It was a rainy afternoon in Sedona. I finished my volunteer shift, and headed into the festival to try and get a demo. I had heard of this new company, Revel Bikes, that was supposed to have some real pretty and real fast carbon full suspensions. I wanted to try one of those bikes as soon as I could. I arrived at the tent about 10 minutes after the event opened to the public.
Every bike was gone.
I eventually had a chance to hop on a Rail and knew there was something special. I spent some time chatting with the Revel team, which is comprised of industry veterans, avid riders, and are all genuinely good folks, and tossed the idea of a review around.
A few months later, the review was confirmed. I decided that I wanted to escape the Arizona heat and drove to Carbondale to meet the folks and do a test ride on the bike I would be reviewing. Revel and Why Cycles share a warehouse, office, and most of their staff. The warehouse is small, but clean and comfortable, complete with an espresso machine and a dog.
Within the first week of riding this bike, it was loaded with bikepacking bags and ridden on alpine trails, pedaled to the top of Angel Fire bike park in NM, and shuttled a 4k’ descent from the mountains above Santa Fe. I then proceded to ride the living hell out of it for the next 4 months. I gave the bike back in late September, and I still haven’t reviewed it because I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. That is not a bad thing.
The Revel Rascal is a carbon framed 29er spec’d with a 140mm fork and 130mm of rear travel, controlled by the patented Canfield Balance Formula suspension platform designed by Chris Canfield. This is, as you guessed, the same suspension platform as Canfield Bikes (formerly Canfield Brother’s).
I’m not going to pretend to be a mechanical engineer, but to quote Canfield Bikes:
“The patented Canfield Balance Formula focuses the center of curvature precisely in a very finite area on the chainline/top of the chainring, pointing the pedaling forces directly into the instant center throughout the entire range of travel, creating the most efficient yet active pedaling platform possible, completely independent of sag, travel and both drivetrain and braking forces.”
The frame itself is a proprietary carbon layup design that uses 30/60 fiber angles as opposed to 45/90 like most bike frames. This is the brainchild of Jason Schiers, the founder of Enve. Supposedly, this allows Revel to, you guessed it, create a stronger and stiffer frame while using less material. Was it stiff and light enough? Yeah, sure. Actually noticeable? Probably not, but it shows the thought and expertise that goes into Revel frames.
The suspension did play into the ride, and I will get to that later. But, I think more than suspension design, geometry and componentry determine ride quality, so let’s have a look.
My Medium Rascal was spec’d with, as Chris “Dirty” Reichel says, “The “Dickie’s of build kits”. This is the base level build that Revel offers, and besides the frame itself, not a spec of carbon graced this ride. A Pike and Super Deluxe Select provided the travel, while stopping power came from the Guide R brakes (more on those to come). The drivetrain was the bulky but wallet friendly and dependable GX Eagle, with cockpit options coming from SRAM (Reverb) and Truavative (Descendent). 800mm bars and a 40mm stem kept the front end under control. Even being short and not having a big wingspan, I like my bars quite wide, and left them at 800. The package rolled on Industry Nine Enduro S hoops laced to the budget friendly 101 hubs, clad with Maxxis Minions. Mine had the EXO+ casing, which came in handy despite the weight penalty. Northern Arizona has a way of eating tires, and I’d rather expend extra energy pedaling a tough casing tire than pumping up a flat common with light casing tires. Ergon provided the contact points, which was a nice touch, as was the house branded chain guide.
Aesthetics and Frame Language
The Rascal is a beautiful bike, there’s no doubt about that. Clean lines de-clutter the fairly complicated looking linkage, and the branding manages to be subtle but strong. With a 75° seat tube, 66° head tube, and 38mm bottom bracket drop, the geometry numbers are on par for modern mid-travel trail bikes, but not pushing any boundaries. My size Medium had a 1202mm wheelbase and 444mm of reach. This bike is a bit longer than comparable bikes, which really comes down to your riding style and terrain in terms of being a good or bad thing. For comparison, the Ibis Ripley comes in at 1178mm wheelbase for a medium.
