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The 2020 Bible of Bike Tests: Yeti SB165 T2 Turq

The 2020 Bible of Bike Tests: Yeti SB165 T2 Turq

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.


Watch: ‘Little Trail Hunter: Part 2’ Is Guaranteed to Put a Smile on Your Face

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.


Why Cedar City, Utah Should Be on Your Mountain Biking Bucket List

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

Yeti SB165 T2 Turq

Words by Anthony Smith.

After a lap on Yeti’s SB165, we all seemed to have the same confused shit-eating grin on our faces. It’s hard not to smile when you’re descending on a bike like the SB165, but we couldn’t help but wonder how a bike like this, from a company like Yeti, came to be. Yeti’s race pedigree is uncharacteristically muted on the 165, and among all the bikes we tested at this year’s Bible, it stood out for its decidedly defiant personality—big travel, little wheels, coil sprung, all that good stuff. It was unapologetic in its intention, and it left our testers asking: Is freeride back?

Perhaps that question is a bit misleading because the climbing characteristics of the Yeti were surprisingly lively; not what you’d expect from its lift-line silhouette. With the climb switch engaged on the DHX2 shock, the unique combo of the Switch Infinity link, the supple top end of the coil and the category-leading 77-degree seat tube angle actually made this bike a very capable and even enjoyable climber. It sat high in the travel and had no problem attacking steep, rough terrain without wallowing when we mashed on the pedals. Beyond the prescribed laps on our long-travel test loop, some of us were able to take the SB165 on a few longer rides on the trails surrounding Park City, and it really surprised us with its performance as an all-mountain machine.

Now, that’s not to say that the SB165 doesn’t descend exactly how you expect it to when you first lay eyes on it. That’s perhaps where our confusion came from—bikes that climb like the 165 typically don’t descend like the 165. It was hard to find the limits of the suspension, and truthfully, I don’t think we really came close. Maybe this bike is calling for riders with way deeper skillsets than us, but that being said, it certainly didn’t make us feel unwelcome. It felt like a bike that was >begging to be pushed, and it invited progression, at any level, even ours.

The rear wheel had the unmistakable ability to get out of the way, which we’ve come to expect on Yeti’s Switch Infinity bikes. On top of that, it offered a seemingly bottomless end stroke to its coil-sprung travel. That doesn’t mean that the bottomless nature of the suspension made it a vague ground-hugger, though. It still offered up a responsive mid-stroke that, in combination with the 27.5-inch wheels, made this bike an absolute riot to descend on. It was incredibly agile and responsive without ever feeling unsure of itself. A Fox 36 Grip2 damper up front and the unshakable Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR EXO+ tire combo only added to its confident posture.

As tested, our SB165 runs $7,700, but it sports a smart spec that justifies the price. There wasn’t anything that felt out of place on our T2 Turq build. It’s a spec perfectly suited to the bike’s intentions. Yeti’s C Series carbon builds, however, start at a more attainable $5,600 and will get you a Fox 36 performance fork, Fox Vanilla coil shock and a SRAM GX kit that still offers nearly all the characteristics that we loved about the T2.

It was hard not to feel the freeride vibes aboard the Yeti SB165, and we’re still left wondering what spawned such a bike from a company with Yeti’s rich race heritage, but perhaps that’s what makes it so exciting. It does everything you need a of a modern trail bike, while still inviting limitless potential for progression at any level.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Knolly Warden Dawn Patrol

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If we had to pick one word to describe Knolly’s fresh new 2020 Warden, it would be balanced, and not just because both wheels have an equal 160 millimeters of travel. It isn’t a word we’ve used much when talking about bikes with a cockpit as long as the Warden, but the 500-millimeter reach didn’t make it feel sled-like and uncontrollable like we’ve experienced with other reachy rigs. As a matter of fact, the Warden felt especially mild-mannered and easy to get along with. None of us needed much of a learning curve to get up to speed on the thing.

The almost 77-degree seat tube angle definitely helped keep the bike from feeling massive when seated. But that doesn’t fully explain why it didn’t feel crazy long when out of the saddle. We think that the small wheels’ inherent ability to increase maneuverability helped the bike feel shorter than the number would suggest, as did the not-too-slack head angle. We mostly rode the Warden in its slack position, which generates a 64.75-degree head angle. In the steep setting, it goes up three quarters of a degree to 65.5, making the Warden dip its 160-millimeter-travel toes into trail-bike territory. We’re guessing that most people looking at buying a Knolly will stick it in slack and leave it there, but having the option to give the Warden a split personality is a benefit.

