Big bikes, massive jumps and good times: we organised our own mini Rampage in the South of France, pushed our limits in one of Europe’s best bike parks and tested the 6 hottest bike park party bikes between € 2,999 and € 6,999. This group test is for all those who can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar, who love an adrenaline rush and just want to have as much fun as possible. Time for some party laps!
Table of content: What is in this test?
- Our test field
- What to look for
- This is how we tested
- The test crew
- The most important findings
- The best bikepark bike in test
Party laps – two words to make your palms all sweaty and put a grin on the face of every mountain bike fanatic. To be honest, what could be better? That’s what we thought when we were preparing for this bike park party bike group test. Maximum fun, G-outs, massive jumps and nasty rock and root gardens like you’ll find on an EWS stage were the order of the day. Brands are usually generous in their use of superlatives for this segment, promising more trail ecstasy, adrenaline and long-lasting rushes than your local drug dealer! Apart from the fact that the risk of addiction to said bike park party bikes is absolutely real and, based on experience, extremely high, this dependence allows every mountain biker to progress. Bike parks are sacred places where, besides hammering trails and honing skills, every adult becomes a child once more, trying new lines, jumps and obstacles, pushing their limits and progressing their technical skills rapidly.
1 day in the bike park = 10 days on your home trails
Bike parks offer the perfect opportunity to take your riding skills to the next level in the shortest possible time. No matter whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro, whether you’re riding the double black or blue line, whether you prefer long tours or race enduro, there is no other place where you can do so many laps in such a short time, on such a wide selection of trails.
Honest advertising or marketing bullshit?
Bike brands rely on a wide variety of concepts, components and marketing slogans. Our test field includes EWS race bikes, ultimate freeriders and absolute all-rounders, at least if you believe the marketing slogans attached to them. But is that really the case? Is there one bike that can do it all and cope equally well with big airtime, steep roots and flowing berms?
A bike that unites all elements. No matter if it is steep root sections, high drops, flowy jump-lines, or the relaxing after-work session. Whether bike park or home trail – just FULL SEND!
Whether you race the EWS, the local beer league, or you just like to hit your favorite bike park – the harder you charge, the happier the Goatman. The CAPRA is gravity focused.
Full speed down the gnarliest trails and hitting every jump: that’s what the Torque:ON is all about. The ultimate freerider among eMTBs delivers true gravity performance and is made for the rough.
The Shore 1 evolved on the toughest trails on Earth using Norco’s Ride Aligned™ Design System and the latest in suspension and ride engineering, emerging as the ultimate Freeride and Big Mountain rig.
Designed to be the ultimate hard-hitting Super-Enduro weapon for when you just need more.
To find out, we dug our Hawaiian shirts and full-face helmets out of the basement, washed our party socks, loaded the van, packed the cooler box full of beer and headed for the South of France. EVO Bike Park isn’t just one of the hippest bike parks in Europe but also one of the best to separate the wheat from the chaff and find out what’s real and what’s just marketing bullshit.
But that’s not all. Our editorial team was able to live every rider’s wettest dream: an entire bike park reserved for us with private shuttles. By the way, we also organised our own Rampage, without Red Bull (urgh!) but with a lot of beer and, admittedly, with slightly smaller jumps. Five instead of 15-metre drops are still a legitimate challenge for us mortals, right? Nonetheless, we could tick off exposed ridgelines, gusts of wind, free line choice in an extraterrestrial lunar landscape, carrying bikes uphill, lots of American slang and the fulfilment of our personal dream: to shout, “Droppin’ in!” into the walkie-talkie just before rolling out of the start gate.
