Iron Horse MKIII Elite Mountain Bike Review

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Iron Horse is truly one of the sleeper bike brands in the industry. Though their low-end bikes are more at home at big box sports superstores, their high-end bikes are in high demand by mountain bike connoisseurs–mostly due to the amazing ride quality provided by the DW-Link suspension design.

With World Cup champion, Sam Hill as their ambassador, Iron Horse has gained a huge following in the DH crowd. The use of this suspension design has been a home run for Iron Horse as they have utilized it on the DH-specific Sunday, the freeride 7Point, long-travel trail 6Point, MKIII trailbike and the Azure XC racer. Active, efficient, smooth and seemingly-bottomless are all adjectives used to describe how the DW-Link feels on the trail. I tested and loved the Iron Horse 6Point6 earlier this year, would I feel the same about the MKIII Elite?

Iron Horse MKIII Elite Bike Review

About the Iron Horse MKIII Elite

The Iron Horse MKIII Elite is the workhorse of the lineup. With 5-inches of travel front and rear (130mm), it has just enough squish to scare away the leg-shaving crowd, but not so much squish to make it Whislter Bike Park-friendly. This particular incarnation of the DW-Link is built to be smooth enough to power through technical terrain, yet still climb 2000-ft. ascents without flinching–sounds good to me!

Billed as one of the most versatile bikes on the market, the MKIII can be found on endurance races, Super D courses or Dual Slalom–yup, it’s that capable. Tipping the scales at 28 lbs., the MKIII is light and snappy with a top-shelf parts spec built for years of abuse.

MKIII Elite Highlights

  • Rear Suspension: 5-inch travel DW-Link via Fox Float R
  • Fork: RockShox Revelation 426 Dual Air
  • Drivetrain: Full XT top-to-bottom
  • Wheelset: DT-Swiss XR 4.2D Rims and 340 Centerlock Hubs
  • Tires: Maxxis HighRoller 2.35 front and 2.1 rear
  • Sizes: 15, 17, 19 (tested), 21
  • Weight: 27.8 lbs (17)
  • MSRP: $3699

Iron Horse MKIII Elite Bike Review

Iron Horse MKIII Elite Review

After a month of trailriding, I’ve got in ample miles to get a good feel for the MKIII. Compared to the 6Point6 tested in May, the MKIII feels much more XC-oriented. Maybe it’s the stretched-out cockpit (23.75-inch top-tube) or the relatively steep head tube angle (69.5 degrees), or maybe it’s just the ultralight build? All those specs would typically lean the bike more towards XC than all-mountain, but it seems that Iron Horse has this bike dialed because the only thing truly XC-ish I felt in the saddle was its climbing ability.

Ascending up tight, twisty singletrack, I felt just a titch stretched out, which translated into a little more front-end wandering than I would expect. Swapping the stock Easton EA70 stem for a stubbier Titec El Norte didn’t make much difference, but I did notice a little more tendency for the front end to raise on steep climbs. The bottom line is that this is a climber and a darn good one that that. I couldn’t find anything that phased it. Up, up, up it goes with rock-solid traction in soft, tacky dirt, over loose rocks and sand.

Of course, consistent, seated climbing is the way to go with all bikes–especially DW-Link bikes–but the MKIII responds pretty well to standing climbs when you’re caught in the wrong gear (yeah, we all do that), provided the incline isn’t too steep.

On long up-and-down trails, the MKIII feels like it’s on rails. Thanks to its light weight, momentum is easily maintained and the bike continues to feel light and flickable on rolling terrain.

Iron Horse MKIII Elite Review

Descending, this bike definitely feels like it has much more than just 5-inches of travel–the beauty of the DW-Link suspension design. Supple enough to absorb small bumps, yet squishy enough to absorb larger drops and rock gardens, the MKIII is fun on the down. I did notice a lack of braking traction due to the narrow 2.1 width rear tire. If it were up to me, I’d stick with 2.35’s on both front and rear wheels for a better balance of climbing traction and descending ability. I also couldn’t quite get the rear shock dialed in for small bump sensitivity, but the Fox Float R isn’t really all that adjustable, so maybe that’s a small sacrifice I’ll have to make.

Though the suspension can absorb plenty of stuff, you can’t just point it through rough sections–you do have to pick your line. Leave the rock-gardens for beefier machines.

