K2 Zed 5.0

The Zed 5.0 is K2’s second-in-line hardtail, keeping with Dirt Rag’s effort to present affordable “blue collar bikes.” I was determined to put as many miles on it as possible, at the expense of my own, now neglected, mounts.

By Joel Kennedy

As a newcomer to the Reeking Crew, my first bike test has been much anticipated, at least by myself. After years of reading BMX magazines as a kid and seeing all of the heroes of bygone days trash the latest and greatest bikes the industry had to offer, I’m finally getting my chance to give a little back; even though there won’t be any photos of me doing giant tabletops at some hidden test site/rock quarry. Oh well, this is a mountain bike anyway, snap out of it!

The Zed 5.0 is K2’s second-in-line hardtail, keeping with Dirt Rag’s effort to present affordable “blue collar bikes.” I was determined to put as many miles on it as possible, at the expense of my own, now neglected, mounts. I rode it at least six days a week, for two months, commuting both ways and doing singletrack rides the whole time. Maurice even showed me a great route to work that allowed me to spend half of my one-hour commute in the woods. So I rode and rode the thing, but what did I think of it? First let me describe the beast.

It’s a 7005 butted aluminum alloy frame combined with the Noleen Mega Air fork, of which both have disc mounts. The components as tested include: K2 grips, handlebar, stem and seatpost; Avid 3.0 V-brakes and levers; WTB headset, seat, tires and FX wheelset; Truvativ cranks, bottom bracket (tapered) and chain rings; Wellgo pedals with cleats; Deore shifters and front derailleur, with an XT derailleur bringing up the rear. All these pieced together in the Way-Big size I require, weighed in at around 26.5 pounds, which is perfectly acceptable to me. Now, time for the skinny.

On assembly day, I was psyched. The bike out of the box was partially built, so in an hour or so I was ready for the test ride, but when I straddled it for the first time, my heart sank. There wasn’t enough seatpost for my long ass legs, and the stem was a little too short. I had requested the Way-Big size, so I double-checked the seat tube. Yep, it said way big. That’s one suggestion I have for K2; at least throw an extra long seatpost in there. Also, the flat handlebars that came on the Zed were a little too narrow, which had me putting a lot of pressure on the outside of my hands, resulting in some soreness. I did get used to it eventually, and the narrower bar made it easier to thread the little trees that jump out and grab wider bars. Maybe I should start wearing gloves. Anyway, after switching up the stem and seatpost all was better, and my panic gradually subsided. Note: (Unfortunately, all was not better with the addition of a longer seatpost. Upon boxing this bike for return, I discovered a nasty crack at the top tube/seat mast joint that I think is a result of an unnecessarily steep slope on the top tube. This slope creates a seat tube that is too short for riders with long legs, making it necessary to use a longer seatpost. This apparently places too much stress on the seatpost mast. I’m not going to condemn K2 for this frame failure; I liked this bike and this break wouldn’t necessarily happen on the other sizes. I’m merely suggesting they rethink the geometry of their extra large frames, if they really want to call them Way Big).

So, off I went on ride number one to explore a trail I had seen, but never ridden before. It was soft singletrack that wound up a hollow, finally leveling somewhat and following the ridgeline over to the next small valley: perfect test run. Alright, middle ring ho! Up I say, uh oh, shift! Thank you granny gear, for being there when I need you. The shifting’s good. Now, if I can just keep my front wheel down. Yeah, this thing’s got balance. A little bob and weave with the roots, not bad if I do say so, until…Slip! The Nanoraptor tires are not the best on wet climbs, but then again, what is. To their credit, they rule on dry stuff. Get back on, climb, climb, man this seat is decent; plenty of cush and not too big. OK, I made it, time to open it up a little on the “flats.” It’s a nice twisty trail with a few logs scattered about and the Zed and I are handling it nicely. The tires are digging now and I’m able to accelerate out of the corners with increasing speed and start heading… Do’h!! All of the sudden there are rock steps built into the trail and I’m almost blasting down them. Reckless you say, well that may be, but the Avid’s are there to save the day. I love V-brakes. As I said earlier, the Zed comes with disc mounts, if you’re so inclined, but good side-pull brakes have always done it for me, even when they ice up. A little ass pucker will liven up any ride, but I digress. Time to go down the steps sensibly, which means it’s time to introduce you to the Noleen Mega Air Fork, the standout component on this $989 bicycle.

The Noleen fork ($399 retail), is a K2 product and an excellent marriage of beefiness and light weight. The oversized stanchion tubes offered a level of stiffness I personally didn’t expect from a single crown fork, especially for one that weighs in at a very respectable three pounds. Its three inches of suspension is provided by an air chamber in each stanchion tube; right side functioning as the spring and the left for compression and rebound damping. Rebound is adjusted by a hex screw in the bottom of the left fork leg, while grease ports in both make routine maintenance a snap. All other adjustments are done by varying the pressure in both air chambers via schrader valves in the fork crown. Being a relatively large fellow, who likes suspension only when I really need it, I pumped the fork up to the max and left it there to see how well the seals would hold up. I’m pleased to report that they haven’t leaked a bit. I’ve also been increasing the height of my wheelie drops in order to fully put them to the test, and it takes a hell of a jolt to bottom them out. Unfortunately, the Truvativ cranks are affected by this kind of testing and have come loose once, resulting in some rounding of the corners, which we all know is the beginning of the end for crank arms. An upgrade of the bottom bracket and crank arms is really the only thing I can see being necessary for serious long-term thrashing.

Zed 5.0 is available in small, medium, large, and the way big size that I’ve been riding. My bike’s geometry is: 71 degree head angle and a 73 degree seat tube angle with an effective top tube length of 23.7 inches. An 11.8 inch BB height and 16.7 inch chain stay length is standard for all the available sizes. The frame has a good overall feel at speed and in the air, and looks like most aluminum alloy frames that are assembled overseas and welded by a machine: big fat welds all over. It’s clean though, and looks like a Kinesis copy with a big extra lug welded at the down tube/head tube joint. The down tube is ovalized and gives the impression of quality and strength (At least that’s the impression I got). The most unique feature on the frame is the rear dropouts. K2 calls them “Free Angle,” and they basically look like half of a dropout with a hood coming up over the rear and connecting to the seat stay. They say the dropouts are designed to “lighten the load while providing a more compliant ride.” I don’t know if they do, but it definitely cleans up the look of the rear triangle by hiding most of the quick release. The paint job is red, white and blue with a little black thrown in, which actually looks pretty boss, but my favorite part is the fact that it says Zed in big red letters on the top tube. It reminds me of the psycho sodomist security guard with the motorcycle in Pulp Fiction. Remember the gimp? And the ball gag?

As it stands, I’ve been at it for two months and the only thing I’ve done in the way of maintenance is to add tension to the wheels, and they’ve stayed solid ever since. If I’d had an 8 mm hex, I probably could’ve saved the cranks from some undue wear, so I’ll definitely give this bike the seal of approval. For around $1000 this bike will take you into a serious ride, and get you back again in style. Oh yeah, and it looks cool. Contact: K2 Bike,19215 Vashon Highway SW, Vashon, WA 98070; 206.463.8800; www.k2bike.com. —Joel Kennedy