REI gets into the premium mountain market this spring with this playful, German-engineered 27.5-inch trail bike
What We Dig: The 130mm (5.1 inches) full-carbon frame is refined and beautiful, with a strong, hexagonal down tube mated to a svelte and graceful rear end and slick internal cable routings throughout. The firm suspension and beefy BB95 bottom bracket is all about turning watts into miles. The new Shimano M9000 drivetrain is the finest two-by setup money can buy and works flawlessly, as expected. And many of the trail details—including the dropper post and 180mm rotors front and rear—are indulgent on a bike this quick.
What We Don’t: The biggest miss are the 32mm stanchions on the Fox fork, which feel flimsy on this length bike and hold the Riot back from getting truly rowdy. Ditto the squirmy, lightweight 2.25-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, both of which we ripped open within the first two weeks of riding.
The Verdict: The Riot pedals as fast and lean as Lance Armstrong in his heyday, and, as such, it feels like the new cross-country paradigm, with smaller wheels and a bit more travel than we expect of fast bikes. But those strengths also serve to underscore the bike’s limitations: at 25.8-pounds, it’s light but not as feathery as comparable XC race bikes, yet the stiff rear tuning, lightweight frame hardware, and flexy fork mean it also can’t quite keep up with burlier trail bikes. It would make a good stepup for racers or anyone looking to jump up to full suspension from a hard tail.
Though the Riot looks like a standard four-bar linkage, the rear triangle actually attaches to a secondary rocker link at the chain stays, which makes for a progressive feel throughout the travel and a bottom end that’s hard to max. It’s a neat-looking setup and works as advertised, though it’s also a bit convoluted, which we found trapped mud and bog in wet conditions. Part of the frame’s light weight comes from the use of bushings instead of sealed bearings—unfortunately, the bushing at the rear, drive-side chain stay pivot started to fail about halfway into the test, making us wonder about the hardware’s durability.
Ghost has also created a new brake mount and rear derailleur hanger system for the Riot: Both parts are built of forged aluminum, sit inside the frame, and are held in place by the thru-axle. The advantage, other than easily changeable parts if either gets bent, is that it requires no metal inserts or threads in the carbon, which can turn into points of weakness over time. From the looks of it, the metal thru-axle should take the brunt of the braking forces, as well, which is easier on the frame. Our only niggle is that the set screw that keeps it all together was a bit fiddly given the miniscule Torx T10 sizing.
Almost everything about the Ghost is premium, and the Shimano M9000 parts top our list of favorites, with crisp, snappy shifts, both up and down. Having said that, we felt that a 1x11 arrangement might have been more appropriate than the 2x on this top-shelf setup, not only for the weight it would save but also for the extra clearance on descents. And we love Shimano’s new carbon brake levers but wish the company would produce an XTR-level six-bolt model so that top-shelf bikes such as the Riot could enjoy the very best braking performance without spec’ing center-lock wheels.
The Easton Haven wheel set is a good, sturdy choice, though at this price we’d really hope to get carbon. And given the rest of the racy setup, we’d probably have picked something lighter-duty, such as Easton’s EC90s.
The wheel and drivetrain choices underscore the bike’s incongruities. For instance, the Selle Italia SLR saddle is one of the lightest, best race saddles you can buy—and we love it—and we also appreciate the inclusion of RockShox internally routed Reverb dropper post, but the two make odd bedfellows. Similarly, while we like the shape and weight of the Ritchey WCS carbon bars, at 710mm they are too narrow for a 130mm trail bike.
Climb: The Riot is probably most at home going up hills, a bit of a surprise for a bike with this much travel. Even with the rear sag set at 30 percent or a little beyond, which is where we found downhill performance best, it skipped up climbs like a mountain goat. It sits so high in its firm rear suspension, in fact, that we almost never flipped the Fox CTD beyond the Trail mode.
