Which is the best enduro bike of 2021? To answer this question, we travelled to Tuscany with 13 of the hottest bikes of the 2021 season in tow. Besides finding an undisputed winner, we also gained a lot of new and exciting insights. But is our test winner really the best bike for everyone?
Table of content: What is in this test?
- The enduro test field
- Where and how did we test?
- Our ENDURO test crew
- What defines a good enduro bike?
- The tops & flops of our test bikes
- The best enduro bike in test
The mountain bike world is always changing with a constant influx of new and exciting bikes. As it evolves, the industry follows specific trends every year: most recently it was new wheel sizes, new tire widths and new geometry concepts. Typically, these trends first go to the extremes before swinging back and settling at a more reasonable compromise. There are plenty of examples, be it plus bikes, super-short chainstays or overly long bikes. However, you won’t find any extremes in this year’s test field as the industry seems to have settled down. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the bikes are all the same. Despite near-identical geometry in some cases, handling differs enormously – but more on that in a moment.
Enduro bikes aren’t all the same – the differences are immense!
What is an enduro bike and how do I find the best one?
Gone are the days when you could categorise a bike based on its travel. The boundaries between individual segments have become fluid and classic parameters such as travel, weight or geometry are no longer able to serve as a general guide about the intended use, let alone about the character of a bike. Over the years, trail bikes have become more and more capable while enduro bikes have become increasingly efficient. It’s not uncommon for a bike like the Ibis Ripmo V2 or the Stumpjumper EVO to straddle the categories. Thanks to this diversity, every rider is guaranteed to find the perfect bike for them. That said, finding it is the tricky part, but our group test should make things a lot easier. We knew from the outset that the best bike would have to be extremely versatile and perform convincingly in every situation on the trail. Though we were looking for the best all-rounder, that didn’t mean that there aren’t more specialised bikes in the test field that excel in one particular aspect.
The test field – The hottest enduro mtbs of 2021
This year’s test field is a reflection of the incredible diversity of the enduro bike market with all-rounders such as the Ibis Ripmo V2, Canyon Strive and Transition Sentinel offering 150 mm of travel at the rear, all the way through to bikes like the 180 mm travel Propain Spindrift. Our test field also includes both wheel sizes. The brand-new Santa Cruz Nomad still rolls on 27.5″ wheels, the Spindrift came set up as a mullet and the rest of the test field relies on proven 29″ wheels. If you ignore the numbers and just look at the character of each bike, there’s something for everyone here. From direct, playful bikes that are guaranteed to put big grins on the faces of those who like to play with the trail, speed-addicted race bikes for those who race against the clock, to models that can compete with full-blown downhill bikes. Right in the middle is where you’ll find the classic all-rounders that excel in almost every terrain and discipline. Prices vary between € 3,999 and € 10,499. The wide range of prices is partly due to the availability of individual models. For example, Nukeproof were only able to deliver the Mega 290 in aluminium, as they were out of stock of the carbon models, yet the bike is far too exciting for us not to have included in our test field. Some other manufacturers either couldn’t or wouldn’t send us their flagship models to test – but we’re convinced that an expensive derailleur and a few grams more or less don’t affect a bike’s fundamental character. What that character is, is exactly what our tests aim to find out.
Why is bike X not included in the test field?
As with all of our tests, we based this selection of bikes on the feedback you give us in our big readers’ survey. We want to test the bikes that our readers are interested in and frankly, we’d be missing the point if we didn’t. Of course, we also try to include bikes that we find particularly interesting. As in the past, some brands couldn’t supply us with a test bike due to a lack of availability or simply wanting to avoid a comparison with the competition. We would have liked to put the new Pivot Mach 6 to the test for you, but it wasn’t yet available.
Other exciting bikes not included in the test field
Another first-world problem we have here at ENDURO is that over the years we’ve tested almost every bike on the market. Due to longer product cycles, you’ll even find some bikes appearing in multiple group tests. But how much sense does it make to test bikes like the Pivot Firebird 29 or YT CAPRA for the umpteenth time when, apart from a few details in the spec, little has changed, and a successor is likely to be launched in the coming months anyway? As such, we don’t include these bikes in every test, except for models that are particularly relevant to our readers or that have previously won a group test, such as the Specialized Enduro or the Canyon Strive. However, our primary focus is on the most relevant and latest bikes on the market that we haven’t had in one of our group tests before. Below, we’ve compiled a list of exciting bikes not included in the test field for which you’ll find a review on our website.
