Transition Syren Review – Women's Specific Freeride

26er Pro Reviews

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.

Climbing -

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.

Descending/Handling –

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.

Conclusions -

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.

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  • pinkrobe says:

    That is easily one of the best, most helpful reviews of a bike I have ever read. My wife was looking at the Syren, but went with something else. Thanks for helping us dodge a bullet!

  • Paulmeister says:

    It amazes me how many folk release bikes with no adjustable travel. I love my AM bike with PIKES.

    Great review.

  • ChuckC says:

    Wow, this is the most thorough and in-depth bike review I have ever read. Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed approach you took to this bike. The reasons that you do not like it may be the same reasons I go with this bike. It’s like a freeride trainer!

  • Mr. P says:

    Great write up!

    Sounds like a lot of the negative traits were due to the large volume DHX air. I’ve had the same shock, and had very similar complaints. I then went to a different shock (coil) and problems solved. Climbing over-sag, sagging into turns, poor rear traction, wallowing, all gone. I’ll bet putting a small volume air chamber would solve the issues = a simple and cheap fix. A lot of posters have had similar results.

    For a claimed beginner bike (which is a great concept), Transition should include easy to understand suspension set up instructions… for beginners.(!) Rather than the expert, “go figure it out”. A simple card would do.

    Come on Transition, just a few more details! I want to see more chicks rocking the trails!

    P

  • Nicholas Poetker says:

    Great review!
    Im sad to hear all the complaints but also agree with Mr.P.
    I have rode alot of bikes and have tried alot of different shocks to see how they feel. For example my current bike is the transition bottle rocket and have had 3 different shock on it so far. I too started out with the fox DHX air 5.0 and never felt like it did the bike any good. Alot of your complaints were the same.
    I always felt either too soft or to hard no matter how I set it up.
    Well, I then bought a roco coil and fell in love on the first ride. It made the bike into the bike I was wanting. After two years on the coil I switched it out for the roco air. At first it felt weird but now I totally love it. Its light,plush and takes big hits with no problems. Pluse the tst is so easy to use and it feels great on climbs locked out or half way on jumps and mellow trails.
    Overall Im just trying to say that the suspension plays a key roll in how the bike rides front and rear.
    But, very good review I enjoyed reading it alot.
    Even though Im not a woman.
    This bike is intresting to me because I live in Japan and alot of my friends are guys but little Japanese guys who always complain that their bike is too big or heavy. So, I think it might be a great Freeride bike for little guys as well.

  • Boyakasha says:

    I had the exact same problem with my Bottlerocket. I just couldn’t get the DHX air to work the way I wanted it to. I swapped it out for a RP23 and problem solved.

  • GettingRad says:

    “engineer at Transition” I’m pretty sure there are no actual engineers at Transition, probably why they couldn’t help with the shock set up. Fantastic review.

  • Sam says:

    I would like to comment on the shock adjustment situation.

    It is true that reaching the boost valve or bottom out adjustment is essentially impossible when mounted on the bike. However, that was a trade off that the extremely compact frame created. Thankfully neither adjustment are typically messed with once set, compared to a rebound or propedal adjustment – both of which are easily reached.

    I am not sure who you talked to about the shock setup, but getting the air pressure and sag set is basically a guessing game. As far as the other adjustments go the reccomendation would be 125psi in the boost valve (minimum pressure) and the bottom out adjuster left wide open. The frame itself ramps up quite a lot and this is the most linear adjustment to the shock.

    On the Bottlerocket we have switched to the small volume DHX Air from the standard sleeve. The feel is much better with the more “progressive” small volume shock.

    For what it is worth, we do not actively push the All Mountain kit on the Syren. In fact customers would pretty much have to beg to get that kit. A FR single or double kit is the standard option.

    Thanks for the review!

