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.
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.
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.
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