The 2020 Bible of Bike Tests: Norco Sight C2

The 2020 Bible of Bike Tests: Norco Sight C2

Of the many regions that have hosted the Bible of Bike Tests over its 11 years, none is as aptly named as Park City. The place is more playground than town. The networks that criss-cross its valleys are so dense and so diverse that you could easily ride all day and never lose sight of town, never cross the same path twice, and never, ever get bored. Then, the higher altitudes bring endless, buff rolling traverses and ridgelines, interrupted only by the occasional narrow chute that drops into steep but sustainable technical perfection.

That’s why today’s trail bikes feel so at home there. They don’t limit you to a specific style of trail, a specific scale of ride or a specific pace. Trail, all-mountain and enduro have bled into each other like music genres. Now, nearly every bike you see is a two-wheeled version of “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus. Can’t nobody tell you nothing.


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Travel, geo and spec are working together in ways they never have before, so reading those tea leaves isn’t as simple as it used to be. We believe that has made this crazy little project more valuable than it’s ever been. So, we invite you to come dive down the rabbit hole, and enjoy the images, videos, stories and reviews that make up the 2020 Bible of Bike Tests.


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This article originally appeared on Bikemag.com and was republished with permission.

Norco Sight C2

The Norco Sight has historically been an even-handed trail bike, sitting somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between endurance and enduro. The 2020 iteration makes some strides toward the latter end, with 20 millimeters more front and rear travel and a longer, slacker frame. These changes make for an entirely different demeanor than the previous version; it’s more composed in more terrain, but sacrifices some quickness on climbs.

To create the new Sight, Norco modernized geometry with, you guessed it, a slacker head tube, steeper seat tube and longer wheelbase. It continues Norco’s use of size-specific frame construction, which includes unique tube diameters and rear triangles across the size range (S-XL). Norco also created an extensive setup guide to match your tune to your weight, experience and riding style, and each frame size gets an appropriate-length dropper (200 millimeters in the XL) along with room for a water bottle.

Norco offers two different builds in the carbon sight and three in aluminum, each also available in a women’s version. But if the off-the-shelf options don’t do it for you, Norco’s Build Your Ride service might. Freely mix and match frame material, suspension choice and component spec. Add to cart, click to confirm, and the bike gets delivered to your local Norco dealer, who gets a healthy cut of cheddar. But it comes at a premium—$5,200 for the XT/SLX and Fox Performance kit on the stock C2 is a better value than our SRAM-only, custom test bike.

The Sight is available in both 27.5- and 29- inch wheel sizes, with clearance for 2.6-inch tires on both. We noted that the frame came with a few nice protective touches, like clear stickers in high-rub areas, a nice beefy rubber guard on the chainstay, a truck-bed pad protector and a downtube protector. Our bike also had SRAM Code brakes and burlier tire casings, which reinforce the Sight’s gravity inclinations.

Norco isn’t the first brand to do size-specific layups, and a setup guide isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it is a nice acknowledgment that we aren’t all 6-feet tall and 170 pounds. The Sight is offered in sizes small through extra large, all of which are tuned to serve up the same relative ride characteristics. That’s especially true when it comes to the effective seat tube angle. Norco pitches taller riders very slightly farther forward, mitigating the extra sag caused when the vertically gifted cantilever their extra weight out and over the rear wheel.

On the trail, we were impressed with the Sight’s exceptionally planted, centered feel. Some testers rode it on our muddiest test day, and it turned what should have been a total survival run into a smashy, carvy good time. The traction this bike creates is superb, letting you point it down with the knowledge that it won’t buck you, and lean it over with confidence that it will hook up and support you through the turn. You get on the Sight and it instantly feels natural and intuitive. That said, it wasn’t the easiest to manual, likely due to the longish back end—and while it’s plenty quick to help you pick a line, it’s just not the most poppy-feeling rig. The suspension gets a fairly light-feeling compression tune, which brings it to life on descents and helps create the traction we mentioned above, but it also generates a bit of bob on climbs if you’re riding with everything open.

Which brings us to the rub with this bike— Norco set out to make the Sight a balanced climber and descender, but it’s difficult to do that when you’re slackening things up and adding a bunch of travel. A steeper seat tube can do a lot for pedaling efficiency, but it can only get you so far.

Is that slight loss of uphill speed worth it for the Sight’s big gains in downhill capability? As always, it depends on the kind of rider you are and the kind of terrain you frequent. If you’re an adventure rider planning to dabble in some enduro racing, this could be an ideal partner in crime—but if you appreciated the old Sight’s more endurance-leaning characteristics but like the new Sight’s attention to fit, you might want to look further along the line, at a bike like the Optic.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Giant Reign 29 Advanced Pro 0

Chameleon Saturn is the name of the dazzling green hue found on the Giant Reign. It hands- down won the best paint award, and combined with Giant’s new Tensio design language, which imparts the frame with beautiful flowing lines, creates a very handsome machine. It feels like one of the most expensive bikes Giant makes, and also has the dubious honor of being one of the priciest bikes at this year’s Bible.

We know we’re starting to sound like a broken record when it concerns geometry, and this will be no exception, as the Reign boasts all our favorite modern numbers. Almost. The 65-degree head angle and 76.8-degree seat angle are right where we like them, but the long 493-millimeter reach (size large) befuddled us a wee bit. The medium measures 455 millimeters, so that leaves a massive 38-millimeter gap between the two sizes. Giant defends these numbers by explaining that the steep seat angle negates the extra reach, but that’s only true while seated. And Giant still comes to the table longer than other bikes with similar seat tube angles in this travel category. To be clear, this is not a bad thing, just different and requires a touch of acclimating.

The Maestro suspension delivers 146 millimeters of rear travel, which is a narrow focus between trail and all-mountain. Obvious comparisons in this travel range are the Santa Cruz Hightower at 140 millimeters and the Yeti SB150. The Santa Cruz is more trail-focused, while the Yeti is more all-mountain/enduro. More obvious is the 145-millimeter Ibis Ripmo—consider it high praise that we’d call the Reign a comparable bike.

