Light, Tight, and the Price is Right
We’ll come right out and say it: For a majority of the MBT test crew, aspirations of a cross country championship have waved goodbye to us long ago thanks to a steady diet of frozen burritos and café lattes. However, make no mistake, when a bike as light and able-bodied as the Motobecane Fantom Pro Titanium blows through our office we stop what we’re doing to take note. And with good reason- just how light are we talking here? 23 pounds with pedals. The spec sheet is fairly simple but hints toward confidence and competence:
Shimano XT / SLX Group- 27 speed
Avid Juicy Seven Hydraulic Disc brakes Front and Rear
Custom Welded Aerospace grade 3/2.5 Butted/ Geometrically Enhanced Titanium Frame
Rockshox SID Race 100mm Motion Control Damping, External Rebound and Lockout
Ritchey Pro Seatpost, Stem, Grips (foam with gel) and Bar (WCS)
FSA Orbit XLII Headset
FSA V-Drive Cranks
Kenda Small Block Eight (Tomac Signature Series) Tires
Vuelta XRP Super Lite Rims/ Wheels
We know, we know: the hot topic of late in the realm of frame material is carbon fiber but when it comes to simplicity, rigidity, rugged looks, and durability, titanium is still alive and well. Brands like Moots and Litespeed have never swayed from their devotion to Ti and neither have the hordes of loyal customers who refuse to ride a bike made of anything else.
Motobecane’s namesake may be similar to a long-standing French scooter manufacturer but this iteration of the namesake happens to be located right here in the USA (in sunny Florida) and distributes a majority of its massive line of bicycles through Bikesdirect.com. We took a look at the Fantom Pro Titanium on account of its clean lines, impressive spec sheet, and the simple fact that for its $4099 MSRP (and that includes shipping), Motobecane is selling a complete titanium mountain bike for less than many companies charge for the frame alone. Even more amazing is that customers who pre-order the bike through Bikesdirect.com will pay the introductory price of only $1695 (link below).
Exactly What is a Fantom Pro?
The Fantom Pro is basically Motobecane’s cross-country titanium race chassis of the award winning Fly Team with a few spec changes to make it a bit more trail worthy. These changes include a slightly wider/ beefier tire choice and an updated fork.
The Walk Around
Before we even had an opportunity to clip in and sample this bike, the attention to detail in its physical presentation is certainly noteworthy. The frame is absolutely gorgeous with clean welds, pleasing curves and a brushed finish that adds a bit of swirling depth to the matte surface. Decal treatment is quite subtle and when coupled with the frame’s own color (perhaps merely by chance) matched up with the Rock Shox SID’s graphics as if they were a matching pair.
A majority of the spec sheet reads out like a typical feather-weight cross county build with just enough heft to allow it to stand up to the rigors of trail riders without the luxury of their own mechanic. And with an overall weight as impressive as the Fantom’s, the efforts pay dividends. The 2.9 pound frame can be purchased on its own for racers wishing to swap components but we sincerely recommend the build of our test unit on account of its weight shavings, coupled with effectiveness. In other words, Motobecane slapped together a spec that includes all of the tasty bits we would likely have purchased ourselves but offers it all at a price that even the most frugal of shoppers couldn’t touch buying the components piecemeal.
Trying It On For Size
So what does it feel like to mount up into the saddle of the Fantom Pro Ti? To be honest, it took many of our test riders by surprise. Gone are the days of cross-country designs being synonymous with discomfort. In fact, the reach to the bars is quite natural and a shorter top tube and rising stem don’t force the rider to stretch out like he’s trying to touch his own toes. The Ritchey WCS riser bar is an absolutely brilliant choice as well thanks to a bend and sweep that feel every bit at home on the trails as they do in the grip of a World Cup competitor (plus the strength of triple butted aluminum doesn’t hurt either).
We tested the (medium) 18-inch frame and found the ergonomics to rival a custom fitting in terms of standover height, reach to the bars, and distance to the pedals. Our test riders ranged in height from 5’8 to 5’10.
Setting up the suspension is a breeze thanks to the SID’s intuitive pre-marked anodized sag settings and preinstalled rubber band. Additionally, Rock Shox prints out the positive and negative air chamber recommendations for a wide variety of rider weight ranges right on the fork leg itself. We pressurized both chambers at around 120 psi and ran the compression a bit past the middle (toward the stiff side) and sped the rebound up four clicks from full slow.
From the first pump, the Motobecane Fantom Pro lets the rider know that it means business. Leg power is converted into spurts of forward motion immediately and the bike starts to build speed with alarming efficiency. Titanium is known for its rigidity and the suspension-less rear of the chassis ensures that no pedaling effort is lost in translation. This is one of few bikes we’ve encountered that seems not to discriminate between sit-and-spin or out of the saddle hammering efforts (a sign that leg power has nowhere to escape to). The Fantom Pro Ti is a light bike and never does it stop reminding the pilot of this fact on the trail. Steering is precise and sprints are downright addicting. We are convinced that riders of any skill level will find leg & lung power they never knew they had on account of the Fantom’s rewarding return on effort. XC racers will be forced to back off and pace themselves as it’s far too easy to take this chassis up on its invitation to sprint to the front of the pack right off the start.
We mentioned that steering is light out on the flats but where the Fantom really comes to life is on the singletrack. This thing loves to flow! Switchbacks, twisties, and ribbons of serpentine hard pack turn the Motobecane into a hot knife carving through butter. The slightest flicks of the bar keep the bike railed around the rider’s line of choice, all the while the crisp feel at the cranks lets you stay on the power.
