Review: Turner Czar 29er

29er Cross Country Pro Reviews
Components

I tested the Czar in the Pro build kit with Enve carbon wheels laced to I9 hubs. As tested the MSRP of this bike would be an eye popping $9800 ($7050 if kitted out with Stans Crest rims). Specs are outlined below. Components are high-end and light. My (incredibly opinionated) comments follow:

Rock Shox SID RCT provides front suspension. This is a surprisingly stiff chassis. A far cry from the blue noodle (the first ever RS SID which was my previous long-ago SID experience).

1. Rock Shox SID front, Fox CTD rear. Along with the drivetrain, suspension is the guts of a bike. It’s an impressive performance from these two pairings. This is a nice change from previous experiences with the Fox CTD which, on previous bikes has proven to be underwhelming. Both the RS and Fox products worked well even during longer steeper descents when the Czar was pushed  beyond its rigid XC/Marathon compartments. Befitting the Czar’s pedigree and DW-link characteristics I expected the suspension to be on the firm side (which it was) but did not get the standard Fox shock lets-pack-up-and-make-the-full-sus-feel-like-a-hardtail on rapid hit downhills. Instead (much to my pleasant surprise) I found both front and rear suspension to work in reliable predictable fashion at the start and the finish of extended elevation drops.

2. SRAM XX1 drivetrain. This is my first go-around with SRAM’s 1×11 group. The bike had approx 10 rides on it before I used it and I’ve put 44 days on it since then (as of July 31st). The chain displays less than 0.5″ of wear on the Park chain gauge tool. Given the astronomical cost of cassette replacement I’ll stick to replacing chains every year to be on the safe side, but so far, have found longevity to be as expected. I haven’t dropped a chain yet but any hyperbole about riding the Czar aggressively is tempered by the fact that is a short travel carbon 29er so all that means is that under normal trail riding conditions the drivetrain works as advertised.

The drivetrain was initially eerily quiet but in the dusty conditions we’ve had in Summer of 2013 in British Columbia the XX1 derailleur has developed a knock I’ve traced this to the derailleur’s clutch being overtightened. The derailluer fix is a bit of a pain in the ass but can be accomplished by anyone with a reasonable amount of tools. Hopefully SRAM will produce a fix that will keep a drivetrain that is priced for perfection, perfect.

SRAM XX1 drivetrain and brakes.

3. Enve XC carbon wheels. These look cool. You will fit right into the mid-pack of local Pro-Elite/Cat 1. The I9 hubs are unbelievably loud and annoying. They are light but so are my CK/Crest hub wheels. I can’t tell that they’re any stiffer than my alloy wheels.

I will catch flak for this from the carbon wheels have changed my life crowd. All I can offer in defense is that carbon’s bling is appreciated but I sure don’t get $2000 of good vibes out of knowing I am on an Enve carbon wheelset. Keep in mind that I am the kind of rider who basically likes riding bikes and don’t get a quantum jump in joy out of shaving bike weight, or getting the right shade of anodized red to match. Keep in mind I am also relatively light. If you are obsessive about making your bike look trick and you think you can feel wheel flex no matter how heavy or light you are then these carbon wheels are the ticket for you. Otherwise put the cash towards a nice bike vacation.

4. SRAM brakes. I’ve not been a fan on SRAM’s lower -end Elixir brakes. They are simply terrible; an exercise in lamentably predictable unpredictability. The SRAM XX brakes are better. Although they did require a bleed, only one bleed has been necessary and they have performed reasonably well since. Unfortunately these brakes still provide substandard modulation but at least the lever throw does not change over time and distance. Their redeeming feature is that they colour – match the XX1 drivetrain.

Geometry

In the early days of 29ers the wagon wheelers were unwieldy beasts in the tight singletrack that characterizes British Columbia trails. Long and low; they basically monster-trucked in a straight line but steered like bloated pigs otherwise. Numbers cannot tell the true tale; only riding the bikes can. However, I’ve presented some geo numbers from some short travel 29ers, a medium travel 29er that turned like an ocean-liner and a quick/nimber 26″ wheeled bike so you, the reader can get hopelessly confused. If this provokes discussion or questions, please follow up in the comments.

Measurements

Turner Czar (and other bikes) – by the numbers.

(Millimeters)

(Inches)

Continue reading for riding impressions and full photo gallery.

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About the author: Lee Lau

Lee Lau calls North Vancouver and Whistler BC home. He's had over 15 years experience riding bikes mainly in western North America and in Europe. Unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, he actually enjoys riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.


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  • MK says:

    That’s a great review. Enjoyed it. (could have used a little more proofreading, though). :)

  • frozenfred says:

    Great review. Put it on my shortlist of considerations once I pull of the bank heist. :)

  • EH says:

    Nice review!. Any plans to review the Burner?

