Diamondback Mason: First Impressions- by Guitar Ted
Now that I’ve detailed all the features of the Diamondback Mason, (Out Of The Box here), it is time to move on to my First Impressions of this very different 29 inch wheeled hard tail. The conditions around here of late have been rather loamy, frozen, or very slick and muddy. Sometimes all three happen on the same ride. How did the Mason handle it? Read on…..
Suspension Set Up: I think a word on the suspension set up I chose for most of the testing so far needs to be said up front. Originally, when Grannygear and I discussed this bike at Interbike this past fall, we felt that I might be using the Talas travel option in the shorter 110mm setting most of the time on my home trails. However; now that I have had the chance to do some back to back testing using both the 140mm travel and the 110mm travel, I found myself gravitating to the longer setting.
Handling: With the Mason’s fork set to the longer travel setting, I felt the bike was actually more nimble than with it set to the shorter setting. In 110mm travel mode, I felt the bike wanted to loop outside of the apex of the corners more than when I had it at full length. To verify this I did a very tight slalom through some concrete barriers. I switched travel after each pass,and I could not steer the bike as well in the shorter travel setting. In the field, the results were similar. Not what I expected to find at all. The Mason really goes through our tighter trail turns nicely, but why?
I think part of this is due to the fact that the short rear end steers around the corners better. You really can steer through the corners with your weight over that rear wheel by driving through the corner with your hips. It’s very different from how I’ve had to steer other slacker head angled bikes, and much more fun. I felt that the shorter travel setting pinned more of my weight onto the front wheel, and that decreased the ability to “rear steer” the bike. Hmm…..not scientific there or anything, but I’m sticking to my story.
Going Up: How does that slack front end and tall fork steer going up? Actually, this was my second surprise. It is not as bad as one might think. In fact, it isn’t that big of a deal unless the steep climb you are on is rough. Then the shorter travel option really helps. For the most part though, I still climbed up the steeps in the longer travel setting. The generously padded nose on the stock saddle helped me “assume the position” and keep the front wheel down most of the time. The big, wide Race Face bars also were a boon to me in arresting any front wheel wander. Oh- the wheel would want to wander, and the front end would pop up a bit from time to time, but given the super-slack head angle and long fork on the front end, I was surprised that it wasn’t a detriment to the Mason’s climbing abilities. Far from it though, and I was climbing anything my legs could get me up. Well, with one exception, which I will mention in a bit.
Going Down: Well, I probably wasn’t surprised at all by the way the Mason went down the steep stuff. No- it did that as well as I would have expected it to. With the dropper post at hand, the really steep grades were child’s play to get down on the Mason. What I did find that I liked here though was the short,(60mm), stem and the wider bar combination. This made steering around tight corners going down a breeze, and the only hindrance to me was how fast I wanted to go in the conditions I had to ride in. The Mason was easy to get stuck in a groove on sweeping corners as well, which made my speeds in the conditions I was riding in much faster than I would have thought going in. The Mason breaks both tires free for fun two wheeled drifts that are controllable as well. Something I have not experienced since leaving 26 inch wheels behind years ago.
Nits And Oddities: The Mason isn’t without a few oddities though, and I think one might find some of the following things obvious if you stop to consider what the Mason really is. First up is the short chain stays. Tucking that rear tire up underneath you means that if you have a “heels in” type of pedal style, or if you have really long feet, you may graze the chain stays a bit. This happened to me a few times, but it wasn’t an annoyance. It did bring to mind that this could be an issue for some out there though. The short chain stays also did something else that I found was at odds with my typical climbing style. The bike would get upset by rough trail going down a steep and then made attacking the opposite slope a bit of a challenge due to the unsettled nature of the bike at critical shifting moments or specific times where I would want to pedal, but couldn’t really get on the gas because I was trying to pin the rear end back down into the trail. Maybe I just need to make some adjustments to my style. One thing is for sure- The Mason is a bike that challenges you and responds best to an active, aggressive riding style.
The Mason is spec’ed with an odd rear tire, which I gave a fair shot, and to be honest, the Slant Six did “okay” for what it is. However; the bike really came alive with a swap to an On One Smorgasbord in the back. The tire clearance with this true to size 2.25″ tire is good. (Actual width over all is 59mm.) Room for mud and to spare. I suppose a big 2.4 would shoe horn in there okay, but in these conditions, (muddy, loamy), I need the tire clearances, and a 2.4 would leave little room to spare on a 28mm wide rim.
Finally, I am a bit disappointed in the Avid Elixir 5 brakes. they are merely “okay”, but they do not exhibit the bite and power I feel this bike requires for the intended use, (All Mountain). A switch to something with more useable power here would really open up the bike’s handling in descents.
That does it for the First Impressions. I will put in more trail time as the weather allows here and come back with a Final Review soon.
Note: Diamondback sent over the Mason for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review. We will strive to give or honest thoughts and opinions throughout