Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Iron Horse Azure Review Pt 2: Some Saddle Time

This is part 2 of a review of the Iron Horse Azure. Part 1 can be read here.


*Note* There is no right/wrong opinion on aesthetics. These are just my impressions **

The 2004 Hollowpoint always looked a little kludgy to me in terms of the linkage design. I imagine the design issues are related to DW coming after the bike was originally designed and applying the DW linkage. Regardless, it just never looked right to me.

Now the Azure looks sweet. You can definitely tell that the linkage was designed along with the entire bike from the ground up. The lower linkage with the anodized red look gives it a distinct bling aspect found on more boutique frames.

The redesign of the linkage also allowed the placement of a water bottle on the down tube. On the HP the only place for the bottle was on the underside of the top tube. At first the HP's bottle placement sucked until someone recommended a side access bottle cage. This actually made the HP's water bottle really easy to access.

Ironically the placement of the bottle on the Azure is actually harder for me to access. It is placed really low on the tube and it is a long reach for my short torso. In addition, it is really really tight in that triangle. This is not a knock on IH as this is just the nature of the beast on small sized FS frames.

-There are bottle bosses on the underside of the downtube. This isn't the ideal place for a bottle because it gets really muddy, etc. But I definitely appreciate having it here. If you run bottles for energy drink during racing only having one on the bike can be a pain if you don't get handoffs.

Weight is such a touchy and well 'weighty' issue. It's hard to be an XC racer and not be somewhat influenced by weight. The HP was beefy and heavy for an XC bike but just right I imagine for a trail bike. At its best it weight 27.2 lbs with all my budget and exotic weight weenieness applied. However, the only time weight was an issue was hike-a-bike sections and racking the bike. The utter beauty of the DW-link is how it can remove weight as an issue for how the bike rides.
The Azure is about 1pound lighter than the HP.
6.3lbs for frame/shock.

The frame is definitely a beefy frame for an XC racer

With gussets, some and large tubing. The seat tube is seriously thick. I think the USA made Factory frame has a lighter seat tube. I recall on guy complaining about how the seat tube was so thick he couldn't use a weight weenie seat clamp and get the post to stay in place.

You can't really compare this frame to a Blur XC, for example, because the Blur XC has a rider weight limit. There is no weight limit on the Azure and it should be confidence inspiring for some aggro XC and endurance miles. The Blur and Titus and Specialized also cost a heck of a lot more. Only the Giant Anthem beats it on weight at a similar price point.

However, I think given some ingenuity and thought, IH could cut another pound of the Azure. They did that with the 2007 MKIII, so I bet in another design revision if they feel it is worth the investment you'll see a lighter Azure.

I also weight weenied some more parts as well, and right now it's around 25.8lbs. This is with cages and a fender,CO2, skewers, so it isn't true weight weenie. I bet with some parts changes it could easily be 24 something.

Build Spec
Stans Olympic Rims
NO-Tubes (With rim strip)
IRC Serac 2.1 front (regular tire not UST)
IRC Mythos 2.1 rear (regular tire not UST)
2003 WTB Laser Disc Lite Hubs
Salsa skewers
XT Cassette
Sram PC chain (mid level)
American Classic ISIS BB
FSA Carbon Team (24t pseudo Ti ring from Action Tec)
2004 Manitou Swinger Air shock
KCNC Seatpost (ti hardware)
WTB Rocket V (ti rails) saddle
Shimano 540 pedals (boat anchor)
Stock deore FD (boat anchor)
Ritchey Pro stem (one of the only 80mm stems around)
Answer Carbon pro taper bar
XO rear der
XO twist shifters
2004 Juicy 7s
2005 Manitou Minute 2 (fixed 100mm)
WTB grips

It's funny, one of my first rides on the Azure was when I was totally bonked from the get go. It didn't ride any better than the HP even at close to 2lbs lighter. It drove home the fact that 2 lbs on the bike can be meaningless sometimes.

