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Aug

16

The Mountain magazine bike test

Bend is part of the pantheon of North American destination mountain biking locales.

 

Yeti SB 130 Turq Series, XO1 Race: (29)

We were big fans of Yeti’s SB 5.5 (another 29er that ranged deep into the enduro side of things). We’re bigger fans of the 5.5’s replacement in the SB 130. Somehow it rides like Yeti’s faster climbing SB 4.5 going uphilll—maybe even better, there’s zero pogoing or midstroke bog even with the shock fully open as the rear end sits up and absorbs chunder while boosting traction. But on the downhills this is clearly a faster bike than both earlier iterations. Credit for that is only partly due to the extra half-inch-plus of travel. It’s the new “low, slack, and long” geometry that lets the 130 excel. The headtube got slacker while the seat tube got steeper and the reach got stretched out. On descents this means you can comfortably get lower and more forward on the bike with less fear that a steep head tube angle might send you flying. So what’s it best suited for? It outgunned much of what we rode in Bend, but excelled on the rockier and more technical track we searched out with the help of our local guides. This bike clearly favors speed, though. We’d love it on rough backcountry trails rife with roots, rocks, and extended straightaways where the suspension could really get a workout. But to be clear, the 130 does not need to be shuttled, the Switch Infinity suspension design lets it “ride light” on the way up, and allows for quick bursts of power on smooth sections of rolling track. “The best suspension I’ve ever tried,” said a tester. “The bike just seems to know how much travel you need and when you need it.” Swami gripe: Our first- time Yeti riders thought the bike was too glued to the trail. Swami like: Yeti’s are designed to hug the ground, absorbing terrain and boosting traction as they do so. They’re built for fast riding. And you can still launch them. Our test director jumped a car on the way out to Bend. $8,200, | $9,100 with carbon wheel upgrade

Ibis Ripley 29

You hear about bike geometry getting slacker these days, but it’s really getting slacker and steeper. How so? The head tube angles aren’t as steep, which inspires a ton of confidence off drops and through rock gardens where the angles mean you’re more likely to roll through that stuff. (It’s also easier to lift the front end of the bike.) But at the same time, seat tube angles have grown steeper so that designers can tuck the rear end of the bike (thanks also to shorter chainstays) under the rider more. That makes a slack bike more nimble at slower speeds and in tight places. And those—as well as a seat tube capable of accommodating today’s longer dropper posts—were the goals with the latest iteration of Ibis’s much loved Ripley, which they call their “snappy, flickable, playful, fast, lightweight, and versatile 29-inch trail bike.” Well, our testers backed up that claim. “This is perhaps the most nimble and fun bike I’ve ever ridden that’s still more than capable at high-speed on rough trail,” said a tester. To give a sense of the ride quality some comparisons might help: If the Yeti SB-130 is the most hard-charging, full speed ahead bike on these pages, the Niner Rip 9 is the plushest, and the Scott is the quickest quasi trail bike, then the Ripley is a blend of all three. It’s especially adept at technical rock garden climbs and navigating steep switchbacks, but it’s also just flat-out fun on all manner of descents. The lightweight feel makes you want to float off terrain. Much of that sprightly nature comes from the DW Link suspension design that’s been such a proven performer for so many years now‚ it peddles efficiently while seated, but easily transfers to plush—far plusher than the 120mm rear travel would indicate. Swami gripe: If you like to stand up on the pedals to hammer up short inclines on mixed descents you might want a remote lockout—the suspension bobs while standing. Swami like: If long climbs are essential to your riding experience, the Ripley with its 120mm/130mm travel might be the ticket. $9,200

 

Cog Wild’s Lev Stryker on Whoops.

