A Carbon-Fiber XC Secret Weapon
Doing Things Their Own Way
Since 2004 the Sette brand has been steadily making its presence felt in the mountain bike world by offering semi-factory direct bikes and frames at unrivaled pricing (by distributing the products through online retailer Price Point as opposed to the traditional dealer/ bike shop route).
Throughout the past six years, their unique approach hasn’t been going unnoticed as each month it seems more and more reader inquiries have been finding their way to our inbox asking for more information or begging for a complete Sette bike test. The frequency has been reaching fever-pitch status of late; presumably no coincidence considering the slowly recovering economy and the reality that dropping big coin on non-essential items is simply harder to justify for many of us.
For 2011 Sette has made the decision to reintroduce itself to the industry by dropping its entire preexisting line in favor of all new models. This is good news to all except for those who have trouble making purchase decisions, as, at last count, Sette will offer no less than 20 complete bikes (11 mountain, 7 road, 1 cyclecross and 1 urban) as well as frames, component packages and of course savvy shoppers may wish to consider picking up discounted leftovers from previous model years. Yes, that’s a lot of options!
Arguably the biggest news coming out of the Sette camp is the introduction of the full carbon fiber hardtail Serum series for 2011; which itself will consist of 4 builds ranging in price from the $1,900 Race on up to the $4,000 XC model with integrated seat mast. Our Elite model tested here is the second best build and goes for $3,400. Aside from a few component swaps that result in an increase of nearly a pound of overall weight over the top-of-the line model, the big difference is that the Elite (as well as the two remaining builds below it) offer a traditional adjustable seat post.
The spec sheet reads pretty darn impressively and the overall weight of our 19” test model comes in at nearly exactly 21.5 pounds and this identical build is available in 4 sizes (15”, 17”, 19” and 21”) for $3,400 on Sette’s web site. Additionally the frame can be purchased on its own for $699.98.
The frame itself is constructed of high modulus 3k filament weave carbon fiber for unrivaled strength to weight ratio. Suspension duties come in the form of a Fox 32-F series RLC fork (100mm) and the entire drive train consists of Shimano’s XTR group (44/32/22t chainrings and 11-34 cassette) for 27-gear options.
Braking is accomplished via Avid Elixir CR hydraulic disc brakes (160mm rotors front & rear) with adjustable carbon levers. Truvativ is called upon to provide the stem (STYLO WC), seat post (STYLO Team DB Zero) and handlebar (STYLO Flat) while FSA (with the Orbit Z) supplies the headset and SDG (Ti-Fly), the saddle.
Finally Mavic Cross Max ST wheels come wrapped in Kenda Small Block 8s (2.1 inch width). Sette uses its own brand lock-on (Type S) grips and alloy seat post clamp.
The carbon Serum Elite, like all Sette bikes, comes with a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty.
The Mount Up
Climbing on board the Serum Elite is an immediate reminder to the golden era of cross country inspired mountain bike design. The reach to the bars is long, putting the rider’s body in a sleek, almost roadie-like stance and the minimal-rise stem and flat handlebar further aid in the sensation. The pedal distance is deep with the slight impression of being rearward of the rider’s mass; the perfect setup for powerful, fulfilling pumps.
The carbon fiber frame is rigid and clean, and internally routed cables add to a minimalist appearance that further suggests the bike’s no-nonsense attitude. Like most hardtails, set up is quick and painless, in this case limited to a little tinkering with the Fox 32-F fork for proper sag and rebound and fine tuning the actuation point of the Avid Elixer’s actuation point (via bar-mounted dials).
Launching the Sette Serum from a dead stop is truly an exercise in just how authoritative a stout chassis without rear pivots or linkages to sap pedaling efficiency can put the power to the ground. This bike doesn’t build a head of steam in getting up to speed so much as it literally punches ahead in sharp bursts of acceleration. It’s light weight chassis is never lost upon its pilot as even in big-ring wide-open assaults, direction changes are as effortless as if granny-gear exploring.
Couple razor-sharp acceleration to the Kenda Small Block’s uncanny ability to roll on hardpack and the result is mountain bike that gives its rider lungs and legs they never knew they had.
Thanks to that stretched out riding position mentioned above, the front end never tends to unweight (wheelie) even under hard acceleration or all-out sprints. We found the absolute best way to making the most out of the Serum Elite on the endless flats was to begin in the middle ring and, while keeping a steady pedaling cadence, to continue up-shifting right up until you’ve reached the upper reaches of the big ring. Suffering is truly minimal in this practice and the speeds one can achieve in doing so are downright awe-inspiring.
As one would expect with a machine that so easily shrugs off flat-terrain, the Serum is a natural on climbs as well. Like most bikes, a little built-up momentum allows for coasting up short, punchy hills but things get really interesting when the terrain seems to be leading indefinitely skyward. Here that lightweight frame, impeccable pedal-to ground translation, and complete XTR group really pay dividends. The Serum Elite often seems completely oblivious to the steepness of the terrain it’s treading upon. Drop down to the lower reaches of the middle ring and it claws its way upward as if it were cruising across a parking lot. Surgical-like shifting practices aren’t required here! The Shimano XTR bits will pick up the slack of careless riding without complaint. On multiple occasions we purposely dropped a few gears amidst cruel, grinding ascents, the likes of which have caused unearthly clanking and even chain derailments on lesser drive-trains only to have the Serum methodically downshift without missing a beat.
As is often the case with bikes that so clearly understand their intended purpose, the Sette Serum makes no claims of being anything more than a cross-country race bike that could possibly be forced into light trail duty and on those promises, it delivers. Many of the components, geometry, and handling characteristics that make it devour endless flats and pump its way up the mountainside come back to haunt it when the terrain gets rough or gravity starts to take hold of the front end.
We found descending a definite possibility, even on steep grades, so long as the trail was packed and swoopy. The Serum can find its flow thanks to the Avid Elixers and their knack for effortlessly slowing the roll-happy Elite to controllable speeds. However high speed chop, wet roots, or jagged rocks can quickly unsettle the Serum’s prowess. Those Kenda Small Blocks, which dazzle on hard pack, tend to step-out on wet roots or slippery rocks.
To its credit, the Fox fork does an admirable job of leveling out the successive chatter that so often accompanies east-coast descending, while the stretched out body position and rigid frame that offset these gains by simply tossing the lightweight bike off its line. We don’t want to insinuate that ugly-condition descending is impossible on the Serum Elite, however it does demand incredible precision (and a good deal of fearlessness) from its rider or, at the very least, some serious component swapping.
It is rare for us to encounter a bike as focused and undiluted as the Sette Serum. Some may be troubled by the fact that it can’t be pressed into all-mountain territory but riders expecting such versatility would be far better off selecting something better suited to the task from the get-go. We imagine tires with a more spacious tread pattern, a shorter stem, riser bar, and more heavily padded seat would vastly improve the bike’s trail prowess, but making these swaps would only undo the purity of its purpose.
What Sette has created in the Serum line are bikes capable of legitimate cross-country competition (right out of the box) for a fraction of the cost usually associated with dedicated race equipment. Of course the sexy frame spars and beautiful carbon fiber work are sure to draw attention, it is the bike’s performance in acceleration and top speed that place it in a category all its own. Not to mention a five-year manufacturer’s warranty on the frame is the proverbial icing on the cake.
Sette has made it clear that they are serious about making their presence felt in the highly competitive ranks of cross-country racing and after spending several week with the Serum Elite, we can state that their efforts will be rewarded on results sheets all around the globe.
More information the Sette Serum Elite can be found at the following:
This review has been brought to you by Mountain Bike Tales Digital Magazine.