The frame is stunning, and comes with a lifetime warranty, but the real standout is the additional two-year no-questions-asked crash replacement warranty. If running out of talent is a regular occasion for you, definitely put this on your radar. Underneath the good looks, the frame drew criticism for its unrefined cable management; at this price, it should be internally tubed. Nine-thousand dollars buys you an X01 SRAM kit and top-spec Fox Factory suspension. You also get Giant’s carbon wheels, a solid choice, however in a landscape in which carbon wheels routinely come with lifetime warranties, Giant’s two-year warranty isn’t up to snuff. We are fans of the EXO+ casing they chose for the Maxxis tires, it’s nice having something a little tougher without paying the weight penalty you get with Double Down casings. There are a couple of wonky spec choices worth mentioning though. We like the Reverb dropper, but on a large frame that boasts copious room for long droppers, why only a 150? And the 34-tooth chainring may require a swap if you live anywhere with mountains. We weren’t quite as picky when assessing the build on the adequately spec’d $5,000 Advanced 1 build. There’s not a lot of compromise for saving $4,000.

Ride impressions were consistent across the board. Testers praised the Maestro suspension’s small-bump compliance, with some calling it best in class. And while not quite as efficient of a pedaling platform as a Ripmo, it doesn’t give much up. It feels light and stiff and coaxes you to take more challenging lines while climbing. As with nearly all of the bikes this year, the steep seat tube angle made extended climbs enjoyable, allowing for an easy conversational pace on the way up. The relatively long wheel base and supportive suspension produced a speed-hungry, stable ride, yet in contrast to that stability, it was also surprisingly playful, and testers noted it had a penchant for goofing off, thanks in part to our build’s barely-over-30-pound weight.

It’s a looker, it climbs and descends beautifully, and above all it’s fun. But in this high-priced category, there’s more to it than that. Giant has to overcome its reputation for building low-cost bikes in order to cultivate the necessary brand panache, and this new Reign has the chops to pull it off.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Ibis Ripmo AF NX

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Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Specialized Enduro 29 S-Works

For its biggest, baddest Enduro ever, Specialized scrapped the hugely successful, yet rather long-in-the-tooth X-Wing frame and began anew. Inspired by the freshly redesigned Demo, the Enduro shares Specialized’s new linkage design, which despite having more Rube Goldberg stuff happening than you’d typically see on a Horst-link bike, is still technically an FSR platform. You wouldn’t know it by pedaling it uphill, though.

That’s because it’s the first Specialized FSR ever made that can genuinely be ridden uphill without requiring a lockout of some kind. While this is not a big brag for some brands, it is for Specialized. Are we saying that other brands have had a leg up on Specialized in the suspension kinematics game? Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying.

At last, we could leave the shock open without the bike squatting more than Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson on leg day. That would be impressive enough if we were talking about a Stumpjumper ST, but this is an Enduro 29 with 170 millimeters of front- and rear-wheel travel—more than any Enduro before it.

The S-Works build, which was one of the most excellently spec’d bikes in the fleet, included a Rock- Shox AXS wireless Reverb dropper, XTR 12-speed shifty bits, Deity stem and grips, and runs a big, pillowy Fox Float X2 air shock originally designed for downhill bikes (we also tested the $4,510 Elite build). Even with the high- and low-speed compression adjustments set just a few clicks from fully open (and the lockout lever open) pedaling input transfers to the wheel in way we’ve never experienced on a Specialized bike. Some of us firmed things up on the fire road sections of our test loop, while others didn’t notice enough pedal bob to think of doing so. Even on steep punchy climbs where the Enduro has traditionally always suffered, the bike was planted, calm and efficient.

Normally, you wouldn’t expect a design taken from a downhill bike to be all that impressive at opposing gravity, and normally you’d be correct. But it just so happens that the new Demo pedals rather well. According to Specialized, the Demo product development team basically stumbled upon an efficient pedaling platform while on the hunt to optimize a more rearward axle path for the multi-year Demo redesign project—a project described as the most extensively researched, tested, and iterated of any bike the company has ever developed. Why a company would dedicate so much time and resource to a bike they’ll sell hundreds, not thousands of isn’t totally clear, though things do come into focus when realizing how brilliantly the trickle-down worked.

The Enduro’s climbing chops makes it special for Specialized, but what makes the bike extraordinary in a sea of spectacular steeds is what happens when you point it downhill. The first thing we noticed was how instantly comfortable and easy it was to achieve and maintain eye-watering speeds. It sort of feels like you’re riding on an entirely different course altogether. Intimidating sections we had a hard time cleaning on other bikes were behind us before we even realized we’d gotten to them. You know that moment in “The Matrix” when Neo realizes he can read the Matrix and suddenly the rules of gravity and physics no longer apply? It’s like that.

The bike chews through terrain in a way that makes you feel invincible. Each tester came away from their lap reporting their fastest time. Anthony Smith reckoned it was the fastest he’d gone on a bike in all of 2019. For me, descending the Enduro is a laugh-out-loud kind of experience not just because of how secure it feels, but because it contains a very special blend of downhill-bike plow and trail-bike play. It pops out of corners like an Evil Following but will devour anything in its path and remain composed on even the steepest of tracks. We think that the bike’s ability to remain so composed when shit is hitting the fan comes from the built-in brake jacking. People call it anti-rise now because it sounds better, but basically what it means is that when you pull the rear brake, the shock won’t extend as it has on pretty much every Specialized FSR that has come before. The benefit here is that the bike is kept from pitching even farther forward on steep terrain or under heavy braking, which would steepen the angles and make things less controllable during the most crucial moments. Adding anti-rise makes it so there’s technically less available travel under heavy braking, but the idea considers that the bike’s dynamic geometry plays an important role in maintaining predictability in unpredictable situations.

