Commencal Meta HT AM Essential 2019 Review
Cons: No dropper post, weak tire specification
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Meta AM HT is an incredibly fun bicycle. This stealthy shredder inspires high speeds and air time. The sturdy 160mm RockShox Yari fork provides confidence when entering a rock garden. The enduro-esque geometry makes it easy to pick lines and approach trails with a full-suspension attitude. The Commencal rails through tight, snappy, corners and has a balanced feel when airborne. The short chainstays and slacker 65.5-degree head angle allow this bike to operate confidently at blistering speeds while retaining its quick handling and nimble characteristics.
There are a few issues that limit the fun-loving antics of the Meta AM HT Essential. The first significant problem is with the flimsy tires that are far too easy to puncture. The Vee Tires Flow Snap "Skinwall" lack support and protection. The rubber simply doesn't back up the bike's aggressive attitude. The tires pinch flat easily when set up both tubeless and with tubes installed. Once pinched, the sidewall couldn't be easily repaired with tire plugs. The second issue that detracts from the bike's versatility is the lack of a dropper post. Adding a dropper post would make it far easier to enjoy the Commencal's speed and gnar-craving capabilities.
The Meta AM HT strikes a happy medium of capability, agility, and stability that make it very fun on any decent. It is stable enough to feel confident at blistering speeds and doesn't rely on specific types of terrain to get rad. The only things that limit this bicycle are the lack of a dropper post and flimsy rubber.
The Commencal handles tight, snappy corners better than most of the hardtails we have tested. It allows riders to push into the corner and rip out of it on the back wheel, a sensation typically reserved for full suspension bikes. The geometry measurements of the Meta AM HT resemble the numbers of full suspension trail and enduro bikes. Switching back and forth between this hardtail and a full suspension bike is very natural. The Commencal has similar steering and handling characteristics as well as confidence in the air. Obviously, there is a much more harsh landing due to the lack of squish.
The Commencal is one of the most playful hardtails we have tested. It craves air time. Once in the air, it is easy to maneuver and has a good balance front to rear. It isn't quite as stable at super high speeds or fast corners as the very long Whyte 901. Having the shorter wheelbase makes it handle tight switchbacks on both steep and moderate slopes with ease.
The wide 780mm handlebars give the rider a tremendous amount of control over the bike. This means the rider doesn't have to put much input energy or force into the bike to keep it under control.
The Meta AM HT is a comfortable and capable climber. The long-travel fork and riser handlebars make it easy to find a very comfortable and relatively upright position. The downside to this upright climbing position is that it moves rider weight rearward and away from the front wheel. The front end tends to lift and wander easier on the Meta AM HT than some of the other hardtails we have tested like the Specialized Fuse or Whyte 901. The Commencal still pedals efficiently and is cable of long climbs, but it is far from a cross-country bike.
The Meta HT provides excellent uphill traction. This traction is beneficial when powering though uphill rock gardens or rooty technical sections. The Meta AM tends to get knocked off its line easier than hardtails with wider tires. Some of our other hardtail test bikes have utilized 2.8-inch or 3.0-inch wide tires. Having wider tires allows riders to run lower air pressures. The lower pressure improves grip and tracking abilities through uphill technical sections. It allows the tires to mold and bend over and around the rocks and roots, gripping onto them, instead of sliding or slipping off of them.
You are hard-pressed to find a better build kit on a bike for under $2000. Commencal sells directly to consumers. Bypassing retail markup allows the company to spec parts typically found on a more expensive bike.
The Meta AM HT Essential comes with a RockShox Yari RC fork with 160mm of travel. This is an outrageous specification for a hardtail priced at $1,599. The Yari is very similar to RockShox's most burly, high-end, trail fork, the Lyrik. The Yari is built with the same uppers as the Lyrik and uses 35mm stanchions with thicker walls compared to the Pike. This works to increase stiffness. It also has the fast black coating, with adjustable compression and rebound. The only difference between the Yari and Lyrik is the damper used inside. The Yari uses an open bath Motion control damper while the Lyrik uses the Charger 2 cartridge damper. The Charger 2 damper can be purchased separately and installed if the motion control damper isn't sufficient for your levels of shred. The Yari RC was more than suitable for our testers.
This fork was light years better in small bump compliance, big hit support, and adjustability over any other hardtails we have ever tested. Unless you're Richie Rude or Aaron Gwin, you won't overwhelm the capabilities of this fork. The Commencal is one of the few hardtails we have tested that doesn't require a fork upgrade. Having a fork that retails at $700 or a bike that only costs $1,599 adds a tremendous amount of value to the customer.
Wheels and Tires
The Meta AM HT Essential ships with e13 rims, laced to formula hubs. The e13 TRS rims have a 35mm internal width and arrived tubeless-ready. 35mm is a common width for wider tires ranging from 2.6" to 3.0". The formula hubs are commonplace for a bike at this price. The hub engagement can't come close to competing with high-end hubs. That said, they work and are trouble-free.
The Vee Tires were bad. Our testers experienced three flat tires on three consecutive rides aboard Vee tire's Flow Snap model. When trying to repair the tires with tire plugs, the sidewall tears would spread along the seams making the holes larger and not permitting the tire to seal properly. Within two weeks of testing, both the front and rear tire had to be replaced to continue testing the bike. Whether you prefer a tubeless setup or tubes, you will experience more flats with these tires than almost any other tire from a major brand. If you are purchasing this bike, expect to upgrade or replace the tires almost immediately. If you don't face repeated problems with flats, the Vee Tires delivered excellent traction in corners. The aggressive tread does have a noticeable amount of rolling resistance. The high rolling resistance makes the Commencal feel like it is dragging on smoother sections of trail.
The Meta AM HT Essential is equipped with a full SRAM drivetrain. It features an NX 11-speed crankset, drivetrain, shifters, and derailleur. To finish off the build it has SRAM's latest Level brakes. SRAM has done an impressive job translating good shifting performance all the way down their price points. We experienced clean and consistent shifting throughout testing. The NX level doesn't have the nice, crisp, lever feel compared to higher-end offerings, but it does deliver solid performance for the price.
The Level T brakes that came on this had better-stopping power than most of the brakes found in this price range. The brakes on our test Commencal had an issue with vibrating and made a fair bit of noise. We could not identify anything loose or out of place to cause the problem. That said, they had generally adequate stopping power.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost
Commencal used its in-house brand, Ride Alpha, to outfit the cockpit of the Meta AM HT Essential. The Commencal arrived with 780mm wide riser bars. We appreciated seeing wide bars come stock on this rig. Riders can always cut down their bars to a narrower width, but the only way to add width is to buy new bars. The Ride Alpha seat was downright uncomfortable. The Essential build of the Meta AM HT we tested does not come with a dropper post. It is outfitted with a rigid seat post.
The Essential build kit that we tested is the middle of three build options for this frame. Our test bike sells for $1599. We have repeatedly seen consumer-direct brands like Commencal, YT, and Canyon deliver extremely impressive builds at lower price points than their traditional store-bought competitors. All three build options of this Commencal hardtail deliver a loud bang for your buck.
The Origin build sells for $1,099. The Origin build utilizes the same aluminum frame as the Essential, and Race builds. It differs from the Essential build with a SRAM 1x10 drivetrain using a mix of X5, and NX components. The Origin uses Tektro HD-M275 hydraulic brakes and a RockShox Recon RL fork. The Origin shares the same wheelset and tires as our test bike. The Origin build uses slightly narrower, 760mm, Commencal branded handlebars. Otherwise, the cockpit components (stem, saddle, grips, and seat post) are identical to the Essential build.
The top-of-the-line Race 29 build carries a $1,999 price tag. As the name suggests, a significant difference between the high-end build and the two lower options is that the Race 29 runs 29" wheels. This bike still has the ability to run 27.5+ tires. The Race 29 uses similar e13 rims and formula hubs, the difference being rim width on the 29" rim is 30mm instead of 35mm on our test bike. The high-end build runs 2.5-inch Maxxis tires. To further increase the gnar-crushing, trail smashing, abilities, this model runs a 150mm RockShox Lyrik fork and 150mm KS Lev dropper post. A SRAM NX 1x12 drivetrain powers this model and stopping power is provided by 4-piston SRAM Guide T brakes. This is a sick bike for only $400 more than our test model.
Commencal is a relatively new option in the US bike market. Having only been available in the United States for a few years, the brand could be unfamiliar to many riders. Like YT and Canyon, they are utilizing an online-based direct-to-consumer platform to sell bikes. The direct sales model bypasses the bike shop to offer a similar product for a significantly lower price. At OutdoorGearLab, we have consistently seen this sales model deliver a substantial amount of value and on-trail performance. The disadvantage of this sales model is losing your local bike shop for product support and any warranty issues. This disclosure is not made to discourage anyone from buying this bike or another consumer direct option. If you decide a consumer-direct is the best option for you, then we encourage you to pull the trigger and start ripping. This note is only to help inform readers and be clear where value may be lost to gain value somewhere else.
The Meta AM HT Essential is an excellent value in regards to the components provided for the price. A recommended upgrade on virtually every other hardtail we have tested including the Editor's Choice Specialized Fuse 29 was a better fork. The Rockshox Yari RC fork on this bike costs $700 retail. A substantial upgrade over what is provided on any other hardtail we have tested regardless of price. The ride performance provided from the stiffer, more supple fork is instantly apparent. The bike performed well across a variety of trail conditions and impressed all our testers with its playful characteristics. Keep in mind that if purchasing this bike you will likely need to buy new tires in the relatively near future. Even so, the Meta AM HT is an excellent value to any rider looking for a ripping hardtail to take to the trails, bike park, or swimming hole.
The first component that requires an immediate upgrade is the tires. The Skinwalls on the Vee tires don't provide the support or protection to back up the Commencal's aggressive attitude. Upgrading to a set of Maxxis tires to match your trail conditions would be a huge upgrade in durability at a relatively low price.
Another critical upgrade would be a dropper post. Being able to adjust saddle height on the fly allows the rider to be in a better attack position. This is extremely important on a bike like the Commencal that wants to get radical. There are a handful of reliable options under $200. The Tranz-X dropper post and the X-Fusion Manic post have proven to be reliable options on prior test bikes and can be found on several websites.
The Commencal Meta AM HT Essential will put a smile your face. It is especially fun if you live for high speeds, quick handling, and confident geometry. This stealthy shredder turns any section of trail into a playground and allows you to push harder than any other hardtail we've tested. The impressive build kit features a RockShox Yari fork but lacks a dropper post and has weak tires. It is quite clear this bike is not designed for cross country racing or setting records on the climb. If you are looking for a capable hardtail for trail riding, few bicycles offer the same levels of confidence and fun on the descents. At $1,599, it is easy to call this bike a solid value.
— Kyle Smaine, Paul Tindal