Flow’s Year In Review: Enduro Bikes Of 2016

If this is the sort of attire you'd wear out on a ride, you'll enjoy reading this article.
It doesn’t get much more enduro than this.

Whilst the constant confusion around what to call this style of riding and the bikes it involves (aggressive trail, all-mountain, long travel trail, enduro) makes defining this category difficult, here are some of the bikes we’ve ridden in the past 12 months that fit the bill. The links below will take you straight through to the full reviews.

Giant Trance Advanced 1

Merida One-Sixty 5000

Focus SAM C Team

Scott Genius 710 Plus

Polygon Collosus N9

Whyte G-160 Works

GT Sensor Carbon Team 2

Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race

Pivot Firebird Carbon Pro XT/XTR

Lots of riders out there know that riding capable bikes that make you want to go faster is a tonne of fun
Lots of riders out there know that riding capable long travel bikes is a tonne of fun

We’ve already done a ‘Trail Bikes of 2016’ piece, which summarised some of the best trail bikes we reviewed here at Flow last year, so this article moves one rung up the travel ladder.

The bikes we're talking about in this article are all about how fast you can head down the trail
The bikes we’re talking about in this article are all about how fast you can head down the trail

Where in our Trail Bikes piece we discussed bikes that really nail the ‘jack of all trades’ moniker, this article will take a look at bikes with a bias towards descending fast, aggressively and most probably on the sphincter clenching limit at one point or another.

It's foot out, flat out aboard these bikes.
It’s foot out, flat out aboard these bikes.

Before we get stuck into the bikes, we should clarify that all the bikes discussed fall within the rear travel boundaries of 130mm-170mm of travel. Savvy readers might remember that our trail bikes review covered bikes with more than 130mm of rear wheel travel, however this is a perfect example that the amount of travel doesn’t necessarily define ride qualities, and whilst some bikes don’t have huge amounts of travel, it’s perfectly clear that they’ve got very rowdy intentions when it comes time to get the tyres dirty.

The GT Sensor hasn't got huge amounts of travel, but it makes up for it with its hard-charging attitude.
The GT Sensor hasn’t got huge amounts of travel, but it makes up for it with its hard-charging attitude.

On the flip side of the spectrum, we found that a bike like the Pivot Switchblade has 135mm or rear wheel travel and 150mm of travel up front, however it’s not an out an out descender like the bikes discussed in this article, and is better suited as a trail bike despite its longer travel.

The Pivot Switchblade might have 150mm of travel up front, but it's better suited as a trail bike than an Enduro racer.
The Pivot Switchblade might have 150mm of travel up front, but it’s better suited as a trail bike than an Enduro racer.

In terms of price, just like our trail bikes round up there’s a fair variance between the models discussed. At the low end, the Merida One-Sixty 5000 retails for a shade under four and half thousand. The Pivot Firebird tops out the pricing, with its price approaching the five-figure mark.

The Merida One Sixty 5000 offers outstanding value for money.
The Merida One Sixty 5000 offers outstanding value for money.

Alright, enough disclaiming, let’s jump into some of the bikes we think you should be looking at if the ‘cruise to the top, descend till you drop’ motto is your cup of tea!

Giant Trance Advanced 1:

“What about if I had a bike with a slick carbon frame, carbon wheels, top of the line suspension and a wide range single-ring drivetrain for under six grand,” says the bike shop guy with a grin.”

The Giant Trance Advanced 1 offers excellent bang for your buck.
The Giant Trance Advanced 1 offers excellent bang for your buck.

We know that the link to this bike is for a First Bite, but we’ve spent plenty of trail time aboard this beast over the summer, and a full review is just around the corner.

Paul Van Der Ploeg was shredding aboard a Trance in our Flowtown video.
Paul Van Der Ploeg was shredding aboard a Trance in our latest Falls Creek video of the all new Flowtown trail.

With 140mm of rear wheel travel paired to 150mm of squish up front, the Trance doesn’t push the travel envelope, however some geometry redesigns make it an excellent option for Australian tracks, as our typically flatter and more pedally terrain means that 140mm of rear wheel travel in the hands of a skilled rider is pretty much bang on for technical riding across the country.

The Fox 34 is a superb offering up front.
The Fox 34 is a superb offering up front.

“The Trance platform received major updates to the frame this year, it’s longer in reach, lower in bottom bracket height, shorter in its chainstay length and fork travel is bumped up 10mm to 150mm. The 2017 model comes with a host of new and emerging technologies, such as boost hub spacing front and rear and a trunnion mounted rear shock.”

The Maestro linkage on the Trance is stout and stiff.
The Maestro linkage on the Trance is stout and stiff.

We summed up out first impressions of the Trance by discussing how a few changes for this year have got us really excited, and these changes have delivered in spades out on the trail.

The full review is yet to come, but rest assured we’re pretty content that the Giant Trance rolls together a bike that you can race on, but is also capable of general trail duties at the same time.

Lots of gears for all sorts of terrain.
Lots of gears for all sorts of terrain.

“A bike like the Trance Advanced 1 is probably going to have an owner that uses it for many things, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. From buff singletrack to downhill bike worthy terrain, we’re keen to see what this bike is capable of.”

The Trance is ready to be challenged by the aggressive rider.
The Trance is ready to be challenged by the aggressive rider.

Merida One Sixty 5000:

Merida is one of the largest bike companies in the world; their reach spans 77 countries, and they’re found on just about every trail and road down here too. So, it’s about time they cracked open the lucrative current enduro market with a genuinely competitive offering that may well be the cause of a few nervous, clammy hands amongst the big brands.”

The completely redesigned Merida One Sixty really impressed us.
The completely redesigned Merida One Sixty really impressed us.

We don’t think we’re being harsh to say that even at first glance, the Merida One Sixty 5000 is a far superior machine than its predecessor, which was very much due for a revamp. For a brand with such a big presence internationally in almost every cycling discipline, it’s exciting to see them finally step into the limelight of Enduro bikes with the all new One Sixty.

Despite its long travel, the One Sixty felt lively out on the trails.
Despite its long travel, the One Sixty felt lively out on the trails.

