It’s easy to make a dream bike. Gifted with unlimited funds, brands can hang only the best components on their frames, carbon this, kashima that, with every part chosen without concern of increasing cost. But what about the more affordable end of the spectrum, where money talks, and bullshit walks?

In our 2017 reader survey, we asked you “How much you will spend on your next bike?” Over 27,000 of you answered, and the average was €3695. Now, that is a lot of money, but in an industry where you can easily pay upwards of €1000 for a fork, it’s getting increasingly difficult for brands to deliver ‘showroom appeal’ at this price point. So, how much performance do you get for around €3000?

We’re going to say it: nobody ‘needs’ a five figure bike! So why do we still lust after them? We fall in love with the ‘bling,’ we want Factory written on the sides of our forks, we want 12 speed, and dammit, we want carbon wheels! However, it’s not always that simple when we take into account other factors, such as money, kids, the dreaded mortgage/rent, and marital harmony – in the end, we often have to set our sights a little lower. So what can we get for our ‘average’ budget? One thing’s for sure, at this price point there’s nowhere to hide; this is a sector where no amount of marketing bullshit can mask poor performance.

One thing’s for sure, at this price point there’s nowhere to hide; this is a sector where no amount of marketing bullshit can mask poor performance.

The price / performance ratio is changing

It’s a fact… after testing the bikes in this test, we can say there has never been a better time to buy a mountain bike. Money talks, and many of the big component manufacturers have wised up, bringing their top-drawer technology for less cash. Look at the amazing 12-speed Eagle GX from SRAM, or the bombproof SLX drivetrain from Shimano. Yes, they do away with sexiness, but are still happy to roll up their sleeves and go toe to toe with the big guns when it comes to performance. The best affordable brakes now have the power to stop a motorbike, but some brands are still catching up. Direct sales brands have put pressure on the entire industry, squeezing margins and making everyone work harder; brands like Canyon, Rose, and YT deliver ludicrous specifications, with performance that makes the exotic superbikes hide behind their marketing propaganda.

But hold on, where are the big brands?

Those with sharp eyes will see some of the biggest players are missing here. There’s no conspiracy – all the key brands were invited, but many declined. Some were transitioning between models, some were afraid to pitch models of their leading bikes at this price point, instead using their more expensive models to champion their brands. This is a group where bling cannot mask poor performance, and marketing cannot hide poor component choices – it’s a real battle of the workhorses.

No room for heretics

We were looking for the perfect trail bike, a bike to do it all without breaking the bank. Versatile enough for all-day-epics, fast enough for high speed thrills, and burly enough for throwing shapes in the woods. The bikes we were sent were as varied as the trail sector itself, from 120 mm to 150 mm of travel in both 27.5 and 29 inch wheel sizes. Geometry-wise, this is no place for heretics: a good trail bike is not just about the outright pursuit of speed, it’s about fun and playfulness, more Golf GTI than Bugatti Veyron. A good trail bike will make you feel like a hero no matter how fast you ride, and the best will go toe to toe with an enduro bike. We asked the brands to send their best all-rounders, then for six weeks we pitched them against the extensive trail network of the iconic Tweed Valley in Scotland.

Bike Price Weight Travel Wheelsize
Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 EX € 2,599 12.80 kg 150/140 mm 27.5″
Marin Rift Zone 3 € 2,499 14.00 kg 130/120 mm 29″
Merida ONE-TWENTY 7.800 € 2,599 13.60 kg 130/120 mm 27.5″
ROSE Granite Chief € 2,999 13.70 kg 150/150 mm 27.5″
Vitus ESCARPE 29 VRX € 3,399 13.90 kg 150/135 mm 29″
Whyte T-130 S € 3,030 14.10 kg 130/130 mm 27.5″
YT JEFFSY AL ONE 27 € 2,599 13.50 kg 150/150 mm 27.5″
Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 EX | 150/140 mm (f/r) | 12.80 kg | € 2,599
Marin Rift Zone 3 | 130/120 mm (f/r) | 14.00 kg | € 2,499
Merida ONE-TWENTY 7.800 | 130/120 mm (f/r) | 13.60 kg | € 2,599
ROSE Granite Chief | 150/150 mm (f/r) | 13.70 kg | € 2,999
Vitus ESCARPE 29 VRX | 150/135 mm (f/r) | 13.90 kg | € 3.399
Whyte T-130 S | 130/130 mm (f/r) | 14.10 kg | € 3.030
YT JEFFSY AL ONE 27 | 150/150 mm (f/r) | 13.50 kg | € 2,599

Tops & Flops

Often small details can make a huge difference: seamless integration, first-class ergonomics and carefully selected parts. Easier said than done – here are some of the tops and flops from this grouptest.

