There are many hardtails pluck at the strings of nostalgia, trying to remind us of long summer days gone by; but often the ride disappoints. This is not so for the Meta HT AM, there is nothing nostalgic about the crazy looks and slammed geometry of this enduro focused hardtail. It’s easy to forget how much fun a good hardtail can be, for sure they’re not the fastest, or the most comfortable, but for white knuckle adrenaline charged madness they are second to none. Ragging a hardtail at speed feels like driving your car at 200 kph down a tight gravel road without a windscreen. It’s a visceral feeling and makes winter mud a total playground.

There is no disguising the Commencal Meta HT's intent, it's a wild bike for wild times.
There is no disguising the COMMENCAL Meta HT AM’s intent, it’s a wild bike for wild times.

We have had the 2015 COMMENCAL Meta HT AM Race on the test fleet for some time now and it’s not an easy bike to miss, the Meta HT AM is so yellow it almost glows in the dark, it’s a lairy colour for a lairy bike. Throughout the season, the Meta HT AM has been racking up the trail kilometers, tester after tester came back muddy and grinning with the “yellow peril” laughing like maniacs and shouting words like “Shred”, “Gnar”, “Roost” and “Mental”! The Meta HT AM Race has become one of the favourite bikes on the test fleet and it’s easy to see why. The new 2016 model is currently retailing on COMMENCAL’s direct sales website for € 1899.00 offering a lot of bike for the money. Looking at the bike, it’s clear to see the geometry throws it firmly into the ‘Hardcore’ category, with a 66-degree head angle, long travel 150 mm fork, low BB and crazy short 428 mm chainstays. The 760 mm wide RIDE ALPHA bar and short 50 mm stem add some leverage to the cockpit and reinforce the bikes hard hitting intentions.

Ultra short 428m chain stays provide snappy steering and easy drifting
Ultra short 428 mm chain stays provide snappy steering and easy drifting.
A Rockshox Pike 150 mm fork gives plenty of performance at the front
A Rockshox Pike 150 mm fork gives plenty of performance at the front.
Cables are routed neatly in a channel under the top tube.
Cables are routed neatly in a channel under the top tube.

Specification of the Meta HT AM Race

First of all, the specification is good for no nonsense shredding, coming with a burly and accurate Rockshox Pike RC Fork with 150 mm of travel and an essential Kindshock Eten 100 mm dropping post. Aggressive Formula CR3 brakes offer all the power you could ever want, and then a heap more. The 1×10 drivetrain comprises a SRAM X9 rear shifter and ALPHA forged 2 piece crank with a 34T chainring. We were surprised to see a SRAM 11-36 cassette with an E13 42 extra cog – we approve!

On a hardcore hardtail a dropper post is essential
On a hardcore hardtail a dropper post is essential.

Hardtails are certainly tough on wheels, and we knew the COMMENCAL’s own brand RIDE ALPHA rims would get a beating, but the 32 spoke construction has shrugged off our sideways shenanigans well with only a couple of re-tensions needed. We also like the attention to detail on the frame where a neat cable recess under the top tube carries all the cables neatly down the frame. Maxxis High Roller II 2.3 tires finish off the build well.

Commencal's own brand wheels have proven tough if a little heavy.
COMMENCAL’s own brand wheels have proven tough if a little heavy.
The Formala CR3, nice looks but the performance is something only a mother could love
The Formula CR3, nice looks but a lack of modulation.
It was great to see an E13 42T step-up ring on the bike
It was great to see an E13 42T step-up ring on the bike.
The cockpit is confidence inspiring and instantly familiar
The cockpit is confidence inspiring and instantly familiar.