Bike park ≠ bike park
Bike parks are like the snacks aisle in a supermarket. Damn tempting! Luckily, they increase your skills instead of your body weight. Everyone knows that chocolate and gummy bears are both sweets, even though they have pretty much nothing in common. The same goes for bike parks. So before we talk about which bike is the right bike park bike for you, we have to clarify our definition of a bike park and our expectations of it. The selection of routes, topography and shuttle options couldn’t be more different and will play a role in determining the type of rider it is suited to. We’re seeing more and more bike parks emerge with a very wide range of trails for every type of rider. On the one hand, you’ve got the flow lines in Sölden, on the other, the insanely steep downhill route in Champery, and in the middle, you’ve got incredibly multi-faceted parks like Whistler, probably the largest bike park in the world. Depending on where you are, there will be creaky t-bar lifts, modern chair lifts, pickups with trailers or brand new gondolas with special bike racks. Again, depending on the bike park, you’ll find every conceivable type of downhill track, from easy and flowy to “WOAAAAAHHH – never in a million years!”. As such, it’s extremely important to know what your limits are, what you want to learn to ride, what the respective park has to offer and to what extent you can progress at that park. You can have the time of your life on supposedly easy trails and even experts can continue to improve their skills on them, learning to ride more cleanly or try out new techniques.
The test field – In search of the best bike park bike of 2021
|Canyon Torque:ON 9
(Click for review)
|Norco Shore 1
(Click for review)
|Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory
(Click for review)
|Propain Spindrift CF Mix
(Click for review)
|Specialized Status 160
(Click for review)
|YT CAPRA 29 CORE 4
(Click for review)
|Ø € 5,727
|Ø 17.45 kg
The stats of the test field are mixed. Wheel sizes differ, ranging from the pure 27.5″-wheeled Norco Shore to the mullet (29″ front and 27.5″ rear wheel) setup on the Specialized Status 160 and Propain Spindrift CF Mix, to full 29ers like the Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory. Without a price limit, there are significant differences here too. At € 2,999, the Specialized Status 160 marks the entry into our test field and costs less than half of the most expensive bike on test, the € 6,999 Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory. The Specialized also offers the least travel, with 160 mm front and rear. On the other hand, the Propain Spindrift CF Mix has the most, providing a whopping 190 mm travel up front and 180 mm at the rear.
We gave the competitors the opportunity to tune their stock bikes to meet the requirements of the group test. However, we limited the upgrades to € 200 to avoid making the bikes unnecessarily expensive.
Why didn’t we include a downhill bike? Simple! While we didn’t test the bike’s climbing characteristics here, we still wanted to make sure that you could theoretically ride them on your home trails. In other words, the bikes had to have a dropper post, a wide gear range and a single crown fork. We did include an eMTB in this group test since some bike parks don’t have a shuttle and the times of separating bikes with and without a motor are long gone. However, this option only makes sense with a battery that’s quick and easy to replace, so that you can ride laps all day and explore freeride lines without interruption. We chose the Canyon Torque:ON 9 because it’s specifically designed for use in rough terrain. We also invited other bikes such as the Santa Cruz Nomad and Commencal Clash, but the manufacturers couldn’t deliver them on time or didn’t want their bikes to compete in this test.
The test field in numbers
- 5/6 bikes rely on FOX suspension
- 4 air shocks
- 2 coil shocks
- 5 bikes are specced with SRAM CODE brakes
- 1 bike features Shimano XT brakes
- all bikes have 200 mm rotors front and rear
- Front: 177 mm
- Rear: 172 mm
- Lightest bike: 15.3 kg (YT Capra)
- Heaviest bike: 24.2 kg (Canyon Torque:ON)
- Average: 17.45 kg
- 3x aluminium
- 3x carbon
- 2 bikes were almost completely wrapped in protective film
Tire sizes and widths
- 2x 27.5″
- 2x mullet
- 2x 29”
- 1x EXO+ casing
Average handlebar width
- 797.5 mm
Gears (which you’ll hardly ever need in a bike park)
- 1×12 on all bikes
- Average price: € 5,727
- Cheapest: € 2,999
- Most expensive: € 6,999
What does the best bike park bike have to be capable of and how did we test it?
Like our home trails, bike parks can be extremely diverse. The demands we have of the bike park bikes we tested are equally diverse, because what might work perfectly on a big jump line could be completely out of place on steep, technical terrain or flow trails. Since most of us don’t just ride the same bike park all season, we were looking for an all-rounder that can cope with a wide variety of terrain and, above all, is a lot of fun to ride!
The needle in a haystack: a bike that is playful and fun, yet composed and confidence-inspiring in rough terrain and on big jumps, specced with components that are low-maintenance and reliable enough for long road trips.
