The enduro bikes in this group test will make bike enthusiasts’ hearts beat faster and their palms sweaty. They’re the stuff biker-dreams are made of, but not every one of them is suitable for every type of rider. We put them head-to-head on the trails of the Trans-Provence to find out their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s face it: most of us have space for more than one bike in our garage, but either our better half, our wallet, being sensible, lack of time, or a combination of all these factors often make an investment in more than one bike impossible. When this is the case, we need an all-rounder that cuts a fine figure on our favourite home trails as well as on shuttle runs in Finale Ligure or in the bike park. At the same time, however, the bike should climb reasonably well for all-day unsupported epics.

Redefining enduro

Trail bikes have become increasingly potent over the last few years, becoming the ideal companion for most riders’ everyday lives. However, there are guys and girls who want more: more downhill performance, more reserves in demanding terrain, more speed. For them, enduro bikes are the perfect match!

The test subjects

The test subjects in this comparison include nine of the most exciting enduro bikes of 2018. All of them have one thing in common: they are marketed as full-on enduro bikes. Looking at the numbers, however, it becomes clear that they are all very different. Thus, we’ve included five 27.5″ bikes and four 29ers, all with suspension travel ranging from 150 to 170 mm. The biggest difference, however, is the price. At € 9,899 the most expensive bike in the test costs almost twice as much as the most affordable bike, which goes for € 4,999.

Bike Price Weight Travel f/r Wheel size
Cannondale Jekyll 1 € 7,499 13.30 kg 170 mm/165 mm 27.5″
Canyon Strive CF 9.0 € 4,999 13.15 kg 170 mm/160 mm 27.5″
EVIL The Wreckoning X01 € 7,499 14.03 kg 160/160 mm 29″
Kona Process 153 CR 27,5 € 5,499 13.70 kg 160/153 mm 27.5″
Merida ONE-SIXTY 8000 € 6,999 13.61 kg 170/160 mm 27.5″
Orbea Rallon M-Team € 6,689 13.72 kg 160/150 mm 29″
Santa Cruz Nomad XX1 € 9,899 13.39 kg 170/170 mm 27.5″
Specialized Enduro PRO 29 € 7,499 13.65 kg 160/160 mm 29″
Trek Slash 9.8 € 5,499 13.95 kg 160/150 mm 29″

Cannondale Jekyll 1
170/165 mm (f/r) | 13.30 kg | € 7,499

Canyon Strive CF 9.0
170/160 mm (f/r) | 13.15 kg | € 4,999

EVIL The Wreckoning X01
160/160 mm (f/r) | 14.03 kg | € 7,499

Kona Process 153 CR 27,5
160/153 mm (f/r) | 13.70 kg | € 5,499

Merida ONE-SIXTY 8000
170/160 mm (f/r) | 13.61 kg | € 6,999

Orbea Rallon M-Team
160/150 mm (f/r) | 13.72 kg | € 6,689

Santa Cruz Nomad XX1
170/170 mm (f/r) | 13.39 kg | € 9,899

Specialized Enduro PRO 29
160/160 mm (f/r) | 13.65 kg | € 7,499

Trek Slash 9.8
160/150 mm (f/r) | 13,95 kg | € 5,499

Why didn’t we include (insert bike here) in the test?

The selection of test bikes is based primarily on the results of our reader survey. We test the bikes that interest you the most. Of course, we invited other brands like YT, Intense, and Transition to supply bikes for us to review. However, they either had no test bikes available or chose not to face the challenge.

What matters most is having fun!

What could be better than sending it as a train down an unknown trail with your buddies? Exactly – nothing! What really counts when riding is having a good time, the adventure, the sense of community and, of course, a cool after-ride beer with your buddies. To fully live the spirit of enduro in the cold month of January, we traveled to the warm south of France and tested the bikes over ten days in the footsteps of the legendary Trans-Provence on the dusty and rocky trails around Sospel. The eight-person test team put the bikes through their paces, inspecting them with a fine-toothed comb and gaining some important insights.

29ers stump the competition

The days when 29″ wheels automatically meant sluggish handling are finally over. All 29ers in this test impressed with balanced handling and a high degree of agility. They can be maneuvered just as directly and playfully as the 27.5″ models, but at the same time they won us over with noticeably increased traction, grip, and better roll-over performance. The rougher a trail becomes, the more brilliant the 29ers are. Of course, there are also very good 27.5″ bikes, but we can say this for sure: the future of enduro belongs to 29ers!

Having fun on a bike doesn’t necessarily depend on the components!

If you think that having fun on your bike depends on its componentry, you are wrong! A super-expensive drivetrain looks nice, but it doesn’t improve a bike’s handling downhill. On top of that, the more affordable alternatives are becoming less of a compromise. The SRAM CODE R on the Specialized Enduro, for example, is powerful and easy to modulate; there’s also the FOX 36 FLOAT Performance on the Trek Slash, which works very well despite entry-level internals.

… but, there is room for improvement

Not all components were as convincing though. Sometimes large companies such as Trek and Specialized use in-house components whose performance unfortunately can’t keep up with the competition. Both the Bontrager and the Specialized dropper posts rattled loudly, and the tires used by both companies are not quite up to MAXXIS quality.

What’s up with the seat angles?

Sure, you won’t be out to score climbing KOM’s on an enduro bike, but even after pushing the saddle all the way forward, the seat tube angle of most current bikes feels much too slack. One’s seating position is vital both for efficiency and comfort. Riders with long legs, especially, will be familiar with this problem. On the Evil Wreckoning, the Kona Process, and the Trek Slash the seat angle slackens quite a bit as the dropper post is extended. The most comfortable seating position we found was on the Orbea Rallon; here you’re placed centrally and in an upright position.

