Chris Corona’s MASH SF Rockbanger Hardtail MTB

Following the review of his MASH SF Steel All-Road from earlier this year, Chris Corona is back with yet another MASH bike review. This time, he’s built himself a steel “Rockbanger” 27.5 hardtail mountain bike and documents it in his stunning photographic style. Let’s check it out in detail below!

Back in the 90s, almost two decades after mountain biking’s inception in the Marin headlands, I got my start on the gritty single track of Philadelphia. Wissahickon Creek, Belmont Plateau and Fairmont Park (along the banks of the Schuylkill River)… You could ride loops for hours. It felt endless, connecting and spider-webbing your way all over these greenspace pockets just outside Center City. The trails here were twisty, technical and tight. In terms of elevation, you’d wrestle with rolling hills, but certainly not mountains. Despite this, I still reached for the hardtail often when heading out from home.

There was a certain holistic nature to mastering this landscape. To go fast and really enjoy yourself, you couldn’t just ‘pedal harder.’ In addition to fitness, it took savant technical ability and masterful bike handling. Drive too hard and you end up washing out, careening face-first over twisted handlebars into the dirt. Conversely, push too daintily and you’ll get caught up, teetering atop rooty sections or other tech areas. The perfect balance meant maintaining both speed and technical poise. Riding in Philly was all about flow.

The Monterey Bay marine layer settling in the valleys between ridgelines. The diffuse sunlight filtering through offers this augmented atmospheric perspective.

It was back here in the city, while on my constitutional hardtail rides, that I first learned about Chris King components and the art of the single speed. Ed Bush, a local with whom I would ride, had this peculiar buzz coming from his rear wheel. It sounded like his free hub was packed with angry bees. I loved how stripped down his bike was: a Moots Ti frameset with an ultra-tidy flat-bar cockpit (one disc brake lever for the front 26” wheel; a rim brake lever ran to the rear), and drivetrain that required next to zero maintenance. Just a 1x crankset and a singular rear sprocket and tensioned chain. I adored it. A year after meeting Ed, he built me up my first set of King wheels. They were singlespeed. Prophetic.

After Philly, I relocated to Northern California and learned, first-hand, what all the real hullabaloo was about. ‘Mountain biking’ involved actual mountains; with sustained, lung-busting climbs that, once conquered, rewarded the rider with infinite descent options. Single speed in tow, I tackled everything that California threw at me with the same ‘flow’ as before. This time, however, I applied it vertically. I would settle into a dedicated effort, enough to work up a sweat and get warm, but without stress. Lacking gears, I wasn’t racing. I didn’t concern myself with power numbers or PRs. I was there to enjoy the ride. Besides, I found it far more fun to apply that laser focus on line selection while charging my way downhill. Rinse and repeat.

Situated in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Soquel Demonstration Forest is a major haven for sustainable timber management, environmental research and outdoor activity, including mountain biking. 

It’s been well over a decade since those first rides in the Bay Area, but like the undying classic that is the single-speed, my joy lives on. I will admit that I’ve adopted several geared bikes since those days, but regardless of drivetrain, I still firmly believe that steel hardtails reign supreme. The ride quality and soulful feel are very desirable. Enter the MASH Rockbanger.

This steel hardtail mountain bike is a rolling double entendre. Of course, there’s the obvious physical connotation: a robust, no-nonsense build that’s ready for any terrain you’re willing to conquer. But the moniker also memorializes the timeless energy this bike exudes. The sensations are akin to something aural, similar to dusting off and spinning an old hip-hop record. Like with Tribe, Gang Starr, or other golden-age lyricists, the Rockbanger will have you bobbing your head along and appreciating the flow with every pedal stroke.

Here in Santa Cruz, it’s the perfect party rig to tackle and redefine the multi-surface rides I usually cover on a CX or gravel bike. I’ll toss on a tee shirt and baggy shorts and spend all day pedaling pavement and fire road connectors to my favorite local trails.

While rolling, you’ll notice the frame, which is made from double-butted 4130 steel. It’s not a featherweight material, but that’s intentional. Strength and reliability are the paramount features that enable you to point this bike at absolutely anything and everything. For geometry numbers, I’d place this somewhere nicely between an XC and Trail bike with all the heart and soul of BMX. Consider it a stripped-down ‘funduro’ rig. With minimal moving parts, you’ll spend less time fiddling with mechanical issues and more time feeling the trail underneath your tires. Every weight shift, bunnyhop, and manual feels direct and responsive.

On the front, the Teravail Warwick 2.5 is a progressive enduro tire. With multi-faceted, soft-rubber lugs and an open transition area, there’s plenty of grip to rely on when throwing yourself into a corner. At the rear is a Teravail Kessel 2.5. This is an aggressive all-moutain/enduro tire. Generously spaced, tall angular lugs provide some serious grip in loose, technical terrain. Ramped center lugs minimize rolling resistance to keep the wheels turning. The burlier ‘Grip’ casing in the tanwall colorway is a great compliment to Fox 36 rootbeer fork this bike’s overall aesthetics

In your hands, you’ll feel a set of RaceFace NEXT Carbon flat bars, with RF Getter grips, mounted to a RF Turbine 50mm stem. I chose to keep them 800mm because who’s cutting down their bars anymore? At your fingertips, this build features a RF Turbine RX1 dropper lever, Shimano XT shifter & brakes. The brake feel is light and linear, which makes modulation a breeze. Twitch your pointer for control; squeeze to induce a skid. Snapping into a bermed corner or leaning the bike over through a flat turn never left me feeling squirrely or lacking control.