Between the steep seat angle and Knolly’s always-efficient Four-by-Four suspension design, the Warden climbs far better than the burly-looking bike appears that it would. Our test loop consisted of a 3-and-a-half mile, 1,100-foot mostly smooth singletrack climb that allowed us to really settle into a rhythm. It’s the type of climb that’s long enough and smooth enough that it’s almost always worth it to reach down to the shock and flip the heavy-hardtail lever. But while we’re testing bikes, we always want to see how they perform when open. Out of all the bikes in the long-travel category, the Warden was easily one of the most composed at pedaling, to the point where using the lockout lever didn’t make the bike feel a hell of a lot faster. And when we’d get to a technical section of the climb, the bike would already be open and ready to track the trail. If you’re pedaling squares or pinning it out of the saddle you can definitely get the thing to bob, but that’s true for most bikes. Overall, the Knolly’s suspension platform feels like one of the most advanced ones out there.

And not just because it makes Knolly’s bikes climb well. Every tester was impressed with how controlled and balanced the Warden was on the rowdiest sections of the descent. There’s that word again. Balanced. A lot of it comes down to the bike’s geometry. The long reach, moderate head angle, short chainstays and low-ish bottom bracket all contribute, but it’s the suspension that pulls it all together. It has the magic mix of sensitivity and support all the way through the travel that is simply not achieved on most bikes. Anytime we needed to get the bike off the ground, there was always something to push off to get the pop we needed. It’s lively and light-footed in that way. But throw it into a rock garden and it’ll track like a bike with 160 millimeters of travel should.

We used to have to explain why Knolly’s bikes looked so odd. It often took some convincing for people to see that the performance and build quality of Knolly bikes makes the awkward aesthetic worth it. But the new Warden is considerably more pleasing to the eye. The suspension linkage has been pared down a bit and tweaked so that it disappears more and flows nicely with the lines of the bike. It’s still a unique-looking bike, and it still fell victim to funny looks, but we agreed that the new design is a huge improvement.

Some of the benefits built into the Warden include an open front triangle for a bottle or frame bag, a straight seat tube that’ll fit long droppers, titanium pivot hardware, angular contacting bearings and an overall impressive level of detail and craftsmanship. And, if you’re a small-wheel/big-travel purist, Knolly is the brand for you. They offer not one, or two, but three long-travel 27.5-inch-wheeled bikes ranging from the 160-millimeter Warden to the 175-millimeter Delirium. Long live 27.5.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Yeti SB140 T2 Turq

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While Yeti has made many different bike flavors over the years, much of the Colorado-based brand’s identity lies between course tape. Yeti has a rich history of developing not just some of the fastest racing machines, but the quickest athletes as well. More than a few elite racers throughout the last couple decades have broken onto the scene in turquoise kits. Driven by this passion to win races, Yetis are often more planted and stable than zesty and snappy.

Even the popular SB130 mid-travel 29er, a bike you’d think would be devilishly mischievous, really prefers getting down to the business of pinning it. There’s unfortunately not a race format that mid-travel 29ers are exclusively used in, but if there were, the SB130 would no doubt be on the podium. It’s the sort of bike that drinks a protein shake after rides. But Yeti has been focusing energy of late on a couple bikes that’ll smack the protein shake off the table, slam down a couple shots of tequila and peer pressure you into staying out late. The SB140 is one of them.

It’s just as serious about fun as Yeti’s 29ers are about speed. The SB140 is sort of like those people who brands like Jose Cuervo hire to travel around the country instigating a good time—it’s a professional partier. As an industry, it seems that we’ve finally sorted out what big wheels and small wheels are best for, and Yeti has done a stellar job building the SB140 around the inherent characteristics of 27.5-inch hoops.

Changing direction on the 140 is so effortless, it encourages one to never go straight for too long. Rather than lowering into an aero tuck, we were more likely to practice cutties, find trees to tire bonk or roots to pop off. It’s like a metal detector for hidden trannies. Cornering tended to be less precisely calculated and more of a run-and-gun sort of affair. Slide in, pedal out. Preload in, pop out. Whatever got the job done in the funnest way possible. The SB140 is the kind of bike that does not care that funnest isn’t a word. It’s too busy being awesome.

