Words by Robert Johnston | Photos by Ian Linton

Zerode has always done it differently. From when founder Rob Metz first put their name on the map over in New Zealand back in 2011, the bikes with a Zerode sticker have been absent of a standard derailleur, favoring the improved suspension performance and weight distribution offered by gearbox units instead. After a couple of iterations of their downhill bike, Zerode wanted to spread the benefits of a gearbox to a wider audience, and so their Pinion gearbox-equipped Taniwha was born. As things moved fast and riders sought larger wheels and increased stability, Zerode developed their next offering that built on the successes of the Taniwha, the Katipo. With a pair of 29” wheels, a choice between “large” or “larger” sizes, and of course a Pinion drivetrain, the Katipo promises exceptional suspension performance, but does it deliver on those promises? I’ve been putting one to the test in the Tweed Valley to find out, and it’s been rather enjoyable, but not perfect.


• Pinion 12spd Gearbox
• 160mm Linkage-driven Single Pivot Suspension
• HTA 64
• STA 75.5 (effective)
• REACH 475 (Large)

Price Range: € 4,995 / $5,400 appx (Frame, Shock and Drivetrain) – €8,395 / $9,000 appx (Deluxe Build)


Following on from the legacy that they created with their G1 and G2 downhill bikes, Zerode’s enduro bikes continue to avoid the use of a rear derailleur and cassette. In the case of the Katipo Enduro Deluxe tested, gearing is provided by a Pinion gearbox, which drives the rear wheel with a Gates Carbon Drive belt instead of a conventional chain. The Katipo frame is designed around a pair of 29” wheels, and is available in Enduro or Trail guises with 160mm or 140mm travel respectively. This choice is possible thanks to different shock stroke and rocker links, so customers can switch up their bike between the two modes if desired down the line, for considerably less than the cost of a new frame.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review

Drivetrain | Customers can select between a nine or 12-speed Pinion C-series gearbox to tailor their preference of weight and gear range. In the case of the Pinion C1.12 tested, range is a whopping 600% – equivalent to a 10-60t rear cassette. Shifting through these gearboxes is performed with the Pinion grip shifter as standard due to the requirement to use two cables, though there are aftermarket trigger shifters available if desired. This grip shifter allows for one of the most useful features of the gearbox to be utilized – shifting through a large chunk of gears at once – however it requires a special short drive side grip to avoid eating up too much real estate on the bar. There is a single alloy sprocket on the gearbox output and on the single-speed rear hub, minimizing unsprung mass to improve suspension reactivity and giving equal hub flange spacing to increase rear wheel strength and stiffness. The belt is tensioned by the Pinion BT-1 tensioner – a pulley wheel at the front that’s mounted on a sprung arm. Below this sits Zerode’s own BG-1 plastic skid plate to keep the belt and gearbox safe from impact. At the rear there’s a sleek axle-mounted belt guide to keep it in place through the rough, without contacting the belt during normal pedaling.

Frame | The Katipo frame is constructed from carbon fiber aside from the alloy rocker link. There are mounting points to integrate the Pinion gearbox cleanly, and internal routing for the dual gear cables required to shift the system and the dropper post. The rear brake is routed fully externally to avoid the need to open the system to route the hose, which will please mechanics. A small water bottle will fit inside the front triangle, and there’s basic frame protection in place – the belt drive doesn’t demand the same level of protection for the frame as a conventional chain.

Suspension | Regardless of the travel in the rear, there is the same linkage driven single pivot suspension system. Thanks to the gearbox, the kinematics are consistent throughout the gear range and so the properties can be tailored without compromises as the gear is changed. The sprung to un-sprung ratio (the weight of all of the parts of the bike that move as the suspension cycles to the weight of the “static” parts of the frame and components connected) is considerably higher than a conventional system; and the concentration of mass is shifted towards the center of the bike. This should improve suspension sensitivity, much like on an eBike, and improve the balance of the bike. The chainline remains straight at all times, reducing the friction effects that are present when at the extreme ends of a cassette system and minimizing the harmful lateral forces that can cause premature failure of a chain.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review

