Which enduro bike of 2018 is the fastest? In order to answer this question, we held our own race in Finale Ligure with the ten most exciting enduro bikes around. This test reveals why Sam Hill and Jesse Melamed would probably be faster on other bikes and why, if you race to win, you shouldn’t use carbon wheels.

So what is the fastest enduro bike of the coming season?

The 2017 Enduro World Series was more exciting than ever! The level continues to rise and the times between the riders continue to fall. After more than forty-six minutes of full-on racing at the 6th round of the EWS in the US, Sam Hill and Martin Maes were separated by a mere four seconds. The right equipment can certainly make all the difference here! That’s why we wanted to know, what is the fastest enduro bike of 2018?

For this, we not only tested the bikes extensively on different trails and long tours as we usually do, but also let them compete against each other on a race stage in Finale Ligure to see which could set the fastest time. In the end, of all bikes, three proved to be consistently the fastest. Which bike won? Read on to find out!

The test track

For the test track, we chose the Pino Morto trail (as we did for our 2014 EWS enduro bike group test). It includes everything that makes for a challenging race day: rock gardens, turns, flat sections, compressions, small jumps – all of which was packed into a descent dropping 170 meters over 1 kilometre. A harder and longer test track might at first seem better to test the speed of a bike, but then the risk of rider errors would increase, and the rider’s fatigue would affect the results too much.

The bikes

For this comparison, we chose only the most exciting bikes of the current and the upcoming season. The manufacturers were free to pimp the bikes however they wanted – an offer that brands like Canyon, SCOTT, and Specialized happily accepted, sending us heavily tuned bikes. Other manufacturers, such as Nukeproof, Pole, Lapierre, Rocky Mountain, Santa Cruz, and YT reckoned their stock bikes were good as is.

Bike Price (*  +Tuning) Weight Travel Wheelsize
Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Team € 5,499* 14.30 kg 170/163 mm 27.5″
Giant Reign Advanced 0 € 6,999 13.56 kg 160/160 mm 27.5″
Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate € 5,299 13.71 kg 170/170 mm 27.5″
Nukeproof Mega 275 RS € 4,200 14.04 kg 170/165 mm 27.5″
Pole EVOLINK 140 29 € 5,600 14.30 kg 150/140 mm 29″
Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90 € 7,900 12.60 kg 160/150 mm 27.5″
Santa Cruz Hightower LT € 9,899 12.80 kg 150/150 mm 29″
SCOTT Genius 900 Tuned 2018 € 7,499* 12.76 kg 150/150 mm 29″
Specialized S-Works Enduro 29 € 8,699* 13.30 kg 160/160 mm 29″
YT JEFFSY 27 CF Pro Race € 4,499 12.20 kg 160/160 mm 27.5″

Canyon Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Team | 170/163 mm (front/rear) | 14.30 kg | € 5,499

Giant Reign Advanced 0 | 160/160 mm (front/rear) | 13.56 kg | € 6,999

Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate | 170/170 mm (front/rear) | 13.71 kg | € 5,299

Nukeproof Mega 275 RS | 170/165 mm (front/rear) | 14.04 kg | € 4,200

Pole EVOLINK 140 29 | 150/140 mm (front/rear) | 14.30 kg | € 5,600

Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90 | 160/150 mm (front/rear) | 12.60 kg | € 7,900

Santa Cruz Hightower LT | 150/150 mm (front/rear) | 12.80 kg | € 9,899

SCOTT Genius 900 Tuned 2018 | 150/150 mm (front/rear) | 12.76 kg | € 7,499

Specialized S-Works Enduro 29 | 160/160 mm (front/rear) | 12.30 kg | € 8,699

YT JEFFSY 27 CF Pro Race | 160/160 mm (front/rear) | 12.20 kg | € 4,499

10 bikes, 4 riders, 3 days, 1 problem

Many will ask themselves: how is it possible to compare the bikes consistently? The answer is simple: it’s not 100% possible. Rider fatigue and learning the track, of course, plays a certain role. In order to determine the result as objectively and bias-free as possible, each of our experienced testers had several practice runs, picked the lines they thought would be fastest and decided where they would put in pedal strokes. Afterwards, each rider recorded two timed runs on each bike within their comfort zone, each in a different order. Thus, everyone had a different first and last bike.

29″ vs. 27.5″

The wheel size question has already caused a lot of excitement in the downhill scene. When, at the beginning of the season, the guys of the Santa Cruz Syndicate were writing off the competition on their 29″ bikes, there was a certain hysteria amongst riders around the world. During the course of the season, however, the 29er hype has settled again and ultimately it was Aaron Gwin who took the overall World Cup win on a 27.5″ bike. In our comparison, the differences between 27.5″ and 29″ weren’t huge either. What counts more is a coherent overall package. Nevertheless, there were clear tendencies. All three testers rode their fastest times with 29″ bikes and the slowest on 27.5″ bikes.

Goodbye, short chainstays!

For years there was an unofficial competition in the bike industry: who could build the bike with the shortest chainstays? In this comparison, the Canyon Strive (423 mm) wins, closely followed by the Rocky Mountain Altitude (426 mm). On both bikes, the super-short back end is clearly noticeable in the handling. They ride in an extremely spritely and agile manner, but they demand a very engaged riding style with a lot of weight shifting required in order to hold your line through turns. With the right amount of technique and skill this can be a lot of fun, although it isn’t really the fastest.