Revel opted for the largest logo to grace the downtube, and in the “Alaska” color scheme, that is done in a no-holds-barred gold. Branding is also found in a confident yet understated style on the headtube, seat tube, and bearings. All in all, the Rascal has a confident but not imposing stance, which mirrors it’s ride quality.
The package is topped off with nice details like integrated frame protectors, a threaded BB, and silent internal routing thanks to carbon “tubes in tubes”. Friendly on the eyes and the wrench.
About time we got to the fun part. I’ll just come out and say it: this bike was absurdly fun. Since I’ve already been given a fun acronym, I’ll use it. Confident, balanced, and fun are the three adjectives that came to mind the most while riding this bike. It took me a ride or two to get used to the longer wheelbase and the big hoops, with a few techy climbs fumbled because of that. Once I got used to the center of gravity and my place on the bike, it totally came alive.
The first real ride I took the Revel on was an overnight trip on technical trail to a wilderness boundary at the base of Mt. Sopris. The Rascal handled the weight well, and the kinematics balanced out after re-adjusting. The 29” rear wheel did buzz the seatpost bag on compression, but this wasn’t surprising. The Rascal was not designed for bikepacking, and I could also pack lighter. What I did notice was just how planted the bike felt on straight, steep, and fast bits of trail.
A day riding (without lift assist) Angel Fire Bike Park really let out the hidden personality of this mid-travel machine. Tables, drops, big berms and natural features simply didn’t make this rig falter, which is surprising given that this isn’t a long-travel trail bike. That brings me to the conundrum and detriment of this bike, and maybe this whole class of bikes: the geometry is so on point that it allows one to choose lines and make choices that the travel simply can’t back up. In other words, it rides like it has more travel than it does, and without sketchiness. But you still end up bottoming out. A lot.
The Rascal got a tour of some of my favorite trails of all time throughout Montana, the Wasatch, and Northern California. It handled everything with the attitude of a much bigger bike. This was the honeymoon phase, and the rest of the testing in Prescott and Sedona was where I really got to understand my impressions of the bike. For the rest of the review, I’ll focus on those nitty-gritty details.
For any non-DH bike in 2019, there is really no excuse to be bad at climbing, especially for a 130mm 29er. The build I had was no full carbon weight saver. I am used to that, but on longer dirt road climbs I did notice that I was pedaling a bike that felt about as heavy as longer travel alloy bikes I have owned. Some of this can also be attributed to the heavier tires and overall heavier, larger wheels than I am used to. The Rascal was not a bad climber, but in this configuration and with my legs, it wouldn’t be setting any hill climb records. The linkage remained somewhat active, and did wiggle a bit even on flatter terrain. However, as soon as I left the dirt road and started up any of Prescott or Sedona’s technical climbs, I was hugely impressed.
This is where the CBF suspension really started to stand out: technical, square edged terrain where I had to put power down or maintain consistent spinning to get through. No matter how hard I had to mash, or how poor of a line choice I made, the rear wheel remained planted and the travel felt smooth and active. On other bikes that climbed well, I didn’t really notice the suspension that much. The fact that I actually thought “wow, I shouldn’t have made it up that”, is a testament to a truly solid design, in terms of both geometry and suspension kinematics. The steep-ish seat tube plopped me in a great position for efficient strokes, while the longer reach gave me plenty of room for body english. Sure, the Rascal is a bit longer and more portly than other bikes in it’s class, but it is no slouch when the terrain gets bad going up.
Now, we have established that this is a capable and versatile bike. We have established that it is pretty, and goes uphill nicely. But what about the part we really all care about? How much fun is it? Let me put it this way: if you wouldn’t have told me what the travel was, I would have mentally given the Rascal another 20-30mm front and rear in a guess. I bottomed out the suspension on nearly every ride. Now, that might sound like a contradiction, but let me explain. I chose lines that I had balked at on bigger bikes in the past. I hit familiar lines with more gusto and speed than I had in the past, and I attribute all of that to the balanced geometry, solid suspension design, and a frame that felt stiff where it should but never chattery. Perhaps that’s why Revel chose to put the “130mm” on the frame itself, to remind you of what you are riding.
Though the wheelbase isn’t super short, the bike still snapped around with plenty of pop and play, and the efficient but active suspension allowed pumping and pedaling out of corners with ease. I often found myself hitting side jibs, rocks, and other mini-lines that I hadn’t previously thought of.
