At first glance Silverback's Square is a big bike, the 27.5plus, 3 inch tyres dwarfing its frame and even the more typical 2.25" wheeled Silverback Slider model hanging with it on the bike rack on the back of my car. You'll be excused if you mistake it for a typical fatbike, or not know exactly what to make of it. I am in no way an XC racer, nor do I have steel gonads or a never-ending supply of optimism and energy. What I am however, is an aggressive trail rider. I like to do everything with a single bike, ride up at a semi decent pace then fly down. W2W one weekend and then enter an enduro the next weekend, without changing bikes or even suspension setup between events. My review is from this perspective - so please see it as such. I've spent a couple of days with two of Silverback's 2016 models, the Slider and Square with the focus of my time on the Square. FrameBike colours will always be subjective; Silverback has chosen to go the route of bright neons on their trail bikes, and some of them are a bit too bright for my liking. I normally ride my bikes black on black with only small feature pieces. The Square however is both bright enough and subtle enough to attract my attention and highlight it's features. The paint is durable and pretty scuff resistant and the decal design and colours under the clearcoat well thought out. The tubing diameter, profiles and layout looks well proportioned, and has an aggressive feel to it, and not the softer looks that some fat- and plus bikes offer. With a tapered headtube, hydro-formed 6061 alloy tubing, detailed machining and neat welding, Silverback makes a good looking stiff frame that inspires confidence in their build quality. The rear end buttons up with a 12mm Maxle for maximum stiffness. My right inside calf was touching the rear triangle on the upstroke, right at the top pivot bolt (due to the increased width to accommodate the plus sized wheels). This lasted for a couple of minutes and I thought I would get very annoyed with it, turned out I either got used to it, or adjusted my leg subliminally and completely forgot about it. ComponentsDrivetrain:Silverback uses Sram components on their bikes, and so the square features a 1x11 (10-42) Sram GX gear setup with a Raceface Turbine crankset and 32t NW ring. Shifting remained crisp and effortless during testing. I like the yellow cable on the display bike - a detail that works for me with the decals. Slowing down:SLX brakes on 180mm IceTec rotors, takes care of reigning this machine in, and albeit great for everyday trails, I found that they felt slightly under-powered when I was on steep difficult terrain where gravity was hard at work. A bigger front rotor could possibly sort this out, which would be a cheaper solution that upgrading to XT brakes. Wheels:52mm Wide Stans Hugo rims, on Sram hubs (15/110mm T/A front, 12/148mm T/A rear) and tubeless Maxxis Chronicle 3" tyres completes the running gear. The tyres roll fast and handles rocks and roots well, but I felt the front tyre could have more aggressive side knobs to aid aggressive cornering especially on loosepack. I tried different tyre pressures and ended up using higher pressure than recommended, to counter the feeling of sidewall flex in berms. Since the bike was an ex display bike turned demo bike, the bike slipped under the radar and did not get the PSS that would normally be done to a build before it gets sold or added to the demo fleet. This unfortunately meant that for the most components, I got a no-grease, bone dry bike. Only evident after taking a ride when trying to remove the rear wheel, realizing the 12mm Maxle has seized in place, resulting in a damaged axle when I had to forcefully remove it. Silverback assures me that this is a fluke - and all bikes gets a pre-sale service under normal circumstances. Saddle: Seating is provided by a very comfortable house brand Sector Perfromance series saddle on a Sector alloy seatpost. The newer bikes gets sold with internally routed 100mm Sector dropper posts, but unfortunately this display bike was built up before the dropper addition to the spec list and so I could not try it out. Bars/Stem: The cockpit comes in the form 740mm wide Sector double butted alloy riser bar, bolted to a 60mm Sector Box stem. Decent looking equipment, wide enough for good control, functional and clean with no clutter, and very little noticeable flex through the bars. The headset loosened up a few times in the first couple of rides, but after tightening it up the 3rd time, it retained it's place. This is probably due to a lightweight starnut. The topcap looks good, but the anodized alu feature bolt showing signs of wear without any over-tightening. The grips offers good tackiness and thickness, but is a bit hard for my liking and riding them for a long day on hard trails will result in some pretty hardcore calluses, once again that is very subjective. Fit: Geometry numbers on the Square are on par with modern trail bikes with a 69deg head angle, 625mm top tube and a pretty long 1169mm wheelbase. The large was a perfect fit for my 182mm (6'0) height. SuspensionFront:Suspension is sorted at the front by a 34mm stanction, Manitou Magnum Comp, 120mm fork with boost/110mm hub spacing. It has limited adjustability - air spring, rebound and ABS+ compression damper/lockout , but feels planted, plush and stiff, and more impressively - bottomless on trails, even with only 120mm travel. Surely the big volume tyres are partly responsible. Rear:IDS Revo is the name Silverback has given their rear suspension system (bottom bracket concentric cartridge bearings that mounts via linkage to the rear triangle), and running off a Rockshox RT3, the setup provides you with 110mm travel, that is both small bump sensitive, and big hit capable. I never flipped the lever over from fully open and did not feel it necessary on climbs, as the bike never felt like it was squatting or bobbing when pedaling, even out of the seat. The cable routing under the BB in an attempt to get it clean and neat, and to get it away from the wide rear triangle, seems a bit forced, with tight twists and turns. Changing brakes may prove a challenge, considering the length of the needed rear hose or completely re-routing, to make shorter hoses work.