Trail: With a relatively compact fit, thanks in part to the stubby 60mm stem and short rear stays, the Ghost is nimble and playful on tight singletrack. We found ourselves wanting to pick up the wheels off the ground more than normal, attack berms and small wall rides, and mess around on whatever features the trail threw at us. The Riot is the quintessential example of how playful a 27.5-inch bike can be.
Descend: If it punches above its weight on the pedaling side, the Riot falls short of the more aggressive mid-range trail bikes when the terrain turns down. The 68-degree head tube angle should be slack enough for carving and shredding, but somehow we just never felt completely confident descending, especially when the trail was steep or the speeds high. Rather than smoothing out the loose and bumpy stuff, the solid rear suspension is chattery and skips around unless you really push hard. But you can’t truly rail on the Riot because the Fox 32 fork twists and flexes when you do. A 750mm handlebar, or even wider, would probably make for much better downhill manners.
Fit / Sizing
The Riot is average size verging on small. At 5’10” and 155 pounds, I felt slightly cramped on the stock build and probably would have switched to a bit longer of a stem except for the concern that it would detract from the quick steering and chipper feel.
The mid-range 27.5 bike is an interesting category as bikes tend to lean to the racier, XC side of the equation and give up some downhill capabilities or they can tear up the descents but are too portly to keep up with race machines.
The Riot reminds us a lot of the 2014 Scott Spark 710, which had the same head angle and skittish, sprightly feel. That bike was even lighter than the Riot and less expensive, though it also lacked the premium XTR components and, importantly, a dropper post. On the other end of the scale is the excellent Yeti SB5c, which comes equipped with a Fox 34mm fork at the minimum and is often run with a 150mm Rockshox Pike. That makes the Yeti, which pedals astoundingly well, a seriously agile machine on all but the gnarliest trails—a veritable downhill machine relative to the Riot.
The Ghost sits somewhere between those two bikes, with pricing on the high end for what you get. Before we received the Riot, we had hoped that it would find an excellent general trail riding balance between uphill and downhill capabilities, like, for instance the Trek Fuel EX 9 27.5. But the Riot leans more toward the fast and light Scott model.
Given the Riot’s predilections for climbing and speed, it would make a good upgrade for riders with a cross-country background looking for a bit more forgiveness. It would also be a solid one-bike quiver for marathon-style racers who don’t go in for 29ers or anyone living in locales with smoother trails, such as Santa Cruz, California, or Bend, Oregon.
On some level, though, we couldn’t help but feel that the Riot had a bit of an identity crisis as spec’d. It’s expensive and built-out like an XC race bike (minus the wheels), yet it doesn’t have quite the pop. Nor is it rugged or capable enough to shred with the more all-mountain oriented bikes in this category. So for most people, the less costly—though still not cheap at $5,700—Riot 7 LC is probably a more realistic and attainable bet.
For anyone who prefers unrulier terrain, it’s probably worth looking at the longer-travel Riot LT 8, which REI has will be selling for $5,700. With a Fox 34 Talas 150mm fork, which can be dropped to 120mm for better climbing, and a beefy Cane Creek Double Barrel shock, this model will get a bit slacker and burlier than the one we tested and should really come alive in rough terrain.
Finally, while the prices may be a bit steep relative to comparable models from other brands, especially the Riot 9 LC, it’s worth remembering that REI members earn 10 percent dividends on purchases and get access to exceptional promotional sales throughout the year. So this high-end, German-engineered trail machine could end up costing less than that same-old, U.S.-brand bike that every other person on the trail is riding.
Bike: 2015 Ghost Riot 9 LC
Wheel Size: 650B
Built for: Cross-country plus
Size Tested: Medium
Bike Weight: 25.8 lbs.
MSRP: $8,000 as tested; the Riot 7 LC, with XT components and Fox Evolution suspension will retail for $5,700
The Test: Several months, from Tucson, Arizona, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, including two weeks of daily trail riding in New Zealand.
Aaron Gulley launched the Outside magazine test bike program in 2006 and has evaluated dozens of bikes a year for the magazine ever since.