Build one... sell two, right?
Okay, enough with that - let's get down to business.
I've been enjoying my refreshed Leader so much, I thought to myself "...how cool would it be to have a beat-down all mountain long travel hardtail? Is there such a thing?"
My criteria was a minimum of 130mm of travel, hardtail, steel, budget - can I do it?
And the answer, according to On-One, is yes.
Piecing together what I had laying around in my garage and buying a few bits on eBay, I built this machine - the classic 456. On-One claims they've found the "sweet spot" with the geometry of this frame: one that can climb without sketching out the front end, and one that can take a 4", 5" or 6" travel fork (hence the name "456"). The company recommends a short stem (40-60mm) and they offer sizing for short, medium and tall riders. In their description, they call it a "freeride hardtail", but I think most use it as an all-mountain bike. I ordered a 16", based on their recommendation.
The first, noticeable thing about riding this bike was the cramped cockpit. It is a completely different feel than my XC bike, and right off the bat, I can tell it was a much slower ride, too. So, racing this bike up fire roads in lycra and a visor-less helmet is out of the question. I toyed with a 110mm stem, but it threw the geometry off, so I stuck with the short 70mm stem. Of course, with the short stem came the wide handlebar and I trimmed mine to a tightrope balancing pole's width of 29.5". With budget parts, a 2X8 drive train, 302 Tora coil fork and low-level SRAM gear shifty stuff, it comes in at a stout 31.68lbs.
The first test was climbing the technical Stile Ranch Trail - where the bike performed beautifully. It stuck to the ground quite well, and for a hardtail, bump compliance was great. However, combined with the weight and the geometry, I still was not as fast up that climb as I am with my XC bike. On the double track rollers, it worked very well.
The part of the ride that provided the complete truth of what this bike is intended for (and what it is not intended for) was the Coyote Peak fire road climb. Man... it sucked the life out of me. Getting up that fire road felt like I was out-of-shape again; it was painfully slow. Part of the problem could've been my seat post. A 350mm was just not long enough for my legs to properly extend when pedaling, creating complete inefficiency for these types of climb situations. Therefore, I have since ordered a 400mm seat post, installed it, and will test it again to see if that is the true culprit. But, even with the new seat post, I foresee that there won't be a night-and-day change in XC-style climbing with this bike.
Descending Rocky Ridge was also an interesting test. The frame geometry did wonderfully, but my cheap Tora 302 fork crapped out horribly. On extension ("top-out"), the fork developed a ridiculous "CLUNK" and the rebound completely stopped working. Not only was the fork pogo'ing really bad, the "swoosh" sound that you hear when your rebound adjust is working, was gone. Therefore, all I had was a spongy, springy, pogo stick up front that "CLUNKED" with every curb I dropped off.
While researching this problem, I stumbled upon THIS POST on Bike Radar, that not only describes the problem, but gives you the fix, as well. Completely frustrated and mad at myself that I bought such a cheap fork, I was forced to do a re-build and see if the problem I had was the same as the one described on Bike Radar.
After pulling the entire fork apart and cleaning/inspecting it, I found without fail, that my rebound adjuster did, in fact, have the same problem as was described. Not only did I fix that problem, but I went in with proper levels of heavier oil, re-greased the spring and torqued everything to spec. Garage testing the fork proved this was the best thing I could've done for this fork and I hope that on today's ride, it stays that way.
My overall feeling with this bike is that I now have a "fun" bike (not that all bikes aren't fun), that I could keep to ride when the XC bike just doesn't have the long travel I need. It is a slow fire road climber, but that is to be expected, and I am not too concerned with weight. It jumps and drops great, so obstacles are a blast with the 456, and sitting back and enjoying the ride without too many expectations is what this bike is all about. It handles technical climbing very well. I think I should've bought an 18" frame, but I can see the appeal of a smaller frame for free ride situations; a dropper seat post would be a great addition to this bike.
I'm disappointed that I had to rebuild a brand new Tora 302 fork, but realize that when you go cheap, one can assume that the part won't always come to you perfect. I just hope that it stays working - I don't feel like having to do it again.
I am quite happy with this build and happy with another steel bike. On a side note, I've since upgraded to lock-on grips... twisting grips are pretty annoying!