In terms of the kinematics, the Anti Squat sits around 90% at sag with the belt drive configuration and increases slightly with a standard chain thanks to the smaller cogs used. Regardless of the choice here, it is not a particularly high number, and so should give plenty of traction to the rear wheel when pedaling but not a particularly efficient feeling platform. The lack of efficiency can be mitigated by the easily reachable climb switch on the rear shock. Anti rise or brake squat sits just over the 100% figure, which should effectively stabilize the chassis when braking, but may firm the rear slightly. The leverage ratio progression is fairly high at 29%, which should allow for the use of high volume air shocks or coil shocks without a tendency to bottom out on hard impacts. All in all, quite purposeful kinematics for an enduro machine.

Geometry | Zerode currently offers the Katipo only in sizes large or extra-large. Zerode believes that riders who are too small to fit on their size large would be better served by a smaller rear wheel, and so point these riders to instead purchase their Tanihwa, which is available in sizes Small through Large with a choice of 27.5” or Mullet/mixed wheel setups. I opted to test the large Katipo Enduro, due to my preference for reach numbers below the 500mm mark instead of the 505mm reach on the XL. Because Zerode only offers the choice of two sizes, many riders such as myself may find themselves with a dilemma for the correct size to choose. For the most part, the 475mm reach on this size was comfortable, but when combined with the relatively short 435mm chainstays and 25mm BB drop, I did feel as if I would have been better served by the larger of the two sizes when the speeds got up. Both of the sizes share the aforementioned chainstay length and BB drop, as well as a 64° head angle and 75.5° effective seat tube angle with the standard 160mm fork. You can knock roughly 0.5° off of both of those numbers when we talk about the build I tested with its 170mm Fox 38, as well as shaving a small amount off the reach and BB drop figures. Rounding out the numbers are a low 610mm stack height on the size large; a 460mm seat tube length, and a wheelbase that totals 1245mm as standard.

Build Specs | Zerode offers customers some freedom when it comes to tailoring the build of their Katipo. There are two standard build specs: the Voyager build at €7,495 (approx. $8,000); or the Deluxe build tested with a price tag of €8,395 (appx $9,000). There’s also the €4,995 ($5,300) frame, shock and drivetrain option, for riders who maybe have their own components they’d like to build the Katipo with or a particular dream build in mind. This frame price tag may feel like a lot of money, but it’s important to factor in the price of a high-end groupset when comparing to most other frame options. And the frame is now backed with a lifetime warranty for the original owner, to ensure you’re covered should you have an issue.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review

The Deluxe build tested comes with the Pinion C1.12 12-speed gearbox as standard, with the Pinion grip shifter up on the bars; their alloy cranks; a Pinion BT-1 belt tensioner; and a Gates Carbon Drive belt drive and alloy sprocket set. The fork is a 160mm travel Fox 36 Factory as standard, but I opted to spec a burlier 170mm travel Fox 38 Factory instead to support the harder charging I expected the Zerode to face in my home testing grounds of the Tweed Valley, Scotland. This fork was paired with a Fox Float X2 Factory rear shock – the standard option, with the possibility of exchanging for a Fox DHX2 Coil Shock if desired. Zerode supplied a 35mm cockpit, with their alloy stem in 45mm length and their carbon fiber Z-Bar with 25mm rise. Seatpost duties are provided by BikeYoke with their Revive dropper, in a choice of 160, 185mm or 213mm drop lengths, which is topped with a WTB Volt saddle. As standard the Deluxe build comes with a South Industries Enduro Carbon rim laced to a Novatec Factor front hub and Pinion H3R singlespeed rear hub that uses DT Swiss internals. My build instead featured Hope Pro 4 hubs laced to these same rims. A set of Maxxis Tires was fitted to these wheels with an EXO casing Assegai up front and an EXO+ DHR2 in the rear, both with the MaxxTerra rubber compounds. Braking duties are handled by Magura with their MT5s as standard, but my build featured the slightly more premium MT7 brakes instead – these perform similarly well from my experience, but have a slightly higher build quality overall. My build tipped the scales at 35.6 lbs (16.15kg) as standard, set up tubeless without pedals. Though this weight quickly climbed once I equipped the Katipo with some more appropriate components, as we’ll get onto next.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review


