TRAILBIKE SHOOTOUT – KHS – KONA – GIANT – GT – SCOTT – CANNONDALE

shootout logoShootout-Spread

If there is one question we get asked more than any other, it’s, “When will you guys do another affordable trailbike shootout?” Seriously, we get asked this almost every month, and finally the time has come for us to grant your requests. We started with an e­mail blast to several of the more prominent bike companies, asking them to send us what they believe is the best all­-around trailbike for the common rider looking to spend $2500–$3000 on his or her next bike. We didn’t have any specific requirements on wheel size or suspension type, so we ended up with a unique mix of bikes that we are confident will hit on all major aspects of modern trailbikes.

khs logo

In our stable of shootout bikes, there were a couple of brands with a reputation for offering riders the most value for their hard-earned dollars. KHS was one of those brands, and the 5500, a 1×11 bike equipped with a dropper post for under $3000, is proof that KHS’ reputation is deserved. As far as value is concerned, the 5500 was near the top of the list of bikes we were impressed with.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

KHS keeps things simple with the 5500 and only offers it in a 6061 custom aluminum frame and rear triangle. The 5500 has all the modern features, such as a 142-millimeter thru-axle on the front and rear and a tapered head tube. With a 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain, RockShox suspension and KS dropper post, the KHS 5500 is priced out at $2900.

KHS3It’s built: Needless to say, it was a close call on which bike had the best build kit, especially with the SRAM GX1 drivetrain and RockShox suspension afforded by the KHS. It gets our nod as one of the best dressed in the shootout.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Of all the bikes in the shootout, the 5500 stood out for having some of the best components, with its 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain and RockShox Monarch RL shock. The KS E-Ten Integra dropper post was a welcome sight as well.

KHS1Get a feel for it: The ergonomics and general fit of the bike were a mixed bag for our testers. The bike fit true to size, and there was no debate between testers that the KHS SixFifty 5500 can handle rough descents.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

We liked the look of the bike’s subtle paint and graphics. The build kit impressed our testers and definitely put the 5500 in the running for the top spot.

KHS2Tucked away: KHS gave us the most unique suspension design out of the batch of bikes in this shootout. The shock is mounted through a split seat tube and is very effective at high speeds.

Moving out: On paper, the geometry of the 5500 looks inviting, but spec’ing an 80-millimeter stem for the medium size we tested made the bike feel long. Some of our test riders felt overly stretched out, but others appreciated this, as it allowed them to get in a more aggressive position.

Cornering: Through corners the 5500 tracked well and held a line confidently. The relatively high center of gravity didn’t keep us from leaning the bike over hard in corners, although some testers would have liked slightly wider bars for a bit more leverage.

Climbing: We pushed the KHS over various types of climbs and found that while the weight of the bike was competitive, the suspension was very soft, even with the pedaling switch engaged. A couple riders did like the longer reach on the climbs, as they were able to get in more aggressive positions for steep sections.

No lines needed: The KHS SixFifty 5500 sparked a lot of curiosity amongst our testers. With its unique suspension design and burly frame tubes, we were anxious to get a feel for this bike.

Descending: The 5500 felt capable and stable over rough terrain at high speeds. The front end tracked well and went where we wanted it to go. Although we never felt like the bike was very lively over rowdier sections of trail, the suspension did give us the cushion we wanted over ruts and bigger obstacles.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

This bike could definitely benefit from a shorter stem and wider bars. At 700 millimeters wide, we would consider the bars too narrow for most trail riders. Some riders might want to upgrade to a bigger, more-aggressive front tread, too.

BUYING ADVICE

At this price point with this build kit, potential buyers would be hard-pressed to find a better value. There are refinements that could be made to the fit and overall ride of the bike, but with a little experimentation and some extra cash, a rider could turn this bike into an all-round trail ripper.


giant logo

This bike manufacturing behemoth has been offering quality bikes to the common rider for decades. Since its redesign in 2013, the Trance has been Giant’s flagship trailbike, and with the Maestro suspension setup, riders have a very versatile package at their fingertips.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

The Trance comes in two different frame options—carbon and aluminum—both built up with the same aluminum rear triangle. Our test bike came with a full-aluminum ALUXX SL frame and 140 millimeters of front and rear travel. Giant spec’d this bike with its OverDrive2 steerer and head tube, which enlarges the bottom headset bearing, giving the front end torsional stiffness.