Riding the bikeUp:Mountain biking is not exempt from physics, and as per Newton's 3rd law of motion; what goes up, must come down. That means that to get decent downhills, you must endure the uphills. Consequently most good mountain bike trails typically start with a proprietary climb up a hill, leg powered or ski-lift, gradual or steep. Locally in SA, we don't have the luxury of Gondolas and so pedaling the bike to where you want it is standard procedure. The Square is good, albeit a bit slouchy on the climbs - the great suspension and endless grip only hampered by the 15kg+ weight of the bike. if you keep your cadence steady and your gear ratio light (with the legs to back it up), it will climb like a Sherpa over any terrain, but it does take it out of you on longer climbs. Once at the top, you may just want to take a slight breather before heading down. Down: Catch your breath, take a sip of your bottle (of which a full size bottle fits in the front triangle) point the 3" front tyre down and release a whole can of whoop-ass on the trail. The Square has immense roll over ability, and as long as you can imagine the line, the Square will obey, undramatically eating rocks, devouring bumps and ignoring ruts. The Square feels balanced, and composed, on trails, the geometry lending itself to going faster than you would feel comfortable on normally. Riding the bike on fast DH lines and quick Red routes like Red Phoenix, the bike reveals a planted character, unshaken by ruts or braking bumps. What you do also notice is that this stability comes at the cost of flick-ability, and liveliness and running flat out through a chicane will have you working hard to lean and keep the bike dropped retaining traction, especially in the quick switch from side to side. Some traction can be gained by dropping tyre pressures, but there's a fine balance of traction vs rolling resistance and the feeling of the tyre sidewall flexing, makes my stomach churn, especially since I know that if my wheel burps, I need a couple of CO2 canisters, and a whole lot of luck to get tyres seated or inflated. And a micro pump is about as useful as inflating an air mattress with your mouth. It will get you there eventually, but there's easier ways to do things. Riding typical trails where you are doing longer distances, the rolling resistance on wide tyres and extra weight will not go unnoticed unfortunately. Sure you'll get strong riding it all day, or - and more possibly so - you may plan or unwittingly keep your ride distances down to shorter rides than usual, with less traversing and exploring as a part of your ride. Let the brakes go, choose a line and commit and you'll soon go into hyperdrive, where trees blur, and tunnel vision takes over. The bike pops off jumps surprisingly easy for its size, and in the air is a place where the Square feels very at home. It's more comfortable with slight tweaks and dead sailors than with big whips and tabletops, since the sheer size of the wheels generate a substantial gyroscopic force that does not like to be change direction when at speed. Landing is uneventful and almost too easy. With a relatively long rear end, getting the front wheel to stay up and level at manuals takes some practice and technique adjustment - your front wheel needs to be picked up higher to get your weight more off the back of the bike, to counter balance the front end and get decent distance over obstacles. Alternatively, just roll over them, since you probably won't feel it. The real test of the Square's abilitiesAfter pitching the idea to Marthinus of Silverback, he was kind enough to let me run the Square in EzelEnduro 2016, a race that, although only in it's second year, has a reputation to break bikes and riders. The terrain on SS1 starting fast and off camber - sandy, and finishing off SS66 with nothing but steep boulder fields. To setup the Square for the race I did a couple of setup and component changes, just to dial it in. My own wider bars, XTR brakes, Ruby silicon grips to help with arm pump, and my Fox DOSS dropper with SDG iBeam seat and some cage pedals for more secure footing to replace my XTR clipless. Then I also added on loads and loads of frame protection tape and cut up a used tyre as downtube protection, so that I don't return a badly scuffed up bike to Silverback after the race. Other than that, I rode it all stock. The 120mm front suspension from the Manitou Magnum fork, was a concern in the back of my mind, but never felt overwhelmed on the trail, even though I did bottom it out a couple of times, it was never a harsh feeling. On that kind of terrain a 140mm fork would have been better suited, and I imagine the bike would be well suited to the longer travel. The rear suspension handled the rocks well, and not puncturing on any of the stages is testament to how well it coped. The weight of the bike hampering flowy swift direction changes, fast lines where a lot of skipping over sections would be needed, like I normally would do on a lightweight trail bike, but had me choosing seemingly impossible lines and not giving it a second thought, bouncing off big rocks, steep drops and riding in and out of ruts - mostly just over them with abandon. EzelEnduro photo Credit to Ewald Sadie. esphotography.co.za Pushing the bike up to the two final stages (that's just what you have to do - not compulsory, but impossible to ride and pointless to try), I was acutely aware of it's size and weight, as my body was tired from wrestling the terrain, and there is no way I could be carrying it on my back, up the slopes to the starting points. On the race, the Silverback Square proved to be, as my test rides would have suggested, a competent and very competitive and solid choice of bike for the terrain. I think my results, in part, shows what this bike lends itself to.Inspection after the race showed a bike for the greater part unfazed by the terrain, other than the rear wheel bearings may need a service/tightening up, rear spokes needs tensioning and there's a single small flat spot in the rim.
The long and short of itBig wheels. Sure you can use it on the beach on your December holidays, and the 3" tyres would do well there running lower pressures; but once you've seen what this machine can do, you'll feel silly using it as a beach cruiser. If you look at it there on the car, dwarfing both the car and most other bikes, it is difficult to picture what the bike is designed for or what it is capable of; so take it to some trails to find out. I've been hitting downhill PR's with it on GSpot, Paarl DH and Eden normally on the first pass already. If you're not hard pressed for fast climbing or all day long distance riding, and more interested in a well mannered trail bombing machine, that goes as good as it looks, look no further. It won't replace a carbon framed lightweight XC machine, and it's not as responsive and forgiving as an long travel purpose built enduro bike. All-in-all though, a great trail bike, but shaving a bit of weight off the build, would definitely give this bike a bit more Synergy... The Silverback Square is a well designed, well specced machine, it is very capable and could make any trail, and especially challenging terrain, seriously fun. The drivetrain, suspension design and suspension components really standing out in testing as well considered parts of the build, with nothing falling in the "why is that on here" bracket. The bike is not cheap, but, at it's price point and impressive part list, it is great value for your hard earned money. Official spec list (slightly different from the bike I tested): Frame: Silverback Intelligent Design System (IDS) Revo Technology, Exclusive Suspension Science, 27.5+ Trail Machine, Hydroformed 6061 Alloy Custom Butted Tubing, Tapered 1-1/8”-1.5” Headtube, Silverback 12 x 148mm Dropouts, Super-Stiff StaysFork: Manitou Magnum Comp 27.5+, 120mm, Tapered Alloy Steerer, Crown lockout, 15x110mm Dropout, Post Mount DiscRear Shock: Rock Shox Monarch RT3, 110mm Travel, 184x44mmRims: Hayes/Sun Ringle Mulefut 50 27.5”, Alloy, 32H, Hayes/ Sun Ringle Rimtape and Valves, BlackHubs: Front: 2 Cartridge Bearings, Rear: 4 Cartridge Bearings, 3 Pawl Chromo SRAM XD 11 Speed Freehub Body with 10° Engagement, 32H, 6-Bolt Disc MountTyres: Maxxis Chronicle 27.5” x 3.0, TR and EXO, Kevlar BeadStem: Sector Box, Alloy, S/M: 60mm; L/XL: 75mm, 6° x ∮31.8mm, BlackHandlebar: Sector Gradient, Double Butted Alloy, W: 740mm; Back Sweep: 9°; Up Sweep: 5°; 15mm Rise x ∮31.8mmSeatpost: SBC Dropper Post, Remote Lockout, Internal Cable Routing, 100mm Drop, ∮31.6mm, S/M: 350mm, L/XL: 400mm, BlackSaddle: Sector Performance series, Cr-Mo RailsBrake set: Shimano SLX BL/BR-M675, Open Hydraulic System, Metal Pads w/Fin, Levers Rotors Front: 180mm; Rear: 160mm, 6-Bolt, BlackShifters: SRAM GX X-Actuation SL Trigger Shifter, 11 Speed, BlackFront Derailleur: N/ARear Derailleur: SRAM GX X-Horizon w/ Rolling Bearing Clutch and Cage Lock, BlackCassette: SRAM XG-1150 11 Speed, 10-42T, BlackCrankset: Race Face Turbine, 32T, 11-Speed, 175mmBottom Bracket: Race Face, BSAImage from Silverback's website.