Rule the Mountain on the Kingdom Vendetta X2 Titanium 27.5+ Hardtail

One of the challenges of writing about and riding bicycles is finding your flow. Sometimes both just seem to propel themselves, and other times you hit a dead end. Luckily, my time on the Kingdom Vendetta X2 was not the latter. Rather, upon the first shakedown ride, I knew I was going to love riding this bike because of one reason: specialization.

Now, hardtails, while simple in their form, come designed for many specific uses. Within this realm of mountain bikes there is an endless combination of design and geometric tweaks, resulting in a bike that can either be tuned for a broad spectrum of riding, or a very specific niche. All this goes without saying, but you can design a hardtail that will climb exceedingly well and descend like a three-wheeled skateboard. Or descend like a banshee and climb like a one-legged pig. While most of these experiential data is subjective, a few key features are just straight up objective.

Currently, the cycling industry is at an all-time low, as in, the bikes are longer and lower – which is a good thing, but there’s a tipping point. A bike that rides well going up as well as going down, is going to have to strike a balance to reign supreme on the mountain. Luckily, that’s where the Vendetta rules in the Kingdom of mountain bikes.

About the Brand

Have you heard of Kingdom? Up until about a year ago, I hadn’t. The brand began in 2007 in the UK and about 5 years ago, the brand’s founder, Chris Jackson, moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. Those long, slack, and low bikes are designed for and inspired by the riding in the UK: high-speed descents through loamy forests and mud, oh the mud. But alas, now Kingdom is based in Copenhagen, one of those European bike-centric cities, akin to Amsterdam. If you’ve ever spent time there, you’ll see that the bicycle isn’t only a hobby, it’s a way of life, and for the Kingdom guys, their bikes are an extension of their lifeblood.

While the stance and branding of the Vendetta are serious, its inception was anything but. A group of friends got together to address their idiosyncratic ideas about what a mountain bike should and could be, designing the first Kingdom models strictly for themselves. Eventually, the word spread and their friends wanted a bike. From there, the Kingdom grew into a real-life bicycle company. They design and manufacture their prototypes in-house, yet the team from Kingdom is worldwide, with their CAD designer living in Tasmania and a small factory handling production in China. It’s a model of globalism, with one thing in mind: to keep addressing and pursuing the do-it-all, fun-for-all, titanium mountain bikes.

Material

I’m not sure if it’s a sign of the age in which I grew up or the seeming rarity of the material, but this was the first time I’ve ridden a titanium mountain bike. Sure, I’ve pedaled a Moots around a convention center floor or a parking lot, but I’ve never actually logged miles with this material on the trails. While I own a ti all-road bike, a ti MTB frame is somewhat of a unicorn. A mystical creature that really does come alive on the trail. The problem is, titanium is an expensive, time-consuming material, requiring the utmost skill to weld. You’ve got to back purge, watch your temperature, and a number of other procedural minutiae in order to execute a desirable end product, but when you get it right it’s an ideal material for off-road riding. Here I was thinking my Firefly rode like a rocket on fire roads; the Vendetta is a kamikaze on the trails.

Construction

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with a Chinese-manufactured ti bike. I know Taiwan and China make some of the nicest bikes in the world, but how clean would the welds be? How would the head tube junction, the bb yoke, and the seat tube cluster look? There are a lot of tight spots on this bike where sloppy welds would really ruin the overall package, yet, well… look for yourself. The Vendetta’s construction is flawless. With an internal dropper routing, an integrated bash-guard mount, and no-nonsense external cable and lines, it has a clean aesthetic and even cleaner construction.

Componentry

When I was dealing with Anthony, Kingdom’s US rep, I expressed an interest in a low to mid-grade build. I didn’t want too much bling and opted to support some smaller companies here. With a build kit featuring Industry Nine, Cane Creek, Fall Line, Fog City, and a Burgtec Cloud Mk2 saddle, it would complement the standard no-brainer inclusion of SRAM and WTB. We chose NX 11-speed for the kit, with Level T brakes. While all of these products deserve a note, I really want to address a particular one in-depth.

Cane Creek Helm Air

The one thing people reacted to the most when this bike was posted on our social media channels was the fork. They were stoked to see it and I’m stoked to have been able to ride it. I’ll be completely honest here – as I’ve said numerous other times as well – I’m not a suspension whiz. I’ll look up the approximate weight to PSI chart and get as close as I can to the right “feel.” I don’t pine about sag or rebound; I’m a set it and forget it kinda guy. This is due to the fact that my saddle weight varies by 10-15lbs on every other ride, depending on camera gear. For instance, on my first ride on this bike, I was carrying a 25lb pack, with a tripod. The next ride I don’t think I even had a multi-tool on me. Typically, I wouldn’t make any adjustment, but when I’m on a new bike I take the time to dial everything in. This is a burden I carry as a photographer and it’s not me bragging! I’m simply stating that usually when I ride, the photos are what’s on my mind usually, not how dialed in my fork is.