Cannondale Habit Carbon 3 (29)

All right, full disclosure, most of our testers get deals on bikes. But if we were paying full retail for one do-it- all bike, the all new Habit would be the one we’d buy. It’s a 130mm (5.1 inches of travel) 29er already spec’d with the meaty rubber we prefer (2.5 Maxxis Minion DH in front and a 2.3 High Roller in the back). The Habit features all the elements of modern geometry we look for including short chainstays, a long top tube with a short stem, and a slack head angle. Wide bars are especially crucial on 29ers because you need that extra leverage to dip the bigger wheels into turns, and the 780mm bars on the Habit suffice. That mix made the Habit both nimble in corners (uphill and down) and eminently capable at speeds. “I wish I had an extended rock garden descent to take this bike on,” said a tester. The key to the bike’s handling are those short chainstays, a design element Cannondale calls AI. Capable of accommodating 29er and 27.5-plus (with the flip of a chip in the suspension) wheels and rubber, the rear triangle feels like it’s under you more, delivering a dexterous ride at slower speeds on technical track. “It shines on short punchy climbs with tough to navigate switchbacks,” said a tester. We also found the two-piece linkage system that wraps the seat tube was beefy in terms of lateral stiffness, but offered a smooth stroke. Swami gripe: The Habit 3 comes stock with a 130mm Fox 34 fork. That’s fine depending on where you live and ride, but most of us would have opted for the 140mm fork that Cannondale specs on the higher-end models. Swami like: The price. Because Cannondale makes many of the parts on the Habit 3 (dropper post, cranks, bars, stem, etc.) they can deliver a lot of value. $4,000

 

 

 

Evil Following MP 29

Our shop of record for our Bend test was Crow’s Feet Commons (see sidebar). And seeing they’re an Evil dealer, or a dealer of Evil bikes, they brought a Following to the test for some fun thrashing. Which, it turns out, is exactly the style of riding the Following was designed for. Originally conceived as a fast pedalling trail bike, but favored for screaming descents on small hit terrain, the updated version features a piggyback shock, Boost spacing, and an integrated chain guide—all more common features on longer travel enduro bikes. Sticking to its fast trail roots though, the Following didn’t get lower or slacker, only longer (which lets you get lower without dangling your head over the front wheel). The head and seat tube angles are adjustable, but we ran them slack at 66.8 and 73.7 respectably. And what do you know? This slack angle single pivot bike climbed exceedingly well, making it perfectly suited to all-day trail riding with or without a shuttle or a chairlift. “It absolutely rails corners,” said a tester fond of railing corners. “And it was smooth, stable, and laterally stiff on the bigger descents. Felt like there was way more than 120mmm of rear wheel travel.” Credit for the cornering comes from the short “berm slashing” chainstays. Credit for the available travel is the single pivot design boosted by much hardware. Swami gripe: The DH touches might be overkill for some. Swami like: The DH touches will be loved by others. If your local shuttle rides are nuking fast and feature more smooth landings than gnarly drops, look here.  $3,300 (frame only) 

Liza Gualandi on Tyler’s Traverse. Sweet Protection kit.

 

 

 

Juliana Furtado CC XO1

From the original women’s specific mountain bike builder comes one of the most versatile bikes in our Bend, Oregon tests. How so? The Furtado sports 130mm (a little more than 5 inches) of travel, front and rear. Combine that platform with a versatile 66.5 degree head tube angle and the long and low geometry that modern Santa Cruz and Juliana designs are famous for, and you get a bike that’s equally adept at technical climbs on backcountry trails as it is on ripping flow descents. “It can handle anything from fast rolling cross country track to rock garden climbs to wide open enduro-style descents,” said a tester. True to our results, Juliana positions the Furtado as its one-bike quiver offering, meaning it’s designed to excel at your average trail ride while still offering a zippy feel on extended climbs and confidence in rugged straightaways. But with a little vision it can get still more versatile. The bike comes spec’d with 2.6-inch rubber mounted on wide Reserve 37 rims. And if we only had one set of wheels that’s what we’d run. But the bike accommodates 27.5+ tires too, so you could run 2.4s (for faster trail riding) on one set of wheels and 2.8s (for technical riding, sand, or studded for winter riding!) on another and really boost the versatility. No matter what you do though, don’t discount this do-it-all bike’s descending chops. Our women testers were blown away by how balanced the suspension was, which allowed them to really load the bike through pumping corners on an endless point-to-point ride we did via a shuttle. It grips, rips, and accelerates out of corners. Swami gripe: Two of our testers are 27.5 riders, but one is a 29er fan. She loved the playfulness of the Furtado, but wished Julianna made a bike this versatile in a 29er offering for the faster rolling benefits. Swami like: It’s easier to power up a 27.5 on a steep climb, and for smaller riders especially, the smaller wheel sizes are way more nimble. $7,999  

