The Trail Pistol is Guerrilla Gravity’s short travel trail bike with 29″ wheels and 120mm of travel. It’s the type of bike that seemed to fit my riding style, and I was super excited for the opportunity to spend some time with one for a long-term review. Since the factory where these bikes are made is just a short drive from where I currently live, it made sense to combine the review with a more in-depth look at the brand, their manufacturing process, and the modularity of their bikes. The original article was close to 6500 words, so we decided to split it up a bit for everyone’s sake. Next week, we’ll share a slightly shorter article that takes a look at the modular frame platform, new paint schemes for the brand, and the next-gen Gnarvana, which is GG’s long travel enduro bike. Let’s get to it!
About Guerrilla Gravity
If you’re not already familiar with Guerrilla Gravity, don’t worry, I will give you a crash course. I’ve been following this brand for a while, and it’s been quite the journey. Guerrilla Gravity is a relatively new company that has come into the mountain bike scene with a slow yet steady and powerful impact. In the beginning, three mountain bikers with race backgrounds bonded over some road trips to the Angel Fire Bike Park in New Mexico. In 2011, Matt Giaraffa, Kristy Anderson, and Will Montague started the company. Will had the business sense, Matt had a racecar and aerospace engineering background, and Kristy was the community builder. In 2012, the prototype was crafted in Matt’s garage. This original bike, the GG/DH was a full-blown DH bike with 200mm of travel and an alloy frame.
In 2016, GG released the Trail Pistol and their hardtail, the Pedalhead. These models had fairly radical geometry for the time, and while I won’t claim that GG pioneered “long, low, and slack,” they were early adopters of what we now consider normal. By 2017, the company had 5 models in the lineup and was beginning to use its modular frame platform, which was inspired by race cars’ modularity for a given course.
In 2018, GG hired Ben Bosworth and received a $250,000 Advanced Industries Awards grant from the state of Colorado for the burgeoning Revved Carbon technology. Since then, the company has grown considerably and is now manufacturing six official models of carbon-thermoplastic frames that are all fully modular. Every frame component is made in their Denver factory.
Revved Carbon and how GG does MUSA
I arrived in Denver on a hot August afternoon. The GG factory sits in one of Denver’s neighborhoods that isn’t quite industrial but isn’t quite residential. The large, gray building is indistinguishable from any other industrial space, save for the tailgate pad-clad trucks and the signage. When you step inside, that changes. The showroom is clean and modern, with each GG model displayed neatly. Friendly folks welcomed me, and after a short chat, I donned my PPE and began the factory tour.
I was informed that I would be guided towards the things I would be able to photograph and what I was not able to photograph. This tour is a rare experience, and I felt honored to be let inside. With small brands like this that are pioneering technology and processes, it’s understandable that not everything is ready for the public eye at all times. Patents tend to pend.
The first piece of machinery I was shown was the frame consolidator. Essentially, this machine takes frame templates composed of layers of thermoplastic, carbon fibers, and fiberglass and consolidates them into a single piece of material ready for the next step. This machine, as well as a few others, was designed and built by the GG engineering team. When companies blend full-scale manufacturing to a bespoke process, oftentimes the best solutions come from in-house. This “grassroots” approach to a bike company is apparent throughout the brand’s ethos and manufacturing process.
After the frame templates are pressed, they move on to a trimming room where any excess is taken care of. We didn’t enter that room, mostly due to it not being in use and visually uninteresting. What was interesting was another prototype machine that GG is experimenting with. This custom injection molder’s purpose is to take excess material, melt it down, and upcycle it into small parts that can be used down the line. This isn’t in full production use yet, but it’s exciting to see. Once that process is dialed in, the goal is to use it as another part of the process and eventually hone it in to make end-of-life recycling of entire frames doable in-house. Pretty rad.
Once the templates have been trimmed, they are placed into frame molds where the carbon-reinforced thermoplastic is melted down, shaped, and then cooled. This machine is also custom and uses a mix of high-tech molds and ovens, with a simple mechanical conveyor system. After that, the frames go to a quality control area where their integrity is tested using fancy instruments.