  • Lazy vo says:

    I couldn’t agree more…. Turner czar is heaven on wheels!!!

  • skiahh says:

    Nice write up Lee. Before the carbon fanboi crowd chimes in, I’ll second your thoughts on the Enve wheels. I own a pair that I paid for; not because I thought I’d get that much bang for my buck, but because I just wanted them and really, biking is my only vice at the moment. They’re good and I did notice increased stiffness and lightness, but the rest is just the bling. Mine are P321 wheels, so the innards of the hubs are I9 and I also don’t like how loud they are. I do, however, love the instant engagement, so that’s a tradeoff and I can tune out the buzzing pretty well.

    Two questions:
    1. How stiff is the bike in comparison to a 429 (Al)? Mine is the stiffest bike I’ve ridden and I was surprised and really enjoyed the difference between it and the Stumpy FSR I came from.

    2. How would it feel with 110mm of front travel? I’ve got a Lefty I’ll transfer over to whatever bike I get next (429c is the leading contender, but reading your gushing sent me to the Turner dealer to see when they’d have a Czar in)? Do you think 10 mm will make much of a difference in the bike?

  • Tom says:

    Great, articulate review. I’ve been thrashing one since May, and concur completely, especially about the surprising range of a supposed “xc race whip”. I recently installed a 120 fork to see just how stupid far I can take the range.

    Lee, for your riding duties (and mine, certainly), it would be really hard to beat the full XT build at around $6k MSRP, and, wait for it, YOU WOULDN’T HAVE AVID BRAKES!

    The only problem I have had was less than stellar results from the Wheels Mfg. PF30 adapter for Shimano’s 24mm crank spindle. Replaced it with a Praxis, and life is perfect, again!

  • Grinder says:

    Excellent review Lee. It has peaked my interest in a bike I would have otherwise overlooked. I enjoyed your perspective on the ENVE wheels. Wondering how you feel about cost/benefit XX1 vs say an XT drivetrain. XX1 is solid no doubt, but did it dramatically change the riding experience ?

  • Lee Lau says:

    skiahh – I don’t know. I’ve only ridden the Pivot 429C. That seemed to be a plenty stiff bike. I suppose I should try a 110mm fork on it too but I don’t know it will work. I suspect not much will be changed. Kosmo on the MTBR Turner forums has tried the Czar with a 120mm fork and likes it with the slightly longer travel finding that it didn’t detract significantly from climbing

  • Lee Lau says:

    Grinder – I like the XX1 — but —- that’s a lot of money. My opinion follows:

    - I don’t have a problem with front derailleurs. Sure there’s a bit of weight penalty but I don’t really care all that much about a pound of weight.

    - Losing the granny (you lose the smallest granny gear) matters to people like me who ride 3, 4, 5 or more days in a row hard. I’m talking about BC Bike Race type situations or multi-day expedition riding where you need to spin out the legs. It doesn’t matter so much if you’re a weekender or say a 3, 4 day a week rider where you have time to recover.

    While there’s a lot to like about XX1 and XX0, for me, they don’t make a lot of sense given the cost. Even the 1×10 conversions with potential for 30 tooth middle and 38-40t rear cogs which aren’t as costly don’t make as much sense given that I need to spin to get the junk out of my legs in day-after-day-after-day of riding. Hope that makes sense

  • WHALENARD says:

    Very solid review Lee, we need more reviewers like yourself. Agreed on avid brakes, but I think xx1 is a SUBSTANTIAL upgrade. Personally I just run an xx1 crank/chainring and x9 clutch rear derailleur with an xt 10 speed cassette and the avid 11 speed chain. Really not that expensive going that setup. I used to drop chains with dual guide & clutch derailleur every ride, but since switching to the xx1 up front nar 1 single hiccup….just flawless performance. That’s HUGE in my book. Also much like adapting to suspension designs (as you say) I believe one can adapt to running a single ring just the same. Granted I’m running a 30t/36 but it’s all the gearing I ever need, infact it’s the first time EVER in 25+ years of mountain biking that I actually use all my gears. And oh yeah Turner bikes are top of the heap!

  • Pete says:

    Thanks for the review Lee, How does it compare to your Tallboy? I have the orginal Tallboy and love it, but I would consider the Czar for my next bike as opposed to a another Tallboy, or maybe even the LT version or Bronson… If the Czar was a leap forward in stability and more confident descending while still retaining the manuverability and climbing chops of the Tallboy I may be keen…The Tallboy is an awesome do it all bike- however now and then I reckon I would be more comfortable with a bit more confidence on the downhills..Do you think the Czar could fit the bill?
    Cheers Pete

  • Thomas Teger says:

    Great review. I’m in the market for a new high-end bike. At 6.5″, and a 36″ inseam, my choices are somewhat limited. On my list for OuterBike are the Czar, Tallboy 2, and Niner Jet 9 RDO. About those ENVE wheels: yes, ridiculous. Getting a set of Roval carbon wheels at half the price may make more sense.