The Trance 27.5 2 is the top tier for Giant’s aluminum builds and comes in at a very respectable $2700.

Giant1Serious bang for the buck: Out of all the bikes we tested in this shootout, the Trance had the most impressive combination of suspension and component value. A simple upgrade to the cockpit would have dramatically changed this ride for the better.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

With full Fox suspension and a Shimano SLX drivetrain, the Trance looks good on paper—and on the trail. It was designed for durability and minimal maintenance even with day-in, day-out use. The MRP chainguide is also a nice bonus.

Giant2Summon the Maestro: Giant has been very invested in their Maestro suspension design. This multiple pivot design gives, the bike an incredibly smooth ride.

It’s in the details: The added chainguide and rollers from MRP gave us plenty of confidence when it came to worrying about dropping a chain.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Our test riders’ first impressions of the Trance were positive. They liked the look of the suspension platform, and even the paint scheme caught everyone’s eye. But, once we swung a leg over the top tube, we immediately noticed the tight, upright geometry of the bike.

Moving out: The bars had a fairly high feel, and were surprisingly narrow for this style of bike; we are talking 1990-World Cup-cross-country-racing narrow. With a short stem, the cockpit felt a bit awkward, making the general fit cramped.

Cornering: With a low standover height and dropper post, it was easy to push the Trance into corners and lean the bike, even though our confidence was shaken at times with the tiny bars. The Maestro felt active in corners and kept the rear tire planted.

Climbing: The Trance frame design is set up more for rocky descents than it is for climbing. The rear suspension is set up to be rather plush, so we felt a loss of power when we tackled steep, technical climbs that required out-of-the-saddle pedaling. With the suspension set to the “climb” mode, the Trance floated uphill respectably well.

Giant-FullCharge the trail: The Trance was built to be an all-around trailbike with a variety of capa- bilities. Riders will find themselves charging the trail more aggressively thanks to the descent-friendly geometry.

Descending: Our testers had the most praise for the Trance once they hit the descents. We could feel the Maestro suspension soaking up the trail and providing us with a very cushioned ride. The narrow bars came into play at high speeds, though, making the steering feel a bit twitchy. With the Giant Connect dropper post, we were able to lean back behind the saddle and take steep sections with ease.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

You will probably want to change the cockpit right away. Nearly every rider will feel the stock bars are too narrow. We would immediately swap them for something wider. Aside from that, we were impressed with the overall build of the bike.

BUYING ADVICE

Budget-minded riders looking to get their feet wet with a plush, full-suspension bike will find quite a bit of value in the Trance 27.5 2. For $2700, riders get both Fox suspension and a dropper post, which is a very compelling offer.


CANNON log

We recently tested the big brother of the Habit 5 and were thoroughly impressed with the refinements that Cannondale built into this very capable and fun bike. Don’t worry, though; we put our presuppositions aside and came into testing this bike with an open mind. The Habit was designed to be a go-to, fun trailbike built on a more-than-capable suspension platform.

Habit1A bike with ability: The Habit was built with the idea of having fun. The playful geometry had riders looking for the most fun lines on the trail. With 120 millimeters of very effective travel, there are few trails that the Habit is not able to tackle.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Cannondale offers the Habit in different materials. The high-end versions feature carbon frames and rear triangles. Our test bike had a full-aluminum frame featuring Cannondale’s Zero Pivot seatstays design. While the Black INC version comes in just north of $12,000, the Habit 5 is priced at a very economical $2300.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Right off the bat, we liked the RockShox Monarch RL shock and Recon Gold fork equipped with remote lockout. We appreciated the attention to detail shown in the pairing of a Schwalbe Nobby Nic tire up front and a Rocket Ron in the rear. We really liked the bar/stem combo as well.

