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Bicycle Review: Ventana X-5

By MBT Staff

Our X-5 was built up for aggressive XC riding but that was only the beginning of what we put it through.
Crisp lines and attention to detail are apparent on the X-5 even from afar.
No Commercialism Here

It likely goes without saying that you’ve sat through countless automobile commercials this past year. It is also a given that guitar driven rock anthems and beautiful scenery attempted to make irresistible Ford pickups, Chevy Impalas, and foreign hybrids. So what’s the point? Think back to how many advertising campaigns you saw for Ferrari’s new 599GTB or Porsche’s GT2. There’s good reasoning behind the lack of exotic car commercials: The lust driven desire to own one is based on reputation, quality, status, and performance. In other words it doesn’t take repetitive sales gimmicks to convince you that a Ferrari is hot, that’s a given. So how does this relate to our test of the Ventana X-5 you ask? To answer this question we must travel back in time to late May when Ventana USA cofounder and current owner, Sherwood Gibson, elegantly explained to us on the phone that Ventana does not advertise its products. No flashy buzz words, no scantly clad women posed in front of a picturesque backdrop. Sherwood went on to explain that his is a business method not unlike that of an exotic car manufacturer in that a reputation for quality will speak for itself. A happy customer, in this line of reasoning, will spread the word more efficiently than an entire overpaid advertising firm. We hung up in a moment of silent reflection; it made a lot of sense.
CNC machined components seal the deal as far as trick custom frame parts are concerned.
SRAM X9 means 27 perfectly spaced gears to work with.

Picking the Right Steed

After some deliberation we had come to the conclusion that the X-5 would be the model to field test, after all a 5 inch travel woods bike with the heart of a cross country racer within it’s electric red exterior molds together the theoretical perfect combination of traits. Since Ventana is a frame manufacturer, it is important that we clear the air right from the start. Our test bike is a unique build-up of a nearly endless combination of compatible hardware choices. Whenever possible, our intentions were to focus attention to the frame’s characteristics first and foremost and then to integrate the results against the individual components selected. In other words: this is a frame test first, a complete bicycle test second.

Build Specs

As such and since a frame by itself can do little in terms of navigating a wooded hillside, we will share the specifics of our build. Frontal squish duties were handled by the Manitou Minute 3:00 (180mm) with remote lockout while the rear featured a Manitou Swinger 3-way air sprung shock (with Stable Platform Valve). WTB Moto Raptors wrapped around Mavic 717 disc rims transferred the power from SRAM’s X9 component group to the ground. Rounding out the package were a Chris King NoThreadSet head set, Thompson Elite stem and seatpost, Easton EA70 Monkey Bar, and RaceFace Atlus cranks. Hays HFX hydraulic brakes handled stopping duties in both the front and rear of the X-5.

Game face. Raceface Atlas cranks and a high bottom bracket made plowing through rock gardens a piece of cake.

So Exactly What Is An X-5?

The X-5 is actually a bit difficult to categorize. Although marketed as a full suspension cross country bike, the reality of the X-5 is that its scope of operation runs far deeper than the title implies. Our test criteria and terrain ranged from smooth singletrack to aggressive down-hill and never did the X-5 seem to object. We believe the cross country moniker stems from the fact that the frame is impossibly light (our build weighed in at a mere 28lbs) and the cockpit geometry quite roomy. After dialing in our test rider comfort zone, the view from the saddle could be described as “commanding” with a high unobstructed view, a fairly stretched reach to the riser bars, and a pedal stoke that allows near full leg extension. After 8 hours of extreme physical pounding, lifting the bike up onto the trailer was refreshingly painless, revealing this all mountain bike’s cross country heritage.

Terrain Galore

Our intentions with the X-5 were to dig about as deeply as we could into its trail mannerisms. To accomplish this, we traveled to New York’s Allegheny State Park where the terrain is not only versatile but offers limitless elevation changes to work with. Our test began on fairly tame secondary roads where gravel combined with hard pack, crunchy leaves, and occasional single track sections. The second leg of our journey was an intermediate level cross country ski loop with about an equal share of fast flowing downhills and slow granny gear climbs before finally taking the Ventana onto an Expert level ski run that was approximately 40% leg burning vertical ascension and 60% screaming (40 mph) downhill. The trails themselves ranged from stony dry clay to swampy grasslands. We walked away exhausted but the X-5 seemed barely to have noticed. We then used the following weekend to send the X-5 down some steep technical single-track in the form of Holliday Valley ski resort in Ellicottville, NY. Here are our findings.
X-Men. The unique X-brace main tube is not only beautiful but functional as well.
All smiles. The X-5 put in many an inspired ride. Don't take our word for it, test rider Darren's pearly whites speak louder than words.

Taking It Out

Putting the power to the ground is a wonderfully addicting trait of the X-5. So often with 5" full suspension bikes, minute terrain feedback is lost to the squish. This is not the case with the Ventana. Despite a roomy chassis, never does the rider feel distanced from the ground. Trailing the X-5 is a very interactive affair with each crank rotation resulting in a smooth, almost metered burst of forward momentum. Even after long days in the saddle, the X-5 retains a light, airy feel.