Thanks to Yeti’s Switch Infinity suspension, the 140 climbs well enough to make the bike perfect for huge rides. There are gobs of traction and non-bobbing efficiency with the shock left open. Sure, the 140 gets hung up a bit more in the techy bits than bikes with big wheels, but everyone already knew that and frankly, the people look- ing at this bike shouldn’t care. The SB140 saves energy elsewhere. Where the SB150 requires a heavy-handed approach to cornering, the 140 is easy and responsive without being nervous or twitchy. It jumps, too. The opener spread for this section … that’s a 140. It doesn’t want you to get kitted up in a turquoise race kit, it wants you to shred in a T-shirt ‘til dark and hit up Chipotle on the way home.

But also, it’s not just made for total shredders. You do not have to be able to click the flattest table or crack the perfect whip to have a blast on this bike. It’s more about prioritizing rideability and maximizing smiles. You know that ridiculously overused cliché, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey?” It’s like that. There’s a lesser-known quote that I’m making up right now that goes, “It’s not about being the biggest, it’s about having the biggest personality.” That’s this bike, too. More importantly, it describes Kristin Butcher, longtime “Butcher Paper” columnist, potty-mouth, and resident shorty-pants. Kristin’s shortage of tall didn’t prevent her from accessing every bit of fun that the SB140 has to offer. This isn’t always the case with pocket-sized riders, especially as trail and enduro bikes get bigger, longer, slacker, and heavier. The SB140 is refreshingly effortless and fantastically amusing for riders of all levels. You just need to decide if you want to hit the gym or join the party.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Revel Rail X01 Eagle

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Usually when we review a bike, we go over previous iterations, updates to geometry, or if it’s a new model, how it fits in with a brand’s existing offerings. In the case of the Revel Rail, however, the usual pfaffing is unnecessary because this is a brand-new bike from a brand-new company. That the Revel Rail held its own at the Bible was impressive, and that the brand pulled this off in their first year is quite frankly mind-boggling.

It would be easy to paint this bike as an underdog, but that’s not exactly the case. The Revel team, while small, packs a ton of industry expertise—and consequently everything on this bike feels well thought out. The geometry is what you’d expect for an aggressive 27.5-inch trail bike (75-degree seat tube, 65-degree head tube and 430-millimeter stays), and you get all the modern touches, like guided internal routing, refined layups and just one size of pivot bearings. The company even designed a clever integrated chain guide.

Still, the numbers only tell half the story. We were shocked by the immediate sense of confidence we got from this bike, pretty much from the minute we pulled it off the stand. It doesn’t feel like a small company’s first attempt; it feels like an established heavy-hitter.

The Rail makes excellent use of the relatively unsung but well-proven Canfield CBF linkage, which gives you nearly 100-percent anti-squat no matter where you are in your travel or gear range. On the trail, that translates to a bike that pedals efficiently while still attentively reacting to the terrain. At 31 pounds and sporting 165 millimeters of rear-wheel travel, it’s no XC bike, but with the range it can cover, we’d put it firmly in what we think of as the ‘mountain adventure’ category. It even felt fast climbing the road back to our house. Then there’s descending. It feels like Christmas when you realize that you do, in fact, get 165 millimeters of travel. This bike picked up speed over Park City’s most jumbled quartzite lines, giving you that elusive purr you sometimes get with good suspension. It is joyful in the air, and true to its name, corners like a slalom ski. You can snap it around almost carelessly and it’ll hold traction just a little longer than the taller-feeling 29ers. Push it and this bike will be a willing accomplice for whatever trail mischief you can cook up.

It is interesting that Revel chose to go with the 27.5 platform for this bike, especially when it seems that long-travel 29ers are the only thing anyone’s willing to ride anymore. But to us the Rail was a nice reminder of what you can do with smaller wheels. This is a bike that never feels wallowy, or locked-in, or like you’re piloting a tractor; it feels like it’s begging you put a little extra sauce on that hip, because why not?

Revel primarily sells direct-to-consumer, so you’ll probably have to make your build selections and payment online. The website makes it clear what you’re getting, and you can toggle between fork, dropper and wheel options. The bike we tested with the RockShox Lyric fork, Industry Nine wheels and SRAM X01 Eagle retails for $7,000. Frame-only runs $2,800 and a unique frame-and- fork option goes for $3,500. As a bonus, every complete bike comes shipped in an Evoc case to help eliminate cardboard waste.

