The Forbidden Druid has a lot of hype around it, and Ben has been finding out if the high pivot trail machine lives up to it.
Riding a wave of increased popularity for high pivot bikes, the Forbidden Druid has been one of the few to apply it to a short travel platform. Ben has been testing their top-spec complete build to see if all the hype translates to on-trail performance.
Since day one, the Forbidden Druid has captured the imagination of the MTB market, with slick edits and marketing showing off their progressive and unique suspension design. Possibly thanks in part to the success of the Commencal Supreme DH under riders like Amaury Pierron, the MTB public at large seems to have a bit of a thing for high pivot point bikes with chain idlers. What makes the Forbidden different, is taking the approach and applying it to a short travel trail bike in a light weight package that also pedals well.
Frame and Build
This is the first complete bike from Forbidden available in the UK. At £5699 it features a well thought out parts list that balances performance, strength and value nicely and seems like pretty good value when you consider the frame alone retails for £3199. There is also an SLX build available for £4699 if you want the high pivot performance for a more affordable price.
As the name suggests, it is built around a Shimano XT 12 speed groupset, and Shimano XT 4-pot brakes. Suspension is Fox front and rear with a 150mm Fox Performance Elite 36 fork and a Performance Elite DPX2 shock controlling the 130mm of rear wheel travel. The Druid rolls on Race Face ARC Offset rims laced to a classy set of high performing DT Swiss 350 hubs. Race Face handle most of the rest of the build kit and it is all good, solid stuff that worked fine without any problems.
The real story with this bike is the frame and in particular, the suspension design. Forbidden call this the Trifecta suspension design as it has three main aspects that combine to give the unique ride qualities of the Druid. First is the high pivot point that gives a totally rearward axle path. This has the most profound effect on the ride of all the features as it means the wheel gets out of the way when it hits an edge.
Instead of the wheel having to move upwards and forwards, towards the obstacle like on most other bikes, the Druid’s wheel moves in the direction of the force, slowing you down less and feeling smoother to the rider. This feature also means that the rear centre of the bike grows as you go into its travel making the bike longer and more stable as you compress through turns and push through high speed and gnarly trails.
The second part of the Trifecta design is the Rate Control Linkage, which aims to manipulate the leverage curve to give the holy grail of suspension performance: A supple start, with supportive mid-stroke and a progressive end stroke. It also allows the shock to be run with little or no compression damping to keep things as supple as possible without constant, harsh bottoms out.
Finally, the position of the idler pulley makes up the Trifecta. By offsetting it from the main pivot point Forbidden claim to have tuned the ideal amount of anti-squat at the sag point for efficient pedalling. This has the added benefit of almost entirely removing pedal kickback, reducing fatigue on the rider.
Not satisfied with their own suspension philosophy, the guys at Forbidden also have their own ideas about geometry and how to make a bike that feels great no matter which size you buy. On a side-note this is something that has been bothering me for some time. Most brands have the same chain stay length across every size, from XS to XXL. This makes the handling of different sized bikes drastically different even though they are apparently the same model.
Forbidden clearly agree, which is why the rear centre grows with each size bike, from 414mm on the small, up to 450mm on the XL. The large bike on test had a rear centre of 438mm. It is also worth noting that these are static measurements. When the bike sits at 30% sag, this rear centre measurement grows by about 15mm, so you have a bike with about 453mm out back as you cruise along at the sag point.
The One Ride geometry approach continues with varying seat angles across the 4 sizes. This means that a tall 6’ plus rider should not find them selves hanging out over the back wheel while a shorter rider enjoys a more centred pedalling position on the climbs. Instead, the actual seat tube angle increases from 71.7 degrees on the small up to 75.5 degree on the XL, giving each size a consistent effective seat angle of 75.6 degrees across all sizes which is bang on for a modern trail bike.
The frame itself is a smooth and swooping carbon construction finished in a glossy grey/brown paint that Forbidden call, ‘Mr Brownstone.’ Personally I didn’t like having a diarrhoea coloured bike, but to be fair most of my mates really liked it and my favourite bike of 2020 up to now was purple and sparkly! Cable routing is deathly silent and nice and smooth and the whole frame feels premium. There is room for a large water bottle inside the frame and you even get a mech hanger, torque wrench and digital shock pump included with your purchase.
Whilst this is a trail bike, there is no doubt that the intentions of the bike (and its marketing) are that it’s all about shredding the descents. Having said that it climbs really well and as a flat pedal rider, I found it to be smooth under power, never bobbing. I enjoyed the nice upright position between the wheels that made steeper sections and switchbacks easy, especially with the ample traction on offer from the rear Maxxis Minion DHRII and fancy suspension design.
When you stand up to put some power down it feels sharp and poised and you feel like your efforts are not being wasted. I enjoy spending time standing to climb and found the Druid to be supportive, encouraging me to stay standing and to attack short, punchy climbs.
