Words: James McKnight
PIcs: Andy Lloyd and Chris
Recently I travelled South to Punta Ala to catch up with James McKnight a long time friend and part conspirator in the creation of the Vendetta, what now seems like an age ago, some 6 years ago in Morzine. My mission was to deliver him the latest version of the Vendetta, so he could; ride, fall in love with and generally get his feedback on how the Vendetta rides today compared to the first (26" 4x inspired) Vendetta we made way back in 2009.
James McKnight - The original MTB Europikey
A Vendetta: Start as You Mean to Go On
I have a rare old photo of myself from a time before selfies, a shot taken on a disposable camera I carried to the French Alps age 15 to document a first solo trip to the mountains of Europe and an education in cleaning toilets.
Fifteen years ago now, that initial foray into bike-related travel seems an age away, a time when I carried phone numbers in a notepad and could get away with sleeping through entire days of work. When I arrived, my expensive downhill bike was lacking a rear shock – broken again and rendered completely useless for the first month of the rest of my life.
I had somehow talked my way into a job as the sole cleaner for a 24-bedroom hotel when I barely knew how to wash myself, and quickly went to work bunking off to spend time cobbling together a shitty hardtail found in the basement. That bike would be my choice of vehicle for the coming months, and subsequently others of its kind would become my go-to workhorses for years to come.
Riding up into the deep green valleys to catch enormous views of my vast new territory, pedalling free from the shackles of adolescence (as my adolescent mind interpreted it) and exploring new trails and hillsides on an entirely inappropriate bike threw away the rulebook of mountain bike technology and its myriad of marketing slogans.
In the years to come, I floated between repeatedly failed attempts at re-integration into the life of a teenager and travel across the continent, finally entering my twenties on a hillside in Spain, where I found myself in the company of one Mr Christopher Jackson, aka Kingdom Bikes.
I was broke and so was my bike, but there was not a single worry in the world: I had another hardtail salvaged from parts begged, borrowed or found and I happily went about my life suspension-free and singlespeed (jammed in one gear). Chris rode from one bike-breaking disaster to the next as his contemporary machinery repeatedly failed. I was very familiar with this scenario, having watched customers’ shrines to the progression of marketing fall to pieces on a daily basis as I guided them around the mountains of Andalusia.
Chris and I reconvened one summer in the hills near Morzine and spent our days belting about the mountains and exploring highly-dangerous singletracks on the only bikes in our garage that worked: My Charge Blender hardtail, bought after a winter of guiding in Spain; Chris on a Yeti DJ hardtail.
It was a defining time as we shuffled around at altitude, backs bent into a semi-permanent inappropriately-low-saddle-arch while coming up with endless hare-brained ideas for how to improve the bike trade. None of which made it through the haze of strong end-of-ride beers and sunburn, except for one.
Chris went home to the flatlands of Denmark for a winter of sitting on the idea to craft a hardtail for us, something slack and strong so we could ride it every day, low-slung so we could throw it about, and goddam rad so we could take utmost pride in it.
The original 2010 Vendetta, 26", 130mm travel and in the days before 11speed.
It’s been a long progression since Chris returned south one winter with a prototype Vendetta, the first creation in the history of Kingdom Bike. The thing was ridiculous: superlight, low-slung, long and slack (for the time), with just the one hitch that we still had to pedal up hills with the seats slammed as the frame didn’t allow a long enough seatpost. We were plenty used to that though.
The bike got envious glances everywhere we went, and in a couple of years’ travel we met a multitude of riders across Europe who were stupendously excited by the bikes and even more so in meeting a company owner who was more interested in suiting his own needs than sitting in an office topping up spread sheets and glorifying profit margins. Some may think the bikes expensive, but it’s never been about cashing in for Kingdom and if anyone could see the amount of blood, sweat and tears that Chris and co. put into each and every bike, well, they’d probably call a doctor. Illogical, unprofitable, unlikely to sell: It’s this antithesis of corporate mentality that is the making of a legitimate brand, and Kingdom is as authentic as they come.
Gradually over the years the Vendetta has evolved into a go anywhere hardtail.
Year-by-year I’ve watched the Vendetta morph into what it is now, a constant progression of ideas and preference to match the constantly changing face of mountain biking and the rides we go on – picking up on and incorporating truly radical technological advances and filtering out all other noise.
My most recent loan bike from Chris has a fat (2.8”) tyre on the back of it*, something I thought I would never succumb to but one that has truly changed the way I ride a hardtail. It’s got the space for a long seatpost now, it’s slacker than before, it remains long and low, and it is more versatile then ever. And it is definitely goddam rad.
Chris asked me to write some sort of review, but I don’t feel the need: it rides exactly as you’d expect a bike six years in the making to: fast, fun, precise, forgiving, and it makes me want to go and ride my bike every single bloody day. I throw it around on flowy singletrack, I slam the seat and bump and jump through tech Alpine descents near to home, I respect its limits as a hardtail then push beyond them… It’s a whole lot of fun and I know it won’t fail me until the tyres and brake pads wear out or the chain goes rusty because I haven’t oiled it.
*Without wanting to sound like a mountain bike media bike test writer, Thanks to the semi-fat rear tyre, my hardtail riding has been revolutionised. I love the thing so much that I am even willing to parade it to my highly critical friends who do nothing but mock me for my succumbing to an apparent MTB FAD. I couldn’t care less: it works. Chris tests everything with high doses of cynicism for the bike industry and if it makes it through his critical testing then I know it’s probably worth a go. As a side-note, I did ride it with two fat-ish tyres to try that, but couldn’t deal with the front tyre squirm in turns. The thicker casing of the Schwalbe Magic Mary 2.5 gives me more confidence to hit turns hard, and a little squirm in the rear tyre (very occasionally) I can deal with. I’ve ridden it with ‘standard’ tyres too. The semi-semi-fat is officially here to stay.
Today's Vendetta as capable on the trail, Alps or dirt jumps.
Enough rear clearance for the muddiest of (some brands) semi-fat 2.8 tyres.
Todays 2017 Vendetta, still light, but a lot slacker and longer.
For more info on the latest version of the Vendetta click here.