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NS Synonym TR 1 review

The first full-suspension XC bike from Polish MTB brand, NS Bikes, is literally a long way from conventional. But can a lightweight frame and componentry live up to the frantic fun promise of enduro geometry?

NS Synonym TR 1
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

If you like your XC/Trail bikes light, long, naturally super fast and infectiously lairy then you’ll love the Synonym as much as we did

For

  • Flat-out fun geometry
  • Great grip and poise on climbs
  • Twin lockout for power players
  • Naturally efficient pedalling
  • Excellent fork control
  • Fast-yet-flowing tires
  • Proper XC sized chainring
  • Generous tire room

Against

  • Flexy frame has limits
  • Fat tires on thin rims
  • Awkward dropper and lockout lever ergonomics
  • Cable mess at the front
  • Downgraded shifter, cassette and dropper post
  • Very long seat tube on large

NS has pushed the current trend of more radical ‘trail’ geometry right to the edge of the Enduro envelope with the Synonym. The TR1 gets 120mm and adds large volume tires to create a properly radical but still lightweight ‘downcountry’ bike that’s an absolute scream to ride fast on flowing trails. The very easy speed and riot inciting geometry does mean you’re living right at the limit of control a lot of the time though.

Design and geometry

NS produces two Synonym pairs that look essentially identical. The RC 1 and RC 2 only have 100mm travel and use a 150g lighter layup to hit a claimed 1900g frame weight. They’re also sharper handling with 67-degree head and 77-degree seat angles and the different angles increase reach to 500mm. The TR frames deliver 120mm of travel with a bit more strength where it’s needed to cope with bigger hits. Angles are 66, 76 with a 490mm reach on the large we tested. A tall 490mm seat tube means you’ll need to run at least a 740mm BB axle to saddle top height to get full seat post extension. The medium still gives you a 466mm reach from only a 440mm seat tube length. All sizes from S to XL use the same low 326mm BB height and 438mm chain stays which give ample room around the 2.35in rear tire. 

The seat stays have the built-in flex that lets NS avoid using a conventional rear pivot. The rear shock uses an upside-down trunnion-mount driven by a small single piece alloy rocker link pivoting on the kinked seat tube. Keeping everything close against the seat tube gives room on the long downtube for a high or low bottle position with space to strap a tube on above it. The remote control cable for the Fox Factory DPS rear shock disappears straight into the down tube too, exiting through the clamped ports on the side of the head tube along with the cables for the rear gear mech and Fox dropper post. That keeps the frame clean despite the mad mess of cables ahead of the handlebars. The bowl under the shock above the deep Press Fit bottom bracket block tends to fill up with mud quickly though so keep cleaning it out if you don’t want a small garden growing there. 

NS Synonym TR 1

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Components and build 

Building a complete ‘downcountry’ bike is always a compromise between lightweight XC bike agility and easy altitude gains. Synced front and rear remote lockout at the expense of more subtle compression damping adjustments are definitely a racer targeted choice. The Step-Cast Fox 34 fork with its cutaway legs was designed specifically for 120mm travel bikes of this type though. The carbon crank arms save a chunk of weight and unlike most brands, NS have matched their high-speed bike with a suitably big 34 tooth 1x chainring. Hiding a GX shifter and cassette in an X01 spec is a bit disappointing on a €6,000 alloy wheeled bike though and while it's functionally identical the Fox Transfer dropper doesn’t get a gold anodised Kashima ‘Factory’ finish to match the fork and shocks. 

You do get lots of bronze tinting to sync the stem, steerer spacers, soft compound grip collars, hubs and rims. The rims are relatively narrow compared to the 2.4in Maxxis Recon front tyre though and the extra-long reach could easily cope with a shorter stem than the 60mm of the M-XL frames. The 760mm bar width is a reasonable compromise between cornering leverage and crowded start line/overtaking clearance though. 

Ride, handling and performance 

The resulting package comes in at just over 12.2kg, which is light for a trail bike but heavy for a race bike. Even without the lockout engaged the flex stay rear suspension is firm off the top for a naturally efficient pedalling feel. The Ikon rear tyre adds rapid rolling speed to the equation and the Rekon on the front isn’t draggy either. There is a noticeable twist from both front and back ends if you really strain against the pedals and bars and that’s more obvious if you use the bar top remote to lock the suspension out at both ends. Even with the efficient feel we still used the lockout a lot, toggling in and out of it for sections as short as a few metres if we needed a physical and psychological boost. We know not everyone thinks that way however and the remote control means no external compression adjust on the shock. The amount of cables in front of the bar is particularly annoying when using bar lights and the lockout remote trigger under the bars with the dropper post lever on top takes some relearning. That means there’s definitely an argument that only the RC version should have had the double lock, but you might be surprised how much you use it. 

