 225x75mm Metric shocks with a Trunnion mount. The Fox Factory X2 shocks are custom-tuned with super light damping circuits to which are all part of the R3ACT system. The theory is that damping is friction, and therefore resistance. By designing a suspension system that doesn’t rely on damping the wheel is freer to move.

The XQUAREONE DH will be available in two builds and frameset. The two models start at USD 4,999 for the DH 8 to USD 6,399 for the flagship DH9. Its frame-set will be offered without a fork for USD 2,999 or with a fork for USD 4,399.

The Racer’s Edge

Chatting to Mick and Darryl it’s clear the bike is fast, and for a racer, there is nothing that will get their attention more clearly than something to improve their times. But it’s not all speed. The nature of the bike is forgiving and for Mick, that means less fatigue and more time practising the track. Traction is also a clear winner for Mick too, explaining that there is no snap-back in the suspension, ‘it feels bottomless and sensitive to the terrain throughout the travel’.

The setup is easy too, something that keeps him and his mechanic happy. Merely setting the sag and it’s good to go. The aim is creating a compliant and supple ride rather than trying to cope with the stiffest suspension possible in the hope it will make him faster. The sag can be adjusted for the track, but most of the time he keeps it the same.

Being a powerhouse, Mick is also keen on the pedalling characteristics of the bike, and despite the plush nature of the travel he describes, it still provides that platform for dropping the horsepower.

With less hook up on the freely moving back wheel, Mick highlights the need to readjust what his fork is doing in terms of set up. There is less dive and fork set up needs to be spot on to match the rear action. It’s a different way of thinking about bikes and something that Darryl is championing hard. ‘The world is addicted to damping’ explains Voss, ‘Friction is energy loss’ and he feels that we are trying to restrict and stiffen suspension to get better performance when we should be looking at the underlying mechanics of the bike itself. He cites lockouts as a major backwards step, entirely removing suspension because it doesn’t pedal well enough is not the answer for modern bikes.

I’m inclined to agree with Darryl, but it’s difficult to understand without a bunch of physics. It is reassuring to chat to both ends of the system, with Mick measuring the bike in the real world and confirming the theory from Darryl in terms of times, and speeds. I have a lot of time for these guys trying new and exciting things within the bike world where every bike is starting to look the same!

Riding the XQUARONE

Set up is easy, so very easy. Set the sag at about 20% and go. It feels a little simple and before too long I’m about to plummet down the Glencoe downhill track. It’s just down the road from Fort William and this year was host to the British champs, a proper testing ground for the bike.

Dropping in, it’s immediately a different experience to other bikes, with a magic-carpet-like smooth ride. The travel is obviously huge, but there is delicate sensitivity in there which belies the aggressive nature of the bike. As a rule, I like bikes with a bit of feedback through my feet, allowing me to pop and hop from features rather than slam through them. With the XQUARONE this is not this style of ride, and it’s plush compliance all the way. Voss uses the phrase ‘ground tracing device’ and this has been true with all the R3ACT bikes I have ridden, it really tries to glue you to the ground. This glue only works if the suspension is then sensitive enough to get out the way of obstacles rather than hung up. At which point, the XQUARONE can turn a badly organised boulder field into a pumptrack.

What this ground sucking bike does do is force the rider to change their inputs a little. Letting the bike roll is key, but also readjusting when and where to brake to avoid reaching speeds that your skillset can’t cope with. For jumps, I struggled to get the bike really flying, the back end seemed to ignore the lip of a jump and just continue travelling forwards. Getting a pop from a lip needs a good chunk of rear wheel lift to get it up, but it’s more just a case of recalibrating your riding. Despite Polygon claiming versatility, I would suggest it is firmly a race-bred animal for shaving every millisecond. The XQUARONE has little time for messing about.

The overall ride feel is one of calm, composure mixed with velocities that I’m not capable of handling. The slack front and soft back end keep the angles preserved no matter what gradient and the front feels like it can be pushed around even the steepest corners. Pushing into corners, the traction that Mick was so keen on became apparent even at my less than elite speeds. At the usual point of a rear tyre breaking away, the XQUARONE finds more and more to give, almost to the point where the back wheel can be ridden harder than the front to keep the grip. It’s a strange sensation that needs more time on it to truly fathom, but it’s safe to say it’s good.

Pedalling needs a mention as it’s a key feature of the R3ACT system. I’d like to say I was pedalling out of the corners at Glencoe, but that’s not true. It was hard to get the pedal feeling on the track but on the flat fire roads around I was able to get some sprints in. The feeling is similar to the other R3ACT bikes I have ridden, and never has a 220mm bike felt so stiff and sprightly under power. I can clearly see how this platform for power transfer has helped to give both Hannahs an advantage at the top of the sport.

Overall, we have a race-bred bike designed to go fast and then go faster. Ground tracing is a good term, and the XQUARONE sticks to the earth and accelerates like a rocket. In the right hands it can do World Cup damage, but even in my hands, gives a hugely confidence inspiring and comfortable experience. What’s more, with the pedal capabilities, if you needed to pedal anywhere or transfer between venues in the Alps or link ski lifts, you’d actually be able to do it!

The R3ACT story continues and Polygon has pulled out all the stops on this bike to create the ultimate race weapon, I only hope it’s as fast for the racers without the camouflage paint job.

Thanks to Polygon and Moore Large

Photo Credit- Dave MacFarlance

Wed 8th Aug, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

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