 

Esker Elkat 

We used to discount 150mm travel trail bikes as too specialized for everyday riding. Historically, many didn’t climb all that well—you would bog down and pogo in the suspension—and only the hardest of trails with the fastest of riders demanded (and utilized) the full six inches of travel. Most people just carried the extra weight uphill for nothing. The Elkat (and to be fair a few other bikes we’ve written up in recent years) proves us wrong. Credit for much of that rests with famed suspension designer Dave Weagle, who licenses his “Orion” platform to Esker. Smart move on Esker’s part: While climbing, the combination of a steep seat tube angle and the mechanical advantage of the pivot placement mean the Elkat sits up and doesn’t bob under pedaling. That’s not that unusual, most quality bikes have that figured out for seated pedaling these days. The Elkat though, doesn’t bob when your seatpost is slammed and you’re standing on the pedals sprinting over the flats and up short climbs mid-descent. “The anti squat properties of this bike are just amazing,” said a tester.  A relatively high bottom bracket adds to that uphill and rock garden versatility. And as stiff as the frame and suspension feel laterally, the Elkat soaks up small bumps on climbs too. Esker calls its geometry “Slack and Steep,” meaning the front end is raked out, but the back end is steep and squat. On the trail that makes the bike more forgiving than steeper angled bikes when riders pick the wrong line, and at the same time better suited to climbing than slacker bikes. It’s versatile. It didn’t climb like a race bike, but it doesn’t “ride heavy” either. And although not as sturdy as a full enduro bike, it’s pretty close. Swami gripe: It’s not as stable as a fully slacked out 150mm 27.5. Swami like: It climbs and navigates slow, technical terrain way better. $2,850 (frame only)

 

Canyon Neuron CF 9.0 SL (29)

This direct to consumer brand makes bold claims about its raceable trail bike: “The lightweight, state-of-the-art, carbon frame, incredible spec—and most importantly, the pinpoint handling—come together to make the Neuron CF 9.0 Unlimited an all-around trail weapon.” We’d actually back up that claim. This is one versatile bike. It’s spec’d with smart, but high performing parts like Sram’s X01 Eagle drivetrain and a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork. But at this price point they also threw in the Reynolds carbon wheels, which saves buyers from later upgrades. It’s lightweight enough to race the occasional rugged backcountry event, but for the most part it’s a fun and fast trail bike that would excel on long rides with friends—it climbs as well as it descends, which for most riders matters more than they’ll admit. The DT Swiss rims are 30mm wide for boosted traction and better cornering, and the Kashima coated Fox 34 (130mm travel) also screams versatility. We found the bike rides high in the suspension travel and was quick to respond to hard pedaling on punchy climbs. “Accelerated like a tiger,” said a tester. Modern geometry makes it nimble in tricky terrain, but plenty fast in straightaway descents too—especially on the smooth and fast track with just the right amount of roots and rocks that Bend is famous for. “It has a great mix of small bump compliance, but the suspension ramps-up quickly for a progressive feel,” said a tester. “I never felt it bottom out even when forcing it on bigger hits.” Look here if you think the Yeti SB 130 is too much bike for your local network, or if you’re just a trail rider that loves extended climbs. Swami gripe: The Neuron’s head tube angle is a bit steeper than many of the more enduro-minded bikes we tested. That upright feel can make the bike a touch twitchy. Swami like: That same geometry means it’s a better climber on the way up. These are the trade-offs we make when we want one bike that can handle most trails. It’s also a great value. $4,800

Test Director Nick Truitt in Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer Short, Nine Trails Jersey and Smith’s Attack MTB eyewear.

