Long term reviews – Bionicon Alva 180 Air/Superstar Sentinel Wheelset/Shimano Zee brakes

Evening all,

As promised earlier this week – here’s the long term reviews I’ve been threatening for a while!

Now that 2013 is over, it’s time for me to reflect on kit from last season, and look to 2014 and what I’ll be running……..

Bionicon Alva 180 Air

First up, let’s take an overall look at the bike I ran for the whole of the 2013 season, seeing action in the Enduro 1 Southern UK Enduro series (15th overall in the series in 30+ category, with 3 out of 4 rounds raced), 2 SuperEnduro rounds and the Enduro World Series final among many others – the awesome Bionicon Alva 180 Air. Lots of people have questioned “why a bike so big?” – well when you can build a 180mm bike with adjustable travel & geometry that weighs in between 30 & 32 lbs dependent on kit spec and it climbs as well as the 160mm version, why not?


The Alva has seen some hard use this season – from horrific muddy, steep UK courses to the rocky, twisty, dusty and punishing tracks of Italy and it still runs like a dream. In fully slacked out mode, it has a 65 degree head angle so really hits it, but with a 31lb build in my current setup, it can get back up nicely too. Early in the season we broke just under 30lb with a very light build, but that was a bit of a compromise with very light tyres. It was a good challenge though and saw lots of people picking it up in disbelief!


Suspension action has been great, especially once I added the new G2S damper cartridge to the fork, giving lots more mid-stroke support. I found the best balance was 25% rear sag and 15% front, with around 60% compression damping wound in on the fork for good support. The rear shock, an X-Fusion O2-RL, has been great and has needed just a quick service after SuperEnduro Monti Della Tolfa. With a big season, I’ve killed a pair of shock eyelet bushes, but that’s to be expected. Pivot bearings have been easy to service and grease though so are still running super sweet. Overall, it’s been a fantastic bike and a big step up from the Edison I rode in 2012.

Superstar Sentinel Wheelset

I’ve been running the Superstar Sentinel wheelset all season too – this wheelset is built around Superstar’s new Tesla hubs with 72 points of engagement and their Sentinel tubeless ready rims which are 26mm wide external and 21mm internal. They’re laced up with Sapim double butted spokes and have stayed good and tight all season with just the odd retrue on the rear being needed.

The overall weight of the wheels came in at under 1700g for the pair, so really light. I’m quite a lightweight rider at 74kg, but bear in mind the rim profile is the same as a Mavic Crossmax SX so they’re still a decent size – and a whole season’s Enduro racing suggests they are more than up to the job. The rims are still true, with just a couple of little dents from rock strikes, and the hubs run smoothly on SKF stainless steel bearings. Now the freehub is bedded in nicely, it makes a great “angry wasp” sound too!

Highly recommended – and if you are heavier or ride with less finesse, it’s worth looking at the Sentinel’s tougher brother, the Tactic rim at just 30g more weight.

Shimano Zee brakes

If you look carefully at various pictures, you’ll spot that I switched brakes towards the end of the season – I ran Zee all through 2012 and LOVED them! My 2013 bike came with SRAM/Avid X0 brakes and to be honest, they were really good, with a nice lever shape, good power and good modulation. The problem was that the power was only “good”, not “great”. I finally overcooked them in Italy and realised that despite their light weight, beautiful polished finish and lovely feel, they lacked the real big power output of the Zee so I took the plunge and went back to the Shimanos.

Zee Brakes

Straight away, it’s so apparent Shimano have nailed these brakes – trimming the hoses and bleeding the brakes with the new funnel system is ridiculously easy and something anyone can do, unlike so many hydraulic brake systems.

The lever shape is great, perfect for serious one finger braking.

Power is phenomenal, especially when coupled with big rotors for heat dissipation – asides from being able to brake later and harder, the big benefit for an Enduro rider is the fact that as you get tired towards the end of a long race or ride and the dreaded arm pump is kicking in, you don’t need to use any forearm strength to get the anchors dropped. This is probably the biggest benefit of the Zee asides from the pure power and ease of maintenance!

I’ll be running Zee on all my bikes from now on – the small weight penalty is well worth it as they are by far the best brakes I’ve ever used.

Great prices on Shimano Zee brakes here: https://amzn.to/2NRmNeP

One comment

  1. I agree for the Zee. I use them since a year now and would not come back on something else just because of the weight.
    The Superstar wheels, or the rims, interstets me a lot. A little bit to narrow, but why not ?

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