Enduro bikes are not always your go-to rig. For starters, they’re heavy, have too much travel, and can sometimes feel a bit lumbering. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that less is more – and that’s when these nine bikes in our group test deserve your attention.

Why less travel is often more

If your weekends are spent racing enduros and hammering through rock gardens, and all your friends have dubbed the bike park as your second home, then perhaps these aren’t the bikes for you. But if your riding is more than just shredding downhill, your home trails don’t have a gondola up-lift, or you’d like to ride for than five super-intense minutes, then take heed of this group test.

Get ready to meet nine trail bikes that are going to leave your current whip looking like a poor eighties throwback. Lighter, quicker, more agile, and more versatile – let’s meet the fast & the furious.
Get ready to meet nine trail bikes that are going to leave your current whip looking like a poor eighties throwback. Lighter, quicker, more agile, and more versatile – let’s meet the fast & the furious.

What makes the perfect trail bike?

The qualities of the perfect trail bike are much more than just a top-quality spec. The bike itself has to unite some seemingly polar opposite principles, striking a compromise between agility on the climbs and brute strength on the descents. Additionally, you’ve got to have fun on the more mellow trails. Light and fragile is obviously a no-go – who wants to be stuck out on a trail with a broken bike? So striking the balance between weight and durability is also key. Then there’s the C-bomb: comfort. We’re all going to demand the ability to ride all day, yet we still want a bike that isn’t a wallowing seventies Cadillac lost in the curves. We want one that’s also ready to tear up some quick hot laps of your local trails.

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Quality over quantity – let’s talk travel

Precisely because you’ve got less travel, it needs to work more effectively. Harsh bottoming-out or overly generous suspension means you’ll lack reserve on technical trails. This is where the suspension curve is crucial, taken off the theory of the classroom blackboard and put into real life. Knowing how much travel you have in millimeters is pretty useless on its own, revealing little about how the shock works. In this group test, the SCOTT Genius 910 had a touch more travel than the rest (140 mm front/ 130 mm rear), but it felt much firmer than the bikes with 10-20 mm less travel. The design of the rear is crucial to iron out small hits while not leaving you wanting when it comes to the big hits. The FOCUS Spine, the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt, and the MERIDA ONE-TWENTY were three bikes that really shone here. They climbed brilliantly with a lot of traction, and even on descents their 120 mm of travel was ample, giving the rider exactly the right dose of feedback. The serious downhill rockets came in the form of Evil’s The Following and the brand-new Trek Fuel EX, both true boy scouts, always prepared for the toughest trails. These are two bikes in particular that we’d willingly take to the start line of an enduro race.

“What counts is the perfect compromise, and not just that best downhill performance.”
“What counts is the perfect compromise, and not just that best downhill performance.”

1X is here to stay!

Loads of riders, especially German ones, have doubts about using 1×11 drivetrains on long rides, with their limited range causing some hesitation. But take it from us: these fears are unfounded. OK, the gear range isn’t as big as 2x (or even 3x), but with the right front chainring you’ll be able to get up any climb. If you’re prepared to adapt to a reduced top end, then you’ll get some great benefits from 1×11 and won’t want to turn back. In fact, with the recently launched 1×12, there’s no reason not to ride 1x.

“Flow below the tree line, rocky trails above it.”
“Flow below the tree line, rocky trails above it.”

Decide the contact points

Those used to spending hours in the saddle understand the importance of ergonomics, and that it’s worth investing in the bars, saddle, and pedals. The last two are obviously a question of personal preference, but when it comes to bar choice there are some pretty clear recommendations: our test revealed that short-travel trail bikes are best ridden with a 50-60 mm stem and 740-760 mm bars. The even longer stem on the Canyon Nerve made the bike a bit twitchy, and the aftermarket 800 mm bars on the Trek Fuel EX were one burly step too far.

