03 January 2018

LONG-TERM TEST: Xan Reviews the Zerode Taniwha

The Zerode Taniwha has been creating plenty of buzz in internet mountain bike circles for a while now, and for good reason. It’s a sleek, slack, carbon enduro bike that checks off all the boxes of modern mountain bike design. But one thing sets the Taniwha apart from the competition: at its heart is a completely internal shifting system, in the form of a Pinion 12-speed gearbox.

This April, our first Taniwhas landed at Cycle Monkey headquarters and we excitedly built them up. Since then, we’ve been putting the bike through the wringer on some of the most aggressive trails in the country for months on end.

Fresh out of New Zealand - The Zerode Taniwha!

Rather than simply providing a brief overview of the bike, this review seeks to fully assess the Taniwha in terms of its strengths and weaknesses, capability, user experience, and durability.

Why is This Bike Special?

Over the last few years, I’ve ridden a lot of the most popular trail/enduro offerings from mainstream manufacturers -- the Specialized Enduro, Santa Cruz Nomad, Santa Cruz Bronson, YT Capra, and Scott Genius LT all spring to mind.

The merits of these bikes are clear to anyone who has ever ridden one. Stiff carbon frames paired with progressive geometry make for some of the most capable descenders out there. What’s more, most modern long travel bikes can get you to the top of the hill for your next lap without any fuss.

But while I’ve had plenty of good times aboard these bikes, I’ve also had plenty of rides that involved smashing my derailleur on rocks, dealing with impaired shifting, and having to replace expensive drivetrain parts.

The holy grail of trail riding? - Crested Butte, CO

That’s where the Zerode Taniwha comes into the picture. For a rider who is constantly looking for the next best thing in mountain bike performance and durability, the Taniwha is immediately intriguing, as it’s a bike that fundamentally seeks to improve the mountain biking experience. How? By producing bikes that not only improve durability, but make performance gains as well. On paper, this sounds like the holy grail of trail riding.


The Taniwha’s geometry is spot-on for the intent of a bike like this. An appropriately slack 65-degree head angle paired with 431mm chainstays makes for a bike that stays planted while hauling through the rough stuff but still feels playful when things get tight.

Mountain bike geometry is changing a lot these days, and it’s not uncommon for one brand’s Medium to be equivalent to another brand’s Large. Because of this it’s best to figure out what reach works best for you and find your optimal fit. At 5’10”, I’m a Medium on some brands, but am very happy with the 445mm reach on a size Large. If you’re more than a few inches taller than me, you might consider moving up to an XL. 

Zerode Taniwha geometry
The Pinion C1.12 Gearbox

At the Taniwha’s heart is the Pinion C1.12 12-speed gearbox. The C1.12’s forged magnesium exterior offers a slightly slimmer profile and easier to produce compared to the machined aluminum shell seen on the brand’s original P-line series of gearboxes. The new material also shaves off about 250g (.5 lbs.), making for a transmission that’s both cheaper and lighter than previous iterations.

Inside the gearbox, two stacks of intermeshed gears offer a whopping 600% range over 12 evenly spaced gears. To put this feat in perspective, SRAM’s Eagle 1x12 setup only gets you 500%, and their 1x11 offers 420%. Pinion has essentially gotten us back to the wide range offered by triple ring setups, but with none of the downsides of running a derailleur.

Since the gears are housed inside a shell, they’re also completely protected from the elements. Bashing rocks and damaging your derailleur is a thing of the past. This also means the gearbox will always shift the same, regardless of conditions. Cover it with mud, dirt, and snow – the gearbox just doesn’t care.

Pinion C1.12 gearbox with cranks

What’s more, Pinion expects its gearboxes to easily run for 100,000 miles with almost no maintenance. Pinion simply recommends that you change the oil bath in the gearbox annually, which can be accomplished in a few minutes with a $15 syringe kit. And like anything else on your bike that uses cables, occasional shifter cable replacement will keep the shifting feeling buttery smooth.

Build Options

When sold as a frame, the Taniwha comes as a $5,000 package that includes a rear shock and complete drivetrain. This works out to ~$3,300 for the frame and rear shock, $1,300 for the gearbox, $400 for cranks, chainring, rear cog, and chain tensioner. Cheap? Nope. But compared to most other high-end carbon frames decked out with a quality shock and a complete Eagle drivetrain, you’ll find that you’re going to be spending about the same amount. Factor in the nearly nonexistent cost of drivetrain upkeep, and the Taniwha starts to look mighty appealing.

Matte Black
Sky Blue

The Taniwha is also sold as a complete bike in three different build kits, priced at $6,600, $7,700, and $9,500. The top end Signature build features carbon rims and cockpit bits, with suspension duties handled with premium parts from Cane Creek. The two other builds are more modestly spec’d, with WTB i29 rims, alloy cockpits, and Rockshox forks.

For 2018, the bike is also available in a blinged-out Cane Creek edition, complete with Industry Nine wheels and a choice of coil or air suspension.

Riding the Taniwha


Point the bike down a rocky descent and prepare to be amazed. The bike’s sensitivity over small bumps is simply unprecedented by any derailleur bike I have ever ridden. Even a full-on downhill bike doesn’t eat up high speed chatter this well. This is all due to the bike’s lack of unsprung weight – taking the weight of a derailleur and cassette off the end of your swingarm means that it takes a lot less force to get the rear suspension moving. The result is a bike that feels extremely composed when carrying speed over a bunch of fast successive hits.

This improvement isn’t subtle either -- it’s so noticeable that any time I got back on a derailleur bike, the suspension felt “just okay” at best.

Grand Junction, CO

Cornering and jumping the Taniwha feels very natural because of the extra pop and flickability that comes from the bike’s neutral, centered mass. It feels as if the weight of the gearbox acts as a pivot point that the rest of the bike moves around as you slash your way through corners and find natural take-offs on a technical trail.

In general, many bikes in this category sacrifice some playfulness for all-out stability, while other bikes dance around nicely at lower speed, but tend to be a little less confident when you really open up. Because of where the weight is located on the Taniwha, the bike manages to embody both characteristics, making for what I can only describe as an awe-inspiring descender.

Pedaling Performance

With 160mm of travel front and rear, I expected the Taniwha to be a capable descender. What I didn’t expect was how good this thing is at climbing.

This is mostly due to the bike’s fixed chainline. On a traditional derailleur bike, the chain changes its angle in relation to the rest of the bike whenever you shift it, meaning that pedaling effects the suspension differently in different gears. So you’ll get different “squatting” or “bobbing” behaviors depending on what gear you’re in. On the other hand, the Taniwha’s chainline remains constant no matter what gear the bike is in, so the frame can be designed to have perfect pedaling characteristics in every gear.

These attributes make the bike a superb technical climber. Pedal bob isn’t apparent when hammering on the bike, but the suspension stays supple and responsive to bumps when the shock is left open. The result is a bike that offers nearly endless traction when crawling up anything steep and loose.

Crested Butte, CO


In terms of the operation of the bike, Pinion’s twist shifter is the thing that takes the most getting used to, and in some cases, completely deters people from giving the Taniwha a try. For this crowd, it’s worth noting that Pinion will release a trigger shifter sometime next year. That said, I’d encourage any rider to give it a try because of the distinct advantages in can offer in conjunction with the Pinion system.

At first, there’s the odd feeling of not having your muscle memory in tune with the bike. You hammer on the pedals, and the twist shifter becomes harder to rotate, which can kill your momentum as you struggle up a hill in the wrong gear.

But after a few rides, something clicks.

For a split second, you reduce power slightly, right as you’re about to move the shifter. You don’t need to backpedal, or even stop pedaling. Just reduce the amount torque you’re putting through the drivetrain, and instantaneously pop the bike into your desired gear. Nail the timing, and you’ll be able to shift through gears while standing up and pedaling up steep, technical terrain with no issue.

Then there’s this wonderful realization that you no longer have to shift through one gear at a time or even pedal to change gears. Going from a high gear to a low gear is as simple as selecting the desired gear and pedaling. No more delicately shifting the chain across the entire cassette when a sudden incline sneaks up on you. Suddenly, I had instant access to any gear I wanted.

At this point, the unwritten “rules” about how and when you shift a mountain bike changed forever. I found myself throwing the bike into a corner, downshifting in the apex of the corner, and then sprinting out in the perfect gear. Terrain with sudden changes in slope became easier to ride, since I was never waiting for the chain to move across the cassette into the right gear. I even found myself purposefully shifting the bike in the air.

Pacifica, CA


The frame has its fair share of scratches and chips, but damage appears to be solely cosmetic.

The gearbox itself is still running smoothly, and if the lifespan of the similarly engineered Rohloff Speedhub is any indication, it should keep running for years (maybe even decades) to come.

The Pinion chain tensioner (arguably the only part of the drivetrain that’s remotely exposed) has encountered a few rocks and logs, but since it’s spring-loaded, it simply pivots out of the way when it hits something. No complaints there.

Final Thoughts

The Zerode Taniwha is a bike that goes back to the drawing board in the name of improving the mountain bike experience. Any brand that embarks upon such a mission is always going to be taking a huge risk, but with the Taniwha, the risk paid off.

Learning to use a new shifting system will take anyone a bit of time, but those who give the gearbox a shot will be rewarded with an almost maintenance-free drivetrain, instantaneous shifting, and best-in-class suspension performance. This is a bike that encourages you to brake less, land farther down the hill, and ride at your limits, literally all the time. And for countless riders out there, this will make the Taniwha a game changer.

Where can I demo a Zerode?
Cycle Monkey Demo Tour
Fanatik Bike Co. - Bellingham, WA
Guthrie Bicycle - Salt Lake City, UT

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