Setup Issues
The stock bike came with a Manitou Radium R shock. I was actually hoping that the cheap parts spec I got would include a simple non-platform shock. I didn't know that the cheap Radium came with a built in platform that is NON-ADJUSTABLE. On a ride down the street it was TIGHT. I mean no bob when standing at all tight. I knew right away that the platform was too high for a DW link. I took my swinger air off the HP and put it on. More so that I could an apples-to-apples comparison to the HP. But also because the platform is somewhat adjustable on it. DW link bikes do not require such a high platform and it's a shame that the Radium was spec'ed on this bike to begin with.

As with any DW link bike it takes a lot of setup to find the sweet spot. Thankfully my experience with the HP let me find a good spot quickly. I am using about 10 psi less on the Azure than I did on the HP in 3.75" mode. SPV is set to the minimum of 50psi.

Here is a suspension setup guide that is a work in progress.

In addition one must also dial in the front fork as well. The HP had always been difficult to set the fork on. Because the HP had a rearward weight bias. The only time it felt really balanced (from an XC perspective) was with an 80mm Black SPV on there. The Azure is definitely more forward balanced. It feels VERY sweet from an XC perspective. At first I had my shock SPV chamber a tad too small. I opened it up a little and it felt really nice.

Protection from Chain slap.
The chain seems to ding up the frame in some places you wouldn't think to wrap. Make sure to wrap electrical tape in these areas to protect from chain slap. Otherwise you'll see these small pinhole size dings in the paint.

I still have more dialing to do but it feels really good right now.

Also make sure that when you wrap the chainstay that you wrap the angled section that connects to the BB. I stopped my wrapping right there and I've already worn down to the metal from chain slap.

The HP had a stupid slack seat tube that required me to push my saddle all the forward on the rails. I could never get rid of the creak in the saddle. The Azure has a 73.0 seat angle which makes it much easier and nicer looking to place the saddle closer to the middle of the rails

The Azure allows more choices for Front Der than the HP which is nice.

The Azure uses a more standard 27.2 seatpost, but the HP used a weird 27.0 size


No doubt about it, the Azure is a climbing freak. It is noticeably faster than the HP. The HP is an awesome climber by the way. But the Azure is faster. The HP does get a tad better traction sometimes and in the 4.5" mode it gets insane traction on loose terrain. But 4.5" mode climbs slow. It pedals slower. The Azure is just tight. I can definitely feel more of my energy going to forward momentum. The more forward balance also lends itself to keeping the front wheel planted better. Sometimes I'd say I'm riding one gear higher than on the HP. It's that much louder.

Standing and general pedaling
I got standing pedal bob on the HP. There is still some on the Azure but noticeably less. I've found that I'm standing much more on the Azure than I did on the HP. Part of this is that I'm getting better at knowing how and when to stand. I never was able to stand right on my hardtail but I am doing it better now. The Azure feels as good as the hardtail in the right standing situation.

-In technical riding, rockgardens, etc. The Azure is better. The more centered position and balanced position on the bikes makes it easier to pop the front wheel on demand and also to coaster wheelie.

The Azure kicks total butt on any pedaling sections. Especially through the roots/small rocks that constitute trail chatter. And the buried baby head sections like this. I am talking about pedaling uphill through this stuff

The HP in 4.5" mode had this delayed feeling when the rear would suck down into the crevices. This improved in 3.75" mode and it is even better on the Azure

Ok, the Azure does not descend as well as the HP in 3.75" mode. 1/4" of travel and 2lbs makes a difference. But I also have only been on this bike for a month whereas I had moer than a year on the HP. The lighter Azure is more skittish under hard braking. Obviously the 4.5" mode HP descended the best. However, the Azure is very stable given it's longer wheelbase (for the 17" Azure compared to the 15" HP) It does take a little bit more impulse to get it to turn and requires some more body english -hip action. I'm still getting used to the subtle change in the weight balance and all too. But rest assured it does go downhill capably as an XC racer.

