The Kind people at Vario were nice enough to lend us a Harissa SX DH for a long term test. So heres a chance to see what we thought of it.
Vario Bikes may be a new company to most of us over here in the UK, but Varios have been on the mountains in France for over 15 years. In 1990 Christian Guillet, French engineer and a passionate mountain biker, decided to create a bike with geometry adaptable to the local mountain Alpine terrain. With this, the idea of the "Variobike" was born. By 1993 Christian had left his job as an engineer with Caterpillar to focus on producing Vario bikes and had officially launched the No Comment, a full suspension monocoque designed mountain bike. At this time the first Vario's where designed to be adaptable to both cross country and downhill riding.
The 2006 launch also sees the new Oxyd LT, a 130mm version of our popular Oxyd XC bike. At the other end of the scale the new Harissa is launched and seduces a star rider… Mr Cyrille Kurtz, a local Chatel rider is due to race a full DH World Cup season!
Last year Vario bikes hit Chatel in Portes Du Soleil (France) in a big way, building 10 new courses to incorporate all types on mountain biking from Downhill and 4X to Cross Country and Trials and I am told that there is a lot more to come! You may have also seen a few Vario bikes around this year at Aston Hill where team riders have hocked up with the French bike company and are coming out of races with great results all round.
Vario Harissa SX Long Term Test Bike
I have had this Vario Harissa DH bike for a while now and have managed to ride it on some very different terrain to see how this bike really handles what the UK has to offer with downhill tracks. The bike we have been testing is a 2005 Harissa SX with an opted Hope upgrade.
Spec as follows:
Vario Harissa DH frame
Manitou Metal Shock
Marzocchi 888 VF forks
Marzocchi bolt on stem
V Components Grips
Hope Ti6 Brakes
Sram X7 Shifter
Sram X7 Mech
Sram PG970 Cassette
Alex Supra D rims
V components DH hubs
Maxxis High roller 2.5 tyres
Truvativ Hozfeller DH Crank set
Truvativ Chain Device
V Components Saddle
V Components Seat Post
First looks at this bike really weren't all that positive; the looks of this bike are somewhat unusual to say the least however the designed concept itself is very simple. The overall color of the bike looks quite good as it has been kept "stealthy" with a black frame and all back
components but the graphics on the frame do put it down a little bit looking rather odd and a little cheap looking and I really don't know what's going on with the hazard type symbols on the top tube. The paint job itself is very durable and doesn't scratch easily. The shape of the frame has a bit to answer for as well. It looks very over built in the wrong areas and the rear triangle really doesn't look that strong for a downhill bike especially when comparing it to the front end of the frame. However the 06 frame looks a lot better with a different seat tower and larger chain stays.
Going on to the spec of the frame, it has either 180mm or 220mm rear wheel travel which is easily adjustable with two different shock positions mounted on the rear triangle. The linkage itself is a simple single pivot, the pivot point is almost as close as it could be to the bottom bracket giving the bike a stable feel through corners. The main pivot bolt did come loose a couple of times but with a little more thread lock it eliminated any further play.
Having the hope upgrade on this bike was great, the hope Ti 6 pot breaks are very powerful and have great modulation and never let me down always having more than enough power when I needed it. I am told that the 06 hope great with have some limited edition hope brakes made just for Vario! The fork, although being the lowest of the 05 888 range where still very plush throughout the whole travel although being the lowest model lacked the adjustment that was needed for some riding. It also had the Marzocchi bolt of stem with some Funn bars to keep the front end very stiff. The rear shock also lacked adjustment especially with the rebound which I found I needed to slow the shock down but was unable to. But the shock did remain plush, always reacted predictably and the spring weight seemed spot on for me.
I was very surprised to see how strong the wheel set was on this bike using a Alex Supra D rim with was not dinged once even when riding rocky courses on low pressures and Varios' own V components DH hubs, which together kept the wheels completely true. And with some Maxxis rubber on the wheels I had no problems with them at all. The test bike was also kitted out with a Sram X7 mech and shifter which resulted in perfect shifting every time. I was wary of the Truvativ chain device on this bike but it did not once loose the chain and remained relatively silent. However it did lack a bash plate, but this did not cause any problems, possibly due the frame having a very high bottom bracket. The cranks and chain ring also remained problem less throughout every ride.
This bike handles very different to a lot of single pivot bikes that are on the market. The first noticeable thing is that this bike it quite large with a bottom bracket a lot higher than a lot of downhill frames on the market. Hooked up with 888's at the front with standard crowns it makes you feel like your getting on some sort of 'hucking' type bike. This bike feels very fast and light to ride, you really feel like it's easy to put it where you want it on a track. Unfortunately I found that the bike didn't stick to the ground across bumpy sections as well as I would have liked it to. This is mainly down to the shock though and I feel that this frame would benefit a lot in handling and pedalling from having a better quality shock especially because of its single pivot design. I found that this bike really stands above others when you hit a take off, it really flies through the air with no problem. It feels so light when jumping that you can really flick it around as if it isn't even there.
Overall this was a great fun bike to ride although for the price I feel it would have been a lot better with some better shock and some adjustable forks to make the ride a lot better and possibly a bash plate for the more aggressive riders and tracks. But with the new 2006 bikes out now and the new 'Race Harissa' which has all these, this bike might be the light and nimble bike that you have been looking for.
2005 Harissa SX SRP is £1999 for the regular (Hayes braked) version, and there's a £200 upcharge for the Hope Ti6's.
For more information check out Vario Bikes new website: www.vario-bikes.com