The thin air bruiser – Liteville 301 MK12
This review was part of our ‘Greater than the Sum of the Parts’ article where three member of our UK team built their own custom bikes to suit there very different riding styles.
High up on the exposed ridge line, my internal warning bells are ringing loudly. Breathing hard, I am very conscious of the open void to my left, but I know I have made the right choices in the bike beneath me. Burdened with a heavy pack, I hit another big rock and lurch heart-stoppingly to the front of the bike, but once again the Liteville 301 Mk12 retains control and keeps on trucking onwards.
When I was offered the opportunity to build my perfect bike, I must admit to agonising over the frame, the heart of the bike. I wanted a machine for big-mountain adventures in the rugged Scottish Highlands and needed something that was well proven in battle and able to take the hits. After endless late-night ‘short lists,’ the ten-year evolution of the Liteville 301 Mk12 frame swung it for me; I had seen many videos of Litevilles doing crazy shit in the Italian Alps, and its reputation for long bearing life and rugged versatility counted in its favour. I had chosen to run the 160mm version with the new adjustable chainstay in the long position to facilitate 27.5-inch wheels front and back, and the bike was proving extremely well balanced.
Although the guillotine-like suspension action looks alarming to a red-blooded male, the way in which the intensely sensitive linkage soaks up square edge hits is sublime, especially when your hands and wits are frozen with cold. It’s simply a matter of choosing a line and holding onto it; last-minute direct lines are taken with poise, and the traction on steep climbs is just immense. I have not found a single thing that the Liteville 301 Mk12 is not surprisingly good at!
What suspension to run was another tough decision, as there are now many excellent forks on the market. My priorities were reliability, good seals, high performance, and a fork which would not deteriorate too much between servicing. It may sound boring, but in the end, I went for proven toughness in the field with the ever-popular RockShox Pike RCT3. Running two bottomless tokens, the fork is exceptionally well balanced with the rear suspension, standing up well under braking and soaking up the surprise hits well (keeping the “Oh, Shit” moments to a minimum).
Wheel choice was easier – in one respect, anyway! When riding predominantly in rocky terrain, one thing was clear: aluminium would be the material of choice. Just like the scars on my body, my bikes pick up wounds from battles won and lost, and the rims are always on the front line. I desired the easy transparency of aluminium rims, but they needed to be wide so I could run some crazy low pressures for maximum grip in the hills. From experience, I knew that no rim lasts forever, so I wanted something relatively inexpensive. The new Easton Heist wheelset with their 30mm internal diameter ticked all the boxes and look the part too, keeping with the stealthy image. As it got later (and after a wee dram of whisky) I must have gone a little crazy treating myself; I hate punctures, especially when it’s cold and raining, so I found myself ordering a Schwalbe Procore system. The increased rim protection and insane levels of grip at sub-20 psi pressures have been a revelation hauling the 13.2kg bike up the steepest of inclines with ample support and control for precision on the descents.
The cockpit is all business and a very personal choice for my style of riding. While not a fan of carbon in the wheels, I love it in the bars, as it’s a good place to save weight out of harm’s way. The awesome Easton Havoc 35mm bars and 40mm Haven stem mean that important turns on exposed switchbacks are always precise, and the Renthal Ultra Tacky grips glue my tired fingers to the bars. With a heavy pack on steep terrain, super-powerful brakes are as much fun as putting your head in a box full of wasps, and I was looking for something a little more smooth. When it comes to modulation the Hope E4’s are king, especially when paired with the less powerful Hope Race Lever. Squeezing the brakes provides exceptional modulation and power, even in heavy gloves, without the demented desire to flip you over the bars at every opportunity. They say that power is nothing without control, and the Hopes have both.
It was not all good news though: hauling up another big, sustained climb, I felt the heat a little from the 1×11 drivetrain. Perhaps my quest for the simplicity of the 1x drivetrain was a stretch too far for a ‘big mountain’ bike. As the incline reached up again, my legs gave a cry of protest as lactic acid flooded my bloodstream, and I would have happily sold my soul for a granny ring. I cannot fault the function, though – the SRAM XX1 drivetrain snapped between ratios with ease, and the 30T chainring gave me just enough assistance to soldier on up most gradients.
And while we are talking about comfort, my long-suffering SDG Ti Fly saddle blends racy looks without feeling like I am sitting on a drawing pin.
Saving the best until last, the most-loved part on the bike is also the most inexpensive: the MRP Decapitator front mech cover. A post-ride beer should always signify the end of a great ride, and the Decapitator’s bottle opener is the perfect conversation-starter.
Liteville 301 MK12: With a long pedigree and proven field record, the tough Liteville is a real mountain bike for real mountains.
SRAM XX1 Black: The 1x setup adds bagfuls of simplicity and precision at the expense of the extreme gear ratios
Easton Heist 30mm: The aluminium Heists provide maximum traction and performance at an affordable price point.
Hope E4 with Race Levers: Modulation is everything, and when it comes to modulation, the Hopes rule over all.
RockShox Pike and Monarch: Long service intervals and the ability to soldier on made the RockShox an obvious choice.
Easton Havoc 35mm Carbon Bars and Havoc 40mm Stem: For maximum gorilla control in sketchy situations.
Schwalbe Magic Mary Snakeskin and Hans Dampf SG with Procore: This is the ultimate setup for high grip in high-exposure situations.
Grips:Stickiness is vital here for long descents with tired arms, and nothing comes gripper than the new Renthal Ultra Tacky grips.
MRP Decapitator: This simple addition makes your bike the world’s coolest and most expensive bottle opener.
Overall, I have been delighted with my choices; the high alpine environment is no place for untested or fragile technology, and I have bonded with my trusty mountain climber. With its tenacious grip and reliable handling, the Liteville 301 makes me grin like a lunatic every ride. There are lighter and faster bikes, but this bike has gifted me many adventures in high mountain terrain and has asked for little in return. Like a good friend, it has always guided me home.
Words and photos: Trev Worsey
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