Some comments on the 2018 Silverback Slade Comp

The Silverback Slade Comp is a fairly decent spec yet inexpensive 27.5+ recreational MTB.

Background

I bought a 2018 Silverback Slade Comp a few weeks ago, but unfortunately had to return it due to an irreparable problem. More concerning is that the replacement has essentially the same problem, and is indicative of more widespread problems with other frames from the same batch.

This has given me the opportunity to compare 2 examples of the same model, and I would have to say that there are some fairly concerning trends visible. I’ll cover these first, then move on to a serious issue with the frames on both bikes.

The bike

For not much money, you get a great looking bike with dropper seat post, Suntour XCR 120mm air fork with crownset lockout and rebound damping control, midfat tubeless ready rims and tyres (27.5 x 2.8″), hydraulic disc brakes (180/160mm), Boost spacing front and rear (15/110 and 12/148) and a 2×9 groupset.

On the other hand, for not much money, you also get a bike with very average paint finish, that weighs over 16kg (inc pedals), a fairly uncomfortable seat (YMMV), quite messy cable routing, and it seems, a fair amount of grief dealing with multiple issues from new.

There’s a lot to like about the bike. With a much longer wheelbase than my current 2102 Trek 3900, and larger wheels, the Slade is remarkably faster on bumpy terrain and downhill. I’m a fair weather recreational rider so not overly concerned about the weight, though lighter is of course always better.

Minor Issues

The first bike had several issues that showed that not enough care had been taken during manufacture and assembly (either at the factory, or at the retailer).

  • No grommet on the seat dropper cable seat tube entry hole (cable had nicks from the sharp edges).
  • The front derailleur had been set up with too much clearance between the large chainring and the guide (even though there is a label clearly indicating the correct clearance). As a result, the guide was lifting the chain when using small sprockets. No big deal, and the retailer fixed both of these issues immediately.
  • The cable clamps on the front of the downtube had not all been fitted correctly. One had been reversed so the countersunk screw was sitting against a flat surface. This is a tiny detail but one that speaks a lot about the level of interest or care taken during assembly.
  • There was a small dent on the underside of the top tube (most likely before the paint finish was applied).
  • Paint finish is a bit rough around cable lugs etc.
  • Welding between the seat stays and seat tube not great.
  • Front fork lockout stopped working after 1 ride. More concerning was that the tech at the retailer seemed to think the fork air pressure had an effect on this, which is really not the case (lockout and suspension pressure are in opposite legs of the fork). Worse was the tech’s attitude about this – I’d have to say that within seconds, we’d pretty much established that I was an old fart and he was too young to know much about what he was saying.
  • Rear wheel very slightly out of true.

On the second bike, there were fewer issues.

  • Two cuts into the left chainstay close to the bottom bracket, these appear to be from the facing tool when the bottom bracket had finish machining after painting the frame.
  • Again, the cable clamps on the front of the downtube had not been fitted correctly. One had been reversed, and 2 different types of screws had been used – and all were of the wrong type.
  • Bright nick in the front wheel rim edge by the tyre bead.
  • Deep scratches in the paint on the right crank – exactly as would have been made by carelessly using a crescent/adjustable spanner to fit pedals.
  • Gears not indexed as positively or as smooth as the first bike.

Most of the above are just cosmetic or minor and/or easily fixed and inconsequential, but none of them should exist on a bike sold as new (rather than ex-demo).

The one, big, very major frame issue:

On both bikes, the seat and head tube are very clearly NOT coplanar – the worst of the two bikes has an error of about 1.5°

I used 4 different methods to assess the problem since I can only do this with equipment I have at home.

In all cases, the bike is set upside down, the wheels appear to be true and central in the forks or stays, the fork appears to be straight and steering is free with no evidence of a bent steerer tube. The front wheel is set parallel to a straight edge held against the rear tire sidewall casing (not the tread knobs).

1. Eyeball:

Both bikes showed a problem – the shoulder of one tire would appear well outside of the other, even if aligned at the bottom/top.

This is the first bike:

This is the second bike:

The misalignment is not quite as bad as the first bike, but still very easily visible. But how bad is it really?

