Atherton Bikes AM.150 First Ride Review

HIGH TECH, HIGH PERFORMANCE, HIGH PRICE

Words by Robert Johnston
Photos by Dan Griffiths | Moonhead Media

If you haven’t heard the Atherton name in mountain biking, then you’ve got a lot of learning to do. As one of the most legendary families in the mountain bike world, with an unprecedented level of success on the world racing stage across downhill, enduro and four cross and a huge impact on the mountain biking scene in general, they could all retire today and be considered legends in the sport for the rest of time. Not satisfied to only imprint themselves as legendary racers and high-class ambassadors for the sport, they looked to go a step further and put their name on bikes for mountain bikers around the world to ride at the highest level. Absorbing the engineers and tech from Robot bikes and using their name and knowledge to push the development and marketing of the brand, they formed Atherton Bikes. They have worked relentlessly over the last few years to improve the bikes, secured funding and business advice from a Dragon (Piers Linney of Dragon’s Den), and we’re now starting to see their initial two bike offerings being sold internationally. I’ve been dying to get on board one for a long time, and finally managed to persuade them to let me take their A150 enduro bike for a spin at their very own Dyfi Bike Park for the weekend.

QUICK HITS

• 150mm DW6 Suspension
• HTA 65
• STA 76 (effective)
• REACH 490

Price: £6,700/$7,593 (AM.150.2) – £7,750/$8,783 (AM.150.1)
Website: Athertonbikes.com

THE LAB

The Atherton bike is made in a way that could justify a serious essay, but I’ll leave that until I return for a factory tour and can go full nerd – in a past life I was a design engineer for a company who specialized in 3D printing and composites, and I designed a bike for the Track events in the Olympics that shares a similar titanium lug and carbon fiber tube design as the Atherton bikes. Without diving into their design process and seeing the inside of the parts, all I can say is they appear to be achieving a good quality finish, which isn’t necessarily easy with their manufacturing process.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Review

As mentioned, the Atherton bikes are currently made with titanium lugs made with additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. These lugs are bonded to carbon fiber tubes made with a process called filament winding, using double lap joints that are bonded with an aerospace grade adhesive. Making the frame this way harnesses the strengths of the respective materials, with the 3D printed titanium allowing for the best multi-directional load performance at the connecting sections of the frame, and the carbon fiber offering the best stiffness-to-weight performance for the straight sections.

The suspension platform on the Atherton bikes was designed by Dave Weagle for Robot Bikes initially and is a 6-bar system aptly named DW6. This affords greater control of each suspension property independently, meaning the braking, pedaling and bump-eating properties can be tuned more or less to their liking. As you may have guessed, the AM.150 tested features 150mm of travel out back, with a pair of 29” wheels and a 160mm fork leading the charge.

Their construction method and build-to-order process affords a lot of freedom with the sizing of the bikes. They offer a whopping 22 “standard” sizes overall, with 10mm reach increments from 410mm to 530mm, and two options for the seat tube and stack heights on most, to tailor the fit. If this doesn’t land you with your exact fit preference, they can do a fully custom reach and seat tube length for an extra cost. Shared between all the frames is the 65-degree head angle and 30mm bb drop, which the Atherton’s consider to be optimal for general enduro riding and racing. As you move up the standard sizes, the rear end length is adjusted to maintain weight balance, between 433mm on the smallest sizes, through to 443mm on the 490mm and above. The effective seat tube angle is steepened for the tallest frames to keep the rider more centralized on the bike, with the smaller sizes measuring in at 77°, through to the largest sizes with a 79°. Important to note is the much slacker actual seat tube angle, which will change the seated position considerably if you’re outside the designed saddle height range for each size.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Review

I tested a now outdated frame, based around a 490mm reach but with a slacker seat tube angle, shallower post insertion depth and stiffer rear triangle than you would now receive. We’ll talk about the geometry of the equivalent frame if you were to purchase it today, to ensure there is no confusion for prospective customers. The “490 Tall” frame sports a 490mm reach as you may have guessed, with the longer 440mm seat tube at 78°. A 125mm head tube length and the 30mm bb drop gives a 641mm stack height, and the 443mm rear end length puts the wheelbase at a total of 1268mm, which is quite average for a bike I’d typically ride in this category.

