It's a bit of an oddball, with burly intentions yet limited travel. It manages to be perverse fun regardless
Nov 3 2017
Aggressive geometry encourages lairy behaviour
Stiff, solid and well finished frame with wheel versatility
On the weighty side, even compared to longer travel bikes
Travel on offer struggles to keep up with aggro intentions
You want a short travel bike for getting rad on and don't care too much about climbing speed
Banshee's aluminium framed Phantom sports 29" wheels and 120mm of travel up front paired with 105mm out back. It's certainly more capable in rough terrain than those figures suggest, thanks to aggressive geometry, but it's a bit hefty for distance work and there's no getting around the lack of travel when the trail gets really wild.
The Phantom's frame uses a mixture of delicately narrow diameter hydroformed aluminium tubing mated to a rather industrial looking rear end that uses Banshee's own multi-link suspension system. Despite those skinny looking tubes, it's an impressively stiff ride, with none of the noticeable flex along the length of the chassis you might expect when hauling on the bars and stamping on the pedals. The back end rotates on plenty of large diameter cartridge bearings, while the short suspension links and square profile of the rear stays mean there's barely any hint of happy dog wagging from the back end, no matter how hard you push. The form is backed up by function in the frame details too, with adjustable geometry and compatibility with a plethora of axle standards and tyre sizes thanks to switchable dropouts at the rear.
You can get the Phantom as a frame and shock or a complete bike. Our complete test bike came assembled with a mostly SRAM GX 11spd single-ring drivetrain, a RockShox Yari fork along with a Monarch RT3 shock plus a selection of solid kit from Banshee's UK distributor Ison. That includes a Halo Vapour 35 wheelset with stiffer Boost spacing that gives a solid broad stance to the Schwalbe Hans Dampf 29x2.35" tyres, a nice 760mm wide Gusset bar and 50mm stem combo plus a Black Jack saddle sat atop a KS Lev internally routed dropper post. It's all solid stuff, if not amazing value for a bike at this price.
The build kit should really give an indication that, despite the short travel, this is a bike meant for having fun than covering distances at pace. There's no getting around the fact that the Phantom is definitely much happier being pointed down singletrack rather than going back up it, thanks in part to the 14.5kg weight of the bike, which is a bit portly compared to bikes at similar money and travel. Along with the big wheels and chunky rubber, that means rather muted acceleration, while the bike's suspension characteristics are also geared towards descending performance rather than perky pedalling and you'll want to make use of the lockout on the shock for big climbs.
Point it downhill and it all starts to make more sense. It'll go where it's pointed without complaint and urge you to go faster, with a confident and aggressive stance. Those big wheels do help mute chatter along with the fat rubber and given the right terrain, it's easy to convince yourself that you're sat atop a seriously rough and tumble machine, especially as the weight of the bike means it's not easily bullied of bounced off your chosen line.
The decent 455mm reach of the large frame and reasonably slack (for a short travel 29er) 67º head angle encourage hooligan behaviour, as does the plush and supple in initial feel from that relatively limited 105mm of squidge at the back, aided by the high-volume negative air spring from the Monarch shocks Debonair air can. However, if you feel that's given you the green light to get really lairy, you'll soon bump yourself up against the truism that there ain't no replacement for displacement. Big wheels can go so far to make it feel a smoother ride than it is, but you and your fillings will start to really know about it in rough terrain.
The Monarch shock does its best with a reasonably progressive support from the back, but once you've done as encouraged by the aggressive shape of the bike and launched yourself into a mess of roots and rocks, it's overwhelmed fairly quickly. The Yari fork holds out nobly thanks to the stiff chassis, but the basic damping means that it's never as controlled or as supple as a more expensive Charger damper equipped Pike might be able to. If you're willing to hold on for grim death and not listen to the bad noises the wheels start to make as the suspension's patience is exhausted, you can make impressively quick progress nonetheless.