Speaking of geometry, we haven’t actually gone over the numbers. And we won’t, because they seem to be unimportant when it comes to this bike. Knowing them won’t tell you half the story. To get it you’ll have to ride it. But first, you must choose between the red or the blue pill.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Juliana Joplin X01 CC Reserve

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Santa Cruz calls the Tallboy “a gravity rider’s cross-country bike,” and our testers couldn’t agree more. Head angle is a big part of the picture. This former cross-country carver now sports a 65.5-degree front end in its low setting—nearly the same as the Hightower. Its travel has also been bumped up 10 millimeters at both ends to 120 and 130, and that travel is now delivered by Santa Cruz’s lower-link suspension.

Even the cross-country racer among us (who tested the Juliana Bicycles’ version called the Joplin) was smitten by its ascending prowess, though she didn’t feel it was “mean” or “edgy” enough to serve as a race bike. It did take the edge off, though, smoothing out the chaotic root outcroppings on our climbing loop while providing a comfortable perch for its pilot atop a 76-ish-degree seat tube. Gone is the hang-uppy sensation of VPPs of yore, replaced by tractable climbing performance over edges of all shapes. It’s no softy, though. Putting down power from a seated or standing position sends the Tallboy forward with an urgency that the non-racers among us considered taut enough to go between the tape. One tester noted frequent pedal strikes and suggested that 170-millimeter cranks would be a better choice than the 175s (stock on L thru XXL sizes), but we all agreed that the low bottom bracket is worth the occasional whack.

Taut can also describe the frame’s character. The Tallboy feels every bit as buttoned up as we’ve come to expect from Santa Cruz: There is notably little flex in the chassis, and it rides quietly and composed. The only complaint we could muster was that measuring sag is next to impossible with the shock’s positioning inside the divided seat tube, but Santa Cruz provides a detailed setup guide that provided a suitable jumping-off point for our testing. In fact, none of our testers felt the need to deviate from the recommended pressures.

Once the climb was over—which tended to happen pretty quickly—the Tallboy reframed our notion of what a 120-millimeter bike can handle. The slack head angle and generous reach play a central role, lending the bike an aggressive feel and signaling to its pilot that, as long as you hold on, it’ll make it through. It doesn’t need to be muscled, though. In fact, the Tallboy seemed happiest carving corners or sliding into catch berms at speed. On flat sections of trail, it likes to break into manuals at every opportunity. And with a 430-millimeter rear-center, there are plenty of opportunities. On chunkier sections of trail, it mixes precision with stoutness and rear suspension that maximizes every one of its 120 millimeters. Our testers never felt a hard bottom-out or a dearth of support at any point in the rear wheel’s travel. It’s still a short-travel bike, though. The suspension at both ends can feel overwhelmed through repetitive mid-size hits, as on one section of our short-travel course where braking bumps and roots running across the trail formed a series of 1- to 2-foot steps.

The Tallboy was never a full-on cross-county bike, but now that the Blur is bearing that cross, the Tallboy has morphed into something that every rider can enjoy, whether they prioritize descending or climbing. And that’s opened it up to new competition. The Norco Optic couldn’t compete with the Tallboy on the ups, but the Optic had an appetite for steep downs, whereas the Tallboy was just willing to sit at the table. The Hightower, interestingly, also felt like competition, with a similar level of pedaling efficiency. So how should one choose? We’d recommend considering the most extreme use cases. If you might like to casually race local enduros or spend a few days at the bike park, go for a Hightower. To the other extreme, if you’d like to do battle at your local cross-country series, or ride in an epic stage race like the BC Bike Race, the Tallboy will not disappoint.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Juliana Maverick X01 CC Reserve

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There are a few types of favorite bikes at Bible. There’s the obvious one: The bike that speaks to a tester regardless of price or purpose and takes root like an earworm melody. Then there’s the pragmatic favorite, which impresses with its ride quality and its reasonable price. Finally, you have the ‘one bike’ favorite, which is the bike that you’d pick if you could only own one bike. The Hightower—also called the Maverick under the Juliana Bicycles’ moniker—was in the running as the ‘one bike’ favorite for at least a couple testers.

Now in its second generation, the Hightower has evolved from a mid-travel trail bike to something that edges up to the long-travel line in both design and character. It’s been updated with Santa Cruz’s V10-inspired low-link VPP suspension, which, on this bike, yields 140 millimeters of travel and is preempted by a 150-millimeter-travel fork. The Hightower’s geometry brings those numbers to life in a very balanced way, with a 65.2-degree head angle in its low setting, a reasonable 1,232-millimeter wheelbase and a 470-millimeter reach on our size large (1,208-millimeter on the medium Maverick with a 450 reach).

Remember how we used to complain about how every Santa Cruz would hang up on square-edges, especially under pedaling forces? Not only is that sensation gone, Santa Cruz managed to maintain the taut-feeling pedaling characteristics that testers have always appreciated. That may be thanks to the lower-link VPP’s straighter progressive leverage curve and its ability to be supportive through the entire range of travel. Whatever the cause, the result is a quick and comfortable climber that wastes little energy. The 76.5-degree seat tube angle puts the seated rider over the cranks in a position that can be maintained for long stretches of trail, whether that trail be buff or technical. And when it’s time to navigate tight switchbacks or rock gardens, the reasonable wheelbase, reach and stock 50-millimeter stem help get it done with relative ease. It doesn’t absorb and pedal in the magical way that the Ibis Ripmo will, but it’s still a nice bike on which to go uphill—even if it doesn’t feel especially light.

Downhill, that heft is felt most in the form of Santa Cruz’s signature stoutness. We’ve come to expect Santa Cruz’s bikes to be stiff, quiet, and tight, and the Hightower met our expectations. Then, it exceeded them with details like a downtube shuttle guard and noise-damping chainstay protector. Also, the augmented leverage curve afforded by the new VPP layout isn’t only meant for the climbs. The extra support translates to an energetic feel on flowing trails where there are opportunities to play and pop, and a stalwart sensation in reaction to hits that use full travel. Where you won’t find the capability of a bigger bike is through repetitive hits, where the Hightower’s rear end feels secure, but not any plusher than you’d expect a 140 bike to be. If you’re willing to ride actively and precisely and use your legs as suspension, the Hightower will be enough bike for just about any trail. But if you want the bike to do the job for you at high speeds or in the face of high consequences, the Santa Cruz Megatower or (to limit it to this Bible’s garage) the deeper and slacker Norco Sight would be a better pick.