Atherton Bikes have covered all the bases with the details of the frame, with internal cable routing that will now come with port-to-port internal guiding; SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger; Boost axle spacing; a BSA threaded bottom bracket and a Zero Stack integrated headset. There’s a vast space within the front triangle for a water bottle, and Atherton will add a bottle cage mount upon request. With the technology they have to work with, the chances are that if you have a request that’s not completely rogue, then they’ll be able to work with you to accommodate it.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Review

Atherton is currently offering three standard configurations to buy your own AM.150: a frame and shock option at £3,999/$4,532, or a choice of two spec levels labeled AM.150.1 or AM.150.2 with price tags of £7,750/$8,783 and £6,700/$7,593 respectively. Atherton will happily work with each customer to modify the specs of these builds or assist with a custom build if the customer desires. We tested the AM.150.1 build, save for the brakes being (thankfully) swapped from the SRAM G2’s listed as standard to some more appropriate and powerful Code R’s and a set of Continental’s new Kryptotal front and rear specific tires with the Downhill casing and Supersoft rubber compound.

As the higher of the two spec levels, the AM.150.1 features high-spec components throughout, with some concessions made to keep the price down without compromising the performance. A Fox Factory level suspension package eats up the bumps, with a 160mm travel 36 Grip 2 up front paired with a Float X2 trunnion shock out back with the 2-position climb switch. The groupset is full SRAM XO1 Eagle, with the carbon crank and 10-52t cassette. As mentioned, the brakes on our bike were SRAM’s Code R, clamping onto a 200mm front rotor and 180mm rear rotor – a big power upgrade over the G2 brakes on the spec list as standard. A 150mm travel RockShox Reverb dropper was disappointing to see on this large frame size, but Atherton will work with each customer to select the most appropriate travel option to ensure every rider gets the optimum post travel. The cockpit is a full Renthal affair, with their Apex 50mm long stem and V2 Fatbar Carbon in a 800mmx30mm guise, and a pair of Ultratacky Traction grips. The wheels are Stans Flow MK3, wrapped in Continental rubber – with the release of their new tire range, you’ll likely be able to choose the best tire option for your climate.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Action

THE DIRT

Due to the sheer demand of the AM.150, I was only able to steal it from Atherton Bikes for a 3-day test period, during which I took it on an enduro shakedown ride followed by two days lapping Dyfi bike park. A packed schedule over these three days meant the time to experiment with the suspension setup was minimal, and though I managed to get a serious amount of descending time on hugely varied terrain, any opinions formed shouldn’t be taken as gospel. I set up the bike with the 25% sag at the shock that Atherton recommended, with the fork set at the upper limit of the air pressure for my weight according to the Fox set up guide, which is always a solid start. From the get-go, the high stack height and riser bar produced a serious “in the bike” feeling, with the 490mm reach that sits towards the upper limits of my comfortable range giving a commanding position over the bike that felt nicely centered in between the wheels when standing. Given the relatively burly build provided, with Continental’s new Kryptotal DH tires and a Stans Flow wheelset, the weight was impressively light and suggests the overall frame weight is low.

Climbing on board the AM.150 was reasonable, though the geometry on this older version tested placed me quite far off the back of the bike even with the saddle slammed forwards. This undoubtedly affected my influence on the suspension when pedaling seated, as my weight was acting on a longer lever than the steeper seat tube would produce. This meant that it didn’t feel incredibly efficient overall, but on the few technical climbing sections I faced over the short test period it offered a satisfactory ride. My bike was provided with a 150mm travel Reverb dropper, leading to me running it high out of the frame at minimum insertion for the climbs and having to pull out the hex key to slam it for the descents. It’s good to see they’ve moved to a steeper effective angle for future models and have adjusted the lug on the seat tube to increase insertion depths, which should allow for longer drop posts to be fitted and produce a more centralized climbing position.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Action

What felt like a particularly low BB turned out to be quite reasonable on the trail, and I didn’t have any issues with catching pedals throughout the weekend. Lower down the cassette, when hammering hard on the pedals on the descents, the AM.150’s setup of the DW6 platform didn’t feel overly efficient either, certainly not exhibiting the same firm nature as your typical DW link bikes. The flip side of this was the ability to pedal through rougher terrain, such as root-infested straights, without the same level of jarring and deflection as you might expect. All in all, its light overall weight was offset by a slightly less efficient pedaling platform than I had expected, which when combined with the burly and sticky Continental Kryptotal tires meant that it didn’t have the peppiest nature, but it’s certainly not a slouch that I’d be scared to take on an all-day pedal epic. Suspension setup and tire choice can seriously impact the riding characteristics of a bike, and I’ve no doubt that efficiency and snappiness could be improved.

