True value in mountain bikes is a hard thing to find. Direct-to-consumer brands like Canyon and YT are looking to change that, but they still have a ways to go before they take on the Specializeds and Treks of the world. Thankfully, Canyon and YT aren’t the only companies bringing value to the world of overpriced trail bikes. Diamondback, a brand that you probably haven’t thought about since you were still eating Fruit Roll-Ups, is taking a bigger stake in the trail bike game with a serious proposition: a carbon trail bike that rips well above its weight class for only $4,399. Best of all, like the other guys, you can get it delivered, nearly fully built, right to your doorstep.
The Good: My first impression of the Release 5C is that it is cheap. Like, dirt cheap. It’s even cheap in comparison to its alloy brethren. The 5C comes in at just $4,400. When the alloy version launched in March of 2016, it retailed for $4,500. By some form of wizardry, Diamondback has managed to produce the same bike in carbon for cheaper than they did in alloy — with a better parts spec, to boot. If you’re really pinching pennies, you can get the same new carbon frame with a cheaper parts spec for $2,999, an absolutely astonishing deal.
The geometry is comfortable, and even out of the box, the bike took very little adjustment to dial in. I typically need to swap or adjust the stem, swap the handlebars and tweak the saddle position; I didn’t have to do any of this on the 5C. This may just be dumb luck, but I like to believe it’s Diamondback finding a middle ground in the geometry that fits a wide range of riders. For comparison, the geometry numbers are surprisingly similar to Trek’s Slash 9.8 — a monster 29’er enduro bike, which says a lot about what this bike is capable of. Riding it, it feels as though you’re sitting in the frame, rather than on top of it. There are bikes out there, 29er’s in particular, that feel as though you’re perched on top of a stool that could topple over at any minute. The 5C is the exact opposite, like a hobbit that can somehow run as fast as Usain Bolt and jump as high as OBJ — but, like, in a good way. It feels planted, confident and light-footed.
Who It’s For: The Release 5C is for anyone who wants a rowdy carbon trail bike, but doesn’t want to spend $6,000. If you’re a discerning trail rider that appreciates modern geometry and a high-end parts spec, you’ll find the 5C well worth your money.
Watch Out For: There’s not much to cry foul of with the Release 5C. In an ideal world, Diamondback might have a wider dealer network. And it’s only available in one color: red. If you don’t like red, you’re out of luck.
Alternatives: In a similar price range, you can pick up Canyon’s Spectral CF 9.0 Pro, though we’re partial to the parts spec on the Diamondback. Outside of that, you’re looking at a fairly significant jump in price at $5,000 for Trek’s Fuel EX 9.8 Plus (yes it’s a plus-sized bike, but it occupies a similar place in the market to the Release 5C). The Fuel EX also comes with a Fox 34 fork versus the Release 5C’s Fox 36 (we prefer to take the weight penalty with the 36 over the 34 due to its increased stiffness.
Review: In all honesty, it’s a been a while since I’ve been this excited about a trail bike. As a journalist in the outdoor/cycling industries, I don’t own a bike. I tend to cycle (pardon the pun) through test bikes and frankly, I’m a bit spoiled; no price tier is off limits. A year or so ago, I reviewed Diamondback’s completely redesigned full suspension bike, the Release. In my review, I found it a bit heavy and sluggish. The suspension platform had potential, and overall the bike was fun, but hindered by aluminum. Thankfully Diamondback answered my prayers and built a carbon fiber version of the same platform, a bike the brand is calling the Release 5C. Alongside the bike comes a redesigned logo and a bit of a rebrand, two signs that Diamondback is back in the game and investing in building truly capable, spry and affordable trail bikes — an underserved section of the market that doesn’t often get the attention that it deserves.
I’ve spent a number of weeks riding the Release 5C in Deer Valley, UT, at the Kingdom Trails of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and the local trails in the NYC area (much more fun and much more challenging than they sound). None of those locations are forgiving for a trail bike. Deer Valley offers everything from fast flowing roller-filled rippers to steep, technical, lung-busting climbs. The trails around NYC consist of rock gardens from hell. Rarely is there a reprieve from the rocky madness, and off camber corners are there to throw you off at every turn. We tested it on both types of terrain, and have concluded that the Release 5C is, in the simplest terms, the best deal in mountain biking.