Then there’s the contact between the bike and the ground, which is another influence on how the bike rides. Saving weight with lighter tires might impact both grip and durability, but go too heavy and the bike will be sluggish. For all-round use you’ve got to try and find the ultimate compromise, which we spotted in the Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.4″ and the Continental Mountain King 2.2″. If shredding the downhills is more your thing, then go for ones with a more aggressive, heavy-duty tread.

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The bikes on test

We travelled down to idyllic Sexten in South Tyrol armed with nine bikes. Like a page out of a tourist brochure, Sexten is surrounded by stunning mountains and marks the trailhead of the Stoneman Trail, an extreme 115 km riding route with around 4,000 meters of climbing. We prepared ourselves for hours of ups and downs on breath-taking singletrack that takes you through some pretty tough terrain – exactly what these bikes have been made for.

However, those sorts of arduous singletrack shenanigans aren’t to everyone’s liking, so we also put the bikes under the microscope on some fast, flowy trails. At the end, there was just one clear winner.

Bike Travel Weight Price
Canyon Nerve AL 9.9 LTD 120 / 110 mm 12.63 kg € 3,899
Evil The Following X1 130 / 120 mm 13.27 kg € 5,399
Focus Spine C Factory 120 / 120 mm 12.13 kg € 4,999
Merida ONE-TWENTY 8000 130 / 120 mm 12.40 kg € 5,149
Norco OPTIC C7.2 140/130 mm 12.65 kg € 4,699
Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition 130 / 120 mm 12.35 kg € 6,900
SCOTT Genius 910 140 / 130 / 90 mm 13.00 kg € 4,999
Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29 120 / 120 mm 13.05 kg € 3,999
Trek FUEL EX 9.8 29 130 / 120 mm 13.59 kg € 4,999

Canyon Nerve AL 9.9 LTD | 12,63 kg | 3.899 €
Canyon Nerve AL 9.9 LTD

EVIL The Following X1 | 130 | 120 mm (v/h) | 13,27 kg | 5.399 €
EVIL The Following X1

FOCUS SPINE C Factory | 120 / 120 mm (v/h) | 12,13 kg | 4.999 €
FOCUS SPINE C Factory

Merida ONE-TWENTY 8000 | 130 / 120 mm (v/h) | 12,40 kg | 5,149 €
MERIDA ONE-TWENTY 8000

Norco OPTIC C7.2 | 130 / 120 mm (v/h) | 12,65 kg | 4.699 €
Norco OPTIC C7.2

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition | 130 / 120 mm (v/h) | 12,35 kg | 6.900 €
Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition

SCOTT Genius 910 | 140 / 130, 90, 0 mm (v/h) | 13,0 kg | 4.999 €
SCOTT Genius 910

Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29 | 120 / 120 mm (v/h) | 13,05 kg | 3.999 €
Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29 | 130 / 130 mm (v/h) | 13,59 kg | 4.999 €
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29

Tops

All on board: Specialized are known for their innovative ideas, and the downtube-integrated SWAT box is no exception, offering space for tools and a tube, meaning you can leave your backpack at home for short rides. Ace!
All on board: Specialized are known for their innovative ideas, and the downtube-integrated SWAT box is no exception, offering space for tools and a tube, meaning you can leave your backpack at home for short rides. Ace!
Responsive: The rear end of the Trek Fuel EX is super-sensitive and gobbles up uneven terrain. Thanks to the RE:aktiv technology, it still reacts well to bumps, even with active platform damping.
Responsive: The rear end of the Trek Fuel EX is super-sensitive and gobbles up uneven terrain. Thanks to the RE:aktiv technology, it still reacts well to bumps, even with active platform damping.
Keep loose: Despite having just 120 mm of travel, the FOCUS Spine’s choice of a RockShox PIKE fork was a wise one, winning us over with its responsiveness and ability to tackle any size bump with ease.
Keep loose: Despite having just 120 mm of travel, the FOCUS Spine’s choice of a RockShox PIKE fork was a wise one, winning us over with its responsiveness and ability to tackle any size bump with ease.
Adjustable: Rocky Mountain’s RIDE-9 system allows the rider to not only adjust the bike’s geometry, but also tune the suspension curve.
Adjustable: Rocky Mountain’s RIDE-9 system allows the rider to not only adjust the bike’s geometry, but also tune the suspension curve.