 

BMC Fourstroke 01 

Of this crazy fast XC bike BMC says: “Born to surpass the demands of the world’s top endurance racers, the all-new Fourstroke utilizes 100mm of front and rear travel, plus the revolutionary RAD integrated dropper post to deliver the sport’s most innovative XC race machine.” As livesteaming fans of World Cup XC racing, we’d have to agree. The new Fourstroke is the state of the art in that highly specialized world. Much of the innovation comes from the integrated dropper post. That’s right, it’s fully integrated, meaning the post seemingly drops 90mm into the frame of the bike. But when it’s extended it looks like a regular seatpost. We don’t know how light that makes the post, but it’s lighter than any aftermarket post we know of with 90mm of travel. We’re expecting it to revolutionize World Cup XC racing, which has been slow to adopt dropper posts despite increasingly steep and technical courses. But the Fourstroke would be nearly as fast without the new post. This is an unapologetic racing machine. It’s stretched out with a longer wheelbase than the trail bikes we tested, which takes some getting used to, but the payoff is speed. You’re naturally in a more aerodynamic position with the geometry designed to boost power more than slow-speed handling. A dual lockout (fork and rear shock) turn it into a fully rigid bike on smooth track. And the over-the-top build kit (carbon wheels, Sram XXI, and the revered Fox 32 Stepcast fork) only demands more speed. It climbs like a hardtail on buffed trail, but it descends like an efficient race dually on rough terrain. “On a XC trail in Bend, I pushed the cornering as hard as I could,” said a tester. “There was nothing technical to speak off, but I couldn’t imagine a faster bike.” Swami gripe: Gulp, the price. Two types of riders will get to ride this bike, those without budget concerns, and those fast enough to get one sent to them. Swami like: This bike and some training makes e-bikes irrelevant. $11,000

 

Santa Cruz 5010 CC X01 RSV

The company calls the 5010 the “thrasher’s tool,” drawing a subtle distinction between thrashing fun bikes and big hit machines. Take note that this is YouTube sensation Danny MacAskill’s bike, so if you think you need something with another two inches of travel it’s at least worth considering the demands of the terrain you ride the most. As advertised, everything about the 5010 says “thrash.” The frame is carbon, but feels stout, so you can take chances and then take chances a second time with your bike intact. The 27.5 wheels are nimble, quick to accelerate, and totally flickable. And the long, low, slack geometry that Santa Cruz has long espoused means the 5010 is stable and predictable at high speeds on rough track. Our testers found it climbed well given its weight and excelled at railing the type of tight slalom turns that Bend’s trail builders employ to maximize the local terrain. Credit for both of those traits probably lies with the 27.5 wheels, which although they seem to be losing popularity, still accelerate and lean over easier than 29ers based on simple physics. Of the 5010, Santa Cruz says that it’s “a laser sharp, agile trail whip that turns on a dime and loves to pop and play.” Beyond the wheels, part of that ride quality is due to the 130mm of rear wheel travel, which is about the equivalent of 120mm on a 29er—meaning it’s designed to have an XC feel that’s capable of handling what most of us ride most of the time. It’s also designed to be a fun trail bike that isn’t about charging up and down all the time. “My favorite on Bend’s fast rolling terrain that’s broken up by jumps and short technical sections,” said a tester. Swami gripe: It’s not really a gripe, but regular 29er riders need to remember that the front hub is lower to the ground on 27.5s—and you need to actively lift the front wheel over more obstacles. Swami like: The virtual pivot point suspension design favors this amount of travel—it feels like a compliant race bike on the way up but the progressively stiffer rear wheel travel tends to keep you from bottoming out on bigger drops.  $8,000 (as shown)

 

 

Niner Rip 9 RDO 4-star X01 Eagle (29)

Like most updated bikes, the new Rip 9 RDO is longer, lower, and slacker than its earlier iterations. But that’s not where the story ends with this storied bike. Incredibly, Niner (Niner!) is offering the same model in a 27.5 version. Meh, we’ll stick with the big wheels. To us, the big story is that Niner added flip chips to the suspension (at the seat stays) that let you morph the Rip 9 from a daily trail bike with a 66-degree head tube angle to a full-on car shuttle descender with a 65-degree angle up front. And seeing that the new frame accommodates 2.6 inch wide rubber, you really could get two bikes out of one frame. We’d run it with DH tires on the slack (low setting) days, and 2.3s on the steeper (high setting) outings. In Bend, we ran it as more of a  trail bike. And it performed well at the task: “Even without slacking it out more it rides like a fun trail bike,” said a tester. “It’s incredibly forgiving and favors drops and jumps. You could run it as an enduro bike in trail mode.” That was a shocker, because Niner actually reduced the rear travel to 140mm, but at the same time they stiffened the suspension laterally. The result (our read) is that you can run the shock a little softer and take advantage of all that travel. Tweaks to the suspension positioning also made it easier to engage the plushness—especially with the high frequency small diameter trail noise. And oh yeah, familiar story, but the chainstays got shorter here too, so the bike feels nimbler. Swami gripe: Our one small beef with the Rip 9 is that when you’re climbing you aren’t riding high in the suspension like you do with the Yeti and the Canyon. Staying seated quietly helps, but you feel some bobbing. Swami like: Again with trail bikes, performance is often about tradeoffs. For the type of terrain this bike was designed for (pretty damn rowdy with more than 5.5 inches of travel on a 29er) we’ll take a little rider feedback in exchange for useable travel on the way back down. Our testers raved about its descending ability. $6,950

