Transition Smuggler GX 2018 Review
Cons: Heavy, less progressive suspension design, blows through travel on bigger impacts
Manufacturer: Transition Bikes
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Smuggler returns for 2020, although it is now only offered in carbon fiber with complete builds ranging from $3,999 to $5,999. They still offer it in aluminum as a frame only for $1,999.
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 mid-travel trail bike should consider the new Santa Cruz Hightower. The Hightower has 140mm of travel and an even higher gnar-ceiling than the Smuggler. The Smuggler feels better over small bumps and small chatter while the Hightower is much more confident on bigger lines. The Santa Cruz is more progressive and ramps up more effectively on bigger hits. Both bikes are effective and comfortable climbers, but the Hightower has a calmer platform and doesn't rely on the climb switch as much as the Transition.
Riders looking for a slightly less aggressive short-travel trail bike should consider the new Ibis Ripley. The Ripley may not handle rowdy terrain quite as well as the Smuggler, but it offers extremely sharp handling and a very high fun factor. Downhill performance is much-improved thanks to the complete redesign and it boasts the best all-around performance of any short travel 29er we've tested.
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.
Available in aluminum or carbon fiber
120mm of rear-wheel travel, designed around 140mm fork
29-inch wheels only
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.
Available in carbon as a frame only for $2,999, NX build for $3,999, GX build for $4,999, and XO1 build for $5,999.
Available in Small-XL
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.
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 Whyte S-120 has similarly aggressive angles for a short travel rig, but it doesn't quite get after it as hard as the Smuggler. The Smuggler inspires the confidence to charge, the Whyte is held back by its components.
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 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 an 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 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.
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 VPP pedal platform makes efficient use of rider energy when spinning uphill. The updated geometry of the 2020 Hightower includes a steep seat tube angle that has improved power tranfer and seated pedaling comfort.
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.
Fox Float 34 GRIP Damper — 140mm travel
Fox Float DPS Performance Elite shock
SRAM GX 1x12 drivetrain with 30:50t climbing gear
SRAM Guide R brakes
RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post
E*Thirteen TRS rims with Novatec hubs
Maxxis Minion DHF front tire, Maxxis Minion DHR II rear tire
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