Factory Direct, Well Spec’ed and in Effect
The MBT Test Crew likes factory-direct mountain bike manufacturers and here’s why: We have our own in-house mechanics so assembling and tuning a brand new bicycle is daily routine. When we can save hundreds, sometimes thousands off the asking price of a given bike to do this, we’re all for it. This isn’t to say we’re not big fans of local bike shops either: After all, when you need some expertise in a pinch, help with sizing, require an odd part to get back on the trail, they’re simply priceless.
That said, meet the Airborne Guardian. Not to worry if you find yourself confused about who Airborne is, they’re a relatively new company with a lineage that can be traced back to the Huffy brand believe it or not. They’ve gotten very serious about mountain biking and devised a business model whereby consumers hit up their site, select the model and size from their catalog, pay via credit card and wait for the delivery man to show up at the door. We’re no strangers to this plan, having tested models from Ibex, Woodstock, Motobecane and Sette in the past. Sadly we’ve seen many of these brands go under well before their time but encouragingly, it’s rarely because of the quality of the bikes themselves.
But not to get sidetracked, we’re talking about Airborne here and we have a pretty strong suspicion you know who these guys are because since having opened their doors for business last year, we’ve been flooded by requests for a full review. Like always, when we receive such requests, the first thing we do is reach out to the companies in question in effort to try and borrow a demo model for purpose of testing/ photographing. After several of our requests went in with no reply, it was looking as though the Airborne review wasn’t going to come together. Then word came in a few weeks ago that a friend of a friend had ordered a Guardian 29er thanks to a blowout sale Airborne was having on their site in the weeks following Interbike. Never ones to pass up an opportunity to please our readers, we were on the scene like one of those snotty detectives in CSI.
What is it?
The Guardian is, as Airborne professes, their budget-minded hartail 29er XC offering. It consists of a hydroformed 6061 aluminum frame equipped to a RockShox XC28 fork (3″ of travel with lockout), SRAM X3 & X5 drivetrain (27 gears- 3×9) and Tektro Auriga hydraulic disc brakes. Like the upper classmen in Airborne’s line (like the two Goblin 29er models), the Guardian uses the same in house branded bar, stem and seatpost as well as the quality Selle San Marco saddle and Kenda Small Block 8 tires. Cranks are Truvativ E400s and Weinmann Disc-Bull double walled wheels round out the spec sheet.
All told our size medium (18″ frame) bike weighed in at 30.75 pounds and a unit identical to ours can be had for $599.
This is a good bike for individuals easily intimidated by the plethora of tuning options found on most modern upper-echelon bikes. There is no shock to fiddle with and the RockShox fork is preload adjustable only (with turn-key lockout for those grinding climbs or occasional pavement use). What this means in the real world is you simply dial in the recommended sag per body weight via the fork’s preload adjuster, fine tune the seatpost to where you feel comfortable, fill the tires with air and get out on the trail. It really doesn’t get any easier.
Aesthetically it’s tough not to adore the white bits- Airborne specs their own seatpost and bulge bar in white, which just so happened to be the color of the RockShox fork legs. Add a white graphic on the underside of the red downtube and you have the look of a bike that costs dozens of times more than the Guardian’s retail.
In the saddle the bike feels a bit tall, as most 29ers will to riders accustomed to the more compact dimensions of a 26″ wheeled bike. The reach down to the pedals is such where the rider feels “inside” of the bike as opposed to sitting atop it. The sensation of being stretched out is further accentuated by the XC-style flat handlebar (lacks rise and sweep). In the garage it feels a bit awkward but bike tests don’t take place in the garage. We took the Guardian to a few local riding parks and here’s what we discovered.