Since there aren’t any solid, non-commercial online reviews of the Commencal Meta HT AM, I thought I’d go ahead and write one. Now, I don’t usually review stuff, I don’t make any money on this here website, and I have no interest in writing this review other than to help out a few other mountain bikers in need. This won’t be a typical bike review where everything is all good.
Billed as an all-mountain or enduro hardtail and made to be bashed, and I’ve found these sentiments to be largely true. I’ve had two frames–both the size L and the XL, and I’ve tar-assed ’em all over and every single day, whether in rain, mud, rock gardens, steep and gnarly tracks, or sun-baked fire roads. And since I’ve had the two for probably about 5 months now as my commuter, XC bike, dh sled and dirt jumper, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the strengths (many) and weaknesses (not very many) pretty well.
First of all, these bikes run small. I originally bought the large thinking it would be fun to thrash around (it was), but frustratingly enough Commencal doesn’t list reach figures for this particular frame. I ended up putting a 100 mil stem on the large in order to get comfy but that never actually happened, so I ultimately got an XL frame on discount and thought this would solve my problems. It didn’t. Now despite the XL top tube being like 35 mil longer than the large, I STILL run a long stem, probably due to the head angle being half a degree slacker on the 2016 edition, chiming in at 65.5 degrees. So if you’re like me and usually come in between sizes, go larger; these are the pitfalls of buying online without a test ride, yes?
Second, this frameset lives to be abused and get wild. Straight through the chunk. Hit that lip to flat. The HT AM takes it all in stride and is happiest when the trail gets rough. It’s stiff and overbuilt, but this of course also means it ain’t light. Fine by me because I’m not really interested in being the first to the top of the mountain, even though I often am, even on flats. It has no trouble keeping up with full-blown trail bikes on the downhill, and climbs exceptionally well despite it’s very slack head angle–the front end doesn’t wander or have a tendency to rise. It wheelies and manuals very easily, as one would expect.
Third, I really, really like the stock Marzocchi 350R despite having limited adjustment and being heavy. I’ve owned the Pike, the Fox 36, the 34 and the 32 and I’d take this fork over almost any of them, mainly because it’s coil sprung, built to last and cheap. Only two knobs to turn–rebound and air-spring preload for the coil. The latter essentially adjusts the coil preload for setting sag, but it also has a profound effect on compression as well. The rebound knob is very effective, and I basically have it all the way open to get the most smooth travel out of this beast. It’s got a solid feel, is ready to rumble and probably won’t need to be serviced for an eternity despite constant mayhem. This fork was a special OE build and the stanchions have what they call an espresso color, meaning it’s black, something typically found only on their more expensive models. So…despite retailing for like $300 it looks expensive, if that sort of thing matters to ya.
Now for the bad. The house brand wheelset absolutely sucked ass. Sucked. Ass. A constant headache. Despite re-tensioning the wheels I broke like 10 rear spokes in the first three months, basically averaging one per week. Before anyone starts saying I was hard on the wheelset, I have to agree! But that’s how this bike was marketed and the damn things just didn’t even come close to holding up. To add insult to injury, the shit hubs were constantly coming out of adjustment and needed attention every other ride or so. So I just now replaced them with some WTB i23 Team rims and am going to throw the others in a dumpster somewhere so I don’t have to look at them anymore.
The brakeset is the Avid DB-3 and they have excellent modulation and stopping power when paired with 180 mil rotors. It should be noted though that they will fade sort of quickly if you’re heavy on ’em, so lay off if possible. They’re cheap and cheerful and haven’t needed a bleed and I don’t plan on replacing them.
As for the quality of the build, well, that left something to be desired. The cables and housings were as long as day, and even after switching over to the XL I still had to cut down the housings. It was pretty ridiculous actually. Surprised I wasn’t picking up tree branches when I dropped into tight switchbacks. The stock crankset LITERALLY FELL OFF during an early ride, meaning that the factory did a crappy job of installation. This would have really been a drag if I hadn’t already intended to swap it out for a 1x system. Still though, it was pretty shabby and disheartening, especially when attempting to reinstall the drive side crank with an appropriately sized stick whilst out on a ride with my girlfriend. The baseplate on the fork was loose and the headset was a piece of junk, so when I swapped out frames I replaced it with a Cane Creek 40.
The stock bars are perfectly serviceable if a bit narrow, though nothing to write home about; the tires were maxxis ardents which are dependable and trail worthy in most conditions; and the rest of the drive train was sram x-9, which is also fine because I quickly destroy chains, cassettes and derailleurs, and I don’t care about things like wide-range and/or precise shifting so long as it works. The paint is nice on the hydro-formed aluminum frame, as are the graphics and overall look, especially with the pretty cool cable routing which keeps everything tidy. It came with a KS eTen dropper post which has recently begun to have problems as well, problems which are well-known with this model, so I have a sinking (pun intended) feeling I’m gonna have to replace that soon as well otherwise it’ll be another headache I don’t need.
Overall…this bike was cheap at $1000 for the bargain build which fit the bill perfectly, but I’ve ended up putting another $500-$600 into it for new wheels, cranks, and headset, (not to mention the impending dropper probs) making it something less than the original bargain I’d initially hoped for. Still pretty cheap but not sure I’d do it again. If interested in the frame, I’d say go ahead and get one because it’s awesome; and the fork is a bargain at twice the price; but the rest of the build isn’t worth the dough, especially since it’s all gonna need replacing if you ride with regularity. Just my input, hope it helps.