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Mason Raw MTB first ride review

The new Raw MTB frame from UK fast/far artisans Mason is a steel masterpiece but at what price?

Mason Raw MTB first ride review
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Bike Perfect Verdict

The assiduous attention to detail and superb ride quality that you only get with an artisan frame means the Mason Raw is a joy to ride, whether you're tackling distance missions or techy trail playtime. Premium performance and UK building come at a high cost though.

Pros

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    Beautifully bright and alive ride vibe

  • +

    Taut under power but still shrugs off slaps

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    Stable for security but never dull

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    Totally custom-tuned tube sets

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    Superb Scottish build and paint quality

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    Fully corrosion proofed

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    Loaded with bike packing features

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    Big tire clearances

Cons

  • -

    Price

Mason has been creeping towards making a full mountain bike for a few years now but the Raw is here and it has been worth the wait. If you're looking to build the best hardtail mountain bike, want a steel frameset designed and built in the UK with truly fanatical attention to detail that delivers an outstanding ride to match, the Mason offers an interesting proposition with its new Raw. That proposition comes at a high cost though.

Design and aesthetics

Talking to Dom (owner and head designer at Mason) about the Raw reveals a long and often torturous trip through tubing creation and frame building even by his exacting standards. Working with Italian specialist Dedacciai, the company has created a new version of the premium Zero pipes including custom oval-shaped top tubes and down tubes with a D section at the base for maximum weld connection. 

The curved, swerved and tapered seat stays are custom and shared with the ISO adventure bike. The chainstays use extra robust Zero Uno and are also ovalized, curved and tapered with final shaping work being done in Scotland by top builders Five Land Bikes. Moving to Five Land was a shift from Mason’s usual builders in Italy, too, partly due to Brexit and COVID-19 but also to shift what they could do with the bike through collaboration, not just construction. This includes Five Land custom curving the Reynolds seat tube (Dedacciai doesn’t do a suitable tube) which is also internally reduced to 31.6mm for maximum seat post capability. The head tube is also Reynolds, with ring reinforcing top and bottom and machined bearing seats thanks to UK’s Bear Frame Supplies. The bottom bracket is a 73mm threaded piece but uses stainless steel for maximum strength and corrosion resistance. Despite the signature curved brace on the seat stays the Raw frame still takes 2.6in tires and a 34T chainring. The custom, cutaway lozenge dropouts and brake mount create a super neat rear end and you even get an old-school style chain pip to stop your links dragging in the dirt when the back wheel is out.

Rear brake and dropper lines are routed internally through the down tube and then pop out ahead of the bottom bracket using Mason’s ‘MultiPort’ inserts to keep things super tidy. The rear brake is routed through the top tube and then runs externally under the offside seat stay using P-clips or fixed cable guides. Production bikes will also have a 3D-printed chainstay guard. The default frame build has rack mounts and multi bolt ‘anything mounts’ on and under the downtube and conventional bottle mounts on the seat tube. These can be swapped for male threaded accessory mount fixtures if you want and you can also get top tube mounts added too. All bolts and cable guides are black stainless steel and the frame is fully treated with eCoat corrosion proofing inside and out before being primed and wet painted by Five Land in Vela grey, Filter Yellow and Sensor Blue colors.

Despite being startled by modern trail geometry at first, testing with development riders such as endurance racer Josh Ibbott, has led to some pretty progressive numbers: 66-degree head, 75-degree seat and 471mm reach, 1204mm wheelbase (large). Mason measures ‘sagged’ so the angles would actually be around a degree slacker using most brands’ methodology.  

Mason Raw MTB first ride review

The 66-degree head angle is measured sagged, so its actually a little slacker than you would expect (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Components and build 

Raw options start with the frameset including headset and all the trimmings and then there are two complete builds based on XT (£4,195) and SLX (£3,795) stop and go gear with RockShox SID Ultimate 120mm fork and Hunt Trailwide V2 wheels. Our sample largely followed the SLX build but with XT transmission and Vittoria high volume tires but still came in under 13kg with a 2.55kg (claimed) frame weight.