The DT/Swiss wheels tracked pretty well, but are definitely more XC-oriented hoops. They are a tad flexy for my tastes. I prefer a little heavier-duty wheelset and don’t mind pedaling around the extra wheel weight in exchange for rock-solid stability. Many people prefer a lighter wheelset and these wheels are excellent performers for their weight.  Elsewhere, all the components performed flawlessly. I was especially stoked on the XT disc brakes, which performed like vice grips under single digit compression. The XT shifters are also a huge improvement over LX, believe me.

The RockShox Revelation provides smooth and controlled suspension throughout it’s travel stroke.  I found it to be surprisingly supple and very torsionally stiff–a nice attribute for a standard quick-release axle design. Ride quality is easily maintained with the stellar adjustability of this fork. The test bike lacked the PushLoc handlebar-mounted lockout switch, but I never use those anyway.

The only other items worth pointing out is the lack of a quick-release seatpost clamp and the pathetic grips. Do yourself a favor and pick up a quick-release seatpost clamp and swap out the grips.

Good MKIII

  • DW-Link suspension is super-smooth both up and down
  • Solid, workhorse component spec
  • 180mm front rotor (nice touch)
  • Excellent climber… comfortable and efficient
  • Predictable descender… you can push it pretty hard
  • Shines on fast, rolling terrain
  • RockShox Revelation fork is supple and smooth… a nice fork for this bike

Bad MKIII

  • No quick-release seatclamp
  • Ditch the stock grips
  • Wheels are a little flexy for my tastes
  • Odd 2.35/2.1 tire width combo… stick with 2.35 front/rear

The Bottom Line on the Iron Horse MKIII Elite

Very impressive indeed. Going into the test, I didn’t think I’d like the MKIII as much as I do. Yeah, I do have a couple of minor complaints, but they are minor. The overall performance of the bike has been outstanding–and at 28 lbs., you’d be hard-pressed to find another bike with this kind of performance at such a light weight. This bike is solid and fun as a single-quiver, do-it-all kind of bike for most riders.

Buy Now: Visit IronHorseBikes.com to Find a Local Dealer

About Author

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

7 Comments

  1. So is the 6.6 better overall… Or is the elite a great bike… Both are the same price now and I’m in the market for one or the other… What is the better buy?

    • Good question. It all depends on the type of riding you like to do. The MKIII is fast and fun, but isn’t quite the descender that the 6Point is. I didn’t mind climbing on the 6Point and felt it to be an awesome all-around bike, but to be a good ascender it needs an adjustable-travel fork. The one I rode had the Lyrik with U-turn and I used that on the climbs to keep it going straight. If I’m not mistaken, the stock 6Point builds are spec’d with the Lyrik Solo Air… right?

      Tell me the type of riding you like to do and I can guide you from there.

  2. That’s a tough call. There’s so much excellent, flowy singletrack in Tahoe, but there’s also a lot of killer lift-serviced and other downhill trails.

    I really had a great time on the 6Point and honestly felt like I could ride through anything, but it is a little tanky at approx 33 lbs. If you’re down with pedaling that little extra heft, it will pay off in spades.

    But, you can’t go wrong with the MKIII as an all-around performer. It will easily outclimb the 6Point, but you will push it to its limits if you ride aggressively downhill.

    In the end you just have to make a decision based on your riding style and willingness to pedal a little (albeit not extremely) heavier bike uphill. Both the IH 6Point and Rocky Slayer are excellent all-around performers that absolutely slay the downhill. Aggressive riders can pedal them uphill without flinching, but if you consistently ride mellow terrain or hang with leg-shavin’ XC racers, you’ll be outgunned on the ups.

  3. I’m deciding between the MK 111 Elite and a Giant Trance X3. The components definitely lean towards the elite. However the Giant has a life time warranty and I’m able to test ride it. The Iron horse I have to order online. Which do you feel is a better suspension system, the dw-link or the maestro? I’ve heard each is better than the other in favor of the shop that sales that bike. Both are the same price. Which bike would be a better deal?

  4. Hey Jas…

    To be quite honest, the Maestro and DW ride very similar. I’d have a hard time picking one over the other right now. One thing to keep in mind is that IronHorse is discontinuing the DW-Link after this year. I’m sure you can get them for a song, but the long-term viability of IronHorse may be a question you should ponder.

    If there are parts spec deficiencies, you can always upgrade the Trance over time.

    I rode a Reign for several years and honestly loved it. Great suspension design.

  5. hello i am new to mountain biking i have found the mk111 for a good price and loved it when i test rode it. i typed in a search and found this page. I will do a different kinds of riding. this may seem a stupid question but i am thinking of getting the mk111 comp 09 or the specialised fsr xc expert 09 is the mk111 definately better. appreciate a reply please thank you

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