Sick Headbanger Pinion (frame only) review£1,450.00

Stunningly smooth gravity freak

BikeRadar score4/5

Sick has shot to frame-building infamy with thrash-metal attitude and killer merch, and the Headbanger certainly wasn’t to every tester’s taste. It’s the smoothest descent-slaying hardtail I’ve ever ridden though, proving that Sick is way more than just a T-shirt and sock company.

Sick Headbanger Pinion frame

Sick’s line-up is in a constant state of flux as it tries new ideas, and the bike we got was a final prototype of the new Headbanger. That means I’ll overlook the open-ended top tube gusset being slightly off-centre and the weld beads looking a bit industrial, because production Sicks we’ve seen have been slick.

The tubeset is unbranded, and its skinny 32mm top tube, stout 37mm down tube and short seat tube look simple. It’s actually top-quality, triple-butted Japanese 4130 chromoly, which is heat-treated after construction to boost strength.

Gussets on the top and down tubes and bracing of the seat tube mean the frame should cope with the rowdy riding its radical geometry encourages. The long slotted dropouts use position-setting screws and double clamp bolts for accurate chain tensioning.

Sick Headbanger Pinion kit

Sliding dropouts with adjustable axle-stops allow fine tuning of rear wheel position and chain tension
Sliding dropouts with adjustable axle-stops allow fine tuning of rear wheel position and chain tension

The Headbanger will be sold with a 9-speed Pinion gearbox, not the 12-speed version tested here, but the silent-spinning, instant-engagement Onyx rear hub is the standard (high quality) fit.

While you’ll be building up your own bike beyond that, Sick picked some parts for us that deserve note. DVO’s Beryl fork is less adjustable than the Diamond but still delivers impressively supple control, the DH-spec Schwalbe Magic Mary front tyre is a great match with the super-slack head angle and the We Are One carbon rims feel great too.

Sick Headbanger Pinion ride impressions

There’s a lot to take in with the Headbanger. For a start, the 62-degree head angle and 475mm reach (large) put the front wheel in a different county to the rest of the bike.

Unsurprisingly, the resulting super-long wheelbase and steering flop can make it a chore to swing and sweep the Sick along tighter trails and it sometimes won’t fit through a corner that a shorter, steeper bike would whip through. As speed increases, though, the straight-line control and confidence from the self-centring front end is incredible.

The max-control fork and front tyre sync with the subtle compliance of the triple-butted, heat-treated tubes to do a superb job of isolating front-end shock.

Initial concerns about the big Pinion gearbox block killing the resonance of the frame proved unfounded. Centring all the transmission mass and using lightweight wheels keeps it surprisingly agile too, though the balance point and wheelbase take some getting used to off the ground.

Skinny rear stays and triple-butted main tubes mean the Headbanger is actually super-smooth on rough trails, for a hardtail
Skinny rear stays and triple-butted main tubes mean the Headbanger is actually super-smooth on rough trails, for a hardtail

On top of all that, the skinny, curved, A-frame seatstays give the back end the smoothest, most forgiving ride of any hardtail I’ve ever tested. That lets you bury the DVO fork into savage sections without your feet blowing off the pedals or the back end kicking up.

Add the lack of a rear mech to get smashed, the ability to shift as many gears as you want while coasting and a secure singlespeed chain, and you’re looking at a DH/dirty-play ‘softtail’ that’s in a class of its own.

Getting back up to the top is more of a mixed bag. The soft rear end and sprag-clutch hub give outstanding traction, and you can shift into a gear anywhere in the massive 636 percent range without pedalling, which is great if you stop momentarily halfway up a techy climb.

On really steep pitches, though, back end flex and distortion under peak power give a noticeable dislocation between pedal push and the drive getting to the ground.

As much as Pinion zealots will claim otherwise, shifting under power is virtually impossible in some gears too. There’s also obvious grind and drag when pedalling hard, so while the Headbanger will potentially crawl up almost anything, you’ll need to be patient, because being pushy is just a waste of energy.

Sick Headbanger Pinion specifications as tested

The Pinion gearbox doesn’t need vulnerable derailleurs and can shift while stationary, but it’s heavy, draggy and it can be hard to shift under power
The Pinion gearbox doesn’t need vulnerable derailleurs and can shift while stationary, but it’s heavy, draggy and it can be hard to shift under power

  • Frame: 4130 chromoly
  • Fork: DVO Beryl, 160mm (6.3in) travel
  • Headset: Cane Creek 40
  • Hubs: Onyx
  • Axles: 15x110mm/12x148mm (Boost)
  • Rims: We Are One Composites
  • Spokes: Double-butted
  • Wheel weight: 2,510g (f), 2,340g (r), including tyres
  • Tyres: Schwalbe Magic Mary EVO DH ADDIX Ultra Soft 29x2.35in (f) and Schwalbe Hans Dampf EVO TL Easy ADDIX Soft 29x2.35in (r)
  • Crankset: Pinion
  • Bottom Bracket: Pinion C1.12
  • Mech: Pinion C1.12
  • Shifter: Pinion C1.12
  • Cassette: Pinion C1.12
  • Chain: KMC
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R, 180mm rotors
  • Bar: Sick RKOI titanium, 800mm
  • Stem: Rideworks Proto, 35mm
  • Grips: ODI mushroom
  • Seatpost: Brand-X Ascend XL 150mm dropper
  • Saddle: Fabric Scoop
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Size Tested: L
  • Weight: 15.81
Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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