After a few months obsessed with the notion of rocking a 27.5″ hardtail, it was time to pull the trigger and build one up to try. The frame I chose was the Transition TransAM.
It had practically everything on my list: short 418mm chain stays, a steep seat tube angle great for climbing, long reach, 12x 142mm single speed friendly drop outs and a threaded BB shell. With an MSRP of $599, the price is reasonable too.
The downside is the weight of the frame; at 2758 grams/ 6.08lbs for a size medium, the weight is on the high side for a frame intended to go up hills. While I wasn’t enthused on the weight, a lighter tube set would have been reflected in the price and at least I probably won’t have to worry about damaging the frame if things got rowdy.
Out of the box, a close inspection of the TransAM showed a significant amount of attention in the details. Transition has been offering various iterations of the bike in 26″ and 29″ versions for a while, and it shows with all the well thought out features.
The frame uses a 44mm head tube for compatibility with tapered or straight steerers. Transition’s FAST Dropout makes going single speed easy, or allows chain stay length adjustment. It isn’t designed to play with front derailleurs, but hard tails were meant to be climbed out of the saddle anyway. Best of all, Transition keeps it old school with a reliable threaded bottom bracket with ISCG tabs in case you want to rock a chain guide.
- Frame: TransAM Chromoly Frame
- Headset(Top): 44mm Zero Stack
- Headset(Bottom): 44mm External
- Bottom Bracket Shell: 73mm BSA Threaded
- Rear Brake Mount: 160mm IS Mount
- Rear Drop Out: Syntace X12 12x142mm
- ISCG Tabs: ISCG 05 (2.5mm Offset)
- Seatpost Diameter: 30.9mm
- Seat Clamp: 34.9mm
- Max Chainring Size: 34t
- Max Tire Size: 27.5×2.5in
- Available Sizes: S | M | L | XL
- Colors: Neon Green, Dark Metallic
I built up the TransAM with my favorite go-to pieces of kit. A full 1×10 XT drive train offers top level performance without completely demolishing the bank. I’m a Shimano guy all the way, and that includes the brakes; I love the feel of the XT units which make high speed manuals easy to control. I reduced the travel on a Fox Float 34 to work on the frame; although Transition recommends a 130mm front end, I elected to run it at 140mm. A Rockshox Reverb Stealth and my go-t0 saddle, the SDG Bel-Air supported my backside while the cockpit consisted of a 50mm Renthal Stem and Easton Havoc Carbon Bars measuring in at 750mm wide.
With this build, she’s ready for anything. My intent was to have a set up that would serve as a low maintenance, wet weather trail rig, while being able to pedal around town to rip it up on urban trails.
The best part of the TransAm is how fun it is to manual. Unlike my 29er hardtail with its long chainstays, the TransAM lifts right up. It wasn’t any where near the level of play my dirt jumper offers, but I’ve long grown out of wanting to pedal a dirt jumper around with a slammed seat. After dialing in the balance point, I was pulling up into a manual on the trail any chance I had. This bike is ridiculously fun to get loose and drift in loam on raw trail.
I enjoyed the geometry and felt it was spot on for the intended use. The geo is progressive and on point; I wouldn’t change a thing here, as it made me feel totally at home. I have a few buddies that expressed the desire for a slacker front end, but with the 140mm fork I didn’t have an issue with it, and while I often preferred to climb the TransAm (and other hardtails) out of the saddle, the 74º seat angle aided in seated climbing.
I won’t hold back though — you feel the weight of the frame. It seems the older I get, the lighter my bikes get, and even with the quality build, she doesn’t feel light. It isn’t a fair comparison, but my 29″ carbon Highball has a similar build on it (with much lighter wheels) and whereas she feels zippy, the TransAm takes more gumption to get up to speed. On the upside, it wasn’t hard to keep her moving once she got going. I’ve heard other reviewers refer to bikes a bit heavier than what they’re used to in this way, and I’m in agreement there.
Pointed down she was a loads of fun, especially on smooth, flowy terrain. Rough and rocky surfaces made me all too aware I was riding on a rather rigid cromoly steed, especially considering my main trail bike is a Nomad that flattens the trail out in comparison.
Because of the weight, I found myself experimenting a bit more with tires, and even mounted up a pair of fast rolling Michelin 2.2 XC tires. Though the light XC tires rolled noticeably faster, it only made it clear this was never going to be an XC bike. In fact, they took away from the fun, and with a bike like this, that’s the bottom line. I ended up choosing high volume but faster rolling Maxxis Ardents as my preferred treads on the TransAm.
The TransAm is best for the rider looking for a well-designed reliable frame at a value that isn’t looking for the lightest thing out there. I’ve long come to the conclusion that I’ll always prefer my dual suspension trail bike for “real” trail rides, but if you’re looking to enjoy the ride more and take the speeds down a notch it can be a blast. It’s a great to have a bike you can rock around town too. Being a steel bike, it draws less attention than other bikes, and I’m not concerned about sticking a u-lock on it for short periods around town — in areas I’m comfortable in.
Thoughts on 27.5
Much of the reason for acquiring the TransAm was to spend some time riding a hard tail with the midsize wheels, and more importantly, the increased maneuverability over larger 29″ wheels. It’s a great woods bike for playing, though I find myself thinking in hindsight the 29″ version (which also has short chain stays) might be more my jam.
I’d still be challenged by the weight – ideally they’d find a way of shedding a bit of it. I’d be willing to trade the adjustable dropouts for half a pound, but never ended up setting the bike up single speed during my time with it — singled out the Transition would probably kick ass, and taking that feature away would lessen the versatility of the frame.
I never thought I’d say it, but although I’m all in for 650b wheels for full suspension, when it comes to hard tails, the middle size wheels feel more like a compromise than the “just perfect” size. I found myself missing the mob factor of the bigger tires, and while there was a bit of roller over compared to 26″, you won’t mistake it for 26″ like you can on light dual suspension trail bike. That said, if you’re looking to add a versatile hard tail trail bike to your stable that you’ll take for the occasional run at the local pump track and skills park the TransAm fits the bill perfectly. 29ers aren’t nearly as maneuverable, and not everyone is going to want to build up a 26″ dirt jump bike AND and trail bike.
The TransAM 27.5 frame sells for $599, with complete builds coming in at around $1799. Check it out at TransitionBikes.com