Review: Dean Ace 3.0

I’ve raced and ridden the Dean in just about every situation and location I could this summer, and as you might have guessed from the above description, I never wanted a better bike in the past three months.

By Jeff Guerrero

The disc-ready Ace 3.0 frame retails for $2,000, and weighs five pounds even (with a RockShox SID Race rear shock installed). The front triangle is double-pass TIG welded 3/2.5 titanium tubing (3/2.5 simply means the alloy is comprised of 3% aluminum, 2.5% vanadium and 94.5% pure titanium) and the swingarm is 6061 aluminum. The geometry is fairly standard with a 71° head tube angle, 74° seat tube angle and a 22.5" top tube (size small tested).

Dean was kind enough to outfit my ride with an ’02 RockShox SID Race Carbon fork, a house brand titanium seatpost and handlebar, Bontrager RaceLite Tubeless wheels (I ran tubes throughout the test) and a complete XTR drivetrain and V-brake system. With my SPDs, the rig weighed in at a hair over 24 pounds and would retail for a whopping $4,700.

I feel obligated to say that the SID did develop play in the sliders after a few months of regular riding, however the jiggle was hardly noticeable on trail. The SID had a smooth feel throughout the travel range and yet I rarely bottomed out. Additionally, the external compression damping and lockout adjustments were very welcome features. Nonetheless, a sturdier fork might be a nice addition, even if it adds as much as a half-pound to the front end.

I’ve raced and ridden the Dean in just about every situation and location I could this summer, and as you might have guessed from the above description, I never wanted a better bike in the past three months. At first I thought that the inherent vibration damping qualities of titanium would be unnoticeable on a full suspension bike, but that was not the case. The Ace feels tight and accurate. I climbed in the big ring on the North Carolina racecourse known as Tsali and used every last bit of travel on the rocks in Lynn Woods near Boston.

The Ace climbs better than my hardtail-it weighs five pounds less and allows me to sit down and pedal over rough sections that would have bounced my butt out of the saddle like a fledgling urban cowboy. Additionally, the Ace helps me fly down hills faster than I did on a bike with 4 and 5 inches of travel, is faster on the road than anything I own, and can certainly take all the jumps and wheelie drops that I’m prepared to attempt on it (remember this bike is an XC racer, not a backwoods brawler or freeride machine).

Obviously, full suspension helps racers descend, takes the sting out of big hits and reduces fatigue during long rides-but loss of pedaling efficiency is the traditional full suspension tradeoff. One reason suspension bikes lose pedaling efficiency is because the effective length of the chainstay fluctuates; the other is because of pedal-induced suspension movement (often referred to as "bob"). Dean resolved the issue of chainstay length by incorporating a concentric bottom bracket pivot into their design, which keeps the 16.5" chainstay length the same throughout the range of travel. The square chainstays and beefy dropouts are reminiscent of a Santa Cruz Chameleon, as is the replaceable derailleur hanger which attaches via a chainring bolt.

Pedal-induced bob is virtually non-existent thanks to both the rear shock properties and a carefully placed swing-link. The original Ace utilized a single pivot design, but an additional pivot was added to the seatstay to relieve undue stress (this is similar to the Horst design, except Horst puts the additional pivot on the chainstay).

Techno mumbo jumbo aside, the suspension doesn’t move beyond the predetermined sag limit unless it is jolted. Not only have I felt the result of this fine suspension system, I have measured the shock stroke before and after smooth hill climbs. Even other riders have noticed and occasionally asked if I had lockout on my rear shock. I usually answer, "Lockout? I don’t need no stinking lockout!"

So far it probably sounds as though the Ace is infallible, but even the greatest technological achievements are of no use if they are under repair. And the Ace did need to be repaired halfway through the test period. The bottom bracket pivot suddenly developed play until a gap of nearly 1/16" developed between the yoke and bottom bracket shell. Although the bike continued to perform despite the jiggle, better judgment prevailed and I sent the bike back for repair.

While the bike was away, I questioned the use of bushings instead of bearings and learned of the compromises necessary in designing such a bike. If the main pivot were to use bearings instead of bushings, the result would be a heavier, and significantly more expensive frame. NASA, per se, might have the resources to machine some sort of titanium bottom bracket pivot with integrated needle bearings, but Dean figured two-grand was enough for a person to invest in a frame and decided to stick with the proven bushing design. Bushings will eventually wear out, but bearings too have a lifespan, and bushings are much less expensive to replace.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand. Dean claimed that the bushings were initially installed improperly, then quickly repaired and returned the Ace. Everything was again working perfectly, but to be sure, I subjected the Ace to another month or so of hard riding, including countless rides during a two-week road trip through New England and the 24-Hour Champion Challenge at 7-Springs. I’ve thrown everything I could at the bike since I got it back, and I can report the main pivot is as solid as the day I put the wheels back on. It is somewhat interesting to note that although Dean offers a lifetime warranty on all titanium frames, they only offer a six-month warranty on full suspension pivots.

I have asked myself over and over again if the Ace is worth all that money and honestly cannot come up with a firm answer. On the one hand, I know there is nothing I have done on the Ace that I couldn’t have accomplished on a bike costing half as much. On the other hand, the super-tight ride of this lightweight, titanium full suspension bike appeals to both the racer and the soul rider that dwells down inside me. Contact: Dean Ultimate Bicycles; 800.545.2535;