- CUBE Stereo 170 SL 29
- Ibis Mojo HD5
- Lapierre Spicy Team Ultimate
- LAST COAL
- MDE DAMPER 29
- Norco Sight C1 29
- Orbea Rallon M-LTD
- Pivot Firebird 29 Team XX1
- Pole MACHINE
- Pole Stamina 180 LE
- Privateer 161
- RAAW Madonna V2 FOX Factory Built
- Rocky Mountain Slayer Carbon 90 29
- SCOTT Ransom 900 Tuned
How and where did we test the bikes?
For a change, we can’t blame it on coronavirus. Our original plan to visit our friends Valentina and Manu in Sanremo for this test was disrupted by something else: flooding in early October. The water that came down in just one night didn’t only destroy the trails but also the roads and bridges on the Ligurian coast, leaving nothing but devastation in its wake. We had to reschedule and travelled to wonderful Tuscany instead, checking in at one of our regular spots, the Bike Hotel Massa Vecchia. Once there, we took to the varied trails around Monte Arsenti and pitted the bikes against each other in a direct comparison. Our buddy Francesco from the Trail Brothers offered us a shuttle service, allowing us to skip the boring part (a service-road climb) and complete as many runs as possible. However, there was no avoiding the last stretch of uphill single-track to the trailhead. The bikes also had to prove themselves long term on our home trails at the Alpine headquarters near Aschau im Chiemgau. Here, we tested the bikes’ all-round and climbing capabilities on longer rides.
The test team
Our test criteria:
What defines a good enduro bike?
What defines a good enduro bike?
Fun! Always and everywhere – that’s our most important criterion. The bigger the grin on the face, the deeper the smile lines, the better the bike. But how do you define something as subjective as fun? While some riders want a super agile bike to play with the trail, other riders only have fun when they’ve got adrenaline pumping through their veins as they blast through a rock garden. Our goal is to work out a bike’s character as best we can, thereby guiding you to the bike that delivers where it counts. To do this, we look at countless factors during the test and take a holistic view. The best bike is composed at speed, offering lots of reserves as well as handling that is agile, direct and fun. Of course, we also consider aspects such as workmanship, components and convenient features that make life easier. As we all know, you first have to ride up the mountain before you can enjoy the descent. As such, the bikes’ climbing capabilities are important for this test, though with less emphasis than we’d give it for a trail bike group test. With all these factors in mind, we come to a verdict that reflects the actual riding performance on the trail and not some isolated lab values like the stiffness of the bottom bracket. Instead of using tables and a theoretical score for the components, we present each bike through an honest and extensive review. To help you understand the process, we’ve written a quick explanation of the most important factors for our assessments.
Riding comfort and climbing efficiency
Unfortunately, very few of us have access to a shuttle or a lift at every uphill we encounter. Admittedly, you also eventually learn to appreciate earning the descent – fuck, did we just say that? One thing is certain: an enduro bike also has to perform on the climbs. The riding position and the suspension play a decisive role here. For example, the Nukeproof Mega 290 Alu is easier to pedal up the climbs than the GIANT Reign, despite weighing more. If you’re continually having to pedal from the back of the bike or working to keep the front wheel planted, you’re wasting energy. At the same time, experience shows that the bike’s weight plays a minor role. First of all, weight is most noticeable when accelerating, which doesn’t factor that heavily when pedalling uphill in a relaxed manner. Secondly, weight savings often go hand in hand with a reduction in durability and increased risk of mechanical failures.
