Choices, choices, choices…
Diamondback bikes may not be a brand you have considered. The Release line of bikes is a new generation of dw-link style full-suspension trail bikes worth taking a look at. I recently purchased a 2017 Diamondback Release 1, and want to share my initial thoughts.
When a person gets into mountain biking for the first time, they generally follow a prescribed path. First they get a Walmart bike, or maybe a budget hardtail. Some people shop used, some buy online, some get a deal on Craigslist or pink bike. Usually though, they end up with a very basic bike that they outgrow quickly.
Then they start looking for a full squish. Here the options are endless. If you’re like me, this purchase is going to be significant to your budget, so you want to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the dollars you’re forking out. I tend to research the crap out of it- looking for the absolute best components, warranty, looks, and reputation for the least money. I look for the deal that no one else sees so I don’t feel ripped off. Let’s be honest- 1 to 3k is a crazy amount to spend on a bike and we don’t want to get buyers remorse when they see that sweeter deal next week.
I found myself in this stereotypical scenario when I went for my first full-suspension rig recently. After comparing bikes for months from the big 3 and boutique brands, and narrowing it down to a few winners, I decided to take another look at Diamondback. This was brought on by the recommendation of someone I really respect in the cycling community. I had considered DB in the past when I was looking at a lower price point, but decided to hold off on purchasing an entry-level full suspension and until I could go for a top-tier bike. A 1x drivetrain and a more sophisticated rear linkage are big improvements to me, over the single-pivot style that can be found in the sub-$1500 range.
Now that you know whether or not this review will be helpful to you, I will tell you why I bought the Diamondback Release 1 over the other bikes I was considering, and whether or not I think the grass is greener on the other side.
Price- at the time of my purchase, the Diamondback Release 1 was on sale for 25 percent off, from $2500 to $2000. On top of that, I was given an opportunity to take advantage of another discount available to certain corporations (Contact Diamondback for details as to whether or not you qualify). In the $2500 price point, a high-end aluminum full-suspension bike can be purchased from many brands, and they are all specced pretty well the same. The main variables are your preference of Shimano or Sram, and setup preferences such as geometry and suspension travel. So, as it were, my main reason for going with then diamondback brand was that they were the cheapest bike available to me that met all my needs.
At my initial price point of 2-3k, I had some expectations that I would not compromise on. My main concern was a multi pivot suspension, because the frame is one thing you can never really upgrade (I plan to keep this bike and upgrade parts as they break). My second expectation was that I would get a 1x drivetrain. Sram’s NX groupset is about the cheapest option for a 1×11, in spite of that, I was confident that it would meet my needs. One thing I expected to get that I compromised on (because of sale pricing) was an included dropper post. Because of my significant discount, I opted to pick one up separately rather than upgrade to the Release 2 or another bike brand that includes one.
I wanted at least 130 millimeters of travel in the front, but not more than 160 (Release has 150). I wanted a slack headtube, but not a crazy angle (still gotta climb) I believe the Release has a 66 degree headtube angle. It climbs easily with the 30 tooth chainring and 11-42 cassette. I was also looking for a snappy rear end with shorter chain stays. The diamondback fits the bill with a shorter reach to boot compared to my former hardtail. This geometry, combined with the 27.5 wheels, makes for a playful bike that is easy to pop a wheelie on.
I was hesitant to go with a direct to consumer brand primarily because of customer service after the sale, having been burned by other industries in the past. This is an area that Diamondback unexpectedly shines, given their business model that attracts consumers with low prices and free shipping. But, you will be surprised. I have found it is better to call if you have an issue or question as hold times were almost nonexistent. When I emailed the response time was usually about 24 hours (which is fairly standard in the US). Diamondback really stands out with their attitude toward the customer. You definitely feel that they are there to help you, and that your issue or question is important to them. They also offer a good return policy if you decide that the bike isn’t going to work for you.
Bike purchases include some extras, such as a torque wrench and shock pump, which is good because you will be doing the final bit of assembly yourself. My bike came with a shock pump, a tool kit with a torque wrench, pedals, and an extra derailleur hanger. It was lovingly packaged with thick foam and velcro straps instead of zip ties, so you don’t have to put a knife to your new frame. Out of the box, my Release was tuned up to the point that I literally just put the handlebars on, set the sag, add air to the tires and started riding.
Now on to the good stuff. How does it ride? This was my first 650b bike, my first full suspension, and my first diamondback. I am very impressed and prefer each of these things over what I’ve had in the past. The bike feels plush with the Yari fork dialed in, the linkage in the rear virtually eliminates pedal bob (i did add 4 volume reducers to the shock to keep from bottoming out.) I’m not a speed demon so I’ve not felt I needed a larger chainring yet, and the low-end is challenging on big climbs, but gives you just enough to power through. I like the short stem and wide bars, but I think I may shave them down to 760mm for more clearance and upright posture. I’m 5′ 9″ on a medium frame.
Update 2019: I have added Raceface 35mm riser bars, and switched to Ergon grips. Tried 760mm with the stock bars, but preferred 780mm.
I have been pleased with the setup and durability of the bike overall. So now my gripes:
The seat is not very comfortable. Of course I can swap it out, but they aren’t cheap. For now it will do. I just have to wear chamois on long rides. Update 2018: Switched to Ergon SMC-4 saddle. I like it a little better.
When setting up the wheels for tubeless, the pre-installed Rim tape leaves divots over the spoke holes, which makes seating the tire bead difficult to due to air leaking past- even with a compressor. Update:2018: Running a Maxxis Aggressor 2.5 DD3C on the rear, and a Vittoria Morsa 2.3 up front. Both tires are superior to the Hans Dampf that were OE on the bike.
The included Kraton locking grips are not very durable (or comfortable) and they are about half worn out after only 100 miles.
Diamondback’s choice of the NX level groupset seems like cheaping out at this price point. I would rather have seen GX or Shimano SLX for weight savings alone. The amount of money saved is small when compared to how expensive it is to re-buy a groupset even just one level up. The weight of the NX cassette is just silly compared to similar offerings.
A dropper post is not included on a 2500 dollar msrp bike? What??!! I suppose this is acceptable since the fork is a higher level than most comparable bikes that include a dropper, so you win some you lose some. Giant includes a dropper with it’s Trance 3 at 2300 bucks, but has a Suntour Aion fork and only a 1×10 drivetrain.
My Recommendations and Updates:
Ultimately, I find that this bike is well equipped without significant upgrading, and would highly recommend this bike when it’s on sale, or if you can get the discount that I received. Otherwise, you may wish to make some tradeoffs and go with the Giant Trance 2 (300 dollars more at $2825 for the 2018 model) or a similar offering from another brand.
edit: The Release Carbon has just been “released” and the prices are on fire right now for the aluminum versions! You can snag a Release 1 for 1749 without any discount, and a top-level Release 3 for 2499 if you need the x01, dropper, and pike fork. In my opinion, these price reductions make DB the best value trail bike dollar for dollar.
Update 2019: The newest Release 1 is really disappointing to me. The price point is lower, but the specs are not nearly as good in my opinion. It is now more of a basic, entry-level full suspension. Here’s the link: https://www.diamondback.com/release-1-d41
My current recommendation is to look around a little more, raise your price point, or hold out hope that the next model is more like the 2017 model.