We live in crazy times where the geometry of many Enduro bikes has become more extreme than downhill bikes. How do you find out what their limits are? Quite simply, by putting them through the ultimate test. For this group test of 14 Enduro bikes, we pushed ourselves and the bikes to the limit.
What makes an Enduro bike?
Bikes have evolved in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Trail bikes have become more and more potent, while Enduro bikes have become more efficient. Traditional parameters such as travel or wheel size have become irrelevant when defining a bike’s intended use. Nevertheless, the difference between trail and Enduro bikes is relatively easy to explain: Trail bikes are meant to be true all-rounders, mastering every kind of trail, as our group test in issue #036 showed. Enduro bikes are focussed even more on gravity oriented fun. Taking big hits in their stride, they let you conquer the roughest terrain with style and speed. Even full-on downhill tracks shouldn’t phase them. Compared to Trail bikes, Enduro bikes are better able to carry speed through rough terrain. Conversely, on flowy, flat trails, Enduro bikes often feel overpowered and lack the nimble excitement of a good Trail bike.
The testing grounds
To expose the full potential of the test field, we rode the bikes on a varied selection of trails. We challenged them to fast laps of our home-trails in the foothills of the Alps and travelled to the Sanremo bike resort in the Mediterranean to thoroughly push the bikes to their limits. Guiding us, we had the Italian enduro veteran Manuel Ducci. We rode the bikes on back-to-back laps of the rugged Due Muri trail in Sanremo. After a high-speed top section with open corners, rock-slabs, terraces and huge compressions, the demanding lower part of the trail offered up steep slopes, drops, rock gardens and tight hairpin bends. For a bike to come out on top it had to perform flawlessly everywhere, it wouldn’t suffice to perform well on only one section of the trail.
Our team for this group test consisted of five riders with different backgrounds and preferences. Gregor is a former BMX pro and just the man to test the bikes’ jumping qualities. Felix and Markus are both passionate enduro racers regularly going between the tapes at EWS races. Instead of racing against the clock, Fred and Christoph ride purely to have a good time, so they both attach a lot of importance to having the most balanced handling possible.
We compared a whopping 14 bikes in this test, more than ever before. Not only did the bikes differ in wheel size, but also in the amount of travel on offer, and most of all in geometry. From bikes with supposedly more conservative geometries to radical concepts like the Bold Unplugged or the Pole MACHINE, our test field could not have been more diverse. If you were to build an average bike from the contenders, it would have a reach of 472.6 mm, a head angle of 64.9°, it would cost € 7,287.63 and roll on 28.67″ wheels – did we just come up with the ultimate new wheel size standard?
*All bikes in size L
|Travel (f/r)||Wheel size|
|Bold Unplugged||€ 7,939||14.46 kg||170/165 mm||29″|
|Canyon Strive CFR 9.0 Team||€ 5,499||14.26 kg||170/150 mm||29″|
|Commencal META AM 29 SIGNATURE ORANGE||€ 4,399||15.48 kg||170/160 mm||29″|
|Giant Reign Advanced 0||€ 7,399||13.42 kg||170/160 mm||27.5″|
|Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate||€ 5,999||14.56 kg||160/160 mm||29″|
|Nukeproof Mega 275c RS||€ 4,799||14.18 kg||170/165 mm||27.5″|
|Orbea Rallon M-LTD I9||€ 8,899||14.18 kg||160/150 mm||29″|
|Pivot Firebird 29 Team XX1||€ 10,899||13.66 kg||170/162 mm||29″|
|Pole Machine EN||€ 7,300||14.84 kg||180/160 mm||29″|
|Santa Cruz Nomad CC||€ 8,699||13.64 kg||170/170 mm||27.5″|
|Scott Ransom 900 Tuned||€ 7,599||13.53 kg||170/170 mm||29″|
|Specialized S-Works Enduro 29||€ 9,799||14.00 kg||160/160 mm||29″|
|Trek Slash 9.9||€ 7.499||13.26 kg||160/150 mm||29″|
|YT Capra 29 CF PRO Race||€ 5,299||14.54 kg||170/170 mm||29″|
|ø € 7,287||ø 14.01 kg|
Is radical geometry better in demanding terrain?