Performance

Presuming you know the algorithm of the component package, the first few rough ground pedal strokes on a hardtail are crucial in establishing its character. On the Raw that meant a very clean and crisp initial power feel for steel through that stainless BB with its big downtube weld connection. The relatively low weight meant it had no trouble accelerating the bright feeling Vittoria tires up to better than expected speed after a long drive to the Lakes to the launch. In fact, the Zero Uno rear-end feel was almost concerning me about how stiff it might be as I tipped into a set of particularly rough curving steps. Talking in shock terms though, the low-speed damping of those carefully swerved and tapered rear stays is pretty much perfect. It skips the small stuff for speed but micro flexes smoothly into a ‘mid-stroke’ that rounds the edges of sharp rocks and deflects blunt impacts impressively well for peace of mind, protection of tires and preservation of traction. I mean obviously we’re talking about a hardtail here but, with the big 2.6in rear tire running at high teen pressures on the excellent Hunt Trail Wide V2 wheels, the Raw was definitely close on the heels of short travel suspension expectations when we were charging pretty much blind down flooded loose rock trails in the Lake District. 

The front end isn’t getting in the way of fun either and while we’re well aware the RockShox SID Ultimate is a superlative fork, the Pro Koryak bars can be seriously unforgiving in slappy situations. All that sweating Dom and Dedacciai did over the tube set has sucked the sting out of the trail exactly as you’d want from a steel frame though so even when we hit sequential blocks blind it wasn’t an issue. The neat gussets and tube ovalization mean there was no obvious deviation or dither in tracking through the slack head angle. A low-slung 60mm BB drop and relatively long wheelbase and rear-end give it serious stability either when loaded for bikepacking or blasting flooded Lake District rock runs like we were at the launch. While traction levels meant we didn’t get a chance to push the big Moterra front tire super hard or slam any berms, there’s nothing to suggest it's going to be a high siding noodle if you take it to the park. While Italian rubber compounds don’t always react well to wet Lake District geology the long Italian tubed rear triangle helps the rear end stay connected well, too. 

Mason Raw MTB first ride review

The steel frame has the pop and spring that comes with high-quality steel frames (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Before the Raw starts sounding like yet another aggro trail hardtail option that’s more about enduro than enduring it’s very important to realize that the overall vibe of the frame - particularly in our build - was very much bright, alive and keen to push the pace up, along as well as down. It’s natural spring and - yeah, I’m going to say it ‘joy’ - was a real bonus when I turned up to the launch a few days after a serious spine bender over a tree stump which put me in a great position to appreciate how comfortable the bike would be for a battered rider days or weeks into an epic adventure.

Backing up the easy distance frame feel the seat angle is primarily set up for pedaling for days not turbo-ing up super vertical pitches so you will have to perch on the nose of the saddle for purchase on the steepest sections. Mason has also kept the seat tubes relatively long and the top tubeless sloped than some to give as much room inside the mainframe for bikepacking bags. 

As much as we absolutely loved the ride and delicious detailing of the Mason, there’s no avoiding the price though. The amount of R&D put into the pipework, plus the costs of having it small batch built in Scotland by Five Land mean it’s £1,000 or more than other comparable character frames that have custom tube sets (some in top-spec Reynolds 853) but are made and painted in the Far East.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a steel all-rounder with superlative ride quality for both distance missions or techy trail playtime and appreciate delicious detailing, a fastidious designer's back story and immaculate Scottish build and paintwork then Mason’s Raw comes in right at the top. That kind of origination inevitably has a very premium price tag attached, but if you’re in a position to pay the price you won’t be disappointed in your investment. 

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 8-18 degrees
  • Surface: Wet rocky Lake District double and singletrack

Tech Specs: Mason Raw MTB

  • Price: $N/A / £3795 (£1695 frameset)
  • Model: Mason Raw SLX
  • Discipline: Trail/Adventure
  • Head angle: 66-degrees
  • Frame material: Dedacciai Zero/Zero Uno and Reynolds custom cro-mo steel
  • Size: Large
  • Weight: 12.9kg
  • Wheel size: 29 x 2..6in 
  • Suspension: Rock Shox SID Ultimate 120mm travel (45mm offset)
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT shifters and mech with Shimano XT 10-50T 12-speed cassette
  • Cranks: Shimano Deore XT, 34t chainset
  • Brakes: Shimano SLX 4 pot brakes with 180mm rotors
  • Cockpit: Pro Koryak 780mm bar and 45mm stem
  • Wheelset: Hunt Trail Wide wheel
  • Tires: Vittoria Martello front and Vittoria Agarro 29x2.6 tires
  • Seatpost: X-Fusion Manic 175mm dropper post
  • Saddle: Fizik Terra Argo X5 saddle

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg