In today’s age of uber-suspension platforms and dialed geometry, it seems just about anyone can hop on a mid-travel bike and feel confident from the get-go. As amazing as this is, it also allows people to do things they could never do previously on a bike without the hard knocks of learning to actually ride properly. Now don’t get me wrong, these advances have done great things for riders new and old, the industry and the continued healthy growth of the sport. But there’s still a place for the challenges and joys of the simple hardtail mountain bike.
I recently acquired Xprezo’s handmade-in-Canada Captain Tork hardtail and have found a renewed appreciation for the old, albeit with a modern twist. The Captain Tork is made of Columbus Spirit/Zona Chromoly tubing, offering a remarkable strength-to-weight ratio competitive with carbon fibre but maintaining the unique, more forgiving characteristics of steel. The Captain Tork comes in 29” and 27.5” wheel options, the latter of which I chose for the more aggressive trail riding I prefer, and the fact that I’m not the tallest of dudes. Other modern features include a tapered head tube, balanced 69 degree head tube angle (small), low 11.9” bb height and 140x12mm rear through axle.
I built up the neon orange Xprezo with a 120mm Marzocchi 320 air fork, wide Nobl carbon fibre rims (TR/HD 38, 28-hole) laced to Hope Pro2 hubs via DT Swiss bladed spokes, Sram X1 drive train/X0 brakes, SQlab 611 saddle, Level Nine Team Race carbon bar and last but not least, a KS adjustable seat post – so there’s still a lot of modern in this otherwise classic platform. The build rounded out at just over 24lbs…not a XC race machine, but certainly an impressively light and capable rig.
There’s something to be said about a bikes curb appeal, and the Captain Tork is a looker. The simplicity and clean lines of a hardtail built up with the best of burly, modern components offers a unique and beautiful bike. It’s hard to go anywhere without gawkers, and just looking at it makes you feel good.
But good looks aside, from the moment you pedal the Captain Tork you know it’s a different kind of game. It’s unbelievably quick in acceleration and has a feeling of pent up energy, like a stallion awaiting the gate to open. As fine as many new suspension platforms are, there’s nothing like a hardtail to give you that get-up-and-go sensation. I haven’t had a trail-specific hardtail for at least 10 years and I was giddy with flashbacks of years gone by, and had a smile ear to ear.
When it comes to cornering, the 16.75” chainstays are remarkably short for 27.5” wheels and initiating turns is almost instantaneous, aided in part by the low bottom bracket. Flicking it through tight switchbacks made me feel like I was in a dual slalom race. Flat trail sections were ridden much faster thanks to rapid acceleration, making previously mundane trails a speedy playground.
Which brings me to the overall ride of the hardtail experience. Sure, hardcore XC enthusiasts have stayed true to the hardtail, but the vast majority of us have gone through the short travel to long travel DH to enduro race/all-mountain bike progression. So hopping back on a modernized hardtail and taking it to my familiar local trails was like rediscovering a whole new network.
The hardtail begs precision and line choice. There’s no plowing through rocks and roots in the same forgiving manner of a dual suspension, and this is precisely the bike’s charm. You reevaluate the trail, picking smoother and more accurate lines to keep speed. It requires a different focus and rewards proper body position and technique. The light, quick nature of the Tork allows you to flick it where you want, air with ease and aim with the precision of a sniper. And if you get it wrong, there’s little forgiveness…meaning previously straight-forward sections offer a whole new level of focus and commitment.
Is the Xprezo Captain Tork going to replace my daily driver? Not a chance. I love ripping trails full tilt, airing it out and racing enduro and DH. But on those days when I want to go on long solo missions, take on mellow trails with renewed vigor and excitement, and just feel plain old school awesome with a modern twist, the hardtail is the bees knees. It’s certain to have a place in my quiver for years to come, and it’s sure to make me a better rider because of it.