2017 has seen a big change in my riding. A long travel steel frame hard-tail with a dropper seat post has replaced my dual suspension carbon race machine. This has in a way forced me to race less, although that competitive gene has been super hard to suppress! This has recently seen me explore the idea of buying a race bike, but with so many options out there all offering different things, it hasn’t been such a straight forward choice.
I recently had the opportunity to test out a Silverback Sesta Pro. I liked the idea of supporting a South African brand and was keen to see what this bike was all about, especially since they have a few of these frames racing the World Cup circuit with Annie Last piloting one to her first win in the elite women’s field a Lenzerheide recently. The bike features a full carbon frame and rear triangle with thru-axle front a rear, full Shimano XT 2×11 drivetrain, XT Brakes and SLX shifters, Stans Neo hubs and Crest rims with Schwalbe Racing Raplh Liteskin Tyres, 90mm Fox Float DPS rear shock and the new 100mm Rock Shox Sid RLT fork.
The demo bike I tested had been converted to a 1×11 setup, which was quick and easy to do. The rims come tubeless ready, and once converted and set up with my Look pedals it weighed an impressive 10.9kg. With the bike also having won numerous international design awards, things were looking promising.
What I was most interested in however was the geometry. With this being the fastest changing aspect with bikes these days, and as an experienced rider; it matters. The Sesta has a 70.5 degree head angle, putting it somewhere in the middle between the steeper, more aggressive bikes out there, compared to the latest trend of slacker head angles that feature on some of the newer frame platforms. A steeper head angle typically helps the bike feel faster on the flats and climbs, and it will turn faster, while a slacker head angle can lengthen out the wheel base slightly, but adds a lot of stability at high speed, around corners and steep descents. The bike is balanced out with a slightly longer top tube than most medium bikes at 60.5cm, and the rear stays which are at 44.2cm are also on the longer side of things. Both of these two attributes should in theory add stability and predictability through a longer wheelsbase.
My first ride on the bike started up a steep, loose rocky climb. The first thing I noticed, is that the bike definitely loves to climb. The linkage system generated surprisingly little pedal bob, even with the rear shock completely unlocked and I found that unless I was sprinting there was no reason to actually lock the shock out once it was set up correctly. The bike also maintained it’s balance between the front and rear suspension nicely up steeper gradients, so my concerns of the bike missing a remote lockout for the shock were laid to rest. The longer top tube and rear stays seemed to come together well to make this bike feel like it is just meant to accelerate and climb all day. The rear triangle was also very stiff and seemed to transfer power very effectively from the pedals to the rear wheel, which added to the bikes excellent acceleration uphill.
On the descents the bike seemed to handle high speed jeeptrack really well with the longer top tube and rear stays giving it a good, stable feel at speed, while the steeper head angle kept things playful and nippy. So far, I was really liking the bike. The Shimano XT drive train was also really smooth and operated really well. The brakes, once burned it(it was a brand new bike) were also impressive and I had no problems slowing down in any situation.
On my next ride I decided to put the bike through some slightly different terrain by testing it in a variety of singletrack. The bike seemed to absolutely lap up fast flowing terrain. The suspension soaked up all the little bumps really well and the bike handled with surprising ease. It was putting it through it’s paces in steeper more gnarly terrain, that I did notice the bike felt a little skittish and unpredictable. I think this was due to the fact that the longer top tube and rear stays made it a little harder to move and keep your center of gravity back, but this was probably also because I wasn’t used to the bike 100% yet coming from a bike with extremely short stays and a slack head tuba angle. The Liteskin tyres also have a very thin casing, making them hard to trust when really pushing the bike as they have a tendency to fold really quickly with little warning.
Given my limited time on the bike I think it would be unfair to say the bike handles badly in technical terrain. Spending some more time on the bike and really getting to know it’s limits is probably the key here.
Verdict: If I were to change anything on the bike it would be the tyres for something with a little more volume, predictability and resilience, as the Litseskins have a very thin sidewall and I can’t see them lasting long. I also think a good upgrade on this bike would be a slightly wider carbon bar which in my mind would add a little more stability on those wild descents, as the stock 720mm aluminium bar doesn’t quite suit the overall quality of the bike. Overall I was really impressed with the bike. Seriously consider this bike if endurance racing is your thing and you ride lots of flowy singletrack. With a recommended retail price of R 61500, this bike offers a ride feeling close to if not better that some bikes in the R 100k and up bracket and even beats some of the top models when it comes to the weight of the bike.