Reviewed – Dartmoor Primal long term test

// Review by Jay Robinson
// Photos by Jacob Gibbins

AW3C7507 (Custom)

  • 26″ and 27.5″ wheel compatible
  • 140-160mm fork recommended
  • tapered head tube
  • 4.62lbs for a large frame
  • £195
  • Available from

What’s the Primal all about?

It’s Dartmoor’s take on an Enduro Hardtail. Its aluminium, it’ll take 27.5” or 26” wheels and it has an ever-so-modern tapered head tube that takes an integrated headset. Its designed to take a 120-160 fork and Dartmoor say its: “Built to meet the demands of the All Mountain riders and those who want to try some Enduro on the hardtail, this frame will be good for those long day trips or just thrashing your local single track”. We made sure we gave it a healthy dose of both of these things and lots in between.

If you’re so inclined it’ll take a front derailuer, and theres internal cable routing for this and the rear mech too. Theres also more conventional routing if you want it, and obviously for the brakes, and even routing for a ‘stealth’ style dropper post too, its got a 67 degree head angle, which makes for decent stability on the downs, and a 71 degree seat angle means climbing isn’t too much of chore either.

Considering the relatively thorough spec, good looks and sensible angles you’d think it’d cost a few quid – well it does – but only 195 of them. £195, not bad at all!

All of them come with the companies slogan, ‘Ride Your Way’, emblazoned on the top tube.

It comes in 3 sizes, S, M and L, we tested the large. It comes in 4 colours, we have black and silver. All of them come with the companies slogan, ‘Ride Your Way’, emblazoned on the top tube. My way of riding usually doesn’t involve displaying my bike-based ethos to the world, but yours might.

The kind chaps at Slam69 bikes supplied the frame with an X-Fusion Velvet RL2R fork, Dartmoor’s own Rocket/Revolt wheelset, headset and narrow-wide ring and I slung a set of 780 bars, short stem, XT clutch mech, SLX brakes and a set of Hans Dampfs on.

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So did I get ‘Primal’?

I utterly thrashed this bike.

Yes I did. To give this review a bit of context, I utterly thrashed this bike. I raced it at the Mondraker 2-day Enduro, thrashed it round the Forest of Dean’s less-well-known trails, spun it round Ashton Court and Leigh Woods trails, hauled it across the Mendips on several all-dayers and did DH runs at Triscombe on it. The very fact that it survived with only a few issues is testament to a pretty sturdy machine. It continued to be fun through out all this and made a pretty good fist of replacing my Intense Tracer 2 for a few months.

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What didn’t rock my world?

Considering its marketed as ‘Enduro’ which it seems is such a very modern way of riding, (removes tongue from cheek), a few small things seemed to not sit quite right.

  • No ISCG mounts at all, which seemed a bit strange, though you could argue that the new era of clutch mechs and narrow-wide rings has made this feature less relevant.
  • It felt a tiny bit short/steep for its size.On long rocky/steep descents, a little more room up front would have made it feel more stable and a degree less on the head angle wouldn’t go amiss for the same reason, but I think the guys at Dartmoor are aiming for all-day friendliness which the set up definitely gives, but this in turn doesn’t quite fit with the Enduro tag. All-Mountain on the other hand…
  • The choice of a higher TT rather than an extended seat mast is an odd one, especially in this day and age, and I imagine budget-driven, but does make the frame looks a bit ungainly and means stand over is not very good.

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The frame is pretty well finished, the graphics look good but the aforementioned ‘Ride Your Way’ slogan on the top tube was constantly commented on, usually whilst pointing and laughing. And I have to agree, it gave the bike an immature feel, and I think it’d be better left off leaving simple branding/graphics.

The wheels … did catastrophically de-tension on a very rocky descent on Exmoor!

The wheels, built from Dartmoor Rocket rims, and Revolt hubs, look great and rolled well form the off, but did catastrophically de-tension on a very rocky descent on Exmoor! This was after a day of Enduro racing and before i’d had a chance get them retensioned from new. I can put this down to the parts as much as the build, and in a perfect world i’d have got the wheels tightened up after the first few thrashings as you would with a set of factory built wheels.

A teeny niggle here, where the internal cable routing exits the frame, the holes here, finished with a molded Alu plate, were little on the sharp side, scraping the cable outers on installation. Considering the frames price this is not a massive issue and can be rectified with a small file.

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So what’s good?

  • The price. I mean, seriously, less than £200 for a frame? – crikey guv’nor.
  • The internal cable routing made for a neat set up and easier cleaning.
  • The tapered head tube means future proofing for fork options.
  • The Dartmoor integrated headset was a cinch to install.
  • The forks were surprisingly excellent for their £420 price tag, out-performing my £850 Fox 36 TALAS’s easily on most things, including a very simple lock out for climbing.
  • The paint job, apart from the slogan, is slick, and the graphics are under the lacquer for durability.

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How does it ride?

Its good fun to ride. Thats a pretty simple thing you may say, but it definitely can’t be said of all bikes. Coming from a string of 140-160mm full-suspension bikes and with a penchant for fast rocky descents I was tentative about whether I would enjoy the hardtail life. This bike quickly dispelled these worries, and once i’d got used to the funny size wheels and lack of back-end squish I was throwing it about with little care.

Certainly made for some bloody good fun in the woods. And trail centres. And moors.

Getting used to the reduced rear wheel grip and getting into the habit of soaking up the bumps with my legs not my shock wasn’t so immediate. This, combined with my ample frame and lack of grace may well have lead to the rear wheels rapid demise but certainly made for some bloody good fun in the woods. And trail centres. And moors. Which brings me to the Enduro race which I raced on the Primal…

Race testing

The Mondraker Gravity Enduro is a 2-day Enduro race, with 5 timed downhill stages, and tonnes of climbing in between. I was much slower on the long rocky descents  but I managed to beat the lot of them on the very last,  loamy under-the-trees trail with a huge rock garden in the middle, and get in the top 20 out of 200. Not bad for hardtail right?

The bike corners really well, rolls excellently, with the bigger wheels really making a notable difference over the rough stuff, making line-choice through the rock gardens less crucial, and the whole bike carries speed pretty well through general trail bumps which makes for a pretty fast hardtail. Just don’t expect it to fly through rocks like a full-susser without your wheels paying the price.

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What did we break on the Primal?

The rear wheel did a whoopsy. Badly. On a very rocky descent it totally de-tensioned and immediately ‘pringled’. 15 minutes of fettling later though and she was right as rain … but this has never happened before or after and could have resulted in a bit of a crash. Luckily it didn’t, just a big old push down the hill.

What about maintenance?

All pretty hassle free really. The Primal got a good clean after every ride, with attention to the drive train as with all bikes, and a squirt of lube here and there. Just keep an eye on spoke tension!

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And … final thoughts on the ride?

I enjoyed my time on the Primal though it’s not necessarily the bike for me forever. For anyone with a restricted budget it could be the answer to their Enduro-dreams, though i’d also argue that its more of a ‘trail’ bike with a popular buzzword slapped on.

It’s good fun, simple to set up, and provides a great introduction to 27.5” wheels and what they can do. It’s not perfect and you can get more bike for more money, but I think Dartmoor have definitely put together an intriguing package for a great price.

My main ride is a Santa Cruz Bronson and it eats up the rocks and roots. It’s a testament to the Dartmoor’s playful nature that every now and again I think about how certain trails were actually slightly more fun on that strange little beast, the Primal.

Tested by: Wideopen’s Part-time model Jay
Ridden at: Bristol trails, Afan, Cwm Carn, South Wales secret DH tracks, Forest of Dean, the Mendips, Triscombe, Exmoor.

Thanks to Graham at Slam69 for lending us the Primal. They’re the UK distributor of Dartmoor. Give them a shout for more on the bike.