First, let me say that I’m not the type of rider to charge off the biggest jumps in the bike park, rocking a full-face helmet and pads. If you’re familiar with Deer Valley’s mountain bike park, Fire Swamp and Tsunami are far from go-to trail choices. Holy Roller and Tidal Wave are just fine. Bowhunter, Road to Ruby and Flagstaff Loop are all suitable as well.
For those unacquainted with Deer Valley’s trails, that’s a broad range of terrain covering everything from groomed berms and jumps to tight technical singletrack. During initial testing, I was shocked at just how bottomless the 130mm of rear travel felt — thanks in no small part to the Fox Elite Float DPX2 rear shock which is often found on bikes that cost thousands of dollars more. The bike was developed with pro mountain biker Eric Porter, who loves to get airborne, and it shows. From the small amount of air I was getting, the bike feels at home and natural. It’s playful, thanks to the short rear chainstays and fairly slack head tube angle. I found myself seeking out little jumps and features along the trail that wouldn’t typically catch my eye on another bike.
The trails north of New York City are a hellish labyrinth of rocks, roots and all manner of flow-crushing obstacles. They not only teach you to appreciate the flowy ribbons of dirt found in other locales, but they also instill great bike handling skills. They’re the types of trails that will eat even the most advanced and expensive trail bikes and shit them out the other end in a heap of carbon fiber bits and H4 screws.
Even with a solid bit of riding the 5C under my belt in Deer Valley, I was apprehensive taking it to the local NYC trails, a place where short-travel 29’ers reign supreme and most mid-travel 27.5 trail bikes wither and die. Within minutes of leaving the trailhead, the 5C shattered all apprehension. It ate everything I threw at it. While it didn’t quite hit the same high notes on my test loop as Yeti’s SB 4.5C (a short travel 29’er), I constantly had to remind myself of the Diamondback’s price point. Given its performance, it’s not difficult to label the Release 5C as the best deal in mountain biking.
In talking with Luther Beale, the industrial engineer behind the rear suspension platform (who also designed suspensions for Evil and Fuji/Breezer), the lower link in the dual short-link system (two pivot points that allow for a solid rear triangle) is designed to sit parallel to the chain when the bike is in sag from the rider’s weight, hence Level Link. This allows for the upper link to move more independently of the lower one and increases pedal efficiency. That equates to a system that is supposed to isolate the bumps produced by pedaling from the bumps produced by the terrain.
In practice, Beale’s design holds true. The bike’s pedaling efficiency is impressive. Even compared to my all-time-favorite trail bike, Yeti’s SB 4.5, the Release 5C is no slouch.
For the full spec list, click over to Diamondback’s website. I’ll be focusing on the most important parts, starting with the Fox 36 Performance Elite Float. For a trail bike, and an affordable one at that, the 36 is an interesting choice. Many would argue that the 36 isn’t worth the extra weight over the 34. For me, the stoutness and burliness of the 36 is worth having. It offers 150mm of travel to pair with the 130mm of travel in the rear — provided by Fox’s Elite Float DPX2 shock. Race Face ARC30 wheels are acceptable. They aren’t the best wheels on the market, but they certainly aren’t the worst either. A SRAM XO1 Eagle drivetrain and Guide RS brakes leave little to be desired in the power and power-stopping departments. At this price point, it is near impossible to beat the spec on the 5C.
The Verdict: If you’re in the market for a full-suspension trail bike, buy this now. You won’t find a better deal. You can scrub eBay for months trying to find a deal on a bike with more prestige, but who cares? This bike rips and leaves enough coin leftover in your wallet to guzzle down a month’s worth of craft beer and pizza.
What Others Are Saying:
- “With a build kit that, for once, leaves nothing extra to be desired, Diamondback hits the nail right on the head.” — Max Ritter, Teton Gravity Research
- “In contrast to most modern enduro bikes, where plowing through the rough stuff is the name of the game, the Release carbon felt sporty and lively, and when really working could be ridden quite ridiculously.” — Russell Eich, Bike Radar
- “…not only does the Release Carbon enter Diamondback into the running among other top-end bikes, it does it in a way that isn’t simply trying to take a piece of an already crowded pie. This bike brings something bravely unique to an often homogenous lineup of trail bikes. ” — Travis Engel, Bike Mag