Cockpit feel/Fit –
Size and reach wise, the medium Syren fits comfortably between the small Norco Vixa and the medium Kona Minxy. Stock reach was nice with the stubby TruVativ stem and wide Team bars. I didn’t need to change anything for the bike to fit me right, it seemed appropriate straight out of the box. The Syren has more sag than the other bikes so dropping the stem and handlebars down as much as possible was required to get my weight over the front wheel. The tall fork added to the slack geometry of the bike and made getting weight over the front even more of a priority.
First and foremost, this is not an all mountain bike. Though it’s offered with an all-mountain build kit, the frame itself is designed for free riding. This inherent bias was immediately apparent on the first hill I went up. The significant sag and tall non-adjustable travel fork make for an extremely slack bike – great for going down, not so great for going up. Pedaling position for going up hill on this bike is all wrong. Virtually all of the weight is on the back wheel and therefore not over the pedals. This all makes for tiring ergonomics if the goal is to pedal up before you go down. My quads, gluts and back all got heavy workouts trying to muscle my way up climbs. Compared to the Vixa and Minxy and without the adjustable fork, I’d have to say this bike required the most effort when it came to pedaling. To be fair the Fox is a better fork than the Marzocchi so I’d never complain about having it on the front of a bike. It just means that more effort is necessary for getting your whip to the top of the climb. The ProPedal switch on the shock helped eliminate some of the pedal bob but not all. Actually not as much as I was hoping. But it did manage to take some of the sting out of climbs. Just remember to switch it off before you go downhill. I only had to make that mistake once.
This is the part where I split into two separate people; the person who rode the bike expecting a true free ride machine and was thoroughly confused by its behavior and the person who was also finally able to talk to the Syren designer prior to posting this review. I can’t personally claim to have experienced the goodness professed to be the design of the Syren. The problem for me is that the Syren is an advanced beginner’s bike. Period. You may want to look at something else you aren’t a beginner. If you already have a full suspension bike that you’ve outgrown and are looking to increase capability with a new and bigger ride. This bike was specifically designed for people wanting to make the leap from hardtail to freeride bike, or clapped-boyfriend’s-old Proflex to something that won’t try to kill you on the trail. It targets a very specialized niche market that should be excited about a bike made just for them.
Transition doesn’t market the bike this way though. In fact nowhere on their website will you see the Syren described this way. No other reviews bring this to light either. There is no literature anywhere, that I can find, that discusses the thought that went into this bike. Oddly. Transition claims a fear of marketing repercussions if it’s perceived as a beginners freeride bike. I say embrace it!
They talked to 30 women riders at this level and collected feedback as to what they wanted in a bike. The Syren is supposed to be the culmination of their desires. There is a huge group of burgeoning mountain bikers out there. Many of them women who either get talked into buying big bikes that are too heavy and ill suited or small travel cross country bikes that limit their skill development because they’re under gunned for the job. The Syren, according to Transition, fills this gap by providing a launchpad for developing necessary trail riding tools, skills and strength. The bike is intended to help people quickly make the leap from passive and maybe a little timid, to confident and charged. Apparently riders tend to grow out of the bike after about a year/year and half and are then ready for a full fledged free ride bike. If I were in this target market I would be throwing flowers at the feet of the engineer who FINALLY considered what beginners, and not just women, want. I’d be shouting, thank you thank you thank you! at the top of my ecstatic lungs.
There are four main characteristics of the Syren that are intentional design considerations. 1- Provide a solid and respectable build kit that any cycle obsessed significant other would be proud to buy his or her budding bike partner. 2- Create an overly stable bike to provides slow, non-twitchy steering that is easy to balance. 3- Keep the front end light so riders with yet-to-be developed upper body strength can lift the front wheel when necessary. 4- Build in a steep and progressive ramp rate in the rear suspension (I have my own theory as to why beginning riders say they liked this).
1. The build kit, as stated in the above component descriptions is very respectable. It’s the nicest of the three women’s specific FR bikes I’ve ridden. It’s certainly a kit worthy of moving onto the next frame after one grows out of the Syren.
