The Review | Liteville 301 Enduro and Marathon Edition
There have been a number of bikes recently that have made us think “can one bike really do it all?” But as yet, there has been nothing that has been able to operate at the highest level in both XC and Enduro. Many companies offer multiple bikes targeted at different riders, but one manufacturer is taking a different approach, offering three different builds based on the same frame, XC, Trail and Enduro. But then Liteville have been doing things differently for many years now. We were offered the opportunity to test two very different versions of their flagship 301 frame, an enduro weapon and a lightweight XC mile muncher. With different sized wheels and Litevilles daring approach, this was going to be interesting.
The Liteville 301 is a modern day classic, now in it’s 10th year. In celebration of their tenth anniversary Liteville have announced a special ‘Ten Year Edition’ range with three very different models built around the same 301 frame. There is the 120mm travel Marathon edition (complete with the desirable Rockshox RS1 fork), a 140mm All Mountain edition running a revelation fork and finally the burly 160mm Enduro edition with a Rockshox Pike up front – all built around the same frame. With the weight of the bike ranging between 10.6kg to 11.9kg and prices from €4480 to €4850, we could not wait to see how one frame could handle such differing applications.
Before we get into the different builds it is time to take a look at the frame. Even after 10 years in production there are many unique features to get excited about, especially if you are an engineering geek. The heart of the frame is the unique suspension linkage, the shock on the Liteville is mounted in a unique fashion, rather than being secured to the frame at the front of the shock, only the rear connects with the frame. By mounting the shock this way Liteville explain that this minimises the way that forces are introduced into the frame.
The shock position means that the force introduced by the rider through the seat tube helps to neutralise the force from the rear suspension, taking pressure off the frame. One elite racer and proud 301 owner I know claimed to get 3000km out of the original bearings which is very impressive indeed. The 4 pivots are placed to uncouple the chain torque from the movement of the rear suspension, the end result is the 301 is very neutral when pedalling, even when riding with the suspension fully open.
There are a lot of small details that impress too, demonstrating the thought that has gone into a frame that has had 11 generations of development. We liked the Dynalevel sag indicators which allow you to check your sag visually from a seated position, so if you are carrying extra baggage you can easily visually check if the bike is set correctly. The suspension runs on eight double sealed stainless bearings with sealed needle bearings in the top tube and shock eyelets. We liked the Syntace X-12 thru-axle which is only 39g and very stiff, helping to bring the Liteville 301 frame in at only 2320g. Litevilles attention to detail can also be seen in the derailleur hanger which features a breakaway bolt that acts as the weakest link. If you smash into something the bolt should fail first to protect your frame and derailleur, if this happens there is a spare in the BB shell – a potential trip / holiday saver.
We like that the internal cable routing uses full length outers, really helping when it comes to maintenance, this really helps lengthen the life of cables and keep the shifting sweet. The frame is multiple butted and reassuringly oversized. Mechanics will love that all the bolts on the frame (even the grips) are 4mm making maintenance really easy. To finish the package Liteville offer a 10 year warranty (free replacement for the first five years and 50% off a frame for the next five) and this is transferable to second owners.
Perhaps the most interesting and unusual feature is the scaled sizing. Liteville believe that the front and rear wheels have very different jobs, and due to the black magic of physics, the rear wheel has a much easier job than the front when it comes to rolling over obstacles. Liteville use the mantra “rear wheel as large as necessary, the front wheel as large as possible”, keeping the rear small to help acceleration, weight and stiffness, and large front wheel for fast rolling and confidence inspiring performance over obstacles. As such, they roll out size specific wheel sizes on the 301, from a 26”/24” (front/rear) wheel size on the XS size, to a 29”/27.5” on the XXL.
