Bring on the Trails
Start in a low gearing combination and the Guardian blasts off with surprising conviction. Airborne claims to have put countless hours of engineering time into their model line and it’s apparent here thanks to the bike’s unprecedented weight distribution. In the saddle the bike never feels too light up front (washes out in corners) or too light in the back (tire spin outs during hard pumps) but instead feels poised to handle whatever comes its way. Don’t mistake stability for sluggishness either; once you get the Guardian up to speed, it has very little trouble maintaining its rhythm.
Cornering is decent for a 29er, again attributable to that rider positioning that demands almost no adjustments when the trail’s direction changes. Climbing too is extremely efficient. Suspension platforms have come a long way but it’s tough to argue with the purity of transferring power through a hardtail.
The Kenda Smallblock 8s are a good all-purpose spec, especially at 2.1″ width where rolling resistance is kept to a minimum. Here in the East Coast we typically prefer something a bit more aggressive (the Bontrager XR2 for example) to help cope with abundant greasy roots but the Smallblocks are a sensible choice for their ability to adapt to just about any conditions.
Descending isn’t quite as polished though even if the 29″ hoops do take a lot of the insecurity surrounding careful line selection out of the equation. It’s difficult to get the Guardian to hang up on high-speed clutter; the bike just likes to roll up and over. Of course that back-stretching XC riding position and lack of rear suspension do create the situation for a bone-jarring, chain slapping dance once the speeds start picking up. Combine this with the minimal padding of the Selle saddle and you’ll likely find yourself grabbing a handful of brake whenever possible to keep the tempo in check.
Speaking of, we’re really grateful Airborne was able to spec a hydraulic disc brake set at this price point. A few years ago bikes at this retail level came with V-brakes! The Tektro Aurigas don’t offer the crispness or spot-on modulation of many of the more costly offerings on the market but their stopping prowess is far more impressive than any manual disc configuration you’re going to find and exponentially better than even the finest V-brakes of yesteryear. With 160mm rotors, we suspect this particular setup would have been better suited to a 26″ bike but again, beggars can’t be choosers. So long as you’re cautious not to get in way over your head and expect the brakes to bail you out time and time again, you’ll find the Tektros plenty adequate at hauling the Guardian down from speed.
Shifting from the SRAM group never gave a hint of objection. SRAM’s cost efficient offerings have typically proven quite reliable and of higher quality feel than the competition’s similarly priced offerings. We’re positive Airborne took this into account when piecing together the Guardian. Also it should be noted that while its pricier big brother (The Goblin) forgoes a triple chainring setup for the 2×10 configuration, we were actually pretty surprised how well the 3×9 works in this application. Some 9ers we’ve tested in the past felt strangely out of sync in the drivetrain, as if the gaps between gears were exaggerated and low ranges weren’t quite low enough to power the larger wheels but that wasn’t the case here.