Mason delivers its first mountain bike frame with the RAW - a steel hardtail with bespoke levels of design and manufacturing detail. The Raw is aimed at long-distance fast off-road riding and offers an engaging, supple ride feel. The RAW is top of its class.
- The best gravel and adventure bikes you can buy for under £2,000
- Factor blasts into the mountain bike market
- What is downcountry?
Mason RAW - Frame and build details
Made in the UK by Five Land Fabrication to Mason's exacting design, the RAW uses a mix of mostly Dedacciai and Reynolds tubing. This selection of tubing offers the exacting detail we’ve come to expect from Mason. Dom (Mason’s owner) joked he has a story for every tube on the frame and each is uniquely shaped and butted to help deliver the ride characteristic they are renowned for. The Mason #fastfar ethos equals long-distance capable bikes, with a focus on speed.
Starting at the sharp end, the head tube produced by BEAR Frame Supplies is machined from Reynolds 631 and is ring re-enforced for additional strength which is said to offer increased longevity to the frame and provide extra support for the lower headset cup and bearings in the upper.
The Dedacciai top tube is shaped and ovalized as per Mason’s requirements with flatter ends to create a wider stronger join where it meets the head tube and seat tube. Dedacciai also provides the down tube, using Dedacciai Zero Uno which is progressively butted and shaped at the bottom bracket junction into what Mason calls the ‘DForm’ creating minimal overlap with the seat tube, and a good weld join with the aim to deliver a stable pedalling platform.
The chainstays are Dedacciai Zero Uno tubing, ovalised, with bends and shaping that aid clearance for both chainrings and large tyres, the seatstays are butted to aid ride feel and together they allow the RAW to accept 29 x 2.6” tyres with a 34 tooth chainring.
The brake mount is a post-mount, CNC machined and integrated into the rear triangle providing easy access to the caliper. The design works well with the neatly cowled bolt through dropouts which provide a solid weld interface for the seat and chainstays and hold the wheel securely.
The frame uses a standard threaded 73mm bottom bracket which is a relief for all the mechanics out there.
The RAW is dropper post compatible with sensible smooth routing options. Whilst the small frame option loses the seat tube bottle mount to allow a long dropper post to be fitted if required, there are still two on the down tube, on the top tube near the headtube, and another on the underside of the downtube. All in all, there is a useful selection of mounting points for bags and bottles in all sizes.
Mason RAW - On the trail
Striking a wonderful balance between engaging ride feel and sure-footedness, the RAW is an excellent trail focused mountain bike. The painstaking process of the tube manipulation, geometry design and detailing translates to a ride that makes you feel involved and connected with the trail. The RAW thrives on off-road surfaces that are beyond the capabilities of a gravel bike, even one with a suspension fork. At its heart, it’s a mountain bike that constantly rewards the rider.
The RAW rides so well because at all stages of its creation, there have been obsessive levels of thought into the selection of the steel - this is where the ‘magic’ comes from. With considered geometry combined with an experienced use of the steel tubing characteristics, and with components that amplify this, the outcome is a frame that is a joy to ride.
I liked the RAW for the vast majority of my riding, although on anything gravity focused and really rough it hits the limits of its capabilities, but that isn’t what it is designed for. It excelled in all other riding I used it for; especially longer off-road rides. It’s in its element on rough trails and technical terrain where the suspension and the larger volume tyres are much appreciated. No standard gravel bike can do that.
I know it’s a cliché, but there is a clear ride quality of steel especially when the tubing has been this well-chosen – that infamous ‘magic steel’ feel where the steel tubing provides a smooth ride and yet still delivers near-instant acceleration.
With geometry that unashamedly favours miles over rougher, technical tracks, the Raw does not have long and slack numbers. The 66-degree head angle is enough to inspire downhill confidence, and with its shorter offset forks and in this case, the 120mm travel Rock Shox SID Ultimates, it’s more suited to all-round riding.
It handles well enough downhill, although when the terrain was at the upper limits of what I would comfortably ride a hardtail over, I felt I was pitched a little too far forward over the front wheel. Also, when really pushed into steeper, more technical trails, I had to focus more than usual, with some sections quickly reaching the limit of the bike and rider, making me very thankful for the dropper post. To be fair to the RAW, this was really only on terrain best suited to a full-suspension bike, not a hardtail.
The RAW climbs really well, it’s predictable and sure-footed whether seated or stood up. I found it to be especially rewarding over longer rides, where the benefits of the lighter weight of a hardtail became obvious - the ethos of fast and far showing through.