2. Straight Edge:

Holding a straight edge against the tire casing on the rear tire and setting the front wheel to be parallel to the straight edge showed an offset between the front tire casing and the straight edge at the brake disc edge height of about 10mm for the first bike, and about 7-8mm for the second. As best I could tell, the straight edge aligned with the inner face of the brake disc on the second bike. Rotating the straight edge up away from the axle showed more clearance between the front tire casing and the straight edge as it moved further away from the axle. Using this method it is only possible to assess the offset for the part of the wheel that is accessible by straight edge.

Photo shows first bike:

3. Straight edges on each wheel:

I have 2 heavy 1250mm aluminium straight edges, these were held snugly against the tires and had enough area to fit comfortably over 2 or more tread knobs. The distances at the top and bottom of each straight edge was measured to a vertical laser plane and the angles calculated. The error measured this way is calculated as 1.3°.

This is the second bike:

4. Laser level offset to rims:

A laser level is set up well behind and about 200mm offset from the bike wheels. Bike has a small wedge under one handlebar grip, this is adjusted to make the rear rim vertical and thus parallel to the laser plane. Laser is rotated horizontally until parallel to the rear rim, so all four points (top, bottom, front, rear) of the rear rim are offset from the laser equally. This dimension is 202mm. The seat tube appears to be parallel to the laser plane.

The front rim front and rear offset to the laser plane are also equal, and both measure 192.5mm, so the wheels are parallel but offset at axle height.

The front rim top and bottom measurements are 185mm and 200mm respectively. This means there is a difference of 15mm over the 600mm diameter of the rim, which calculates to an angle of about 1.4°.

The measurements (for the second bike) at each location are shown in the graphic below:

I would estimate that the offset at the tire contact patch is a bit more than the 15mm measured at the rim, on the first bike it appeared to be about 20mm, and a little less than that for the second bike.

Interpretation of these results is left as an exercise for the reader 🙂

Does it matter?

The offset at the tire contact patch is a bit more than the 15mm at the rim, on the first bike it appeared to be about 20mm, and a little less than that for the second bike. On pavement the bike appears to ride OK but I would expect tire wear to be excessive. On gravel, and in mud, painful personal experience shows the front wheel tends to wash out to the left and steering is not precise.

I have a 2012 Trek 3900 that has zero discernible alignment errors when checked by eye or with a straight edge. Likewise for budget Silverback bikes like the Stride.

When researching this topic I find countless articles and videos on using a string to check rear stays/dropouts and very little other discussion – alignment of head tubes appears to be taken as always being perfect and is never raised as a specific issue, possibly because this is not repairable or not at all common. I must admit I’m a bit surprised at what I’ve found and even more surprised to find it on consecutive examples, it really is quite unexpected.

It has also been very disappointing as every bike I’ve owned in the past has been ready to go straight out of the box and given years of trouble free service. I bought this bike a few weeks ago and have spent a lot of time on this and other issues, and very little time riding it and I am nowhere near having a roadworthy MTB. And this is after the retailer workshop “checked” the bike before delivering it as a replacement for a bike with the same problem.

I’ll be returning the second of these two bikes in the next week or so, and very disappointed to be doing so. I often prefer to support alternatives to the big name brands, as competition is always good, but would have trouble rationalising purchasing another Silverback, even if not all the issues are attributable to them directly.

On the other hand, I did raise this issue with Silverback in Germany directly and their response has been very interesting, they are communicative and seem to be concerned about this issue and I’m hopeful they will deal with it effectively. I’ll follow up with what they decide to do.

Update:

After some correspondence with Silverback, they offered to replace the frame – the new frame was airfreighted and arrived early November.

Since then, however, the process of moving the build over to the new frame has been a disaster:

  • The replacement frame is a Sphere, and not a Slade; it may not matter, but there was no warning or discussion about this, and it is not what I paid for or expected to be getting.
  • The replacement frame looks nothing like the original Slade, being bright red and dayglo orange. Not really what I was after considering I quite liked the utilitarian look of the original. Again, there was no explanation, warning or discussion about this.
  • Sphere geometry is slightly different, most notable would be a higher BB.
  • Sphere frame may be lighter, not confirmed yet. Neither do I yet know if it is straighter.
  • The real showstopper though, is that the bottom bracket (and hence the entire groupset) is totally incompatible; the retailer is trying to resolve this with no success so far.
Silverback Slade Comp, (the original defective frame(s))
Silverback Sphere Expert (the replacement frame)

There are multiple issues with the bottom bracket/crankset. Silverback indicated that I would just have to move the existing components over to the new frame, which would be straightforward and easy.