Without spending too much of our time praising the suspension components, the reality of the X-5 frame is that it conducts a confidence inspiring sense of balance between the fork and shock. The inverted Manitou Swinger 3 Way fit like a glove within the 4 bar linkage setup of the X-5. The CNC machined rear triangle flew a steady course, even when the terrain did its best to sway our efforts with extremely high speed chop and slippery single-line situations. We pumped 50 psi into the SPV chamber and ran 100 psi of air pressure in the shock. The resulting pedaling platform maintained a very firm initial stroke, keeping pedal feedback to an absolute minimum but left 4.5+ inches of butter-smooth travel in reserve for the drops, hits, and technicalities that accompany high speed mountain trails. Once we were satisfied with the shock setup we turned our attention to the front end, which it would turn out, required very little of our attention. The Manitou Minute sits high in its travel but responds to trail junk with an almost unnatural willingness. Its speed sensitive damping comes into its own as the terrain slips on by and best of all, requires zero rider input to accomplish this. In the rough this is a fork that becomes wonderfully active while retaining at least three inches of travel in reserve just for big hit duty. We had crossed over from gravely dirt roads to swamped out high speed downhill runs with only a slight slowing of the rebound adjust. As an added bonus, our build featured a handlebar mounted remote lockout which was more then welcomed on the abundant climbs we encountered.
Looks good even on its side. The attention a Ventana draws out on the trails is about as a good a conversation starter as we've yet to experience.

Flying. The X-5 is stable at low speed, even more stable as the speeds start increasing.
Strong Hayes discs, a supple fork, ultra stable rear-end, and beefed up WTB tires all equated to a confidence inspiring chassis once the grade steepened. In fact the X-5 somehow manages to retain a very positive, almost cross-country inspired feel on the flats that doesn’t turn into instability once the bottom drops out. Due in part to the 69 degree head angle the X-5 feels comfortable regardless of the slope below. The downhills we encountered were so slick that most bikes either fishtailed off the beaten paths or went down as a result of traction loss. The X-5 would hear no such complaint. Thanks to an abundance of chassis cornering stiffness, the harder we pushed it around tight bends, the sharper a line it would carve. A high bottom bracket results in excellent ground clearance. We pounded through jagged edged rock gardens, and hopped plenty a square edged curb with no fear of getting hung up. The frame’s generous geometry feels spacious and long at a standstill but undetectably tightens up as the terrain demands it. In fact the stretched out cockpit contributes to an almost sublime sense of stability, there isn’t a hint of twitch to be found even under the heaviest of braking. While we pride ourselves on giving unbiased insight when assembling bike reports, there is no denying the reality that mountain biking is a very style conscious sport. Everyone from bike snobs to beginners took notice of the Ventana X-5's unmistakable presence out on the trail. Chalk it up to the unique X- brace configuration of the top tubes, the beautiful welds, the CNC Machined aluminum rear triangle, the mesmerizing deep red powder coat, or maybe all of the above; the X-5 is a real head turner even when standing perfectly still.
King, Thompson, Easton, SRAM, and Hayes. Not a bad name for a rock band.

Flashy Frame. Powder Coated aluminum and clean decals add up to one sharp looking package.

Now, About That Frame

For anyone who finds themselves in deliberation as to the benefit of a custom built frame, we offer Ventana’s attention to detail alone as justification to seek the boutique. For starters the welding work here boarders on fine art. Gussets are near flawless and each bead is laid down with smooth, even spaces. Most impressive is the fact that all of the metal blending is done by TIG welding which is superior quality to more commonly used MIG and stick welding techniques.

Jumping: The rear triangle of Ventana’s creations are about as trick as it gets. CNC machined aluminum polished to a mirror-like reflective surface creates an unmistakable sense of custom detail to the bicycle’s persona. The contrast in color against the frame spars creates a tasteful, almost works-like appearance that is not only recognizable but functional as well.

The frame itself is not painted but rather powder coated. The end result is an unprecedented level of color depth and a tough finish that oozes with glossy durability.

What Do We Really Think? In the beginning of this report, we compared Ventana to the likes of an exotic automobile manufacturer and we must close using the same analogy. Part of the reason it doesn’t pay off to spend big bucks advertising bicycles like the Ventana is due to a rare situation in which marketing hype is simply not required in making a potential customer a believer. The selection of quality materials, the hand-crafted precision of the metallurgy, the color depth of the powder coating, and the satisfaction of onlooker attention simply do not translate well into advertising copy; rather have to be experienced first hand to fully grasp. Like a Ferrari, there is little hope for those who cannot justify the hefty price tag, either you get it or you don’t.

Ventana has struck gold in their ability to combine the light weight mannerisms of a true cross country chassis with a beefed up geometry spec capable of making light work out of any mountain’s fury. The feeling of quality that simply oozes off of each and every facet of the X-5 cannot be portrayed in mere test reports. We suppose this is why Sherwood would rather his customers do the talking. If there is any truth to the expression “riding is believing” then demo-riding a Ventana is about as good a form of advertising as possible. Having to be pried out of the saddle when the shop is closing up is quite another story.

V for Ventana. The X-5 defines what US boutique builders are all about. There is pride in the bike's design and it doesn't go unnoticed.

Sliders. Our X-5 struck a nice relationship with the Manitou Minute 3:00. We think yours would too.

Coming out swinging. The inverted Manitou Swinger 3-way offers a good deal of squish and stable platform valving to boot.