Aluminium vs. Carbon wheels: (2 : 0)

Carbon wheels are not only very expensive, but also usually very stiff despite their low weight. This allows razor-sharp handling and fast acceleration, but on long descents, they also rob you of strength and are less forgiving than their cheaper aluminium counterparts. In our test, we managed to write off an E*Thirteen TRS SL carbon rim. We made contact with a sharp rock, audibly slamming the rim through the tire and cracking the rim despite 1.9 bar air pressure. Fortunately, the wheel didn’t break completely. On top of that, the only pinch flat we had (despite being set up tubeless) was on the Santa Cruz Reserve carbon wheels. On long enduro stages, bikes with carbon rims not only strip the rider of potentially important energy reserves, but can also lead to a premature race end due to mechanical failure. But beware: there is no absolute safety with an aluminium rim either.

Forget everything you’ve ever known about geometry

Anyone who has studied geometry tables for hours on end and has tried to draw conclusions on the handling of a bike can stop now! In this test, two bikes in particular questioned everything we hitherto knew about geometry: the Lapierre Spicy Team and the Pole EVOLINK 140 29. Both bikes could not be more different; they are polar opposites in fact, one short and steep, the other long and slack. But whoever thinks the Lapierre would be ultra-nervous, and the Pole would not get around a curve, is wrong! Both bikes are absolutely balanced and were among the favourites of the test crew despite their enormous differences! This proves good geometry is a sum of every part, so closely linked to the performance of the rear linkage that it’s impossible to predict the handling based on a sheet of paper.

The suspension is crucial

Travel is not just travel! What matters is how it is used. The key word for an enduro bike is traction. You can only steer effectively and hold your line if you have traction, and traction helps you gain speed as well as slow down. There is a saying that goes, “The later you brake, the longer you’re going fast.” A good suspension linkage that is sensitive over small bumps yet doesn’t sag too much, allows direct handling, and conveys good feedback is the key to success. At the same time, the suspension shouldn’t suck the power from your pedal strokes either. The Santa Cruz Hightower LT, the Lapierre Spicy Team, and the YT JEFFSY 27 were the best performers in this regard. All three bikes placed far ahead in the testers’ ranking. The Rocky Mountain Altitude, the Nukeproof Mega, and the Canyon Strive, on the other hand, were less sensitive and much harsher. These three placed further back. The Specialized S-Works Enduro was let down by the somewhat insensitive Öhlins RFX 36.

What about the Trek Slash?

As you may have noticed, the Trek Slash can be seen in the pictures, but it doesn’t show up in the comparison. Unfortunately, our test bike had a pre-production shock, which caused problems during the test due to faulty seals. The problems showed up at the beginning of the photo shoot. Since our time in Finale Ligure was limited, we had no way to replace the shock and couldn’t ride the bike on timed runs, forcing us (sadly) to exclude the bike from the comparison altogether.

The fastest enduro bike of 2018

So what is the fastest enduro bike of the coming season? In order to minimise the effect of individual riding errors, we pooled the times of all riders and from this determined an average overall time. The Santa Cruz Hightower LT led by an incredibly small margin of 0.3 s against the radical Pole EVOLINK 140 29. The latter especially impressed all testers with its outstanding performance. The harsher the terrain, the better the Pole performed. The Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate, close behind the two 29ers, was just half a second off the winning time. Coming in last was the EWS-tested Giant Reign Advanced 0 and the Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90. While the brand-new Giant Reign left a somewhat undefined and inefficient impression on the test track, the Rocky Mountain felt too agile, its almost nervous handling keeping the riders from pushing any harder. The gap of more than six seconds on our two-minute track would add up to two minutes in a forty-minute race – more than enough to decide the outcome of a race!

The real stars in this test

Are the fastest bikes also the best? After all, not everyone spends his weekends on the starting line of a race or battling his mates via Strava. So which bike is the overall winner? Which one is fun off the track as well? Again, the victor was the Santa Cruz Hightower LT! It not only set the winning time, but also proved to be the absolute favourite amongst our crew. No bike is more versatile! The Hightower is agile, yet composed, comfortable and yet precise, but never nervous. In short, it’s the perfect all-rounder and deserved test winner, a bike with which you are sure to be well equipped in all riding conditions.

But let’s not forget the second-placed bike, the Pole EVOLINK, which is outstanding. Whoever believes that with its radical geometry it would only be for experienced riders is wrong! Contrary to what you would guess, the bike isn’t cumbersome and it takes almost no time to get used to. Its stability saves a lot of energy, and thus the Pole would be our first choice for really long, hard stages or for less experienced riders.

The YT JEFFSY 27 offers the best value for money. The fourth-placed bike impressed with its plush suspension, balanced handling, and low weight. Priced at € 4,499, it’s our best value tip!

All bikes in test: Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Team | Giant Reign Advanced 0 | Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate | Nukeproof Mega 275 RS | Pole EVOLINK 140 29 | Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90 | Santa Cruz Hightower LT | SCOTT Genius 900 Tuned 2018 | Specialized S-Works Enduro 29 | YT JEFFSY 27 CF Pro Race

Travel tips for Finale Ligure

You too want to sample the soil in Finale Ligure? On the website of the Finale Ligure bike resort you will find a variety of hotels like the Hotel Florenz and other important information. And if you’re looking for a reliable shuttle, please contact the guys from Evolve bike shop. They have a choice of individual rides and guided day trips.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of ENDURO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality mountain bike journalism. Click here to learn more.

Words & Photos: