The Bike List

2015 eXotic MTB frame 26” £440

Tested by Tested by Neil Watterson, tester for The Bike List

There comes a point in every bike's life when it reaches a crossroads. You'll have owned it a few years and got it exactly as you want it. Then disaster strikes. The frame sustains damage and it's rendered unrideable. But what do you do?

You could fork out on a completely new bike, making the most of the technological advantages over the intervening years, or you could just replace the frame. There are benefits to both, but if you've just got your bike set up how you like it and your existing components are sound, the frame upgrade makes more financial sense.

My own hardtail recently took one knock too many, causing a hairline crack just below the seatpost clamp. With no way to repair it, the frame was destined for the scrap heap; but what of the rest of the bike? A complete replacement would set me back around £1400, but what about frame options?

As luck would have it, I was browsing the Carbon Cycles website (carboncycles.cc) and spotted their eXotic range of carbon fibre bike frames. They were already sending another bike over for testing; would they throw a frame in as well?

With a current retail price of £440.37, the frame is a fraction of the cost of a replacement bike and though I'd also need a new headset, it would get me up and running again. In style.

The black and white carbon fibre frame has aluminium inserts in the main contact points of the bottom bracket, rear drop-outs and headset, and swapping over the kit from the old frame to the eXotic is a fairly straightforward job.

Unlike road bikes, there's none of that internal cable routing; the control wires are safely tucked out of the way under the top tube. The integral clips hold the brake hose tightly in place when it's pushed in, but you do have to feed the gearchange cables through the cable guides. You'll struggle if the cable is frayed in any way, but arguably you should be replacing it if it's in that state anyway.

The seatpost tube is 34.9mm, so there are no shims to locate for a front mech and the rear bolts onto a replaceable gear hanger. The seatpost tube is 31.6mm and though I could have swapped my old seatpost over, I opted for one of the company's Titanium seatposts and clamp.

The seatpost has twin clamp bolts, in front of and behind the post, clamping the seat down towards a bar through the seatpost. The rear bolt is easy to adjust; the front less so.

So, with the rest of my kit (WTB saddle, Marzocchi Corsa remote lockout air fork, Tioga bars, WTB rims and Shimano drivetrain) transferred over and set up, I was ready to head off.

This bike is my daily hack bike, used primarily for commuting duties, which can either be on-road (during winter) or cross country for when the mud has disappeared (arriving plastered in mud is fun a few times a year, but not every day!), so it's currently shod with 26x2.0 Schwalbe Marathon tyres.

Admittedly, these are a bit heavy for the bike, especially as I also use Slime-filled inner tubes, but they give the grip I need on every surface except mud and they're fast rolling. And I can't remember the last time I caught a puncture - which means more riding. And the slightly fatter profile doesn't look wrong with a chunky mountain bike frame like the eXotic.

In fact, the larger tyre complements the frame perfectly. You can feel the rigidity of the frame and the tyres take the edge off it, even when run at high pressures. There's very little flex from the rear end, so when you pedal away from the lights, or attack a steep climb the power is transferred to the back wheel cleanly.

And its light weight makes it easy to handle. Track stands at junctions become easier as you're not having to move so much weight around.

But this frame's natural home isn't on the road - there are no mudguard or pannier rack mounts - it's looking for fun away from tarmac. And with a set of more aggressive tyres thrown on the bike takes on a much more purposeful stance.

You feel what's going on beneath the wheels well - even small ripples are picked up through the rear wheel, but aren't a problem when you're barely resting on the saddle and the lack of weight means it's easy to flick the rear around obstacles - stuff you may otherwise had been forced to run through.

The steering's accurate too. Some of it depends on the fork you're using - the frame's designed for one with 100mm travel - but there's no slop and everything feels predictable.

The frame's styling draws attention too. The sculpted downtube is distinctive, so people comment on it. That may, or may not be your thing, but it's nice to have something exotic so you can find it again in the bike park…

So has the frame-change been a better option than buying a complete bike? I'd say yes. I've four other 26-inch mountain bikes in my house, all running 9-speed drivetrains, so there are no parts compatibility problems and then there are the cost benefits. For sub-£500 - under half of the cost of a comparable carbon-framed bike - I've refreshed my bike.

At a glance

Verdict A great replacement or upgrade if you’re happy with your groupset.
Value
Performance