With one of the steeper seat tube angles on the market, it’ll come as no surprise that the seating position on the Privateer 161 is very upright, making the mid-sized cockpit feel considerably smaller when seated. This will not be to everyone’s tastes, working different muscles in the legs when pedaling and certainly feeling different to most, but there’s no denying that climbing in steeper terrain is pleasant. I ended up pushing the saddle back a touch on the rails for the first time in quite a while, since this extra-upright position produced a slightly less comfortable and efficient body position for the typical climbs around me in the Tweed Valley, which aren’t overly steep in general. When combined with the relatively high levels of Anti Squat Privateer have tuned into their Horst Link suspension platform, there’s little to no rear shock movement when pedaling regardless of the gear. The increase in Anti Squat through the cassette range is smart from an efficiency standpoint, with the increased rider body weight input in the harder gears being matched by a higher counterforce. This helps to offset the slightly portly 35lbs overall weight (which is by no means ridiculous) to produce a reasonable enduro machine for long days in the saddle or those last ditch sprints to the finish line, with absolutely no need to think about the shock’s lockout lever.
The slack, but not fully raked-out head angle combines with the mid-length, size-specific rear and the steep seat tube to give a very well centered weight distribution for climbing, reducing front end lightness when pedaling to a comfortable minimum and making tech climbing a pleasure in its category. The pedal clearance is not the best going, but thanks to the supportive platform it’s manageable with the stock 170mm cranks. Though the rear end is not incredibly progressive, the 161 is absolutely a candidate for a dh-style coil shock without climbing platform, to eke out the most comfort and traction from its rear end. I didn’t have the chance to test this theory, but knowing a couple of riders who have enjoyed their 161’s setup with a coil rear end, I can safely say it’s a viable option. Not that it’s a necessity though, as with the RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate air rear shock the Privateer was still a fairly traction rich machine.
Descending on the Privateer is very good all around. It’s not an ultra-lively, super stiff or lightweight bike, so when you find yourself on more “trail” and less “enduro” terrain it can be a tad uninspiring, but the suspension platform is still supportive enough under pumping and pedaling efforts to keep the average speed up and prevent it from being a complete nightmare. Give it some challenging terrain though and it’ll come to life, whether you’re hitting things hard at race pace or cruising at a more leisurely level. Predictable, balanced and well rounded, the 161 delivers an easy-to-ride machine that inspires confidence across the spectrum of trail scenarios. Front end traction is achieved easily thanks to the fairly long rear end, making flatter and less supported turns pleasant, yet its neutral suspension platform makes tighter berm ripping predictable and enjoyable too. The chassis is not the stiffest by any means, but doesn’t produce the vague feeling that the flexiest can give when pushed hard, simply taking a slight amount of the sting off the trail and helping the tires conform to find the traction through the rough. As stock, 30% sag will let you hit the bottom out bumper from time to time in the harder hits, but adding another volume spacer reduces the frequency if you’re a rider who finds themselves hitting hard compressions often.
Brake draggers rejoice. The 161 is one of the most free rear ends under braking that I’ve experienced for quite a while. This does come at the expense of some pitching forward under braking, which for certain riders may be unsettling in steeper terrain, but for me it just allowed for slightly less care to find the “ideal” braking zones, where the rear end would remain fairly active. I tend to dig my heels in when braking as it is, which naturally offset the effects of chassis rise, which is likely a good technique to employ regardless of the bike you’re on if you’re not doing it already. If you’ve developed a safe set-and-forget fork setup on another bike, you may wish to add a touch more air pressure or a click or two of compression damping to compensate and keep the front end from diving quite so much when on the brakes, but it’s not to the extent that you need to fully rework your setup. There were a couple of sections where I felt the effects of the high pedal kickback that results from their high Anti Squat setup. This manifested in braking zones with high frequency roughness, where you could feel the mid-engagement Hunt rear hub kick a few times through the pedals, but I wouldn’t have said it’s problematically severe. Similarly when pedaling in rougher terrain the Privateer doesn’t have the sensation of chain “disconnection” that some of the idler-equipped bikes can have, transmitting some more feedback through to your feet.
