A few years ago, a small UK brand called Privateer cropped up with their 161. Sporting some fairly extreme geometry numbers, a solid build kit and a very reasonable price tag, they caused quite the stir and were well received amongst many. Their 161, and shorter travel 141 have been on the market for a while now, but thanks to their once ultra-progressive geometry and kinematics, they still look very relevant in their respective fields. Eager to see if the stats on paper matched up to performance on the trail, Robert set about putting their 161 GX build to the test in the Tweed Valley, Scotland, for a couple of months. Read on to see if the 161 still holds its own.
The 161 is Privateer’s take on the ultimate enduro bike, designed to take on the Enduro World Series tracks but with a price tag that would make it accessible for more riders. As you may have guessed, the 161 offers 161mm of rear travel via a Horst Link suspension platform, which is paired with a 170mm fork up front. It runs on a pair of 29” wheels only, except for the smallest size which uses a pair of 27.5” wheels. The frame is manufactured from wallet-friendly 6066-T6 aluminum, using mainly “off-the-shelf” tubing but with their own custom rocker link and bottom bracket junction. This allowed Privateer to keep the price down, as illustrated by the £1,589 price tag for the frame and RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock package, but didn’t stop them from caring for the details.
• 161mm Horst Link Suspension
• HTA 64
• STA 80 (effective)
• REACH 490 (Large)
Price: $4,380 /£3,689
The 161 was designed with the namesake privateer racer in mind, so easy maintenance and reliability was high on the design goals. Cable routing is therefore internal for the dropper cable, but external for the brake hose and gear cable (save for an internal portion on the chainstay to protect from chain slap) to allow for hassle-free maintenance on a race weekend. To manage the cables and help to install a race plate a bit easier, the 161 has bolted cable guides on the head tube, preventing any rub or damage. The main pivot is given two bearings on the drive side to better handle the loads created by its offset design to clear the chainring, and the rocker link is manufactured from a single piece to improve stiffness and improve alignment. Rounding out the details are a threaded bottom bracket, and full ISCG-05 tabs to fit a chain guide and bash.
The Horst Link suspension on the 161 has kinematics that are quite different to your typical bike with this layout – not all Horst Link bikes are created equal. The Anti Squat sits at a relatively high level at sag throughout the cassette, beginning at 117% in the easiest gear and increasing incrementally to 185% in the hardest, which should provide excellent pedaling support. The leverage ratio is not ultra progressive at 19%, but should offer enough support to run air or coil shocks, especially coil shocks with hydraulic bottom out or a progressive spring. The Anti Rise sits low at roughly 46% at sag, giving limited firming of the suspension when braking but allowing the chassis to pitch forwards.
Geometry on the 161 was once considered very progressive, but these days looks a little more normal. That’s not to say it’s outdated, only that it’s no longer an outlier for the most part. What is still quite extreme compared with the majority of the competition is the 80 degree effective seat tube angle, providing a very upright seated position with the aim of reducing upper body engagement when climbing steeper pitches to reduce energy expenditure and stay fresher for the timed descents. Sizing on the Privateer uses a “P” system, ranging from the smallest P1 to the largest P4 and fitting riders from 160cm to over 190cm (5’3” to >6’3”). Across the size range a 64 degree head angle is shared, and there’s a 30mm bb drop on the 29” wheeled frames or 15mm on the 27.5”-equipped P1. Otherwise, the other measurements are all size-specific, with the aim to provide balanced handling regardless of rider height. Reach numbers span from 445mm to 515mm, and are paired with stack heights from 613mm to 652mm. Chainstay lengths increase by 6mm per size from 434mm to 452mm, and seat tubes go from 400mm to 480mm. At 6’2” (189cm) I opted to test the P3, which is equivalent to a large for most companies currently. This had a 490mm reach, 643mm stack and 446mm chainstays, with the wheelbase totaling 1279mm. The numbers highlight the fact that the 161 was designed to be a speed-focused bike, but the wheelbase is not overly extreme and so maneuverability at lower speeds should be retained to a reasonable level.
Privateer currently offers the 161 in a choice of two equal-priced build kits for £3,689/$4,380: the (SRAM) “GX” build tested, or an “XT” variant with Fox suspension and Shimano drivetrain. There’s also the option to buy the 161 as a frame, shock and headset package for £1,589, with a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock. The builds feature quite a unique spec, with a mix of components throughout the bike selected by Privateer to provide the best balance of performance and value, offering a bike they’re confident in to hit the EWS stage without breaking the bank. The GX build features a 2022 RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 170mm/Super Deluxe Ultimate suspension pairing, which foregoes the latest and greatest Buttercup and Hydraulic Bottom Out tech but should still offer solid performance. The drivetrain is full SRAM GX Eagle as you likely guessed by the name, but the brakes are the Hayes Dominion A4 instead of the SRAM CODE you may have expected. The dropper comes from OneUp, with a 180mm length fitted across the size range, and there’s a Race Face alloy cockpit with Aeffect R stem and Turbine bar. The wheels are sister brand HUNT’s Endurowide V2’s with front and rear-specific alloy rims, which are wrapped in a pair of Maxxis tires with proper casings: an Assegai DD MaxxGrip up front; and a DHR2 Downhill MaxxGrip in the rear. This weighed in at 15.9kg (35lbs) all in, which is slightly heavier than average but not ridiculous given the spec. Both of the build options are very functional, absent of any fancy coatings or weight weenie spec parts but very much worthy of some punishment. Fit for the abuse of being fitted to the Privateer 161 frame, which we’ll get onto next.
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)
PRIVATEER 161 GX SPECS
Frame: 6066-T6 Aluminum | 161mm
Fork: RockShox Lyrik Ultimate Charger 2.1 RC2 | 170mm
Shock: RockShox SuperDeluxe Ultimate | Custom Tune | 205x65mm Trunnion
Brakes: Hayes Dominion A4 | 203mm F/R rotors
Handlebar: Race Face Turbine Alloy 35mm| 800mm| 20mm Rise
Stem: RaceFace Aeffect R Aluminum 35mm | 40mm Length
Headset: Privateer Laser Logo | ZS44/56
Seatpost: OneUp V2 Dropper | 180mm
Saddle: Selle Italia X-Base FeC Alloy
Wheelset: Hunt Endurowide V2 | P1: 27.5”; P2-P4: 29”
Front tire: Maxxis Assegai | DD | MaxxGrip | 29″ x 2.5″
Rear tire: Maxxis Minion DHR2 | DH | MaxxGrip | 29″ x 2.4″
Bottom Bracket: SRAM Dub GXP Threaded
Cassette: SRAM XG 1275 | 10-52T
Cranks: SRAM GX DUB | 32T | 170mm
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle | 12spd
Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle | 12spd
Not quite as nicely finished as some
Seat tube angle may be too steep
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