In practice, however, there are multiple bottom bracket compatibility issues – the Sphere bottom bracket is press fit, the Slade was threaded. The replacement crankset has to be suitable for the 148 Boost frame, as well as able to take the Slade 2x chainrings; there may also be further issues around the fact that the Sphere is described as a “single chainring specific design”. I don’t know what that entails, and have asked Silverback to clarify, but haven’t heard back, but it doesn’t sound good. The fact that the bike has now been with the retailer who is trying to sort this mess out for 2 weeks, and they’ve ordered in 3 different cranksets, indicates this is far from an easy build over.

IMHO it would have been easier, cheaper and far less hassle for all concerned if Silverback had just shipped a replacement bike – they would have come out of this looking like they supported their customers, retailers and product, instead of looking like they want to send some random frame and didn’t even know their own product well enough to realise it was quite different.

Its been pretty disappointing, I went to quite a lot of trouble to fully inform Silverback about what may be a quite widespread problem with one model and size of their bikes, and so far, they’ve been unable to respond with any kind of appropriate fix for even one bike!

And then, it gets even worse!

After further discussions with Silverback last night, they’ve now said: ” …our engineers … have advised that the Sphere frame is only 1x compatible. There may be a way to get 2x to work however this will not be ideal

There has been no further communication from them – no suggestions for a way forward.

This is worse than useless, Silverback shipped a warranty replacement frame that never had a chance of working, wasting everyone’s time, and are at present not showing they have any interest in correcting the situation.

It is also very difficult for the retailer, who are working on their side of the problem with what seems like no guidance from Silverback. They’ve been trying to get things sorted and have been looking at Shimano BBs, as the 2018 Slade Comp used a Shimano SM-BB52.

These have had the problem of the chainrings being too far inboard on the Boost 148 frame. This may be fruitless as the bottom bracket is actually a Race Face press fit BB92, which has the bearings outboard of the frame to provide the extra offset for the chainline on the Boost 148 frame. These appear to be a variation on a BB92 PF standard, possibly wider than normal.

And it continues (20/12/2019):

After some delays the retailer has been in communication with Silverback, suggesting that Silverback approve that the retailer supply and fit a 1×12 SRAM groupset or propose an alternative. I consider that to be an acceptable way sort this.

However, Silverback has said they will supply components to get the bike working. We were just waiting on confirmation of what they were going to supply, and as I cynically predicted, this was interesting.

Silverback are really not looking at this from the customer’s perspective. They are just trying to do the minimum possible to get the bike running, and don’t seem interested in the eventual configuration of the bike or how long this is taking. This quite frankly, sucks. The time is well past when it would have been cheaper and quicker for all concerned to just ship a complete replacement Slade.

And Now:

Yesterday we had confirmation that Silverback are going to supply a Shimano 1×11 groupset, similar or the same as the Sphere specification – a 11-42 cassette, and a 32T chainring.

My immediate reaction was that this was completely unacceptable, because this totally changes the nature of the bike that I bought and transforms it into something far different. I’m not averse to 1x groupsets, but the Slade 2×9 groupset gave me a range of 538%, and at a cadence of 60, a top speed of around 27km/h. The gain ratios run from 7.0 to 1.3. Gear development works out to 7.4m in top gear, 1.4m in low.

The Sphere groupset has a range of only 381%! At a cadence of 60, the top gear speed is about 23km/h, the gain ratios run from 6.2 to 1.6. That is 6.6m in top gear to 1.7m in low.

(Calculations all from Sheldon Brown’s online gear calculator – https://www.sheldonbrown.com/gear-calc.html )

This means that I would lose top end speed quite significantly, and lose climbing ability in the lowest gear as well.