“The One-Sixty is a new all-mountain/enduro bike with those key components that are essential to the type of riding this segment is all about. We’re talking about 160mm (you picked it!) out the back and 170mm travel up front of RockShox travel, aggressive tyres, dropper post, wide bars, and a single-ring 11-speed drivetrain.”

A 170mm RockShox Yari leads the charge up front.
A 170mm RockShox Yari leads the charge up front.

In terms of the suspension, Merida have kept things simple with a proven design, allowing them to focus on getting the geometry and spec dialled.

“The all-new carbon/aluminium frame is built around their ‘Floating Link’ configuration. We received many comments that shape of the new One-Sixty resembles the vertical shock mount and kinked top tubes of bikes like the Giant Trance or Trek Remedy. But in all fairness, this is reflected across the whole industry, with bike designers from many brands seeing the benefit of mounting the rear shock low and central to the bike’s architecture.”

The shock is attached via a Trunnion mount arrangement.
The shock is attached via a Trunnion mount.

Out on the trails, despite the One Sixty’s beefy spec and ample amounts of travel, it didn’t have the monster truck-like feel of some other 160mm enduro bikes on the market.

The shorter reach numbers compared to other bikes in this category plays a big part, which we feel is an excellent character trait for the rider looking for a bike with long travel, but snappier handling out on the trail.

The One Sixty was a playful ride.
The One Sixty was a playful ride.

“The reach doesn’t feel as long as many of the racier 160mm bikes we’ve reviewed like the Canyon Strive or Whyte G-160. The new generations of 160mm travel bikes are becoming increasingly long, requiring trails with serious gravity on their side, certainly not for everyone’s capabilities or regular trail rides.”

The One Sixty corners tight trails easier than other 160mm bikes out there.
The One Sixty corners tight trails with more ease than other 160mm bikes out there.

In terms of the spec, for under $5000 we think the One Sixty 5000 is one of the best value for money enduro bikes out there, due to the sheer performance of the components for a fraction of the cost, and marginal gains in weight.

The carbon front triangle is exceptional quality at this price.
The carbon front triangle is exceptional quality at this price.

“Merida has chosen some new offerings from RockShox for this year, with a trunnion mount Super Deluxe rear shock and a 170mm travel Yari. The forks look massive with the Boost hub width and the front hub also uses the Torque Cap system, when in combination with the forks provide a more positive connection between fork and axle to lift front end rigidity.”

Super Deluxe in name and performance.
Super Deluxe in name and performance.

Despite not being the top of the line components, the kit on the One Sixty performed admirably on the trail.

The Merida branded dropper post didn't miss a beat throughout testing.
The Merida branded dropper post didn’t miss a beat throughout testing.

We also appreciated the small details on the One-Sixty, details that truly showed this is an enduro-race ready machine.

“One of the details we appreciate is the adjustable MRP micro chain guide – a simple addition that removes the need for an expensive aftermarket purchase and just makes rides safer, quieter and hassle-free.”

We think every 160mm bike should come with a chainguide.
We think every 160mm bike should come with a chainguide for the rowdiness they will encounter on the trail.

The Merida One Sixty has us excited for the future, where performance will continue to trickle down to lower and lower price points, lowering the cost of entry for riders after a long travel machine to take their technical riding to the next level.

Sram's NX drivetrain is another example of trickle down technology delivering excellent performance.
Sram’s NX drivetrain is another example of trickle down technology delivering excellent performance.

“If you are either looking to tap into the unlimited fun a long travel bike provides, or upgrade to something to take it even further, the One-Sixty 5000 is a legitimate contender in the competitive and rapidly growing segment of 160/170mm travel bikes.”

Focus SAM C Team:

Some Enduro bikes have one focus, and one focus only. Bikes like the Whyte G-160 and the Pivot Firebird have been designed to go downhill as fast as possible, which makes them amazing for racing and flat out, knuckle clenching riding, but less exciting when you just want to go for a razz around some cruisy singletrack, or your regular descents aren’t overly steep or technical. Luckily, if this sounds like you, the Focus SAM C Team is a different sort of 160mm bike.

The Focus SAM is a high energy 160mm ride.
The Focus SAM is a high energy 160mm ride.

Eagerness: the Focus SAM C Team has it in spades. Like an excited dog pulling its owner about as it charges to sniff every tree and post, this is a bike that’s always in a hurry.”

The SAM's stiff frameset encourages you to ride fast everywhere.
The SAM’s stiff frameset encourages you to ride fast everywhere.

The SAM C Team is a bike that can handle the rough and tumble of ‘Enduro’ style riding, but still feels capable of keeping a relatively high pace on undulating and climbing terrain.

“The suspension is a simple linkage-driven single-pivot setup, handing out 160mm of very responsive, lively travel. It’s a buttery, supple suspension feel too, but with enough anti-squat it preserves the sprinty, excited performance under pedalling that we like about the SAM.”

The linkage design is simple and effective.
The linkage design is simple and effective.

If a bottle cage mounted inside the frame is a prerequisite for your next bike selection, unfortunately the SAM is a pack only ride.

“A RockShox Monarch Plus is housed centrally in the frame, which means no bottle mounts, so it’s a pack-only affair. Having the shock nestled there between your knees gives easy access to the compression lever, so you can quickly flick it into firmer setting on the climbs.”

The centrally located Monarch Plus shock allows no room for a water bottle.
The centrally located Monarch Plus shock allows no room for a water bottle.

In terms of spec, the SAM costs a pretty penny at $8999, however you get some quality kit for your money.

Sram's Guide RSC brakes are solid performers.
Sram’s Guide RSC brakes are solid performers.

“It’s an attractively adorned bike, as it should be for the $8999 price tag. The premium SRAM XX1 drivetrain is a standout, with a 32-tooth chain ring. The drivetrain that started the single-ring revolution continues to impress us, its quiet, stable performance is brilliant. There’s no chain guide, but it’s possible to mount one off the ISCG tabs, which would be a good idea if you’re going racing. SRAM have been given the nod for the brakes too, with the premium Guide RSC stoppers. With a 200mm rotor up front, you’ll have all the braking confidence in the world.”

It's always nice to have a full XX1 drivetrain underneath you!
It’s always nice to have a full XX1 drivetrain underneath you!

Summing up the SAM, it’s a bike that is well up for the rowdy descending Enduro racing demands, but also excels in tamer terrain in the way few 160mm bikes do.

“There’s a lot of urgency to the way this bike rides, even on flatter trails, it keeps shooting forward in a way that few Enduro bikes do. It sprints out of corners beautifully, feeling even lighter than it’s already impressive 12.8kg weight figure. We really came to love the way the SAM could pump speed out of trails, letting your work the bike, pumping into terrain that would see you simply holding on for dear life on board a lesser bike.”

Scott Genius 710 Plus:

What! A plus bike? I thought this was an article about Enduro bikes?!

Hold on with us for a second here. If you’ve ridden a plus bike, especially one with the right tyre and suspension settings for the conditions, you probably don’t think we’re crazy for including a plus bike in this list.

Some of our rowdiest riding last year was aboard a plus bike, on Sydney's loose and rocky trails.
Some of our rowdiest riding last year was aboard a plus bike, on Sydney’s loose and rocky trails.

For many riders, the biggest hindrance to increasing their descending speed is traction and control in corners and technical terrain. With a well setup plus bike, your confidence will go through the roof in both of these areas, as the increased contact patch with the ground allows for huge amounts of traction, braking control and the ability to make your own line through choppy sections of trail that would have you bouncing all over the place aboard a regular bike.

Loose corners that would have you washing hard on a regular bike are no sweat on a plus bike.
Loose corners that would have you washing hard on a regular bike are no sweat on a plus bike.
The Genius Plus was a hoot on the trails.
The Genius Plus was a hoot on the trails.

Anyhow, enough on why we’re talking about a plus bike, let’s get into why we’ve chosen the Scott Genius Plus 710 for this wrap-up!

The Scott Genius Plus 710 would be a good bike for lots of riders!
The Scott Genius Plus 710 would be a good bike for lots of riders!

“The Genius platform is now available in three wheel sizes – 27.5, 29 and 27.5+. If you can’t find a version to suit you, you’re a very unique individual indeed. Visually, the three frames are similar, but there are travel and geometry differences. The 710 Plus shares the same travel as the 29er version, with 140mm up front and an adjustable 130/90mm out back, but the geometry is quite different. The 710 Plus is significantly slacker, a 67.5 degree head angle versus 68.9 degrees on the 29er, and the stays are a tad shorter.”

We think Scott got the head angle spot on for the Genius Plus.
We think Scott got the head angle spot on for the Genius Plus.

Whilst handlebar clutter is one of our pet hates here at Flow, we excuse Scott to an extent because their Twinloc system works bloody well, and they’re integrating it in a more aesthetically pleasing way every year. The Twinloc system on the Genius allows for on the fly adjustments, which are great for firming things up for climbs and flatter singletrack, then switching back to fully open as you get over the crest.

That's not a front derailleur shifter, thankfully!
That’s not a front derailleur shifter, thankfully!

“As with all Scott duallies, the suspension system is built around Twinloc. The bar-mounted lever lets you select either 140mm or 90mm travel modes, or you can lock the rear end out completely. The fork’s compression is activated in tandem – open, firm or locked – completely changing the character of the bike at the push of a button.”

“Really the Twinloc system and Plus tyres are a perfect match – the extra compliance of the big volume rubber makes the shorter travel mode more usable in rough terrain.”

The Twin Loc remote gives you three travel settings to play with in the rear.
The Twin Loc remote gives you three travel settings to play with in the rear.

As we touched on earlier, tyre pressure is so critical to getting the most out of any plus bike, and here’s what we settled on with the Genius.

“Tyre pressure is critical with this much air volume. Too high, and you’re not going to get any advantages from the big tyres, just a bouncy, jumping castle kind of ride. Too low and you risk a vague, slow feel. For us, the sweet spot was about 14/15psi. A digital pressure gauge is essential, don’t trust your track pump.”

A bit of trial and error is critical to getting the most out of the Plus tyres.
A bit of trial and error is critical to getting the most out of the Plus tyres.

Once we set up the bike to suit the conditions, we began to consider if the plus bike option would be faster not only for a small minority, but the majority of riders riding the loose, techy sort of riding we experience daily on Flow’s home trails in Northern Sydney.

If you haven't tried a Plus bike, put it on your bucket list for 2017.
If you haven’t tried a Plus bike, put it on your bucket list for 2017.

“We struggled to get our head around the cornering abilities of this bike. Even with its long rear end, the way it flings into a corner is ridiculous. On trails that we’ve ridden a hundred times, we needed to unlearn our usual braking points, and on corners where we’d usually unclip our inside foot, we could ride with both feet up. You just carry more speed through turns, and that makes for a faster ride overall.”

A chainguide was a welcome inclusion on the hard-charging Genius.
A chainguide was a welcome inclusion on the hard-charging Genius.

Okay, we’ve been pretty flattering of the Genius, but there are a couple of downsides as a trade-off for the many pluses (pardon the pun). Other than a small weight penalty however, we believe the Genius Plus has earned its place on this list as a bike that deserves consideration as a long travel, enduro race ready weapon!

“So what about downsides? Certainly, there are some. On smooth, flatter trails, there’s a small increase in rolling resistance, but it’s hardly perceptible. There’s also a little more weight to cart about, but again not a lot. When you compare the Genius 710 Plus to its 29er equivalent, there’s about 600-700g in it. But it’s not weight for weight’s sake, it comes with huge benefits in terms of traction. We know what we’d choose when it comes to trade-off between weight or grip.”

Polygon Colossus N9:

Resembling a prop from a Star Trek movie more than a bicycle with its futuristic frame design, the Polygon Colossus N9 is a bike that impressed with its fun and lively attitude, and it would suit a rider after the forgiveness of a longer travel machine, but more playfulness than an out and out enduro racer.

Funkier than a Gary Fisher outfit, the Polygon Colossus N9 stands out from the crowd.
Funkier than a Gary Fisher outfit, the Polygon Colossus N9 stands out from the crowd.

“It truly is one of the most spectacularly outlandish frame designs going, big scimitars of carbon out back, a collection of tube profiles that comes together in great style, a real demonstration of what’s possible with carbon and creativity. In an era of increasingly similar frame designs, it’s one of the few frames that look like they were approached with a truly blank slate. That attention to detail continues with other design features, like the smart cable ports and bonded chain slap protection.”

The attention to detail on the Colossus frame is flawless.
The attention to detail on the Colossus frame is flawless.

We can’t talk about a Polygon without talking about value for money. Of course, a bike is so much more than the parts attached to it, and without a good frame you’re not going to get very far, but the Polygon Colossus takes the dollars to bling ratio to the next level.

Premium parts adorn the Colossus for a very reasonable price.
Premium parts adorn the Colossus for a very reasonable price.

“The FOX 36 is just one highlight in a truly stacked spec sheet though. Polygon bikes are always incredibly well equipped, and when you consider the price tag, we can’t think of another bike which even comes close to matching the N9’s component offering. A full SRAM XX1 drivetrain, E13 TRS race wheels, XT brakes, a RockShox Reverb dropper… If you’re more of a Shimano fan, you can get a the N9 with an XTR double-ring drivetrain and XTR brakes for the same price! Ridiculous.”

We were big fans of the E*13 wheels for their stiffness and responsiveness.
We were big fans of the E*13 wheels for their stiffness and responsiveness.

Much like the Merida One Sixty and the Focus SAM, the Polygon Colossus prefers a variety of terrain, and a rider that can flick it around over ploughing technical descents at top speed.

“Playfulness and pedalling performance are two of the elements which stand out for us. This isn’t a 160mm bike that hugs the ground like a mini downhill bike. Rather it gives you the engagement you’d normally expect from a 140mm-travel bike, but with some more forgiveness when you need it. You’re not isolated from the trail, and even when already pushed deep into its travel, the N9 can be flicked to a new line easily.”

The Colossus' firm mid stroke allows you to play with the trail more than you would expect aboard at 160mm bike.
The Colossus’ firm mid stroke allows you to play with the trail more than you would expect aboard at 160mm bike.

“This responsiveness is in part due to the supportive suspension which has a firm mid-stroke, and the responsive E13 wheels, but it’s also a product of the bike’s geometry. When you compare a medium-sized N9 to other medium-sized 160mm bikes, you’ll notice the wheelbase is shorter. The head angle is 66.3 degrees (which is pretty standard for this category of bike) and the stays are 430mm (again, pretty much the norm) but the top-tube/reach measurements are 15-20mm shorter than is common. This makes it an easier bike to flick about, at the expense of stability when it’s really steep and fast.”

The Colossus is slightly shorter than other bikes in its class.
The Colossus is slightly shorter than other bikes in its class.

Whilst we loved the nimbleness and fun loving nature of the Colossus, we do think that if Enduro racing is your focus, you might want to upsize your frame for a bit more stability when the pace is getting blurry.

“If you’re hoping to use your N9 for Enduro racing, we’d encourage you to consider ‘up-sizing’ to get more length in the front end. If you’re a trail rider looking for a bike that’ll give you the ability to descend harder, but without too many handling or performance compromises usually associated with a longer-travel bike, then make sure the N9 is on your shortlist.”

A fun and engaging ride, and great value for money are key attributes of the Colossus.
A fun and engaging ride, and great value for money are key attributes of the Colossus.

Whyte G-160 Works:

Rocking up to the top of a trailhead aboard the Whyte and dropping into anything but the most demanding and gnarly descent is bringing a bazooka to a knife fight.

The single minded Whyte G-160.
The single minded Whyte G-160.

This is the bike you want if you couldn’t give a hoot about riding tame singletrack or getting to the top in a hurry, but strapping on a race plate and waiting for hours at the bottom of descents for your mates is what gets you out of bed in the morning.

There aren't many bikes that descend faster than the G-160.
There aren’t many bikes that descend faster than the G-160.

“UK brand Whyte are well-known for their high-quality frames with radical geometry, if you didn’t know that already take a look at this one – the Whyte G-160 Works is a real monster. We absolutely love the way it doesn’t aim to please everyone, its purpose is crystal clear, to dominate descents.”

Getting after it on the G-160!
Getting after it on the G-160!

Long, low and slack pretty much sums up the G-160s’s geometry, which is optimised for the rowdiest Enduro riding imaginable.

“The G-160 Works is a 13.2kg big-travel enduro bike with seriously aggressive geometry and 160mm of travel. It has the longest top tube measurement of any bike we’ve ever tested here, 636mm long for the medium size frame optimised for use with a super-short 32mm stem. Geometry aside the G-160 is built for speed and steep terrain with a burly parts spec and a single-ring specific frame design.”

The G-160 is a loooooong bike.
The G-160 is a loooooong bike.

As with all the Whytes we’ve tested here at Flow, the build quality and finishing touches on the G-160 are on another level, it’s quite clear this British brand have a great deal of pride in their products.

The G-160 features rubber chainstay protection.
The G-160 features rubber chainstay protection.

“Take a close look and you’ll certainly be impressed with the classy finish and the all the pivots and suspension linkages look stout, add in the fact that the suspension bearings are backed by a lifetime warranty, you’ll certainly have confidence in the construction and ability to handle all types of weather.”

Whyte seal their bearings from nuclear warfare.
Whyte seal their bearings from nuclear warfare.

One surprising attribute of the G-160 however was the lack of chainguide as standard- for a bike this aggressive, we’d be strapping one on before heading out for the first ride.

“With no chain guide fitted as standard, we were a little apprehensive when the trails turned ultra rough, and sure enough we dropped a chain when we really needed it most. We’d suggest fitting one, the weight and appearance sacrifice is worth it.” 

Get a chainguide on here pronto!
Get a chainguide on here pronto!

Spec-wise, the G-160 doesn’t muck around with anything but the most meaty and aggressive components for the job at hand.

“A Pike RCT3 fork and Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair rear shock are a perfect match and suited this bike’s appetite for gravity-fed gnar. The combination of a meaty High Roller on the front and the low-profile Minion SS out the back is growing in popularity for the racers, the lighter rear tyre loses the tall centre knobs but retains plenty of chunky tread on the side for cornering traction. While we certainly appreciated its fast acceleration we’d be sure to keep a matching High Roller rear tyre on hand to match the front when the trails are steeper and the dirt is softer.”

A Pike RCT3 fork gives immediate confidence up front.
A Pike RCT3 fork gives immediate confidence up front.

As we continually stressed throughout the G-160 review, this is a bike with single minded intentions, and with that comes limitations in other areas.

“Our first ride on this bike began with a climb, and believe us we were not exactly singing the Whyte’s praises along the way up! With so much bike in front of you it takes great care to steer it where you want it to go when spinning up a climb. The short stem reacts quickly to your steering input, almost too quickly at times, we often found ourselves chasing the front wheel with little warning.”

The ultra short stem makes climbing on the G-160 interesting.
The ultra short stem makes climbing on the G-160 interesting.

Summing up, we think that for the money, if Enduro racing and descending are your out and out priorities, the G-160 should be right up there as an option for your next bike. 

“The Whyte G-160 Works has massive appeal for a rider that knows what they want, can forego all-rounder capabilities and appreciates ultimate build quality.”

If descending fast is the aim, the G-160 should be at the top of your list.
If descending fast is the aim, the G-160 should be at the top of your list.

GT Sensor Carbon Team 2:

Much like the Scott Genius 710 Plus, some of you might be questioning why a 130mm bike is appearing on this list, especially considering we did a trail bikes wrap up only a few weeks ago.

What the Sensor lacks in travel, it makes up for in attitude.
What the Sensor lacks in travel, it makes up for in attitude.

Well, despite only packing 130mm of travel in the rear, we thought that the aggressive, push me harder attitude of the Sensor makes it a worthy candidate on this list, particularly if you want to do some technical riding and Enduro racing, but you appreciate the flexibility a shorter travel bike provides.

“After a few weeks pounding the GT Sensor Carbon Team around our trails we’ve grown an appreciation for its finest attribute – its brawn. GT label the Sensor as a trail bike, but have dressed it in some serious parts. The big tyres, 150mm RockShox Pike and wide bars make this ‘trail bike’ look badass.”

It didn't take long for us to start pushing pretty hard on the trail aboard the Sensor.
It didn’t take long for us to start pushing pretty hard on the trail aboard the Sensor.

Starting with the burly frame, the Sensor strikes a serious demeanour from the get go.

“There’s nothing svelte about this one, it’s built like a tank. Big shapes and wide-set pivot points give the Sensor real muscle.”

There aren't many 130mm bikes as chunky as the Sensor.
There aren’t many 130mm bikes as chunky as the Sensor.

The spec shows real attention to detail, which really impressed us as it allows you to roll out of the shop content that you’ve got the best parts for the job at hand.

The Sensor uses a well thought out mix of parts that suit its personality well.
The Sensor uses a well thought out mix of parts that suit its personality well.

“GT seem to have a thing with shopping around for parts, there’s an eclectic bunch of bits from a wide range of brands on this bike, but all the parts work well together, testament that whoever specs these bikes rides them too.”

A chainguide as standard says alot about the Sensor's intentions on the trail.
A chainguide as standard says alot about the Sensor’s intentions on the trail.

 As we said earlier, despite its 130mm of travel, the Sensor doesn’t want to plod about the trails sedately, it wants its owner to take control and put the 150mm front end and stiff chassis to good use.

“Once up to speed it’s easy to keep it there and if you’re game, the key is to lay off the brakes and give it hell! It’ll hold lines through rocky sections and won’t lose momentum, the rear end stiffness helps gobbles up big impacts transferring the energy of the impact into the shock rather than deflecting. You don’t ride this bike like your run-of-the-mill trail bike, you ride it hard and then reap the rewards from such a solid chassis and firm, supportive suspension.”

The Sensor's progressive rear end begs for the rider to take control.
The Sensor’s progressive rear end begs for the rider to take control.

Where a bike like the Pivot Firebird, with its 170mm of travel front and rear and ground hugging traction wants to plough through the meanest lines with careless disregard, the Sensor is a bike that would suit the rider who likes the challenge of moving around the trail, popping from one line to another and pumping undulations for speed.

“Rather than a ground hugging or offering a supple kind of ride, it’s more a firm and engaging one that responds instantly to your input. Jumping from one side of the trail to avoid a rut, or gapping over a hole and into a corner becomes a possibility when you’re not wallowing in a cushy and comfortable bike. This beast begs you to take control.”

Should you come up short, the 150mm RockShox Pike has your back.
Should you come up short, the 150mm RockShox Pike has your back.

Whilst GT went through a barren patch a few years ago, bikes like the Sensor get us excited about the future for this historic brand. If you’re after a bike that forces you to take control, rather than make the decisions out on the trail for you, the Sensor is worth a look.

Tell the Sensor what to do out on the trail, and it will obey.
Tell the Sensor what to do out on the trail, and it will obey.

“The GT Sensor is a prodigious bike that relishes hard riding. Where many bikes sacrifice robustness, the Sensor manages to keep its weight down to 13kg but still feels so solid beneath you. But it certainly isn’t a peppy and agile trail bike, so if you’re a lighter or gentle rider you may find it a bit heavy to get going.”

low0113
The Sensor in its natural environment.

Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race:

The word ‘Race’ in this bike’s title, combined with the fact Fabien Barel helped develop, and then piloted this bike to numerous EWS podiums tells you straightway this isn’t the bike to do a bit of everything on.

low0290
The Strive’s lines are ultra smooth.

“Make no mistake the Strive ain’t no casual all-rounder, this is a dedicated enduro race bike. It’s super long, very slack and as we were to quickly find out it needs to be ridden hard or its capabilities will go to waste.”

Fabien Barel could rail a shopping trolley, but he proved the capabilities of the Strive at the highest level of Enduro racing.
Fabien Barel could rail a shopping trolley, but he proved the capabilities of the Strive at the highest level of Enduro racing.

“Our test bike comes from the ‘Race Geometry’ range of Strives, which have a slightly longer front centre than the ‘Regular’ models, a requirement from the race team to meet the demands of top-level enduro racing. A longer bike coupled with a short stem will result in quick handling but with room for stability at speed.”

The Strive adheres to the descending oriented long, low and slack geometry.
The Strive adheres to the descending oriented long, low and slack geometry.

At times, direct to consumer brands get a bad wrap as ‘cheap’ alternatives to the main players in the Australian market, but the Canyon Strive is a truly jaw-dropping bike, both in appearance, and engineering precision.