It really is happy doing everything - up, down and across within its design parameters, and it is definitely a mountain bike, not a gravel bike with big tyres. It will take you around your local loop or across the world with equal composure. The RAW delivers an excellent ride on multiple types of riding without feeling compromised.
A few words about the components:
The RAW as tested is the top end of the two complete builds offered with a full Deore XT groupset with Hunt Trail Wide V2 wheelset which compliments the frame. Available with a Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 up front and a Maxxis Aggressor 2.5 on the rear, both had EXO casings which were suited to the rockier conditions I tested the bike over. Mason offers a choice of finishing kit from Ritchey, PRO and Renthal. I had a PRO Koryak Stem and bars. The saddle was my own, sat on the X-Fusion Manic dropper.
Mason also allows you to choose your own gear ratios and tyres as you prefer, with multiple other choices of tyres and cockpit available.
The RockShox SID Ultimate fork is the perfect partner to the frame, offering 120mm of travel in a lightweight chassis. It keeps the front wheel tracking well and provides a stable steering feel, thanks to the decent-sized stanchions and bolt through axle.
The X-Fusion Manic dropper added more space to move around when required and is one of our favourites here at off-road.cc. With the options to spec nearly anything on the RAW, starting with a frame or frame/fork, you can build it as you want.
Mason RAW - Summing up
For me, the RAW would be my first choice for a hardtail, and perhaps even to replace a gravel bike, as I favour my gravel lumpier than many. If you prefer very rough, more technical riding, then the RAW might feel a bit of a handful - but it isn't intended for that at all. Ride the RAW all day, on pretty much any kind of trail, either loaded or light, and it rewards with great handling, all-day comfort, and it has all the credentials of a mountain bike with useful points to allow cargo to be attached or mounted. I like the RAW for being exactly what it aims to be – a mountain bike to take you far fast.
I’m struggling to find much at fault with the RAW. It is very well made, and the finishing on the welds, paint job and all-around detailing are all absolutely exquisite. The only slight sticking point is the price as some will feel it’s too much money for ‘just a steel hardtail’ - and whilst there are frames that may seem comparable, not much offers the same level of craftsmanship.
You are paying for the design and the expertise in its construction - the very things that set it apart. Features like the custom made chainstay protection, the excellent cable routing, the lovely dropouts and all of the welding make it distinctive and of exceptional quality.
In terms of comparison, it’s tricky, as the RAW sits in a fairly sparse field. One option is the Jones SWB I tested in 2019, although I would much rather ride the RAW as it handles better, is more capable and feels more inspiring for long trips than the Jones SWB. The Jones is a much more general, everyday bike and positioned as such.
In the more traditional trail bike group, the Surly Karate Monkey springs to mind, and ar £950 for the frame, basic build for £2100 and rigid at £2400, the Karate Monkey offers a steel frame with similar mount points but in with no fuss steel tubing, and more entry-level components and a less modern geometry.
It’s a bike that feels classic - in that it benchmarks how good a hardtail should be. It also is absolutely clear about its purpose and use. I can’t fault anything on the RAW - it’s really fun to ride, it thrives on the energy you put in making you keen to feed it for more. As a high-end steel hardtail, it is class-leading with bespoke levels of fabrication producing a sublime ride, whether that is worthy of the price tag is down to the individual - I believe it is.
I have a RAW, having bought one of the first production models. I love it. It's got real character, and is agile without being skittish, and stable without getting sluggish. It's a great bike, and is just progressive enough to be good for both trail and long distance riding. The option for male threaded bottle mounts is brilliant for using a long dropper in a smaller frame. No chainstay plate either, which is a bonus for me. It's also fabricated just down the road from me, which was very appealing, and the quality of the fabrication and painting is overall really, really good.
But, this is an expensive hardtail sold on the basis of having superb attention to detail, and my (admittedly early in production) model had some niggles. Firstly the aformentioned male threaded bottle bosses had left a sizable enough burr/obstruction inside the tubing to scratch up the dropper post. The threads everywhere other than the bottom bracket needed tapping properly, including the brake mounts, as getting them in required a bolt-breaking level of torque.
These are small but fundamental details that I think should be considered when charging approaching £1700 for a frame and then marketing the product on the quality of build and attention to detail. That said, the positives certainly outweigh any small problems.
Would be interested to see how this compares to the upcoming Fairlight Holt. Although full details of the Holt haven't been released yet, it certainly appear to be filling the same niche, and Fairlight do have a habit of delivering bikes with plenty of attention to detail but without quite such a steep price.