The MBT crew prides itself on the fact that we don’t need investment portfolios, stock trading values, or financial advisers to clue us in on the state of the economy. No, we’ve got a method far more current and accurate and we call it our inbox. We receive dozens of reader requests each week seeking information on various bikes before purchase and it’s pretty easy to spot trends. You’ve asked for tests on sub $1000 full suspension mountain bikes and we’re glad to deliver. Just a few short years ago the concept of an adequate full-squish model for less than a G was akin to finding Bigfoot or swimming with a mermaid. These days it’s not so far fetched and we’re here to prove it.
Until now we were quick to point readers looking for such recommendations to the venerable Woodstock 707; a bike we tested back in 2006. Unfortunately, Woodstock since closed up shop and left many riders (and many journalists alike) struggling to find a suitable substitute. The closest model we discovered up until now was the Giant Yukon FX. The good news is that the bike delivered in all of our rigorous criteria. The bad news is that demand of the model has proven so strong that the MSRP has been steadily creeping upward with each passing season. As it stands the Yukon FX still sneaks in at under $1000, but just barely and who can say if it still will when you decide it’s time to make your move?
Enter the Base 2.0 from K2. After years of searching for a true full suspension trail bike that won’t break the bank, it appears as though we just may have found what we’ve been looking for. Full suspension, a host of quality components and an MSRP of $799- Mythological you ask? Not a chance.
Taking a walk around the K2 Base 2.0 reveals a host of goodies starting with a heat-treated 6061 aluminum frame and high-mount single pivot linkage. Drivetrain is full SRAM X-5 (trigger shifters, front and rear derailleur); hydraulic disc braking comes in the form of Tektro’s Auriga Comp. The four inches of suspension travel are handled by a Rockshox Dart 2 fork (with preload, rebound, compression adjustment and lockout) and an air-sprung SR Suntour Epicon shock (compression and rebound adjustable). Other odds and ends include an NVO stem, UNO Ultralite bar, Cane Creek headset, FSA Dyna Drive cranks, WTB SX24 rims wrapped in WTB Moto Raptor tires. Finally grips and saddle are WTB (Speed V) and K2 even throws in a pair of Wellgo platform pedals to get you underway.
Climbing into the K2 Base 2.0’s roomy cockpit reveals a nicely sloped top tube, which allows for generous standover clearance. The reach to the bar is short and seated position is quite comfortable (upright and relaxed). Sizing seems to be spot on with the unofficial standard followed by most brands- in other words if you usually ride a large sized frame, you’ll likely be sticking with a large here as well.
Like most high-mounted single pivot frame designs, the Base 2.0 pedals surprisingly well, even from a dead stop. Chalk part of this trait up to the wonderfully aggressive tread pattern of the Moto Raptor tires. Rather then burst forward with each crank rotation, the Base accelerates with an even head of steam that steadily builds into true momentum as you work way through the gears. Shifting from the SRAM X-5 group was a pleasant surprise as in smooth and precise. Having tested dozens of bikes adorned with the X-7 and X-9 group, this was our first experience with the more budget-friendly X-5 and we hope it isn’t our last. While not quite as precise as its higher-end brethren, the X-5 gear train works with typical SRAM effectiveness, which is to say deliberate and slightly more mechanical than its Shimano counterparts.
While SR Suntour may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of mountain bike suspension, the Epicon shock found on our Base 2.0 certainly isn’t to blame. We pressurized the air chamber to 80 PSI (half our tester’s body weight) and then fine-tuned the shock’s responsiveness through the rebound adjustment. Coupled to the high mount linkage configuration resulted in a lively chassis that resisted energy-sucking pedal bob surprisingly well (in spite of a lack of true pedaling platform or shock lockout feature).
The Rockshox fork’s performance mated pretty well to the president set by the rear end even though we would love to have had the infinitely tunable compression range an air-sprung fork would have provided. As it stands, however, the Dark 2 is no slouch. We began by dialing in our sag with the preload adjuster (top left leg) then worked the compression dial (top right leg) until the fork felt small bump compliant enough for our tastes. Finally the rebound action is fully adjustable as well (bottom right leg) and we settled in at about three-quarters from full fast. We encourage riders to take the time to set the fork and shock up correctly as the Base’s chassis responds well to fine finesse (fork especially).
Once dialed in, the Base 2.0 strikes up a balanced feel with a slight rearward rider-weight bias. We suspect the tendency of the front end to wash out in high speed or sandy switchbacks was nullified by the WTB Moto Raptors’ incredible grip. Our testing took us from rock-solid hardpack to slippery oozing mud and just about everywhere in between and we couldn’t unsettle the Base’s solid handling characteristics.
Braking from the Tektro Auriga Comps was effective and often times impressive despite a fairly poor reputation from online users. While perhaps not quite as grabby (or powerful) as some of the top contenders in the hydraulic disc category, make no mistake that once properly burned in, the Aurigas give up very little in the way of smooth modulation. Also keep in mind that a majority of the bikes offered in this price range typically come equipped with manual disc or even manual rim brakes, either of which the Tektro Aurigas absolutely decimate. Editor’s note- These are the exact same brakes we’ve been running on our Fuji Thrill LT 2.0 (6 inch rotors) and they’ve proved to be fantastic performers over time.
Strengths and Weaknesses
We like to think that all bikes, regardless of cost, have a combination of traits that makes them excel in certain conditions and suffer in others. For the K2 Base 2.0, we found that the geometry is such that the bike works best in wide-open areas, endless flats, and on moderate climbs. Of course this isn’t to suggest that it doesn’t carve a nice line on a moderate descent or flow like liquid across a tight ribbon of singltrack either. Just bear in mind that this is a 4-inch travel trailbike and hence isn’t designed for the type of abuse associated with downhill hammering or big-hit riding.
We had ample opportunity to test the Base along some Western NY singletrack as well. Here the specs really begin to shine. If your definition of a good ride includes coiled up singletrack, rocks, roots, and off camber, the Base 2.0 will answer your beckoning call.
Because there is no factory platform valving to rely on, the only modification we required was a slight increase in shock air pressure, which though sacrificing a bit of small bump compliance, offsets the chassis’ tendency to weight the rear of the bike… Or in other words stiffening of the shock puts a bit more of the rider’s weight on the front to keep the wheel from wandering. This trick also works wonders on extended climbs.
Despite what you may read in the headlines of the newspaper, these are great times to be a mountain biker. K2 proves with their Base 2.0 that the days of having to suffer with the inadequacies of a hardtail due to lack of cash are strictly optional.
About the only negative in this situation to report is the difficulty in securing a K2 Base 2.0 of your own. We’ve searched high and low and were quite unsuccessful at finding a single unit in stock (even the ever-fruitful eBay turned up nothing). This is the type of bike that we try to add to our long-term test fleet due to the fact that anyone we let take it for a test ride at the trailhead ends up remembering that they’ve been meaning to buy a bike for their girlfriend, fiancée, or wife (don’t worry, we won’t blow the secret that you really want a second bike for yourself). At this price, it’s hard not to start scheming. If you do manage to locate one, grab it up quickly because if you don’t, we’re going to.
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