A Different Approach to Ultimate Versatility
It is basic human nature to be skeptical of new things. Let’s face it; our very survival as a species has been possible due to our reluctance to dive headfirst into the unknown. And so it was when the MBT test crew assembled a fresh Bionicon Edison LTD during the holidays. In a world of conformity, Bionicon is about as different as they come. Between a host of proprietary components, an odd handle-bar mounted orange button, and zigzagging air hoses traveling through the frame spars, instinct could send a cynical rider running for shelter. We fought any such sensations and spent a solid month behind the orange button on a variety of terrain and here’s what we discovered.
Pneumatic Variable Geometry System
While the Bionicon Edison’s namesake is inspired from legendary American inventor Thomas Edison, the bike reminds us more of a fine piece of German automotive engineering than it does a lightbulb. Perhaps this works out for the best considering the name Porsche is already taken. For those who aren’t yet aware, Bionicon has earned quite a reputation due to their push button variable geometry system. The pneumatic system, in its simplest form, uses an air cylinder that connects to the X-Fusion shock. This cylinder is attached to the proprietary fork’s negative air spring via a pair of rugged but well-routed hoses. All it takes is a push of the handlebar-mounted button to allow air to pass between the fork leg and the rear shock’s cylinder. Lean forward and the air pressure is sent rearward. Pull back on the bars and the vacuum created pulls the pressure back to the front. Let go of the button and the air is locked into place, freezing the bike to the exact desired position. There are no presets, no clickers, or indexing of any kind so the rider is literally free to chose from the entire range of geometry options between and including the two extremes. Compressed the head angle comes in at 73 degrees with a seat angle of 72 degrees. With the fork fully extended those figures both change to 67 degrees. Likewise the wheelbase is adjustable from 1064 on down to 1104mm. The fork’s suspension’s range goes from 70 to 150 mm.
Sure, adjustable suspension travel is nothing new in the world of mountain bike suspension but the Bionicon system does far more than just increase and decrease the travel numbers. By relocating the air in the pressurized system, the head angle and seat angle are correspondingly adjusted in the transfer as is the bike’s steering geometry and bottom bracket position. This is truly customizable geometry as in we have never before encountered a mountain bike with so many personality traits and bone-stock natural abilities. Additionally many manufacturers make claims of on-the-fly adjustability but Bionicon’s design almost redefines the word. Unlike remote lockouts, shock-mounted dials, levers or adjusters, this push button system is easily engaged without forcing the rider to skip a beat. Indeed, it is very possible to drop the travel, steepen the head tube geometry, and pull the bottom bracket up for climbing without losing a single crank rotation in the process. Just as easy is performing the opposite transition for a steep descent or settling somewhere in between to blast a ribbon of single track. On the fly here is an understatement and the effectiveness of the extremes within is rivaled only by bringing a half dozen bikes along for the ride and swapping one for another as each terrain change is encountered. It really is that distinguishable and effective.
Taking a long look at the Bionicon Edison can create a swirl of conflicting sensations. The appearance of a dual crown fork with massive 35 mm stanchions, a shock that looks abnormally elongated (do to the external air chamber) and an oversized riser bar hints toward a single purpose downhill shuttle-runner. Then again the cranks end in triple chain rings comprised of SRAM X-7 & X-9 drivetrain bits. The Formula Oro brakes don’t appear to be quite oversized enough to be downhill worthy and the overall weight of the bike comes in at a mere 29 pounds. If your riding buddies are anything like the ours, the first question you’ll be answering once you unload your Edison at the tail head is “what is this thing?”
In reality the Edison is about the closest bike to the definition of all-mountain we have ever encountered. On Bionicon’s line, it sits roughly centered between their lightweight cross-country model (the Golden Willow) and their dedicated big hit bike (the Ironwood). Technically another model (the Supershuttle) comes between the Edison and the Ironwood but we figure you get the idea. Yes, all of their off-road bikes make use of the variable geometry system. The component spec itself is a pretty interesting mix. The Double Agent fork is proprietary with air providing both the compression damping and spring. The rear suspension is accomplished through an X-Fusion air sprung shock and aside from the SRAM items mentioned above, Formula Oro brakes, Alex wheels, Schwalbe Nobby tires, WTB saddle, and Truvative cranks and chainrings, the rest of the components are all Bionicon.
The attention to detail is very German, which is to say thorough but practical; borderline utilitarian with just enough curvature to the 7005 T6 aluminum spars to suggest a wild side. Our test riders found the white paint scheme with pink accents to be classy and attractive (white rims and fork legs really complete the package). Like the bike itself, the motif suggests an unspoken confidence in a world filled with “look at me, I’m different” gimmicks.