 

Diamondback Release 29 3

We consistently include Diamondback in our tests because of the value play. The new Release 29 3 is no exception. Yes, it’s made from aluminum and not as lightweight as the bikes on these pages that cost twice as much. Regardless, it’s a ripping and capable all mountain bike that anybody new to the sport or on a fixed budget will love. Hell, we loved riding it too. Bikes with 130mm of travel spec’d with 140mm forks tend to be both quick pedaling and tough to outgun on most trails most of the time. “Soaked up big compressions and was super stable in high speed corners,” said a tester who has so much power that the weight penalty doesn’t apply to him. Credit for that big hit compliance and the fact that it doesn’t “ride heavy” is in part due to the Release’s Level Link suspension design which rides up high in the travel when climbing but opens up nicely on rowdy descents. A relatively steep head tube angle (67.7 degrees) only adds to the bikes climbability and slow-speed handling chops. Still though, the story here is value. This Release comes standard with XT brakes (our favorite for modulation and power) and an XT drivetrain (our favorite for consistent shifting and durability for the money). And because Diamondback installed Maxxis rubber (the Minion DH in a 2.3 up front), you won’t feel the need to upgrade the tires upon purchase. “The efficient suspension and the build kit make this a great do-all trail bike for the value conscious rider,” said a tester. “It’s no race bike, but it’s super capable.” Swami gripe: Our medium sized woman tester found that the weight of the bike was a deal breaker. That’s not to be discounted. Lighter riders on heavier 29ers can struggle to accelerate. Swami like: Average to bigger riders will have no problem. And the bike industry needs affordable offerings that ride like modern mountain bikes. $3,300

 

Scott Spark 900 Premium

We used to soup up our XC race bikes by adding wider bars, 120mm forks, and dropper posts. The setup was perfect for North American style backcountry bike racing complete with extended climbs and descents on rough (but not enduro rough) descents. Think Breck Epic and most of the 50-milers scattered around the country. Now you can buy that souped up XC bike off the showroom floor in the Spark 900 Premium. It features the same frame as Scott’s full-on race bike, but the components are designed for 20 to 30 minute downhills on steep terrain, not the three minute descents of World Cup racing. They make a bunch of models, but the Premium is kitted out with wish list parts like the Kashima coated FOX 34 SC Float Factory Air and matching Kashima coated Transfer dropper post. (Plus DT carbon wheels.) While we love those offerings, we were fully blown away by the new XTR 1X12 drivetrain and accompanying brakes (See the XT-12 in Time Tested). The new Shimano system solves a real-world problem: choosing between the simplicity and gearing range of Sram’s Eagle 1X12, or the smooth shifting functionality of Shimano’s 1X11. It performed better than we expected—the action at the shifters is crazy light. So who should buy this race ready endurance machine that just whips uphill and rails most trails? More people than are buying bikes like this right now in our opinion. Most riders are running too much suspension most of the time. We see this on the trails with riders only using two-thirds of their travel. If that sounds like you, the Spark might make more sense. Why haul up the extra weight if your preferred trails are fast and the obstacles are small?  “This bike just rips uphill,” said a tester. “If you race or just like riding fast on XC terrain why wouldn’t you look here first?”  Swami gripe: It’s obviously not a big hit trail bike, but it’s surprisingly capable. Swami like: Will not get dropped unless the singletrack turns to an enduro course. $7,600

 