When enduros suddenly become freeride and downhill bikes

Can an enduro bike perform too well on the downhills? Although a question of perspective, for those who don’t spend their days on the roughest trails in the world, trying to clock the fastest times going downhill, the Evil Wreckoning and the Santa Cruz Nomad might be overkill. Both bikes ride downhill like freight trains, destroying every obstacle in their way. Their rear suspension performance is outstanding, without affecting the geometry, always remaining stable – and that’s what their problem is. These are terrific bikes if you’re looking for a bike to shred downhill and see how far you can push your limits, but they are too much bike for someone who occasionally likes to ride flow trails and less steep terrain. For the purposes of this comparison, they overshot the mark a bit. However, if you like to go full speed all of the time, you will love both of these bikes!

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.

Tops

Explore the rebel in you!
The Canyon Strive CF Pro still excited us with its very agile handling. Thanks to the high stack in combination with the riser handlebars, you’re very integrated in the bike, allowing it to be controlled easily through the back wheel.
Always at hand
Specialized tucks the mini tool and the chain breaker in the head tube. The tool is immediately at hand – brilliant!
Outstanding!
The rear suspension of the Evil Wreckoning is in a class of its own! No other bike in the test feels so plush and gives so much confidence. At the same time, the rear end doesn’t wallow and provides good feedback. That’s how it should be!
Details on a new level
The workmanship of the Santa Cruz Nomad and the attention to detail are sensational! Here every single detail reveals how much know-how has transferred into the design and construction of this bike. This is also noticeable on the trail – no bike was quieter than the Nomad!

Flops

Rattling
The Bontrager dropper seatpost not only rattles audibly, but the cable clamp at the lever also had to be re-tightened several times during our test. We would recommend immediately upgrading.
Short stroke
The idea is good! With the Specialized Command Post IRcc WU, the rear of the saddle tilts further down, making it easy to control the bike with the help of the legs. Unfortunately, the 100 mm stroke (+5 cm at the rear of the saddle) isn’t enough.
Super-tight

The tire clearance at the rear of the Evil Wreckoning is very limited, unfortunately. Especially in muddy conditions, you will quickly end up with mud and grit leaving unsightly scratches on the frame.
Too specialised
The MAXXIS Minion SS is a terrific rear tire for dry, hard soils. For all-round use, however, it lacks braking traction and stability.

  We’ve been looking for the perfect all-rounder: A bike that cuts a fine figure on small mountain ranges as well as in the bike park or in an enduro race. In short, a bike that can do it all.

Which bike would you recommend to your best buddy?

This is the question we ask ourselves with every group test. There are very few bikes currently available that are absolutely terrible – and none of them were in this comparison. Nevertheless, each of these enduro bikes have their own character, strengths, and weaknesses. However, we’ve been looking for the perfect all-rounder: a bike that cuts a fine figure on small mountain ranges as well as in the bike park or in an enduro race. In short, a bike that can do it all.
Unfortunately, all the bikes in this shootout had weak points. While poor components can be replaced if you’re willing to invest, you’re somewhat limited when it comes to upgrading the rear-end performance of a bike. In the pages to follow, the individual reviews will reveal how each of the bikes handles and for whom they’re best suited.

In the end, it was the Trek Slash 9.8 and the Specialized Enduro 29 Pro which prevailed against the competition, despite weaknesses in their choice of componentry. At € 5,499, the relatively affordable Trek Slash does away with expensive components, but impresses with its incredibly good rear suspension. Thanks to the new Thru Shaft shock, the bike offers even more traction with very good feedback from the ground. Downhill, the Slash offers the perfect mix of smoothness and agility, not only making its handling well behaved, but also remaining composed on even the most demanding trails. The Trek only loses points because the seat angle is too slack, which, especially for tall riders, puts you too far behind the rear wheel. Nevertheless, the bike secured our Best Value tip.

Best value – Trek Slash 9.8

Compared to the Trek Slash, the Specialized Enduro 29 Pro is much more comfortable and efficient on climbs, sprinting ahead more willingly during short bursts. It scores points downhill too with a longer front triangle, which requires a bit more effort through tight turns, but rewards riders with outstanding speed and lots of fun. The rear suspension also works brilliantly but is a little less sensitive than, for example, the Trek or Evil. However, it never seems overwhelmed and in return gives more feedback from the trail. Innovative details such as the SWAT box in the downtube and the tool integration in the head tube complete a very good overall package and allows us to overlook the clattering dropper post with too little adjustment range. Best in Test!

Best in test – Specialized Enduro Pro 29


All bikes in test

Cannondale Jekyll 1 | Canyon Strive CF 9.0 | Evil The Wreckoning X01 | Kona Process 153 CR 27,5 | Merida ONE-SIXTY 8000 | Orbea Rallon M-Team | Santa Cruz Nomad 4 CC XX1 | Specialized Enduro 29 Pro | Trek Slash 9.8

If you’re looking for a bike with less travel head to: Everyday Heroes – Six of the hottest, grin-inducing trail bikes in review


Information about biking in Sospel

Ash Smith, the Godfather of the Trans Provence, along with several colleagues in the area around Sospel, has marked out a terrific trail network with more than thirty trails. If you want to discover the region, you will find all information about the trails, shuttle services, as well as suitable accommodation on the Trans Provence website.

This article is from ENDURO issue #032

ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine is published in a digital app format in both English and German. Download the app for iOS or Android to read all articles on your tablet or smartphone. 100% free!

Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Christoph Bayer, Valentin Rühl