Buying a new bike is a lot like dating: at first, everything looks good through rose-tinted glasses, your brain is flooded with dopamine, and you couldn’t be happier. But after a few weeks or months, you might start to become disillusioned – you’re just not right for each other. To help you find “the one”, we put eight exciting new bikes under € 4,500 head-to-head.
Admittedly, € 4,500 is a lot of money, and if you’re putting that much cash on the table, you rightfully expect a brilliant bike in return. The good news is that if you make the right decision, you’ll have the time of your life. If you’re not careful, though, it won’t be happy ever after. The differences in handling, componentry, geometry and weight of the bikes in this group test are enormous.
The test fleet
|COMMENCAL META AM 29 Team Replica||€ 3,899||15.88 kg||170/160 mm||29″|
|CUBE Stereo 150 C:68 TM 29||€ 4,499||14.06 kg||160/150 mm||29″|
|Giant Reign SX||€ 3,799||15.10 kg||170/160 mm||27,5″|
|Norco Range C3 29||€ 4,199||14.82 kg||160/150 mm||29″|
|Nukeproof Mega 290 Factory||€ 3,800||14.80 kg||160/155 mm||29″|
|ROSE Pikes Peak 2 EN||€ 4,306||13.26 kg||160/165 mm||27,5″|
|Trek Slash 9.7||€ 3,999||14.60 kg||160/150 mm||29″|
|YT CAPRA 29 CF PRO||€ 4,299||13.96 kg||160/160 mm||29″|
Be careful before committing yourself
What are the bikes’ strengths and weaknesses? To find out, we rode each one extensively on our home trails in the alpine terrain on the foothills of the Alps and then analysed them in direct comparison in beautiful Sesto in South Tyrol for several days. Back-to-back testing on the same trail showed the differences between the bikes most clearly. While some bikes, such as the YT CAPRA, are agile and nimble, others, such as the Giant Reign, require a lot of input from the rider. The same applies to composure in the rough and suspension performance. You can read how the bikes fared in the individual reviews.
Tinder vs flirting at the bar
While some have been looking for romance on the internet for some time now, more and more of us are going online to buy new bikes. The advantage: due to the omission of a sales rep (the dealer) it’s possible for many manufacturers to offer their bikes at lower prices or with a significantly better spec. In this group test, the ROSE PIKES PEAK and the YT CAPRA CF Pro clearly underline this. The componentry on the COMMENCAL META AM 29 left nothing to be desired either. However, some details on the standard bike build differ slightly from that of our test bike (drivetrain and brakes). But there are exceptions: CUBE managed to put together a fantastic build on the brand new Stereo 150 C:68 TM 29 in spite of going through a dealer network. It’s the only bike in the test field that features the new FOX 36 FLOAT Factory with Grip 2 damping, out of the box. The Trek Slash 9.7 with its carbon frame, on the other hand, features entry-level components. We were particularly disappointed with the SRAM NX drivetrain and 11-42 cassette, which limited the bike’s climbing performance. Despite their direct sales model, the Nukeproof Mega doesn’t feature the best drivetrain either (Shimano XT with 11-42 cassette) but otherwise impresses with a good choice of components.
What counts are the inner values
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to judge how well a bike rides simply by looking at the spec or by examining the geometry table. As with every new love interest, true character traits only become apparent after a few dates/test-rides. The Trek Slash is a perfect example. Despite having the cheapest spec in the test field, it was the bike with the best rear end performance. The Norco Range, on the other hand, with its poison-green DVO suspension, looks extremely fast and potent, but despite having great geometry, the suspension is overdamped, and the brakes lack power.
It’s not always easy…
…especially going uphill. The bikes in this group test are designed primarily for maximum downhill fun, and they’ve put on a bit of weight to achieve this. By far the heaviest bike amongst them is the COMMENCAL META AM 29, weighing a full 15.88 kg. Thanks to the central seating position and the efficient rear end, however, it climbs better than you would expect. The ROSE PIKES PEAK at 13.26 kg is 2.62 kg lighter, but due to its slack seat tube angle (especially in the slack PROGEO position), your weight is much further above the rear wheel resulting in less efficient pedalling. We recommended pushing the saddle very far forward to compensate for the seat tube angle.
On some bikes, the design of the seat tube means seated position for riders with long legs and long seat posts change enormously with the dropper fully extended. The seat tube angle slackens out the most on the Trek Slash. The difference of the seat tube angle from the horizontal position of the saddle at the height of the head tube to an extension of approx. 75 cm (centre bottom bracket to centre saddle rail) is 1.3°. With bikes like this we recommend pushing the saddle far forward for more balanced weight distribution on the climbs.