Neat protection for chainslap and the unlikely event of the chain dropping show great attention to detail on the Strive.
Neat protection for chainslap and the unlikely event of the chain dropping show great attention to detail on the Strive.

“It’s a full carbon affair front and back and wowzers it’s stiffer than an Eskimo’s nipples, there’s a serious lack of twisting or bending when you grab the rear wheel and flex it side-to-side. All the cables travel internally via nice little rubberised ports, and while we did hear some rattling at times from the rear brake line inside the frame we found it all pretty easy to work with.”

Internal routing throughout gives the Strive a clean look.
Internal routing throughout gives the Strive a clean look.

Whilst the Strive is a heavy hitting 160mm Enduro race bike, the very clever Shapeshifter technology promises the old ‘two bikes in one’ claim. Does it work out on the trails though? Hell yes!

The Shapeshifter lever can be mounted in a variety of ways.
The Shapeshifter lever can be mounted in a variety of ways.

“The Shapeshifter is a Canyon developed system that switches the rear shock between two positions via a button at the bars – climb and descend mode. The two distinctly different positions toggle the rear suspension travel between a super plush 163mm and a firmer 139mm while simultaneously having huge impact on the bike’s geometry. It’s very slack and low when descending and in climb mode the head angle sharpens 1.5 degrees and the bottom bracket sits 20mm higher.”

The hardware that makes the Shapeshifter system work.
The hardware that makes the Shapeshifter system work.

“The Shapeshifter is essentially just a volume of air with a lockout button, lean your bodyweight back into the rear of the bike with the lever pressed and it’ll compress into descend mode with a faint clunking sound, increasing the leverage on the shock and dropping the bottom bracket height. To pop back to climb mode shift your bodyweight forward with the button pressed and it’ll extend open again.”

In classic direct to consumer style, the Strive represents amazing value for money, so if Enduro racing on a budget is your priority, you’ll be very pleased with the bang for your buck the Strive presents.

Sram's X01 drivetrain handles the shifting duties.
Sram’s X01 drivetrain handles the shifting duties.

“Canyon went shopping in the enduro section to deck out this one in the best bits. The RockShox Pike RCT3 is ideal, and the SRAM Rail 50 wheels are a worthy. A Maxxis High Roller front and Minion rear combo offers remarkable traction anywhere and are a Flow favourite, we especially like the way they bite in deep with the brakes on.”

The Pike fork and High Roller tyre combo gives huge amounts of confidence up front.
The Pike fork and High Roller tyre combo gives huge amounts of confidence up front.

Much like other bikes discussed in this article, such as the Whyte G-160 and the Pivot Firebird, the Canyon Strive requires an aggressive style and intent to get the most out of it, and ideally some pretty technical terrain.

Just ride like Fabien, you'll be fine!
Just ride like Fabien, you’ll be fine!

“The length of the frame promotes you to really push harder and faster, and the stability from such a long top tube gives us major courage to let the brakes off and really punch it harder. Through the turns you mustn’t forget you’re riding a true enduro race bike, it requires real body language to tip it down and whip it about but after a few runs of our local downhill track we changed tactic and came into the corners drifting sideways instead, foot out and totally pinned.”

You can use some serious body language aboard the Strive, it'll be fine.
You can use some serious body language aboard the Strive, it’ll be fine.

“The trade-off for the length is when the descents got slower and tighter, maybe that’s why Barel does such magnificent nose wheelies around tight switchbacks, because this thing can feel like a mini bus at times. But that is how you pay for the mega stability, fair is fair.”

All in all, the Strive is another bike to add to the list if you’re after a super capable Enduro race bike. And if your rides involve a lot of climbing, the Shapeshifter is a real game changer too.

You won't be able to keep the wheels on the ground either when you're whizzing through the trail on the Strive.
You won’t be able to keep the wheels on the ground either when you’re whizzing through the trail on the Strive.

“And who can look past the price, it’s a seriously good bike for the dollars, a testament to the modern sales method from this huge German bicycle company. Out of the box it is ready to shred, it’s a true modern enduro race bike.”

With it's well thought out spec and geometry, and the innovative Shapeshifter unit, the Strive won't let you down when the trail gets aggro.
With it’s well thought out spec and geometry, and the innovative Shapeshifter unit, the Strive won’t let you down when the trail gets aggro.

Pivot Firebird Carbon Pro XT/XTR:

After spending time aboard bikes like the G-160, and the Canyon Strive last year, we didn’t think we’d get on a bike that was any more downhill oriented in its intent or performance than either of those descending brutes! We shouldn’t have assumed- the reinvigorated Pivot Firebird certainly made an ass out of us!

The gorgeous Pivot Firebird.
The gorgeous Pivot Firebird.

“Put simply the Firebird adheres to the long, low and slack formula that tends to be the standard for bikes with more than 150mm of travel in 2016. Pivot have combined a modern geometry with 170mm of travel front and rear, and even on our first ride, the plushness of 170mm of DW link suspension blew our minds.”

The Firebird is packing ample travel front and rear.
The Firebird is packing ample travel front and rear.

We spent a fair amount of time on the Firebird at Thredbo’s unforgiving, technical trails and in much the same vein as other Enduro-specific bikes out there, we found our own limits on the descents much quicker than the limits of the Firebird.

Most of our time on the Firebird was spent on the edge.
Most of our time on the Firebird was spent on the edge.

“In terms of ploughing through rock gardens, committing to loose, high speed sections and taking the gnarly lines, the Pivot never felt out of its depth- it was always the rider pulling the pin before the bike lost control.”

The Firebird loves eating up rocks.
The Firebird loves eating up rocks.

“On high speed sections, as well as wide open turns, of which Thredbo has about a million, the Pivot felt exceptionally stable thanks to its long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. Combined with a rear end that grips the trail like Velcro, we never felt like we were skipping around through braking bumps, or being taken off line in rough sections. If you point the Firebird in the general direction you want to go, it’ll get you there.”

The Firebird's rear end keeps you glued to the trail.
The Firebird’s rear end keeps you glued to the trail.

With 170mm of travel, and the long, low and slack geometry, the Firebird isn’t similar to a bike like the GT Sensor where you can quickly change lines to stay smooth and pump the trail. Strap in and hold on, if you’re game!