We don’t have to be mind readers to know that the next question is “how hard it is to set this bike up?” Surprisingly, for how complex the technology sounds, setting the Edison set up to blast the trails is really a nonevent. Don’t worry if you have little experience dialing in an X-Fusion shock, it looks nearly identical to the air sprung RP line and the controls mimic the popular Fox unit as well. The fork is a bit unique but nothing to fear. Unlike most big brand forks, you will immediately notice a lack of dials, levers, and switches. Aside from a pump stem to add or subtract your air pressure, there are no external adjusters or gizmos to worry about. Simply take a flat blade screwdriver to open the valve on the crown and attach your shock pump. Pressurize the fork like you would any other while giving the handlebar-mounted button an occasional stab to assure opening of the pressurized hose system. Once you’ve reached your desired PSI, simply extend the fork to its full travel, remove the pump, and close the valve with the screwdriver.
We fooled around with a variety of different air pressures during our test period and concluded that the margin for error is actually larger with the Double Agent than most bikes we’ve come across. Somehow it always seemed to work well, even when we were off the mark.
And now the moment of truth. We’ve certainly been exposed to monumental technology developments in the past that looked great on paper but left us hiking back to the trailhead. Would the Edison go on to earn accolades or would the experience be a forgettable one? We took our test unit out to the snow-covered, slushiest, slipperiest, tightest singletrack we could find to answer this very question. Remember this is Buffalo wintertime in January. The Edison had its work cut out!
The reach to the (fully adjustable mounted) handlebar was very natural and comfortable. The bike doesn’t feel overly stretched out like a true XC rig or as tall and top heavy as a freeride bike. Instead, the cockpit feels fairly relaxed and neutral with proper control layout. Pushing off and dropping onto the cranks is quite smooth and efficient without bursts of acceleration so much as a building rhythm of forward movement. Truly many of the unique pieces chosen for this ensemble don’t come into their own until the trail begins calling for them. Take for example the wide and soft Schwalbe Nobby tires. What they give up in the rolling resistance department is more than made up for with a sure-footed grip that even the ugliest trail conditions (think snow and ice-covered roots) couldn’t shake.
We aren’t exactly sure how the engineers at Bionicon were able to develop a chassis so confident (after all, you have control of the final geometry numbers at any given moment) but it takes only a few minutes in the saddle for the Edison to melt away any doubts. Snow covered tree stumps, ice lined roots, slushy water crossings, medium descents and steep climbs all became gnats that our Edison swatted effortlessly away. In fact we were so impressed with the handling of the bike that we took it out onto a snowy field with intentions of forcing the front end to wash out. We couldn’t make it happen, even with the fork in its maximum travel setting! The Bionicon digs in and claws its way out of corners with minimal rider effort regardless of the approach speed, degree of exit, or trail conditions.
High-speed chop is easily devoured by the Double Agent’s frontal squish despite a perpetually slow feeling rebound. We half expected the fork to dive down and pack up over stutter bumps but this never actually materialized out on the trails (or if it did, it was undetectable). The rear end was equally competent which is especially impressive considering the bike’s engineers are working with a single-pivot design. Had early single pivot bikes performed this effectively, the hype surrounding today’s 4-bar and VPP suspension designs would be nonexistent.
Braking on the Formula K18s was always crisp, instantaneous, and strong, maybe even too strong. Inexperienced riders could easily grab a fistful of lever in a panic and end up lying beneath the bike’s front tire. That said, we were dazzled with the stopper combo’s performance despite the fact that the spec sheet claims stock Edison’s will come equipped with Avid Juicy 5s in the United States.
Even the most skeptical of our test crew walked away from the Edison with a newfound respect. After nearly three weeks of throwing the worst conditions mother nature has to offer at the Bionicon the only thing broken was the wills of those test riders who stubbornly tried to find fault in the bike’s design. Before the test, there was a lot of speculation that for every correct geometry setting the magic button had to offer there must have been a dozen incorrect settings. However, even if you blow the sweet spot and run too much or too little travel for a given situation, the Edison chassis is capable of cleaning up most of the difference. In other words, ride it wrong and it’s still a good bike. Take the time to set it correctly and it’s simply wonderful.
We’ll be the first to admit that upon hearing about Bionicon’s pneumatic adjustability system, we feared that perhaps this bike would be a one-trick pony. However, those thoughts disappeared the moment we spun a lap around our wintery test loop. Consider the geometry system a bonus feature on an already impressive mountain bike. We sincerely hope that riders won’t dismiss the Edison for fear of a gimmicky sales pitch; this bike works in real world conditions, even in the worst of them. Plus with a complete weight of under 30 lbs, this could very well be the lightest downhill-capable bike we’ve ever tested (or heard of for that matter).
In this day and age where riders continually seek one bike capable of conquering half a dozen different riding disciplines, Bionicon has answered the challenge unlike any other bike company in the world. After spending a month with the Edison, we believe we may have finally figured out why Bionicon doesn’t classify their bikes’ versatility as all mountain; the label’s simply too restrictive.