Review by: Myles Kelsey
Ride like a hooligan or tame the Cape Epic – that’s the name of the game for this DT Swiss Limited Edition Cypher.
Titan Racing got in early with 120mm XC bikes and their Cypher quickly became a best-seller. This Limited Edition model is blinged-up courtesy of the sassy DT Swiss wheels and dampers. Adding to its ‘raceability’ is a clever three-stage lockout that squeezes every possible marginal gain, into your game. After clocking more than 200km of Cape Towns’ rowdiest XC trails, I’m very impressed with its hooliganism and outright speed. So much so I’m convinced it’s ready for big races, like the Epic. It does, however, need one small tweak.
FEATURES & DETAILS
The 120mm Cypher is a 29″ wheeled, all-carbon full suspension race machine. This ‘middle-tier’ edition receives a performance race spec in the form of DT Swiss fork, shock, wheels and lockout. These days, that’s some pretty hard-to-come-by componentry. Titan Racing has specced the SRAM Level T brakes with 180mm rotor front and 160mm rear. Drivetrain wise it’s an all SRAM affair with 175mm Stylo cranks, 12-speed GX Eagle shifting and mech.
Having two water bottle mounts inside the frame is a big pull for endurance racers the world over. The benefits are obviously the ability to carry more liquid and also to split that into one part water and one part energy drink – as per the coach’s orders. In size large, our test bike easily accommodates two 750ml bottles. Titan Racing says the smallest frame takes one small bottle whilst the size medium frame takes a small and big bottle. The extra large frame fits two large water bottles.
A flip chip at the top of the seat stays offers half a degree of adjustability into the head angle with 5mm of BB-drop too. Whilst it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to fiddle with XC geometry, I’m a massive fan as it adds versatility to the bike.
As they say, first impressions are lasting impressions; the design lines, build quality and overall finish of this bike are mint. The bike has internal cable routing, a low standover height and a slightly oversized headtube area adding to the appeal.
Of course, designed as a high-performance race machine it does run a dropper post and a dual remote lockout system which means, you guessed it, lots of cables in the cockpit area. More on that in a minute.
The front and rear dampers by DT Swiss are the ‘232 One’ model, which is their XC racer option. A three-stage lockout system offers a Lock, Drive or Open mode – all operated by a single bar-mounted remote that is not dissimilar to that of Scott. Lock mode is a fully rigid setting designed for long smooth climbs or traverses. Drive Mode is ideal for gravel riding, trail climbs or rough traverses. Open Mode is for rough and gravity-orientated sections.
The chassis (in all the Cyphers) is designed with more reach so riders can run shorter stems. The upside in the handling is a distinct lack of nervous behavior in the bike and a center of gravity that is optimized for speed. It’s another area Titan Racing is winning in – and in my opinion beating many mass-market options.
To the cockpit then and as I mentioned in the video there is a lot going on here. The single out-the-box tweak that needs some attention on this bike is a neatening up of the cables. It’s easily done with a little cable wrap and is something your local bike shop can do. It brightens the aesthetics and reduces cable rattle.
SRAM’s reliable Level T hydraulic brakes and Titan Racing’s own carbon bar and lock-on grips complete the cockpit. The Prologo saddle is perched on a 125mm X-Fusion Manic dropper post.
The DT Swiss X 1900 wheelset is an 1800g all-alloy and highly reliable set of hoops. Straightpull DT Champion spokes, a new ratchet freehub system and 25mm inner diameter rims are but a few of the spec highlights here.
The slightly narrower than usual 2.25″ Vee Rail Rocco tires are a perfect match for the 25mm inner rim diameter. The tread pattern is designed for all conditions and to excel on dry trails.
GEOMETRY & SIZING
With four sizes on offer, the reach numbers run from 400 on the small, 425 on the medium, 450 on the large up to 470 on the extra-large. The seat angle sits at 74° with the flip-chip in the high setting and the head angle is 67.5° when slackest.
This ‘Gen One’ chassis was designed a couple of years back – and was somewhat ahead of the game at the time. To summarize, the geometry isn’t overly contemporary but there’s nothing terribly old-school about it, at all.
Test Bike Setup | The fork is tuned specifically for XC racing in that it has very good small bump, is linear in the mid-stroke, before ramping towards the end of travel. In the end, I settled on 100psi in the fork which gave me about 10 to 15% sag and I felt this optimized the bike for XC riding. Running 150psi in the shock gave me about 20 to 25% sag which is more than I usually run on an XC bike but it felt like the best setup and allowed me to take full advantage of the three-stage lockout system. I prefer a slightly steeper seat tube angle than what is on the Cypher but sliding the seat forward on the rails put me into a power position. Stem was slammed and brakes set inward from the grips. Tyres set to around 19psi front and 26psi rear.
Fit & Comfort | My personal XC bike is a little longer, has a longer dropper, more aggressive rubber and less sweep on the bars but this Cypher is a bike I immediately felt at home and very comfortable on. At 1,76m tall the size large is a good fit for me. There’s plenty of space (sufficient reach) to move around when standing, sprinting or stomping. Throughout the ±25 hours of test riding, I never thought about the saddle once – that’s a sign it’s comfortable, for me. I don’t have ‘form’ for the Epic but I tell you this is a bike I know I’d consider for something like the Epic if I was that way inclined. It just feels right.
Climbing | When the trail points up, the Cypher Ltd definitely has that feeling like you could climb forever. In Lock mode, it’s a fully rigid machine with maximum efficiency and responsiveness. Yes a R200k World Cup race bike has a different ‘snap per watt ratio’ but for the R69k price point, the Cypher is truly impressive under power.
In Drive Mode, the compression softens a little to open up the front and rear damping and this is the Mode I spent the bulk of my ride time in. Climbing rough terrain in Drive Mode offers great compliance, comfort and grip. Any loss in efficiency is difficult to detect and the upside of increased traction and sheer rideability is easily felt. Steering accuracy around tight switchbacks is on point. Despite a relatively high front end, I never felt like the trail was too steep or that a loop-out was imminent. 2.25″ tires are a little narrow for most of the trails I rode during this test but they are probably fine on the majority of singletrack that SA has to offer. The Vee Rail Rocco bites in nicely across most surfaces and the climbing grip isn’t an issue.
Technical Trails & Descending | Switching from Drive to Open Modes removes yet more compression from the fork and shock. It’s more dramatic a change in ride feel than I imagined and I was a little surprised by this on the first ride. Upon reflection and with more test rides completed, the penny dropped; Drive Mode has quite a bit of compression so racers can use it as the ‘default setting’; spending the majority of their race in Drive. The Open Mode only needs to be used when descending high-speed or super gnarly lines. It helps the wheels track the terrain (really) well and gives the bike more composure on rowdy piste.
On techy trails or descents, the Cypher is one of those bikes that doesn’t choke up. The extra travel, contemporary geometry and kinematics combine well and I didn’t really get the feeling of “sh&t I better hit the brakes here or I might die”. On XC trails, drop-offs, off-camber roots, small jumps and rock gardens can be hit full tilt. Worth noting for the Down-country brigade: the narrower stanchions on the fork do offer a little flex when cross-rutting. It’s not a biggy and full hooligan mode is totally viable on this bike.
Worth mentioning is the noise level of the bike when descending – or lack of it! It’s very very quiet. There’s really hardly any sound other than the shredding of rubber when descending. The DT Swiss freewheel body is almost completely silent and with very little chain slap or cable rattling the Cypher is impressively stealthy. On that note, fitting a bell to warn hikers, runners and pooches there’s a bike on track, is a good idea.
Performance of the Build Kit | I had no mechanical issues on this bike, whatsoever, not even a flat! The suspension is pretty easy to setup and the DT Swiss dampers never lost air pressure throughout the test period. SRAM’s GX drivetrain is bombproof and the Level T brakes modulate well without being shy on raw stopping power. Nothing to report on the dropper post other than flawless functioning. The racer inside of me wanted a faster return rate on the dropper but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The grips do have a little free play in them which is a little disconcerting when riding at pace – they would be the only item I’d change on the bike. The sweep and width of the bars are spot on and our test bike had what looked to be a 65mm stem which felt great. There’s no shortage of rolling speed with the Rail Rocco Tires – albeit at a slight compromise on traction – but that’s what XC is all about. A pleasant surprise for me was the ride quality of the alloy wheelset. There’s a decidedly lekker feel coming from the DT Swiss hoops. A little heavy yes, but oh so compliant, comfortable and nicely planted when things get rowdy.
TAKEOUT & WHO IS IT FOR?
The Cypher Ltd has functional tech that improves endurance efficiency, maneuverability in the tight stuff and high-speed stability. It’s a high-value, stealthy race bike that suits XCO, Marathon or Stage Racing scenarios. It’s also a lot of fun to ride!
WORDS: Myles Kelsey – Bike Network | IMAGES: Rob Ward | VIDEO: Thomas Sandell | LOCATION: TokaiMTB & Green Belt