So, you’re asking me to test a bike that’s named after one of my favorite trails in the world? Yes, please!
The 160mm Raaw Madonna V2.2 followed me throughout the Alps last year and we’ve been sloshing about in Bellingham together since September. The bike has framed heaps of component and gear reviews, and now it’s time to write about these beautiful aluminum tubes before sending them home to Germany. The Madonna topped my “favorite bikes” list for last season, and it summited the pile of bikes that I wish I could keep around and eventually hang on the wall when they become too worked to work.
Test pilot profile height: 175cm (5’9″) weight: 65kg (145lb) testing zone: Bellingham, Washington
Who might the Madonna suit best?
A slice of why I don’t want to give this bike up comes from a pie of performance, another flavored by its sheer fortitude, and the rest is all fun sugary goodness. The Madonna is a legit race bike, built to go wicked fast downhill on the gnarliest tracks imaginable. With over 200g of bearings and bits piled in, it’s also going to hold up through those impact-laden afternoons, asking for little in return.
This bike is for someone who loves to locate the edges of their courage on natural trails where all of the smoothing and supporting work needs to come from the pilot and their machine. The kind of trails where fun isn’t for free. If there are jarring descents you aim to clean faster, or races you hope to podium, the Madonna will make a great companion.
Oh, and if you like your frame to look brand new all the time, raw aluminum is the way to go. Scuff this bike all you like, then bring back that luster with a little elbow grease whenever the mood strikes.
Raaw Madonna Frame details
Raaw Madonna frames roll on 29″ wheels front and rear, with a 170mm fork and 160mm of well-tuned rear-wheel travel. There are two rocker links to suit different rider weights, and I used the Rocker 60 with a 500lb coil spring to suit my 148ish pound-weight. Behind those rockers, the chainstays are adjustable between 440, 445, or 450mm, and this large frame came with the 445mm axle installed. For any fast and loose riding, that length seems a good match for the bike’s front-center measurement.
While static-sag measurements may not be the ones we ride with once things are compressed, they are the numbers we use to compare one frame to another. This size too-large-for-me bike has a 480mm reach following a properly slack 64.5° heat tube angle. The bike has a nice and tall stack height of 657mm, though I did add 20mm of spacers under the stem to bring the reach back a bit. The designers at Raaw nailed the seat tube angle, with a 74° actual lean that comes out to somewhere around 77° when you draw a straight line through the BB. This frame has some of the lowest cranks I’ve experienced, with a full 35mm BB drop that feels amazing in fast corners between the 1,269mm wheelbase on a size large.
I chose a size large Madonna after riding bikes in the 465 to 470mm reach range, and if I had the chance to ride another Raaw I think a medium would better fit my medium height. Regardless of its limo-limbs this was a sick bike to spend a season with.
So many builds
Both of Raaw’s bikes, and the coming DH model, are sold as framesets for discerning riders who know what parts they want to use. I have tested several shocks, a few forks, worn through at least two drivetrains, and swapped more wheels and tires than I care to admit through this frame test. The end result has been positive, and the Madonna plays well with a host of component options that can give it a slightly nuanced character out on the trail. With roughly 20% progressivity throughout its travel, this frame feels surprisingly comfortable compressing a variety of coil and air shocks, and the shock selection can do a lot to morph the bike’s plow vs. pop mannerisms. I built too many iterations of this frame to list, and the short story is that they have all been fun.
I’ll state it one more time: this bike feels fast. It plows hard through everything and anything, straight over whatever and on to the bottom. I’ve seen people ride it playfully, throwing whips and bounding across the trail like gleeful kangaroos, but under me, it feels best when pointed into the shortest line to the bottom. I dislike genres and unnecessary categorization, but this thing does fall deep into the enduro-race-appropriate pile. It’s ready to go as fast as your courage can, and then some.
The Raaw Madonna is confidence-conspiring enough that it had to save me from a few poor choices. I feel so comfortable on this bike that I have managed to send it beyond my means a few times, and the long slack steed managed to save me from myself. One near-off, in particular, came while following friends on a trail I had never ridden, and throwing myself over a rise with the hope that a landing was close to my trajectory. It wasn’t. The trail took a sharp left after that lip and I shot off into the loam for a spicy freeride landing. The slop was such that I couldn’t stop or slow much, and the bike’s slack and long front end kept my rag doll corpse on the uphill side of the handlebar.
Reaching the crest of a trail requires another scoop of peanut butter than some lighter bikes, and it’s well worth the effort. The Madonna’s steep seat tube makes the reach manageable while seated, and the 445mm chainstays on this size large frame are long enough to keep the nose planted while climbing. Much of that peanut butter expenditure is due to the heavy dual-ply downhill tires that I like to ride, more than any aspect of the frame itself. This large frame with a full DH-bike spec tips the balance at 17.07Kg (37.68Lb), though it feels like less under pedal power. I’ve recently tested a few carbon bikes with similar travel numbers that don’t climb as well as this beast, so maybe weight isn’t the full ascent story.
The rear of this bike has a lot of leverage, making the initial stroke of the shock uber supple and smooth — aided by sealed bearings at each pivot point. The tradeoff for that buttery axle movement oftentimes manifests as rear axle bob and wobble under sprinting power. With a 500lb/in spring, or an air spring with roughly 25% static sag, the Madonna can support all of the watts I can put out. It’s a rare bike that’s able to soothe the noisiest trails to a calm murmur and support a fitful race sprint, and the Madonna can do just that. Hats off to the engineers at Raaw for dialing in the bike’s anti-squat and anti-rise values for a beautifully happy medium.
Heartwarming adventures in my diary will always include a few multi-hour climbs with friendly chats, some amount of ridgetop sitting and “nature awe,” all followed by the fastest descending possible. And repeat. And repeat. While the Madonna may be a big pup, sometimes even cumbersome, it’s a fantastic machine for daylong adventures. Easy up and ripping down mannerisms alongside bombproof construction leave you with a frame that’s fun everywhere and that never needs to be fiddled with. I’d be stoked to bring this bike on a fortnight’s bikepacking trip if the trails were appropriately rowdy, and there may be no better option when you’re headed to a weeklong enduro like Trans BC or Trans NZ.
Frame maintenance considerations
I cracked the massive main pivot open for a clean and regrease once while testing this bike and that was all the maintenance the frame asked for. The pivot was making a small amount of noise and I decided to silence it after a few months of neglect. The process took about five minutes and the squeak was dead. Raaw spared no expense with the bearings and seals in this bike, and its overall durability is immediately apparent. With external everything, and shock mounts that make it wicked easy to swap parts, there isn’t a mechanic who won’t dig this rig.
The pinch point between triangles sits flush with the seat tube and hardly collects any of the trail along the way, so you can leave this bike super dirty or polish it daily. Your choice. I have a few friends who are mechanical engineers and they both chose the Madonna for its simplicity and clean design features. Either of them could afford much more expensive bikes, and the fact that they chose this one speaks volumes of its fortitude and performance.
If you have €2,092.45 to throw down on the ultimate enduro race frame for a privateer athlete, or a fantastic all-mountain ripper, this is the one I’d recommend. The Madonna eats bricks and shits buildings, leaving you to smile and holler along the way.
- Wildly capable gravity tool
- Climbs well for its pedigree
- Highly durable construction
- Quick and easy maintenance
Pros and cons of the Raaw Madonna V2.2.
- Slightly heavier than some competing bikes
- Only two finish options