The reach of Enduro bikes has grown and grown in recent years, and the head angles have become ever slacker. Even downhill bikes are starting to look compact in comparison. But are long and super slack bikes really at an advantage on the descents? The clear answer is: no! Of course, you’ll feel very well integrated between the wheels, never feeling like you might go over the bars and you’ll have plenty of room to shift your weight around on the bike. All of these factors make sense on high-speed sections with long, open turns, but in day-to-day riding, you will often encounter situations where these characteristics make significantly less sense. The reason: due to the enormous length of the bike, the rider’s body movements have little influence on the bike’s handling. Although it will spare the rider in certain situations, the flip side is that fast direction changes, jumps or tight sections, require a lot more work. On longer trails, this can quickly wear you out.
What matters is how well you’re integrated with the bike
Many riders – and we’re no exception – pay too much attention to a bike’s reach. Reach is just one of many variables that influence how a bike feels on the trail. If we discuss reach, we must also look at the stack, or the ratio of stack to reach. The stack is measured from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. If the reach is long, the stack has to grow with it. Otherwise, the length of the bike pulls the rider forward, resulting in a less than ideal position, especially in steep terrain. What you really want on steep descents is to feel centred on the bike, defined by the balance between bottom bracket height, chainstay length, reach and stack. A low bottom bracket not only increases the stack but also lowers the rider’s centre of gravity in relation to the axles of the wheels. You’ll immediately notice the difference on the trail. You simply can’t reduce the handling of a bike to single values though, as we’ve previously discussed in an article dedicated to the topic.
Extreme numbers usually have a flip side
Speaking of being centred, no matter what data or which components you’re talking about – if you have extreme values, while they may bring certain advantages, they will almost certainly come with disadvantages. Take a super short 35 mm stem. Although it gives the bike slightly more direct handling, you’ll also have noticeably less leverage on the front wheel. If the short stem is combined with a very slack head angle (63-64°), the front wheel will want to flop from side to side due to the distance between the wheel and the handlebars. Another example is very short chainstays. Traditionally, they have been claimed to increase the bike’s agility. However, they shift your weight distribution more to the rear wheel. Our group test has shown that balanced numbers usually work better as a whole.
Enduro bikes also have to climb well
If you think we only tested the bikes’ descending limits, you’re wrong. Even Enduro bikes have to be able to climb efficiently, and an essential aspect of comfortable climbing is the rider’s seated position on the bike. This is primarily influenced by the seat tube angle, though other factors alos play a role. If the seat tube angle is too slack, you’ll feel like you’re sitting over the rear wheel. Negative examples of this case were the Trek Slash and the Giant Reign. By contrast, the extremely steep seat tube angle of the Pole MACHINE positions you very far forward on the bike. All in all, the majority of the bikes climbed okay, but the SCOTT Ransom was the most efficient.
Direct-to-consumer bikes getting better and better
The days when you bought direct-to-consumer bikes only for the components are now a distant memory. The bikes from brands such as Canyon, YT and company perform as well as bikes from traditional brands like Trek, Specialized or Giant, if not better! Boutique brands like Santa Cruz and Pivot wowed the riders in this group test, each with their own unique character, although they couldn’t keep up with Canyon, Nukeproof and YT in terms of versatility and overall performance.
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 Enduro bike of 2019
Inviting bike brands to take part in the group test, we wrote the following: “an Enduro bike should be as convincing on full-blown racing stages as it is on a day at the bike park, while also being fun on after work rides. Apart from well-balanced handling, dialled geometry and good suspension, a sensible selection of componentry is crucial.” This test was never about speed, so we didn’t bother with timing. We wanted to find the bike that shines on all trails and doesn’t shy away from hard hits.
