First Ride: Revel Rail
If you've ridden any of the Canfield Brothers bikes or have looked at the suspension much, there's a fair amount of stuff going on in there. The CBF suspension aims the chain line and drive forces at the top of the chainring through 100% of the travel which, reportedly, makes pedaling more efficient. CBF isolates the suspension from pedaling and also, braking forces. Most four-bar suspensions (which includes dual-link designs) are built around what's called an "instant center" - the theoretical position that the rear axle arcs around at any given point in the suspension's travel (single-pivot suspensions always trace the same arc). If you plotted the movement of the four-bar's instant center as the suspension moved to full compression, it would create a curving path called "center of curvature." On many multi-link bikes, the paths of their instant center change in some pretty funky ways.With the Canfield design, the center of curvature is aimed to track a small area on the top of the chainring. This, according to Revel, puts the chainline forces in a good place and creates a very efficient and active pedaling platform that is independent of sag, travel, drivetrain, and braking inputs.
Who is Revel?There are a lot of bikes and bike brands out there right now and it seems a new one pops up every few weeks. In such a saturated market, it's a huge risk to launch another brand unless you have something truly unique to offer. I was really not all that interested in this bike until I heard who was behind it, which changed my thoughts entirely. There's a large team making this brand happen, but here are some of the key players in the design and engineering process whose names caught my eye:
Adam Miller: Adam has been around bikes for a while. He founded and later sold Borealis fat bikes, one of the first fat bike brands. Since then, he's started Why Cycles. Why is a smaller brand that has earned a cult following for their titanium bikes. I've ridden one of them and they ride remarkably well and are beautifully made.
Chris Canfield: A lot of people have heard the Canfield name in and around the bike industry for some time now. Chris and his brother Lance are OG's who have designed a number of bikes. A few years ago, they patented their CBF suspension platform, which Revel is using in their bikes and Chris is helping to engineer and fine tune.
Jeremiah Starkey: Starkey has been in suspension for a long time and is regarded as one of the more knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to it. He spent a decade as lead engineer at RockShox and was Director of Product Research and Development for Trust Performance, where he worked with Dave Weagle and Jason Schiers to create the wild looking linkage fork that Levy has riding back and forth to Tim Hortons.
Jason Schiers: As mentioned above, Schiers was one of the key players in the development of the Trust fork but that's just his latest project. He's been one of the leading authorities on carbon in bicycles. He worked with McLaren and Reynolds, started ENVE, and then went on to work on a number of other projects including the Crankbrothers Synthesis wheels. He and Miller had a chance encounter and hit it off, becoming friends with Schiers helping on various projects Miller had throughout the years.
Mike Giese: Mike is an industrial and graphic designer who has a reputation for creating some incredibly unique shapes on bikes. He's also a talented rider and has somehow earned the name "Steezy Giese" - look up his Instagram.
Frame DetailsThere's some pretty interesting stuff going on with the frame design here and a lot of that lies in the carbon. Revel worked with Jason Schiers in developing their bikes and figuring out how to make them ride well and hold up to the abuse that riders would put on them. I spent a while chatting with Miller and Schiers to better understand what exactly is going on with the carbon layup and design of the bike and there's a lot that's different to what most other brands are doing. Schiers says one of the things that he most likes about carbon and what makes it unique, is how tunable it is. The ride of the bike can be tuned in a way that makes it stiff where it needs to be and more compliant where it doesn't.According to Schiers, the industry standard with carbon, historically, is to use a mixture of 0, 45, and 90-degree fibers to make a frame and then just build up wall thickness where it's needed to get the desired characteristics. Schiers says, in actuality, the fiber angles should be dictated by the load going through that specific part - that you should tailor those fiber angles to do very specific work. Do that, and you end up with efficiencies that other carbon parts don't have. You can make lighter parts than your competitors, which are more durable at the same time.It takes a better machine and more work to cut angles in less standard ways, along with more time to lay it up. Schiers says that one of the benefits of the 0, 45, and 90-degree fiber layups is that it's balanced and you get a consistency of product when you're in production. It's more forgiving and that's why most manufacturers use this method. Schiers says he works to understand how the energies and forces of riding move throughout the frame. He says, in some areas of the frame, you're looking for end to end stiffness and in others, you're looking for "hoop strength" so that you can manage impacts and loads that specific area is going to see. You're changing the laminate to adjust for that. It's all about dialing in each specific part of the frame for the loads you're going to see.The bike may not feel a ton different when riding from a standard carbon layup, but it's going to be more efficient in being lighter weight and stronger. With Scheirs' technique, he claims he can make the bike the same weight but a lot stiffer and stronger. In some areas, instead of running a lot of 45-degree fibers, they ran a lot of long fibers to help one end of the bike communicate well with the other. Under the down tube, which suffers rock strikes and gets tossed on the back of your truck, you need more hoop strength so they have that in there. It's basically laminate construction 2.0.Schiers says he believes people became used to using metals and being able to spec a certain tube series and get a pretty consistent result across the board as far as strength and ride quality go. With carbon, using the same laminate, you can get a massive difference in end product across the board. Depending on how you cure it and process it, you can get 80 percent differences in finished products. Schiers claims that's what a lot of cheap designs are doing and it's giving carbon a bad name. It's as much process and pattern as it is material.According to Schiers, the Revel laminates and frames are on par with the best carbon in the world. They've bypassed the whole process of figuring out carbon for the first time by starting with the right people.