NS Synonym TR 1

Lever setup is cluttered but proves functional once comfortable to the lever setup (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Locked or not that flex in the frame means a naturally grippy compliance that’s helped by a pliable (if not that plush) mid-stroke. That means a lot more traction than you might expect from the Ikon when cornering or climbing. The long back end and 76-degree seat angle keeps the rear tyre engaged on really steep slopes and the 60mm stem also means less twitch at the front on climbs. In short, this might not be the stiffest or lightest bike around but it eats up distance with seriously rapid ease and attacks technical climbs with impressive amounts of tenacity.

While the long-wheelbase inevitably needs more negotiation and wider lines to thread it through really tight trails, as soon as things get more open flow and/or rougher the Synonym geometry really comes into its own. With the 44mm offset fork at a lazy angle and the huge reach to the top tube, it feels like you’ve got days to react to any drama. Naturally good balance sorts most situations out largely on autopilot and again the compliance in the frame lets it find the path of least resistance through more punishing sections. The long-stroke shock, excellent 34SC fork and large volume tires mean it stays calm and connected through seriously long, continual impact trauma. There’s definitely more hammer coming through than on the best trail bikes of similar travel though and our hands were aching as well after several hours of maxed out single tracking.

While the extra reach gives great stability and less desperate reaction times. The frame and fork compliance plus the all-weather tread on the fat Rekon front tire give it great grip. The suspension is also effective at sustaining flow and momentum on low to mid rowdy trails. That makes the Synonym a bike that begs to be as accelerated as hard as possible every time whatever the terrain, and then hangs onto at high speed all the way back down. Perversely the fact the Level brakes are pretty feeble and the bike felt so fun flat out meant that we pulled the levers less than normal.

Inevitably the long, flexy frame, cutaway fork legs, rapid rebound from the sprung stay rear and the fat tires on skinny rims all have limits to how much control load they can carry. That means the Synonym can start to feel pretty loose and line holding will become strained well before most heavier trail bikes. The mid-length stem can’t react quite as quick as a shorter set up either. The geometry always encourages you to keep pushing on regardless though and as a result, we had several moments when all those elements lost the plot simultaneously at high speed and bike, trail and rider separated spectacularly. It’s a sign of the Synonym’s infectious bad influence that we always jumped back on laughing our heads off and set off again at speeds that proved we hadn’t learned our lesson. 

NS Synonym TR 1

The Step Cast Fox 34 fork was designed with the new crop of slack XC bikes in mind (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Verdict

NS has literally stretched the envelope of XC bike handling right to the edge of where you can expect a long, lightweight frame, fat low-tread tires on skinny rims and a cutaway fork to hold it together. Unsurprisingly that limit comes sooner than on heavier but similar travel trail bikes and the suspension is definitely geared to efficiency rather than extreme terrain enthusiasm. The Synonym definitely parties a lot harder on challenging trails than most XC bikes though and it’s efficiency and tenacity means it’s not losing much ground on the climbs either. 

Tech Specs: NS Synonym TR1

  • Discipline: XC/trail
  • Price: €5,999
  • Head angle: 66 degrees
  • Seat angle: 76 degrees
  • Frame material: ‘Superlite’ carbon-fibre mainframe and swingarm
  • Size: Large
  • Weight: 12.2kg
  • Wheel size: 29-inch
  • Suspension (front/rear): Fox 34 Step Cast Factory FIT4 RC remote 120mm travel, 44mm offset/Fox DPS Factory 42.5mm stroke RC remote 120mm travel.
  • Components: SRAM X01 Eagle 10-50T 12 speed gearing with SRAM GX shifter. Truvativ X1 Carbon 34T chainset. SRAM Level TL brakes with 180mm rotors. Maxxis Recon WT EXO 29 x 2.4in front and Maxxis Ikon EXO TR 29 x 2.35in rear tires on NS Enigma Lite rims with 28 direct pull spokes and NS Rotary Boost hubs. NS Licence Carbon 760x31.8mm bar and Synonym Trail 60x31.8mm stem, NS Holdfast Supersoft Fox Transfer Performance Elite 150mm dropper post, Octane One Crit saddle.