Hands-on Gear Review

Transition Smuggler GX 2018 Review

A fun short-travel bike with an aggressive attiude.
By: Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens  ⋅  Feb 6, 2018
Price:  $3,999 List
Pros:  Aggressive angles, more capable than travel numbers suggest, comfortable climbing position
Cons:  Heavy, less progressive suspension design, blows through travel on bigger impacts
Manufacturer:   Transition Bikes
76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 30
  • Fun Factor - 25% 8
  • Downhill Performance - 35% 8
  • Climbing Performance - 35% 7
  • Ease of Maintenance - 5% 6
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Top Pick Award

Our Verdict

The Transition Smuggler is capable 29er that punches above its 120mm travel class. Two testers spent three weeks aboard the Smuggler to provide you with the critical ride characteristics. Travel numbers can be deceiving, and the Smuggler is a perfect example of this. Aggressive geometry paired with 120mm of travel make for a surprisingly confident descender. Despite the heft of this aluminum shredder, uphill performance is solid with use of the climb switch. This bike is longer and slacker than many of our favorite short travel 29ers like the Ibis Ripley LS and Santa Cruz Tallboy. Despite the length, this bike was reasonably easy to wrap around corners. At $3999, the aluminum Smuggler with the GX Eagle build kit offers a decent value. The price may seem lofty for an aluminum bike with a GX build kit, but we feel the level and uniqueness of the performance justifies the price.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The Smuggler is far more aggressive than the bulk of 120mm trail bikes.
The Smuggler is far more aggressive than the bulk of 120mm trail bikes.

Should I Buy This Bike?


Transition calls the Smuggler a "perfect do-it-all trail bike" that is "responsive and fun but also aggressive for when the trail turns downright nasty." We find this to be a fair assessment. This bike is a great option for the downhill focused riders looking for a short-travel trail daily driver. There are more playful and nimble short travel bikes. There are short travel bikes that climb better. That said, the Smuggler provides exceptional downhill performance. Confidence in rowdy terrain is significantly better than any other 120mm travel bike we have tested.

Riders interested in an aggressive short-mid travel trail bike should consider the Santa Cruz Hightower. This is a very intriguing comparison. The Hightower has 135mm of travel and has a similar gnar-ceiling as the Smuggler. The Smuggler feels better over small bumps and small chatter while the Hightower is more confident on bigger lines. The Santa Cruz is more progressive and ramps up more effectively on bigger hits. The Smuggler has a steeper seat tube angle and very effective climbing position. The Hightower's slacker seat tube angle is not ideal. That said, the Hightower is a much calmer climber and doesn't rely on the climb switch as much as the Transition.

This bike is a very respectable climber despite its heft.
This bike is a very respectable climber despite its heft.

Riders looking for a lighter duty, short-travel, trail bike should consider the Ibis Ripley LS. The Ripley may not handle rowdy terrain as well as the Smuggler, but it offers extremely sharp handling and a very high fun factor. Downhill performance is reliable, but it has a strong preference for trails without sustained rock gardens. Climbing is impressive thanks to copious amounts of traction provided by 2.6-inch tires. This bike shines on loose or gravely climbs.

The Smuggler and it's Speed Balanced Geometry (SBG).
The Smuggler and it's Speed Balanced Geometry (SBG).


Frame Design


Transition designed the Smuggler around 120mm of rear wheel travel. Transition's suspension design is called the GiddyUP 2.0hh, which is a Horst Link design. The frame has a main pivot above the bottom bracket, a rocker link on the seat tube, and a pivot forward of the rear axle on the chainstay. This system is reliable and works well enough.

Our large test bike has a 625mm effective top tube and 430mm chainstays to create a 1213mm wheelbase. We measured the reach to be 470mm. With the stock 140mm fork, the head angle measured 65.5-degrees. The seat tube angle is 75.9-degrees, and the bottom bracket came out to 338mm. Our large bike weighs 31 lbs 12 oz set up tubeless without pedals.

Design Highlights


   square bullet Available in aluminum only (carbon fiber frame coming soon)
   square bullet 120mm of rear wheel travel, designed around 140mm fork
   square bullet 29-inch wheels only
   square bullet Boost Spacing
   square bullet Available in aluminum as frame only for $1,999, NX build kit for $2,999, GX Eagle (tested) for $3,999 and X01 Eagle for $4,999. Carbon fiber prices coming soon.

   square bullet Available in Small-XL

This bike has the attitude and angles to get aggressive.
This bike has the attitude and angles to get aggressive.

Downhill Performance


On the descent, the Smuggler offers more confidence than any 120mm travel bike we have tested. The geometry is significantly more aggressive than the overwhelming majority of bikes in this category. The aggressive design paired with a proven and reliable suspension inspires high levels of confidence. There are drawbacks too. The longer 1215mm wheelbase can be a handful through tighter corners. It can be a little laborious to get this nearly 32-pound bike back up to speed if you dump momentum through the corners.

Transition's Speed Balance Geometry (SBG) was big news when it was introduced in 2017. Bikes with SBG have exceptionally slack head tube angles. Transition uses reduced offset forks to bring the axle of the front wheel back towards the frame. This gives you the benefit of the slack head tube angle while retaining a manageable wheelbase and keeping the ride responsive and agile. The SBG went relatively unnoticed among testers. This bike still feels it has a significantly longer wheelbase compared to most other short-travel bikes. That's because it is longer. The Smuggler never egregiously long, sluggish or clumsy. It's tricky to keep speed through sharper corners. Should you lose some speed through the bends, it takes some energy to bring the Smuggler back up to speed thanks to its 32 lbs of mass. This bike feels best in high-speed, open corners where that longer wheelbase had a stable and planted feel.

We would add some volume spacers to the rear shock to create a more progressive feel on bigger impacts.
We would add some volume spacers to the rear shock to create a more progressive feel on bigger impacts.

The Smuggler feels fantastic when feeding it through rock gardens or aimed down steep sections of trail. The slack angles inspire levels of confidence that are unrivaled among 120mm bikes we have tested. The Ibis Ripley is among our favorite short-travel 29ers. The Smuggler blows it out of the water on rough and steep terrain. Where the Ripley gets shaken and asks you tone it down, the Smuggler has a much higher threshold.

The Giddy Up suspension design works well enough. The Smuggler's suspension feels best pinning it through small-medium rock gardens. The rear end is supple and remains under control when braking through chop. One of our test tracks has a sizeable rock drop with a landing that is easy to overshoot. We blew through the travel surprisingly easily on the Smuggler. The design is more linear than we are used to. Adding some volume bands to the rear shock would likely provide some much-needed ramp-up to counteract the linear feel.

The Smuggler feels great through wide and fast corners.
The Smuggler feels great through wide and fast corners.

The Smuggler GX features components that fit the bike's intended application. The Fox DPS Performance Elite shock, GX Eagle drivetrain and SRAM Guide R all work on an aggressive short-travel bike. The 140mm Fox 34 with GRIP damper is supple and smooth. One area that can hamper a bike's performance is the tire choice. Transition nailed it with a Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR combo. Our chief complaint about the build spec is minor. Heavier testers found it difficult to find a supportive air pressure that retains the fork's supple feel.

The Santa Cruz Hightower is our most intriguing comparison to the Smuggler and offers similar levels of confidence. The Hightower provides significantly more deep stroke support than the Smuggler. As a result, it tends to stand up better to big, isolated hits. On the flipside, the Hightower can't match the small bump compliance of the Smuggler. Motoring through chop, braking bump, and small rock gardens is harsher on the Santa Cruz. The Smuggler smooths the small stuff very effectively. The Hightower has a shorter wheelbase with more conservative geometry. As a result, it handles more precisely at all speeds and corners more effectively.

Climbing is effective  especially with the use of the climb switch.
Climbing is effective, especially with the use of the climb switch.

Climbing Performance


The Smuggler is a rock solid climber. That said, it certainly isn't the most efficient short-travel 29er we have tested. Considering how capable this bike on the descent, it is fair that it sacrifices a bit of climbing prowess. Regardless, the Smuggler has a very comfortable climbing position and is efficient enough when utilizing the climb switch.

The 75.9-degree seat tube angle and spacious 470mm reach measurement create a very pleasant climbing position. The rider's hips are more or less on top of the bottom bracket. There is plenty of room to shuffle weight around for traction. The 65.5-degree head tube angle and 1215mm wheelbase navigate uphill switchbacks with relative ease. We experienced minor amounts of front wheel wander on some sharp uphill corners. This is to be expected with a slack head tube angle.

The Smuggler has an interesting climbing motion. Grinding uphill in the shock's open position features moderate amounts of pedal bob. As with some other Horst Link bikes we have ridden, there is a defined sense that your energy is sinking downward into the travel. This can be beneficial for traction, but can't match the efficiency of some of the dual link bikes we have ridden. The Ibis Ripley, Santa Cruz Tallboy, and Pivot Mach 429 come to mind as super-effective and calm climbers. This pedal bob on the Transition can be easily counteracted by flipping the climb switch. If you compare this bike to some more cross-country focused short travel trail bikes, you might be disappointed in its climbing skills. If you frame your uphill expectations by how fun and capable this bike is on the descent, the Smuggler is an impressive climber.

Climbing positioning is remarkably comfortable.
Climbing positioning is remarkably comfortable.


The build kit fits the intended application well on the ascent. The SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain provides a light 30:50t climbing gear. It is nice to have that granny gear for those extra long uphill grinds.

The Santa Cruz Hightower has a much calmer suspension design when climbing. The firm pedal platform makes efficient use of rider energy when spinning uphill. The catch, the Hightower has a slacker seat tube angle puts riders behind the cranks. The Smuggler has a much more comfortable and effective climbing position even if it can't match the Hightower's outright efficiency.

Photo Tour


The Fox 34 with the GRIP Damper is smooth  but deep stroke support can be problematic for heavier riders
SRAM GX Eagle. We love it.
The Fox Float DPS Performance Elite worked well. We would add a couple volume bands to make this bike feel a bit more progressive.
Maxxis Minion DHF up front? Count us in.
35.0mm bars and SRAM Guide R brakes keep things under control.
Our RockShox Reverb worked flawlessly.

Value


The Transition Smuggler GX carries a $3,999 price tag. This bike is a middle-of-the-road value. On one hand, there are some consumer direct options that feature similar, or better, build kits for significantly less money. On the other hand, the Smuggler offers impressive performance for the rider seeking an aggressive short travel bike.

Build Highlights


   square bullet Fox Float 34 GRIP Damper — 140mm travel
   square bullet Fox Float DPS Performance Elite shock
   square bullet SRAM GX 1x12 drivetrain with 30:50t climbing gear
   square bullet SRAM Guide R brakes
   square bullet RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post
   square bullet E*Thirteen TRS rims with Novatec hubs

   square bullet Maxxis Minion DHF front tire, Maxxis Minion DHR II rear tire

This bike likes to party.
This bike likes to party.

Conclusion


The Transition Smuggler is a short-travel trail bike with an aggressive attitude. Yes, there are bikes in this category that are more spritely climbers and are more playful. That said, this bike can punch far above its 120mm pay grade and has the attitude and capability to get rowdy. The Smuggler is a unique bike that will have gravity enthusiasts smiling ear to ear.

Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens

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Most recent review: February 6, 2018
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