So you’ve been lusting over the Santa Cruz Hightower or Pivot Switchblade plus bikes. But your budget is under $5000, well under $5000. Well QBP brand Heller Bikes could be the answer, giving you a better option by creating a carbon bike with all the bells and whistles for $2995.
That price includes a dropper and 1×11 SRAM NX drivetrain, not a low-end “beginner” 2x option found on many budget MTBs. Tires are best-of-breed Maxxis Rekon 2.8s and the saddle is WTB. Brakes and hubs are lower-end, and the big unknown is the Manitou front and rear suspension. We know that they’ve done a bit of R&D to improve their line but we haven’t ridden their components recently.
Geometry looks fairly modern and dialed. Head angle is 68.5 degrees, and seat tube angle is 73.9 degrees. Although we’d prefer something a little slacker, say in the 67-67.5 range, we understand that this bike will be a little quicker on the tight trails of the Midwest and East Coast. Reach is 440mm and stack is 615mm. Chainstay length is fairly short at 17.4 inches for a 130mm travel bike.
The carbon frame seems like a solid offering. It’s a full carbon front and rear triangle, and has a rear lower pivot, delivering a free-moving suspension platform. Seat tube is short to allow long dropper posts and the front triangle has room for a large water bottle. Cable routing is internal with screwed in covers for unused ports.
The only available color is black. The stem on our size medium test bike is a very current 50mm, but bars are on the narrow side at 740mm with a fairly high 30mm rise. The dropper is quite good at a 150mm.
On the Trail
We currently have some of the best (and most expensive) long travel 29ers and plus bikes in the Mtbr test stable right now so weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to ride the Barghest. After all, it is heavier and spec’d with unfamiliar Manitou components. But we took the time to set it up and took it on a few rides and were pleasantly surprised.
The suspension works well. The rear shock is nicely mated to the four-bar linkage and it’s pretty darn plush with 130mm of travel and about 18psi in the 2.8 tires. Traction was just right even for our soil that was getting loose. Exposed roots and dusty rocks were handled confidently by the Rekon tires, though on fast and loose sections, we thought we could have cornered faster and more confidently if we had a High Roller or Minion up front.
The front suspension feels harder to get the initial movement and it’s not as well supported on the initial part of its travel. So it’s not as supple as the latest Fox or RockShox offerings. But on the trail, it took medium and big hits very well and matched up well with the rear. Steering felt precise as well.
Overall bike weight made itself known on longer climbs, as the 30-42 low gear combination was just okay. We were parked in the low gear a lot. Plus tires, 32.6 pounds of bike weight, and low tire pressure left us pining for an extra gear.
The stem was nice and short but the bike would be better served with a 760mm or 780mm handlebar. One can always cut bars but adding width is trickier. The infinite position dropper post is a small brand Trans-X and it worked quite well for the duration of this test. Action was controlled and well damped, and the lever is ergonomic, albeit with a hint of play.
On the downside, the brakes were not our favorites, as they didn’t have enough power or consistency for the type of terrain that this bike can handle. We would have been much happier with affordable Shimano SLX or Deore stoppers.
Bottom line, while not perfect, we were pleasantly surprised by this sub-$3000 trail bike. Just by ditching the stock tubes for a tubeless set-up you’d save a pound. Add in some wider bars and better brakes and this is a really solid bike. We just wish there were more interesting color options and that the bike name wasn’t as hard to remember or pronounce. But it is a good package!
- Long and slack full-carbon frame
- 130mm shock/140mm fork leave little doubt about bike’s intentions.
- Simple, trail-proven suspension linkage
- 27.5+ wheel and tire size for insane traction
- Includes internally-routed dropper post
- 32.6 pounds as tested size medium
- Price is $2995
Q&A with product manager Bobby Dahlberg
Mtbr: Where does the name come from and are there going to be a lot more Heller bikes in the future?
Bobby Dahlberg: We are kind of into the mythical creature names and stories. Barghest was said to be monstrous black dog from Northern English folklore. You can check out the Wiki for more general information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barghest. Heller is definitely a growing brand and will continue to put more product in the marketplace as we are able.
Mtbr: Who is the ideal buyer for this bike?
BD: Barghest is for a customer that wants a great riding suspension bike at a killer value. The advantages of a full carbon frame with a great parts package at under $3000 is a compelling one. This bike is about getting people on the trail, riding with confidence, and just plain having fun.
Mtbr: Can you put 29er wheels on this bike?
BD: You sure can. The frame has clearance for 27.5×3.0, which translates to around a 29×2.5.
Mtbr: Why Manitou suspension? What do they bring to the table?
BD: Honestly it’s all about performance for the value. Manitou makes some great riding products that kill it at their relative price point. Ultimately suspension is one of the most expensive parts of a bike, and I can spec a Manitou product for the same price I could spec others without feeling like I’m making compromises on the ride. Ultimately the customer gets better suspension for the same or lower price and that’s the most important thing.
Mtbr: What is this dropper post? Any history on the brand?
BD: The dropper we spec is the Trans-X. We’ve been using it for a couple years now with great user feedback and reliability. I’m also seeing more and more spec of this post in the marketplace. Bottom line is that again it’s a great preforming product at a killer price point.
Mtbr: The bar width seems a bit narrow in context with the stubby stem.
BD: We spec a 740mm bar. Mostly we felt it was a good wide bar that doesn’t go to the extremes and thus will work well for a larger number of folks. When thinking about things that get upgraded or changed out on a complete bike purchase, bars are generally near the top of the list. Whether due to width, rise, material, color, people change out their bars a ton. That said, from all our test riders through prototyping, you’re the first person that has mentioned anything about it being too narrow.
For more info head to hellerbikes.com.