At this point, I asked, “Where do you hire from? Other manufacturing sectors?”
The response was simple and refreshing.
Matt Giaraffa, one of GG’s founders and their chief engineer, responded:
“We’ve hired people from all sorts of backgrounds. But we find that the best employees are happy ones and that typically means people who really like bikes”. Apparently, one of the manufacturing workers comes from a winemaking background, loves bikes, and loves working with his hands.
“Our process is detailed and unique but not overly complicated. If you’re passionate and don’t mind working in an industrial setting, we can train you. That’s easier if you’re stoked about bikes.”
We then toured the machining room. Three massive CNC machines hummed, churning out rocker links, bearing inserts, and swingarm components. One kind, bearded dude, was rocking the show, calmly bouncing between multiple machines.
The next room we toured was where all these steps came together to make a bike. The frames are powder coated in-house, given a final quality check, and then move on to being assembled into rideable bikes.
All in all, the process is streamlined and efficient. GG practices just-in-time manufacturing, which means their overhead stock is never super high. Keeping all costs internal with low overhead and not needing to manufacture thousands of frames and have them shipped across an ocean also allows for competitive prices, as does the hybrid consumer-direct model. Blend this with a material (Revved thermoplastic composite) that requires fewer man hours to produce, and you end up with a pretty efficient supply line.
So, What in the Heck is a Thermoplastic Composite?
So, this thermoplastic/carbon fiber composite. How does it differ from traditional carbon fiber? Without going into a full masterclass on material science (of which I am not qualified to teach), I’ll try and answer this question. For those who are more curious, Gloria Liu wrote an amazing article for Bicycling, which you can find here.
With a traditional carbon fiber frame, layers of carbon fiber are impregnated (for lack of a better term) with an epoxy resin. These sheets of “pre-preg” are layered, often by hand, around a solid mold (or series of molds). That mold is then heated with additional resin and bladders inflated to compact the material while the resin undergoes a chemical reaction to turn into a new, solid substance. This traditional manufacturing method produces lightweight and stiff frames and is used on the vast majority of carbon frames you see out and about these days. Another term for traditional carbon manufacturing, or the material, is thermoset carbon fiber. We all know this method produces high-quality frames, and I’m not here to argue against that. There are differing processes for a given manufacturer. Still, at its core, this process is a complex jigsaw puzzle of hundreds of individual sheets of carbon that almost always need to be laid up by hand. GCN has a great video about this if you want to know more.
Though the Revved manufacturing process sounds fairly similar on paper, it varies significantly on both the manufacturing end and the final product. Using thermoplastic pre-preg carbon fiber, which is thermally pliable at very high temperatures, GG’s method allows for a more labor-efficient layup, forming, and finishing process. GGs method allows for fairly minimal “layup” outside of the small fiberglass pieces where aluminum inserts are co-molded to prevent galvanic corrosion over time and traditional carbon fiber sheets that reinforce high-stress points. This allows for significant automation. Rather than doing layup by hand, the frame templates can be assembled and sent through the fusing machine (also known as the new and improved Framemaker 10,000) and then molded and fused. The thermoplastic is melted at a higher temperature than traditional carbon frames, allowing faster fusing. While traditional carbon is cured through a chemical process, the thermal fusing of Revved means that it is much more easily recycled, as it’s possible to undo a phase change than a chemical process. These little differences mean that the material costs less to produce, which is part of why GG can compete price-wise with the big guys who have economies of scale on their side, in addition to being less wasteful and more recyclable.
The result is a substantially stronger material that absorbs vibrations slightly better, has less manufacturing waste and is cheaper to recycle than traditional thermoset carbon fiber. How much stronger? GG claims around 300% tougher based on the low end of some of their tests done both in-house and independently. The specific strength measurement is toughness, which is the material’s ability to resist impact damage. The material is also claimed to absorb vibrations better than traditional carbon frames. This metric is based on a load-to-failure test, where the GG frame absorbed substantially more energy before failure, hence, a greater ability to absorb and disperse energy.
