Review: Turner Czar 29er

29er Cross Country Pro Reviews
Turner Czar – The Carbon Bling Machine

Introduction

David Turner does it again. Time and time and time his genius results in rideable bike art.. The difference this time of course is that the Turner Czar is carbon; and what a start!

The Czar is a 100mm travel 29er full-suspension bike. Frame construction is Toray carbon and made in Taiwan. It’s billed as a XC bike (in the pure racing sense of the word) but also with some Marathon chops; which presumably means that it’s somewhat optimized for comfort in longer distance/time rides. While its light weight (5.3lbs measured with fasteners and stock Fox CTD shock) and xc geometry numbers might lead one to pigeonhole the Czar into categories my experience showed that numbers and e-speculation, once again, could not tell the true story. Indeed the Czar displayed an insane amount of range such that I ran out of superlatives very early in my Czar ride experience. Onward to the review…

Video: The carbon bling machine – North Vancouver June 13, 2013

Lee Lau’s Biases

I’m 160 lbs, 5’11″ and have had over 15 years experience riding bikes in North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, the Chilcotins and many other areas in B.C. and Alberta. I’ve also made many bike trips to Switzerland, South Tyrol, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and the Yukon (for example) so I’ve had some experience biking in a variety of terrain. My bias is towards pedalling up and unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, I actually enjoy riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.

My personal bikes are a Santa Cruz Tallboy, Pivot Mach 5, and a Specialized Demo 7. I am not sponsored by Turner and have no commercial association with Turner.

Video: BC XC – Pemberton June 2013

Frame

Highlights of the Czar’s frame include a DW-link suspension of compact design custom-engineered to suit the Czar’s short travel and racing-oriented aspirations. Journal bearings/bushings are used in all pivots along with kevlar composite bearings for longevity and tight tolerances. Zerk grease fittings are standard fare on the Czar as a nod to hassle-free maintenance. Other nice touches one would expect of a small company boutique bike abound eg. elegant cable routing and replaceable post mount rear brake fittings.

Turner Czar at Alpine Lake.

The main thing most prospective customers will notice is that the Czar’s entire frame is sculpted out of carbon. Undeniably beautiful the square-tubing aesthetics remind you of Turner’s functional design philosophy and Dave Turner’s focus on dependability, durability and quality. While perhaps better addressed in the portions of this review devoted to ride quality I found the Czar to also be a remarkably stiff frame. According to DT the Czar was 2.5 years from drawing board/CAD to production. This was 2.5 years of shape after shape and layup schedules working closely with factory and industrial designers. Turner/factory collaboration was very close; Turner provided the factory with benchmarks to which the factory designed and created samples. A test lab was created in Turner’s SoCal facilities to test samples. Testing was carried out dynamically (eg via front and rear end twisting and weight loading). Lots of hair was no doubt pulled out but the results speak for themselves in the finished product.

Continue reading for components, 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.

  • Tim Dardis says:

    I’m back reading this review once again. I’m still racing my 26″ Yeti ARC carbon on short track, xc in CO and want to get onto a 29. My shop has the Czar, which I am wanting in the xx1 version and remote lockout (I think), as well as the Epic and Epic WC. The DW link sways me to the Turner. Never ridden any of them but wonder if the Czar would match the Epic variations for balls out racing. Then be chill enough for longer less deathlike rides. Prob need to demo. Sigh.

  • Tim Dardis says:

    Meant to write 26″ Yeti ASR carbon. Not racing a hardtail. Though consider it for lightweight but so many rocks around Boulder, Breckenridge, Winter Park, et al have me looking for efficient and lightweight full suspension.

  • agmtb says:

    Have a 04 Turner Burner and now, bike lust.

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