Spec Notes | From the off, the low stack height had the stock 25mm rise bars feeling far too low, so I replaced them with a set of 50mm rise Burgtec Ride High Josh Bryceland Signature bars. This added a good 150g to the front end, but crucially put the bars in a considerably more comfortable place for riding both up and down the hill. With a set of big and burly carbon rims wrapped in Maxxis MaxxTerra EXO/EXO+ tires, I had to run tire pressures considerably above optimal to give sufficient support and keep the rims in one piece, reducing comfort and grip. I swapped them out for some burlier tires as soon as I could, to obtain the interface with the ground that the Katipo deserved. There’s no doubt that riders on the light end of the spectrum or those riding less rough and rugged trails could possibly benefit from the stock tire casings, but when it comes to riding proper enduro terrain it’s vital to equip a stickier and burlier tire pairing in my eyes. Of course, the combination of the extra weight in the bars and the 300-400g increase in tire weight on each end added a considerable amount to the overall bike weight, sitting up at 17.1kg / 37.7lbs once all was said and done. Climbing spriteliness suffered a little, but the improvements to the descending capabilities were more than worthwhile.

Gearbox Performance | The biggest talking point of the Katipo is undoubtedly the Pinion gearbox, so let’s discuss its performance first. I’m a huge fan of the idea of the gearbox drivetrain systems – rear derailleurs are too fragile and too exposed in my eyes, and the gearbox delivers some other performance benefits too. The gearbox moves the fragile components to a considerably more shielded area, as well as improving the sprung-to-unsprung weight ratio and opening up multi-gear shift and no-pedal shifting capabilities. To unlock these benefits though, the Pinion system has you committed to a grip shift unless you purchase an aftermarket Pinion-specific trigger shift system. This will be enough to put many people off, but I didn’t find the grip shifter too problematic personally, especially after some extended testing time. There are certainly some quirks, such as the need to loosen your grip on the bar to twist the shifter when you’re descending, but once I began to take advantage of dumping through 3 or more gears at once and confidently stamping hard on the pedals as soon as I had made a shift, I began to accept the grip shifter drawbacks. The Pinion system demands that you let off the power to near-zero to shift into an easier gear, and let off a small amount to shift into a harder gear. Initially this caused a couple of awkward moments, but once I got used to the timing and feeling of everything, I was able to shift without breaking the cadence and pedaling flow much at all.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review

The 600% range is impressive, but the choice by Zerode to spec a 1:1 chainring to rear sprocket ratio delivered a range that sat towards the harder side of the spectrum than I’d personally have chosen. The easy gear is still slightly easier than that of an Eagle-equipped 29er with a 32t ring, with a roughly 50 inch rollout compared with 55 inches on a comparably specced Eagle-equipped bike. But, it could certainly go easier still in my eyes, to really maximize the spin-friendliness to get up the steepest climb pitches or to bail out a set of particularly tired legs. I’m envisioning the ability to tackle the same sort of climbs I’d attempt to climb on a ebike, albeit at a slower pace. The 600% range placed the hard end of the gearing up at the speeds where I never find myself keen to pedal, at least certainly not on the trail. Of course this could be remedied by fitting a smaller front sprocket or larger rear sprocket, but it’s an extra expense for the consumer and will deliver modified kinematics when compared with standard. The belt drive system performed flawlessly, standing up to some seriously muddy rides and some very high torque stamps on the pedals without so much as a squeak. It runs extremely quietly and smoothly, only needing a hose down at the end of a ride before it’s good to go again. With the nearly 2 month-long testing period proceeding with only a couple of very minor “clicks” on a rare occasion of being between two gears in the box, and zero maintenance required, you can consider me a fan overall. I’d love to see more gearbox bikes in the mainstream.