Of note is the headtube os 70.5 and is specced with a 100mm fork. It is NOT a twitchy bike or super fast steering. My experience in XC racing is that a super fast bike becomes a handfull when under fatigue towards the end of a race. An expert rider might be fine and welcome the quicker handling bike at all times, but for the rest of us I think the stability inherint in the slightly slacker headtube is great at all times and on these East coast aggressive xc trails

I think the Swinger shock is holding it back too. A plusher Cane Creek non platform AD-12 of Fox would probably make better use of the rear for downhilling. But I am geting full travel and am not bottoming out.

Tire Clearance
My 2.1 Mythos is slightly larger than 2.1 because it is tubeless. It is tight but is not rubbing at all. One knock the Azure gets is on tight tire clearance. But it is an XC racing frame and if it's muddy you should run mud tires. I don't think it will be a problem but I haven't really run in super muddy conditions which I hate to anyway.

It's hard to really see the true tire clearance in this picture sorry

The only negatives so far has been the difficulty in getting to a bottle and the back of the mind feeling that it could be lighter. Other than that no issues so far.

Plain and simple this is a faster racing bike than the HP.

The HP is still a kick butt frame and one of the most versatile bikes made. It climbed superbly and downhilled very well. However, the Azure is faster climbing and faster in any rolling/pedaling singletrack.

I am very pleased with the Azure so far. It just feels so tight and solid under pedaling. Every pedal stroke just seems to will it forward. And I'm climbing some stuff when at redline that I'd normally be too shelled to climb on the HP. I even bumped up my gearing from a 22t on the front to a 24t and haven't had too much problem.

I've been messing around with some settings. Based on some tuning tips on the iron horse forums at this link I've turned up my rebound compression. The below video shows how it rebounds now. The higher rebound (slower rebound)also makes it bob less.

The front derailleur cage hits the lower linkage when in the granny gear. I get a knock sometimes the shock compresses a lot and it is in the small ring.

**One thing I've noticed is that on smooth climbs, the Azure doesn't do as well as the hardtail in high cadence/low torque pedaling. With the FS it seems to bog down a tiny bit under low torque. A tad lower cadence/higher gear works better. On steep hills, the terrain forces a high torque situation so the FS climbs way better than the hardtail.


**NOTE ** Water bottle clearance problem.

The lower bottle cage is on the underside of the down tube. Using a regular bottle cage places the bottle a little high. Under heavy fork compression the tire can hit the bottle.

A combination of a sidewinder cage and a bottle with that is slightly shorter can help with the clearance.

Notice the height difference between these two bottles.


At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First let me say awsome blog site.
I have recently gotten into mountain biking and I found your site through a google search. I like you am an average joe with kids and a full time job and make as much time as possible for the biking.

I have been looking to buy a bike since the beginning of summer but have not been able to make up my mind. I looked at the Azure originally but once I started my research I found the MKIII. I am torn between these 2 bikes. The pictures that you posted look like the kind of trails that I will be using. I don't plan on taking any 6 foot drops or anything but I would like to ride through some of the rock gardens like you show. Do you think that the Azure will hold up to that kind of riding?
Also, I see that you purchased the sport model and upgraded it. What do you think about the stock Expert model of the Azure?
Thanks for your help and again a great blog site.

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

Thanks for your kind words.
The Azure is a short travel XC bike designed for XC racing, enduro racing and riding. The overseas made frames (Sport, Comp, Expert, WorldCup) look to be very stout frames however. Totally competent for the aggressive singletrack shown on my BLOG.

The best deal on the planet right now is the 2005 Azure Expert (Silver) from Randal Scott cycles. The 2005 frame is identical to the 2006. Parts spec is 2004 but they are TOP SHELF parts. With a coupon that comes and goes it came to $1300-1400 which is insane. The stock expert for 2005 or 2006 is a very well spec'd bike.

The MKIII is a trail bike. 5" of rear travel. The new 2007 MKIII has been redesigned and supposedly dropped an entire pound off the frame so it is actually only 1lb more than the Azure.