This material was born in the aerospace industry and has remained an invaluable material for the properties mentioned above. But, it is not unfamiliar to the bike industry. Thermoplastics were considered and experimented with in the late 90s and early aughts as a material, but at the time weren’t quite up to snuff, so the industry went the way of thermoset carbon frames. Today, this material family isn’t just being used by Guerrilla Gravity. CSS Composites also uses it to manufacture wheels for Revel Bikes and Evil Bicycles. Yeti also uses a thermoplastic handlebar for their new 160E enduro sled e-bike.
This wonder material sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, in some ways, yes. And perhaps we are seeing a new era of MUSA manufacturing being ushered in by this process. Some folks point to weight being a negative of this material, but in reality, the raw material weights of average carbon and thermoplastics tend to be comparable. GG frames aren’t the lightest out there, but remember that the main triangle is designed to handle everything from a 120 to 180mm fork, with all the associated forces. The Trail Pistol frame, with shock and hardware, comes in around 7.1 lbs, according to GG. Comparing that to a Santa Cruz Tallboy frame at 6.8 lbs or a Stumpjumper frame at 5.3 lbs, it is indeed heavier. And that’s the Trail Pistol. Other GG models use aluminum swingarms and will come in slightly heavier still.
However, for a substantial strength increase, the ability to throw whatever fork you want in the headtube, recyclability, and the fact that it’s made by folks here and doesn’t have to cross an ocean to ride? To me, that’s worth a few grams, especially when comparing with frames like the Specialized Enduro at over 8lbs, or the Pivot Firebird, which comes in around the same 7ish pound mark for a frame plus shock and hardware. In the end, a durable and versatile bike isn’t going to also be the lightest out there, and if you’re looking to save grams, you’re probably not looking at any of the models mentioned above. If you want to know more, check out some of the links I included. If you want to know how the bike rides, read on.
Guerrilla Gravity Trail Pistol Review
Alright. Enough of me pretending to be a scientist. Y’all came here for a bike review, so let’s get to it.
The Trail Pistol is Guerrilla Gravity’s shortest travel bike besides their hardtail. With 120mm of travel in the rear and (typically) 130 up front, this bike is GG’s answer to “downcountry” or whatever the hell we’re calling it this week. The Trail Pistol can also come in a “special menu” configuration lovingly dubbed the Pistola. This one typically sports a longer stroke shock giving 130mm of travel in the rear and a longer fork. Remember, these bikes are ludicrously modular. You can’t (officially) put any bigger shock than the Pistola’s on this seat stay without running into issues, but that headtube can handle a 120mm fork up to a 170. Maybe more. So, if you like tinkering, get weird. Build a 130/170 27.5+/29+ mullet bike and call it the Blunderbuss. It will probably ride like a drunk donkey, but that sounds fun, right?
Looking deeper at the numbers shows a bit beyond your average “XC bike that isn’t for racing” category that is too often defined by wheel travel and marketing teams. The head angle is slightly slacker than a Yeti SB115 or Specialized Epic Evo and closer to the Tallboy from Santa Cruz or the Specialized Stumpjumper. But, headtube angle isn’t everything. On the size 2 Trail Pistol that I rode, the wheelbase is longer than any of the bikes as mentioned above, save for being on par with a Stumpjumper in an S3. GG’s sizing is a bit unconventional, but the steep effective seat tube angle does help make up for these numbers that, on paper, seem pretty long. And don’t get me wrong, they are long. I’m still a bit surprised that I felt comfortable on a bike with 468mm of reach. That’s nearly 30mm longer than my previous Esker Elkat, which fit like a dream. This shows that focusing on a single number is far less valuable than riding a bike and understanding the sum of those numbers coming together. For reference, I’m about 5’6” and comically square. I don’t fit well on reachy bikes. This bike, as you’ll see, felt just fine.