What to look for in a bike park bike
If you want to push your limits in the bike park, you need to have confidence in your equipment. The following components and features are of utmost importance!
Powerful, reliable and easy to modulate four-piston brakes are essential. They’re not just crucial for your own safety but also ensure that you suffer less arm pump since they’re easier on your hands, allowing you to ride for longer and have more fun. Big rotors play an important role here too. We recommend using at least 200 mm rotors front and rear to prevent the brakes from overheating.
The perfect suspension manages to balance traction with support and reserves for big hits. When designing bikes, manufacturers try to find the right compromise between these three traits but only the best bikes offer the perfect balance.
A well-dimensioned cockpit instils you with confidence. Handlebars that are too wide or too narrow will impact your riding position. On top of that, the compliance of the cockpit has to match your weight and riding style to offer enough precision through compressions while still absorbing sufficient vibrations. It sounds like splitting hairs, but hard, thin grips can be unnecessarily tiring in bike park terrain.
Freedom of movement
A central riding position and lots of freedom of movement increase confidence and give you the room to play around in steep terrain or throw shapes in the air. As such, long seat tubes, limited seat post insertion depth or saddles that are too high are an absolute no-go.
Grippy tires and a robust casing are essential for bike park riding. If you want to avoid countless punctures or unnecessarily damaging your expensive rims, we recommend going with at least the MAXXIS DoubleDown, Schwalbe Super Gravity or an even thicker downhill casing. If that’s not enough, or you prefer to err on the side of caution, you might want to use tire inserts such as those from HuckNorris or CushCore.
If you want to have uninterrupted bike park fun, you need a reliable bike. To keep things functioning as they should, all bearings should be sealed from dust and dirt, not have any play and still run smoothly after a long week of shredding. Regular checks can avoid unnecessary damage.
Party time – This is how we tested!
Big bikes, long airtime, cheekbones that hurt from grinning and an explosive mixture of shouts of fear and joy probably best describe our week at EVO Bike Park in Southern France. We expected things to get wild but when we jumped out of the booming IVECO shuttle and found a non-ironic skull to warn us at the start of the Double Black Mamba line, it was clear. Fu* !, we’re in France! Since we didn’t want to rush things or crash on the first day, we started with the blue and red trails that would almost certainly be classified as black anywhere else in the world. However, our initial awe and nervousness gave way to increased confidence with each run, realising that it wasn’t so bad after all. The timid high school graduation dance quickly turned into confident party laps, shouts of joy and bolder moves. After we got used to the conditions and the higher speeds of EVO Bike Park, we refined our aerial acrobatics with no-handers, whips and scrubs, inspecting the ground a little closer every now and again too!
Our test track included a mixture of huge jump lines, flowing berms, small jumps and steep tech trails that we cleverly combined from different bike park routes – how sneaky of us! We started on the Dirty Wave flow line, which resulted in a lot of shralping and bursts of tubeless sealant in the top berm section. Further along the trail, fast switchbacks and large gaps gave us a good impression of the bikes’ handling and reserves. We finished the first lap on the red Jungle Trail tech line which tested the precision of the bikes with its tight and technical singletrack. Our second route started on the Whip It jump line, combining high-speed berms with big jumps to test how well the bikes handle in the air and how much confidence they instil in the rider. Last but not least, the bikes had to prove themselves on the Original Gangster black tech line, challenging the bikes’ traction, handling and reserves with flat drops, roots and rocks and a super long and extremely steep chute. We also took the bikes to the freeride line in the nearby Terres Noir, where they had to prove themselves in the Red Bull Rampage-worthy setting.
What to expect at EVO Bike Park
Great vibes, a diverse range of trails and minimal hassle! With its excellently built jump lines, a maximum rider limit of 80 people per day and its unique terrain, EVO Bike Park in Provence is one-of-a-kind and offers the perfect destination for your next bike park trip. The wide range of trails aren’t the best for beginners, but the features and jumps are perfect for those who want to get out of their comfort zone, push their limits and send it.
