Ben Plenge gives us his first impressions of the gearbox-driven Zerode Taniwha that hails from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

A gearbox convert through and through, we gave Ben Plenge the Zerode Taniwha, a 160mm travel, 27.5″ wheeled, carbon machine, to see if the box and the bike could live up to the hype. Here’s his first look review after two months with the Kiwi machine.

Key Features

  • Full carbon frame.
  • 160mm travel.
  • 27.5″ (650b) wheels.
  • Pinion 12-speed gearbox.
  • £5,999.99 RRP

I just want to get this out there from the start. I am a gear box believer. I think it will play a bigger part in the future of MTB over the next few years, and that excites me. I asked to test this bike as I wanted to experience it and to get on the gear box band wagon relatively early compared to the mainstream. Whilst I am going to do my best to be objective, I can’t help admitting that I wanted this bike to be rad!

Bearing that in mind, here are my experiences over the last couple of months living with the Zerode and its German made, Pinion P1.12, 12 speed gearbox.

Size matters.

Out of the box and the size large Zerode looks pretty small compared to most modern bikes with a reach of only 445mm on the Large. Having said that, the compact frame looks amazing, with the sleek carbon lines blending into the chunky gearbox and giving it a real quality look.

The first ride on a Pinion gearbox equipped bike is a learning experience as it is totally different to a normal mountain bike. For a start you change gears with a Pinion Gripshifter and you have to let off the pedals to make a gear change.

Having said, that, you are able to change gears when the bike is freewheeling, so you can grab a handful of gears at the bottom of a downhill section without having to pedal, meaning you should always be in the correct gear for the next section.

Go with the flow.

The key on the early rides is not to fight the bike. Go with it. It is different, but if you are patient, you will soon pick it up. The first ride saw multiple missed gear changes and stalls on steep sections as I found myself either twisting the shifter the wrong way or mis-timing my changes. I was kind of expecting this, so just went with the flow and by the end of the day was feeling fairly competent with the Pinion gears.

Whilst the climbs on the first ride were tricky, the downhills were simply awesome. The rear suspension is just so supple, and when paired with the Fox 36 Factory up front, it gives a very balanced and planted feeling with tonnes of grip. Over rough and chattery sections that can upset other bikes, the Zerode simply felt smooth and composed. Even under braking it stays active, maintaining grip, letting you brake late into turns and switch lines with ease.

More than meets the eye.

The tune on the Fox Factory Float X shock was bang on for me (86kg in my riding kit) offering support in the mid-stroke and a decent amount of ramp up at the end. The rear suspension performance comes partly from removing the clutch rear mech which restricts the movement of a regular bike through the beginning of its travel. It is also aided by not having a cassette, and therefore having less unsprung weight on the rear axle.

The Taniwha is undeniably short in the top tube (604mm) and reach (445mm) department, but in that sense it is well balanced with its sporty 430mm chainstays. Many modern bikes with longer reach numbers are hard to feel balanced on as they also have very short chainstays, often making it hard to weight the front wheel.

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The Zerode felt like you could weight the front wheel without too much effort and the superb suspension really made it possible to ride the Zerode faster and harder than I would have expected from reading the geo sheet.

Personal best.

Having set a few PRs on my Strava and feeling at home on the bike, I was pretty stoked with it. I was used to the gearbox, had a good setup, and apart from dropping a chain at Bike Park Wales, I had no issues. That was, until we planned a day trip to Surrey Hills with the boys.

After a 3 hour drive, I rode out of the car park and twisted the shifter and nothing happened. The irony of this situation was not lost on my mates as I had been going on about ultra-reliable gear boxes and how the mech was dead. Meanwhile I was starting a 30km, 1500m of climbing ride in single speed mode.

On my other bikes, I can usually find and fix the fault out on the trail. All the workings are right there and accessible with a mech and trigger shifter. In this case, I had no idea. There are no external adjustments and I was stuck.

Gearbox issues.

Back at home the following week I decided to get booked into a bike shop as I didn’t have time, or a good workshop space, for a fiddly gearbox mission with the spanners. At this point I realised that none of my local shops had ever worked on a Pinion gear box before.

In the end, Jake Ireland at Pedalabikeaway stepped up to the challenge (cheers mate!) and in the end it took him and the other mechanic, Rich, 2 hours to fix the issue which was apparently a circlip in the gearbox which had come away. That is 4 hours of workshop time and quite expensive, although he did say that if it happened again he could do it in 60-90 minutes on his own.

It’s worth noting that the bike wasn’t brand new when it reached us and (according to Stif) “The problem gear box was a team riders bike and his whole bike was absolutely hammered! He’d done a chain, sprocket, multiple fork / shock services, frame bearings, hub and headset bearings and many, many sets of pads before this happened”.

I am sure that you could send the bike back to Stif Cycles (UK distributor) who have Pinion trained mechanics on hand and they would sort it out for you. It is just a lot of hassle and you will probably be without a ride for a week or two. They also have Pinion trained technicians available to chat over the phone or on email if you need them.

Stif have told us that they’ve only seen one gearbox issue that needed the unit to be returned to Pinion, which was turned around in 7 days.

So, I am back on the Zerode and cracking on with riding it hard on a variety of trails and will update you with a final review in a couple of months, including a run down on the components and how they perform. I’m really enjoying this bike and its nimble character makes it a lot of fun to chuck around the place and get lairy on.

Full details on the Zerode Taniwha can be found on Zerode’s website here. For UK enquiries, head to their distributor Stif.

Keep your eyes peeled for a full review on the Zerode Taniwha later in the year.