The Orbea Occam was another tester favorite here at Bible, especially among riders who were most focused on how quickly and efficiently a bike covers ground. Comparatively, the Hightower feels longer and yields a more in-the- bike feel, while the Occam felt and handled like a lighter and more compact bike. The Occam edged out the Hightower in agility and climb- ing, with its rear suspension barely moving at all under rider inputs. Both give the rider plenty of support for popping and pumping through trail undulations, and either would make an excellent do-it-all bike, but where the Occam feels a little more biased toward covering ground, the Hightower seems to be totally content to climb or descend all day long.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Norco Optic C2

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When you think short-travel, you probably think lightweight, über-efficient bikes with steep head angles and rear suspension that doesn’t work all that well. That pretty well describes the last Norco Optic we tested, at the 2017 Bible in Bentonville, Arkansas. We called that bike “unapologetically XC-biased,” “not exactly playful” and an “XC-race refugee.” We were, in short, a little underwhelmed and a lot confused as to whom the Optic was for. It was efficient, obviously, but also long and stable and yet over- damped in a way that prioritized climbing.

The new, 29-inch-wheeled Optic is a different animal entirely—in a good way—but perhaps no less difficult to categorize. Its rear wheel gets 125 millimeters of travel, which is paired with a 140-millimeter-travel fork and a 65-degree head angle. Let’s stop and think about that for a moment: A 65-degree head angle on a 125-millimeter-travel bike. Those numbers place the Optic right on the edge of an emerging category of very capable bikes boasting paltry travel and what just a couple years ago would have been considered all-mountain or enduro geometry. Its next of kin in Park City was the Santa Cruz Tallboy, which is similarly slack in its low setting, and has 5 millimeters less rear travel.

Both bikes are quick uphill, but the Tallboy feels fast where the Optic just feels efficient. The Norco was as comfortable to sit on as every other steep-seat-angled bike at this year’s Bible—which thankfully was almost every other bike—and wasted seldom few watts as long as testers’ butts were on the saddle. We were mixed on how much monkey motion there was when standing, or at least divided on the extent to which it bothered us. One tester felt it was too bobby for a 125-millimeter bike, and couldn’t hold a candle to the Santa Cruz, while the other two agreed that it wasn’t especially supportive of standing efforts, but they also didn’t feel discouraged from putting the power down. There was unity behind the argument that the longer-travel Orbea Occam climbed faster than the Optic, but that really says more about how remarkable the Occam is than it does anything about the Optic. Plus, our Occam was 2 pounds lighter and almost two times the price of our Optic.

If all we did was climb or ride flowing, mellow trails, we might have wound up as mystified by the new Optic as we were by the old one. Thankfully, our test loop included everything from steep, root-ridden pitches, drops, jumps and high-speed bumps to mellower corners and ripping ribbons of meadow singletrack. It was in the gnarlier sections where the Optic revealed its special purpose. This is a bulldog of a short-travel bike. It blends the playful sup- port of short travel with geometry that asks, “I can take it. Can you?” That’s not to say the new Norco’s suspension doesn’t work well. It’s actually impressively supple for its travel, probably even more so than any 125-millimeter bike we’ve ridden. But it’s still a short-travel bike, so your legs are going to have to back up the squish when the trail turns south. Indeed, it’s a bike that rewards an active riding style in all situations. Its supportive feel encouraged testers to manual, pop and play at every opportunity, and there was ample ramp to guard against harsh bottom-outs when the play went too far.

So, what is the Optic? Is it a big-wheeled jibber? A big bike for small terrain? A backcountry quester? Uh, yeah. It’s all of that and more. It’s a trail bike that does more with less, most reminiscent of a Transition Scout or Santa Cruz 5010, but more capable than either of those and certainly more efficient than a Scout. It does have a certain small-wheeled feel about it, perhaps because of the mismatched travel, or maybe just because of its capacity for hoodwinks. This much is for sure: If you’re after a fast, fun, playful, and capable short-travel bike that doesn’t have short-travel limits, the Optic is definitely one to check out.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Devinci Django 29 Carbon GX 12S LTD

Words by Travis Engel.

The category of ‘mid-travel 29er’ doesn’t mean what it used to mean. They used to be timid, noodly, longer-legged versions of their brands’ XC models, designed to be ridden on the low and the flow. But now, instead of being meant for a different kind of terrain than their squishier siblings, it’s as if they’re meant for different kinds of riders. Riders who want a more up-close-and-personal relationship with the trail. Even if that trail is a total asshole.

This can be done through geometry, suspension or spec, and the Django takes a little from each. First, the 120-millimeter rear end feels like it waits until later in the stroke to implement Devinci’s signature progressivity. Most of the travel gives itself up freely, but the ample bottom-out control gave the illusion of there being an extra 10 millimeters on the back end. That’s paired with a 140-millimeter fork where most brands would have gone 130. And every build comes with rims that measure around 35-millimeters wide, most paired to 2.4/2.5 WT Maxxis Minion tires with room for 2.6 front and rear. Then, our LTD model tops off that category-defying spec with 800-millimeter bars and 200-millimeter rotors.

The geometry is less singular in its purpose. The head angle is 66.5 degrees in the low position, and the reach is 470 on a large. A tad more conservative than the similar Transition Smuggler, and two tads more than the less-similar Yeti SB130. The cockpit keeps the Django practical on the kind of terrain these bikes were once exclusively meant for.

Speaking of practical matters, the Django has an incredibly steep seat angle for a 120-millimeter bike; 77.3 degrees in the low setting makes it an ideal long-haul trucker. But we found ourselves wanting a little more control over the suspension. The Split Pivot linkage is really just a glorified single-pivot, and it lacks the axle-path control of fancier mousetraps. Some testers noticed enough unwanted bob to use the compression damping on the shock. Otherwise, the Django rewards you kindly for being so moderate in your travel preference.

