There’s never been a better time to be a mountain biker! Bikes have never been as good, and the performance you get for your money has never been as high. To prove our point, we compared seven trail bikes costing no more than € 3,000 each. But you need to be careful: While some bikes delivered the whole package, others still have room for improvement.
Trail bikes have changed a lot in recent years, evolving from boring touring bikes into powerful descenders, which, thanks to their agility and efficiency, are more versatile and fun on a lot of trails than enduro bikes. And thanks to ever-more potent geometry, they don’t shy away from rough descents either. For many, a trail bike is the perfect all-purpose weapon. The seven bikes in this group test provide 130–150 mm of travel and roll on 27.5″ or 29″ wheels.
The test fleet
|Canyon Spectral CF 8.0||€ 2,999||13.57 kg||150/140 mm||27.5″|
|Ghost SLAMR X 5.9 AL||€ 2,599||14.90 kg||150/145 mm||29″|
|Giant Trance 1.5 LTD||€ 2,799||13.68 kg||150/140 mm||27.5″|
|ROSE ROOT MILLER 2||€ 3,010||13.83 kg||140/140 mm||29″|
|Trek Fuel EX 8 29 XT||€ 2,999||14.06 kg||130/130 mm||29″|
|Whyte T-130 S||€ 2,999||14.20 kg||130/130 mm||27.5″|
|YT JEFFSY 29 AL Comp||€ 2,799||13.39 kg||140/140 mm||29″|
Online direct vs dealer
It was the elephant in the room from the start. Of course, with a price limit of € 3,000, it’s perhaps no mean feat for manufacturers to cobble together the perfect overall package. Since direct online sales bypass the middleman (i.e., the dealer), they tend to have more budget for the actual bike. Interestingly, some large manufacturers declined to participate in this particular group test, whether it was for fear of the competition or that it might ruin their image. We’ll leave that up for debate.
Componentry is important, but it’s not everything
This test has shown that if a manufacturer does their homework, it is possible to put together a brilliant bike for € 3,000–even factoring in the cost of servicing that reputable dealers can offer. The Trek Fuel EX 8 29 impressed everyone with just how what an outstanding ride it gives, even though some of its componentry is far from top-end, such as the Shimano MT500 brakes.
The importance of the bike as a whole can be seen when comparing the ROSE ROOT MILLER with the Trek, for example. If we had to choose we would go for the Fuel EX, even though the ROSE comes with higher quality spec. The Trek’s suspension is more sensitive and balanced, its handling is more agile, and the seating position more comfortable. And it is precisely these factors that determine the riding experience – not simply having a golden drivetrain or expensive brakes.
Bling bling won’t improve the kinematics and handling of the frame!
Lightweight ≠ efficient climbing
Although the Giant Trance is the second lightest bike on test, it was the worst climber. How can that be? Good climbing characteristics require more than just a low weight. The seating position and efficiency of the rear linkage, for example, carry much more gravitas. When the shock is open, the rear end of the Giant sags considerably on steep climbs, which slackens the already slack seat tube angle and puts you way too far over the rear wheel. Sure, you can solve this problem by locking out the shock, but that results in a lack of traction and nominal comfort on techy stuff. The Canyon Spectral shows how it should be done, with a sublime rear end that remains completely neutral even when the shock is left open, and a great, mid-bike riding position. We were particularly surprised by the GHOST SL AMR X: despite its hefty 14.9 kg and coil shock, it climbs confidently, offering a lot of traction without rocking so you can master even the steepest sections with ease. You will obviously notice the weight on very long rides, however, and you’ll feel it when trying to get the bike going.
Tires can change the character of a bike enormously
There’s no other component that influences the riding characteristics of a bike as strongly as the tires. Fast-rolling tires, such as the Schwalbe Nobby Nic, allow the bike to accelerate better, maintain speed more easily on flat terrain and, of course, climb more efficiently. When running tires like the MAXXIS Minion DHR II 2.4″ WT, the rolling resistance naturally increases, but you’ll also have noticeably more grip and reserves on the downhills. The 2.6″ tires on the Canyon Spectral are very comfortable, but aggressive riders will want to ride them with a little more air pressure or they’ll risk pinch flats and squirming.
1x or 2x
In our opinion, this is a fight that has long since been decided. Since the introduction of the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, there has been no reason to include a front derailleur on a bike of this price range. Our group test confirmed this: five of the seven bikes came with a single front chainring, with only Giant and Trek still using a front derailleur. They do offer a minimally larger gear range, but the constant rattling and dropped chains are super annoying. Fortunately, Trek offers the Fuel EX with a GX Eagle drivetrain for the same price, although that bike wasn’t available at the time of testing.
F*ck KOMs – what counts is having fun!
The seat tube angle is still too slack
We had the same problem with every bike in this group test: before we even started riding, we shifted the saddle as far forward as it would go. Unfortunately, the seat tube angles are currently still too slack throughout the entire test field. Riders with long legs, in particular, will feel like they’re pedalling from too far behind. On top of that, the manufacturer’s geometry specs are not suitable for comparison: depending on the design of the seat tube within the frame, some become slacker the further the seat post is extended. We found the most central riding positions on the Canyon and the GHOST.
29″ vs. 27.5″ – a question of preference
The right wheel size for trail bikes is a matter of preference. In general, we’re convinced by the advantages offered by larger 29″ wheels, which roll over the trails more easily, offer a little more traction, and you feel more integrated in the bike due to the increased BB drop. But especially with trail bikes–where riding fun is characterized more by agility–27.5″ wheels have some advantages. They’re quicker to accelerate, more responsive when changing direction and offer more direct handling. But on technically demanding, rough terrain, these smaller wheels can’t keep up with 29ers on the climbs and the descents.
The best trail bikes provide the maximum fun on the ups and the downs!
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 trail bike for less than € 3,000
Despite the general high standard, there were still significant differences amongst the bikes of this group test. The GHOST SL AMR X has an extremely plush rear end but it’s held back on descents by the performance of its fork and has to contend with its weight on long climbs. Speaking of below-par climbing performance, the Whyte T130 S and the Giant Trance suffered the same issues: you have to lock out the shock of both bikes before climbing to prevent the back end from excessive rocking or sagging. The ROSE felt pleasantly neutral on climbs, but its rear end doesn’t respond well over small bumps, and quickly begins to bottom out on larger hits. The Trek Fuel EX 8 29 XT is a great all-rounder, showing no real weaknesses and impressing the test riders with very balanced handling, good suspension and a nice frame.
However, it had to admit defeat against the YT JEFFSY. Last year’s winner still knows how to convince riders with a brilliant overall package: the JEFFSY is at once composed and agile, offering plenty of reserves through the rough stuff while also being very pleasant to pedal uphill. The YT JEFFSY 29 AL Comp is an amazing all-rounder and thus secures the coveted Best Value tip.
The benchmark in this test was set by the brand new Canyon Spectral, which impressed the crew with super balanced yet playful handling. The Spectral’s suspension works brilliantly, responding sensitively to small bumps, conveying a lot of feedback and remaining neutral on the climbs. The frame shows how much know-how Canyon has put into its development. And on top of that, the componentry leaves nothing to be desired, and so the Canyon Spectral CF 8.0 is our well-deserved Best in Test!
This article is from ENDURO issue #033
Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Christoph Bayer, Valentin Rühl