For the type of terrain I ride – quite steep but generally grassy hills around the lakes, but accessed by long flat and exposed gravel road (where you always have a strong tailwind in one direction, if not both) the 1×11 groupset being supplied is completely unacceptable. It might be fine for riding on trails only (which I guess is the kind of market it intended for), but not for a mixture of road and trail.

Even a high range 1×12 groupset (which is what the retailer preferred to fit) would still have compromises, but a larger ratio (at 510%) would come much closer to the Slade groupset, even though there would still be a compromise at both ends and with larger steps between gears.

I think I made my position quite clear, and I understand the retailer is going back to discuss this with Silverback but I don’t see me getting this bike back any time this year; perhaps never. I’m really at the stage of having to walk away from all this – the only reason I’m so reluctant to do so, is because the original Slade (if it had a straight frame) was astounding value for money, a really solid spec with all the features I wanted that was only matched by bikes twice the price. Also the retailer has been pretty good through all this.

They’ve offered a demo bike while this disaster gets sorted, I’m becoming increasingly doubtful I’ll get my own bike sorted before summer is half over.

The delays caused by Silverback have now dragged this debacle into Christmas and New Year, which means even more delays as I’m pretty sure Germany shuts down completely over the holidays. And this is a bike I bought way back in August, and have only ridden a very few times.

Here are the spec sheets of the two models for comparison:

Powering the Z-Cam E1

Some comments about powering this camera.

TLDR: use only high quality and low resistance cables to power this camera reliably (or at all).

There are several cables available online that work with this camera, some of the ones I’ve seen recommended are relatively expensive. However, there are cheaper choices that will work, two of them were tested here. One of the best cables was only about $3.40, it certainly not necessary to spend $20 for a functional cable.

Unfortunately there are very many more cheaper cables that will NOT work with the camera – the Thin Cable (2) sample tested is fairly representative.

It is entirely feasible to make your own cable, the parts are inexpensive and you can then make cables with thick conductors and no longer than you need, which will improve performance.

The camera is more forgiving of poor cables if the battery is in place, especially at startup. However unless your power supply and cable are capable of supplying more than 0.800A at idle, or 1.300A while recording, the battery will eventually discharge.

For most of the testing I used a Wavlink powered USB hub, and you can see from the table that even at high current drains the voltage output form the unit did not drop below acceptable limits.

The Smooth Q gimbal is also capable of powering this camera (without battery, a useful weight saving).

Table

Z Cam PSU

Notes:

  • LCD power drain not measured (all done with display on)
  • Lumix 45-150 lens current draw is approximately 0.100A
  • Estimate resistance of test equipment (meter and leads) to be about 0.250Ω and at the low voltages and high currents involved with USB, this can be significant.
  • Resistance of link used to measure voltage at camera port for cable tests not known and may have an effect.
  • Voltage measured at camera port with multimeter or USB tester.
  • Use of a pass-through USB tester to indicate voltage and current severely affected the camera performance, not recommended. Using a USB tester to measure voltage at the camera port was fine though.
  • Instances where camera failed with no battery and the DIY Cable (3) – camera will run if battery is present for startup and subsequently removed. Where Thin Cable (2) was tested, camera would not start under any circumstances.
  • Charging with Thin Cable (2) was limited to 250mA
  • The Z Cam PSU shows very stable voltage output under load.

The testing setup:

All testing was done using a Wavlink powered USB hub, except for the last table which shows the Z Cam PSU performance for reference.

For measuring the current drain of the camera in various scenarios, 2 multimeters and a very short cable was used, configured as shown.

P2200516

For measuring cable performance with the camera in various scenarios, a Keweisi USB Detector was used. This was wired with a short cable inserted into the path near the camera port and is accurate enough to show what was happening. The configuration here shows the DIY Cable (3) being used while recording 4K30 with the battery inserted.

P2200521

 

The cables used (links may not work as they age):

Fat Cable (1)

Fat Cable (1)

Search Ebay

Fat Cable (4)

Fat Cable (4)

Search Ebay

Thin Cable (2)

Thin Cable (2)

Search Ebay

DIY Cable (3)

DIY cable USB

Search Ebay

DIY Cable tail

Search Ebay

DIY cable balun

Search Ebay