Sage Flow Motion

Mountain mag will always defend the existence of hardtails, even hardtail 27.5s. Why? In this case, the Flow Motion is slacked out, crafted from super beefy titanium, equipped with rugged 2.6-inch wide rubber, wide bars, and Shimano’s powerful XT four-piston brakes. Naturally, our testers took it directly to Bend’s backwoods flow trail, Whoop, and whooped it up. That rigid rear triangle mimics a dirt jumper for takeoff, but touchdown on the smooth and deep Fox 36 (160mm) took the edge off those hits. On natural trail, the stout fork kept the front end from diving as we braked into turns, and although it takes some getting used to cornering on a hardtail—you don’t pump so much as edge—knowing exactly where the rear tire is and what it’s doing at all times makes for some precise handling. Sage claims that the Flow Motion “Shreds the preconceptions of an all-mountain trail bike.”  And they’re right. “It’s stable as hell or playful as hell depending upon what you need at the moment,” said a tester. “And it was by far the bike of choice on the flow trail. It loves to take air.” Swami gripe: Our hucker didn’t want to give it back—ever. “Please don’t make me switch bikes!” Swami like: It wouldn’t be our choice for five hour rides (we’ll take the cush for those) but if you love to session purpose built track and navigate gnarly lines followed by dirt road climbs, this could be your ride. It’s testament that there are still many legit choices in bike design. $7,680

 

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt Carbon 70

Here’s what Rocky has to say about their do-it-all trail bike: “Born in BC, this is how we do trail bikes. With a long stroke shock that provides  140mm of rear travel, we’ve kitted out the Thunderbolt BC Edition with wide bars, big tires, ultra-stiff wheels, and more capable suspension. With a wide range of RIDE-9™ adjustments for whatever terrain you want to tackle, its more aggressive nature is perfect for all-day trail adventures.” Here’s our take: That’s pretty accurate actually. The Thunderbolt is souped-up for the jumbled riding of Canada’s Interior British Columbia, but because of all the adjustments you can easily tune the Carbon 70 to your local network. The key—as with all adjustable geometry bikes—is to take the time to dial in those tweaks. From slack to steep, the head tube angle adjusts from 66.4 degrees to 67.6 with seven positions in between. A similarly dramatic change occurs with the seat tube angle and the bottom bracket height. Our advice? Ride the Thunderbolt in the midranges for most of your trail rides and only slacken it all the way out if you have a day of car-shuttling planned. The steepest settings are (our opinion) for steeper climbs, but we like the mid-slack angles for lifting the front end over uphill logs and general versatility even when climbing.  “The Thunderbolt is a true one-bike quiver ride,” said a tester. “It ranges from rugged XC, to trail, to light enduro. Swami gripe: It can feel a bit sluggish from the gun. Stay seated and spinning. Swami like: The balanced suspension makes for consistent pumping through the corners. $5,400

 

Felt Compulsion 3

Felt is a European company known for its value, and the Compulsion 3 is a European bike that constitutes a great value for the right rider. We’ll explain the Euro part. Riding there has gotten more diverse recently, but historically, mountain biking in Europe involved XC racers on svelte hardtails hammering it up doubletrack and car-shuttle types riding steep terrain on bikes you wouldn’t want to ride uphill on all day. The latter category explains why e-mountain bikes are all the rage across the pond. Here’s what Felt has to say about the Compulsion 3: “[It] was born and bred for the world’s most committed enduro racers and aggressive trail riders. Its full carbon frame includes carbon links and a carbon rear triangle, making for an ultralight and incredibly stiff chassis that accelerates up climbs unlike any other bike in its class.” We can’t attest to the superlight chassis part, but the Compulsion is a car-shuttle rocket complete with 165mm (rear travel), and 170mm (front fork) suspension, beefy Maxxis DH tires in front and rear, and Boost thru axles. It’s carbon, but make no mistake this is a stout bike. We aren’t sure how much it weighs, but it’s burly enough that it will not get pinged around at any speed. “It goes downhill like a sled,” said a tester. Even the rims are built for the hitchhiking Enduro set—they’re 29mm wide internally so those fat 2.6-inch wide tires can better square up. Swami gripe: We found it too heavy for most human powered trail riding. Swami like: “This bike longs for extended straightaways on rugged track,” said a tester. “That extra weight makes for a confidence inspiring ride on the down.” $4,500  

 

 

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