January, in BC, isn’t the best time to start testing a mountain bike, especially when you are an avid skier. However, after my Prime pre-production frame arrived in January of 2012, I committed to getting some rides in, even as the powder beckoned.

Snow like this was keeping me off the bike when I received my new Prime in January 2012. East Bowl, Mt Cain, Vancouver Island, January 15, 2012.

I have been riding the Prime for two seasons now, and on a wide variety of terrain in all conditions. From trails that I would be more comfortable riding on my Scythe, to trails with climbs that make your head feel like it is going to explode, the Prime has been with me.

Racing the Prime at the 2013 Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race. Photo by Camille Douglas

I consider myself an advanced intermediate rider. To put this into perspective, I will relate my skills to some of the more popular trails at Whistler. On Crank it Up, I go fast, clear all the jumps, always ride the little step-up / step-down box and hit all of the wall rides. I really enjoy old school DH trails like Original Sin, In Deep, Factrobat and Duff Man. Machine built jump trails like Freight Train are something I can ride, but jumps over 5 feet or so start to push my limits. Gaps, even though I have hit some big ones, scare me – even small ones…

All that being said, I have considered myself a mountain biker since I was 11, which is a rather intimidating 28 years ago now. I started out very firmly planted in the cross-country scene, and took to racing to satisfy my competitive needs. Later in my career, (much later) I transitioned to 8 inch travel bikes, full face helmets, body armour and downhill racing. The last couple of years, for various reasons, I have been taking it a little more relaxed, with little to no racing and more trail riding. The Prime arrived just at the right time.

Build

My Prime is built up more on the XC end of the spectrum, with a 120 mm travel fork, light wheels and 2.25 inch wide fast rolling Ardent tires. Full details of the production frame are available at Banshee's website. I've kept my Prime in the "slack" setting for all of my riding.

Frame and Shock

2012 Banshee Prime Pre-production frame- Medium – Fox DHX Air shock - 130 mm travel – 9 lbs, 9 oz as tested

Fork

Fox Float 29 - 120 mm travel – 15 qr axle

Brakes

Shimano XT

Shifters

Shimano SLX

Cockpit

Chromag OS Bar / Gravity Light stem 60mm, 8 degree/ Funn lock-on grips

Seat/post

Bontrager seat / KS i950 travel adjust seat post

Cranks

Shimano Deore with three rings!  Deore front derailleur

Rear Der/Cogset

Shimano SLX, 10 speed cassette

Wheels

Sun Equalizer rims laced to formula hubs

Tires

Maxxis Ardent 2.25 29er tires

Pedals

Shimano DX clipless

My Prime, all built up and ready to ride.

How it Works

The linkage design is new for Banshee on the Prime and is dubbed the KS. No one has told me what KS stands for, but it is what Bike reported, and what Keith told me, so it’s legit (it may stand for Keith Scott - Banshee's engineer...). In essence, it is a four bar, short-link linkage with a virtual pivot point that drives the shock directly from the rear triangle to reduce loading of bearings and increase lateral stiffness when compared to previous VF4B linkage. The head angle is relatively slack compared to the more XC 29er’s available on the market, with two settings: 67.5 or 68.5 degrees. Of course, with a different fork on the bike, the angles will vary. Setting up the suspension is pretty standard, 25-30% sag at both ends and you are off to the races.

I wrote a full article on the development of the Prime for NSMB.com.

Close-up shot of the short-link KS suspension system on the Prime.

The 29 inch wheels each end, and the slack head angle make for a long chassis, with 45.5 inch wheelbase. For comparison, the Trek Session 88 downhill bike has a wheelbase of 47 inches or so, while the Banshee Legend comes in between 44.6 and 47.3”. the Trek Superfly 100 with 26” wheels has a wheel base of 44 inches. This makes the Prime a relatively long bike.

How it feels

The Prime climbs like you are 20% fitter than you really are. Seriously. I can truly attest to this as many factors in my life have kept me from riding as much as I would like lately, and yet the climbs aren’t as hard when I ride the Prime as they should be. I am transitioning from riding only 26 inch wheeled bikes, and part of this is the fact that on a 29 inch wheel, you can roll up the climbs with more momentum. However, the Prime’s stiff frame and active, but not sluggish suspension definitely add to the advantage gained by the larger wheels.

For the way back down, the Prime is best when pointed on the most direct line, over the roughest terrain. Truly made to be burly, the Prime far exceeds what should be possible with only 5 inches of travel. The long wheelbase makes it very stable at speed, and despite the tall riding position afforded by the large wheels, the Prime feels very planted. In fact, the bottom-bracket is quite low for a 29er bike, which helps for that planted “in the bike” feel (and also causes the odd pedal strike).

Tight, slow corners are not the best terrain to enjoy this bike, however with a bit of extra body English it is possible to throw the Prime around any turn. The stiffness of the frame makes it possible to confidently hop the back wheel around corners, and is a neat skill to learn.

The Prime I have been testing is the pre-production model, and the production model of the frame is even better. I feel that my Prime is quite tall, and 29ers will always be higher at the front for obvious reasons. However, for production, Banshee changed the headtube spec to be zero stack and tapered to lower the stack height about 15mm; also the BB has been dropped a touch to lower the overall height. The production model is also lighter by 700 grams, has better anti-squat characteristics and should climb even better than the frame I’ve been riding.

Wear (it has been 2 seasons)

There is none. This bike is tough. The bearings at all pivot points definitely help.

Summing it Up

Never in my riding career have I been more prone to make “Braaap” sound effects than when I ride the Prime. From the seeming electric assisted climbing, to the confident, high speed descent capabilities, the Prime is a stellar ride. If you aren't too picky about tight, slow speed handling, tend to climb up before you ride down, and like to go fast and be somewhat careless, the Prime is the bike for you.

As I own my Prime, I will be making some upgrades. The first, and most important, will be a longer travel fork. I fully intend to upgrade to a 140 or 150 mm travel fork as soon as it becomes affordable. I will also more than likely get some larger width, more burly tires on my Prime, and probably lace a stronger rim onto the back wheel. Otherwise, a bash guard and maybe a chain guide, and I will have an all-mountain 29er bike that will be more than capable of handling free ride terrain.