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24th February 2021 / Comments (0)

Bombtrack Cale AL review

Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, with the gorgeous Pentland Hills on his doorstep, we asked serial bikepacker Andrew Cullen to see what he thought of the all new Bombtrack Cale AL.

New for 2021: the Bomtrack Cale AL

Boasting a generous line up of adventure and bikepacking ready bikes, Bombtrack’s latest release sees them expand further into the hardtail mountain bike market. 

New for 2021, Bombtrack have added an aluminium Cale hardtail alongside the previous steel model. The Bombtrack Cale AL (£2,000 €2,200 $2,530), features an aluminium frame, RockShox 35 Gold fork and SX 12 speed drivetrain, whereas the higher specced steel Cale frame, is built with a RockShox Pike fork and 12 speed GX drivetrain (£3,100 €3,200 $3,790).

Bombtrack Cale AL on test

I have been riding the Bombtrack Cale AL on my local trails here in Edinburgh: like a lot of us just now its about exploring what we have on our doorstep. With the weather seemingly wetter than ever too, it’s been a good testing ground for the Cale AL.

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

With some restrictions in place, the testing was all done in the Pentland Hills, local to Andrew

Cale AL frame

The Cale AL frame is constructed from triple butted 6061-T6 aluminium tubing and has the same geometry as its higher specced steel option. The tubing has a more ‘boxy’ appearance in comparison to the steel frame.

The frame features an internally routed dropper cable guide, although the gear cable and rear brake hose run externally, underneath the top tube and downtube. Despite the external routing, the cables are well hidden and blend in well with the aesthetics of the bike.

Personally I’m a fan of external cables from a bike maintenance point of view. Cable maintenance and replacement seems to be more regular in wetter climates like we have in Scotland, and this design makes this a much easier job when the time does come.

The frame has a 73mm BSA SRAM DUB threaded bottom bracket, which again is easy to replace when the time comes. Riding through the winter in the uk, bottom brackets don’t last a terribly long time. You could always switch this out for a more serviceable BB if you live in an area like this to minimise the environmental impact of replacement parts.

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

The minty rear end of the Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

As is to be expected on most modern mountain bikes, the frame has Boost spacing on the frame and fork.The rear wheel dropout accepts the back wheel with no problems as you’d expect with thru axles. I did however find the RockShox Gold fork a bit of a pain when it came to getting the through axle lined up to insert the wheel, although with a bit of moving around it worked fine. If you do have to take the wheel on and off regularly this could be a bit annoying.

Tyre clearance on the Cale AL is designed around a 2.4 inch tyre on the AL model set up with a 29” wheelset as supplied. The bike can also clear a Plus size 27.5” (650b) wheelset.

I did however find the 2.4” tyres rubbing slightly on the rear stay at certain points when climbing out of the saddle. The clearance on the rear stay isnt massive with a 2.4” in there, so I feel a 2.35” would suit slightly better.

Overall the paint scheme and quality is of high quality and I haven’t found any issues with paint chipping. The frame did however come with clear adhesive frame protection over most of the tubing. The colour scheme is definitely unique with the peppermint paint maybe not being for everyone’s taste, but it does look great in the light and amongst the colours of the Scottish hillsides.

RockShox suspension fork

The RockShox 35 Gold RL fork is nothing overly fancy, but does give you some performance benefits that you would expect to find on some of the higher specced models in the RockShox family such as the Yari or the Pike.

The Fork is based around 35mm stanchions and comes with a remote lockout and rebound adjust. I found the fork perfect for this kind of bike and never felt like I needed anything more. The 35mm stanchions really help to keep that front end stiff and planted over the rougher stuff. With 130mm of travel I really felt this was a sweet spot for a suspension fork on a hardtail that’s optimised for pedalling too.

Cargo and cage mounts

A great proportion of Bombtrack’s range consists of bikepacking and touring bikes, so it’s no surprise that the Cale AL comes with a generous number of mounts for those looking to use the hardtail for multi day rides.

Within the main frame triangle you will find bottle cage mounts enough to hold one standard bottle cage or a 3-bolt cargo cage. This gives you the option to mount your water bottle cage a bit lower on the frame if you wanted to run a small frame bag.