Like most bikes with such positive energy transfer, the Fantom Pro climbs too. One would expect that a bike this light would have a tendency to unload the front end on extended climbs (and cause the front wheel to wander) but this simply wasn’t the case. We were able to stay seated and spin a full two gears higher than we’re used to in conquering some major uphills. The Kenda Smallblock Eight tires absolutely claw their way forward in the loose stuff. The SID does offer lockout for the gut-busters but we never felt the need to engage it. The dual air damping of the 4-inch Race is stiff enough to keep the bike from wallowing on all but the steepest ascents.
When it comes to descending, a bit of the bike’s flat and uphill charms begin to suffer. Don’t get us wrong, bombing a downhill on the Fantom Pro Ti is possible, it just isn’t as euphoric as reaching the summit (now there is a sentence we find ourselves writing far too seldom). Thanks to a fairly rigid chassis, a decidedly stiff 4 inches of cross-country inspired fork travel, and a saddle with very little padding all adds up to a bike that demands rider commitment (and concentration) when it comes to going with gravity. We found it worked best to stand early on in a descent and to choose lines very carefully along the way. Riders with the all mountain (or worse yet, downhill) mindset of plowing through the rough stuff are going to be in for a bit of a rude awakening.
Keep in mind that as with any bike, the Motobecane’s natural abilities are going to be a give and take based on the manufacturer’s intended purpose. That lightweight chassis and feather-easy steering on flat ground are going to work against the bike once the ground starts slanting downward. The key is to commit to a line and ride it out (even if your teeth get chattered in the process) as last minute decisions and panic-cuts have a tendency to gobble up bikes this light and responsive in a hurry.
Braking from the Avid Juicy Sevens was a bit of a surprise as modulation is so linear that an inexperienced rider could mistake it as weakness. In truth these are perhaps the least-grabby hydraulic disc brakes we’ve had the pleasure of testing. The stopping power comes on instantly and gradually gains in intensity until the bike is no longer in motion. This is a good thing as it wouldn’t take much to get this lightweight to spit its rider over the bars in a panic-grab situation. Additionally, the Avid Juicy Seven offers up brake pad contact adjusters right on the bars so that riders can fine-tune the feel & feedback at the lever. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves comfortable grabbing a handful of brake lever and letting the Juicy’s take care of the thinking for us.
Odds and Ends
We realized early on in this test that a majority of our sloppy & choppy east coast trails that serve as our testing grounds weren’t exactly what Motobecane had in mind when they designed the Fantom Pro Titanium yet we were hard pressed to find the limitations of the bike’s abilities. Shifting from the all-Shimano drivetrain was spot on from the get-go and setting up the fork was a snap as well. Each of our test riders praised the 2009 Rock Shox SID Race for its natural stiffness in terms of creating a usable balance between the front and rear of the bike. The large 32mm stanchions (with the “Power Bulge” in the middle) were up to the task of absorbing whatever we could throw at them and weighing in at a total of 3.2 pounds, this is a true XC powerhouse component.
The Kenda Small Block Eights were another wise choice on Motobecane’s behalf for their wide contact patch (we measured it at 2.2 inches) and a close-set knobby pattern that works well on most terrain. In fact we had the best luck with this tread pattern on the extreme opposite sides of the spectrum: hard pack (including pavement) and extremely loose/ sandy surfaces. About the only fault we found with these tires was their tendency to pick up small stones with which to fling during rotation. We found ourselves cringing nearly constantly with each and every ting of stones bouncing off the beautiful titanium downtube. Fastidious riders may want to devise a guard before subjecting their bike to the barrage.
Having been our first experience with the handmade Vuelta XRP Super Lite rims, we went into the test unsure of what to expect. Now that we’ve logged several weeks of flogging on the wheel set, we can state with confidence that this is an excellent lightweight wheel spec with stellar scores in the lack of rolling resistance department. Plus we’ve yet to ding or knock them out of true even when tackling moderate rock gardens.
While many bikes claim to be jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none, we respect Motobecane’s commitment to honing the Fantom Pro Titanium’s strengths rather than spec’ing the bike with a hodgepodge of components intended to please everyone. As it stands this bike (even with its more trail-worthy pieces) is a cross-country racer’s delight right out of the box. We could state with utmost confidence that 24-hour racers and endurance competitors could make bids for the podium on a bone stock Fantom Pro Ti as well.
Perhaps most surprising was the fact that a bike this light can be pressed into trail duty as ours has been standing up to many all-day epics with nary a component swap. Those who insist on using the bike strictly for all mountain trail work could certainly achieve competence with such simple swaps as a beefier wheel set, more aggressive/ lower air volume tire pattern, and perhaps a slightly more comfortable saddle.
Make no mistake, however, the cross-country inspired spec sheet is no compromise and tearing into the bike to make it more downhill capable rather misses the whole point. Motobecane has proven its dedication to the racer with the Fantom Pro Titanium and manages to deliver on a lightweight build that will dazzle and charm any rider who swings a leg over one.
The Motobecane Fantom Pro Titanium will begin shipping on September 30th for the $1695 introductory special (that price includes shipping and there is no tax in 48 states). After the bike is released, however, the list price returns to $4099. Motobecane is now accepting preorders here:
At this price we imagine inventory won’t last long.
Please note: Our contact at MotobecaneUSA tells us that the production bike will spec slightly wider Kenda Small Block 2.35″ tires which should make for an even more comfortable ride while offering more bite for improved descending.