We all lust after Ferraris and Lamborghinis. As children, we stared transfixed at posters of exotic cars on our walls – but we know that unless our lottery numbers come in, we will never own one! For most of us, the closest we get to a supercar is when they howl past our tired family sedans on the motorway. It’s the same with bikes: we all dream of owning the latest and greatest masterpiece, sculpted from carbon and titanium – but in the real world, we typically set our sights a little lower. Can you get a great bike for under €2000? To find out, we tested five of the best affordable trail bikes to find out which offered the most bang for our hard-earned bucks.
Strengths and weaknesses
These are the working-class heroes. Affordable and achievable, each claims to pack a mighty punch. Do the bikes in this group test rewrite the rule books; are they faster and more capable than their wallet-friendly price tags would suggest? We have selected trail bikes from both direct sales and dealer-only brands, picking their best trail bikes. The Cube Stereo 120 HPA Race, Lapierre Edge 527, Radon Slide 130 8.0, Trek Fuel EX 5 29, and Vitus Escarpe all champion performance and affordability – but equally all have flaws and weaknesses left behind by aggressive cost-cutting.
Something for nothing
Just like our mother always told us, “You don’t get something for nothing.” It’s the same with bikes. To deliver a complete full suspension bike for under €2000, brands have had to make aggressive compromises to keep to budget. While many brands try and sneak in a bling rear mech for more showroom appeal, they do so at the expense of the most important parts: suspension and tires. Yes, it’s hard to include expensive rubber on an affordable bike, but for proper trail riding all of the tires in this test are woefully inadequate. Poor tire choice leaves a rider fighting for control when they should be hooting with joy. After testing the stock tires, we swapped them all onto control Maxxis High Roller II tires to properly test the bikes’ performances. It’s the same with suspension: experience has shown us that a good fork is far more important than a fancy wheelset, and a good shock is more important than a nice crank. If you’re considering buying one of these bikes and ride often, in most cases upgrading the tires will be your first and most effective upgrade.
Can premium performance be affordable?
At this price point, the most important component of the bike is its heart, the frame. A good frame will allow the owner to upgrade parts as they wear, safe in the knowledge that the frame is the real investment. That’s not to say that the components are junk; budget price no longer means budget performance, but delivering a complete trail bike for under € 2000 is a huge challenge. The bikes in this test delivered powerful braking, accurate shifting, and served up huge doses of fun for less than the price of a carbon wheelset, but like a football team without a goalkeeper all had flaws in their game. Granted, these bikes aren’t going to win any trailside boasting wars, but like a tuned-up Subaru at a Ferrari meet, could these bikes pack more punch than their low-key exteriors would suggest?
Direct from the source
The cycle industry has changed dramatically over the last few years with the boom of the direct sales model. Tapping into the ‘buy online’ revolution, manufacturers like Canyon, YT, and Radon do not trade through dealers, instead sending bikes directly from the factory to the customers. This allows for a huge saving in costs, and allows the brands to deliver a componentry level that was previously unheard of. Direct sales brands will always have the edge when it comes to specification. However, at this price point, if you ride hard you may expect to encounter small problems with setup or durability, and that’s where you local friendly bike shop can be invaluable. Buying a bike though a dealer may mean a Deore rather than XT derailleur, but you will also have good support should things go wrong. That’s not to say that direct sales brands won’t help should things go wrong, but they mostly cannot match the speed and attention of a local bike shop.
|Cube Stereo 120 HPA Race||120 / 120 mm||29″||13.20 kg||€ 1,999|
|Lapierre Edge AM 527||140 / 140 mm||27.5″||15.03 kg||€ 1,999|
|Radon Slide 130 8.0||130 / 130 mm||29″||13.70 kg||€ 1,999|
|Trek Fuel EX 29 5.0||130 / 130 mm||29″||14.80 kg||€ 1,999|
|Vitus Escarpe||140 / 135 mm||27.5″||14.73 kg||€ 1,750|
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 group test.
The best bikes in this group test offered solid performance for the money, but all had serious weaknesses and flaws. For ‘good times’ riding our price ceiling of €2000 proved too frugal. The Radon Slide 130 8.0 takes the Best Value award for its amazing specification, but the compromised cockpit left us frustrated. The Trek Fuel EX 5 29 was the bike that impressed us the most taking the Best in Test win, but would we recommend buying one? Unfortunately not. Too many sacrifices in specification have been made to get the premium Trek frame down to the impossible price point. The lack of a dropper post and budget suspension hold back what could be an amazing bike. We would certainly recommend saving up a bit more for the Fuel EX 7 29 model at €2499 which comes with a dropper post and far superior suspension. Can you buy a good Trailbike for under €2000, yes, but if you can push your budget a little higher, you can get a great bike!
For the best trail bikes 2016 head to our previous group test: Battle of the super powers: 9 of the best trail bikes in comparison
Words & Photos: Trev Worsey