Coherent and functional components
Fortunately, the days when you first had to replace the 90 mm stem before you could take a bike for its first ride are over. Today, most complete bikes are well-specced out of the box and with many, you don’t have to do anything but climb aboard and ride. Unfortunately, some brands still offer misleading drivetrain configurations or inappropriate brakes and tires or prefer to save on the suspension rather than on less important components. Enduro bikes are becoming more and more capable and need the components to match. An unnecessary preoccupation with weight reduction often undermines this requirement. Our tests are here to uncover these kinds of weaknesses and we also give you the best tuning tips to get the most out of the bike.
“The head angle must be at least 63°. Otherwise, the bike won’t be composed.” You’ll often find supposed wisdom such as this in mountain bike forums, but this is more than just wrong, it can also be dangerous. Many more factors influence the handling than just the head angle and making it slacker doesn’t always make a bike more stable, occasionally even causing the exact opposite. Sure, a slack head angle helps on steep descents. However, reach and stack, their relationship to each other and the suspension also play a role. The latter in particular doesn’t get discussed nearly often enough in forums. Why is that? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to represent suspension performance in easy to digest numbers. That’s why we don’t get hung up on numbers and prefer to look at handling on the trail. Does the bike understeer in flat sections? Is its handling intuitive? How predictable is it when you’re pushing the limits? Can you remain in complete control on steep terrain? How quickly can you change direction and is the bike controllable at high speed? We include all of these and many other criteria in our assessment.
The suspension of an enduro mtb
Very few riders actually know how the suspension on their bike works and how different aspects like anti-squat, anti-rise, axle path, leverage ratio, progression influence each other. That’s not to mention the setup and tuning of the shock! One thing is sure: graphs don’t tell the whole truth and it’s impossible to judge the performance of the suspension without having ridden the bike. The best suspension combines a high level of traction and responsiveness with sufficient mid-stroke support and lots of pop. The Nukeproof Mega, Rocky Mountain Altitude and Specialized Enduro do this exceptionally well. They absorb impacts with ease and generate a lot of grip. In an ideal world, the wheels follow the contour of the terrain while the frame and the rider glide smoothly over it. The chassis should do the work for you, providing traction and allowing you to concentrate on the trail ahead. If, as is the case with the bikes mentioned above, the suspension does all this without also absorbing the rider’s input, you can play with the terrain and pop off features on the trail despite the bike’s otherwise composed handling. The good news is that nowadays the suspension of most bikes on the market is good. Unfortunately, only a handful will blow you away with their performance.
Background noise and workmanship
Only a quiet bike is a good bike. So, it’s all the more disappointing that a lot of the bikes on test still rattle annoyingly on the trail. On the one hand, this is due to components such as the cooling fins on the Shimano brake pads or derailleurs with worn out clutches, as is often the case with SRAM, but it also comes down to the frame itself. Manufacturers are still struggling to find effective solutions for keeping internal cables from rattling or simply to make the chainstay protector big enough. There’s a lot of work to be done here across the industry. Cases in point include the loud Propain Spindrift or the Ibis Ripmo. Conversely, the Rocky Mountain Altitude and Specialized Enduro were particularly quiet.
Clever frame features for maximum enduro fun!
A cleverly designed frame indirectly allows you to have more fun with the bike. For example, with extra storage options on the bike, you can leave your backpack or hip bag at home and feel the wind on your back. Features like threaded bottom brackets allow you to service your bike without having to curse and throw your tools at the wall. Ultimately, these are the factors that prospective buyers should take into account in their decision making and not whether they get an XT or XTR derailleur.
The best enduro bike of 2021
Which is the best enduro bike of 2021? Which bike allows you to have a lot of fun on your home trails but, assuming you’ve got the skills and fitness required, doesn’t shy away from taking part in an EWS race either? The best bike shouldn’t shy away from long shuttle days in Finale Ligure or laps in the bike park and, of course, it should also allow you to pedal comfortably uphill. It sounds almost too good to be true, but we found it:
Best in Test
Rocky Mountain Altitude C90 Rally Edition
No other bike in this test is so composed at speed and yet as agile as the Altitude. It glides through the nastiest rock gardens but it’s just as much fun to ride on flow trails. The riding position is comfortable on the climbs, though the chassis isn’t the most efficient when pedalling. Rocky Mountain have clearly put their focus on the bike’s outstanding descending capabilities. As a result, the active suspension performs like no other, offering the perfect mix of traction and feedback. The componentry leaves no room for complaint and the Altitude is perfectly quiet on the trails, giving you the complete package. Looking for the perfect all-rounder? Then the Rocky Mountain Altitude is your answer!
