REI bet big when it penned a deal to bring German-branded GHOST Bikes to the U.S. Riding the brand’s forthcoming trail bike, I found out why.
I’m perched at the top of a mountain in Italy’s South Tyrol, ready to rip down 3,000 feet of vertical. I’m here to test the GHOST SL AMR 6 LC, a 130mm full travel trail bike stocked with 27.5-inch wheels. The stoke is real.
Let’s be honest. In the past, if you were a cyclist looking to pick up a new ride, your first stop probably wouldn’t be REI. While the purveyors of camp gear also stock bikes, REI’s in-house lineup of Novara (and other brands) were traditionally targeted at the occasional rider, not the dedicated peddler, and certainly not the downhill junkie.
But given this downhill blast, chin deep in the Dolomites with the team from GHOST Bikes, REI is working hard to help change that impression.
GHOST Comes To America
Last year REI completed a deal with the German bike company, GHOST, to exclusively bring its brand of mountain bikes to the States, upping REI’s mountain bike action.
Why GHOST? The brand is a unique player in the bike industry. It owns and operates proprietary frame factories in Asia — perhaps the only bike company to do so — and imports all components back to Waldsassen, Germany. There, it meticulously builds all bikes to spec in-house. Wheels, brakes, shifters, suspension, all of it.
The pairing made fiscal sense and countered the brutal truth spoken by co-op members: “REI doesn’t know serious bikes.”
Last month we traveled to GHOST’s Bavarian factory to get a full company tour and meet the people behind the brand. Then we racked the bikes for the five-hour drive down to South Tyrol, Italy, where we put the bikes to a serious test in the Italian Alps. It was a tough job, but I was happy to take one for the team.
Review: GHOST SL AMR 6 LC
While in the Dolomites, I spent most of my time riding the forthcoming carbon SL AMR 6 LC. Billed as a trail bike, I found the 27.5-inch SL AMR was a fantastic all-day steed. Lock out the shocks, and it climbs like an angel. Open the shocks and it divines confidence to wring out enough speed to crank through turns and over otherwise unforgiving terrain.
Super agile, the SL AMR 6 LC is best suited for cross country, all-day trail rides. Balanced geometry and suspension, the bike felt stable and always in control. As the terrain got steeper and deeper, it started to foible.
For those who want more, perhaps 29 inches or more travel, stay tuned to GHOST’s SL AMR X. It’s a 150mm travel bike with a 140mm Cane Creek rear coil suspension that eats up plummeting trail with speed.
SL AMR 6 LC
- Frame: Carbon Fiber (Alloy tail)
- Wheel size: 27.5
- Fork: Fox 32 Float Performance 130 mm 15 mm
- Rear shock:Fox Float DPS Performance 130 mm
- Drive train: Shimano XT, 2 x 11
- Dropper post: Kind Shock LEV Integra 31.6 mm adjustable SP internal routing
- Price: TBD
- Available: Spring 2017
- More info/company contact: GHOST Bikes
GHOSTs On The Mountain
Nervous energy bolts through the parking lot. Mechanics bustle: fine tuning the steeds, lacing pedals to cranks, and dialing in shocks. I throw a leg over a black carbon bike, the SL AMR 6 LC and give it a few hops to find my ideal shock resistance.
“I think you’re all set,” pipes Maxi Dickerhoff, the unassuming former Enduro Pro and our host for the week.
Dickerhoff works for GHOST as Brand Awareness Manager. It’s his job to showcase what the bikes can really do. Maxi corrals the crowd and shares the day’s packed itinerary and then points his bike down the hill, pops a wheelie, and gleefully carves on one wheel through the tall timber down to the lift.
At the top of the mountain, we ride cross country, skirting below the iconic Rosengarten Massif, yielding jaw-dropping views of the range. The Dolomites are a collection of spectacular granite spires, renowned for skiing and mountaineering. Legendary high altitude alpinist Reinhold Messner hails from the region, it’s easy to see why he was such a prolific climber.
Unlike the Alps of France or Switzerland, South Tyrol is drier. Only one small glacier remains in this region. But what it lacks in permanent ice it makes up for in green pastures. It’s as if someone poured turf-builder over the slopes and then left the sprinklers on all spring. Our trail cuts across perfectly manicured verdant slopes electrified in vibrant green hues.
We begin to shed elevation, dropping over roots and rocks to the valley floor. My bike effortlessly floats down the hill, as if only touching the ground every few feet to course correct. All smiles, we collect as a group in the small hamlet of Moena, where we recharge on gelato and espresso. We catch the lift up to Pampeago and stop for a proper lunch at the mid-mountain lodge, followed by a steady diet of fast descents back around the mountain to the lodge for dinner.
Learning To ‘Fly’ On A Bike
Day one was an all-day, tour-de-Dolomites, tempering endurance with terrain. Heading to the regional bike park, day two would be dialed for speed and adrenaline. The mechanics once again burned the midnight oil cleaning and prepping bikes so we could ride pristine bikes in Canazei.
A true mountain town, Canazei embraces both winter and summer sports. Driving to the head of the valley, I crane my neck upward to spy dozens of paragliders, floating like a rainbow of nylon butterflies, hovering over the surrounding blocky spires.
We rack the bikes in the mountain tram and our jaws drop as the dramatic panoramic mountainscape slowly reveals itself. Italy’s tallest peak, Marmolada, juts out of the south. Piz Boè’s blocky fortress shadows the north. A faint road folds between the Sella Towers and Sasso spires, marking one of the stoutest climbs of the Giro d’Italia. It’s a heavenly place with obnoxiously good views that made more than one Facebook friend cry uncle.
We roll the bikes out of the tram and over to the gates where bikers line up to drop into the course. Now I put a helluva lot of miles on the bike each week, but truth be told, I’m no downhiller. After “ripping” a few wide-arching lines down the slope, my guide, Werner Ebner, a marketing specialist-turned-mountain bike guide in Bolzano, Italy, pulls me aside and gives me a few pointers.
“Stephen…lean the bike…not the body…press the bike into the trail!”
I consciously practice my guide’s advice, exaggerating the bike into each turn. At first, my turns are clumsy, slow, and over thought. Eventually, I let up off the brakes and feel the resistance of my tires cut into the dirt which carves the bike around each bend. I begin to feel the comfortable unity of speed and traction. I match turns with hops, skittering over root, rock, and berm, fluidly hucking the bike off ramps into turns. I’ve discovered flow, and it’s fantastic!
The end of the day marked the end of the trip. And for GHOST and REI? Mission accomplished. All told, there were a few pinch flats, a handful of burned out brakes, and a crushed derailleur (fault of the rider)–an exceptionally low cost of doing business considering the amount of terrain chucked under the bikes.
The only limitation of REI’s new line of enduro-demons will likely reside in the limited skills of the rider.