All of the GG bikes share the same front triangle and, similarly, the same industrial and utilitarian shape. The most striking features of the bike are the fat head-tube and the nifty little seat tube gusset with a thin infill of Revved material. As of my review period, all of the bikes were powder coated a deep, bluish matte black, with personalized options for the logos. Those logos are unmistakable and unapologetic, but not overtly in your face. The big ol “rock on” headtube badge is a fun touch, and the little moniker on the top tube of “I like goin’ fast’ ‘ reminds you that this bike is meant to inspire whoops and laughs as well at speed. The rocker link is adored with the GG logo as well, and is fairly large, which only accentuates the industrial aesthetic of the bikes.
One thing that most of my mechanic friends immediately noticed was the cable routing. GG uses a brilliant hybrid of internal and external routing. The non-drive side of the downtube has a nifty little cover that keeps all of the housing concealed but facilitates the ease of maintenance of external routing. This little piece of flair exemplifies the whole brand’s approach to bikes: it made sense, so they did it.
At the time of reading this, GG has released a few new colorways for their bikes, all of which I think looks great. Like many things this company does, they didn’t do this until they were sure it was perfect and could be done consistently in-house. It’s worth noting that powder coating isn’t a thing for traditional carbon bikes, but the Revved material can handle the process just fine. However, don’t get any wild ideas. Part of what took time to get right was the interaction between the material and the powder coat, so don’t expect absolute perfection should you decide you want to get a custom job done. I would reach out to GG directly if you have such an idea to make sure you won’t screw anything up.
My specific model came with a build that was a solid balance of lightweight performance and gravity-oriented capability. A lighter-duty RockShox Deluxe Ultimate controlled the rear wheel with the help of GG’s riff on the tried and true Horst style four-bar linkage. This suspension design isn’t known for being a master of anything, but rather a reliable design that offers decent performance in all the places it matters, especially when paired with a modern shock and 1x drivetrain. No, it’s not a short link system that will magically float up technical terrain, but let’s be honest: most of the reason we can’t clean a climb is the engine, not the engineering. Also, between modern shocks being incredible, the industry learning a lot about shock placement and leverage, and 1x drivetrains becoming ubiquitous, it’s becoming less and less important to focus on a given suspension layout than looking at the bike as a whole. This notion of considering a bike as more than the sum of its parts will be an integral part of understanding this review.
The fork chosen for my build was a 130mm Pike Ultimate. I haven’t spent much time on the newer offerings from RockShox, and I was pretty impressed with how plush this fork felt compared to my previous experiences with lower-end models. I’m not a fork connoisseur, but the thing worked as you would expect a big brand’s flagship model to.
Shifting was handled by SRAM XO1 mechanical bits and worked flawlessly. No surprise there. Sram G2 brakes stopped the whole thing and did a fine job.
The Crank Brothers Synthesis XCT wheels held up just fine for my review period, and I was impressed by the Maxxis Dissector tires. That particular model of the tire is one I haven’t gotten a chance to spend any time on yet, and I think I may have found a new favorite, or at least a top 5. I would confidently pair a Dissector with EXO and a tire insert out back with a DHF or Aggressor up front for the vast majority of terrain I ride. For an all-around tire, they blend speed and control quite well for the terrain in the Front Range. I would expect similar performance in most dry areas with an abundance of decomposed granite, softer sedimentary rock, and dry duff from Ponderosa, Spruce, and Juniper forest regimes.
Truth is, most of this build is nothing out of the ordinary. The E*thirteen bars and stem were a welcome surprise, and I was tickled by the stem bolt angles for being fun and different. The one component I was most excited to see on this build was the BikeYoke Revive dropper. Which, I did indeed revive once. It works. That’s rad.
Overall, this build did a good job highlighting the bike’s nature. It is also a decent value (MSRP would be around $6500), especially with top-shelf suspension at a price point that competes with the mid-tier of competitors. For that price point, you aren’t getting carbon bars, a Revive, and Ultimate or Factory level suspension on any offerings from the big guys. The full build, with my heavy as hell pedals, came in just a hair over 30lbs. Not a featherweight, but it wouldn’t be hard to get that weight down with a lighter fork, pedals, tires, and maybe some thermoplastic hoops. My mental weight estimate was 27ish pounds. Tyler, one of the GG mechanics, has his Trail Pistol in a size three down to 28 with alloy wheels.
So, How did it Ride?
This bike immediately shocked me. Not literally, there are no batteries. But, my first few rides opened my eyes quite a bit. “Have I been riding too many bikes for the last five years?” was one of the first things that popped into my head. My first lap was one of my local favorites here, Hall Ranch. This network consists of fast and flowy trail segments, a bit of mildly technical climbing, and an optional technical descent that can be best described as a 2-mile rock garden of boulder rolls and tight turns.
The bike floated up the climb. I’d become accustomed to heavier rigs, and maybe it was the inner psychology of “it’s a short travel bike; it should be fast.” But, going up was a breeze. I did lock out the shock for the pavement climb to the trailhead. There was some slight pedal bob on the pavement, but nothing out of the ordinary. Also, we have compression switches for a reason. Don’t be afraid to use it for 12 minutes. The linkage kept traction uphill quite well over various terrain when opened up.
Descending, this bike just wants to party. Hall Ranch gives you a lot of opportunities to open up and let off the brakes and just go, which this bike did exceedingly well at. That low volume shock was incredibly supportive to pop through banked turns and off of grade inversions, and though it did get bottomed out (sort of the point of this bike), that feeling was never harsh and only demonstrated by my o-ring.
As far as the rock garden? It picked through it gracefully and gave me the impression that I was smoother than on my Elkat. That’s saying a lot. The Elkat eats technical descents for breakfast and has 30mm of travel on the Trail Pistol. This could be due to geometry and wheel size, as the Elkat is more of a nimble crusher than a momentum machine. Still, I wonder if the Revved material had something to do with this, as it is technically better at vibration damping.
I then spent some time at the West Magnolia trails in Nederland, CO. Realistically, this is the sort of trail system where this bike was meant to thrive. Twisting trails with mild tech wind throughout aspen and pine forests. You could spend hours out there just goofing off and hardly ride the same trail twice. If you did, you wouldn’t mind, as there was a ridiculous rock feature you missed the first time around. Verdict? The bike was completely in its element there. For reference, that’s where the photos for this review were taken.
So. I figured it was time to put this bike somewhere you wouldn’t typically associate with a 120mm bike for the rest of my review period.
The majority of the time I spent on the Trail Pistol was at the Maryland Mountain trails in Blackhwak, CO. This is a fairly new trail system that offers everything from natural, old school trails to jumpy flow trails to steep and technical trails often ridden with full face helmets and enduro rigs. I followed one of my friends down the latter. He is a skilled rider and was on his Yeti SB130 Lunch Ride (137 rear, 150 front, 29er). I was never really far behind him. Except for when I lost my water bottle, I’ll save that for my nitpicks. Now, this trail gave me plenty of opportunities to mess up. Plenty of jumps, steep, nasty rock gardens, etc. I cased a few jumps, but that’s because I’m terrible at jumping real jumps. And guess what? I didn’t crash. The bike remained composed even in my shittiest of oh shit moments. Smashing through rock gardens is not how I would describe the Pistol’s technical behavior. Floating over them feels much more apt. Pumping in and out of berms felt fantastic.
The long wheelbase, low BB, and slack front end made steep sections easy to negotiate, and the steeper seat tube made grunty climbs (and long, chatty ones) straightforward. I didn’t have much trouble keeping the front end down while climbing for a bike that should’ve felt too long. Of course, I went into T-Rex mode on steeper techy sections, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s more a function of my body rather than the bike. Tiny torso gang, unite!
Cornering took a bit of getting used to due to the bike’s length, but it wasn’t long before I got used to it. Speeding up my rebound and running my shock ever so slightly less sag than recommended allowed me to pump through corners and pop out of the other end of the turn. I could see tight switchbacks being a bit trickier to navigate than on shorter bikes with smaller wheels, but again, you get used to it.
The most difficult part about bike reviews in 2022 is finding unique ways to say, “this modern marvel of engineering specifically designed for having fun that costs thousands of dollars does its job very well.” I think the reason for that is those last few words “does its job.” The industry has spent a lot of time creating categories of bikes paired with terrain, rider type, style, and even personality. My perspective is a bit skewed. I tend to like weird shit. I am not a cross country racer, bike park bro, or an Enduro athlete. I’m just a dude who likes riding bikes in the mountains. This review is pretty damn glowing so far. And you know why? Because as someone who isn’t an expert in any category, I rode a bike that is similarly not an expert in any category.
The Trail Pistol is not a cross-country race bike. It is not the most backcountry-capable squishy bikepacker or endurance rig. It’s not an enduro bike. I wouldn’t even call it “downcountry” or “upduro” or whatever. It’s…it’s just a mountain bike. It goes up and down, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. For me, that’s what counts.
Conversion/Modular Frame Platform Discussion
“But Locke, the whole thing about Guerrilla Gravity is that you can convert any of their bikes into any of their other bikes!”.
Yes. Yes you can. And I did. Tyler at GG did, while I took photos of him and generally got in the way.
The actual review in this article is going to focus on the Trail Pistol. Not only is that the bike that I feel most readers here would be the most interested in, but it’s the one I felt most qualified to review. GG offers a variety of models ranging in travel and wheel sizes, all of which share the same front triangle. The frames will all clear at least a 29×2.4 tire, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could fit a 27.5×2.8 in there, but don’t take my word for it. Stay tuned for another article about the Gnarvana and some updates about GG as of summer 2022 in a few days, where I’ll go more into depth about how the modular frame platform works, as well as my brief impressions of the Gnarvana.
Guerrilla Gravity has managed to do something truly impressive with their company, and there’s no doubt about that. Taking a grassroots approach to a massive industry led by multi-billion dollar companies, they have demonstrated that being Made in the USA doesn’t need to come with a price tag usually associated with custom frames and orthodontics, and that there’s still room for the little guy in an industry started by the little guys, weirdos, and rowdy ones. They have pioneered a manufacturing process that is more sustainable on an environmental scale than traditional methods, arguably more economically sustainable for workers and consumers. On top of that, they committed fully to a business model that incorporates as much of an anti-excess ethos into an inherently excessive sport as possible with the modular frame system. Why buy two bikes when you can buy one and a half? As I mentioned, these concepts are only slated to become more solidified as the company grows. From developing more Revved frame components to perfecting in-house recycling, GG is slated to revolutionize what a bike Made in the USA means.
Though the brand focuses on consumer direct sales, they also work with local bike shops in a hybrid model that allows the brick-and-mortar places we all care about to sell a bike that is “off the shelf” but also unique. The Ride it Grrrl program that Kristy has pioneered is aimed solely at getting folks who aren’t dudes out on bikes in an inclusive community. Those two things are pretty nifty, in my book.
The bikes, in a vacuum, aren’t substantially better than the competition, and they aren’t any worse. A Trail Pistol is not all that different from any other progressive and slack Horst link 120mm bike out there in terms of the most noticeable characteristics of how it rides. Yes, it is stiffer and absorbs vibration better than an alloy or traditional carbon bike. It’s also a lot stronger. Oh, and it’s modular and made right here in the Rockies. See how quickly we exited that vacuum?
For me, GG represents a new era of the bike industry. This is due equally to the ingenuity and the pretty damn fantastic state of mountain bikes in 2022. The vast majority are incredible pieces of technology that do an amazingly good job of making us sweat and smile. So, what makes one better than the other in this brave new world of rad bikes? I can’t answer that question for anyone else. I firmly believe that ethical consumption under capitalism is a unicorn. Still, there’s something to be said about a company that has eschewed industrial expectations and brought revolutionary concepts to an established status quo. That’s about as Guerrilla as it gets.