It all depends on how fast you want to go up and down. The Azure at 3.5" of rear travel is just a more efficient design for going fast uphill and on flats/rolling singletrack. It can easily handle what I call aggressive XC, rockgardens, roots, drops off root ledges of 2' at speed. I don't do much wheelies off drops so can't comment on free-riding type stuff.

The geometry is XC oriented so quicker steering, though it really isn't a twitchy bike at all.

The difference in travel is significant between the MKIII and the Azure. The MKIII will go downhill much faster. The geometry of the MKIII is also slacker so more stable at speed and hence slower to move around in tight stuff.

Being a DW link bike it will climb very well compared to other bikes in the class, but I don't think it will climb or pedal as fast as and Azure.

I'd imagine from a pure fun perspective the MKIII is a better choice than the Azure

So you need to decide if you want to emphasize speed or fun.

I ran a 2004 Hollowpoint which allowed me to try out both sides (XC and Trail) and found quickly that I liked the shorter travel mode for my application. I rode/raced these same trails for years and years on a hardtail so even 3.5" of rear travel is a lot compared to that.

Sorry for the rambling

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. I think that I have made up my mind and will get the Azure. I tried the Randall Scott site but when I went to check out the 15% off coupon did not work. It says that you can't use it for already reduced IH bikes. So.. I have been looking at Performance Bike for a while too. They have had coupons here and there for 20% off which brought an 06 Expert model down to around 1800. That combined with my 10% back club card will give me the extra money to get the indoor trainer almost for free. They also say that if you buy the bike from them you get lifetime free tune-ups. I ride on a regular basis through work as a police officer on bike patrol. The 10 year old Trek Police hardtail that I ride is an antique compaired to the Azure.

Do you think that I would be better to get the lower sport model and upgrade the parts or will the experts specs do just fine? I hope that I am not a bother to you with the questions but I have found out that listening to someone who actually uses the stuff that you are intrested in will save you time with buying crap.

Thanks again,

At 9:27 PM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

Get the expert. I already had most of the stuff from my other bike. The buying power of guys like Iron Horse is so good that they can outfit a bike much less than you could except for hunting out every closeout you can find.

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My $1500 2005 Azure Expert arrives this Friday. The information you provided here helped make that an informed decision. Thanks or the effort you put into this.

Andrew in New Mexico

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

You are the 4th person I know who has bought that 2005 Expert on my recommendation. I should get a commission.

I changed my rebound settings based on this info:

It seems to pedal better.

At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am considering the 2005 Azure Expert from Randall Scott, but I have heard some truly divergent views on the Progressive 5th Edlement rear shock: folks either love it or hate it. Do you have any experience with it?

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

I actually changed from the Swinger to a 5th element recently. This was much much harder than anticipated. Santa Cruz was selling used 5th elements for $99.

I picked one. The 5th elements made for Iron Horses are custom valved specifically for the DW link. So before I even put mine on, I sent it to Garage Works suspension tuning and had them overhaul it and custom tune it for a DW link Azure.

But then found I out that NO ONE had any 5th element hardware for an Azure. Not Progressive, not Iron horse, NO ONE.

I borrowed the hardware from my friends Azure Expert and had a local machinest CUSTOM make me the hardware.

Now that have it on, I can honestly say it rocks. Much better than the Swinger.

I say get it. Garage works and other custom tuners can set it up perfectly for you or fix it if it dies. Progressive is out of the mtb market, but it seems like they will still honor warrantees if it is in the proper time frame

At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 5th element info. From what I've read in MTB forums, it sounds like a lot of the problems people had were caused by not setting the shock up correctly (i.e. incorrect pressure or turning the rebound screw too or out). Also, perhaps there were some quality issues with the early units that were subsequently resolved. Anyway, your advise as to using a professional outfit like Garage Works for setup and rebuild is well taken. And I'll definitely make sure I don't misplace any of the hardware when swapping're lucky to have had a friend whose parts could be used to replicate the needed hardware. Thanks for a very informative site.