2. Transition succeeded with the desire for stability in the Syren. For me it’s too stable. But apparently, I’m supposed to feel that way. When I called and spoke with the Syren designer and voiced my complaints with the bike, one of the first ones was regarding how difficult the bike was to steer at high speed. I started comparing sag to cornering behavior and he stopped me mid sentence. The bike, he said, was not built for someone at my level. This bike was built, very specifically, for the rider just getting into free-riding. Transition claims the extra stability, provided in the form of HUGE amounts of sag and an extremely slack headtube, help newer riders feel comfortable and gain confidence through new and challenging terrain. I can’t say whether or not it’s true, only that bike sits deep in it’s travel and pushes through corners. Prior to speaking with the engineer at Transition I had the following impression of the bike:
Despite the Syren’s rugged demeanor it took a few rides for me to figure out what was going on with it. It’s overly stable through corners, controllable but buck-y through slow maneuvers, smooth off of drops and takes big hits beautifully. But it never felt right on high frequency rough terrain. It always felt off. I believe there’s something in the rear shock set-up that is causing the sketchy feel over little bumps, but for the life of me I can’t fix it. Given the lack of support I received from Transition on this matter I eventually gave up and rode the bike with the settings as close to good as I could get. The problems are two-fold. Softening the air spring provides more sag so the bike absorbs little hits better. But the necessary pressure is so low the bike sits too far into its travel and ends up severely pushing through corners. Pump the rear shock up so the bike corners well and it becomes jittery. Keep in mind that I’m hanging way over the front of the bars through corners. The bike responds well to weight over the front wheel in corners, it just gets a bit sketchy if that corner happens to coincide with a steep trail. At that point keeping weight over the front can be a bad idea unless your only other option is to under steer off the side of a mountain. Finding this balance was difficult and I never managed to get it perfect. There are only so many times you can remove a shock from a frame while on the trail to make a boost valve pressure adjustment before you lose your mind.
Tying into Design feature 3:
The laid back geometry of the bike also made for easy unintended wheelies. If I hit a jump or drop with slightly improper body position the bike was more than willing to kick up the front and threaten to drop me on my tail.
My experience with a light front end from excessive sag is that the front wheel flies up and off the ground if I pull on the bars. But I’m used to pulling on heavy forks and single speeds. I don’t need help in this arena. First timers with a big fork can use the help and I agree with Transition for doing this. I imagine that this feature would only help someone either outweighed or out muscled by a typical free-ride bike.
The steep ramp rate in the shock (Feature 4) had me puzzled for a long time. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want this in a bike. I spoke to other friends in industry, who ride – fast – and they couldn’t fathom any reason either. Then it hit me. Less aggressive riders tend to sit on the saddle a lot. Not just while cruising on the flat sections between descents, but often even when they’re going down the descents. Without an extremely progressive shock rate, riders would bottom out the travel all the time. If they added pressure to the shock to keep it from bottoming out it would be harsh and less stable without the sag. So the solution is to never let the shock move through all of its travel. To me that sounds terrible, but I don’t sit on the saddle while I’m going downhill. After this thought popped into my head, I asked a beginning mountain biker friend if I could meet up with her to ride at a local park and if she’d mind trying out the Syren. She agreed. She sat on the seat. A lot. Going off little jumps, through corners, downhill, she sat down a good portion of the time. The problem then became dialing in enough rebound damping to keep her from getting thrown over the bars. Without sufficient rebound the bike bucked her around quite a bit. My advice to anyone buying this bike would be to turn the rebound damping all the way up. Max it out. Start from there and slowly dial it back as you figure out how the bike works with your riding style.
Despite the bike not working well with me, I still appreciated some of its traits in certain situations. The short top tube made getting my weight back for drops super easy. It responds well to flowy twisting body input through chicanes and switchbacks and is a pleasure on skinnies and other human made trail features. It really only seemed to fail at high speed through corners and over quick rough stutter sections. The shock couldn’t activate fast enough and the bike would lose traction. The ease with which the front end rotated up was a little unnerving too, but I got used to it after awhile. Definitely something to be aware of if you decide to try out this bike.
The Transition Syren could be a great bike if you’re at a level where learning to freeride is a near term goal. It fits well and is spec’d with an admirable and uncompromised no-nonsense build kit. It’s strong, stiff and ready for anything a trail has to offer as long as you don’t expect it to be like all of the other bikes on the market. It also requires some serious attention to suspension set-up if your bike comes with an air shock. Be willing to experiment and experiment and experiment…until you finally find your happy place. Before buying it I’d suggest calling Transition. Give them your riding history and tell them what you’re looking for. They’ll be able to tell whether the Syren is the bike for you.