The only drawback to the Druid’s design is that you can feel a bit of extra drag from the idler pulley and the lower roller on the E.13 chain device. It is hard to quantify, but you can certainly hear it, especially on gritty, muddy rides which is basically every ride I did on it.
Let’s face it. This is what you came here for. Can a 130mm trail bike really feel like an enduro bike on the descents? Does the high pivot witchcraft add up to a super-fast bike that you will smoke your mates on? Well, on the whole, the answer is, yes. This is a seriously fast and capable bike if you point it down the right trails, and only once you learn how to ride it.
My first experiences on the Druid were a bit tame and uninspiring as it just felt so alien to me compared to the other bikes I ride. I couldn’t manual it, I could barely bunny hop it, and I felt slow and out of sync with the trail. Normally I can be at about 90% of my top speed within an hour or two on a new test bike. Not so with the Druid, and it actually took me more like 5 hours of riding to really get to grips with it and let it rip. I think that this is mostly down to the growing rear end that requires slightly different timing to pump and pop trail features.
Once I finally figured it out, the Druid was an absolute trail slayer and felt as fast as any enduro bike I have ever ridden down at my favourite trails at Triscombe in Somerset. The grip and composure are what really set it apart as the suspension smooths out all the trail chatter whilst still having enough in reserve to take some serious hits and hucks in its stride. When you land a jump into wet, off camber roots on a 130mm trail bike you are usually dicing with death.
Not on the Druid though, as it will slap down with a dull thud, instantly finding traction, the Fox 36 fork and DPX2 rear shock working well together to give a well balanced and stable ride no matter where you land. This feeling of grip was aided by the ever reliable pairing of a Maxxis Assegai up front and Minion DHRII out back, both in EXO+ casing.
I regularly found full travel, never harshly, and always in control. It uses every millimetre of its 130mm travel sparingly, and ramps up well towards the end. I ran the bike at about 30% sag throughout the test, with no compression damping and as fast as it would go, and despite this, it never felt like it was going to blow through its travel.
The suspension design combined with shock tune were bang on for my 80kg weight. I did do quite a bit of fiddling with the shock at first whilst I figured out what felt good on such an alien bike, eventually coming back to where I started and running 30% sag. One small annoyance with the design is the difficulty accessing the shaft of the shock to precisely measure the sag as it passes through a tunnel in the frame.
I found myself really pushing on, staying closer to my faster riding mates than usual and I really grew in confidence the longer I rode the mud-coloured trail assassin. The harder you push it into its travel, the longer the bike grows and this helps to keep it remarkably stable, both under braking and when you let them off and the speeds increase.
On the note of braking that is one area that I found frustrating. Despite marketing this as an enduro bike slaying trail bike, Forbidden have specced 180mm rotors front and rear which are simply too small for such a fast bike and I found my digits working over time to scrub off speed compared to the 200mm rotors that most of my bikes come fitted with. The XT 4-pots were super reliable and didn’t suffer from any vague bite point issues as some people have found, and personally I like the lever shape and firm lever feel.
On more mellow trails the Forbidden feels dull and to be honest, quite slow. It lacks pop, preferring to stick to the floor, and that length and stability do little to engage you on flow trails and mellow sections. It still rides fine, but it is not much fun, and I would prefer to ride a more conventional bike for days like this.
In the corners I found the Druid to be forgiving and confidence inspiring. The 65.5 degree head angle is fairly neutral, giving a good mix of direct steering and steep terrain prowess. Once you understood the timing of the bike, you could really pump out of a turn generating speed. If you slid out or started losing traction then the inherent stability of the bike usually got you out of trouble and for the first time in ages, I didn’t fall off this test bike. A small miracle!
On straighter, root strewn sections of trail if you let off the brakes you will certainly gap your mates. The way this thing carries speed over rough ground is insane as the rear wheel moves out of the way of the roots, getting faster as other bikes are slowed. It gives you easy speed and a freedom to change lines as you feel planted where other bikes of this travel feel skittish and loose.
The only place where I didn’t ride the Druid was Bike Park Wales where I normally ride each test bike at least once. Sadly, COVID restrictions meant I can’t comment on bike park performance, in particular how it works in fast, rough berms which would be interesting for sure.
No issues with reliability and not a single bolt came loose.
The Race Face ARC offset rim profile can make it hard to seat tubeless tyres. I have found this with other bikes and the Druid was no exception, leaving me red faced and sweating before finally succeeding.
Direct comparisons are super tricky as it feels so unique to ride. I would love to do timed runs up against some of my other favourite bikes of recent years like the Merida ONE SIXTY 800 and Vitus Sommet 29 VRS to quantify if it can really keep up with big-boy enduro bikes.
What do we think?
One you figure it out, the Forbidden Druid more than lives up to the hype as long as your trails are technical, rough and gnarly.
Good value complete build
Balanced and confidence inspiring ride.
Could do better:
Mr Brownstone colour
Small, 180mm brake rotors
You can check out the Forbidden Druid XT build and the rest of the Druid range on Forbidden’s website here.