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When you have the distinction of being the world's oldest bicycle brand manufacturing till date, there is a lot riding on every product you launch. For the Italian bicycle giant's "Bianchi", this is just another day at the office. Its India foray has primarily been dominated with its slew of road bicycles and hybrids. The past few years have seen the emergence of Bianchi MTBs that continue to carry forward 'Bianchis exquisite design, technology, and quality. As soon as we heard that the new 2016 Bianchi Kuma 29.1 2016 MTB had hit the stores, our team got down to testing it. Here's what the results look like.
The Bianchi Kuma 29.1 comes with a strong Kuma 29'triple butted Aluminium frame that is relatively well weighted. The first thing that catches your eye is the reinforced section where the bottom and top tube meet the headtube. The extra use of alloy in this section means that this bicycle will be able to take the extra pressure that it exerted while on harsh off road terrain. The chainstays and seatstays have muscular tubing that adds to the overall stiffness and strength of the frame. There are options for mudguards and a pannier racks for the tourer in you. The only downside that we saw on the frame was the finishing on the welds, which left a lot of uneven creases. This frame is a good base that can be used to upgrade to better componentry in the future.
The Kuma's ergonomics and posture for the rider is more forward bent and aggressive. The bicycle comes with a good suspension unit in the SR-Suntour XCM-RL DS 29, which has a 100 mm travel and comes with an 'on-the-go' remote lockout option on the handlebar. The suspension faired well on all kinds of off-road obstacles and it employed over 75 to 80% of the travel on offer.
Whenever Bianchi and Design are brought up in the same sentence, you will always think of their unique 'Celeste' color that has dominated their design for decades. The Kuma we rode was in a shade of celeste, but in a matte finish. It was certainly a new direction for Bianchi and was pleasing to the eye. The brand decals and the name were placed well and visible from a distance. The frame design is quite different for a traditional MTB. At first glance you get the feeling that the frame resembles the curving top tube from one of Bianchi's road bicycles. It is true; the inspiration is from the road bicycle frame design lines, while conforming to MTB geometry requirements. Overall, the Kuma has a very sporty and fresh design.
The gear system on the Bianchi Kuma 29.1 is a combination of Shimano Alivio FD-M4000 in the front derailleur, and Shimano Deore RD-M592 in the rear derailleur. This 27-speed gear system was a delight to operate as it gave us the necessary gearing options across various inclinations and surfaces. The rear derailleur had a bit of a lag while shifting, but a technician at the store can adjust the same. The Shifters on offer are Shimano Alivio SL-M4000 trigger shifters. If you have hands that are on the wider side, you may find it a tad uneasy to shift the gears as the shifter levers are placed extremely close to the end of the handlebar grip.
The Kuma 29.1 comes with some stellar braking performance. It is fitted with Shimano BR-M355 Hydraulic discs with 160mm rotors in the front and back. The brakes levers are adjusted with a certain level of play, which means that you have to use the end spectrum of the brake lever to squeeze to a halt, when you need the maximum stopping power. The Shimano BR-M355 brake levers are designed for 2 and 3 finger braking. The Brakes were responsive and did not overreact even under harsh braking.
The Kuma being a 29er means that the bigger radius wheels reacts slower to directional changes. That's one thing that was evident in the bicycle, and it showed every time we decided to change directions. You will experience a bit of a lag while trying to change directions quickly. The flat handlebar gives you a good position to command the Kuma, and it is designed to aid sporty off-road riding.
The tires chosen for the Kuma are Kenda Slant six 29 * 2.1 MTB tires. The small tread box design on these tires are ideal for intermediate riding on trails, and are best suited for dry weather riding across grass, dirt, and other harder surfaces. The tires are designed to give you a relatively good roll across surfaces. These units are fitted on to Alex MD 17 Double wall alloy rims. The combination proved to be sufficient for the off-road trails that any intermediate MTB rider would choose to take.¾
The Bianchi Kuma displayed contrasting feels on flat tarmac roads as opposed to the trail. It felt a little sluggish on mettle surfaces, but the minute we hit the trails it felt at ease taking in most of the bumps and dirt, like a boss. We still felt that there were times that we needed to put in a little extra pedal power, in spite of the stiff frame translating most of the momentum forward.
In terms of rider comfort, the strong frame took a lot of vibrations but did transfer some of it back to the saddle. A special mention must be made of the front suspension, which worked well and was active through the trails. The Kuma, staying true to it's sporty value proposition, comes with a narrow TEC Durus saddle, which may not suit riders who are on the heavier or broader side. One could always do a sit bone analysis at the store and decide if they need a change of saddle.
Bianchi have a good offering in the Kuma 29.1, as they seemed to have taken care of the more important aspects of an intermediate MTB. The strength of this bicycle is truly its frame, and everything that has been built around it. Barring the couple of niggles experienced; we feel that the Bianchi Kuma 29.1 is a worthy contender to be your next intermediate Hardtail MTB that is capable of traversing through most off road terrain with aplomb. The only cause of concern is the Rs.58,000 price tag which makes it amongst the more expensive bicycles in i's category. This can be justified if you look at the Italian legacy, heritage and design expertise that Bianchi brings with it, and as a brand that has managed to keep cyclists world over happy for over 125 years and counting.