The production of aluminum bicycles has come a long way in the last few years. Their meteoric rise in popularity has made them an industry mainstay instead of just an industry tag-along. Though the single-handed, fine craftsmanship of Doug Bradbury and his exotic Manitou still carry on the tradition of what the aluminum mountain bike industry once was, it now enjoys full-scale promotion. No longer are they the lightweight cousins to steel frames served up from a major manufacturer´s surplus of design and production facilities. They are now the mainstay of many big-time mountain bike lineups, and they really exhibit a much broader range of construction and ingenuity than their chromoly counterparts. Thin-walled, big-diameter tubes, thick-walled, small-diameter tubes, welded, bond-ed, paint-ed, or polished - the choice is yours. Just as important is the variety of ride qualities that each bikes exhibits. Aluminum bikes not only have their own look and feel, but you can also be sure that no two feel the same out on the trail. That is all part of the magic of aluminum bikes - a magic more and more people are starting to explore and enjoy.

 Maintaining their own identity as they have, Klein mountain bikes have remained an anomaly in the world of off-road bicycles. Gary Klein made a name for himself by pioneering the use of oversized aluminum tubes to make both road and mountain bike frames. The frames, which enjoy a complicated patent for their rigidity, are famous for maintaining a high standard of quality construction and immaculate paint jobs. The mountain bikes equally wellknown for their sloping top tube design. In addition to design appearance, Klein mountain bikes are unique for their performance, but it is the frame that is deserving of the most attention. The Klein Top Gun, with its "Patriot" paint scheme, will be attracting even more attention out on the NORBA National circuit this year, since former National Champion Cindy Whitehead has come out of retirement to race with the company that sponsored her when she won her first title.

             WHAT IT´S ALL ABOUT
 The Top Gun is the result of Gary Klein´s desire to build an all-out race bike. Though the 6061 T-6 heat treated aluminum frame is actually the same as the wild Pinnacle Elite that was the Top Gun predecessor, it differs in that it has steeper head and seat angles. The Top Guns measures in with a 71-degree head and 72.5-degree seat angle (versus the 70/ 72 Pinnacle) and it has no rack or fender mounts. Our 20-inch test bike (measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the effective parallel top tube) had an eight-degree sloping top tube with a seat tube that rose two inches above it. The raised seat tube is a crucial design element for bikes with sloping top tubes, since they require extra strenght in that area due to the increased leverage of the further extended seatpost. The trademark internally routed cables, smoothly filed joints and the trick square-to-round tube chainstays are still there , taking high marks for overall detailing.
 The Top Gun also differs from the Pinnacle by using new horizental, rear-entry dropouts for the rear wheel. This design enables the rear derailleur to be mounted further forward and higher up for trail protection, as well as providing quicker wheel removal. The thick aluminum dropouts are sturdy enough to withstand any abuse. Speaking of dropouts, what about the forks ? Wouldn´t you know - safety dropouts. While the world of liability insurance and personal injury lawsuits is one that is spinning wildly out of control, any bike that is intented to.

be a race bike should not have safety drops that practically require the entire unthreading of the quick-release skewer before the wheel can be removed. If you intend to race a Top Gun, file these off or lose precious second changing the inevitable flat tire.
 The Top Gun features a 22.75-inch top tube, which isn´t long by 20-inch frame standards, but the eight-degree sloping top tube definitely adds to rider compartment roominess. Ishiwata tapered-gauge chromoly forks have 1.75 inches of offset which work with a 41.25-inch wheelbase. An 11.8-inch bottom bracket height and 16.5-inch chainstays round out the numbers. Kleins are one of the few bikes that have functionally designed water bottle mounts for three water bottles.

Aim it and go: Klein mountain bikes are some of the most easily maneuverable made. The Top Gun was a quick and agile handler due to its light weight and its extremely rigid due to the oversized tubes. If anything, the front forks could be a little stronger, but overall it was a very popular bike with the wrecking crew.

             THE COMPONENTS

 Any bike as trick-looking as the Top Gun wouldn´t look right if it was to follow a standard line for component choice. Undoubtedly the most attention-getting component on the Top Gun is the one-piece handlebar and stem combo. Resembling the setup first


It´s all first-rate: The quality construction of the Top Gun is almost overwhelming. Internally routed cables give the bike a very clean appearance, as do the filed welds. more and more bikes are beginning to show up with spacers on the stem which provide a variable stack height, making headset shopping easier. The one-piece handlebar and stem combo took a beating but never bent.

It´s why they work: Klein is renowned for building sloping top tube mountain bikes. The extension on the seat tube above the top tube will prevent the seatpost from bending. The small cable guide tube for the rear brake is a small simple and effective design. The Avocet Gel saddle was firm enough to still be comfortable.

Take it from behind: Though vertical dropouts are a favorite, the rear-entry horizontal drops on the Klein worked well. Shimano´s short cage Deore XT derailleur worked the chain evenly and effectively over the 12-28 gear selection. The cable guides aren´t slotted.

seen on the carbon fiber Trimble mountain bike, the alloy stem is welded to a 7/ 8-inch chromoly bar with the same high-quality finish as the frame. The only concern we had was that if the bars got bent in a crash, it would put the owner out of both a stem and handlebar. Klein said that replacement units will be available for approximately $70, actually on the inexpensive side for a stem, handlebar and the labor involved.

The only other standout in component selection is the use of a SunTour XC9000 rear cantilever brake (a Shimano Deore XT unit is used up front). The SunTour units definitely have a more inboard design than the Shimano brakes and this is helpful for heel clearance when traveling trough the pedal stroke. It´s nice to see a company think about little details like this. Except for the SunTour XC seatpost, which is one of the best in the

business, the rest of the components are picked from the Shimano Deore XT Parts bin - all top-quality goods. Sun Mistral 32-spoke rims mounted with Specialized Ground Control tires make up strong and reliable wheel assemblies.

               OUT ON THE TRAIL
 Klein mountain bikes were once described to us as the best road bike for off-road riding. Though we aren´t sure what the person

meant by this statement, we know what it means to us - that´s why we like Klein mountain bikes. A road bike is light and quickhandling; so is the Klein. We ran the Top Gun up against a few other aluminum and steel bikes in a downhill gravity test. The Klein was the hands-down winner in the coasting contest each time. The bike has an airy feel to it which provides a manueuverable handling package. It skips through the rough stuff and soaks up the bumps very nicely. Hammering down one particularly steep downhill, we were surprised by a new ledge that had been graded out of the bottom. With no chance to slow down, imminent doom was predicted. We felt something flex quite a bit. It was the bars, but a quick check showed no sign of bending or fatigue; neither did the frame or fork as we had feared. Impressive.

Almost a perfect thought: Instead of taking the easy route and simply spec´ing the whole bike out with a Shimano Deore XT gruppo,Klein installed a Suntour XC9000 rear cantilever to give more heel clearance. While the brake worked perfectly, we would´ve preferred SunTour´s self-energizing model for even better performance. Though the brake arms never hit our legs, the brake cable did. Cut it long and wrap it inside.

With their slooping top tubes, Klein mountain bikes have always been troublesome to portage. There´s just to little room in the front triangle to properly slip a shoulder in under the top tube, when it comes to dismounting and carrying. Okay that´s our one complaint, besides the safety quick-releases on the forks. The Top Gun is an aptly named mountain bike for those who want to perform with the greatest of ease. 

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