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing an outstanding Iron Horse bike review. I was torn between a 2006 MKIII Expert and a 2006 Azure Expert. After reading your review, I am going with the Azure Expert! I cannot wait to get it.

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Custom Steel Wheels can be found here for any make of classic hot rod or street rod

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the amazing review. Looks like I'd qualify for your team at 43 years old, 2 children, etc. However, my struggle is slightly different.

I'm a "veteran" triathlete, having done 12-14 races over the last 6-7 years. However, I'm just starting adventure racing by trying 1-2 this summer afer my 14 year old son asked if I'd try them with him instead of triathlon. Due to the focus on triathlon, my "mountain biking" has been limited to occasional dirt road riding on a 15 year old Schwinn hybrid. Mtb technology has left me entirely behind but I suspect we'll get into the AR stuff knowing how much we enjoy backpacking, kayaking, etc.

In looking at mtbs, I had been thinking much lower end, maybe hardtail for around $500 so I could affordably buy one for each of us. However, I called RS Cycles for a recommendation and the guy insisted that the 2006 Azure Comp was the way to go because it would give me a bike I'd not need to replace regardless of how much we did/did not get into ARing (no doubt it's a great deal at $1099 + shipping).

Thoughts? I don't want to spend unnecessarily if it's just way more than needed but also don't want to have to upgrade after 1 year because the $500 bikes leave much to be desired. Bottom line, I don't have enough knowledge or experience with the new technology to make an informed decision. Therefore, looking to leverage the knowledge of others . . . . Thanks for tolerating the ramblings of a novice.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

It really depends on the types of courses you are racing. And how much comfort you want.

See what others are riding at the races especially the top racers. My guess is for longer races they'll be on FS-XC bikes and for short races they will be on hardtails.

If it is technical (rock gardens, rooty, lots of chatter, steep but shorter technical climbs) than the Azure is a good choice. It allows you to put power down to the pedals in situations where you'd have to get off the saddle on a hard tail.

However, if it is smoother, lots of fire roads. Lots of long climbs. Then a hardtail/front fork would be faster most likely. (A good hardtail, not a cheapo one. $500 is probably the lowest I'd go for a new one) But you'll get fatigued more probably from the trail.

For an AR you might be concerned with limiting fatigue caused by the mtb portion. Or if the mtb part is at the very end of a long race an FS might be faster in the end.

The Azure's full suspension provides better mitgation of fatigue than a hardtail.

The 2005 Comp is the same frame as the 2006 comp just different components.

If you want best bang/buck that silver 2006 Azure Expert is the best value I've ever seen. Those components are top notch.

Don't spend too big on your son. He's still growing probably. And he's young and can tolerate more trail discomfort. Get him good stuff though cause he is going to pound on it and cheap components will break.

What about a decent hardtail for him and the 2005 Expert for you. You'd not outgrow the expert for quite a while.

Or a hardtail for him and the Comp for you. Then if you feel like upgrading to better components or newer technologies in the future. (I bet 2008 will show some newer DW link technologies) Then give him the comp and you upgrade.

One last comment. As a mtb veteran I think you learn to be a better mountain biker by starting with a hardtail and learning how to pick lines. But in your application I guess the lower back-fatigue mitigation of and FS is more beneficial.

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

Silver 2005 Expert is the best bang/buck around.

At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great advice that helps the decion-making process immensely. One last question:

I'm not finding much that compares the various levels of SRAM and Shimano components both w/in manufacturer and against one another. So, given that, what would you recommend for that $500 hardtail?

RS Cycles has the Iron Horse Maverick Team (MSRP $450; Sale $300) - too low end? Warrior Expert (MSRP $800; Sale $500)? Others? Hudson Trail is also liquidating 2006 inventory but there's nothing in the $500 range (either Giant Yukon @ MSRP $450; Sale $300 or Felt RXC @ MSRP $1100; Sale $700). Thanks again.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

At every major price points ($400, $500, $600, $700, $1000, etc.) you are going to find several bikes from major manufacturers. Across these price points most everything is similar. Frames are similar materials/weight, components are typically the same quality.

The difference are in geometries, top tube lengths and color. SRAM vs Shimano at any price point is similar and it's personal preference. I've been on SRAM since 1997 so I'm just brand loyal. But Shimano is good stuff too. Cheap SRAM and Cheap shimano are still cheap though.

XTR is equated to SRAM XO(drool)
XT =X9

Sure here/there one bike will have a better parts spec ( They love to stick a higher end Rear derailleur paired with cheaper shifters). Some components are more important though

the most important thing is fit. And if you don't know what you're doing having a local bike shop you trust or a trusted riding partner can help you. Yes you are going to pay noticeably more at the LBS but unless you know what you are doing you might be ending up there sooner or later to get a different stem, saddle, etc...

That being said, I've heard good feedback on RS cycles and customer service as well as Ibex

From the bikes you've listed, the Felt is probably the best in terms of frame/components (surprise it's also the most expensive). The Warriors are pretty good bang/buck too.

Ibex ( is a pretty good bang/buck.
they have some deals on higher end Motobecans that are hell of light.

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Iron Horse Azures & MKIIIs are great values for the $, especially previous year's models. I'm considering the 06 Azure Comp.

But for not a ton more $, have you checked out the 07 Mongoose Canaan Elite? MSRP $2k, but seems like it's being sold for about $1749 at Performance, Jenson & others. Coupled with a 10% coupon and Team Performance rebate, this bike comes in right at $1400. $300 more for what is a seriously loaded 4" bike. XT all around, Fox front and rear (RP3) suspension, Juicy 5s. 26.5 lbs stock. It's rear suspension is sort of unproven, but my guess is that it shares it's design with GT which does work.

Any thoughts?

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

I've heard some good things about the Mongoose design. That weight seems pretty darn good for the price point. And the components are all good.

Though I can't ride J5s I need the adjustability of contact point with the J7s.

the thing I don't like is any bike that has an RP3 or similar adjustable shock. I much prefer a set/forget setup and don't like having to mess with different settings on a shock or fork, but that is just me.

My wife has a racerx with an rp3 and she loves it.

See what you can find out at the MTBR forums and the mongoose board.

At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say more about how you think it compares to a SC Blur. I do very long rides (20 - 50 mi) with lots of uphill (2 - 8k ft) - but of course each foot up is a foot down :).

And give me great detail about the amount of bob while steadily climbing up a 15 degree hill seated, up the same hill standing and pounding as hard as you can, and up the steepest thing you can ride up regardless of how you get up it :)...



At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I purchased the Azure Comp 06' in 2007 and of course it came with Deore componets and since then I have equipped it entirely with shimano XTR componets, except the front deraileur which is XT since XTR wont fit here. The stem and handle bar are Thompson elite as only the best will do here and now you will question this one but I added the 4" gravity dropper seat post with handle bar adjust, I know this type of bike doesnt exactly rate this post but what the hell, its my $...and yes this type of post does add unnecessary weight but agian its my $ and its still under 30 lbs, barely.
I have absolutely no problem with this bike except for one problem with tire rub on the rear wheel, I cant figure it. I am running a 2.0 size tire (Michelin) with a low tread pattern and I finally have stopped 95% of the rub and it seems that I have to slightly offset the wheel and hub and not lock it down too tight to get it to about 98.5%. The Michelin tire isnt the one I prefer but I find it works the best next to a Maxxis, even some 1.95 size tires rub if the knobs are too large so i settle for what works. I havent gotten much satisfaction from IH on this matter other than they tell me that when i purchased it originally that it had the wrong tires on it and they sent me the Maxxis tires at N/c to me. This helped some but still doesnt tell me if the triangle is out of specs or not...? Anyone out there have any ideas on this tire rub and the front deraileur? I certainly could use the help.

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