Marathon Build Highlights (£4150 €4850) as tested 11.69kg
- Frame: Liteville 301, MK 11, travel 120 mm
- Fork: RockShox RS1 29“, travel 120 mm
- Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 1×11 or XO1
- Brakes:Shimano Deore XT
- Wheels: Syntace M-Series W30
- Tyres: Schwalbe Racing Ralph Lite Skin 2.25
- Bars: Syntace Vector Carbon, 740mm
- Seatpost: Syntace P6 Carbon HiFlex
Enduro Build Highlights (£3950 €4580 + €130 reverb upgrade) as tested 12.90 kg
- Frame: Liteville 301, MK 11, travel 160 mm
- Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3 160 mm Dual Position
- Shock: Fox Float CTD
- Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 or XO1
- Brakes: Shimano Deore XT
- Wheels: Syntace M-Serie W35 / ScaledSizing
- Chainguide: Syntace Megaforce 2
- Bar: Syntace Vector Carbon, 740 mm
- Seatpost: Optional upgrade to RockShox Stealth 125 mm or 150 mm
Riding the 301
So we had two bikes with very different builds sharing the same frame, would that leave each bike too compromised, or could the 301 do it all? The first thing we noticed is how incredibly sensitive the rear suspension is, riding behind the 301 is eye opening, watching the suspension action you can see how reactive the response is. With long rocker arms driving the shock the initial breakaway is almost frictionless, coil like, and compressions and obstacles are swallowed instantly and without fuss. The suspension is very linear, working through its travel smoothly, no surprises really as the rocker links and shock pivots run on needle bearings.
The efficient pedalling platform and sensitive rear suspension add up to incredible amounts of grip, and combined with the good pedal clearance, you can spin up pretty much anything on the 301. In its Enduro Edition, the 301 is a solid climber, the 26inch rear wheel accelerates readily and the large front wheel picks itself up and over trail obstacles. The Marathon version is a couple of kilos lighter and is a veritable mountain goat, skipping its way up the trail with ease.
The RS1 is light and supportive and long days in the saddle were a joy. The good pedal clearance brought about by a bottom bracket that sits a little higher than most of the long and low bikes on the market, and confident suspension makes difficult rock sections easy to clean. We have all seen videos of 301’s riding incredibly technical trails in the Dolomites, and we can see why – simply choose a line, spin and point and the 301 will clean it with ease, it’s a master of technical trails.
When we come to descending this is where the Liteville 301 starts to show its evolution, but also its age. When these bikes were conceived we did not have bike park terrain, bermed corners and jumps and it’s perhaps no surprise that this is the terrain where the 301 feels least at home. The high BB and tall frame mean that the bike does not feel as comfortable when railing berms as some of the current low and aggressive competition. However when it comes to big mountain descents, natural trail and rocky fun the 301 shows its pedigree and simply shines.
The wide (35mm internal) Syntace wheels on the Enduro Edition allow you to run low pressures (we ran 20psi front and back) and are the stars of the show, providing massive amounts of grip and confidence. The Enduro Edition charges hard over rough ground, the linear suspension mopping up impacts and maintaining excellent stability. The slightly higher BB lets you crank over rocks and ledges that look terrifying, the 301 can drop, roll or take on anything. The RS1 fork on the Marathon Edition is no match for the Pike in rough terrain but combined with the 29” front wheel picks its way down rocky ground with poise and confidence. We found the linear action of the shock excellent for a smooth ride, but if you are a very aggressive rider you may wish to investigate volume reduction to avoid bottom outs.
So we have to ask ourselves can one bike frame really do it all? The Marathon Edition was long legged and a real mile muncher, while the Enduro Edition was a beast on technical descents, they could not have been more different to ride. We were very impressed with both incarnations of the frame, both performing well in their sectors and showing the remarkable adaptability of the lightweight frame. It is refreshing to see a brand that continues to tweak its design and looking after it’s customers, rather than releasing new models every year that are unproven and killing the market for the older generation of bikes. The new Mk12 model is about to be released and we are keen to see what has changed.
So can one bike deliver two very different builds? If your world revolves around KOM’s and bike parks, or fast XC laps, then the 301 is a good bike – but there are other bikes that are purpose designed to take you there faster. However, if you measure your riding by how many peaks you have explored, how many trails you have discovered and want a bike to be a reliable and trusty passport to adventure then quite frankly the Liteville 301 is truly exceptional.
The 301 is a mountain bike in the truest sense of the word. The attention to detail is astounding and the frame is a joy to explore. Some may question the relevance of a ten year old frame in today’s rapidly evolving market, but the 301 still feels cutting edge. When it comes to the mountain bike hall of fame, the 301 is a true classic, and still one of the best ‘all mountain’ bikes out there.
Thank you to the Liteville UK test Fleet for arranging the testing.
For more information on the Edition bikes please check out Liteville’s website
Words and photos: Trev Worsey and Catherine Smith