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