The 161’s finishing touches are not quite as clean as some, but it’s easy to forgive this with a price tag for a well-spec’d complete coming in at less than quite a few competitors frames, and it doesn’t detract from the ride experience much. Cable routing is satisfactory but not excellent, with the bolted cable guides at the headtube doing a reasonable job, but the occasional bit of rattle can creep in on the downtube portion if not managed carefully. Their choice to internally route the dropper cable; partially internally route the gear; and externally route the brake hose is the correct one in my eyes, and I was thankful for the quick swap-over for the few rides that I swapped out the stock Hayes brakes for a set of Hope Tech 4 V4’s to log some more trail miles for their review. The standard bottle cage mount position meant that a bottle would contact the shock reservoir under compression. You could get a mount to push the bottle higher towards the head tube, but I feel you may lose the required space for a decent sized bottle in doing so, so a shapely bottle and some fiddling with position may be required to obtain a good solution. The stock raw finish held up very well to the abuse, maintaining its sheen and fending off abrasions amicably.
By the end of a very wet test period spanning the later part of Autumn (Fall) and the beginning of UK Winter, in which there were next to no rides where the bike didn’t require a good clean up after, the hub bearings up front had become a little rough. The frame pivots are still running smoothly although they don’t appear particularly well weather sealed compared to some, and there’s no other concerns for longevity. I only jet washed the 161 once during testing and was careful to avoid blasting any of the bearings, so I can only assume that this Hunt hub wasn’t as well weather-sealed as some or that the bearings weren’t adequately lubricated from the factory. Thankfully a front hub bearing swap is as easy as it gets.
Generally speaking, the stock spec was faultless and performed very well, and I’d assume that most riders would be happy to hop onto the Privateer and enter a race in confidence. It’s great to see a tire pairing fitted as standard that’s suitable for the level of abuse the bike is designed to take, with the Double Down front and DH casing rear tire inspiring a lot of confidence to charge hard through rock gardens and generally rest assured that you’re likely to make it to the other side of a race weekend without a puncture. With MaxxGrip compounds on both ends, they grip pretty damn well too, though unsurprisingly aren’t the most efficient rolling. The Hayes brakes are still not very commonly seen on the trails, but they perform well with a very solid bite and impressive longevity, if not the absolute greatest stopping power going. Aside from the front hub bearings, the Hunt Endurowide V2 wheels took a beating without flinching, fending off denting well and staying true and tight throughout the test. The One Up dropper performed well as usual, though I did end up swapping the stock 180mm length unit for a 240mm I’m testing, to maximize maneuvrability on the descents. This length of dropper can’t be totally slammed in the 161 P3, so I was lucky that my legs were sufficiently long to fit comfortably with the full drop.
My only real gripes were with the Privateer own-brand saddle and grips, neither of which were particularly comfortable for me. These are typically components you’d expect to swap out for the sake of personal preference anyway, but I’d wager more riders would be swapping these out than the offerings provided on many competitors bikes. The chain guide fitted to the 161 worked well at preventing dropped chains, but I’d have loved to see those ISCG tabs used to their full potential with a bash guard fitted to keep the chainring safe. It blows my mind that so many bikes aren’t equipped with a bash as standard – those minimal extra grams can save such a large headache, especially when you’re racing. For the value and ride quality of the package though, you really can’t complain.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Though it’s one of the longer standing bikes in the enduro market right now, much like the Specialized Enduro, the Privateer 161 has proven that the greatest does not demand the latest, and it still ranks highly in the enduro scene thanks to its purposeful suspension kinematics and nicely balanced geometry. If you’re on the market for a great value enduro ripper, the Privateer 161 should absolutely be on your list.
Price: $4,380 /£3,689
Weight: 15.9kg (as tested)