  • Bigfoot jr says:

    I would interested in long term reveiw of this bike, off say 6 months. I doubt Turner would allow that though. The DW-bikes are not the off the same build quality as the Horst/TNT bikes which had pivots that would outlast the frame.

    • Lee Lau says:

      Bigfoot – Turner has cleared me to ride this long term. I’ve owned a Pivot Mach 5 for two years. No issues with the DW Link pivots. I’m optimistic about the Turner

  • skiahh says:

    Bigfoot – I’d have to very strongly disagree with you. I came from Specialized – over 10 years of riding FSR bikes – to a Pivot with the DW link and it make the Specy seem like a noodle. Build quality on Spec is good. The Pivot makes it look so-so because it’s so much better. Turner has also always had an outstanding reputation for building good bikes.

    You’re way off base on this one.

  • WHALENARD says:

    Agreed. Turner bikes are some of most well built “bombproof” bikes money can buy. However, the Czar is Turner’s first bike made over seas. It will be interesting to see how the Czar holds up as it is impossible for a small company like Turner to have the same level of quality control over a small bike run made in Taiwan versus the USA. Also curious as Turner has flat out called carbon bikes nothing more than marketing in any interview I’ve read of his. Hope it works out as quality control has sunk other small companies.

  • WHALENARD says:

    And oh yeah it will be interesting to see how Turner’s aluminum bikes turn out as well. Think this year is the first run switching from sapa (the most advanced aluminum company on earth) to zen (not so much)

  • Bigfoot jr says:

    Skiahh- I was comparing the quality of the Turner frames of the past, to the current design, not other bikes. I owned an 2006 RFX until 2011 when I bought a DW 5Spot. The pivots on the RFX only required the occasional shot of grease. My DW 5Spot h requires much more attention including seasonal tear down to keep them quiet and moving smoothy.

    I think my DW-5Spot handles and pedals great and I understand that is a challenge to build bikes in the USA.

  • Kaplan says:

    Would you care to explain the key measurements in your table, as regards handling? I have the Rocky RSL BC 29 and curious on how much difference there is between this bike and the Turner in handling/nimbleness..

  • Lee Lau says:

    Kaplan,

    FWIW the Rocky and the Turner (and my personal Tallboy) for that matter handle really well in tight twisty turny singletrack; which is the trait which I am seeking. I found the Rocky’s suspension to spike after repeated hits on long extended downhills which limited the bike. See the full MTBR review I did on the bike. Not sure how to fix that as Rocky did not make the bike available for an extended review

  • ted says:

    Sooooo many 29er options now , I bit the bullet and bought an Ibis Ripley, will get it next week. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed, there are a lot of good options out there !!

  • Ed says:

    Great review. Wondering if you’ve had an opportunity to spend anytime on the Ibis Ripley and/or the Ellsworth 29er. I’m coming from an Ellsworth Epiphany and going to a 29er, but can’t really decide which way to go. Your Turner review is pretty convincing (albeit the steep price). But I guess Ibis and Ellsworth (and for that matter, any of the high end machines) are going to cost a pretty penny. Any additional thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
    Thx, Ed

    • Lee Lau says:

      Ed – I haven’t had a chance to try either an Ibis or Ellsworth or Devinci (another bike that should enter the conversation. Totally agree that these are all expensive bikes – to state the obvious

  • Jason says:

    Hey great job with the review. Help me understand better your conclusion that: “Its range of useability is insanely large.” In your opinion does the bike step out of the pure XC/Marthon class and into the “Trail” realm?

  • Jeff Brandon says:

    Nice write up! How does the sizing compare to your personal tallboy? Are you running the same stem length?

  • Lee Lau says:

    Jeff,

    In retrospect I should have been on a large Tallboy. I run a 70mm stem on both bikes. My Tallboy’s TTT and reach is probably a tad short

  • Nemesisnight says:

    I am looking for a good multi-use bike and could use some additional insight. I have been getting more into xc riding/wanting to get more into racing. My top pick right now would be a new specialized epic due to its proven race winning abilities and popularity. The czar on the other hand really has caught my eye and seems like a great and fun bike (and of course looks amazing) but how would it fare as a race orientated platform for shorter 30-50 mile races and would it be as fast or efficient as something like an epic? There are obviously pros and cons to every bike but not having a way to demo this bike makes it very difficult to decide with limited reviews. Constructive comments would be appreciated.

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