With some modifications, we managed to comfortably get to the top of the trailhead with all of the bikes in the group test, however.
The best climbers were the CUBE Stereo and the YT CAPRA; the latter slowed down somewhat by its grippy tyres.
Balance is decisive
All of us have dreamed of being a rock star, constantly having wild parties, but to be pragmatic, we often need a little more consistency and reliability in our life. The same applies to bike geometry. Some bikes, like the ROSE, resemble a mosh pit at a punk rock concert. It’s a lot of fun, screaming for high speed and super loose and direct – but it requires a very experienced rider and constant vigilance. Those who don’t have the technique or the strength will be quickly overwhelmed. The Nukeproof Mega, for example, shows how it’s done. The chainstays are anything but stubby (450 mm), which on paper suggests that the bike will be sluggish. But once on the trail, it impresses with a very balanced ride quality, and thanks to the active suspension with a lot of pop, it is lively, direct and easy to manoeuvre despite its length.
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.
The best bike for a happy relationship
None of the bikes disappointed us completely. But some of them have obvious weaknesses, while others were wholly convincing. The Giant Reign SX scores with a high degree of stability and good-natured handling, but it looks outdated, and even with the small 27.5″ wheels it still feels cumbersome. The brand-new CUBE Stereo offers an impressive list of components, and its playful and direct, but it lacks composure on really rough tracks, lagging behind the competition. It is a good all-rounder, and it’s guaranteed to garner many fans, but unfortunately, the workmanship on our test bike couldn’t convince us.
Where the CUBE needs to slow down, the COMMENCAL META AM 29 shines. It’s a bike for the meanest trails and doesn’t feel sluggish despite the enormous amount of composure it offers. For many riders though, it would be overkill requiring a lot of rider input on flat, flowing trails.
The Norco Range impresses with outstanding, super balanced geometry, making the bike very easy to ride and inspiring a lot of confidence on rough trails. However, it’s also a bit unresponsive and limited by the overdamped suspension as well as poorly performing brakes. The ROSE PIKES PEAK is a fantastic bike with a brilliant rear linkage, easy geometry adjustment and laugh-out-loud handling. On the flip side, it requires an experienced rider and an active riding style – beginners will be overwhelmed by this monster. The Trek Slash is a completely different story: thanks to the comparatively short front triangle, it’s agile, and yet it will hold it’s line through the nastiest rock garden without flinching thanks to the performance of the rear suspension combined with the slack head tube angle. However, the entry-level spec doesn’t do the beautiful carbon frame justice. Before buying this bike, you should take into account the expensive upgrades you will have to make.
The Nukeproof Mega 290 Factory isn’t perfect considering the low gear range of the Shimano XT drivetrain, but a broader range cassette is relatively affordable and thanks to the low price you’ll have some money left in your budget. Otherwise, the bike inspires with incredibly balanced, confidence inspiring and agile handling. The long frame gives the rider plenty of room to throw their weight around, and even the wildest trails start to look tame. That’s not to say you can’t have a lot of fun with the bike on easy, less demanding trails. The Nukeproof Mega 290 is a bike that will take a beating and promises to put a smile on your face for a long time, thus securing our coveted best value tip.
However, there was one bike the competition couldn’t touch. No manufacturer can match YT’s new CAPRA CF Pro. You’re guaranteed a good time, no matter where or how you choose to ride it. Whether you prefer tight, technical switchbacks or big hits in the bike park, this bike can do it all. Rounded off with a super clean look and well thought-out spec, the YT CAPRA CF Pro claims our best in test!
The biking region around Sesto in South Tyrol doesn’t only offer breathtaking scenery with magnificent views of the Drei Zinnen, but also trails that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. We used the newly built Erla-Trail for our group test. For more information about the region, go to Sexten.it. For all questions about riding in the area and for guided tours, we can only recommend the Bike-Academy Sexten. And if you’re looking for a bike hotel with excellent food that knows what mountain bikers need, the Hotel Alpenblick is worth considering.
All bikes in test: COMMENCAL META AM 29 Team Replica | CUBE Stereo 150 C:68 TM 29 | Giant Reign SX | Norco Range C3 29 | Nukeproof Mega 290 Factory | ROSE Pikes Peak 2 EN | Trek Slash 9.7 | YT CAPRA 29 CF PRO
This article is from ENDURO issue #034
Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer