It’s no secret that in the minds of most mountain bikers, the words “Diamondback Bikes” call to mind a selection budget-minded bikes available at stores like Walmart and Dick’s. But the Washington-based bike maker has invested three years in developing not only a new bike, but a completely new suspension platform, aimed at trail riders interested in bikes that pedal uphill just as well as they descend — an ambitious task given a track record of predominantly mid-tier mountain bikes. To test whether or not Diamondback hit that mark with its new Release 3, we headed to the hills above Santa Barbara, ready to find out whether or not Diamondback could shake the budget-brand stigma.

As a bike testing ground, Santa Barbara leaves little to be desired. A combination of long, steep climbs, flowing and rolling ribbons of single track, and steep, technical downhills make for terrain that would challenge any trail bike on the market — even those from brands who are more widely known for their high-end trail bikes (like Specialized, Yeti, Santa Cruz or Scott). As an added benefit, Santa Barbara is also at sea level, which would bode well for this NYC-based writer. I didn’t realize how crucial that would be until we hit the first sustained climb.

As Tested

Price: $4,400
Wheel Size: 27.5 inches
Suspension Travel: 150mm front / 130mm rear
Frame Material: Hydroformed aluminum
Weight: 30 pounds (with Crank Brothers Candy 2 pedals)
Test Location: Romero Trail and Camuesa Connector, Santa Barbara, CA

As we hit the trail, I knew little about the Release, other than the fact that it was a trail bike. I became acquainted quickly. Around mile three or four, we hit grades of up to 27 percent, and my legs were screaming. The first thing you notice about the Release (other than its sexy two-tone colorway) is its weight. The bike is heavy, something that Diamondback admits to readily, weighing in at around 30 pounds — which made for a slow slog up the sustained climb.

Once you get past its weight and get over the fact that you have to haul an extra five pounds or so (versus some carbon bikes) uphill, you realize that the new Level Link suspension platform is remarkably efficient at isolating pedal input versus trail feedback. A lot of trail bikes suffer from being too supple in their suspension when pedaling (also known as pedal-bob). This helps the bikes descend tremendously well, but they falter when pedaling uphill. In talking with Luther Beale, the industrial engineer behind the rear suspension platform (who also designed suspensions for Evil and Fuji/Breezer), the lower link in the dual short-link system (two pivot points that allow for a solid rear triangle) is designed to sit parallel to the chain when the bike is in sag from the rider’s weight, hence Level Link. This allows for the upper link to move more independently of the lower one and increases pedal efficiency. That equates to a system that is supposed to isolate the bumps produced by pedaling from the bumps produced by the terrain.

The Release 3, and the Level Link platform as a whole, drops Diamondback’s mid-level stigma and brings the brand to the forefront of the trail bike market.

Now, all of that is great in theory, but the question is, does the system pedal efficiently while holding its own on the downhills? The answer, frankly, is yes. At 130mm of rear suspension travel and short 425mm chainstays, the bike feels very supple and nimble. I followed Beale down through some tight, technical and fast sections on Santa Barbara’s Romero trail, and never questioned for a minute whether the 130mm of rear travel (on the smaller end of travel in the trail-bike category) would stand up to the challenge of ledges, drops and berms. In rocky, tight squeezes, the bike was confident and forgiving, even when I picked a less-than-ideal line that would unseat some lighter carbon bikes.

As an aluminum bike, the Release is one of the best that I’ve ridden in recent memory. Its uphill pedaling characteristics are very similar to that of a Santa Cruz Virtual Pivot Point bike (of which Level Link is a derivation) which are lauded for their climbing capabilities. The Release 3’s downhill chops call back to another aluminum bike of Beale’s suspension design, the Fuji Auric, which is a bike that chews up everything in its path and boasts 30 more millimeters of rear travel. In other words, despite its weight, the Release 3 is worth the penalty.

All said, the Release 3 is an excellent bike at the price point. Coming in at just under $4,500, the bike is spec’d well with a KS Lev Integra dropper post, Sram Guide brakes and a Sram X1 drivetrain. For those with the chops to pedal it uphill, the Release 3 is a killer bike. It’s fun, nimble, the suspension feels supple through its entire range and it pedals efficiently. For rides with less pedaling strength, keep hoping for a carbon version. The Release 3, and Diamondback’s Level Link platform as a whole, has the ability to shed the mid-level stigma and bring the brand to the forefront of the trail-bike market.

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