How that preference should relate to descending is where our testers diverged. Two testers at 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2 were on the XL Django, and one, at 5-foot-4, was on the small. The two testers on the XL had different reactions to Devinci’s Adapted Chainstay Length. Extra-small, small and medium Djangos get 435-millimeter stays. Large goes to 440 and our XL had 445. The tallest tester appreciated the high-speed stability that number offered. Get- ting knocked around was far less consequential when taking the bike places where it otherwise wouldn’t belong. It even helped mitigate the dartyness that the relatively conservative head angle might cause at high velocities. It would simply hold a line more easily. You can loosen up, trust that your body, when in motion, will stay in motion while the bike bounces and deflects at speeds and on terrain where, frankly, a long-travel bike would be much safer.

But the other XL tester found that the long chainstay was antithetical to what a bike like this should be about. He wanted more freedom to mess around. To pull manuals and throw tight skids. He found it harder to get the front wheel off the ground for the pops and jibs that every other aspect of the bike seemed to be encouraging. The front-center was fine for him, but the rear-center held him back. Fortunately, riders from that school of thought have plenty of choices. Most brands don’t scale chainstay with frame size, so the tall can opt for the Pivot Trail 429, the Santa Cruz Tallboy, or the aforementioned Transition Smuggler if they favor style over stability. If not, the Django is meant for them. Or, the new Norco Optic also scales its chainstays but had a slightly heavier-handed ride.

As for choices within the Django lineup, there’s some surprising value. There are Fox-suspended carbon builds down to $4,600, and an equally Foxy aluminum build for $2,700. It’s nice to see such a unique bike with the potential to serve such a wide audience.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Fezzari Signal Peak Elite

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Somewhere in a faraway place, there’s a room full of marketing people burning the candle at both ends coming up with new ways to slice and dice the simple act of riding bikes. From the folks who brought us ‘all-mountain‘ versus ‘trail’ and ‘enduro’, we now have ‘down-country’ to finally describe that activity where we have fun riding bikes on trails that go up, down, and around (apparently ‘mountain biking’ was already taken).

Well, if ‘down-country’ is a thing now, then the Fezzari Signal Peak is doing that thing really frickin’ well. What’s more, it’s doing it well at a pricepoint that appeals to those of us without trust funds or who decided writing about bikes was a solid career choice.

For the most part, the numbers on the Signal Peak scream, “Get me a heart rate monitor and a race plate, STAT!” At a time when even cross-country bikes are getting slacker, the 68-degree head tube angle seems comparatively steep. Combine that with a modern 75-degree seat tube angle, 29-inch wheels and 120 millimeters of front-and-rear travel, and you’ve got a bike that’s ready, willing and oddly excited to crank out climbs. The seat angle moves the rider’s weight forward during seated climbs, keeping the front wheel pinned to the ground. The quick handling at slow speeds and lack of front-wheel wanderlust made the Signal Peak shine on steep inclines, whether they were loose and rocky or carpeted with roots.

When we found our way to fast descents and fun little nasty bits of trail, the bike felt slacker and more aggressive than its numbers would suggest. The result is a work-hard-play-hard mentality. Overall, the testers felt like there were a few bonus millimeters hidden in the rear travel, making for a supple mid-stroke while absorbing hits and poorly thought-out line choices.

The Signal Peak’s Horst-style ‘Tetra Link’ suspension relies on a relatively progressive leverage curve to balance small-bump sensitivity with bottom-out protection. Some testers felt that the suspension ramped up a lot at the end, offering riders a bit of wiggle room before bottoming out, but also making it difficult to get through all the travel at times.

When the topic of lateral stiffness came up, the testers’ experiences varied widely, which isn’t shocking as we ran the gamut in sizes and riding styles. One of the three testers (and the stockiest of the bunch) felt a bit of flex in slow, technical sections, but also noted that it wasn’t enough to detract from the ride.

From specs to geometry, the Signal Peak straddles the line between being a greyhound and a Labrador retriever puppy. By putting cross-country seriousness in a package that won’t judge you for eating tacos before a ride, the Signal Peak offers a bike that is light enough (and fun enough) to ride all day. Though the bike is spec’d with fast-rolling 2.35s, the ability to run up to 29×2.6-inch tires (or 27.5×2.8) means this bike can be outfitted with a pair of party shoes or casually crush multi-day epic races.

As a testament to this bike’s desire to rack up miles, two water bottle cages fit inside the main triangle—even on the small size. And as part of Fezzari’s digital storefront, riders are given the ability to pick and choose from a handful of upgrades and enter in a zillion measurements to help create a proper setup.

Sure, we can nitpick the Signal Peak, because that’s what happens when you get to ride a lot of very nice bikes back to back. Some people may prefer to lean into the bike’s bomber tendencies and wish the bike had a 130-millimeter fork. Others may decide that they want something a bit more race-oriented. Minor sniveling aside, the Signal Peak proved itself to be a capable bike at a great value. One of the testers summed it up simply by saying, “If I were looking to buy a bike like this, I would buy this bike.”

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Trek Top Fuel 9.9

Words by Ryan Palmer.

When the new beefed-up Top Fuel came out in mid-2019, prior to Trek launching its mysteriously cloaked World Cup XC bike, the Supercaliber, people went ape shit. The Top Fuel had long been Trek’s fastest, leanest, most torturous cross-country racer, and all of a sudden it had more travel, came with a full-length dropper, and to the chagrin of every gram-counting troll on the internet, was slightly heavier. When they saw that the updated rocket ship had 115 millimeters of rear-wheel travel, 120 up front, and that a size large Top Fuel 9.9 weighed under 25 pounds, they flipped their dressing-on-the-side lids.