Cable Routing: Revel is using full-length carbon tubes that are molded inside the carbon frame for cable routing. Everything is tight to eliminate cable rattle and there are no disjointed segments, so threading cables and hoses in is an easy process.
Chain Guide: Revel has integrated its own chain guide on the bike. It's designed to work best with SRAM's DUB system.
Down Tube Guard: Revel's downtube guard is robust and cleanly integrated into the design of the bike.
Water Bottle Mount: It should be a given but companies are still missing the mark on this. Revel, fortunately, didn't and you can stash a water bottle on the frame.
Geometry / KinematicsRevel made the Rail to be fairly progressive, but not quite as over the top as we've seen with some bikes. It's well suited to what I would consider heavy duty all-mountain and technical trail riding and would be equally at home lining up at any enduro race or spending a week, in a bike park. The bike, with 165mm of travel in the back and 170mm up front, has a 65-degree head tube angle and a 75-degree seat tube angle. While it's most comfortable pointed downhill, the Rail doesn't shy away from finding its way to the top of the hill either.The reach on the size medium is 450mm. This isn't the longest reach out there on a size medium, but in no way would I call it conservative. The bike has 430mm chainstays and the wheelbase is 1208mm. Another notable number that everyone is asking about these days is fork offset and the Rail uses 46mm.As far as suspension kinematics go, the Rail has a relatively progressive leverage ratio. It starts at 2.85 and then drops to 2.35 at the end of the travel. The shock ramps up a lot at the end to prevent bottom out, but is soft off of the top for a lot of small-bump compliance. Revel say that they wanted the bike to feel good in the top of the travel and still not hit hard at the end.The goal with designing the bike was to have really good active braking forces. It has a near 100% anti-rise number, which they claim, ensures that braking doesn't affect the suspension at all. This is a tricky number to gather, but the curve is smooth and theoretically the braking is nice and separate from the suspension.The CBF system ensures the drive forces are perpendicular to the axle path and the instant center at all points in the travel, not just at sag, like a lot of suspension bikes.
Climbing: Most bikes, even longer travel enduro bikes, climb pretty darn well these days. There's no point in turning to cliches to help describe how it does what it does, but I can't exaggerate enough how much traction the Rail maintains while pointed uphill.The bike still feels like an enduro bike with its appropriately long reach and parts spec. It pedals up consistent grades just as I would have expected it to. It doesn't sink into its travel too much or get a ton of pedal feedback. No, the seat tube isn't as steep as my Yeti SB130, but I'm in a good position to put power down and it doesn't feel overly slack either. It's personally not going to be my choice for overly long rides that I'd usually bring a shorter travel rig on - it's still a big bike - but it'll motor where you want it to go.Where this bike really started to get me thinking (and still has me raising an eyebrow), is going up technical sections of trail. There's nothing that I've had an issue getting up because of traction. If there was a bit of trail that stumped me, it was all lack of horsepower on my end. I've found myself time and time again not losing traction in places I have consistently slipped or spun in the past. I'm not saying I'm "just getting through" these bits of trail. I'm having zero rear wheel slippage whether seated or standing. It's a different experience than most any other bike I've ridden and in a cool way.The front end stays planted, but is easy to get off the ground in tight spots where I need to pivot the bike. The suspension stays active when pedaling up, but there's not much bob or squat to be found. I hesitate to draw a sweeping conclusion, but it's one of the most capable climbing bikes I've ridden and I've reinforced that thought every time I've ridden the bike.
DescendingDescending is what this bike is obviously catered towards, so after a shakedown lap, I cruised up to the Bennett Gap trail for a good beating. The trail has a 45 minute sustained road climb and then an aggressive and violent high-speed descent, littered with rocks, roots, drops, hucks, short punchy climbs - you name it. It's the trail I've always felt is going to be where a bike will fail.Right off the bat, the suspension feels plush and supported. Popping off of rocks and roots, the bike soaks up small and big impacts while staying composed. It feels best riding it in the center and really opening it up. Yet, when it comes to tight and technical sections of trail or slower speeds, everything feels confident and planted. I don't feel as if I'm getting hung up and the rear end sticks to the ground where it needs to. Braking is consistent and predictable and slowing down in chop and chatter is not upsetting to the suspension, or me. The bike tracks where you put it and it feels balanced when ridden in the center. It's comfortable and also quiet, save for the i9 hubs.Bikes can be tricky to get dialed in, but I didn't have any struggles with this one and I've really been having a good time riding it. I've by no means put in enough time to give more than a first look, but it's definitely one of those cases where I know that there's a lot of good stuff happening on this bike and I'm stoked to be able to ride it more.
First Impressions:The team at Revel is onto something and whatever sorcery they've done with the Rail makes it a really unique ride. Just looking at the bike in person, it's clear that a high level of thought, design, and care went into the construction of the Rail. A lot of times, a good looking bike doesn't translate into a great ride, but with the Rail, this is not the case. The bike's performance, both up and down, is simply incredible. A lot of people are launching bike brands and it’s refreshing to see one where the founders did their homework and got it right. Well done.