I’m not one for riser bars, so I chose a 10mm Carbon RaceFace Next R 35 handlebar for this build. The compression dampening is a nice benefit when rolling over a chunky technical section and definitely saved my hands from the dreaded claw grip, post-descent. This being said, these bars are no noodle. The 35mm clamp diameter offers just the right amount of stiffness for control; I never felt like there was too much flexion.

Orange on orange on orange. Complementary anodized fork dials, headset and stem.

Gear changes are equally as simple. Even under load while pedaling uphill, Shimano’s 1x system is always comparably quiet and dependable. It’s pleasing to work the gear shifter and hear that reverberant metallic “chunk” as the chain moves across sprockets. Combine this cockpit with a Fox Factory 36 fork and Transfer dropper, wide Chris King MTN30 27.5” wheels with 180mm Shimano XT rotors, and beefy Teravail Warwick & Kessel 2.5” tires, you have one stable, confidence-inspiring platform.

The MTN30 wheelset isn’t your standard carbon mountain wheelest. Interestingly, the rim is constructed out of FusionFiber, a dynamic thermoplastic alternative to carbon fiber. Supple and compliant, yet ridiculously tough. I found myself running these wheels at lower pressures than normal. Laced to the rim is a classic CK centerlock boost hub with 72-points of engagement. You’ll feel (and hear) the difference; these wheels hum!

Beneath your feet, screwed into RF’s Turbine cranks are the brand’s Aeffect R flat pedals. The 7000-series aluminum cranks are insanely durable and comparably lightweight and the flats offer 10 traction pins, which kept my feet glued to the bike while flying over all the chunky downhill sections. While other rigs might leave you yearning for ‘a bit more,’ the Rockbanger will instead have you opting for those rock rolls, trail side doubles, or loam chutes that catch your eye.

The Aeffect R pedal was redesigned with a larger platform area, perfect for those with larger feet. Internally, a cro-mo axle and RF bearings and bushings make for one bomb-proof product. (If) you can break ‘em, RaceFace offers a lifetime warranty on these, so go forth and charge.

For aesthetics: I went for warmth, brightness and earthiness. Elements for life. I’m running a leather Brooks Swift saddle with copper rivets and accents. Classic and understated, while maximizing comfort. A good reminder to take the long road, pedal slow, and enjoy the ride from top to bottom. The orange anodizing that you see on the grip collars, stem, hub bodies, headset and pedals are emblematic of that late summer weekend ride you take with your best mates that bleeds into the late evening; you all savor a few minutes sunset gazing before your last drop-in of the day.

For all the Fox Fanatics out there: when you send your fork or shock into a Fox service center for work, you’ll have the option of upgrading your dials to a limited-edition orange colorway. It’s a unique little bonus to a yearly tune-up.

On any given day, you’re bound to see people pedaling on the vast network of trails that twist-and-turn through the dense red wood forest. At the highest point of the Santa Cruz mountains, you’ll find the peak of Loma Prieta. The 3,790ft peak offers spectacular landscape views and is certainly worth the pedal towards the end of a stellar day out

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the location for the bike images was chosen deliberately to fit the spirit of the build. Above the Soquel Demonstration forest you can find zones that have the most breathtaking views of Santa Cruz’s mountainous layers. When the Monterey Bay marine layer settles in the valleys between ridgelines, the diffuse sunlight filtering through offers this augmented atmospheric perspective. It’s an effect I love returning to and exploring with my photography, and having the bicycle as a tool to reach those elevated perspectives is a gift.

Mountain bikes have evolved at a breakneck pace. Every few product cycles, we see groundbreaking industry standards, popular tech trends, and updated geometry numbers that redefine ‘ride quality.’ 13-speed drivetrains, wireless shifting options, featherweight framesets, ‘smart’ suspension setups, infinitesimally slacker-and-slacker head angles, and bombproof wheelsets… Fancy tech callouts are inevitable selling points on modern builds, but every so often a bike like the Rockbanger comes along that brings me back to my East coast roots.

The nostalgia is a reminder of progression and a lens of hindsight through which I reflect upon my own personal evolution as a cyclist. It’s a personal sensation on which you simply can’t spin with marketing jargon. While the Rockbanger might not feature all the fancy bells and whistles, that’s exactly the point. Sometimes, it simply takes less to appreciate more.

Parts Spec:

Frame: MASH SF Rockbanger
Fork: FOX 36 Kashima (Root Beer)
Wheels: Chris King MTN30 27.5  (110×15/148×12)
Stem: Race Face Turbine 50mm
Handlebars: Race Face NEXT Carbon 10mm Rise
Seatpost: FOX Transfer Kashima
Dropper Lever: RF Turbine RX1
Headset: Chris King Inset (Ano Orange)
Bottom Bracket: Chris King Threadfit 30
Shifter:  Shimano XT
Drivetrain: Shimano XT
Brakes:  Shimano XT
Crank: Race Face Turbine 175mm
Pedals: Race Face Aeffect R Flat Pedals
Tires: Teravail Warwick & Kessel 2.5