If you did want to go down the route of using this bike for bikepacking you may struggle with an ‘off the peg’ frame bag and would most likely have to go down the route of a custom bag. You will also have to be clever with your packing and kit as there isn’t much room here for a large frame bag. However I would say that this is not the design’s out-and-out goal, but worth bearing in mind.

On the underside downtube of the bike you will also find 3 bottle cage mounts for additional carrying capacity whether that be for extra water or a cargo cage. This is something that you’ll find on a lot more frames now, even some more trail-orientated hardtails on the market, which can only be a good thing for versatility.

The top tube of the bike also comes with a 2-bolt mount if you want to opt for the clean lines of an integrated top tube bag.

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

Two sleek top tube mounts make adding a bag here a doddle

Finally on the rear of the frame there are rack mounts, so you can opt for a rear pannier rack if you fancy going down that route: a good option for longer or more remote trips where you’ll need more supplies.

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

Rear mounts for a pannier rack means you can add the luggage easily when needed for longer trips

Groupset: drivetrain and braking

The drivetrain on the test bike came with SRAM SX, and a Tuvative Stylo DUB crankset.

A 30 tooth chainring is paired up with an 11-50 tooth cassette. These shifted perfectly throughout the duration of the test and the range of gears was impressive, not even undergeared on the steepest climbs! I would say at the top end this is maybe still a bit too light and a 32 or 34 tooth chainring would be slightly better especially on some steeper straight sections of single track. However, this is something that could be easily changed after and will vary according to rider preference.

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

The wide gear range makes techy climbing a lot more straight forward

The Cale AL is fitted with SRAM Level brakes, paired with 180mm front and 160mm rotors on the rear. Although I usually find a 180mm rotor slightly better on the rear, I had no issues at all with stopping. The brakes worked well in the super wet conditions and the stopping power on them was good. The only minor issue I had with the brakes was how noisy they were in the cold and wet: something that can’t be avoided with most disc brakes when used in these conditions.
Wheels and tyres

It’s great to see more and more bikes coming with tubeless ready set ups straight out of the box. On the Cale AL you will find Bombtrack’s own brand sealed hubs laced to some WTB ST i29 rims, taped and ready to go tubeless. The wheels to be strong and stiff enough throughout the duration of the rest period. I had no issues and they seemed to be strong enough even for the rockiest descents I threw the bike down.

The bike is shod with Kenda Hellcat Pro ATC tyres in a 2.4” width. I was a bit dubious about the tyres to start as I typically struggle to find tyres that I dont destroy or rip, so I was unsure how these would fare. On the more hard packed gravel these tyres roll slow, but that’s to be expected given the depth of the tread. That’s really not what these tyres are about though…

When used on the super wet, rocky and muddy conditions of the Pentland Hills these tyres performed great. Over the exposed wet rock they gripped well and the front of the bike felt confident and planted, and in the mud the tyres also cleared efficiently allowing for plenty of grip just when you need it.

Finishing kit and dropper post

Out of the box, the Bombtrack Cale AL is mostly built using the brand’s own finishing kit, including the saddle, bars and stem.

The Bombtrack Illusion bars come in at a super wide width of 800mm which I found to be perfect for the riding this bike is aimed at, and there were really no issues at all. For riders that prefer narrower bars or for navigating tighter trails, these alloy bars would be easy to cut down to fit.

The combination of rise (18mm), upsweep (6 degrees) and backsweep (8 degrees) on these bars make them really comfortable for longer rides, which is especially important where multi day rides come into the picture.

Paired with the stubby Bombtrack Chase 40mm stem, the bike handled well on anything steep and more techy. The stem also comes with a 35mm clamp size to stiffen the cockpit, although I didn’t find this overly noticeable in comparison to a 31.8mm clamp size.

The bars are finished with Bombtrack Return grips, a medium thickness, double sided lock-on grips. Even in the wet conditions my hands stayed firmly in place.

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

The bar, stem, saddle and grips are all Bombtrack’s own

The Cale AL comes fitted with an internally routed dropper, which keeps the seat tube cable-free and looking tidy. The KS E20i dropper gives 150mm of travel on the two sizes of Cale AL available: medium and large.This really allows for a lot of room to move the bike around, and combined with a 46cm seat tube on the large frame the bike felt very maneuverable underneath when on steeper trails.

It’s really great to see bikes like this fitted with a longer dropper. For the most part of the test the dropper worked perfectly, however towards the end of my time on the bike it did get a little slow on the rebound. I feel this may also come down to the conditions the bike was subjected to: I suspect the ingress of water and dirt really wouldn’t help and regular maintenance would be needed.

With such good quality finishing kit as standard, I really see no reason to change any of this build out of the box other than for fit adjustments or the bling factor if you really wanted to.

Who’s the Bombtrack Cale AL for?

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

Who would the Bombtrack Cale AL 2021 be best suited to?

Hardtails tend to be really versatile bikes and you can really ride anything making them a great option for someone who wants a bike that will do more than one job.

With a 67.5 degree head tube angle, the bike isn’t as slack as some of the more enduro focussed bikes out there, but there again that’s not what this bike is about: rather a build with more than one purpose.

The Bombtrack Cale AL felt right at home on the more steep tech terrain, but also climbs well. With a steep 73.5 degree seat angle on the size large I found going uphill on this bike a doddle, and paired with the 40mm stem kept the front end of the bike down even on the steepest climbs.

Hardtail Mountain bikes are nothing new and it’s interesting to see a brand behind so many bikepacking oriented bikes launch a mountain bike. With a modern mountain bike Geometry and options for a bikepacking set up this bike is still maybe a bit of a niche but ever growing category. I feel a bike like this would be perfect for someone who does 90% of their riding on all out mountain bike trails and wants the option to dabble into some bikepacking or overnighters here and there.

The Bombtrack Cale AL verdict

Bombtrack Cale AL 2021

The Cale AL at home in Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills

I certainly enjoyed my time on the Bombtrack Cale AL: a bike more than capable of steep descents and challenging trail features.

I test rode the large frame and found it fitted well at 180cm: I would definitely recommend this size frame for anyone above 175cm with the small seat tube. I was able to make full use of the 150mm dropper post and could have even got away with a 170mm dropper, although the 150mm was perfect for my time on the bike. It’s a bit of a shame that the sizes are limited with this model, only available in sizes medium and large (Bombtrack recommends for riders between 170-190cm tall). Taller riders can upgrade to the steel Cale which also has an XL size too (188-199cm), but alas for shorter riders there are currently no options here.

If you are looking for a bike that will smash out some local weekend loops and some flowy singletrack with the odd jump and drop thrown in, then fancy loading up and taking an overnight backpacking trip, this bike can do it all. As I’ve mentioned before, the beauty of hardtails is their versatility, and there would also be nothing stopping you from putting some lighter, faster rolling tyres on this bike and taking it for an extended singletrack trip with some bags packed too.

More extreme bikepacking trips and races are becoming more and more popular, with events such as the Highland Trail 550 and the Atlas Mountain Race showing that in tough terrain, a mountain bike really is key. With added mounts and a considered approach to the build with maintenance in mind, the Cale AL has the capability for both rowdy mountain biking day trips and longer tours.

Building on the success of the original steel Cale, this alloy model not only features a frame that’s more budget-friendly, but also has a build which offers great value with a price tag (just) under £2,000. The ride quality of aluminium might not be all that of steel – but for the price it’s a good compromise for novice mountain bikers or tourers that’d like to dip their toes into the rougher stuff.

Bombtrack Cale AL

£2,000 €2,200 $2,530
8

Equally at home on steep tech and longer bikepacking tours, a great option for versatile off-road riding

8.0/10

Pros

  • Well rounded geometry for confidence inspiring riding on technical descents while still climbing well
  • More versatile than a typical hardtail with many rack mounting points for bikepacking
  • Tubeless ready out of the box

Cons

  • Small frame triangle limits the frame bag size
  • Aluminium frame lacks the ride feel you get with a steel frame

Last modified: 25th February 2021

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