What they hadn’t done prior to shooting their Strava-stalking mouths off was ride the bike. If they’d done so, they would have realized that this sub-25- pound “boat anchor” is fast as hell. More importantly, it’s damn fun, and it’s vastly more versatile than the XC alien bikes World Cuppers are riding, without giving up the exhilarating quickness that’s so intoxicating about XC bikes. And, while racing is meant to be hard, painful and uncomfortable, not all mountain bike rides are supposed to be. This new breed of cross-country bikes, and this new Top Fuel in particular, makes some of us nostalgic about the days when every mountain bike was a cross- country race bike, before XC bikes became so purpose-built for speed that all the fun was sucked out of them. This bike is purpose-built for both. In one tester’s opinion (mine), it’s precisely what cross-country racing needs. Bikes like the Supercaliber should be for winning World Cup races only. Meaning they should only be available to people who’ve made it onto World Cup teams. Meaning they shouldn’t be available to over-entitled semi-pros just so they can beg their local shop for a discount on one.

The Top Fuel is a reminder that riding bikes is supposed to be fun. It’s also become increasingly necessary in the lineup in order to fill the gap that the Great Trail Bike Endurofying era has created. Mike Ferrentino and I agree that it’s a superb trail bike for many areas of the country and for certain types of riders. Even where I live in Bellingham, Washington, a place known for its steep-and-deep loamers, there’s plenty of terrain that with the right pilot, no other bike on earth would be quicker. In Park City, we had no problem finding trails that the Top Fuel absolutely lit up. Mike was nearly 10 minutes faster riding the Top Fuel on the climbing portion of our test loop than he was on his second-quickest lap. Granted, this was the only XC bike at Bible, but that just highlights the gap between what trail bikes have become, and what XC bikes are transforming into.

Simon Stewart, a dyed-in-the-wool trail bike guy, was not impressed with the Top Fuel. The suspension was too harsh, head angle too steep, bike too twitchy for his delicate sensibilities. He felt that the trail bikes he was testing had better rear-wheel traction on climbs, requiring less body English to keep calm, and descending the Top Fuel sketched him out. To Mike and I, that was just confirmation that Trek didn’t go too far in trailifying the Top Fuel. It’ll still scare non-XC riders. That’s a good metric, right? It terrified me at first, but after some getting used to, it became a thoroughly enjoyable bike to ride.

We did agree with Simon’s criticism of the seat tube angle being too slack (It’s strange to live in a world where a 75-degree seat angle could be considered slack). I wasn’t bothered by it, but then again, none of us could come up with a reason why it shouldn’t be a degree steeper. Other than that, two of three testers were quite impressed with and surprised by the new Top Fuel.

I’d like to leave you with a little story. When I worked as a mechanic on a World Cup XC team, I had a racer once demand I take the sealant out of his tires to save weight on race day. At the start line he asked me to confirm I’d done so, and I assured him I had (I hadn’t). He went on the win the race—after puncturing his too-light tire and the sealant I didn’t take out saved him a pit stop that would have cost him the lead.

So, when looking at the Top Fuel, don’t listen to the trolls on the internet telling you it’s too heavy. Those are the same people who’d take sealant out of their tires to save weight. Instead, get this bike, rip their silky-smooth legs off, and have a whole mess of fun doing it.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Santa Cruz Tallboy X01 CC Reserve

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Santa Cruz calls the Tallboy “a gravity rider’s cross-country bike,” and our testers couldn’t agree more. Head angle is a big part of the picture. This former cross-country carver now sports a 65.5-degree front end in its low setting—nearly the same as the Hightower. Its travel has also been bumped up 10 millimeters at both ends to 120 and 130, and that travel is now delivered by Santa Cruz’s lower-link suspension.

Even the cross-country racer among us (who tested the Juliana Bicycles’ version called the Joplin) was smitten by its ascending prowess, though she didn’t feel it was “mean” or “edgy” enough to serve as a race bike. It did take the edge off, though, smoothing out the chaotic root outcroppings on our climbing loop while providing a comfortable perch for its pilot atop a 76-ish-degree seat tube. Gone is the hang-uppy sensation of VPPs of yore, replaced by tractable climbing performance over edges of all shapes. It’s no softy, though. Putting down power from a seated or standing position sends the Tallboy forward with an urgency that the non-racers among us considered taut enough to go between the tape. One tester noted frequent pedal strikes and suggested that 170-millimeter cranks would be a better choice than the 175s (stock on L thru XXL sizes), but we all agreed that the low bottom bracket is worth the occasional whack.

Taut can also describe the frame’s character. The Tallboy feels every bit as buttoned up as we’ve come to expect from Santa Cruz: There is notably little flex in the chassis, and it rides quietly and composed. The only complaint we could muster was that measuring sag is next to impossible with the shock’s positioning inside the divided seat tube, but Santa Cruz provides a detailed setup guide that provided a suitable jumping-off point for our testing. In fact, none of our testers felt the need to deviate from the recommended pressures.

Once the climb was over—which tended to happen pretty quickly—the Tallboy reframed our notion of what a 120-millimeter bike can handle. The slack head angle and generous reach play a central role, lending the bike an aggressive feel and signaling to its pilot that, as long as you hold on, it’ll make it through. It doesn’t need to be muscled, though. In fact, the Tallboy seemed happiest carving corners or sliding into catch berms at speed. On flat sections of trail, it likes to break into manuals at every opportunity. And with a 430-millimeter rear-center, there are plenty of opportunities. On chunkier sections of trail, it mixes precision with stoutness and rear suspension that maximizes every one of its 120 millimeters. Our testers never felt a hard bottom-out or a dearth of support at any point in the rear wheel’s travel. It’s still a short-travel bike, though. The suspension at both ends can feel overwhelmed through repetitive mid-size hits, as on one section of our short-travel course where braking bumps and roots running across the trail formed a series of 1- to 2-foot steps.

The Tallboy was never a full-on cross-county bike, but now that the Blur is bearing that cross, the Tallboy has morphed into something that every rider can enjoy, whether they prioritize descending or climbing. And that’s opened it up to new competition. The Norco Optic couldn’t compete with the Tallboy on the ups, but the Optic had an appetite for steep downs, whereas the Tallboy was just willing to sit at the table. The Hightower, interestingly, also felt like competition, with a similar level of pedaling efficiency. So how should one choose? We’d recommend considering the most extreme use cases. If you might like to casually race local enduros or spend a few days at the bike park, go for a Hightower. To the other extreme, if you’d like to do battle at your local cross-country series, or ride in an epic stage race like the BC Bike Race, the Tallboy will not disappoint.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Trek Fuel EX 9.9

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Saying that a bike “disappears under you” can be viewed as either the highest form of compliment, or damning by faint praise. In the case of the Trek Fuel EX 9.9, we had to argue through the details to come to some agreement about where exactly this old adage washed out.

On the one hand, you’ve got a versatile, well-balanced 130-millimeter-travel bike that exists happily in the gap between XC and gravity sled; it has impeccable manners up and down the hill, is built with an eye toward the burly side of its limited travel and has a neutral, light feel backed by contemporary geometry numbers that err on the conservative side. It is incredibly easy to feel right at home on it, right away, regardless of terrain. On the other hand, the geometry isn’t as radically aggressive as other contenders in this category. It has a slacker seat angle, shorter wheelbase and 10 millimeters less travel than the Santa Cruz Hightower or Orbea Occam, and the component spec is aimed at functionality within a given pricepoint as opposed to luring buyers with shiny promises. In the words of one of our testers, “it’s a bit boring.”

ABP rear suspension, a beautifully finished carbon-fiber frame featuring a cleanly executed downtube storage compartment (but we must be careful not to call a SWAT box), a Fox 36 fork on 9.9 and 9.8 models, Fox Re:aktiv rear shock on all models and 29-inch carbon Bontrager wheels (27.5 on the XS and S sizes) shod with surprisingly nice 2.6-inch Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tires. There are also some love/hate features like Trek’s Knock Block steering stop and Control Freak cable management. Lay it all on a 66-degree head angle, 75-degree seat angle (in the low setting—it has a flip chip that can enact a half-degree change in head and seat angles with a corresponding 7-millimeter shift in bottom-bracket height), and this is “boring?”

We must be getting spoiled. For some of our testers, the most specific criticism they could muster was that the geometry is not as aggressive as some of the competition. Namely, one particularly femurish tester felt that, having grown used to 77-degree seat angles, pushing a 75-degree seat angle uphill feels sluggish. That observation aside, this is a very well-balanced bike. The suspension works exceptionally well, and the Fuel EX has a feathery-light steering effort at low speed while still remaining admirably stable when bombing down fast, loose, rough terrain. It is far more at ease in tight terrain than most of its contemporaries, efficient enough to be a no-brainer for chewing out big miles, and at the same time is burly enough to handle being thrown into the steep and deep without reservation. The neutrality of steering was a breath of fresh air compared to some of the other bikes on test here that really had to be muscled into turns at anything less than the speed of sound.

The flies in the ointment were few: The Shimano SLX brakes and RT66 rotors didn’t inspire awe. And every single one of us wanted to take the frustratingly slow Bontrager seatpost and throw it far, far away. The brakes could easily be improved with better rotors. And there are a gajillion seatposts out there that do a better job of going up and down.

At heart, the Fuel EX is a broadly capable beast, with a range and an adaptability to handle a wide variety of terrain with enviable competence. It’s not an XC bike, and it’s not whatever the fat end of all-mountain/enduro is being called these days, but it is more comfortable in either of those realms than an XC bike would be in a bike park, or an enduro bike would be in an XC race. It’s a journeyman’s mountain bike, a tool that disappears underneath you and just gets the job done, regardless of where or how you are riding. No muss, no fuss.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Santa Cruz Hightower X01 CC Reserve

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There are a few types of favorite bikes at Bible. There’s the obvious one: The bike that speaks to a tester regardless of price or purpose and takes root like an earworm melody. Then there’s the pragmatic favorite, which impresses with its ride quality and its reasonable price. Finally, you have the ‘one bike’ favorite, which is the bike that you’d pick if you could only own one bike. The Hightower—also called the Maverick under the Juliana Bicycles’ moniker—was in the running as the ‘one bike’ favorite for at least a couple testers.

Now in its second generation, the Hightower has evolved from a mid-travel trail bike to something that edges up to the long-travel line in both design and character. It’s been updated with Santa Cruz’s V10-inspired low-link VPP suspension, which, on this bike, yields 140 millimeters of travel and is preempted by a 150-millimeter-travel fork. The Hightower’s geometry brings those numbers to life in a very balanced way, with a 65.2-degree head angle in its low setting, a reasonable 1,232-millimeter wheelbase and a 470-millimeter reach on our size large (1,208-millimeter on the medium Maverick with a 450 reach).

Remember how we used to complain about how every Santa Cruz would hang up on square-edges, especially under pedaling forces? Not only is that sensation gone, Santa Cruz managed to maintain the taut-feeling pedaling characteristics that testers have always appreciated. That may be thanks to the lower-link VPP’s straighter progressive leverage curve and its ability to be supportive through the entire range of travel. Whatever the cause, the result is a quick and comfortable climber that wastes little energy. The 76.5-degree seat tube angle puts the seated rider over the cranks in a position that can be maintained for long stretches of trail, whether that trail be buff or technical. And when it’s time to navigate tight switchbacks or rock gardens, the reasonable wheelbase, reach and stock 50-millimeter stem help get it done with relative ease. It doesn’t absorb and pedal in the magical way that the Ibis Ripmo will, but it’s still a nice bike on which to go uphill—even if it doesn’t feel especially light.