Being a North Carolina native myself, I was intrigued by the Helm Air. Carolinians are a special breed of people and the mountain people of Carolina even more so. They’re hardened, calloused, but still some of the nicest around. Learning to mountain bike in North Carolina in a lot of ways made me the rider I am today. Riding steep, rocky and rooty terrain on a $300, clapped out Gary Fisher will make anyone a better rider! It didn’t take long to learn that speed is your ally. It’ll propel you through the tech sections and ensure you make it out of the other end. Perhaps that was the intent with the Cane Creek Helm lineup: forks for high speed.

When meandering through technical sections slowly, I found the fork isn’t as responsive as it is when hitting the same section faster. I might add that I intentionally dialed this fork in during the duration of my review period to ensure I gave it a fair chance – often times clicking the rebound adjustment or purging a bit of air to see how it reacted to the same stretch of trail over and over again. I spent as much time thinking about getting the Helm dialed in as I did understanding the intent of this bike.

With a 7-way adjustable suspension system that’s optimized for 140mm to 170mm of travel straight from the box, the Helm can fit on any number of bike platforms: from XC hardtails to full-on trail monsters. It really is a capable contender in a world dominated by a few bigger brands. For the Vendetta, I’m 100% confident this was an ideal pairing; both are designed to go downhill, through the gnar gnar, at speed! All for a $1,100 price tag. See more at Cane Creek.

Industry Nine Back Country 360 Wheels

With a 36mm inner width and a 39.8mm outer width, the i9 Back Country 360 wheels are designed for bigger tires and are engineered to take a beating, all in a 1,865g total package for the set. I have to say, I’ve ridden a lot of i9 wheelsets and these have been my favorite. They’re light, strong, just subtle enough but still blingy, also made in North Carolina and at a killer price point of $1,265.00. These wheels ducked and dived like they were alive, resisted numerous impacts without fault, and then Moab happened. Captain Ahab specifically. It could have been a bad scene, but luckily, I saved my face and body from harm, at the expense of the rear wheel. While I didn’t trash the whole thing, I did put a good dent in the rim, which, to be honest, I haven’t even tried to remove because even after the dent happened, the tire didn’t lose pressure or leak sealant. Still to this day, the tire has held up on the bead just fine. That’s what you want in an alloy rim: for it to do its damn job! I guess we know now why these wheels are dubbed “Back Country” because they’ll save your ass from walking out…

Fall Line “No-Fail” Dropper

It’s a sad state of affairs when the first thing on your mind with a dropper post is “when’s this one gonna shit the bed?” Luckily, contrary to the name of this unit, the Fall Line didn’t fall, or fail. It did its job for the duration of this four-month long review. Aside from the chintzy dropper remote – which, let’s be honest, they’re mostly all chintzy – I have absolutely nothing to report here. Isn’t that what you want in a dropper? Nothing to report? Especially with a $399 price tag.

Geometrically Speaking

Ok, on to the meat of this review. If you can understand triangles, you can understand frame geometry and the Vendetta has three of them! Let’s start with the head tube angle. At a slack 64.5º static angle, this is the slackest head angle on a hardtail I’ve ridden. This was met with a fair bit of apprehension, fearing the dreaded wheel-flop while climbing or maneuvering at slow speeds. Both of which are valid concerns, if the rest of the angles and dimensions aren’t designed to accommodate such a slack angle. Luckily, the guys at Kingdom know a thing or two, or three about frame design. Back to the rear triangle, the chainstays come in at 423mm, with a bottom bracket drop of 30mm, putting the rear of the bike in the short, but not, “oh god, where is it going to go next!” short. If the stays are too short, the bb too low and the head angle too slack, it can get messy at times, in my experience anyway. The Vendetta strikes a balance, through its 74º seat tube angle, a stack of 634mm for the XL I demoed and a reach of 481mm. So, the seat angle is steep-ish and the reach is short-ish, with a 150mm fork, on a slack head angle. This makes for a comfortable, upright riding position going up, and the ability to drop wayyyyyy back behind the saddle going down, even on the XL.