TREK Slash 9.8 XT
The TREK SLASH 9.8 XT is this group test’s Best Buy. Admittedly, it isn’t perfect, but its imperfections are minor and relatively cheap to remedy. That aside, the bike’s handling is well-balanced and a ton of fun. Though not as plush as the Rocky Mountain, it is more versatile and more efficient uphill. Aboard the Slash, you’ll have just as much fun in the bikepark on the weekend as on quick after-work blasts during the week. To round off the well-priced package, you get a beautifully finished, high-end carbon frame with a convenient storage compartment (which also happens to feature on the aluminium model).
Other exciting bikes in this group test
Top honours were awarded to the bikes that best meet the criteria of this group test – the best all-round enduro bike. But there were other bikes that also stood out from the crowd. The Nukeproof Mega AL 290 and the Specialized Enduro Expert. One is the perfect race bike, the other an absolute bike park machine.
The perfect bike for racers – Nukeproof Mega AL 290
The Nukeproof Mega was damn fast in our previous race bike group test. However, that was the predecessor, which tended to be a bit sluggish through tight sections. Thanks to the revised suspension and updated geometry, that’s no longer the case and the new Mega is even faster through the corners and is as balanced and intuitive to ride as ever, staying composed in even the roughest terrain. No matter how hard you’re hammering over roots and rocks, it always stays on course and carries tons of speed. Those who can afford it are free to opt for the fancier carbon model but even the Mega 290 AL Pro that we tested offers everything a racer’s heart could desire.
Bikepark all day, every day – Specialized Enduro
Do you enjoy party laps with your buddies and always go to the bike park or take a shuttle at the weekend? You’ve considered getting a downhill bike but you want to ride the occasional loop? Then check out the Specialized Enduro! It’s an absolute descending machine and its suspension feels almost bottomless. This bike will take everything in its stride and you can also pedal it uphill without busting a lung. The Specialized Enduro sets the benchmark when it comes to soaring over the biggest jumps or chasing riders with dual-crown forks along downhill tracks. However, the descents have to be steep and fast. You will quickly get bored on flat and flowing trails with this machine.
The bikes in this group test are too expensive?
Fortunately, many of the bikes in this test are also available in more affordable builds. The most important components to look for are the brakes and the suspension. It may also be worthwhile to budget for upgrades. To find out more, check out our group test where we compared 9 enduro bikes up to € 3,500.
Not looking for an enduro bike, but rather an efficient trail bike for long rides?
If the bikes in this group test have more travel than you need and you’re looking for something more efficient, you should definitely take a closer look at our big trail bike group test where we put 15 of the hottest trail bikes to the test.
The eMTB trend – maybe you’d prefer a bike with a motor after all?
They’re heavy and ride like a tank. Forget those old prejudices. The latest generation of eMTBs have little in common with their predecessors. Besides the latest category of super light eMTBs such as the Orbea Rise, Specialized Levo SL and the Rotwild X.375, you will also find bikes with bigger batteries that are a ton of fun to ride. For everything you need to know about eMTBs, we recommend checking out our sister magazine E-MOUNTAINBIKE.
All bikes in test: Canyon Strive CFR (Click for review) | COMMENCAL Meta AM 29 Öhlins (Click for review) | GIANT Reign Advanced Pro 0 (Click for review) | Ibis Ripmo V2 (Click for review) | Nukeproof Mega 290 Alloy Pro (Click for review) | Propain Spindrift CF Mix Custom (Click for review) | Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90 Rally Edition (Click for review) | Santa Cruz Megatower CC X01 Coil RSV (Click for review) | Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 RSV (Click for review) | Specialized Enduro Expert (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper EVO (Click for review) | Transition Sentinel XT (Click for review) | Trek Slash 9.8 XT (Click for review)
Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Christoph Bayer/Valentin Rühl/Markus Frühmann