Make sure you put your big boy pants on before dropping in on the Firebird!
Make sure you put your big boy pants on before dropping in on the Firebird!

“In the air the Firebird is very stable. Come up short or land awkwardly, it will save your bacon – we rolled out of some situations where other bikes might’ve bucked us off. In terms of using little hops or transfer lines in the singletrack however, the Firebird felt sluggish- this is a bike that much prefers to plough through disrespectfully than tiptoe its way along the trail.”

Picking the Firebird up requires a fair amount of effort at slow speeds.
Picking the Firebird up requires a fair amount of effort at slow speeds.

By now, you’re probably sick of reading that bikes with long wheelbases don’t corner amazingly when it’s tight and slow- but we should reiterate it, because we know that our home trails at Flow have lots of awkward, slow speed sections that required some real effort aboard the Firebird, so you really need the terrain to back up the Firebird’s capabilities.

“An area where we noticed the Pivot’s slackness and length was in tight turns. Getting the Pivot to corner tightly required either some serious body language to muscle the bike, or forethought about using an endo or cutty to whip the bike around.” 

Getting your fit out on tight corners aboard the Firebird is necessary at times.
Getting your foot out on tight corners aboard the Firebird is necessary at times.

Getting back to the top wasn’t as arduous as you would expect aboard a 170mm bike, and the Firebird retains the classic pedalling efficiency Pivot have been renowned for over the years, which was pleasing.

“The Pivot climbs remarkably well considering it’s a 170mm bike. The low speed compression lever on the shock was excellent for firming the bike up not only on longer, smoother climbs, but almost all the time when the trail points up. As the Firebird is such a long travel machine, the shock does bob a fair bit when it’s left open on the climbs, so utilising the compression lever (which doesn’t lock the shock out completely, and still allows the suspension to maintain traction up technical climbs) gives a much more efficient pedalling platform for climbing.”

The Firebird excelled on technical climbs, but preferred to cruise up less challenging uphills.
The Firebird excelled on technical climbs, but preferred to cruise up less challenging uphills.

Much like the G-160 and Canyon Strive, the Pivot Firebird’s component selections have as much to do with its meaty performance as its design. Continuity within all the models in the range, consisting of solid suspension and wide, aggressive tyres means you’ll be able to get the most out of the bike straight out of the box, regardless of what model you buy.

Fox's delicious Float 36 up front.
Fox’s delicious Float 36 up front.

“We discussed in the First Bite our approval for Pivot deciding to provide continuity within the Firebird models by speccing Fox suspension and Maxxis Minion tyres front and rear throughout the range, and this approval was warranted, as these critical components provide so much of the confidence the Firebird oozes out on the trails.”

The 2.5" Maxxis Minion tyre up front provides grip for days.
The 2.5″ Maxxis Minion tyre up front provides grip for days.

The Firebird is another example of a bike with one mandate, to descend the stuff you’d normally have white knuckles and a tight sphincter through with careless disregard and a smile on your face. Whilst we love this sort of riding, and for racing the gnar we couldn’t think of many better bikes, you need to have some speed and technical terrain on your everyday rides to make the Firebird, and similar bikes worthwhile.

It's flat out all the time on the Firebird.
It’s flat out all the time on the Firebird.

“If you place a high priority on descending fast, you’re an aspiring Enduro racer, or you want to boost your confidence on technical descents, the Pivot Firebird is a very worthy consideration. This bike has a clear mandate – to descend as fast as possible whilst still being able to ride to the top. It knows what it wants to do, and does it incredibly well.”

You'll have no excuse to not descend fast aboard the Firebird.
You’ll have no excuse to not descend fast aboard the Firebird.

So, which of these bikes is the right one for me?

Luckily, we think that if you randomly picked any of these bikes, you wouldn’t be disappointed. That being said, despite belonging to a similar category, many of these bikes are real ‘horses for courses’ options. We see this as a real positive, as it allows the consumer to pick a bike that truly suits their goals and riding ambitions. With that in mind, we’re going to finish this piece by giving examples of what bikes would suit what situations, with questions we hear pretty often from people trying to decide on their next bike purchase.

I’m looking for a bike that I can improve my technical descending skills on, but still head out for faster paced trail rides on with my mates on the weekend?

If this sounds like the sort of bike you’re after, bikes like the Giant Trance Advanced One, Focus SAM C Team and the Polygon Colossus N9 are worth a look.

The Focus SAM is fit for a broader scope of use than its 160mm of travel would suggest.
The Focus SAM is fit for a broader scope of use than its 160mm of travel would suggest.

I’m confident in my handling abilities in technical terrain, and am looking for a playful and lively long travel bike that I can jump around the trail on rather than feel like a passenger on?

For a long travel fun machine, rather than single-minded descending plougher, we think the Polygon Colossus N9, GT Sensor Carbon Team 2 and Merida One Sixty 5000 are pretty good options.

The Polygon Colossus combines the forgiveness of long travel with a playful and lively geometry.
The Polygon Colossus combines the forgiveness of long travel with a playful and lively geometry.

I’m pretty fit, and I don’t want something that’s designed for EWS racing but I do want to feel more confident in technical terrain, both up and down?

If you’re after confidence on the descents and ascents, bikes like the Scott Genius 710 Plus, Merida One Sixty 5000 and the Canyon Strive are worthy options that are still fun to ride on tamer trails.

If you're after more confidence when the trail gets technical, the Scott Genius Plus will have your back. If you're currently shaking your head, go and try one!
If you’re after more confidence when the trail gets technical, the Scott Genius Plus will have your back. If you’re currently shaking your head, go and try one!

I couldn’t care less about anything less than the rowdiest, most downhill-esque trails and riding them at KOM pace in preparation for raceday?

For ultimate downhill performance in a package that can still pedal back up the hill reasonably efficiently, we’d be looking at the Canyon Strive, Whyte G-160 and Pivot Firebird. The last two bikes especially really do require some serious pushing, or rigorous terrain to shine, but if you’ve got the conditions, they’re hard to go past!

