Wideopenmag’s long term Banshee Phantom test
words by Jamie Edwards
photos by Jacob Gibbins (unless credited)
The Banshee Phantom was sent to us as an “XC bike on steroids”.
We did wonder if “on steroids” meant like a night-club doorman is likely to be “on steroids”. Loud, aggressive, unnecessarily heavy, likely to chuck you out the front door without warning! Luckily it took one lap of the local trails to knock that idea on the head – the Phantom rips!
“Forget those notions of 29’ers being boring, ponderous steeds”
With just 105mm of travel, a light(ish) frame and low, slack angles the Phantom is fast, aggressive and a hell of a lot of fun. If you want to tear apart single-track, you could do a lot worse than what you see here.
Forget those notions of 29’ers being boring, ponderous steeds piloted by the bargain-bikes crowd. Big wheels are suddenly and surprisingly fun. Oh – and when you make a bike that’s matte black with all-black components it’s also amazingly cool whatever size wheels you stick on it!
The Phantom has got 29” wheels. It’s low, it’s pretty slack, it’s pretty light and it has a modest but surprisingly effective 105mm travel out back. It’s not an “enduro” bike or an “xc bike” – I suppose it’s a “trail” bike but that sells it short.
Is it for you?
Good question. It’s a bike for anyone that understands that great geometry, low-weight and the right amount of travel is more likely to equal speed than big travel and big tires. Are your local trails a bit pedally in places with lots of single track and lots of tight, twisty stuff? Ours are and the Banshee lapped them up.
“a hugely versatile bike”
For the spring/summer we had the Phantom I rode it over pretty much every type of terrain I could find. We pedalled up, over and down. We rode natural, technical trails one day and surfaced trail centres the next. There was some full-face-helmet uplifts and absolutely loads of blasting round the woods hunting out new features to chuck it off. I even rode it down an enormous, terrifying, slithery 100foot rock slab in the Avon Gorge.
The Phantom is a bike that you can pedal long and far and then have loads of fun when you get to wherever your legs and your imagination take you. You’ll find yourself churning out miles but constantly slamming the saddle to mess around on a feature, hit a jump or play on something that’s caught your eye. That makes it a hugely versatile bike and one that I’d consistently turn to when I didn’t really know what terrain I’d be facing. Or when I just wanted to guarantee to have a blast and not be left over-biked.
Am I converted to big wheels?
“Surely 29 is just a bit big and unwieldy?” you ask. So I thought till I sent it through a local jumps and berms line. The bike is low, it’s slack and it has super compact chain stays. In the air and through the berms it feels more chuckable and more maneuverable than almost any 650b I’ve ridden to date. Banshee have clearly put a lot of work into creating a bit that doesn’t feel like a 29″ … whilst retaining the benefits of having those big wheels.
“it feels more chuckable and more maneuverable than almost any 650b I’ve ridden to date.”
The bigger wheels do become noticeable in really tight, awkward corners and sure, a smaller wheeled bike would bounce through them a bit easier but really I didn’t feel many disadvantages with the size and the shape of the bigger wheeled Phantom. It definitely manualed through rollers easier than our current 650b Scott Genius.
“And did you come away converted to 29?” you ask. Not necessarily. But I didn’t want to give the Phantom back. Big wheels aren’t a magic bullet for better riding but do roll fast, maintain speed nicely through rough terrain and (once I got rid of the Schwalbe Nobby Nic tire!) offer lots of grip and boost my confidence a bit. 29″ benefited me in a few ways. Mainly stability, momentum and carrying speed. All key ingredients to having fun and beating your mates.
Finding the limits.
If anything, the limiting factor of the bike was the modest travel, not the wheel size. For bigger, rougher days out on the uplifts I would favour my longer-travel trail bike and leave the Phantom at home. It’s not a mini-downhill bike or a “do everything bike”. It’s a fast, aggressive, fun, pedally bike.
There were also times when we felt the tune of the shock wasn’t perfect. It worked well a lot of the time but when the hits came a bit faster it felt like the bike wasn’t quite keeping up. That would be easily remedied with a trip to a suspension tuning company though. Banshee have also confirmed that for the 2015 version of the bike the “shock tune on the Monarch has now been updated for better traction and more progression”.
And some stand-out components.
Whilst we’re focusing on the frame rather than the components I should quickly mention the MRP Stage fork. Whilst it took a bit of setting up the MRP was an excellent bit of kit and boosted my enjoyment of the bike throughout our time together. It has a few slightly eccentric features (the bolt through axle for one) but generally was a stiff, plush and very confidence inspiring fork. More on that in our full review which is out next week.
Also surprisingly very good were the Guide brakes that were head and shoulders the best brake we’ve ridden in the Sram family. Reliable, powerful and lasted the full test without skipping a beat.