The suspension design of the Gnarvana is fairly safe territory. It’s a Horst link bike with the shock driven directly off the seatstay. This is similar to what you’d see with a Canyon Spectral or Torque, save for the orientation of the swing link that controls the arc of the seatstay. You’re getting a fairly known quantity here – active suspension with a fairly straight (not flat), progressive leverage ratio.
This will probably keep many people happy. It’s easy to tune and rides predictably, without any weird quirks or suspension characteristics. Some will argue that quirks and nuance are exactly what one needs for magical pedaling performance, but many others will enjoy the simplicity
The simple suspension curve and all that progression makes setup very easy. There is a large sweet spot with this bike. I set the initial pressure, twiddled a few knobs, and then rode around with a fair degree of contentment. The bike handled most conditions well, and seemed to always have a bit of travel in reserve. It was good enough that I didn’t dig much further.
After a month or two of riding the bike that way, things were good, but I was missing that last little bit of the puzzle. I kept thinking about the Santa Cruz Megatower that I spent a bit of time on. The Gnarvana does everything that bike does, but it never felt like it was quite as lively. I thought about it for a while, and realized that I had gotten sucked into that tuning trap of “good enough”.
Pushing through this, I found that a bit more air pressure improved how the bike rode. Adding 3-4 psi put me at around 28% sag, livened up the ride and improved pedaling performance. Essentially, I traded a bit of plush for a bit of support. This also meant that I was leaving even more travel on tap at the limit of travel, and opened up some room to play with spacers and compression damping.
Once I made those changes, I just rode and rode and rode, and on my last ride, I decided that this rear end might actually be kind of magical. There were two moments that brought this to light. Both of them involved leaving the ground, and both of them involved landing on some slanted, gnarly roots. In both cases, the bike just ate it up and kept rolling with hardly a change in momentum. I try to stay away from over-wrought similes in my bike reviews, but if I were into that, now would be the perfect place for one alluding to how well this bike takes hits to the rear.
So, how does that translate to the ride?
As I transitioned full time over to this bike, I realized that I was really enjoying myself. I would go for a ride, finish up, and feel great. I would do the same a few days later. And then a few days after that. It was all just drama-free riding, devoid of bad feelings. I was just going about my business without having to think about all that much.
Not that a series of decent rides is unusual. But still, it felt noticeable just how smoothly things were going, and just how much fun I was having riding this bike. I found myself pushing things a little bit, hunting for what I came to define as “borderline gnar": stuff that pushed me a little bit but that was unlikely to kill me if I screwed up. It became very easy to enjoy riding this terrain.