At A Glance
Hardtails are still very much commonplace around the world, but there are only a few countries in the world that produce the type of bike we have here. The UK, Canada, they've been at it for years, but the Andorran brand have also been on the same page for some time. What I'm referring to is the idea of a hardtail, not designed to be an XC race bike, but actually to have fun on. And not just a little fun, we're talking big, exciting, exhilarating fun!Buy Hard Tails on
We’ve got big forks, slack head angles and chunky tyres, forgoing rear end bounce for the reliability and predictability of a rigid frame. Yes, they may be less forgiving, but for riders who 'get it', these are some of the most engaging bikes you'll ever ride.
The Meta HT AM is Commencal's big hitting hardtail, and it's back for 2017 and taking advantage of the latest components to put together a serious piece of hardtail kit. We see a whopping 160mm Lyric at the front, a statement of intent if ever there was, and this is matched out back by, well, 0mm of travel. Drivetrain duties are covered by SRAM NX and braking is by Avid's DB3s with big ol' rotors, again suggesting some serious speed might be involved. The rolling stock is Formula hubs on WTB STP i25 rims, giving a 25mm internal width for a modern profile on the ever enjoyable Maxxis High Roller 2s in 2.4 width for plenty of grip.
Much of the rest of the kit is supplied by Commencal's in-house brand; Ride Alpha, and gives us a wide bar, short stem cockpit and the very conspicuous looking Seatpost: That's right kids, no dropper post! This may seem strange for a modern bike but this is easily configured through the Commencal website on ordering, so don't panic, but it will cost you.
On The Trail
Being a fan of this type of bike, I didn't need much convincing that this would be a blast to ride, and it didn't disappoint. The instant impression is a bike that wants to be pushed hard, and would very much like it if the wheels left the ground as much as possible.
Initial set up was pretty straight forward, and tyres and wheels can be set-up tubeless very easily to avoid the inevitable pinch-flatting combination of a hardtail and tubes. Cockpit setup is nice and wide, but the long levers on the Avid brakes need to be moved well inboard to get one finger braking alignment, which moves the NX shifter into an awkward position which is a shame. The Lyric is now a tried and tested piece of kit and set up is easy on these excellent forks.
With no dropper, it was time to get old school, put the seat up high and get pedalling. Assuming that a bike like this will be sluggish is unfair, and although the kit is robust and solid, the stiff back end allows for efficient progress to be made uphill. It's not a carbon sprinter, but compared to full suspension enduro bikes it feels quick.
Off road, climbing is a far more engrossing experience on a hardtail, and lines must be picked carefully and more time out of the saddle is required than a full bounce bike. I presumed that the big fork might make the front a bit light, but it felt under control on all but the steepest climbs. Overall the climbing experience was easier and more efficient than I would expect for a fun loving hardtail.
I could almost feel the Meta getting excited every time the trail pointed downhill, and a quick drop of the saddle converted the machine into a trail hooligan. The reach numbers on the Meta are not the longest, so the ride feel is very much on the manoeuvrable and playful style rather than straight-line and stable. As such it is a rowdy, jump and slide type of ride rather than attack the trail head on. Taller riders may well wish for a little more breathing space up front with a longer reach, which I do feel would be a benefit to the Meta to fully unleash its trail capability.
The shorter feel of the bike means that berms, jumps and pump tracks are an absolute hoot, and tight bermed corners feel like a dream. Any time I found myself on the road I would carve corners, again and again, swooping from side to side. It's the simple things sometimes!
The ride characteristics really reinforce a 'wheels off the ground', playful style, and sinuous trails with big jumps and drops work brilliantly with this bike. Real stability at speed comes from a longer bike, and this is the sacrifice for the playful style.
The frame details are worth a mention, as there is some great attention to detail in the tubes, especially in the top tube, which features a lovely recess groove on its underside to hide the cables. This gives a smooth and sleek look without losing cables in the frame. However, there is internal routeing for a dropper if required. If you still need a front mech, there is a standard mount and cable stops to allow this, giving the whole set-up plenty of versatility. The welds are neat, and the matt paint job gives the whole bike a stealthy and classy finish.
From the components, the NX shifting is great, feeling precise if a little more clunky than it's more expensive siblings. The DB3 brakes have an awful lot of power but lack a little subtly and with the big rotors feel very grabby. As for the seat post, well, if you ride all up, then all down, then it's no bother, but I did miss it on the flowing, pedally trails which need the flexibility. As mentioned you can add one to the bike on purchase, but it will certainly bump up the price significantly. The ride Alpha kit continues to impress, with the simple and effective kit, any issues I had were personal preferences such as bar sweep, and thicker than average grips.
Fun, fast and playful, the Meta HT AM is a wild bike to ride and encourages all sorts of extravagant behaviour. Tall riders will wish for a longer size, but for most this will provide a great bike to tackle everything from pump tracks to enduro and everything in between, so long as it's fast and has full commitment.
This review was in Issue 46 of IMB.For more information visit Commencal
By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.