As we head back into a 29er world, a long-travel 27.5 bike might feel like a blast from the past, but it makes a strong case for littler wheels. The Rail is so capable that we forgot about the travel, wheel size and almost everything else—besides, of course, milking as much speed and fun as we could get out of every inch of trail.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Ibis HD5 X01 AXS

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Mountain bike trends are a funny thing. Spend any time in this world, and you’ll end up with well-earned whiplash trying to keep up what cuff-length socks the cool kids are wearing and what wheel size we’re all supposed to collectively deem outdated. Just a few years ago, 29-inch wheels were quickly pushed aside by a world of 27.5-inch bikes that inspired 2017’s great overuse of the word ‘flickable’. This year, the Mojo HD5 is one of just seven of them that made the Bible cut.

The much-anticipated successor to the HD4 may have stuck to its wheel-size roots, but the geometry and suspension saw significant rejiggering. As expected, the geometry was modernized to fit with today’s ‘longer, slacker, steeper’ ethos. The headtube was slackened to 64.2 degrees and paired with a reduced-off- set fork to maintain the stability of a slack head angle without having a front wheel that’s out in the next zip code. The seat angle got 2 degrees steeper, bringing it to 76 degrees, and the reach grew across the board, with the large size seeing a bump of almost 20 millimeters. But numbers are just numbers until you hit the dirt, until the punchy climbs are done and dusted, the berms have been railed and hairy sections successfully navigated with skill (though ‘sheer power of dumb luck’ is an acceptable descending technique as well).

The most interesting change to the HD5 is the introduction of Ibis’ new damping philosophy, Traction Tune, to the DW-link platform. By relying on the linkage itself to achieve pedaling efficiency, lighter compression and rebound tuning can be had without suffering from the dreaded pedal bob. Lighter tunes have been historically geared toward lighter riders, but the suspension concept here aims to bring the improved ground-tracking benefits of faster rebound and compression to a wider audience.

Our testers ran the gamut between biggest, big, and “Can you get that off the top shelf for me?” The fly-weight of the group definitely noticed the traction benefits, especially through rock gardens and punchy, rooty ascents. A tester who generally runs his compression wide open could choose to back it off even further or throttle it in, achieving the ability to tweak the tuning to his bike-nerd content. The largest (and rowdiest riding) tester chose to run his compression damping on the slower side. While we were all able to adjust our suspension to our professionally nitpicky likings, those who run their compression toward the open side may reap the biggest benefits from this change.

Another standout of the HD5 is its pairing of 153-millimeter rear travel with a 170-millimeter fork. Ibis’ theory is that, if you compare the pure vertical movement of the wheels, an over-forked bike will be more balanced. On the trail, the theory seemed to pay off, creating a bike that seemed magnetically drawn to kickers and booters. One tester said it had the cornering traction and rollover of a 29er. Of course, being able to fit 2.6-inch tires doesn’t hurt on that front.

It’s easy for the small changes to get lost in the mix, but a few little improvements go a long way. Dropper capability has been increased, allowing some riders to run up to 175 millimeters on a medium frame or 150 millimeters on a small. On the maintenance side of things, Ibis’ Internal Cable Tunnels make routing easy from end to end, and the lower suspension link now features bushings instead of bearings.

The updates on the Mojo HD5 seemed uniquely aimed at paying dividends in fun. Perhaps even more so than those on any of this year’s other bikes. Whether we tester-types are crushing sandos after loops or pounding old seasons of “Letterkenny” like they’re new flavors of La Croix, we can’t help but nerd out on the nitty-gritty. For years, as bikes have morphed from 26-inch to plus-size everything, we’ve sat around getting granular about suspension, nitpicking cable routing and trying to figure out what next year’s “most-overused word” will be (FYI: This year it’s ‘kinematics’). At the end of the day, trends will come and go, but bikes designed to be fun will always in style.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

GT Force 29 Pro

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We learned last year that the 27.5-inch GT Force is an enduro race bike that is best to be ridden like an enduro race bike. Set its suspension up for merciless bashing, and the whole package comes together quite nicely. On the other hand, set it up for leisurely ground-hugging, and it tends to fall through its travel. We learned something similar this year about the Force 29, but we also learned it’s not simply a bigger-wheeled Force 27.5. GT appears to have had different intentions for this bike.

Most brands take an apologetic approach when designing the 29-inch version of an exist- ing 27.5-inch bike. Shorten the travel, steepen the head angle, tighten up the cockpit. Mitigate the sensation that you’re on bigger wheels. But sometimes that bigger-wheel sensation is the whole reason you buy bigger wheels. That’s why the new Force 29 leaned into it. It’s got the same 150 millimeters of rear travel as the Force 27.5, but bumped the front travel from 160 up to 170 and nudged the head angle from 65 down to 64.6. The reach grew by 5 millimeters and the chainstays grew by 7. It is quite un-apologetic.

It’s also unapologetic about its weight. May- be GT is unsure if this whole long-travel-29er thing will ever catch on, but there is no carbon Force 29 at the moment. A surprise, given that the carbon Force 27.5 is such a remarkable value. Still, the to-the-nines spec of the aluminum Force 29 Pro is pretty impressive for $4,700. It does have two unexplained black eyes, though. The frustratingly slow KS LEV Si dropper tops out at 150 millimeters on large and XL sizes and 125 on small and medium. And the SRAM G2 RS brakes are underpowered for a bike like this.

By “a bike like this,” we mean a bike that, no matter how you choose to set it up, is meant for the rough, straight and steep if not a whole lot else. In addition to being a bit squatty on the climbs, it’s not the kind of bike that defies its category like the Commencal Meta AM 29 or the Ripmo AF, both heavy aluminum long-travel 29ers. They have a lighter-under foot feel that makes them more trail-ready or even playful. But the Force 29’s relatively moderate 150 millimeters felt uncharacteristically plush. Fortunately, much of our test course played rather well with that kind of setup. There were a few delightful chutes that were veritable fruit baskets of apple- and cantaloupe-sized rocks. The key is to float through them. You will not have traction. You will not slap berms. You will simply charge, and the Force 29 enjoyed those moments. Paired with the 170-millimeter fork and relatively heavy weight, it was nice and planted once you got it into its travel.

In contrast, if we chose a tune that was supportive enough to go huck ourselves, the bike would ride high in its travel, and even bashing felt a tad awkward. Our consensus was that if you wanted a more responsive ride, you would do well with a rear shock that naturally lent itself to a poppier, lighter feel. Something that would let out the kid trapped inside the long, burly chassis. Something like a Float DPX2, which happens to be how the Elite and Expert Force 29s are spec’d. And the rest of those bikes’ builds aren’t bad. The $3,700 Expert still gets you a Fox 36 and an Eagle-range 10-50 GX cassette. The Elite gets you a Marzocchi Z1 (which is essentially a basic Fox 36) with an NX/SX drivetrain for $2,750. That’s a stone’s throw from the impressively versatile Ripmo AF, but versatility isn’t every long-travel 29er’s bag. Again, the Force 29 makes no apologies.

This is a bike of simple tastes. And that’s why it’s pretty cool that it offers such rad options at its lower price points. It’s not meant for snobs or nerds. It’s meant for rocks.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Canyon Strive CF 7.0

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Any time you read the word ‘we’ in The Bible of Bike Tests, it means that at least three testers agreed on whatever follows. But occasionally, our testers just don’t agree. Occasionally, some aspect of a bike divides us, and it’s up to you to pick a side. One such impasse arose when discussing the Canyon Strive.

Canyon’s take on the Swiss-Army bike, the Strive introduces a tiny pressurized device to the suspension linkage that shifts the geometry from high-and-tight to low-and-slack, while also drastically augmenting the travel and leverage curve. The full-body approach sets it apart from Cannondale’s Gemini, which simply adds a heap of ramp-up to the air spring. Or, there’s Scott’s Nude, which adds ramp and calms down the damping. Both use a proprietary shock. The Strive does not, which is a bonus. Plus, when you shift the Strive into its firmer mode, the shock maintains a spring and damping behavior that isn’t just uncompromised, it’s optimized. Its small-bump sensitivity is not significantly reduced, but its travel is. You get a more supportive feel out of the shock that is buffed by the steepened angles.

The clever three-button panel that controls the dropper and the shock is compact and easy to reach, but not so compact that you’re ever hitting the wrong button. Less ideal is the body weight shift involved with getting the bike into its steep setting. With the correct lever depressed, it takes an awkward motion to unweight the shock and extend the Shapeshifter, one made more awkward and yet more crucial as a climb gets steeper. Shifting back when it’s time to descend is more intuitive, but the hassle got our testers wondering if it was all worth it.

Today’s linkages are getting more efficient, leverage curves are getting more supportive and most importantly, seat tube angles are getting steeper. There are now similar-travel bikes that climb as well in their single mode than this bike does in its steepest. That mode yields a 75-degree seat tube angle on the Strive. On a Hightower or an SB150, whose STAs approach 77 degrees, we felt no more encumbered on long seated climbs. And in its slack mode, the Strive’s 73.5-degree seat angle reminded us why we don’t see 73.5-degree seat angles anymore.

But here is where we diverged. The Strive has a particularly supple, ground-huggy feel to its suspension. One that made it work well in terrain where its relatively conservative head angle and wheelbase might otherwise seem under-gunned. It is nimble and well-mannered yet insatiably bump-hungry. While one tester wanted a longer, slacker chassis to match that hunger, another thought it made perfect sense as-is. If you want easy access to the trails that long-travel 29ers were made for, but you don’t want a ‘73 Cadillac Fleetwood, the Strive fits the bill. It’s easy to pick it up and put it where you want without any compromise to its ability to float through the rough stuff.

And that was why one tester was on board with the Shapeshifter concept. In its slack mode, it opts for softness over support. It is good at what it does, but it is not good at climbing unless it has help. Instead of bringing a not-universally-welcomed poppy feel to the suspension and combining it with an ultra-modern and (to some) foreign-feeling 77-degree seat tube angle, the Strive keeps it classic. And its approach to climbing is similarly classic. Bikes like the Ibis Ripmo climb extremely well, but they don’t encourage you to hammer like a good mid-travel bike will. In its steeper mode, the Strive becomes a mid-travel bike. The tester rushing to Shapeshifter’s defense fancies himself to be a charger on the climbs, and the Strive serves such chargers well.

For anyone already deeply skeptical of the very premise behind remote-controlled shocks, Shapeshifter’s benefits may not be significant enough to justify the extra clutter and hassle. But if you’re not a skeptic, Canyon’s approach offers something unique when everyone else is trying not to rock the boat.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Commencal Meta AM 29 Team

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By reputation and by look, the Meta AM 29 is a big, burly, aluminum Enduro World Series crusher. But when we threw a leg over it in the parking lot of Deer Valley Resort, it felt surprisingly conservative. That’s due in part to head angle—which on the Meta is 65.5 degrees—and reach, which is a couple millimeters shy of 470 on the size large we rode. That these numbers would be considered conservative says more about how quickly bike geometry has been changing than about the Commencal itself. Especially because, on the trail, it is not a totally conservative-feeling bike.

And at nearly 35 pounds, how could it be? This bike reminded our testers that a little extra weight isn’t such a bad thing on rowdy descents. The Meta picks up steam quickly and doesn’t surrender it without a fight. And while it is notably short and steep compared to some bikes we tested this year, it didn’t feel unstable. In fact, we loved flying off drops into rough trail aboard the Meta, with our resident Irishman describing the sensation of landing such a hefty bike as a “lovely thing.” Its weight does indeed give the Commencal a more planted feel than it might otherwise have, but suspension is playing a role as well. At 170 pounds, the lighter of our three testers struggled to achieve a suspension setup that wasn’t either chattery off the top or would blow through to the bottom of its travel, but the other two, who were each heavier by about 20 pounds, had no such issue. Our theory? The lighter rider, with less pressure in the same volume air can, was getting less ramp toward the end of the stroke. Thankfully, there’s plenty of space for additional volume reducers.

The two heavier testers had no qualms with the rear suspension’s performance, and all three agreed that the Meta’s more-conservative geometry makes it a more versatile bike than they’d expected, and a true weapon on steep, tricky descents where maneuverability is more advantageous than outright stability. Testers also agreed that the simple linkage-driven, single-pivot suspension enhanced the robust feel of the chassis.

The Meta’s weight also wasn’t a limiting factor on climbs. Or, perhaps it’s the way the rider carries the Meta’s weight atop the 76.5-degree seat tube angle. If there was any limiting factor, it was suspension performance. Our testers found that the Meta would settle into a seated climbing rhythm without complaint, but didn’t react with the same support for hard, out-of-the-saddle efforts. It wasn’t the goopiest climber of the bunch—that cup of custard goes to the GT Force—but we certainly felt the need to use the lockout lever on the RockShox SuperDeluxe Ultimate, which was a true lockout that turned the Meta into a heavy hardtail. Not great for technical singletrack, but maybe just what the doctor ordered for buff climbing trails or access roads. We tested the $4,000 Team build, which is a budget-minded SRAMophile’s dream. It faces stiff competition within the Meta’s own lineup, though, especially from the Essential build, which is $800 less and comes with a mix of SLX and XT drivetrain and braking bits, Performance-level Fox suspension, and some sweet, sweet skinwall tires. Or, for $5,000, you can get the XX build with SRAM AXS shifting and dropper post control, plus carbon E13 hoops and top-end RockShox suspension.