Climbing | With gearing that lets you point yourself at steeper inclines with confidence, it’s a shame that the steep terrain climbing capabilities are limited by the short rear end length combined with the fairly slack (by current standards) seat tube angle, giving a tendency for the front end to lift under power. When it’s slightly mellower though, the Katipo is a comfortable climbing machine, delivering oodles of traction and comfort when open, or an efficient platform when the Fox Float X2’s lockout lever is utilized. It does need that lockout lever to calm down the movement of the rear end when cranking hard, so be sure to spec a shock with a climb switch if you value pedaling efficiency. I found myself slamming the saddle forward on the rails and angling the nose down a little more than usual to offset the rearward weight bias that the geometry generates, and was left with a reasonably comfortable position. In terms of gearbox resistance, I’m not convinced it’s problematic whatsoever. Perhaps on the driest days when the average speeds are fairly high, you’ll lose out on a few watts compared with a standard derailleur and cassette system. However, this is offset by a remarkably consistent feeling across the gear range and in all conditions, whether you’re just starting the ride or after 50km of sloppy mud. There’s a slight mechanical rumble you can feel through your feet, especially when pedaling hard at high cadence, which certainly conjures up notions of resistance, but without measuring it properly my legs would suggest it’s not a big deal at all.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review

Descending | The descents are where the Zerode is designed to excel, and there’s a few stand outs in the character that are a serious pleasure, but it won’t be for everyone. First up, the gearbox and belt drive system produce a beautifully silent and smooth descending experience. The belt drive is well managed by the sprung tensioner at the front sprocket, meaning that there’s rarely a peep out of the drivetrain even when pushing hard through rough terrain. There’s also a distinct absence of the rattles that are usually present with a derailleur and chain system, taking some of the usual high frequency vibrations out of the bike and letting you hear the rear hub and tires buzzing down the trail in all of their glory. In terms of the sprung to unsprung weight ratio benefits, the theory states that suspension performance should be better than a conventional drivetrain setup, but without having a bike that can flip between the two systems easily it’s impossible to say for sure exactly how far these benefits stretch.

What I can say for sure though is that the rear end feels great, offering great composure through the harder hits and plenty of compliance to eat up the chunk and generate good – but not great – traction. This traction is undoubtedly limited by the burly South Industries carbon fiber rims, which have a tendency to cause the Katipo to deflect off of the lateral impacts that are so prevalent in natural enduro terrain. Zerode’s choice to spec these wheels may have been a result of trying to mask the limited tire clearance around the rear tire, or a slightly soft rear end, and while they generate an overall handling package that feels good for attacking slightly more groomed terrain, they make the Katipo more of a handful when traction is not at a premium. If I had kept the standard tire spec on the bike, this problem would have been exacerbated even further, so prospective customers should certainly consider their terrain and riding style, and likely be prepared to tweak the wheel and tire spec to improve compliance and traction.

Geometry | Critics may say that the Large size Katipo isn’t the correct size for me at 189cm/6’2”, however it sits closer to my preferred fit than their Extra Large size. I hover in a slightly awkward mid-zone in the Zerode sizing range, but I’d prefer the easier maneuverability for the tighter sections of trail at the expense of straight line speed and stability for the most part. The fairly short rear end and slightly higher BB than many place the balance point further forward, meaning I had to compensate with a more forward body position to ensure ample weighting of the front wheel. This made the reach feel even shorter than the ~470mm that is already on the shorter limit for me, and did leave me wondering if sizing up would have been the better choice. Realistically though, this would only be compensating for a rear end that’s a little short for the rest of the geometry, so I’d love to see 10-15mm added to this rear end length to improve the balance between the wheels and let me run this more comfortable cockpit length. The rear end “agility” does offset the slightly portly weight though, producing a more nimble bike to easily lift the front wheel or pop off a side hit for a bit of party. Steep terrain can be easily crushed thanks to the stability of the chassis when braking and the ease of unweighting the front wheel, though it did have me wishing for a longer dropper to get the chunky WTB Volt saddle out of my way.

