Bow Ti LS Rider review

Here we go then, a bit long winded and my personal view fwiw!

I thought I’d do a write up of my impressions of my new Smokestone Bow Ti LS now that I’ve had it for a while and had chance to put some miles on it.

First off some background, I’ve been mountain biking on and off since 1988, racing cross country back in the early nineties, then getting into the whole freeride thing when that happened and also becoming a club roady and road racing and time trialling for a few years before drifting away from riding for a while. My comeback was sparked by seeing my friend's fat bike which eventually led to me getting an On One Fatty (v1) which I loved and rode for a few years before upgrading to a Henderson in 2017. I also have a Sonder Camino titanium gravel bike and an Orbea Rallon M-Team long travel trail/enduro bike that I got in 2020.

So first off, I bloody loved my Henderson, it just did so many things so well. It was my muddy conditions trail bike (which is most of the time here on the west coast of Scotland) and with 29er wheels on it became my bike packing bike (replacing a Pinnacle Ramin hard tail 29er that had been my dedicated bike packing bike). I rode it round my local trails as a fat bike and in 29er mode used it for bikepacking (including doing the Cairngorms Loop last summer) and to commute to work. I always felt confident on it and could ride anything technical on the Henderson that I could ride on the Orbea (albeit a bit more slowly). I started wondering about upgrading from my Henderson about eighteen months ago, the logical thing would have been to go for a Bow Ti as it pretty much shares the geometry of the Henderson that I loved so much but I was intrigued by the progressive geometry of the LS having been amazed at the abilities of my Orbea. Last autumn I gave Graham a shout to discuss ordering a Bow Ti LS. I wanted to have a 177mm rear axle spacing and 100mm bottom bracket so that I could reuse the wheels and cranks from my Henderson and Graham said that could be specified in the frame build no problem. After a little more pondering I placed the order with a lead time of four months accurately predicted by Graham.

When the frame arrived I also needed to add new forks as the LS was designed around a 140mm travel fork, I decided on the tried and trusted route of the Manitou Mastodon (although the Wren fork was also given serious consideration) and Graham supplied that as well along with a Hope headset and a One Up Components 210mm dropper post. The build was straightforward, even the internally routed cables and rear brake hose caused no problems and the bike was ready to ride within a couple of days of me receiving all the bits.

So what is it like? Well as much as I loved the Henderson, for my type of riding it seems even better. I’d been a bit worried that it might be a bit unwieldy on our tight, tree lined local trails but it’s absolutely fine despite being significantly longer than my Henderson. The steering isn’t heavy or floppy despite the slack 64°head angle and with a steeper seat angle it climbs at least as well as the Henderson but when you point it downhill it really comes into it’s own. You definitely feel like you’re sitting in the bike rather than being perched on top which makes it feel super secure on steep gnarly terrain and I’m pretty sure that I can feel a little more compliance from the titanium rear end compared to the aluminium Henderson which aids traction and comfort. The Manitou fork is a huge step up from the RCT3 Bluto that I was running on the Henderson. It tracks better, is much more supple off the top and still has good midstroke support when you need it (I set it up initially using the recommendations from Manitou and it’s been spot on). I’ve mostly ridden on my fat wheels but have tried it on the 29er wheels as well and I have no doubt it’ll be fine for long distance bikepacking trips on them but it’s definitely more fun and less harsh on the fat wheels (just like my Henderson was). Downsides? Well the bottom bracket is lower and this led to some pedal strikes initially until I got used to it (the same thing always happened when I transitioned from riding the Henderson to my Orbea as well and it doesn’t take long to adapt and quickly becomes a non issue). The other thing that could have been a problem for me but ended up not being was that I reckoned that I could get a 210mm dropper post in the bike (due to the shorter seat tube of the LS compared to the Henderson). What I hadn’t taken into account was the bottle mount braze ons on the seat tube, the top one of which restricts the amount a seat post can be inserted into the seat tube. Fortunately the One Up dropper that I opted for has the option to be shimmed down in travel by up to 2cm and this proved to be just enough to allow me to use the dropper in 190mm travel setting. These are the only minor issues that I’ve had.

So is the LS a worthy upgrade over the Henderson? Well for me, 100% yes. It climbs and pedals just as well, handles like a dream and descends like an absolute beast on technical terrain. If you want to push your limits on challenging terrain the LS will definitely give you more confidence to explore those limits but if you prefer to ride less technical, more XC type riding then it might be overkill (although it’ll do that type of riding just fine). Am I happy with it? Absolutely, the Henderson was always going to be a tough act to follow but I feel that the Bow Ti LS will do everything that the Henderson could do but with a bit more in reserve on gnarly terrain.

PS, a couple of other advantages that have just struck me are that the LS comes with a full set of rack mounts and an extra set of bottle cage mounts under the down tube. Both of these give further options for endurance riding and/or bikepacking trips.

Words and images by Chris Wheeler

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