There’s no complete build with a coil shock unless you pay the premium for Commencal’s A La Carte bike builder. A coil would complement the Meta’s character, making it feel more committed to its burliness—more comfortable in its own skin—more itself. Still, as it stood, the bike we tested is unique, and while probably not right for most riders, it’s probably perfect for some, namely, those who want a big bike that still feels precise, with the option to run a coil, and at a pretty good price. Oh, and metal. You’d better want lots of metal.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

Rocky Mountain Slayer 29 C70

On Rocky Mountain’s website, you won’t find the Slayer in the ‘trail’ or ‘enduro’ categories; instead, you’ll find it in ‘big mountain,’ right below the Maiden, where it belongs. This latest redesign has given the Slayer exactly what it needed, and while the previous model perhaps suffered from a bit of an identity crisis and strong competition from its own stablemates, the new Slayer has found itself by returning to its badass freeride roots. The big news is there’s now a 170-millimeter-travel 29-inch wheel version, an addition that could fully unleash the fury of this beast. Keep in mind, they’ve kept the 27.5 option, and also increased the travel on those bikes to 180 millimeters.

Along with the increased travel, 29-inch wheels and a coil shock, the Slayer also got the requisite 2020 geometry update. No surprises here: slacker, steeper and longer where it needs to be. It keeps Rocky’s RIDE-4 adjustment system—we could talk at length about what this does to all the numbers, but the meat and potatoes is that it gives you a degree of head angle and seat tube angle adjustment. We set ours up in position 2, which is deemed neutral, and that gave us 64.1 degrees in the head and 76.1 in the seat. Rocky also revised the kinematics to improve off-the-top sensitivity and added some progressivity to the end of the stroke.

On the spec side, solid decisions were made all around that align with the Slayer’s attitude. Maxxis tires with Double Down casings make an aggressive statement and also contribute to the 35-pound weight of our test bike. The new Shima- no XT 12-speed group performed perfectly with the four-piston brakes delivering heaps of power and vastly improved modulation over previous Shimano offerings. Also, it was nice to see a One- Up dropper in there, a staff favorite. The Slayer Carbon 70 gets the RockShox treatment with a Lyrik RC2 and a Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate. Rocky ships large Slayers with a 450-pound spring, tuned for a rider weight range of 190 to 210 pounds. Their spring rate chart is spot-on, as two testers, both weighing 175 pounds, had to switch to the 400-pound spring to hit the target sag measurement. The Slayer also utilizes size-specific shock tuning, something we’re seeing other companies experimenting with as well. Essentially, it’s based on the premise that someone short is also light and vice versa for someone tall. There’s no doubt that if you fall into the specified weight range for your frame size that it is indeed a performance benefit, but we could also see short stocky and tall skinny riders feeling left out.

Our test loop—an hour or so climb followed by a fast-and-steep, rowdy descent—really suited the Slayer, as it is the exact circumstances necessary for the Slayer to excel. It really is amazing what a steep seat tube angle can do for a heavy, long-travel bike’s climbing manners. Granted, you may not be the first to the top, but you’ll get up there drama-free, comfortably, and with plenty of matches left to take advantage of the bike’s downhill talents. Testers did find the lockout useful but it wasn’t mandatory. There was enough support without it, relatively speaking. We knew the Slayer was going to light up the descent, and holy smokes did it ever. Its ability to gain momentum and hold onto it was uncanny. The bike felt extremely planted, with all the angles and suspension working in unison to harvest speed. It’s hard to imagine needing more capability, but the frame will accept a 200-millimeter triple-clamp fork should you feel the need to dial the RIDE-4 to full send and hit the park.

The Slayer is like having your own personal skills coach—it will give you confidence and inspire you to push through the pucker factor.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Smith/BIKE Magazine

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: Yeti SB165 T2 Turq appeared first on Men’s Journal.

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