Rule the Mountain

Here’s where I admit my own fault. I had scheduled “action shots” for this bike last weekend, prior to posting this review. Then I went to the doctor to have them look at my pinky, only to find it was indeed fractured, and it had healed in a less-than-ideal way; crooked. So, while distracting me, they re-set the bone and the bloody thing is so sensitive now, that even pedaling up to this photo spot, every bump I hit caused a jolt of pain. So, unfortunately, my action shots will have to wait…

With no photos as evidence, you’ll have to trust me when I say this bike fuckin’ jams. I’m not sure how to say that in Danish, but you get the picture. Coming from reviewing the Chameleon, to riding my Retrotec, I thought I had it all figured out. Not life, but rather what I liked in hardtail geometry. Then I hopped on the Vendetta and descended from the highest point in the city of Los Angeles – over 5,200′ – with a 25lb camera bag. It was wild. Usually, carrying that extra weight makes for a squirrely ride down, but the Vendetta loved the extra weight and propelled me like a Civil War-era cannonball. You know the type? Where they shot them along the ground to take out the troops’ legs? Yeah, morbid analogy, but it worked at the time of me writing this.

Future rides, both with camera bag and without proved that everything I felt about hardtails had been discombobulated with one fell swoop. Corners were cooked, berms blasted, and fall line trails were felled. Even in Moab, a place where I’ve run the gamut of bikes along its trails, the Kingdom Vendetta proved itself time and time again. Not just on the descents either. This thing climbs like butter sliding in a cast iron skillet.

Out of all this positivity, there only comes one small qualm; the single bottle cage. Which brings me to one last note…

Fog City Bottle Bag

I should state that’s not what the bag is called, but it’s what I named it after embarking on a warm ride in the San Gabriel mountains, where I found that although it’s designed for tools, snacks, and a light jacket, this nifty bag, designed specifically for this bike and this review – although I’m sure it’d work in other applications – fit a 22oz bottle with ease. Viola, problem solved. It even has a small little pouch for a nug or a key. Whichever is most important for you to carry. This bag, paired with the Fog City Saddle Pack, really enhanced the experience of this bike for the better. If you’d like one, holler at Fog City.

Ready to rule your trails? Kingdom has a US division with stock, including the Vendetta X2 I reviewed here along with their other options. Give them a follow on Instagram and drop them a note if you’re interested in your own Vendetta.

EU/Intl inquiries: email – [email protected]
US inquiries: email – [email protected]

Weights:
– Frame weight between 1.98kgs and 2.3kgs depending on size
– Complete bike: 11kgs+ As reviewed here, with pedals, 13kg, or 29 lbs.

Price:
€999 Euros ($1,164 based on today’s Euro to USD exchange rates. Note; the US price is not set in stone as it fluctuates depending on market conditions) – quoted price is for frame only.

All with a LIFETIME warranty to the original owner.

See more at Kingdom.

____

Follow Kingdom on Instagram and their Kingdom US on Instagram.

  • boomforeal

    dude, editor; seriously

  • geopedler

    John, Fantastic job as always, thank you so much! I was keenly waiting for this review after seeing your teasers on the social sites. I am quite interested in your thoughts about the steeper SA and slacker HA as compared to the other hardtails in your quiver (particularly the Funduro). I too am a bit of a hardcore hardtail holdout and also a bit over 6 foot tall. Twice now I’ve tried the newer geo trend of steeper SA and found that much past 73 degrees and I cannot get the seat away from my back & butt when standing. Please expand on your thoughts about this element of this bike with regards to climbing both seated and standing. Is this trend truly better and something that those of us from road backgrounds of slacker SAs simply need to adjust to, in order to take advantage of the slacker HA and long fork? (Ride a Chromag Rootdown 29r w/ 67.5HA 73SA)

  • Andy B

    Ti weldments (outside and inside the tube) should appear as silver/light straw color, anything darker than that indicates contamination. Not an undercover Taiwan vs China vs MUSA comment, just reiterating your statement above about the skill, knowledge and resources needed to properly weld titanium.

    • boomforeal

      sure look perty tho

    • Peter Wild

      The review is on the money for sure. I got one about 4 years ago, and it rides no other bike I’ve owned, pure fun. I know zip about welding but the welds look clean and neat, much better than some bikes I’ve seen. I’ve hammered mine since I got it and its still in one piece! plus mine has a lifetime warranty so, not worried.

    • Nigel Chang

      Hey Andy, yes the gold standard is a silvery weld – while dark discolouration can indicate contamination, some discolouration is acceptable IF it is on the welded side only….of course the trick is in determining whether there is any discolouration on the penetration side (i.e. inside the tube).