We're wondering when we'll see the Firebird shine on the EWS stage...
We’re wondering when we’ll see the Firebird shine on the EWS stage…

We had an absolute blast riding long travel bikes in 2016, which has given us the bug to get amongst some more racing this year on these capable and grin inducing machines. If you’re in the market for a new rig, or just interested in what’s out there, we hope you’ve found this wrap up useful- keep an eye out for more comparative content in 2017!

Flow’s Year In Review: Trail Bikes Of 2016

Many brands have given consumers even more choice in 2016 with the option for one bike to run two different wheelsizes!
Many brands have given consumers even more choice in 2016 with the option for one bike to run two different wheelsizes.

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.

Cannondale's Habit Carbon surprised us more than the seismic political shifts worldwide in 2016.
Cannondale’s Habit Carbon SE surprised us more than the worldwide political climate in 2016.

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.

Whyte's T-130 would be the perfect trail bike for many riders out there.
Whyte’s T-130 would be the perfect trail bike for many riders out there.

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!


Intense Spider 275C:

“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.”

The Intense Spider 275C is an absolute stunner.
The Intense Spider 275C is an absolute stunner.

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 entry level Spider 275C comes in at $6499, and features the same incredible frame as our test bike.
The entry level Spider 275C comes in at $6499, and features the same incredible frame as our test bike.

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.

The Spider 275C has adjustable rear travel through a two shock mounts.
The Spider 275C has adjustable rear travel through two separate shock mounts.

In its 130mm guise, with the frame’s balanced geometry, the Spider represents just how capable the modern trail bike is:

We relished our time aboard the Spider 275C in all sorts of terrain.
We relished our time aboard the Spider 275C in all sorts of terrain.

“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.”

The Spider 275C is a very engaging ride.
The Spider 275C is a very engaging ride.

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!

Yewww!
Yeoowww!

“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.”

You can definitely do worse than getting yourself an Intense Spider 275C as your next trail bike.
You can definitely do worse than getting yourself an Intense Spider 275C as your next trail bike.

Intense Spider 29C:

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.

We got to hang out with two non-venemous Spiders this year, lucky us!
We got to hang out with two non-venomous Spiders this year.

“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.”

The Spider 29C ate up rocky terrain.
The Spider 29C ate up rocky terrain.

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.

The Spider 29C will roll over anything.
The Spider 29C makes rolling through ledges a breeze.

“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.”

The JS Tuned suspension is very stable in all conditions.
The JS Tuned suspension is very stable in all conditions.

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 goes up, down and all-around with equal ease.
The Spider 29C goes up, down and all-around with equal ease.

“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.”

Who wouldn't want this head badge at the front of their bicycle?
Who wouldn’t want this head badge at the front of their bicycle?

Pivot Switchblade:

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.

The Pivot Switchblade 29"
The Pivot Switchblade 29″

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.”

The 27.5+ Switchblade was eager to test the limits of traction.
The 27.5+ Switchblade was eager to test the limits of traction.

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.

pivot-switchblade_low5026
The Switchblade cornered confidently, rather than sharply with both 27.5+ and 29″ wheels.

“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.”

We think the Switchblade would be best suited to doing a bit of everything.
The Switchblade is confident in a variety of situations without being arrogant. It would suit someone looking for a balanced trail bike nicely.

Whyte T-130C RS:

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.

There's no such thing as a mellow ride aboard the Whyte T-130.
There’s no such thing as a mellow ride aboard the Whyte T-130.

“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.”

Every aspect of the Whyte encourages you to play with the trail.
Every aspect of the T-130 encourages you to play with the trail.

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.”

Tight inside lines become the norm on the T-130.
Tight inside lines become the norm on the T-130.

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 T-130 would be a great option for someone who wants to push their trail bike to the limit.
The T-130 would be a great option for someone who wants to push their trail bike to the limit.

Orbea Occam TR M30:

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 Orbea Occam's frame is one of our favourites this year.
The Occam’s frame is one of our favourites this year.

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.”

Swapping out the flexy 32mm fork would allow the front end stiffness to match the frame.
Swapping out the flexy 32mm fork would allow the front end stiffness to match the frame.

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.

The Ardent/Ardent Race combo was fast rolling and predictable.
The Ardent/Ardent Race combo was fast rolling and predictable.

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.

Fill that lonely port with a dropper post and you'll have a mighty fine trail steed.
Fill that lonely port with a dropper post and you’ll have a mighty fine trail steed.

“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.”

Beef the Occam up for a hard hitting trail bike, lighten it up for XC duties or leave it as is- the choice is yours.
Beef the Occam up for a hard hitting trail bike, lighten it up for XC duties or leave it as is- the choice is yours.

Lapierre Zesty XM 427:

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 hard charging Lapierre Zesty XM 427.
The beefy Lapierre Zesty XM 427.

“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 weren't afraid to cut loose aboard the Zesty.
We weren’t afraid to cut loose aboard the Zesty.

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.

Rocks and rowdiness, the Zesty soaks it all up.
Rocks and rowdiness, the Zesty soaks it all up.

“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 Zesty XM 427 is a trail bike that can take a beating straight out of the box.
The Zesty XM 427 is a trail bike that would suit a no-nonsense rider on a budget.

Cannondale Habit Carbon SE:

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.

 

The Cannondale Habit has a feisty personality.
The Cannondale Habit has a feisty personality.

“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 wants to turn every part of the trail into a feature.
The Habit wants to turn every part of the trail into a feature.

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.

The Habit frame is compact, with a low standover clearance.
The Habit’s frame is compact, with a low standover clearance.

“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.”

An aggressive attitude is key to unleashing the Habit's potential.
An aggressive attitude is key to unleashing the Habit’s potential.

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.

Stiffer than a British upper lip, the Lefty allows you to point and shoot with the Habit.
Stiffer than a British upper lip, the Lefty allows you to point and shoot with the Habit.

“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.”

The Cannondale Habit would suit an owner who likes riding on the edge.
The Cannondale Habit would suit an owner who wants a lightweight, efficient trail bike that still loves to play.

Focus Spine CO 0:

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.

The skeletal Focus Spine.
The skeletal Focus Spine.

“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 feels good when moving at pace.
The Spine feels good when moving at pace.

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.”

The Focus Spine would suit the rider looking for an XC leaning trail bike.
The Focus Spine would suit the rider looking for an XC leaning trail bike.

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!