Facts and figures from our group test at EVO Bike Park:
- 61 jumps on our favourite line, Whip It
- Countless berms
- 27 shuttle runs
- The IVECO gulps at least 25 litres of diesel per 100 km
- More bruises from shuttling than from riding – you’ll know what we mean when you’ve been there ;)
- 5 crashes
- “Nothing serious, I just fell on my head”
- Tires ripped off the rim 4 times
- Best pizza in town: Le Grand Cafe in inner Dignes
The ENDURO bike park test crew
No models or professional athletes, just us! For our bike park group test, we put together a diverse crew from our editorial team who love to let rip! With different styles, individual requirements and a wide range of sizes, we headed to France for a week.
The most important findings from our bike park group test
Our high-end test field allowed us to gather exciting insights and interesting experiences, proving once again that every bike has a unique character and has to be perfectly matched with its components. Even the most expensive components are useless if they’re incorrectly adjusted or don’t suit the bike’s concept.
The best bike is only as good as its setup!
Nothing has a bigger influence on your bike’s handling than the setup. The best, most expensive components can only perform as well as they are set up. The most noticeable performance differences were felt between the different forks on test. An entry-level damper, such as the GRIP model in the FOX 36 Rhythm fork, offers limited adjustability for different terrain and can’t master the balancing act between support and traction. Dialling in the pressure, finding the right rebound and compression settings and adjusting the size of the air spring chamber with volume spacers should be standard procedure on every mountain bike. The tables found on the lowers of forks or the manufacturers’ tuning guides provide a useful starting point. Forks with a large air volume, such as the RockShox Zeb, require a digital shock pump, because even small changes can have a major impact. The differences in shock performance are just as noticeable. In addition to the shock itself, the kinematics of the rear suspension play a huge role for performance. The Nukeproof Giga comes specced with a FOX Float X2 shock, which strikes a nice balance between traction and reserves. In comparison, the same FOX shock on the rear of the YT Capra can be set up for either tech or jump lines, not both, as it can’t combine the requirements for each of these scenarios. You also have to decide whether you’ll be riding trails or jumps aboard the Specialized Status with its FSR suspension and FOX DPX2 Performance shock, setting it up for one or the other and accepting certain compromises.
Tire pressure plays a decisive role too and depends heavily on the kind of trail, rider weight and casing. Generally, we inflated the tires more for stretches with heavy G-outs i.e. huge berms or jumps, to prevent the tires from burping. Here, lighter casings, such as EXO+, tend to come off the rim despite running higher pressures. This is especially true for riders over the 70 kg featherweight class! You should also adjust your cockpit to the intended use. Bike parks usually allow for wider handlebars due to the widths of the tracks and a taller cockpit also puts you in a more confident riding position. If you have issues with arm pump, you should consider the position of your brake levers and readjust them. However, there is no right or wrong here as it depends on your individual needs and body proportions.
Just as important as your bike: your mindset!
It’s vital to be honest in your assessment of yourself and the most important muscle to train for bike park riding is the one between your ears. Be aware of what you’re doing, look at risky features beforehand and build up to them gradually. Being in a good mood is very important and makes you ride better, but it also tends to make you take more risks than usual. Make use of locals and good riders in a bike park and ask if you can follow them into tricky features if you’re having trouble judging the speed required. However, be aware that other riders may approach the obstacle with a different riding technique and may need significantly less speed to clear a gap. Just as important as building up to something is knowing when to stop. Even if the ticket for the chairlift was expensive and you don’t get to go to the bike park every day, you should pay attention to your body and mind, and draw a line when you feel that they’re worn out. And remember, there is no last run ;)
Tuning is not a crime!
Small upgrades and improvements can have a major impact! Most of the brands on test demonstrate how it’s done and even cheap upgrades can improve performance and confidence. Taking our feedback to heart, Specialized, Canyon and Propain replaced the stock tires with models featuring thicker casings to match the potential of their bikes. Additionally, bigger rotors and the right pads offered increased braking power and reduced arm pump. Propain resorted to slapper tape on the chainstay protector to quieten things down and the protective film on the frames of the Norco and Nukeproof ensure that the value of your bike is preserved.
