Bullet Proof on a Budget
by Laura Pucket
Weight: 33.4 lbs
When I pulled up to the trailhead this summer, other riders mostly seemed confused by the imposing steed I had in tow. Its steel-gray, aluminum frame and flashy, blue rims made an immediate impression. “That’s a good looking bike,” they would say, promptly followed by “Who makes it?” Despite the white Diamondback logo emblazoned on its down tube, some riders weren’t familiar with the brand, and others had just about forgotten it.
Part of the unfamiliarity is due to history. Diamondback has its roots as a BMX racing brand that got into mountain bikes in the ’90s. The company’s glory may have peaked in 1996 when Susan DeMattei rode a Diamondback to bring home an Olympic bronze, still the only Olympic mountain biking medal earned by an American. Then, in 1999, Diamondback was bought by Raleigh, which was in turn bought in 2001 by the Derby Cycle Corp., which eventually took the name Raleigh International for all of its brands. This is the umbrella Diamondback falls under today. With all of these corporate changes and financial difficulties, manufacturing shifted to Asia and, for the first part of this century, Diamondback was pretty much demoted to big-box-store status.
Since then, Diamondback has been trying to “find our roots” and “build the brand back up,” in the words of marketing director Jon Kennedy. The company has refocused on quality and is building bikes, and a culture around its bikes, that take riding seriously. With a lineup that includes kids’, cruisers and hybrids, Diamondback still has a variety of interests in the wider bicycle market, but mountain bikes are where much of the passion lies, and at the heart of this renaissance is the Knuckle Box.
Launched in 2006 to bring recognition back to the brand, the Knuckle Box is Diamondback’s rear suspension platform. It was designed by in-house engineer Mark Landsaat as an answer to the question of how to get a lot of squish in a bike that’ll still climb well. With the Knuckle Box, Diamondback is paying attention to the details—like making all of the hardware accessible from the non-drive side so that it’s easier to access for maintenance. Diamondback also is looking at the big issues in a minute way, like coordinating with Fox on this year’s redesign to build the rear shock in concert with Diamondback frames, so that each comes to the customer dialed in specifically for that bike.
The Knuckle Box system is at the center of three of Diamondback’s four full-suspension frames, including the all-mountain Mission 2, and it succeeds at its job of making the ride smooth and stable. The Knuckle Box’s streamlined profile tucked tight into the frame adds to the bike’s stability by keeping the center of gravity low. With 6 inches of suspension in both the front and rear, the Mission 2 easily absorbed most obstacles in its path and lofted smoothly over others. As I got used to the bike and I began to really feel how solid it was beneath me, I started to see those obstacles as launching pads, which was a feat in and of itself.
Prior to hopping on the Mission 2, I was much more comfortable riding up than down and avoided catching air off of pretty much anything. The Mission 2 changed all that. It made jumps pure fun. The riding position was comfortable and the front wheel lifted easily, making take-offs a breeze. The suspension ate up the landings, keeping me solid and in control. The whole process was so smooth, my confidence only grew as I took on bigger and bigger drops. I can safely say, despite some improvement in my own skills, it was the bike that made the difference on this one.
That said, this bike is definitely more for the trail than the park. It’s made to go up as well as down. The riding position and gearing are right for climbing. Additionally, Diamondback touts the Knuckle Box for its pedal efficiency and lack of bob. But for my size and strength (5'7", 135 pounds and coming off of knee surgery), I found it to be a lot of bike to haul around. It needed bursts of power I couldn’t always muster to get up steep climbs and maneuver through tight switchbacks. Thankfully, the Fox ProPedal compression circuit in the rear and the lockout feature on the fork helped with this immensely. I found that keeping the rear shock on its stiffer setting and adjusting the front across a spectrum of stiffness allowed me to tailor the bike to the terrain, dramatically increasing its rideability on ascents. Ultimately, though, it’s simply a burly bike.
Built out of “weapons grade” aluminum, the Mission 2 is made to take a beating. The hydroformed top tube and tapered head tube make for a stiff, strong frame. The thru axle design on the front fork added stiffness, as well, for maneuvering through rock jumbles. The Hayes Stroker Trail Hydraulic brakes matched this mass and with an 8-inch front rotor and 7-inch rear rotor; they were smooth and powerful. The whole bike, from frame to components, was made to handle a lot of speed and impact.
I was lucky enough to have the Mission 2 for several months, so I rode on my home turf in Crested Butte and Gunnison, Colo., as well as in Fruita and Cortez, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M. It climbed and descended as I needed, but the buff and rolling cross-country trails I frequented were simply too banal for this much bike. It seemed like, in the end, it could take a lot more abuse than I could give it. It ate up obstacles in its path and maintained its stability at higher speeds, so I could see it easily standing up to a more daredevil riding style.
The Mission 2 is a happy medium for a bike that can get you up and down, with an emphasis on the down. Although I found it to be a lot of bike to get uphill, it made for fast, fun descents even for a once-timid rider. It comes in four editions to fit a number of different budgets and, across the board, is a great value for the price. Because the Diamondback name isn’t well known these days with newer mountain bikers and is a distant memory for veteran riders, you get a top-notch frame with a combination of good components that’s precisely made to fill the all-mountain niche and the all-American budget. For someone looking to get into more aggressive descents without sacrificing the ups and downs of a day on the trail, Diamondback’s Mission 2 could be the perfect fit.