Flops

Out of their depth: The RockShox Revelation fork was no rival for the competition, lacking sufficient damping and running through its travel too quickly; as a result, the bike didn’t handle well and you had to ride quite carefully to avoid excessive fork dive.
Out of their depth: The RockShox Revelation fork was no rival for the competition, lacking sufficient damping and running through its travel too quickly; as a result, the bike didn’t handle well and you had to ride quite carefully to avoid excessive fork dive.
Indirect: The long 80 mm stem on the Canyon Nerve AL is one way to spoil how the bike rides, and a sure-fire way to feel like you’ll go straight over the bars on steep descents. We wouldn’t recommend anything longer than 70 mm.
Indirect: The long 80 mm stem on the Canyon Nerve AL is one way to spoil how the bike rides, and a sure-fire way to feel like you’ll go straight over the bars on steep descents. We wouldn’t recommend anything longer than 70 mm.
System overload: The Norco’s cockpit is crowded and it’s hard to get an overview of what’s going on. We’d recommend removing the fork’s remote lever and upgrading to 1x11 (the kit is included).
System overload: The Norco’s cockpit is crowded and it’s hard to get an overview of what’s going on. We’d recommend removing the fork’s remote lever and upgrading to 1×11 (the kit is included).
Slippery: Coming as stock on the SCOTT Genius 910, the Schwalbe Rocket Ron was too narrow and low-profiled for real trails, plus its hard PaceStar rubber compound just couldn’t deliver on grip.
Slippery: Coming as stock on the SCOTT Genius 910, the Schwalbe Rocket Ron was too narrow and low-profiled for real trails, plus its hard PaceStar rubber compound just couldn’t deliver on grip.

The ultimate trail bike for mountain rides and home trails

The best all-rounder and this group test’s dominant winner is the FOCUS Spine C Factory, which proved more versatile and more fun than any other bike on test. It clearly strung together the winning mix of comfort, agility, and smoothness better than the competition. At 4,999 €, it isn’t the cheapest bike in the group test, but its value for money is sky high. Hot on its heels was the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt, which rode superbly – unfortunately, despite the perks in its better spec, the extra 1,500 € on its price tag couldn’t be overlooked. Riders who go dewy-eyed at downhills are best grabbing the brand-new Trek Fuel EX or Evil’s The Following, which both beg for high speeds and can easily hold their own against pure-bred enduro bikes – oh, and their climbing is acceptable. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the Canyon Nerve AL 9.9 LTD and the SCOTT Genius 910, who boast the opposite: outstanding on the climbs, weaker on the descents. Despite its amazing handling package, the Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29 is limited by its low price-point spec. Then there are the all-rounders like the MERIDA ONE-TWENTY 8000 and the Norco Optic C7.2, which both perform well on climbs and descents, although not to the same standard as the FOCUS Spine C Factory.

Best in test:FOCUS SPINE C Factory
Best in test: The FOCUS SPINE C Factory

All bikes in test: Canyon Nerve AL 9.9 LTD | Evil The Following X1 | FOCUS Spine C Factory | MERIDA ONE-TWENTY 8000 | Norco OPTIC C7.2 | Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition | SCOTT Genius 910 | Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29 | Trek FUEL EX 9.8 29

PS: Readers' Survey 2017 - Give feedback, win awesome prizes: We're giving away an exclusive Trek Slash 2018 in top spec! Click here to take part now!

Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Christoph Bayer, Noah Haxel

About the author

Christoph Bayer

Christoph loves to be kept on his toes – both on the bike and in his role for ENDURO. He’s known as the guy in charge of the bi-monthly magazine and masquerades as both its editor and photographer. You’ll usually find him tearing up the mountains on his bike, soaking up the flow or tackling technical, narrow trails.