In a world set to be invaded by 27.5 inch mountain bikes and where 29ers rule supreme in terms of competitions, there’s still room for the classic 26 inch wheel. Like the Stevens 4S, let’s say, a recreational model that can even go so far as racing in more relaxed competitions if the situation demands it. The German manufacturer’s Tremalzo 29er left us a more than fine impression and, before winter truly sets in, we’ve decided to have a last ride on a Stevens bike, this time the 4S.
Frame/On the trail
To begin with, we thought that the 4S shares the same frame with the 8S, just for the fact that they come from the same S-series. However, you can notice clear differences between them, especially regarding geometry and tube shape, the 4S having round tubes, quality welds and 16-gram lower weight, but less stiffness than the 8S (86.1 Nm/degree vs. 104 Nm/degree). This implies that the 4S aims for comfort instead of performance, something common given its price range and certainly not a surprise, as we mentioned when making the introductions.
It’s not a thoroughbred racer, and not even a sporty bike, as you can observe from the frame’s description and neither does the specifications list even suggest that it might have such a destination. Furthermore, the head tube angle of 70.5 degrees tips the balance more towards stability but it doesn’t rob the frame of agility either, while the seat tube angle also finds itself in-between poles with its 73 degrees angle, which aids you on steep climbs. You won’t bend forward too much, but at least you won’t have to sit upright. Keep in mind that the 4S lacks true racing spirit and that explains a lot, although it could have used a slightly wider handlebar.
Total weight of the 6061 aluminum frame is of 1.763 grams, having been carefully manufactured with a lot of attention to details, including dropouts with the Stevens logo stamped on them, and it also features two water bottle carrier mounts and a luggage rack as well.
Being fitted with a 2.3-kilograms, lock-out included Suntour XCR suspension fork means that the 4S has 100mm of travel to soften your ride, a job done very well thanks to the mechanism that uses the full 100m. Offering a decent level of comfort, it’s hard to notice it’s a coil spring fork, which by default means it’s also entry-level, still its performance finds its limits when riding on demanding trails, such as successive roots. The rebound didn’t have enough time to recover on that particular track, but also a bumpy trail, let’s say a rocky descent, will render the comfort level unnoticeable.
On the other hand, braking is strongly represented by a pair of Tektro Drako 2, with an 180mm and an 160mm rotors which offer the right amount of power such components should provide. A setback might, however, be represented by the lack of any kind of modulation as the brakes do not respond everytime in the same way to the actuation of the levers. But, if you’re not going to use them in heavy-duty conditions, there’s little chance of failure, that is if there is any at all, and neither will fading or fatigue occur.
Composing the drivetrain we can first find a Shimano M430 triple crankset (44-32-22), that has a plastic guard (which we took off the minute we got the bike) and a classical square mount, altogether with the bottom bracket tipping the scale at no less than 1.283 grams. So, this is the first place from which to start a weight-upgrade, replacing this ensemble with a Shimano Deore XT crankset saving 400 grams. Then, a 9-speed cassette (11-32) fits in place quite nicely with the size of the chainrings, the gear ratios covering needs ranging form steep hills to speedy flat road segments. It wouldn’t have hurt to have a 36-tooth cog, but that’s only if you’re an absolute rookie. Further on, the derailleurs work well, are easy to actuate, but aren’t accurate all the time, especially the rear Deore derailleur, but at least its Shadow version ensures a compact design which makes it harder to sustain damage. Unfortunately, the Alivio shifters don’t feature the 2-way-release function.
The wheels have Shimano hubs and Rigida Taurus 2000 rims, that stand out by their above-entry-level strength. Already a constant presence on low-end models, the Schwalbe Smart Sam tires can be found on this bike as well, giving a hand in terms of rolling speed, but being unreliable in corners. Of course, the Stevens 4S isn’t a bike for those of you who find comfort in haste.
Stevens 4S doesn’t pose in something it’s not and, while we appreciate its honesty, the bike can’t handle more than forest trails or mild mountain ones. The weight of 14 kilograms does it little justice and you’ll have to put your back in it if you want to reach the top, while control would have been enhanced by a wider 640mm handlebar. Judging from another point of view, the 4S may also become a good touring candidate, an easy 1 kilogram being shaved off the bike by replacing the tires and the crankset.
All in all, it’s a bike suited for mountain lovers, who would rather go for a peaceful walk in the saddle rather than a clash between riders. Some of Stevens’ competitors offer in this price range more sporty bikes which can perform better on more difficult trails, but one thing’s for sure: the frame of the 4S is hard to best in terms of weight.
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