Big development in mountain bikes can come in deceptive packages. Sometimes a new linkage or pivot needs to be ridden to be appreciated. A tweak in position or leverage, barely discernable to the eye, is a revelation once in the saddle. It’s rare that a bike offers innovation you can’t help but notice at first glance, rarer still that a bike falls into both of these categories. The LOOK 920, the manufacturer’s latest showstopper, aims at both of these targets, and, to a large degree, has hit them both squarely in the bullseye.
Riders that have any knowledge of the French company’s road history will find this as no surprise. Since the clipless pedal they have blazed their own trail. Sometimes they have found themselves followed closely as they continue down the trail, other times they have trekked off alone. Only time will tell how the 920’s innovation is received.
The bike seems to straddle some categories. From one set of numbers, geometry, the bike is a cross-country racer with a steep 69.5-degree head tube. From the other set, the travel numbers, 120-mm front and back, it sounds like a capable trail bike that might fall in a category with “mountain” somewhere in the title. Don’t be fooled. Once on the trail, LOOK has made a race bike that, under power, will distance itself not just from the rest of the 120-mm travel crowd but a fair amount of hard tails as well.
Now, for that innovation. First, the stem. You can’t miss it, the crowds at last year’s bike shows certainly didn’t. It created a bit of a firestorm of feedback. Polarizing is the polite way to put it. Riders either loved it or hated it. No middle ground. It’s called the Integrated A-Stem and the top tube flows seamlessly into the stem. No steer tube poking up beyond the head tube, no spacers, no exposed bolts, just clean lines up front. It’s a feature that would at first appear more at home on a skinny tire bike, but after a few moments and a stroll around the bike’s angles, you begin to realize just how cobbled together every other mountain bike’s front end looks. The LOOK 920 is elegant. Not a term we apply to many mountain bikes. Perhaps this has something to do with its French origins.
As eye-catching as those aesthetics are, they were a distant second on the list of objectives LOOK targeted with the design. The Integrated A-Stem is about creating a stiff and stable front-end. Across all sizes, the stem design allows LOOK to use an extremely short, tapered head tube, one and one-eighth up top to one and one-half below. The stem is a substantial hunk of aluminum, a package in total designed to go where you point it no matter the carnage and drama occurring at the contact patch. While the design does indeed limit the flexibility of fit at the front of the bike, LOOK has minimized this with enormous flexibility of stem choices. There are four choices that offer eight different fits. Each stem has a half-moon wedge at the bar clamp to allow for a centimeter of length adjustment. Lengths between 80, 90, 100 and 110 mm can be achieved at +/- 5 degrees, and at +/- 15 degrees you can get 100, 110, and 120 mm. If all of those options and the four available frame sizes don’t have you covered, the plethora of riser bar options should get your hands right where you want them. The 120 mm of travel up front is controlled with a Rock Shox SID XX and a 15-mm axel to add to the front-end pointability.
The other big step LOOK has taken with the 920 has been to remove the mechanical pivot at the rear wheel. Unlike the Cannondale Scalpel, which has done away with the pivot in the chain stays behind the bottom bracket and lets those chain stays flex, LOOK has instead allowed the seat stays to flex as the suspension compresses—all 120 mm of it. The pivot point has been isolated at the middle of the seat stays, thanks to a flattening of their profile and an optimized lay up.
While these are the two real standout features they are by no means the end of the technology LOOK unleashed on the 920. The rocker on the 920 is aluminum and 160 grams, although the 920 Kit Carbon, with a carbon rocker saving 50 grams, is what U.S. riders will be able to buy. Its position and movement have been optimized for efficiency under power. The goal is to provide 120 mm of travel that doesn’t just limit squat but removes it entirely. Hit the gas hard and the power transfer is designed to react like a hard tail. Connected to that rocker is a Rock Shox ARIO RLR. The 920 Kit Carbon sold in the U.S. will use the DT Swiss XR Carbon. Dual lockouts on the bars ensure optimum power transfer on fire road climbs and pavement.
LOOK carbon is beautiful, light, stiff and advanced stuff. It is not, however, cheap. The 920 will be taking that carbon into some nasty environments and the last thing you want limiting your ability to rail the technical stuff is a concern your bike won’t survive a crash or flying rocks. LOOK has integrated (there’s that word again) molded metal into critical areas. A generous metal plate protects the vulnerable bottom of your down tube, while more molded metal does duty as a cable guide and chain protector on the drive-side chain stay. Think of it like a 4x4’s skid plates, but for your MTB.
Once on the trail the 920 is pure power transfer. The engineering that went into the anti-squat rear end was a total success. Zero bobbing. We’ve experienced this level of power transfer while tempo climbing fire road with a few other bikes. No bike with rear suspension, 100 mm or 120 mm, has the get-up-and-go this bike does on fast rollers when you jump out of the saddle to keep your speed up. You will be maintaining more speed on a rolling trail than you have before. Keep that in mind if you know a technical section is waiting for you at the end—you will be hitting it hotter than ever before. If you fight an XC duel lap after lap, don’t worry too much about trying to get a gap before the line. You will out sprint the guy next to you if you ride a 920.
The stiffness out of the drivetrain was so exceptional that we found ourselves continually checking if the lock-out was on during the first few rides. It’s that good. It also means if we were building up our own 920 a rear lock-out wouldn’t be on our list of components to purchase. What all this climbing and power performance from the rear end means is, you need to recalibrate your brain when it comes to 120 mm of travel. We tend to think of terms like plush and bottomless when we think of 120-mm trail bikes. The LOOK is neither of these things. It has a firm feel to it, very firm the first few rides. We initially set it up with 25-percent sag, which led to some of the monster power transfer, but didn’t let us take advantage of the full 120 mm. Running closer to 40-percent sag really unleashed the 920’s RockShox ARIO RLR. While still firm under first impact, as repeated impacts rolled through the range of travel felt long enough and well managed enough to keep wheels down and all of that power transfer ready to go as you punch out the other side. During these situations the integrated front end delivered massively nimble handling. Pick a tight line, thread the needle and the confidence that the 920 was going to go exactly where we pointed it helped us use a little more of the bike’s power transfer entering those dicey trail sections. There is still a firm quality to the bike’s ride, it’s not a bad thing; the 920 just gave us something out of 120 mm we hadn’t experienced before—a true race feel.
Our test bike was the straight-up 920, built with SRAM XO-X9 2x10 and Fulcrum Red Metal 3 wheels. The fi’zi:k tundra saddle, Race Face bars and Syntace stem were a nice fit to the 920’s overall package and delivered a complete weight, including LOOK Quartz Carbon pedals and a LOOK Carbon cage, of 24.5 lbs. But, half the fun of the 920 is that here in the U.S. you will have to build your own. No complete bikes are available. You will also only have access to the 920 Kit Carbon and its carbon rocker and DT Swiss XR Carbon rear unit. You could easily shave a pound or two off our complete bike’s weight by losing the rear lock-out, going with SRAM XX and some carbon wheels.
You aren’t looking for bikes described as plush, you want power transfer, you want a rock-solid rear end even on the gas and out of the saddle. You’re not afraid to lay down power in the middle of the technical stuff and you require your bike go where it’s told under harsh punishment. You aren’t worried about making an aesthetic statement on the trail either.
The Bottom Line
Price: $5,000 (frameset only available in the U.S.)