When dipped hard into a corner, the Rascal tracked like a dream, due to a low enough center of gravity and spot on cockpit geometry. I’m sure the burly tires and large contact patch attributed to this as well, but I was impressed nonetheless. The bottom bracket is low, but not too low. Not Big Honzo low. I had a few pedal strikes here and there, but that’s just mountain biking in Arizona.
When the trail became loose, steep, and fast, this bike really stood out. Big wheels and a stable stance means simply goin’ fast, and that the Rascal did.
Now, I have said almost no bad things about this bike, and that’s mostly how I feel. But, what kind of review is just glowing? No bike is perfect, but at this point, very few are bad.
I can’t say the same for brakes. Perhaps I’m unlucky, but this is not my first time on Guide R brakes where they have become wildly unpredictable and undependable. Neither of those adjectives should ever be used to describe brakes. Spongy or not, brakes should work. They did not always work. For a bike that rides the way I have described the Rascal riding, this does not bode well. In fact, there were times that I was so irritated or scared because of the brakes that I couldn’t care less what bike I was on, I just wanted to come to a stop reliably. I understand that companies get big discounts when ordering components, and it’s no surprise that a complete build kit can keep costs down. But IMHO, a $5,000 bike should come with the option to get brakes that feel like they will stop you. Guide R’s are not those brakes for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. SRAM has figured many things out, and done it well. The Guide R is not one of those things. Overall, the rest of the kit played nice, but I still prefer a Factory 34/36 and a Transfer over a Pike or Reverb. Maybe I just like gold.
The cable routing on the Rascal is clean and silent, but some attention should be paid to the bottom bracket region where the rear brake line and derailleur housing pop out. I noticed one day that one of the two had become fairly worn due to some rub from the chainring. This was easily remedied, by loosening the guide bolt and feeding a bit more cable into the frame, but it’s worth noting.
Final Words or Tl/dr
In 2019, most bikes out there are going to do a pretty darn good job. The fact that we can have a reasonably light, mid travel bike with big wheels that is comfortable at bike parks just as much as local techy trails and backcountry missions is wonderful. But, if the geometry and attitude of a bike begs you to make questionable decisions, why not simply carry a bigger stick? This is not a knock to Revel or the Rascal, but more a comment about the evolution of mountain bikes and the blurring of lines. If we have 130mm trail bikes that ride like bigger bikes until you bottom out, why even bother with the mid travel in the first place? Sure, there’s a market. Sure, there’s the psychological aspect of “it’s basically an xc bike!”. To be fair, for those who know they will blow through 130mm with ease but want a Revel, there’s the 165mm, 27.5 Rail. For those who want a 29er that packs a bit more of a suspension guarantee behind its modern personality, there are plenty of options out there. But, for those of you who don’t mind bottoming out every once in awhile for a bike that can do almost anything you throw at it with relative composure, than Revel may have hit a damn near perfect balance of capability, aesthetics and just plain fun with the Rascal. You could say that it’s a benefit that the Rascal feels like a 150mm bike, or you could say it’s a drawback and that mid travel bikes should be lighter. You’d be right either way, but what that means is that the Rascal strikes a beautiful balance.
That balance comes at a price, and 5k for a base model isn’t cheap by any means, especially when contenders offer perfectly rideable bikes for thousands less. However, it gets you a damn nice bike and outstanding customer service from a small brand made up of industry veterans who know how to have fun. Would I recommend this bike to everyone? Nope. Would I recommend it to a friend with a deepish wallet looking to invest in a solid all-arounder that can wear a lot of hats? For sure.
Conflict of Interest Disclaimer: Yes, Chris is a key component of Revel and Why, and handles much of their marketing/stoke creation. He also photographed the action shots for this review. He is a nice guy and a gem for helping out with these shots on his free time. Revel has in no way paid me for this review: that’s not how we do things here at the Radavist. Chris helped me out because plans for another shoot fell through and Revel needed the bike back in time for Outerbike. Being able to talk with some of the staff of this company helped give me insight, but did not sway my impressions of the way this bike rode. We keep it real, y’all.