Tops


Making The Difference
At this price point, good tyres are everything. YT gets it right by fitting the excellent Maxxis High Roller II 2.4” tyres to the Jeffsy.
No Hill To High
The SRAM Eagle GX drivetrain fitted to the Whyte T-130 S is the best in this group test, smooth, effective, and with a range that will see even the most noodle-legged riders reach the summit.
29ers Are The Future
29ers are fast becoming the wheel size of choice if you love stability and speed. The Marin Rift Zone 3 also brings agility and engaging handling.

Flops


Not for everyone!
While the Canyon Spectral’s Maxxis Minion SS rear tyre is certainly fast rolling, it’s targeted at advanced riders, so beginners and intermediates will find braking traction poor. A grippier tyre would suit more riders.
Short Leg Blues
The e*thirteen TRS dropper is a great post, simple and effective. However, on the YT Jeffsy the long insertion length does not fit fully in the frame, limiting use for shorter riders.
Undergunned
While the Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres do roll well, when riding aggressively on the Rose Granite Chief they release more air than a UK politician. Thicker sidewalls needed!

The industry is learning

We’re all winners, as there are no longer any terrible bikes, even at this tight price point. Yes, there’s some cost-cutting here and there, but you can now get a rad bike without selling a kidney on eBay, and after upgrading the tyres to ones that suit your local riding, you will arguably have just as much fun as those riding something that costs three times more.

One-by is the only way: Every bike in the group test came fitted with one-by drivetrains – a great move. Most riders will benefit greatly from the simpler drivetrain and reduced weight that one-by brings. The Whyte T-130 S even comes with SRAM Eagle, which has all the range you could ever need.

Mixing standards: In the pursuit of cost-cutting, YT and Vitus mix Boost and non-Boost standards on the same bike. While this may allow for a nicer fork, it does complicate things if riders want to upgrade their wheels in the future.

Tyres are still the Achilles’ heel: While you will be hard pushed to tell the difference between ‘affordable’ drivetrains, suspension, and brakes, what you cannot hide is cheap rubber. Entry-level tyres may boast the same tread profile as their more costly namesakes, but often sacrifice both grip and sidewall stability. Every dynamic movement, suspension response, and braking force has to come through the tyre. It is the most fundamental link in the chain. A good bike with good tyres rides better than a great bike with bad tyres. Only YT and Canyon get this right!

Conclusion

Ultimately, the winners of this group test are us, the riders. When bikes at this price point are so good, why do we pay more? Picking a winner was incredibly difficult, as we would have happily taken any one home. The Whyte T-130 S was a hit with its raw and engaging ride, while the Marin Rift Zone 3 surprised us all with its phenomenal speed and agility – it’s a real giant-killer. The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 EX is still a formidable bike, but feels like it’s now due an update. The Vitus Escarpe VX and Rose Granite Chief both packed a good big-mountain punch, and the MERIDA showed what’s possible from a short-travel machine. In the end it was the YT Jeffsy that nailed the complete package: it brought brilliant handling and inspired specifications, all while being a joy to ride. The YT Jeffsy is also one of the most affordable bikes tested, netting it the prestigious double victory of Best In Test and Best Value… true domination.

YT JEFFSY AL ONE 27 full review

All bikes in test: Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 EX | Marin Rift Zone 3 | MERIDA ONE-TWENTY 7.800 | ROSE Granite Chief 2 | Vitus ESCARPE 29 VRX | Whyte T-130 S | YT JEFFSY AL ONE 27


You prefer a bit more travel? Check out our enduro bike group test: SOOOOO F#%$&NG ENDURO: 11 Enduro Bikes under € 4,000 in Review

Words & Photos: Trev Worsey

About the author

Trev Worsey

A keen biker since the early 90’s Trev began his professional career as a research scientist and statistician, but it was the lure of the mountains that finally called him. After seven years working as an international Mountain Bike Guide he joined the ENDURO team and now coordinates exciting news, reports, reviews and group tests from the UK office.