Geometry of the COMMENCAL Meta HT AM Race

Size S M L XL
Seat Tube 40.0 cm 44.0 cm 49.0 cm 52.0 cm
Top Tube 56.0 cm 58.0 cm 60.5 cm 63.5 cm
Head tube 10.5 cm 11.0 cm 11.5 cm 12.0 cm
Head angle 66° 66° 66° 66°
Seat tube angle 73° 73° 73° 73°
Chain Stay Length 42.8 cm 42.8 cm 42.8 cm 42.8 cm
BB height -4.5 cm -4.5 cm -4.5 cm -4.5 cm
Wheelbase 111.3 cm 111.3 cm 115.8 cm 118.8 cm

Riding the COMMENCAL Meta HT AM Race

On the climbs the heavy 12.9kg weight and lazy 66-degree head angle make their presence felt, the Meta HT AM is no lightweight nervous whippet, but it still cruises up the hills confidently and without fuss. With no rear suspension to rob power, acceleration is sharp and the wheels spin up quickly. The stiff 6061 triple butted aluminum frame is not as brutally stiff as it looks and provides a little compliance to the ride – though do not expect full-suspension comfort – you soon learn to stand up over the rocky sections to avoid your voice jumping up two octaves.

The Commencal loves high speed gravity action
The COMMENCAL loves high speed gravity action.
Full commitment, full sideways... just another hardtail day
Full commitment, full sideways… just another hardtail day.

The instant you point the Meta HT AM downhill, it all makes sense. This is a bike that loves to go fast, taking you to the very edge of your limit and often kicking you way over it. Riding the Meta HT AM fast calls on every last shred of your skill set, lazy lines are no longer possible and you have to work hard all the way down a technical trail, but it’s visceral, engaging fun at every turn. The bike accelerates, slides and punches down the trail with gusto reminding you of why you started riding. Get it wrong or hit a direct line without commitment and you will have a proper fight on your hands. The ultra-short 428 mm chainstays and compact frame allows you to smash the rear tire into turns and slides are effortless to control from the pedals. It’s a bike that loves getting loose in the turns. The High Roller II tires bite well and compliment the bikes hardcore aspirations well.

The Meta HT AM loves to get airborne, just make sure you spot that landing
The Meta HT AM loves to get airborne, just make sure you spot that landing.
Warning - this bike will make you pull faces like this
Warning – this bike will make you pull faces like this.

The Meta HT AM is simply great fun in the turns, we were impressed with the balance and the slack front triangle does it’s best to keep you on the trail. You have to change your style if you are coming from a full bouncer; we found that pumping into turns as if to weight the rear suspension resulted in driving the rear wheel deep into the dirt and a heavy squirt of forward acceleration. We like that the wide cockpit feels comfortable and offers plenty of leverage for wrestling the bikes through tough lines. When the trail gets really rocky and broken the compact and stiff rear triangle starts to hand out a good beating and your legs will get a workout (this is where good pedals and proper shoes make all the difference).

The short rear end is easy to control through slides
The short rear end is easy to control through slides.
Flat out good fun!
Flat out good fun!

There are a few improvements we would like to see on the bike though. The wheelset felt a little flexy until we tensioned the spokes properly, but in fairness they have soldiered on well since. The only thing we could not get on well with were the Formula CR3 brakes (now changed to SRAM DB5’s on the 2016 bike) which have all the subtlety of a brick thrown with force at your face, sure they are a little more sensitive than formulas of old, but that’s like saying they are well behaved – for a murderer! The transition from nothing to front flip is only a hair’s breadth of lever pull away and we found that we were locking up a lot more than we would have liked. It was fun at the start, but the instant progression from ‘off’ to ‘full lock’ soon gets tiring.

Bottom Line

The 2015 Meta HT AM Race is a thoroughly modern bike with progressive geometry and a sensible build and the latest 2016 version has solid improvements over the 2015 model tested, especially the brakes. There are now a few full suspension bikes around the € 1899.00 price tag of the Meta HT AM, but euro for euro a good hardtail is always more fun than a bad full suspension bike. Hardcore hardtails are certainly not for everyone, and a well specced full-suspension bike will carry you faster and with more comfort, but when it comes to excitement, if a full suspension bike is like taking shots of caffeine, the Meta HT AM is like being hit in the face with a full bucket! If you are looking for a hardtail for gentle trail use and climbs, it’s probably too much bike, but if you want to hang out with full bouncers on gnarly terrain you will enjoy every second on the Meta HT AM Race Plus 650B.

For more information on the COMMENCAL Meta HT AM Race Plus 650B or their other bikes, you can check out their website here.

Words and photos: Trev Worsey