On more sensible terrain, there's decent mid-corner grip and a nice balance between adjustability and stability. Okay, the bike doesn't exactly dance from corner to corner but put the effort in and you can certainly make progress. I'm not the biggest fan of Schwalbe's Hans Dampf tyre - I find it's a bit draggy and uncommunicative - so switching to something faster rolling at the rear would definitely help matters here. It's worth noting that you can stick in super fat 27.5" Plus rubber if you have a suitable wheelset and it's possible to go up to a mighty 2.8" tyre on the current 29" hoops by switching the dropout.
While I'm grumbling, I found the fabric covered saddle did a rather annoying line in grabbing at the fabric of my shorts, making getting off or over it tricky from time to time. Apart from that, the rest of the kit works well, with the SRAM Level brakes doing a solid job of stopping the bike without noise or fuss and the GX gearing giving a decent enough range, though you might want to go to a smaller front chainring than the direct-mount 32T fitted if you live in big hills.
I found the Phantom a bit of an odd bike to wrap my head around. It doesn't fit into any normal box, being far more aggressive in terms of kit and geometry than the travel would suggest. It's also overbuilt for the sort of traditional cross-country distance style trail riding you might expect from a big wheeled, short travel machine. It encourages you to push hard and it's built to take it, but that means it's fairly easy to find the limits of what the travel lets you get away with.
Being logical about it leads to the conclusion that you're either be better off with a lighter bike of the same travel or a bike with more travel that's about the same weight. However, that does ignore the fact that riding bikes around in circles isn't a very logical thing to do anyway. There's a certain kind of contrarian pleasure in rattling the Phantom over terrain at silly speeds and getting bounced around and just about holding it together. It doesn't look or sound pretty, but it is quite a bit of fun. It doesn't make a lot of sense for most riding and riders, but if it does to you, then you'll have a riot.
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own :
Banshee says: "The Phantom is a new breed of 29er. While it may be short travel at 105mm, it is no XC weenie. The frame is stiff and strong to take on everything from all day epic rides, to rough aggressive all mountain. 29er wheels roll over obstacles with ease, and so less travel is required to help with traction and absorption of square edge impacts. The true beauty of the Phantom is the short travel sensation, combined with capable aggressive geometry, making the Phantom a true joy to ride on any trail."
State the frame material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.:
ForkRock Shox Yari RC 120mm
Rear ShockRock Shox Monarch RT3
HeadsetGusset Mix n Match
HandlebarGusset Slade Low rise 760mm
StemGusset Staff 50mm
GripsGusset File Lock on
SaddleGusset R-Series Black Jack
SeatpostKS 150 Lev Integra
Chain GuideMRP 1x
Rear DerailleurSRAM GX
Gear LeversSRAM GX
CranksetSRAM NX with DM chain ring 32t
CassetteSRAM XG1150 10-42t
Bottom BracketSRAM GXP
BrakesSRAM Level TL
WheelsHalo Vapour 35 6-Drive Boost
TyresSchwalbe Hans Dampf Perf
Frame & Fork
How much suspension travel does the fork have?:
How was the bike in terms of sizing and angles? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size and intent?:
It's reasonably slack at the head angle with 67.5 deg in the lowest setting, while seat angle is decently steep at 75deg. Reach is reasonably long at 455mm for a size Large.
Overall rating for frame
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Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?:
It's respectably stiff despite the skinny tubing.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame:
Black anodised frame is hardwearing, while the welds are neat, even if the frame is a fairly industrial bit if kit.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame:
Hydroformed triple butted 7005 T6 aluminium
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Did you enjoy riding the bike?:
Yes, it's entertaining to ride even if it doesn't make much sense
Would you consider buying the bike?:
For me, probably not. It's a bit chunky for distance and under-suspended for tougher terrain
Jon is the editor here at off.road.cc. Whether it's big days out on the gravel bike or hurtling down technical singletracks, if it's got two wheels and can be ridden on dirt, then he's into it. He's previously been technical editor at BikeRadar.com, editor at What Mountain Bike Magazine and also web editor at Singletrackworld.co.uk. Yes, he's been around the houses.