“Who is this bike for?” – we ask ourselves this question with every review. We’ve created a scale to visualise the bikes’ individual handling characteristics at the end of each review so that you can quickly see whether the bike is right for you not. To help you better understand it, we’ve created this guide.
It is important for us to represent the handling characteristics of a bike without giving an absolute rating in the form of a school grade like “good” or “excellent.” We’re of the opinion that every reader or rider – that’s you – has different needs and preferences and should be able to see for themselves which bike fits and which not. Anything else would be misleading and, besides being unfair to the manufacturers, it would patronise our readers. Good mountain bikes are able to combine allegedly contradictory handling characteristics, like being playful yet composed. The higher the rating, the better the bike is in doing so. Despite the rating, it’s important to also read the review of the bike for an in-depth explanation. We rate a bike’s individual handling characteristics on a scale of 1-10.
Note: The evaluation of the handling characteristics refers exclusively to the bikes in our test field.
A brief explanation of the individual characteristics
This scale indicates how efficiently the bike climbs. It refers to both simple and technical climbs. Along with the suspension, the riding position and the weight of the bike all play a crucial role.
How does the bike ride and descend? How spritely is the bike, how agile is it through corners, how much fun is it in tight sections and how quickly can it change direction?
Is the bike stable at high speeds? Is it easy to stay in control in demanding terrain? How composed is it on rough trails? Stability is a combination of balanced geometry, good suspension and the right spec.
This is all about how balanced the bike is and particularly about how well it corners. Balanced bikes require little physical effort from the rider and are very predictable. If a bike is unbalanced, the rider has to work hard to weight the front wheel to generate enough grip. However, experienced riders can have a lot of fun even with unbalanced bikes.
How sensitive is the suspension over small bumps? Can it absorb hard impacts and does it soak up repeated hits? Plush suspension not only provides comfort and makes a bike more capable, but it also generates traction. The rating includes the fork and the rear suspension.
Fun factor planted/poppy
This aspect mainly comes down to the suspension. How much pop does it have, does it suck up the rider’s input or is it supportive, and how agile and direct is the bike?
Value for money terrible/very good
We don’t calculate value for money in an excel spreadsheet or based on how high-end a bike is specced. We are more concerned with how a bike performs on the trail and how the bike benefits the rider. What good are the best components if the bike doesn’t perform well on the trail? Expensive bikes with a lower-end spec can offer very good value for money – provided they excel where it matters. Just as supposedly cheap bikes with good components can get a bad rating if they don’t deliver on the trail.
As an example, here are two ratings including a short assessment:
The intended use of the bike
Important: we’re convinced that modern mountain bikes can’t be categorised according to travel or geometry. We define the intended use of a bike based on established categories, to provide a better and more honest orientation, which show’s what kind of riding the bikes are best at. They don’t necessarily have to excel in all areas – a bike that specialises in one area is often the best choice for many riders. Having said that, a lot of the best bikes are also the most versatile. For example, they climb efficiently but are still very capable on the descents.
Cross Country (XC)
No, it’s not about racing, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along flowy singletrack and gravel roads need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret XC more like the Americans do: big back-country rides instead of a marathon or XC World Cup with the ultimate in lightweight construction! Uphill-downhill ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)
…also known as mountain biking. Classic singletrack with roots, rocks and ledges – sometimes flowy, sometimes rough. For this, you need a bike with good all-round qualities, whether climbing or descending. Uphill-downhill ratio: 50:50
Even more extreme and challenging compared to Trail riding, riddled with every kind of obstacle: jumps, gaps, nasty rock gardens, ruts and roots. For this, you need (race)proven equipment that forgives mistakes and wouldn’t look out of place on a stage of the Enduro World Series. Climbing is just a means to an end. Uphill-downhill ratio: 30:70
Strictly speaking, a 200 mm travel downhill bike is the best choice for merciless tracks with big jumps, drops and the roughest terrain. Those would be the black or double-black-diamond tracks in a bike park. But as some of the EWS pros (including Sam Hill) have proven, it’s the riding skills and not the bike that define what you can ride with it. Climbing? On foot or with a shuttle, please! Uphill-downhill ratio: 10:90
If you have any further questions about the rating, just send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Words: Photos: Valentin Rühl, Christoph Bayer