Extra Frosting Please
When it comes to having our cake and eating it too, the MBT test crew often replies: “what else are you going to do with cake?”
Fortunately, when it comes to mountain bikes, some companies understand where we’re coming from. When we picked up a brand spanking new fully suspended Giant Yukon FX for a little under $900, the first thing came to our minds was what’s the catch? Surely a full squish trail bike under a grand has got to be overweight, poorly spec’ed, and pretty darn ugly right? Wrong! Once we hit the trails with this Trance replica we realized that there really wasn’t a catch. Instead there was a list of solid components, active suspension, and a look shared with several more expensive models on the company’s line. Best of all we had enough left over from our $1000 budget to pick up a helmet, gloves, and new pair of biking shoes. Giant understands that not all riders have limitless budgets and doesn’t exclude anyone when it comes to getting out and enjoying the trails. We can certainly get with that, and really, what good is cake if not to eat it?
The Spec Sheet
Using a simple but elegant aluminum chassis, the Giant Yukon FX comes equipped with Hayes MX-4 mechanical disc brakes (front and rear) and Truvativ ISO Flow 3.0 cranks. Shifters are SRAM (SX4) as is the rear derailleur. SRAM also provides the 8-speed cassette (PG830) while the front derailleur comes in the form of Shimano’s budget-friendly Alivio line. 2.1” Kenda Nevegals wrap around WTB Dual Duty XC rims and the 4 inches of suspension arrive via a RockShox Dart 2 in the front and a proprietarily branded Giant Air Shock in the rear).
All told our bone stock medium bike weighed in at just a tad below 34 lbs with pedals. Not bad especially considering that the pedals (aluminum platforms) are included at the ridiculously low MSRP.
The Walk Around
Taking a stroll around the Giant Yukon FX is a good way to start wondering if you paid too much for the bike in your own garage. As mentioned above, it is pretty difficult to tell the Yukon from even the top-tier Trance models at a glance. Upon closer inspection the bike manages to dazzle with a suspension linkage configuration that looks an awful lot like the very highly regarded Maestro design that its bigger brothers boast. Adding to the charm is an air sprung Giant shock with external rebound adjustment. Even the RockShox Dart 2 (which we initially suspected to be the proverbial weak link of this chain) managed to impress with such luxuries as external preload and rebound adjustment and lockout! To put this all in perspective, one of our guest test riders may have inadvertently put it best: “Really an amazing deal considering this entire bike cost less than I just paid for my new fork.”
The Test Ride
Of course great pricing and sharp looks alone a good mountain bike make not so we saddled up and hit the fairly hilly terrain of Ellicottville NY to put the Yukon FX through the paces. Mounting up is a natural affair thanks to a nice slope in the top tube that insures the lowest point of the structure right where you swing your leg over to step through. Thanks to a fairly short stem and a decently swept bar, the reach to the handlebars is neither free-ride upright nor cross-country stretched out but rather neutral and comfortable for quick jaunts or all day epics.
Pushing off is surprisingly rewarding. The Yukon FX makes very snappy bursts of acceleration with each rotation of the cranks. Hardtail style snappy you ask? Well, no maybe not but let’s put it this way, the Yukon doesn’t give up much in terms of pedaling efficiency to bikes costing double and triple its asking price! So maybe now you’re thinking that we’re going to drop the bomb and say that the Yukon accelerated well but cornered slow or lagged on the climbs. Wrong on both accounts and for that we have to thank Giant’s engineers. 34 pounds may be no featherweight but Giant realized this as well and wisely situated most of the bike’s weight low in the frame (just above the cranks). As such the weight you felt when lifting the bike up onto the rack disappears instantly when you hit the trail and that’s where it matters to us.
Odds and Ends
The budget-oriented component spec exhibited no glaring flaws or weak links in our stewardship and everything functioned as well as (if not better than) expected. The Hayes mechanical disc brakes take a bit of getting used to, especially if you’re coming from some of latest hydraulic designs in that they burn in a little slower and sound like they’re dragging initially and when they get really hot. It should be noted however that their performance never faltered in these situations.
We wanted to find fault in the rather heavy RockShox Dart 2 coil-sprung fork but the truth of the matter is that it performed honestly throughout our test period. RockShox has really gone the distance to secure a hold of the entry level fork market with the entire Dart series and this example (Dart 2) even includes enough external controls and nice-linear damping characteristics to make us forgive them for their earlier Judy disasters.
The Kenda Nevegals with their 2.1- inch contact patch make for a pretty decent all-purpose tire. If you ride on steep elevations or in loose conditions, you may want to consider running a slightly more aggressive-tread tire such as the WTB Weirwolf. Other than that, ditch the reflectors and department store inspired chain guard (on the cranks) and let not the trails tempt you a moment longer.
We like to end our tests by answering a very simple question: If it were our money, would we be inclined to buy it? In the case of the Giant Yukon FX, that’s a no brainer. In fact, at the moment, this could possibly be the best deal going on in mountain biking. Up until now, beginners and budget-conscious riders were forced to shy away from full suspension on account of the fact that for around $850, there were serious compromises but Giant blew that mindset away with the Yukon FX. The bike looks good, pedals quite well, and just plain dazzles when called upon. If the weight troubles you (and it shouldn’t as it hides it very well in the real world) there are many quick and easy swaps that could start deducting from the total figure. And since it costs so little initially, aftermarket swaps down the road are easy to justify.
This bike shared a stable here at our office with bikes that easily cost three and four times its asking price and yet never was there a hint of complaint when our testers were asked to switch over to the Giant. We came away comparing the Yukon FX to the Little Train That Could; it could, can, and does and in this case the little part refers to the amount of money you’d have to spend to get out and enjoy the trails.