Bike: 2016 Banshee Phantom
Size Tested: Medium
Drivetrain: Shimano XT
Brakes: Shimano XT
Fork: MRP Stage
Rear Shock: Cane Creek Inline
Travel: 120mm Front / 105mm Rear
Blister’s Measured Weight: 30.6 lbs (13.9 kg) without pedals
Reviewer: 5’9”, 155 lbs.
Test Location: Boulder City, Nevada
MSRP: $2,050 (frame only)
Interbike’s outdoor demo is located at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s a fantastic network of trails, and it’s a great escape from America’s neon bunghole (Las Vegas). The trails we spent most of our time on were relatively fast, with a fair amount of sand and some pretty rocky sections.
Having said that…
Riding bikes at a demo is always kind of tricky. For starters, we’re unable to get as much time on each bike as we like–our test durations are measured in minutes and hours, not our preferred time frame of weeks and months. One good ride can tell you a lot about how a bike handles, but it certainly doesn’t allow for the customary, in-depth, Blister analysis.
Demo days also don’t generally permit the time needed to get each bike dialed to our liking. A quick suspension setup and fiddling with the bike’s ergonomics gets it most of the way there, but it’s certainly not dialed. We also take the bike as we get it, so things like bar width and tire selection may not be optimal.
So while we believe it’s important to be upfront about the limitations of reviewing bikes in such settings, there is also merit in riding a slew of bikes, back to back, on the same trails. Subtle differences that might not become apparent if our test rides happen weeks or months apart are able to come to light, and each bike’s attributes may be more easily identified.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Banshee Phantom
The Banshee Phantom is one of the growing breed of relatively short-travel 29ers that are breaking out of the mold of XC-oriented wagon wheelers, and are primed to be ridden fast on the descents and spend a lot of time in the air.
The boundaries of this category are a bit vague, but it includes bikes like the Kona Process 111, the Transition Smuggler, the Yeti SB 4.5C, and The Following from Evil.
Incidentally, all those bikes (except for the Yeti) come from companies based in the Pacific Northwest. Apparently slack 29ers work well on wet roots and technical trails.
Banshee offers a few different build kits for the Phantom, but the bike I rode had a custom build, so for that reason, I’ll gloss over the specifics here a bit. In terms of shifting and braking, the Shimano XT componentry is probably the best deal going in the bike world, and as expected, it worked without issue.
More interesting was the suspension on the Phantom. The rear shock was a Cane Creek Inline, which honestly, I really dislike for these sort of tests. It’s not that it’s a bad shock, but it can take a while to get them dialed in, and as I mentioned in the caveat above, the Interbike demo doesn’t really afford that kind of luxury.
The fork on the Phantom was an MRP Stage, which is the big brother of the Loop. We’ll be reviewing the Loop shortly. The Stage has essentially identical internals to the Loop, and in my short time on it, proved itself to be an entirely worthy option. Like the rear shock, I didn’t have the time to fiddle with it much to get it dialed, but unlike some other forks I rode at Interbike (*cough* Lefty), I wasn’t immediately annoyed with it. I’d say it more or less felt like a Pike, which is a very good thing.
Fit and Geometry
The fit on the Phantom feels pretty middle of the road, which I also think is a good thing. At 420mm, the reach on the Medium I rode felt comfortable—it’s not super stretched out like some bikes, but it certainly doesn’t feel cramped.
The Phantom (like quite a few other bikes these days) has adjustable geometry, which is achieved by flipping chips at the rear dropouts. I spent my entire time on the bike in the middle position, which yields a 68° head angle, 442mm (17.4”) chainstays, and a 342mm (13.45”) bottom bracket height.
In this category of slack 29ers, those numbers fall a bit on the steep, long, and tall side. Which isn’t to say that the Phantom is actually all that steep, long, or tall in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not as aggressive as, for example, The Following from Evil. Arguably, something like the Banshee Prime (which has 130mm travel and slightly slacker angles) would be a bit more comparable.
With 105mm in the rear, the Phantom is the shortest travel “aggressive 29er” that I’ve ridden, and it was fairly apparent. Some bikes feel like they have a lot more travel than they actually do, but the Phantom definitely feels like a short travel bike. Even though the rear suspension is moderately progressive (which tends to provide that bottomless feel), the rear end still had that taught, short-travel feel that I’m used to on more XC-oriented bikes.
The flip side is that the Phantom is most definitely not an XC-oriented bike. It feels heavy and overbuilt, probably because it is, in fact, heavy and overbuilt. While I did get a hint of flex out of the rear end, I’m chalking that up mostly to the DT Swiss M1700 wheels that were on our demo rig. Otherwise, the Phantom—like every other Banshee I’ve ever been on—felt quite solid.
On the trail, the Phantom doesn’t have the best small bump sensitivity, which comes back to that XC-ish feel from the rear suspension. Even though the Transition Smuggler only has 10mm more travel, I found it to be far more supple over small trail detritus. And yet, while the Smuggler is more supple through small stuff, I didn’t find that it blew through its travel any more than the Phantom did.
Since the Phantom wasn’t all that active over small bumps, I kind of expected it to be a fantastic climber. And to be sure, the Phantom doesn’t climb poorly. But considering its short travel, I noticed a bit more pedal bob than I would have liked. That, combined with the fact that the Phantom isn’t particularly light, leaves some room for improvement on the uphills.
But the Phantom does, of course, have big wheels and relatively slack geometry, which means that it still rallies on the way down pretty damn well. Also, since the Phantom isn’t terribly slack, it has some benefits at moderate trail speeds where overly slack angles can be overkill and lead to annoying understeer. Similarly, since the Phantom sits a bit higher, it’s a little easier to pedal through rocky trail without tagging your pedals every other pedal stroke.
It’s also worth noting that the Phantom’s chainstays are a bit longer than most other bikes in this class. While that adds a bit of stability, it also makes it a little tougher to loft the front end, which is a notorious issue for 29ers. To be fair, though, 442mm chainstays still really aren’t all that long in the grand scheme of things.
I’m a fan of the aggressive 29er trend. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on Evil’s The Following, and I had a lot of fun on the Transition Smuggler. Wagon wheels plow through technical trail nearly as well as some of their longer-travel siblings, while still retaining a lot of the benefits that come with a shorter-travel bike. And while there are certainly downsides (e.g., a bit of a handful in tight terrain, slower acceleration, flexy wheels), I’ve found those issues to be pretty manageable.
I had plenty of fun on the Banshee, and there’s no doubt that it’s a very capable bike. But it’s up against some pretty tough competition. Admittedly my time on the Phantom was short, but I didn’t find that it really did anything better than the Transition or the Evil. At the same time, it weighs more and, in the case of the Transition, costs more, too. For both the Transition and the Evil, I don’t think there’s any aspect of the ride characteristics where the Phantom wins out. It might be equivalent in some aspects, but it’s not clearly better at anything.
I haven’t ridden the Process 111 or the SB 4.5C yet, so I can’t comment on how it compares there. But sheerly based on my time on the Evil and Transition, I’m not entirely sure what type of rider would be better off buying the Phantom. That is not to say that the Phantom is a bad bike, but ultimately, I’d nudge people toward other options in this class unless they had strong predilections toward Banshee.
April 19 Update:
It’s been a little while since I first rode the Phantom, and as should be fairly apparent from the review, I wasn’t wild about it. But Blister reviewer Xan Marshland and I had a chance to swing a leg over the Phantom again in Moab at Outerbike. And since my initial review, Banshee has made some minor tweaks to the frame geometry, but for the most part, the design intentions of the Phantom remain the same.
On the slower-speed chunkiness of the Bar M trails in Moab, I wasn’t having a great time on the Phantom, and my first few miles back on the bike pretty much confirmed what I’d remembered about it: small bump sensitivity isn’t great; it feels kind of heavy; and pedaling efficiency leaves a lot to be desired, especially for a shorter-travel bike. I found myself settling into the acceptance of my previous impressions. In short, I wanted something cushier, or at least more efficient.
But then I got the Banshee onto a slightly longer descent that was a little flowier, and I had a bit of an “Aha” moment. When I could open it up, the Banshee transformed into a pretty damn fun bike; it nicely popped off of everything I could find, and the overbuilt frame was more willing than any other ~100 mm bike I’ve ridden to be hucked to flat. Its suspension didn’t get overwhelmed, and the frame is stiff and supportive enough to throw it hard into corners.
For all-around riding, there are still other options in this category that I like better. But if you’re looking for a burly, short-travel 29er than likes to be ridden hard (or more accurately, needs to be ridden hard), the Banshee Phantom might be worth a look — especially for people that tend to break bikes.
I also think the Phantom works best on trails that are faster and smoother, preferably with a bunch of opportunities to get in the air. It’s not a supple bike that will level rough terrain, but if your trails are relatively smooth and you want to get sendy, I certainly had a good time on the Banshee in that scenario.
From Xan Marshland
To echo Noah’s opinion, my take is that the Phantom is the closest thing I’ve ridden to a 29er slopestyle bike. The Phantom heavily favors popping and pumping over staying plush through bumps, and it works great when the need arises to have your ass saved on a flat landing.
So while I definitely wouldn’t take it on most of my favorite rocky descents, I’d probably have a great time taking it down most trails that primarily involve jumps, drops, berms, etc.