When the trail started to go down, the stand-out characteristic initially was the serious “in the bike” feeling produced by high stack height and reasonably low bb. This gave a reassuring feeling position on bigger jumps and in the steepest terrain, putting my weight nicely behind the front wheel in the “safe zone”. The drawback of this was the requirement for some suspension tweaking and body weight adjustment to get front wheel grip fully dialed in, but thanks to the slightly steeper head angle than some, the tendency for the front wheel to wash out on the flatter turns was reduced. Thankfully though this didn’t result in a front wheel that was eager to tuck, with minimal issues through steep corners or when hitting the anchors at the last second whilst initiating a turn on a blind track. Hitting the hundreds of varied berms in Dyfi bike park, the AM.150 loved to carve a turn hard, with the stout rear end of my version giving a highly connected feeling to the rear wheel and the mid-length wheelbase happy to tip in and carve a relatively tight radius. I’d be very interested to test the more compliant frame structure that will feature on models sold going forward, to see where in the range of stiffness they choose to go with it and the resultant effect on the character.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Review

25% sag at the shock felt good from the get-go and left enough travel in reserve to handle big hits like Dyfi’s Oakley Icon Way without any discomfort. Atherton Bikes have managed to produce an impressively bottomless feeling that was only overwhelmed by some slightly short landings on the biggest hits in the park. The sensitivity off the top was stellar too, especially given the slightly reduced sag compared to the 30-35% go-to on most enduro bikes, giving plenty of grip and comfort through the rough stuff. The mid-stroke was a touch wallowy, contrary to my expectations of the relatively short travel enduro machine, and so it wasn’t quite so keen to pick up speed through hard pumping efforts as some – I’d like to give one some more trail time to play around with the setup and see if this could be improved. Predictability and confidence were plentiful though, encouraging the brakes to be let off and the roughest and rowdiest terrain to be attacked. Aside from slightly more agile steering than some in the class, the AM.150 truly is a downhiller’s enduro rig.

Other stand-out notions on board the AM.150 were the relatively quiet overall ride – even more impressive considering the thin rubber protection fitted – with a lack of excess chain noise or cable rattle. Unfortunately, on the bike tested, it was necessary to have the multi-tool at hand often, with the frame pivots seemingly keen to come undone every few runs. Granted, this was a well-used bike, but it was still a bit of a shame to see. There’s a lot of hardware on the frame, which all vary between a 4, 5 or 6mm hex key, and the lower link has some hardware that needs the shock to be compressed to get access, so it’s quite an unfriendly bike to diagnose a rattle. Atherton was keen to point out that the pivot bolts might have lost the locktite they would come with from the factory, and so frames going out to customers will likely not suffer from this issue, but it’s worth noting the drawbacks that a multi-link suspension design carry compared with a simpler platform.

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Action

The Wolf’s Last Word

Overall, the “first ride” was incredibly promising on the Atherton Bikes AM.150, proving that they’ve put together a real ripper of a bike. At £4,000/$4,500, it’s no small amount of money for the frame, and I think you’d really want to buy into the technology to build it from the ground-up, but the full builds seem more reasonable and it’s certainly a bike I felt sad to give back so soon. I’m looking forward to seeing some of Atherton’s big plans come into fruition over the coming months, and to hopefully getting on board their machines again for some more trail time in the future.

Price: £6,700/$7,593 (AM.150.2) – £7,750/$8,783 (AM.150.1)
Website: Athertonbikes.com

VISIT ATHERTON BIKES TO ORDER YOURS!

ATHERTON BIKES AM.150 SPECS

CHASSIS
Frame: Titanium 3D printed lugs, Carbon fiber tubes; 150mm DW6

Fork: Fox 36 Factory Kashima 160mm Boost 15mm Grip 2
Shock: Fox Float X2 Factory Kashima 2-Position 205x60mm

COCKPIT
Brakes: SRAM Code R, 200F/180R Centreline rotors

Handlebar: Renthal Fatbar Carbon 31.8mm | 800mm| 30mm Rise
Stem: Renthal Apex 31.8mm | 50mm Length
Headset: FSA Semi Integrated
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth 150mm
Saddle: WTB Volt

WHEELS
Wheelset: Stans Flow MK3, 30mm, 110/148

Front tire: Continental Kryptotal Fr, Downhill, Supersoft, 29″ x 2.4″
Rear tire: Continental Kryptotal Re, Downhill, Supersoft, 29″ x 2.4″

DRIVETRAIN
Bottom Bracket: SRAM Dub Threaded

Cassette: SRAM XG 1295; 10-52T
Cranks: SRAM XO1 Eagle Carbon, Boost, DUB, 32T, 170mm
Shifter: SRAM XO1 Eagle; 12s
Derailleur: SRAM XO1 Eagle; 12s

Atherton Bikes AM.150 Beauty

We Dig

“In the bike” feeling
Stunning looks
Space age tech and customisation
Rough terrain sensitivity
Big hit capabilities

We Don’t

Not cheap
Pivots loosening – needed loctite
Not the most supportive or efficient

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