  • April says:

    Hmmm, I think setup is everything on this bike. I’ve had my Syren for awhile now, and am not a beginner and LOVE it. I had a 9″ travel DH bike used mostly for Whistler that was great, but that amount of travel swallowed me up on some sections and wasn’t as versatile as I would have liked for all of the Whistler Park Terrain. I’m fairly small at 5’4″ tall and 120 pounds and needed a bike that I can control rather than having it control me. I built my Syren up to be a mini-DH bike with a Fox DHX 5.0 and Fox Vanilla with no expectations for pedaling. With the DHX, the suspension feels bottomless and tracks over the gnarliest terrain. I do find limitations on the 6″ travel fork at times, but have learned to compensate. This bike feels much more butter smooth than my old 9″ travel bike. I’m not a huge hucker either and prefer riding down gnarly, rooty, rocky terrain. The bike eats up the terrain, tracks beautifully, and makes going off drops almost effortless when I do decide to do them. Its a shame that people build this bike up to be an all mountain bike as I can see how they would be disappointed in that case–it is not for pedaling, and the coil suspension is what makes this bike shine. I plan on racing more DH races on it this year, so we’ll see how it stacks up.

  • VanHalen says:

    This is a very nice and honest review. I was in that exact spot, where I had outgrown the short travel bike, and needed something bigger. I stumbled upon a bike demo out at the trail for Specialized, told them I wanted a 6″ travel bike (I didn’t have a clue about their line-up at the time), and they gave me a $8k Safire. I took it on my regular trail and hated it! It felt even twitchier and steeper than my current bike! Which was confirmed after googling the geometry. They didn’t like me very much when I gave them my honest opinion about the bike, why on earth would you want that much travel when it handles like an XC bike. Any WSD bikes I looked at had really crappy build kits, so just like April said in the previous comment: setup is everything. After doing some research I decided to go with the Covert (Transition), and piece my own parts onto it (including an adjustable travel 160mm fork). I’m still in the process of building it, but I’m pretty sure this is the way to go. It should fit more into that grey area in between XC and Freeride, called All Mountain, going both up and downhill, my build will lean more towards freeride…

  • EndlessTrails says:

    Thanks for such an in-depth, thoughtful, and detailed review.
    This sort of detail can really help decisions, for no matter what your overall feel is, others can see what may or may not fit them, and what may be major contributing factors to the bike’s behaviour, and their own needs.
    You have lots of experience, and it shows. It is also good that you explain where your boundaries are. You make an great analysis.
    I live on the North Shore, been riding since the first trails were built here. It is unfortunate that you couldn’t experience that bike with a different rear shock.
    Many people, once they start riding our \bumpier\ terrain, and doing small drops, run into a wall with this rear shock. It seems to just blow through most of its travel, then almost stop dead, before moving on. Its compression damping is just weird. You can hear it when they ride, and many pinch flats result, but they aren’t bottoming out. I’ve had such people switch over to the DHX 5 coil, and they say it is night and day; for behaviour, control, and feel. They can go much faster for the rear follows the ground, and doesn’t skip or slam on bigger bumps or small drops. It also doesn’t sag as much in mid travel on g-outs/transitions. I have video of the behaviour of the air shock on a nice stunt – it just suddenly dips and makes the bike go all loose. Even the custom shock tweakers here, have found major issues with this shock on the 6\ style of bikes.
    Taking that and the design of the bike being one for confidence in steep terrain, I think you’d feel much better about its riding, with a different shock. As long as you weren’t too focused on flatter trails, but more on steeps and Shore style stuff, you might give it a much better grade. With a caveat about riding XC on it. ;-)
    I’ve broken many rear shocks, and have had the \lucky\ opportunity through that, to try as many as 3 different rear shocks on my frame, and one of the shocks with three different custom builds. It can be a more subtle difference than what a fork makes, but it can make a bigger difference in how the bike feels. At times it makes a surprisingly major change in the bike.
    I think the main thing about the syren, is it is designed for lighter people, and comfort. Hence the very squishy, rapidly firming, rear end, and the short light front end.
    It is an introductory freeride bike in terms of size, comfort, and weight – but it is setup to allow for riding some pretty mean trails, with ease. Just perhaps not being muscled through the chunder at your speed – certainly not with that rear shock. :-) You were in the wrong part of the travel at critical times.
    If you were to be pushing it a little further than your usual riding style, it might have been more apparent. Though it is hard to tell if it is the frame, or the shock. More experience on your part with this shock, or past experience with switching shocks in the same frame, might have helped.
    Thanks for your work – it is super-good quality!

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