      • Andy B

        Hi Nigel – It’s very easy to see if proper back purge was used by looking in the head tube, bottom bracket shell, seat tube, dropouts etc. (Look inside the dropout pictured above ^). I’ve never heard what you are saying about allowances depending on topside/backside contamination. However, in regard to bike frames where every joint is cyclically stressed in some way, why take the time to setup proper backpurge and ignore proper preflow/cfh/postflow/travel/yada yada torch-side?

        Take care.

  • aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh

    Did you warm to the raw titanium finish? I’ve seen so many beautifully painted bikes on this site, but there’s a particular beauty in bare metal, especially when it can hold up to use and the elements on its own. The minimal branding combines really well with this.

    Since I got mine, I’ve been neglecting maintenance on my full suspension bike and just riding the hardtail everywhere. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m still getting a feel for how far I can push it on trails I would have never ridden without full supsension before.

  • Thor

    This is a “low to mid grade build”?!?!? I just can’t see how those terms apply to Industry Nine wheels and a Cane Creek fork. That’s some high end stuff right there.

    • The wheels, bars or stem aren’t carbon, it’s not XX1 Eagle and yeah the fork is pricey but it’s the only high end part on this bike.

  • Michael

    Super high B.B. height, I like higher but 725mm with a Rekon/DHF 2.8 on 36mm rims seems particularly high by modern design standards. I’m not sure I agree with their assertion that this bike is suitable with 27.5/+ and 29er. I guess for bigger folks that would be less of a concern.

    • I dunno man, after all these low bb mountain bikes, I like the feel of a higher BB…

    • aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh

      Yeah, the higher bottom bracket stood out to me too since I wanted to run it with 27.5+ or 29 tires. I’ve been running it with Rekon 2.8’s and Vee Crown Gem 2.8s and it’s been fine, but I wouldn’t be able to discern the handling characteristics that were due to the bb height without A/B testing. I haven’t tried it as a 29er yet. I also wanted to run a 180mm crank, so it makes that easy.

      • Vinment Budihardjo

        I have an X2 scheduled to be delivered to me when i am back from my holiday and it will be set up as a 29er. Chris assured me it will ride fine and won’t make you feel like you are riding so high off the ground. We’ll see. I can always swap to 27.5+

        • Anthony Ip

          29er Vendetta with 120/130mm fork = unreal fun.

    • Anthony Ip

      The Vendetta X2 is designed primarily around 27.5. We built this for John with a plus set up as we knew he’d be taking it to Moab.

      The BB height on the Vendetta is indeed higher than the current trends, and we’re totally okay with that as we don’t design to trends. The -28 BB drop was developed through a decade of real world testing.

      • Yeah, I actually really loved the BB drop (or lack thereof) – It worked quite well with the chainstay length and HTA.

        • Anthony Ip

          hell yes – and helpful in avoiding those chunky bits on sunset ridge.

          • Michael

            Fair enough, I agree it’s something worth obsessing over. I also think B.B. heights have gone to far south as well. As a shorter fellow I’ve taken to shorter cranks currently running 165 which affords me the ability to run a lower B.B. it’s a bit like having your cake and… I dig what you folks at cooking. I also think many manufacturers have not taken into consideration the sag of a plus tire into their designs exasperating the super low B.B. issues further.

          • They’ve gotten way too low IMO…

  • Anthony Ip

    hi everyone: just wanted to add a note. The Vendetta X2 comes with a lifetime warranty (original owner) – 10 years making Vendettas and not a single warranty claim – we build these to outlast the rider.

    Anthony (Kingdom rep for US)

  • Andrewthemaker

    Slack ht’s are a lot of fun! As with most, this one has a pretty small inner triangle for a long frame. You might be able to fit 2 small bottles on the dt by using a B-Rad rail and then still use that Fog City bag for other stuff. Did this on a couple of my bikes and having a bottle that high up is great!

  • somebody_aight

    Cool to see a “hardcore” hardtail on here. However, the WTB Ranger tires seem like a poor fit for such a bike. I have a ranger 3.0 on the back of my chameleon and just rode Sturtevant on it. It sucked sooo bad. It feels vague and lacks a pronounced shoulder.

    • Are your trails similar to my trails here in LA? The Ranger shreds here in the loose / sandy / rocky stuff.

      • somebody_aight

        Yeah I just shuttled Mt. Wilson a couple weeks ago, but mostly ride the Santa Monicas. I previously rode a rekon 2.8 and purgatory 3.0, both of which I preferred. The rangers came stock on the bike. I’m running a DHF 2.8 on the front.

        • Yeah, I could see all those being good options. I’m not too picky about tires, and ride these quite often on my person bikes. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

          • macatarere

            ‘I’m not too picky about tires’ John, YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!