Issues | There were a couple of minor issues and one major problem that arose during testing. First up, bottle clearance inside the front triangle is very tight, so a Fidlock system with a YT Thirstmaster bottle may be the only way you can get more than a very small bottle in the frame on a size large. The Magura MT7 brakes performed flawlessly, but the shape of their standard HC lever would bottom out on the Pinion Grip Shifter if the bite point was run close into the bar, where I like it. I pushed the bite point out a little to compensate, but still felt the hard stop of the front brake lever hitting the grip shifter a couple of times when squeezing extra hard. A different brake set or one of the less hooked Magura lever options would solve this. The BikeYoke dropper could have stood to be longer, but didn’t skip a beat. The wheels held straight and true and took some hits amicably, but I’d have preferred something more compliant. All of the Pinion and Gates Carbon Drive parts were flawless and required little to no maintenance. The BT-1 tensioner was a particular highlight, resisting some very testing mud and snow without losing tension or jamming up. Overall the spec on this build was dependable and of a high quality, though I’d make some tweaks personally.

Unfortunately after around a week of testing, the Katipo sustained a failure in the form of a cracked seat stay. During the test there was a single sideways landing that may have been to blame, but I didn’t expect to have any issues following it, so it came as a surprise. Zerode treated me as they would a customer, by asking for imagery of the issue and an explanation of the circumstances which led to the failure, then quickly dispatched a replacement seat stay for me to fit, which arrived within a week of first raising the issue. Zerode had the following to say regarding the issue:

“Strength and durability is of paramount importance at Zerode, we don’t skimp on the carbon layup, and our frames are designed in such a way that they are up for all the abuse that gravity will throw at them. Our customer base spans trail riders on lightweight set ups to bike park customers who run coil shocks and (up to) 180 mm forks with confidence. However frames can still crack. In rare cases the carbon moulding process can introduce weak areas and this can increase the likelihood of a crack, nothing is perfect and there is always the unfortunate outlier. We accept this and make sure we are setup to ensure the quickest and smoothest resolution when the worst does happen. To be clear and  transparent we see around 1.5% failure rate across any one year – some of these are manufacturing defects and others are probably a bit much abuse, but we are pretty chill about that. In any case, we believe in the immortal words of the New Zealand legend in customer service, LV Martin, that “it’s the putting right that counts” and our average time for a replacement part to our customers door anywhere in the world is slightly over 1 week.”

Sh!t does happen some times, and Zerode’s response was reassuring. Following the fitment of the replacement seat stay, there were no more issues sustained for the remainder of testing.

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review

The Wolf’s Last Word

Ignoring the frame failure, testing on board the Zerode Katipo Enduro Deluxe was problem free and quite enjoyable overall. With some geometry tweaks it would be a seriously formidable enduro machine, but a slight lack of stability and limited front end weighting prevent it from reaching the upper tiers of current enduro bike performance. If you’re not looking for the absolute fastest bike out there and think the benefits of the Pinion system are for you though, it’s a pretty killer bike.

Price: €8,395 (appx $9,000)
Weight: 35.6lbs // 16.15kg

Zerode Katipo Deluxe Enduro Mountain Bike Review


Frame: Carbon; 160mm
Fork: Fox 38 29 Factory Kashima 170mm Boost 15mm Grip 2
Shock: Fox Float X2 Factory Kashima 2-Position Adjust 230x65mm

Brakes: Magura MT7, 200F/180R rotors
Handlebar: Zerode Z-Bar Carbon 35mm| 800mm| 25mm Rise
Stem: Zerode Aluminum 35mm | 45mm Length
Headset: Cane Creek 40-Series |  ZS44/56
Seatpost: BikeYoke Revive | 185mm
Saddle: WTB Volt

Hubs: Hope Pro 4 SS
Rims: South Industries Enduro Carbon | 30mm
Front tire: Maxxis Assegai | MaxxTerra | EXO | 29×2.5” WT
Rear tire: Maxxis DHR2 | MaxxTerra | EXO+ | 29×2.4” WT

Gearbox: Pinion C1.12 | 12spd | 600% range
Cranks: Pinion Alloy
Belt Drive: Gates Carbon Drive
Tensioner: Pinion BT-1

We Dig

Pinion gearbox benefits are real
Suspension performance
Surprisingly playful
Beautifully quiet and tight

We Don’t

Rearward weight bias
Unsuitable tire spec
Overly stiff wheels
Seat stay failure


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