Kinda like choosing your fillings at Subway, there are so many option when looking at new bikes it’s hard to know where to start!
We’ve been having a nostalgic look at all the shiny bikes that we’ve been lucky enough to review here at Flow this year, and we’ve put together a list of some of the bikes that stood out to us as trail bikes with a personality.
What we’re talking about is the sort of bike that’s a real all-rounder. We’d all love to own a bike for every sub-category and niche discipline of mountain biking, but the reality for most of us is that isn’t going to be the case, and having a bike that does lots of things well, with a slight focus on the priorities you have as a rider is a more realistic proposition.
Before we launch into the bikes, we should clarify that our definition of a ‘trail bike’ for the purposes of this article refers to a bike that is within the rear travel boundaries of 115mm-135mm of travel. More importantly than the travel numbers though are the subtleties and ride qualities that these bikes possess, the unmeasurable quantities that make them real standouts in our eyes for the rider looking to do a bit of everything.
There’s a pretty vast range of prices and specs across the bikes we’ve selected for this article, just like there’s a variety of consumers out there who’ll have vastly different budgets for a new mountain bike. If you’re in the market for a new trail bike, or just interested in the variety that’s out there, this isn’t a bad place to start!
“From the raw and steep hills of Laguna Beach, California, all the way back to our rocky and fast trails back at Flow HQ, we’ve spent many heavenly hours flogging this thing, it’s been a legitimate dream ride.”
It’s probably fair to say nobody is going to nominate us for a Walkley for uncovering that a $16500 bicycle is a dream to ride. That being said, the Spider 275C comes in four build kit options with a $10000 variance in price, and the outstanding frame and ride qualities remain the same throughout.
The Spider 275C has an adjustable 130mm or 115mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork, and we think this is an excellent feature for the trail rider looking for a bike that can head out for technical trail rides, and with some quick adjustments in the workstand be ready for a Cross-Country race the next day.
In its 130mm guise, with the frame’s balanced geometry, the Spider represents just how capable the modern trail bike is:
“The Spider is a lively little bugger, with the magical combination of super-short 419mm chain stays, a slack 67-degree head angle, roomy 445mm reach and a tiny 50mm stem we found ourselves throwing it around the trail with remarkable ease. Flicking around the tight turns with a spritely pop the Spider is a heap of fun to ride, we’ve enjoyed it so very much.”
Our final thoughts on the Spider 275C pretty much sum it up- if you’re after an aggressive trail bike with adjustment allowing for a more XC oriented ride, this bike is well worth a look!
“If you like to ride hard, shred turns, jump over things on the trail and pump and manual along throwing up roost then this is your bag. It’s hard to hide our love for riding this bike, and we can vouch that if you can manage the cost it’ll give you the same feeling on the trail.”
Not only were we lucky enough to get our hands on the Gucci spec Intense Spider 275C this year, but we also checked out the 29” model, which also comes with 130/115mm of rear travel paired with a 130mm fork.
“Flow’s home trails are the ultimate testing ground for bikes like this, rocky, ledgy and unforgiving. Each ride on the Spider we couldn’t help but compare it to bigger travel 27.5″ bikes we’ve been testing lately, it holds its own against bikes with bigger travel but smaller wheels. The Spider 29c is a rolling dream, munching its way through rocky trails, skipping across the top of holes and undulations instead of falling in them.”
We remarked throughout the review where the 29” Spider differed from 27.5” wheeled trail bikes on the market. It’s a traditional 29” trail bike in the sense that it prefers to stay grounded and munch terrain rather than flick, pump and jump through the trail.
“Looking at the frame geometry it’s quite a classic mid-travel 29er, long out the back and short up front, with a relatively sharp steering angle. So it’s no surprise that we weren’t jumping around or popping off objects on the trail as much, instead we were hammering over them pedalling easily as the suspension worked away furiously below us.”
Summing up, it’s a case of horses for courses if you’re looking at an Intense Spider, in either it’s 27.5” or 29” guise as your next trail bike. If you’re after a classic handling 29” trail bike- the Spider 29C could be the ticket:
“The Spider 29c will make a calm type of trail rider very happy, it’s not an aggressive or rapid handling weapon, it is more about confidence and control and in a comfortable package that’s a pleasure to ride all day long.”
The Pivot Switchblade sits on the threshold of being too much bike for this piece with 135mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork, however it was noted in the review that in either guise this bike is not an out an out enduro descender, with a tall and short geometry that leans more towards traditional trail bike geometry and ride qualities.
We tested the Switchblade in both 27.5+ and 29” form, and here’s what we thought:
“Riding both bikes back to back it was clear to feel the differences, the consensus going around the mountain bike community is that a regular 27.5″ bike will feel agile and fun, a plus bike will have loads of confidence and control and the big wheels of a 29er will be fast. That’s certainly the case here, the plus bike was eager to clamber up and down anything and take creative lines through tricky corners, while the 29er would get up to speed and want to stay there with fantastic rolling momentum and corner speed.”
Summing up the Switchblade, despite its long travel compared to other bikes in this review, we thought that it would be an excellent bike for the trail rider looking for more confidence in all aspects of their riding, or someone who would take advantage of the Switchblade’s ability to run two different wheelsizes on the same frame.
“Like we mentioned before we found the front end quite tall in comparison to many 150mm travel bikes we’ve ridden recently, which made for a less aggressive cornering bike. We believe the Switchblade is more suited to riding everything capably and confidently than setting personal best times on your enduro trail descents.”
The Whyte T-130 is a 27.5” 130mm bike that would suit an experienced rider who wants a bike that can be ridden more aggressively than its travel would suggest, and that begs for its owner to take creative control out on the trail.
“Whyte Bikes are a little different; they tend to circle the outside of the main pack waiting for someone to outgrow the norm, someone looking for more. One of our testers nailed it by stating Whyte provide bikes for experienced riders who can appreciate the finer details and get the most out of the progressive designs; that sums them up nicely. We like riding Whytes.”
Worried about maintenance? The T-130 takes sealing the frame from the outside world to another level.
“Born and bred in the UK, the T-130 is built to sustain wet weather like no bike we’ve seen before. The bike is sealed at every angle to prevent any muddy water entering the frame through the seat post and cable ports, and all the pivot bearings are protected by sealed caps too. On top of the sealing on the bearings, they are also backed by a lifetime warranty, that’s confidence!”
We really enjoyed the 27.5” wheeled T-130 in a section of the market that is increasingly dominated by 29” wheeled bikes. Why? Read on!
“Smaller things fit into smaller spaces, so it’s no secret that 27.5” wheels have a livelier and precise feel to them, they feel easier to jump and land on smaller transitions, drift sideways. And with stiffer wheels and the axles being lower to the ground a 27.5” bike tends to respond better to throwing down onto the sides of the tyres through a turn. Make sense? We know, the wheel size debate/topic is a headache.”
Overall, we think the Whyte T-130 is the perfect trail bike for lots of people, but perhaps it will appeal to this type of audience the most:
“If your trails are not especially rocky and rough, but they are fast this is your type of thing. Or if you’ve got a few years of riding experience behind you and find the new trend of 140-160mm travel bikes a little too easy to ride and numbing, then the zippy and capable T-130 will have you feeling the rush of speed while feeling the terrain and trails below.”
The Orbea Occam TR M30 is a 120mm 29” bike with an outstanding frame, but a couple of the spec choices held back this bike’s fantastic potential, namely a narrow and flexy Fox Float 32 fork and a lack of dropper seatpost.
The option to counter this however Is the custom ‘my Orbea’ program, which allows you to customise your Orbea build.
“This is a great looking bike, and the quality of the frame is the real stand out, giving you a magnificent base from which to build your dream machine. Orbea make it easy to go down this custom route too, using their My Orbea custom bike program, which lets you change certain components from the stock build to create a one-off bike to suit your style. To see what the options are, head to the Orbea website – on the spec listing for each bike, there are certain items you can change which are marked with a little dropdown menu, and the prices to make these modifications are clearly listed.”
With its stiff, direct frame and hard charging attitude, we feel that the Occam could cater for a variety of riders. In the setup we tested, with a narrow fork and no dropper post, the Occam could be a great bike for an owner who wants a fast trail bike that can double as a cross-country race bike.
We also believe that with a few changes to the spec, the Occam could be beefed up as a more aggressive trail bike. All of these potential changes are possible through the My Orbea program.
“The Occam TR M30 is a bit of a fence sitter, and this might make it perfect for you. If you’re a cross country rider looking for a glamorous steed to push a little harder, then this bike will really nail it for you; it’s efficient, very comfortable for big days in the saddle and packs some really confident geometry. If you’re looking for an aggressive trail bike, then we think there’s an absolute beast of a bike lurking here. The frameset is amongst the nicest we’ve seen, we love its simplicity, its clean looks and the stiffness it possesses. The Occam certainly has the bones, but you’ll need to flesh them out with a dropper post, possibly a stiffer fork and maybe a more aggressive rear tyre too, to take it to the next level.”
We’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Lapierre Zesty here at Flow. We’ve ridden many in the past that have made hitting the singletrack such a pleasure, and the Zesty XM 427 was no exception.
With 27.5” wheels, and 120mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork, the Zesty definitely falls into the category of a hard charging trail bike that begs for aggressive use.
“The Zesty XM uses a 130mm travel fork on a 120mm travel rear end, there’s a massive gear range, dropper post and a robust aluminium frame to keep you riding anything in your path.”
We appreciated the Zesty’s stiff and burly frame when the going got rough, however we wouldn’t see the Zesty as a potential XC and trail bike all in one as much as the Focus Spine, Cannondale Habit or the Orbea Occam. The Zesty XM 427 is a bike that with a beefier fork and rubber could handle far more abuse than its 120mm of rear travel would initially suggest.
“We can’t get enough of these new breed of mid-travel trail bikes with dialled geometry, and the Zesty is one of them. It has a fun character from it’s vibrant paintwork, right down to the way it lights up the singletrack.”
The Habit is another 27.5” trail bike that falls into the category of a bike that loves to play with the trail and has a lively feel, but can also roll your trail bike and race bike into one.
“Its target audience is the one-bike-rider, someone who doesn’t want a quiver in their garage, but needs a bike that’s light enough for the odd marathon race perhaps (and at just over 12kg, that’s certainly the case here) and is confident and burly enough for some over-enthusiastic play.”
The Habit rolls on 27.5” wheels, and comes with 120mm of travel front and rear. Much like the Whyte T-130, the Cannondale Habit promotes lively and aggressive riding- we commented that it was often as we lay on the ground after a crash that we thought about how much we loved the Habit’s ability to make us want to double things up, or take the inside line.
“We feel it will be best in the hands of a fairly competent rider. Those looking for more cushiness or a bike that will soak up mistakes will be happier on the Trigger, or perhaps the Jekyll.”
Despite the Lefty fork feeling somewhat behind the latest offerings from Fox and Rockshox, its unparalleled stiffness was one of the attributes that makes the Habit so eager to find far more ambitious lines than you would usually seek aboard a 120mm trail bike.
“The colour is divisive. The suspension is far from perfect. But none of that matters to us, especially when we’re out on the trail grinning from ear to ear as we go back yet again to try and make that tricky inside gap line for the fifth time, or as the rear wheel sprays through a loose corner. This bike feels fast, it feels fun, it feels like Cannondales should.”
Despite having just 10mm less travel then the Whyte T-130 for example, the Focus Spine is a very different bike. The Spine is a 27.5”, 120mm travel front and rear trail bike that leans towards the XC side of trail riding through its suspension tune and spec decisions.
“This is a bike which makes sense at speed. Toodle about on the Spine C0.0 at lower speeds and you’ll find it feels very firm, like a shorter-travel cross country machine. This has its advantages on smoother trails or when climbing, as the bike never feels like it’s loafing in its travel, but if the terrain is choppy it can all feel a bit harsh, like you’ve got too much pressure in the suspension.”
The Spine is the sort of bike that with its firm, efficient suspension damping and lightweight spec encourages you to go fast to get the most out of it.
“If you’ve got aspirations to roll your cross-country race bike and your trail bike into one, then the Spine C0.0 could be the answer. It is about as light as trail bikes come, and its efficient, taut ride will see it hang out happily with the lycra set on the climbs and drop them on the descents.”
So, which of these bikes is the right one for me?
Any one of these bikes would make an excellent choice for the rider looking for the ‘quiver killer’ bike to do it all. Some of them lean towards the XC side of the spectrum, with lightweight specs and firm, race oriented suspension, whilst others have beefy componentry choices, confidence inspiring geometries and chunky frames built for abuse.
Budget is also a factor, but with bikes ranging from the high four thousand range to over sixteen thousand, and the fact that most of these bikes have a model range with a wide variety of prices, we hope that if you’re in the market for a new trail bike, this has at least inspired some thought about what might be the right rig for you, or at least what isn’t!