It’s difficult to say just why the Explosif is such good fun to ride. It could be partly that it’s small – I like the chuckable feel of a small frame, and the short wheelbase gives sharper steering and adds to the manoeuvrability of the bike. The downside of the small frame is that the head tube is too short, but it isn’t really an issue as some headset spacers and a low-rise bar bring the riding position to the height I need.
It’s quite a stiff frame, giving accurate steering even with the lightweight SID fork. The stays are quite firm and give a pretty direct drive, but I would describe it as lively rather than ever uncomfortable. It’s quite fast uphill as well as downhill.
The 4lb frame and 2.8lb fork are a basis for a reasonably light bike, 23lbs overall without any weight-saving parts. I don’t chase light weight because mid-weight parts often make for a faster bike than superlight ones. e.g., 600g 2.25 tyres are faster than spindly 400g ones, a wide riser bar makes it faster than a narrow straight bar, proper stiff grips make it faster than foam grips, etc,
Comparing the 1994 to other Explosifs, it is less sophisticated and efficient than the 1996 Columbus Max version, which combines a very stiff front end resulting from the big bi-ovalised tubes, with a light and compliant rear end, featuring particularly slender seatstays. The 96 still climbs at least as fast though, as the chainstays are fairly beefy. The 96 may be a better frame, but it’s hard for me to tell as mine is a bigger size. I run it with a 100mm fork and short stem, more like a modern design, which gives good steering and handling, but as good as it is, it still isn’t as much fun to ride as the 94, perhaps down to the larger size.
The 1998 Reynolds 853 Explosif is a slightly different kind of design, even though it has identical geometry, as it’s built a few ounces heavier than the other two, presumably to make best use of longer-travel forks. I can’t tell whether it’s the slightly beefier tube spec or some inherent qualities of 853, but it’s a very stable and steady-handling bike, with good traction, very poised and controllable on downhills, and very confidence-inspiring. Point to point, I wouldn’t like to say which is the fastest of the three, but I always like the 94 Explosif and I seem to ride it the most.