The best Enduro bike is not the one with the most extreme angles. Although the handling of the Pole MACHINE is significantly more balanced and more forgiving than it might at first seem, it’s too cumbersome in tight sections and with quick direction changes. The Bold Unplugged can be adapted to the preferences of the rider in every way you can think of, but the countless configuration options require a lot of know-how. Besides, size L was too long for our 180 cm tall test riders, whereas M was too short. However, if you find a size that fits and you get the setup just right, this bike performs brilliantly.
The Orbea Rallon is an excellent climber, but it’s too stiff and direct on the downhills. Annoyingly, the cables also rattled and the actuation of the dropper seat post was very sticky. You’ll feel right at home on board the Specialized Enduro with its intuitive handling. However, if you really want to go fast, the progressive rear linkage requires a lot of power and a very active and muscular riding style. The SCOTT Ransom climbs amazingly, but going downhill you don’t feel completely at one with the bike. That’s a shame because the suspension performs excellently despite having a reservoir-less shock. The Trek Slash 9.9, on the other hand, rides with extreme precision but its compact geometry and slack seat tube angle are a bit dated compared to the other bikes. The reach is a bit short and the seat tube angle is too slack. The size L COMMENCAL META AM 29 is on the shorter side of the spectrum, but despite not climbing quite as well as the competition, it promises to be a lot of fun for those who mostly take shuttles or lifts to the top. The Lapierre isn’t much of a mountain goat either, although it convinced our testers with balanced handling and excellent suspension on the descents. The storage options for tools and a tube are practical, but the Guide brakes don’t do the bike justice.
The outstanding performance of the DVO Jade Coil shock breathes new life into the proven Giant Reign. With it, the bike has become much more agile and light-footed than in previous years, but we certainly could have used a climb switch to help suppress the pedal-bob on the climbs. Both the Pivot Firebird 29 and the Santa Cruz Nomad require an active riding style to tease out their full potential. Nonetheless, the attention to detail on them is stunning, and the suspension performance is nigh-on flawless.
In the end, however, it was the two direct-to-consumer bikes and the Nukeproof Mega that made the best impression on our testers. Both the YT CAPRA CF Pro Race and the Nukeproof Mega 275 C RS impressed with very plush rear ends, brilliant balance and unbeatable value for money. If you prefer to ride a longer bike with 29″ wheels, we recommend the YT. Those who like things a bit more lively and agile are better advised to go with the Nukeproof. The € 4,799 Nukeproof comes out ahead on the climbs too with its steeper seat tube angle, though the YT, scores with a somewhat higher quality spec. It does also cost € 400 more. In the end, the Nukeproof Mega secures our coveted Best Value tip.
The only bike remaining is the brand new Canyon Strive CFR 9.0 Team priced at € 5,499. Ultimately, this is the bike that left the competition behind. No other bike was so composed while also being highly agile. On the bike, you feel nicely centred between the wheels while always remaining completely in control. The suspension is not as plush as that of the Mega or the CAPRA, but it does offer a little more pop. Going uphill, the Strive climbs very efficiently thanks to its Shapeshifter technology. No bike performs as well on such a wide variety of trails, no matter whether downhill, tight trails or in the bike park. That’s why the Canyon Strive CFR has to secure our coveted Best In Test!
All bikes in test: Bold Unplugged | Canyon Strive CFR 9.0 Team | Commencal META AM 29 SIGNATURE ORANGE | Giant Reign Advanced 0 | Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate | Nukeproof Mega 275c RS | Orbea Rallon M-LTD I9 | Pivot Firebird 29 Team XX1 | Pole Machine EN | Santa Cruz Nomad CC | Scott Ransom 900 Tuned | Specialized S-Works Enduro 29 | Trek Slash 9.9 | YT Capra 29 CF PRO Race
Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer