I took fright when I set out to test this Mongoose, because this is more 26-inch XC bike, at almost 14 kilograms, than I have ridden for a long time. The ride started with one of the major, loose-surface-technical climbs I use for these assessments and I was quickly taking strain. It is a 400-metre scramble in about five kilometres and I usually use it to test myself as well, by staying in the middle ring. This bike is clearly not designed for anti-gravitational flurries and tottering over the brink on a long, obstacle-strewn descent, I wondered if it had any purpose at all … and then the answer came to me: this bike is made for having fun.
The R8 500 Salvo is cheap, not just inexpensive, cheap. Maybe the cheapest, well-built, workable dual-suspension mountainbike in existence and that is going to mean that many more thrill-seekers are going to get a taste of that delinquent delight – going downhill fast.
The fork and the shock are Suntour Raidon (XCR LO) – with the manufacturers emphasising the Raidon name rather than their old brand moniker, probably because of years of negative association with supermarket specials. That’s over. The lightweight front-end comforter presents with 120 millimetres of plush travel, ahead of many of the more trendy brand options. And the rear shock, which looks a little like a can of my favourite gin mixer, works just as well. That first major descent was so sweet that I laboured back up some of the sections just to be able, ride down them again. There may be questions around longevity but rumour has it that simple cartridge replacements are available and you could probably redo the whole shooting match for less than the regular service of a fancier option. Although the frame design with sturdier shocks may have had that in mind, the fine print on the fork leg discourages downhill racing and jumping, both of which could otherwise turn out seductively alluring. It was very sweet on single track where that imported-chocolate quality of the air systems ironed out the roughest surfaces upon which I usually ride with far less comfort on my 29er hardtails.
The salvo rolls on Kenda Kadre tyres (with acceptable grip) on reasonable entry-level Alex rims – but the tyres are wire bead and could not be converted to tubeless. One is inclined to over-compensate with higher pressure on tubed tyres (to avoid pinch flats) and that means less traction on the climbs where you need all the help you can get. Descending would have been even better with a little less pressure up front as there was a tendency to wash away on the loose surfaces. Sometimes climbing traction was assisted by keeping the rear suspension engaged when the front was locked out, but the bike was sluggish going up through soft and muddy conditions, where bigger wheels would have helped. It was a lot better, of course, on hard pack but, a gear with 36 teeth (like hen’s teeth with nine-speed clusters) would have been a boon. On sections where I normally use the middle ring, I had to do a lot of my ascending with the granny options of the so-so 3×9 Shimano Alivio package. It was serious effort.
Again, el cheapo but also el potento. The Tektro Draco Pro hydraulics have a less than glamorous pedigree of early, cable-operated discs which really worked rather well. But these are hydraulic and that is a lot better. Maybe longevity will be a factor here too, but they uncomplainingly stopped the stampeding mammoth in its tracks and showed modulation faculties normally attributed to more boutique brands.
The X-rated bits and bobs were adequate, although I have a quibble about the water-bottle mount, which was under the down tube and unreachable on the go.
In a nutshell, if you want to go down just about anything other than a DH race route, which is good fun and fast, this low-price machine duly delivers. And it can be ridden to the top of the hill, giving you the added bonus of developing, en route, those s six-packs the yuppie publications are always going on about.
By Steve Shapiro