Long live longevity
Regularly checking your bike, even during a bike park visit, can avoid unnecessary damage and increase your safety. During the test, we had to retighten bolts, bearings or axles on all bikes. A dab of threadlock can help but it should be applied carefully, nor does it mean you won’t have to check anything again.
Keep your eyes open when choosing the frame size
A size L frame isn’t always a size L. Depending on the bike and its intended use, it may make sense for you to ride a different size. Most modern bikes give you a choice of more than one frame size, which can have a significant impact on the character of the bike. Compare the reach of different models, look at the manufacturer’s recommendations and also refer to the geometry of your current bike, insofar as you own one and like the way it handles. Even if most manufacturers give a good indication for the correct frame size on their website, it won’t always match your riding style. For example, our test riders would have preferred the Norco Shore in a smaller size even though the manufacturer explicitly recommended going with the one we had.
The most important findings, an overview of our test field, the winners and other exciting bikes
The good news is that the bikes in this group test all perform on a very high level. However, the perfect bike park bike, the holy grail that performs perfectly in every bike park in the world, doesn’t exist. Bike parks are incredibly diverse and you’ll be hard pushed to find a bike that can master them all. This is why it’s so important to know what to focus on, to be aware of the intended use, the terrain in which you’ll usually ride and your individual requirements. That’s exactly where we want to help you! What is and isn’t each bike good at? That said, we found a clear Best in Test that was able to fulfil most of our requirements, as well as an excellent Best Buy.
The Specialized Status 160 is hard to beat on flowing and winding trails. It convinced us with its fun, intuitive and agile handling, making it perfect for beginners. Not to mention the affordable price representing excellent value for money. The new YT CAPRA 29″ CORE 4 is good on flowing trails too, delivering with its firm suspension and precise handling, though it’s held back by its components. On steep trails and in the air, the long seat tube restricts your freedom of movement and the suspension can only be adjusted to suit the various requirements of a bike park to a limited extent. On the other hand, the Propain Spindrift CF Mix shines in precisely these situations. It easily masters massive hucks and steep sections, as long as you keep the very tall front end sufficiently weighted. Its suspension offers near-infinite reserves and its playfulness in the air makes the Propain a master of huge sends. Hot on its heels, the Norco Shore 1 also flies over large gaps. The bike feels as stable as a motocross bike and instils you with enough confidence to really let rip in rough terrain. However, its extreme length is very demanding on flowing trails and in tight turns and the components don’t do justice to the bike’s potential. The Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory strikes the best balance between flow, jump and tech lines. It begs you to go fast, its suspension is super versatile and it feels very stable in the air while offering sufficient reserves if you land deep. The Canyon Torque:ON 9 is the only eMTB on test and it delivers a lot of traction, literally sticking to the ground through open corners. This attribute makes it great for beginners but together with its hefty weight, it struggles to get airborne.
Best in Test: Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory
The Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory craves speed and instils you with an incredible amount of confidence. Nukeproof didn’t make any upgrades as the stock bike comes specced with robust and high-performance components. The excellent suspension delivers grip in every imaginable situation and still has enough reserves for big booters and botched landings. Nukeproof have mastered the balancing act between flow, tech and jump lines, making it the deserved winner in our search for the best bike park bike of 2021.
Best Buy: Specialized Status 160
If you like flowing trails with tight berms and small jumps, the Specialized Status 160 is the perfect companion. Its handling is agile and fun and it’s super easy to get airborne. The intuitive handling is particularly good for beginners and allows you to progress your skills to the next level. However, it requires an experienced and courageous pilot when things get rough and fast and, despite the tire upgrade from the manufacturer, the standard spec limits the bike’s potential in these situations. Nevertheless, it’s enormously fun for an affordable price, thus securing our coveted Best Buy.
Alle Bikes im Test: Canyon Torque:ON 9 (Click for review) | Norco Shore 1 (Click for review) | Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory (Click for review) | Propain Spindrift CF Mix (Click for review) | Specialized Status 160 (Click for review) | YT CAPRA 29 CORE 4 (Click for review)
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Words: Peter Walker Photos: Robin Schmitt, Peter Walker