Nick Lambert

Commencal's Meta AM v4.2

Nick Lambert
Commencal's Meta AM v4.2

While there is truth to Commencal’s marketing tag line for the Meta AM v4.2, "The only thing that’s changed is everything,” some of those changes are relatively subtle.

 

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Although improving on some traits of its Meta AM v4 predecessor, much of the rewarding descending capabilities are retained, and even improved upon. I liked the aggressive descending-oriented nature of the v4 a couple of years ago; I like the improved v4.2 even more.

Frame and fork

The more obvious changes over the previous Meta AM v4 model are the revised kinematics to accommodate an industry standard 230mm x 60mm metric shock – and a funky top tube to accommodate it, along with tweaked geometry and additional travel at both ends.

It’s not a reinvention of the preceding v4 model though – as with the older model, the suspension design aims to further improve performance through numerous factors. It is still structured around a linkage-driven, single pivot that lines up with the top of a 32 tooth chainring. And still features a top tube utilising a multi-part construction with a shock tunnel partially enclosed in it. The design offers clean and tidy lines around the shock, provides good stand over height and offers plenty of room in the front triangle for most piggyback shocks as well as space for a bottle.

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The v4.2’s suspension curve steps up its progressive nature over the older v4 (which was more progressive again than the older v3). Effectively it provides softer initial travel (small bump sensitivity), gets firmer around the mid stroke for the pedalling benefits that brings on undulating surfaces, then ramps up further towards the 160mm end of its travel. This progressive rate of the Meta AM v4.2 makes for easier setup with compliance on small bumps while retaining good progression to avoid bottom out when getting towards the end of the suspension travel. For my riding style and preferences, I found a setup using close to the maximum recommended sag of 40% provided the best all round ride characteristics without unduly impacting pedalling performance in the mid-stroke range, which is where a lot of trail-time is actually spent.

Along with the metric shock comes a 10mm increase in travel over the outgoing model to 160mm, partnered with 170mm travel on the front end courtesy of Rock Shox Lyric forks.

Those changes on their own clearly indicate the intention of the Meta AM v4.2 as a bike made to maximise descending. The 170mm travel forks partner wonderfully with the bike’s overall character – never feeling overbuilt or unwieldy, but I certainly made use of their full amount of travel numerous times on every single ride.

A more subtle change, but one that nonetheless contributes to the bike’s character, is the slackening of the head tube angle by a further 0.5 degrees to end up at 65.5 degrees. The 74-degree seat tube fits with modern geometry theory and ensures the body position when riding uphill is not too arduous. Well, not too much considering the big-hitting nature of the bike, which is clearly focused on going down trails at speed.

Our review bike is the Brushed model, indicating not only the spec level, but the clear lacquer over brushed alloy look of the frame finish. Although lack of paint saves a mostly empty bottle’s worth of weight, that’s meaningless in the overall scheme of the bike’s weight and style. This is no weight-weenie climbing machine.

Climbing

Having said that though, it climbs well. The review bike’s spec offers a climb mode on the rear shock with a handlebar actuator. But the Meta AM v4.2 climbs respectably well with the shock wide open with a noticeable absence of chain-tension induced squat due to the placement of the single pivot. I found I only used the climb mode at the end of long rides when every tiny bit of effort counted (and hurt), or on sustained gravel road climbs where there is no point to having any rear suspension movement.

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It was off-putting having another lever on the bars though. We’re so used to single ring setups with only a dropper post lever on the left-hand side that I often fumbled around and had to consciously think which lever I was hitting – the reverb dropper remote, or the shock climb mode lever. To be fair, it probably didn’t help that I’ve also been riding a bike with a Bontrager dropper remote, which is an underbar lever like the Fox shock remote on the Commencal. I can see the benefit of a bar mounted shock lever for enduro races where on some tracks the racer may want to quickly control the shock. But as a trail bike, it is no hardship to take a second to move a hand off the bars to flip a lever on the actual shock.

Descending

Now we’re talking. As capable as it is as an all-round trail bike the Commencal is obviously skewed towards maximising both speed and enjoyment when aiming it down a trail. The previous Meta AM v4 was no slouch on fast, technical trails; the v4.2 steps that performance up another notch.

An improvement over the older Meta I reviewed was the silent running set up, in particular the internally routed cables. Rather than having to faff about with ghetto fixes for rattling cables that I endured on the old model Meta, the v4.2 ran silently from my first outing. A noisy bike is insufferable, so it’s great that Commencal have refined their set up with this model.

Flats

Rolling trails with little elevation loss or gain can highlight a bike’s weaknesses if it’s particularly suited to only going up quickly, or down. Although a fierce descender, the Meta AM v4.2 is responsive enough to hold its own on the easier grade-3 style trails I rode it on. The geometry and suspension strike a good balance between downhill capability without making it feel too ‘lazy’ on slower and flatter trails. The fact that a quick stomp on the pedals is translated into horsepower to the back wheel effectively doesn’t hurt either – as all the descents I rode had some instances of benefiting from a quick burst of acceleration to maintain momentum for particular trail features.

Components

SRAM Eagle GX – if you haven’t heard about it or experienced it, suffice to say it’s the go-to solid performer for many at this time. Robust, reliable, and that oh-so-sweet 50T low gearing make it the closest thing to an industry standard as possible.

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SRAM Guide brakes in RE model designation are equally well regarded, and for good reason. They work exceptionally well with good ‘feel’, are robust and relatively easy to bleed.

Ride Alpha brand components are Commencal’s house brand used in the cockpit. The bars and stem are of good dimensions and great looking, as is the saddle, although the saddle is a little shiny – which equals slippery in the wet. It’s manageable unless you’re riding in really filthy weather conditions, in which case switching to a saddle with a more textured material would be advisable. Maybe it’s not a major consideration for the product managers in their rocky alpine environment at Commencal’s Andorra HQ.

Grips are new from Commencal for this year and they seem proud of them in their marketing material. I found them to be only OK though. The shape is nice enough, but they’re a larger diameter than my favourites, and the significant areas of smooth texture make them a recipe for disaster in wet or muddy conditions. Again, maybe it’s a reflection of the Andorran riding conditions which are light years away from what we face in what is often rain-soaked NZ.

A move away from house brand wheel sets – in the case of the Brushed spec Meta AM v4.2 to Formula hubs and E13 rims. Thankfully the internal width of the rims is a more respectable 30mm over the measly 21mm on the Meta AM v4 I tested a couple of years back, that extra width allowing the tyres to offer the wide profile they’re intended to feature in order to maximise their grip on a variety of trail surfaces.

2.5 Maxxis DHF and DHRII tyres front and rear respectively are dependable performers for aggressive trail riders.

Niggles

The quality of bikes around this price point is so high these days that it’s often tough to single out any negative characteristics. One of the only small details I could pick on (and it’s a stretch) is that with the piggyback reservoir shock the Brushed model Meta AM v4.2 comes with, a regular bottle cage on the down tube won’t really work. It doesn’t allow enough clearance to get a bottle in and out of the cage. The fix is easy though, with a side-entry cage, which allowed me to run regular size 600ml water bottles easily.

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Another detail which will only affect certain riders is that Commencal once again chose to mount the rear brake callipers inboard of the chain and seat stays, which means the rear triangle is wider than conventional style. Although I would occasionally feel one of my feet brush past the chain stays it wasn’t a big issue. Weirdly, it was more pronounced when riding clipped in than riding flats. That probably reflects more on my weirdness than the bike’s, however. It’s worthwhile being aware of though, especially for riders whose stance is particularly heels-in - they could encounter some heel strike on the frame.

Conclusion

Another of the brand’s tag lines is "An enduro bike is a downhill bike that knows how to climb." This is more telling than their ‘everything has changed’ line for the Meta AM v4.2, as it encapsulates the overall impression that I came away from the bike with. It’s definitely on the burly end of the spectrum for a trail bike, without overly compromising its pedalling efficiency or user-friendly characteristics at slower speeds. Although it has serious chops to perform at the pointy end of the field in Enduro races, it’s equally in its element as an all-day trail bike.


Words & Images: Nick Lambert

Appeared in print first in Issue 89 of NZ Mountain Biker. Subscribe today.