Downhill, that heft is felt most in the form of Santa Cruz’s signature stoutness. We’ve come to expect Santa Cruz’s bikes to be stiff, quiet, and tight, and the Hightower met our expectations. Then, it exceeded them with details like a downtube shuttle guard and noise-damping chainstay protector. Also, the augmented leverage curve afforded by the new VPP layout isn’t only meant for the climbs. The extra support translates to an energetic feel on flowing trails where there are opportunities to play and pop, and a stalwart sensation in reaction to hits that use full travel. Where you won’t find the capability of a bigger bike is through repetitive hits, where the Hightower’s rear end feels secure, but not any plusher than you’d expect a 140 bike to be. If you’re willing to ride actively and precisely and use your legs as suspension, the Hightower will be enough bike for just about any trail. But if you want the bike to do the job for you at high speeds or in the face of high consequences, the Santa Cruz Megatower or (to limit it to this Bible’s garage) the deeper and slacker Norco Sight would be a better pick.

The Orbea Occam was another tester favorite here at Bible, especially among riders who were most focused on how quickly and efficiently a bike covers ground. Comparatively, the Hightower feels longer and yields a more in-the- bike feel, while the Occam felt and handled like a lighter and more compact bike. The Occam edged out the Hightower in agility and climb- ing, with its rear suspension barely moving at all under rider inputs. Both give the rider plenty of support for popping and pumping through trail undulations, and either would make an excellent do-it-all bike, but where the Occam feels a little more biased toward covering ground, the Hightower seems to be totally content to climb or descend all day long.

 

Photo: Courtesy of BIKE Magazine

Orbea Occam M-LTD

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At first glance, Orbea’s Occam looks like a derivative portmanteau of other bikes. The rear triangle could easily be confused for a Trek ABP, or a Weagle Split Pivot. The asymmetrical shock mount and frame strut invites comparison to Specialized’s Stumpjumper. But make no mistake; the Occam is very much its own bike, a mid-travel badass with superb suspension kinematics, progressive geometry, and in the case of our test bike, a top-shelf component selection that puts it at the ‘very expensive’ end of the spectrum.

About that spec. XTR is investment-level componentry, and the Occam M-LTD sports the shifters, derailleur, cassette, chain and brakes from Shimano’s highest-end parts. Wheels are DT Swiss XMC 1200, featuring 30-millimeter-internal-width carbon hoops, DT 240 hubs and a feathery 1,530-gram combined weight. The suspension utilizes the best of the Fox line—a DPX2 Factory rear shock and 150-millimeter 36 Float Factory Grip2 fork. As a result, the pricetag on this bike is a hefty $8,000, which, in this instance, is a very good value. Bear with us here.

As a customer, you can choose the length of the Crankbrothers Highline dropper post, you can select between Maxxis High Roller/Rekon tires or Minion DHF/DHR rubber, you can opt for a Fizik Taiga saddle or upcharge to a Selle Italia X-LR Ti Flow, and you can further bling up the front end with a Kabolt axle. All of these components except the seatpost will bump the price up in $50-60 increments. But even if you were to select them all, you would still spend over a thou- sand dollars less than you would on any similarly spec’d, similarly constructed, similarly targeted competition.

Questionable value justifications aside, the Occam is a noteworthy bike however it is dressed. A 140-millimeter-rear-travel big-wheel bike that scoots uphill with a lot more ease than most bikes in this arena, it makes absolute mincemeat of longer-travel bikes when fighting up the climbs. It’s one of the most climb-happy, pedal-friendly bikes we’ve slung a leg over in this segment of the market. Chalk that up to a mighty-steep 76.5-degree seat angle, those sweet wheels, and suspension that provides excellent pedal sup- port when mashing. However, it’s also a damn fun bike to throw downhill. The 1,224-millimeter wheelbase and 65.5-degree head angle on our size large test bike, combined with a stout frame and suspension that tended toward firm instead of buttery, delivered a ride that was balanced, planted and fun—not quite as plush as the similar travel Santa Cruz Hightower but snappier, and far more playful than the longer-travel barges that are defining the 150-millimeter-and-up end of the 29er market. The rear suspension is supportive and capable, with a good range of tune-ability, but it is definitely more sports car than Cadillac in its behavior. The fork is just lovely.

Occam buyers can choose to down-spec the fork to a 140-millimeter-travel Fox 34. Doing so would steepen the head and seat angles by half a degree, and would change the intent of the bike into something more commonly associated with all-round trail bikes. As it sits with the 36 up front, the Occam occupies a some- what-unique landscape between the currently accepted trail bike norm and the increasingly aggressive longer-travel segment of the market. It can hang with the long-travel bikes almost everywhere, but sacrifices some plush along the way and is more nervous at full-on warp speed. In return, the Occam offers far livelier manners across the board, superb pedaling and climbing behavior, and is still meaty enough to get rowdy almost everywhere that the bigger bikes like to play. As a bike for long backcountry rides in big terrain, or one that might need to handle anything from twisty mellow singletrack to high-speed alpine rock gardens to jump sessions, it’s a very worthy choice. And if the XTR-level price tag chokes you out, the Occam M-30 starts at $4,000, and can be ordered with the exact same suspension as the flagship M-LTD for a hair under $4,750.

Photo: Courtesy of BIKE Magazine

Testing Grounds: Park City, Utah

From one boom to another, Park City has long been a town bathed in an embarrassment of riches. The discovery of silver in the late 1800s propelled it into the following century, but when the bottom dropped out post World War 2, it was snow that saved the economy and eventually turned Park City into an upscale skiing destination. But as well-known as it is for its winter offerings, Park City has built an equal reputation during the summer, thanks to town visionaries who realized the benefits of a robust trail system early on. Developers who wanted to build McMansions in the hills above town had to write public trails into their plans (and pay for them), and a unique law absolving land owners of fault when they granted easements for public access paved the way for a vast trail system. There were 15 miles of legal trails when mountain biking went mainstream in the mid 1990s, and today, Park City has some 450 miles of sanctioned singletrack, ranging from rugged, high-alpine traverses of the Wasatch Crest to Deer Valley’s, lift-served, aspen-lined, new-school flow. Its sheer number of trails and the diversity of riding has put Park City on riders’ bucket lists around the world, and made it one of the best Bible host cities we’ve had the honor of visiting.

Photo: Courtesy of BIKE Magazine

The post The 2020 Bible of Bike Tests: Norco Sight C2 appeared first on Men’s Journal.

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