Every so often a company designs a new bike that shakes up the standards and norms of accepted bicycle geometry and creates a new category of bike all its own. Sunday did it with their Model C by replacing a 24″ cruiser’s traditional race geometry with scaled up specs and angles from modern 20″ freestyle bikes, Faction did it by designing bikes around a completely new 22″ wheel size that they pioneered and developed, and now Commonground Bikes has done it by creating a bike that merges the best traits and the aesthetics of a 24″ BMX bike and the geometry and ride characteristics of a 26″ dirt jumping bike. A common ground between them if you will. Those things probably seem like weird bedfellows, because they sure as hell did to me the first time I heard about the concept, but I can tell you first hand that as strange as it sounds, it works.
Commonground Bikes is the brainchild of Travis Engel, a rider who’s swung a leg over more bikes than probably any of us ever will. As a contributing editor and test rider for Bike Magazine, he’s had the opportunity to critically analyze literally hundreds of bikes, and there’s no doubt that his experience in doing so played a big part in laying the conceptual foundation of what would become Commonground.
The Commonground setup consist of a frame, fork and bar kit that’s manufactured right here in the good ol’ USofA. FBM handles the frame production, while S&M takes care of the bars and supplies their 24″ Pitchfork XLTs. The beauty of the design is that it takes the most desirable traits from BMX bikes and 26″ dirt jumping bikes and combines them to create quite the perfect trails riding machine. By keeping the bottom bracket height below the axle line and giving the frame a mellow 69° head tube angle, the Commonground offers the stability of a 26″ DJ bike. Features like disc brake tabs, a 135mm wide rear end that allows the use of common disc ready hubs and a euro bottom bracket are a few other things borrowed from DJ bikes. On the BMX side of things, 24″ wheels keep the rear end short for manuals, and the lower overall frame height in conjunction with Commonground’s 7.25″ rise handlebars gives you the clearance up front like a BMX bike. Compared to a DJ bike, those three to five extra inches of front end clearance makes things like turndowns and tables much easier on the Commonground. You know, more of like how they would be on a BMX bike.
Travis can explain all of this a lot better to you than I can, so give the video below a watch and get the facts straight from the man himself. Read on after you get done watching and I’ll give you my thoughts on Travis’ creation based on my personal experience riding one.
Last winter Travis sent me one of the Commonground demo bikes to check out. The plan was to take it with me on a trip down to Austin, but unfortunately plans fell apart and I didn’t ever make it down there. Fast forward a few months and the only time I’d gotten on the bike was just riding it around the block. That finally changed when I threw it on the rack with the other bikes and headed down to Richmond for FBM’s Battle of Gillies Creek Jam.
Seeing as it was my first time even riding trails in close to six months, it spent the majority of the day still locked to the rack while I tried to get comfortable again riding my regular bike. Though there was plenty of talk about pulling it off the rack and taking some laps on it, no one seemed up for being that first person to try it out. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit nervous about it. I’ve hopped on other people’s 26″ DJ bikes and 24″ and 22″ BMX bikes before and cruised them through some lines, but there was a real sense of the unknown when it came to riding the Commonground.
As the end of the day quickly approached and the session started to wind down, those of us left on the starting hill began to talk about who was actually going to be the one to finally try the thing out. That’s when the person I would have thought to be the least likely to be into trying it out stepped forward and volunteered. So I headed on over to the car, got the Commonground off of the rack and then handed it over to our awaiting guinea pig, Garrett Byrnes.
Garrett didn’t waste any time getting to it; he gave the bike a quick look over and then took off towards the main line at Gillies. There was a collective feeling among those of us watching that we may very well have just sent Garrett off to his death. While I can’t speak for everyone else, my breath was definitely held as he hit the first jump. Once he took off though you could instantly tell that he had everything under control. He hit the first jump just as smooth as he had been hitting it all day on his own bike, and even threw in one of his signature lazy tables over the hip that followed. What was more astounding was how effortlessly he cruised through the line’s final berm and jump.
You see, Gillies had been hit with torrential rain and flooding just days before the jam. The crew there did an incredible job getting the place ridable but the end of that last berm and the flat after it leading up to the last jump was still mushy and slow. Everyone struggled all day to even clear the jump, with most people electing to just skip it all together. Garrett aboard the Commonground though, he cruised right over it like it was nothing. When he got back to the starting hill and I asked him how it was, he said that it was chill but was noticeably faster than his regular bike. After hearing that we all manned up and took turns riding it. Everyone returned with the exact same thoughts, the bike was stable, predictable, comfortable and FAST. The 24″ wheels in conjunction with the fat Schwalbe Table Top tires the demo bike was specced with just floated through the slower parts of the trails that had us bogged down on our 20″ bikes. Garrett even used the extra speed of the Commonground to open up a couple more lines and jumps that hadn’t been ridable all day.
I returned from Richmond with a newly found respect and admiration for what Travis had achieved in designing the Commonground. Would I be hanging up my 20″ to make the switch? No, but I’m a diehard 20″ forever kind of guy. I will say that while I still had the demo bike, I found myself taking it out to the trails for quite a few of my solo sessions. I emphasize solo because I think that it speaks volumes about how the bike rides and how it makes you feel when you’re riding it. Summing it up with a few adjectives that you’ve heard before; the Commonground is stable, predictable, comfortable and fun. Ok, fun is a new addition to the adjective list, but one that definitely belongs in there. The bike was a blast to ride!
So, who is this bike for? That’s a good question that I don’t exactly have an answer to. I think whereas a 22″ bike feels like a scaled up BMX bike, the Commonground feels like a scaled down 26″ DJ bike (minus the suspension fork of course). That’s something that you would definitely have to keep in mind if you were considering getting one. So if you were a BMX rider who wasn’t quite feeling getting a DJ bike but wanted to transition to something with a lot mellower ride characteristics than a 20″, or even a 22″ BMX bike, the Commonground could be for you. On the other hand, if you were someone who was riding a 26″ DJ bike and wanted a new bike that retains that same general ride feel but spices it up with a shorter rear end and more room up front for stunting, the Commonground could also be a good option for you as well. Either way, I don’t think you would regret your purchase.
I can’t even say that Travis is on the right track with Commonground Bikes because I think he hit his mark dead on with what he’s come up with. S&M is even testing out their own version of a bike that’s very similar to the Commonground… and you know what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery!
Commonground currently has a sale running on their website where you can pick up frames for $499.99, frame, fork and bar kits for $649.99 and complete builds for $1349.99. Frames are available in your choice of either black or raw, and with top tube sizes of 22″ or 23″. Iffy about shelling out that kind of money on a bike you’ve never ridden? Commonground has a solution to that! They have demo bikes that they’ll send you so that you can ride one and decide for yourself if it’s for you. Just drop them a message HERE to get the ball rolling on trying one out!