Habit3It’s actually pretty simple: Cannondale has some complex engineering wrapped up in some of their bikes, but one of the benefits of the Habit is the simple linkage. The Zero Pivot seatstays are clean and simple.

Habit2No work needed: Durability is a big consideration when purchasing a new bike. Shimano components have proven themselves to be some of the toughest on the trail.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

The Habit 5 has a subtle look (unlike the other versions) with its matte-black paint scheme. Our testers were split on the overall appearance, as some testers prefer flashier bikes.

Moving out: The geometry and fit of this bike felt spot-on. With wide bars and a short stem, the cockpit had all of our testers feeling comfortable from the start. Out of all the bikes in this shootout, the Habit’s ergonomics felt the best.

Cornering: We especially liked how we were able to push the Habit hard through corners. The tight geometry gave the bike a playful feel that allowed us to lean the bike over however we wanted.

Climbing: We appreciated the option to lock out the suspension for climbs, but the bike wasn’t sluggish up the mountain. Our testers were pleased with the remote lock- out and how easy it made the transitions between climbing and descending.

Cannondale-FullThe right habits: The Habit has been making waves in the trailbike category since the summer of 2015. With its versatile geometry and 27.5 wheels, we know exactly what this bike is capable of doing.

Descending: Even though the Habit only has 120 millimeters of travel, it feels like much more than that. The cockpit put us in a comfortable position and gave us confidence at high speeds. We did feel rather limited by the fork and the lack of adjustments, which we noticed over technical terrain. There were several times where we wished the bike had a dropper post (or quick-release seatpost clamp), but that didn’t stop our testers from riding the Habit hard and hitting rowdy bits of singletrack.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

There are a few things we would like to change on this bike, and given the retail price, we think riders could afford to make these changes right away. Most notably testers felt the addition of a dropper post would drastically improve the descending ability of the bike.

BUYING ADVICE

If you’re a rider who doesn’t like to upgrade bikes very often but enjoys slowly upgrading parts, the Habit 5 is a solid option. The price point is extremely competitive and the ergonomics are second to none. The Habit 5 offers riders a great-handling and very confidence-inspiring trailbike for fun riding at a highly-affordable price.


 

gt logoThis was arguably the bike with the most history out of the bunch that we tested in this shootout. From World Cup cross-country to downhill racing, the Zaskar has seen its fair share of competition and withstood the test of time with some modern changes. This was also the biggest surprise out of all the bikes we tested.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Carbon fiber is the main ingredient in the Zaskar. With the iconic triple triangle design and carbon fiber frame, the Zaskar was the lightest bike in our quiver and the most specific to cross-country racing. At $2500 retail ($2800 with the dropper post), the price point was right in the sweet spot.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

This was the only bike in the shootout with a hydraulic post, and we would be lying if we said we didn’t like that right away. The carbon frame also caught the attention of our testers and had us curious to see how the bike would fare with the dropper installed. Testers liked the remote lockout that came stock on the fork as well.

GT1Probably the fastest: When it came to the climbs, there was no doubt the Zaskar was the best in class this time. Between the carbon frame and Reverb dropper post, the descents were fast and playful, but the Zaskar did have its limitations when the trail got gnarly.

Loaded bars: Between the 2×10 drivetrain, dropper remote, and lockout remote for the fork, the handlebars felt a little crowded at times. Converting the Zaskar to a 1×10 would save some weight and simplify the layout.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

The Zaskar had the loudest paint scheme by far, with a bright-red color that caught almost everyone’s attention right away. The light cross-country weight made the bike a standout as well (well played, GT).

GT2Unchanged for a reason: The triple trian- gle design has been the most identifying factor of the Zaskar since its creation in the mid-1980’s. While it doesn’t ride like a full suspension, the triple tri- angle gave us plenty of compliance.

Moving out: We expected a quick-steering race feel, but our testers were pleasantly surprised by a versatile geometry that felt more comfortable. The bars and stem felt appropriate for the bike.

Cornering: Everyone took the first corner a little slower than normal, but once they remembered they had a dropper post, riders decided to drop the saddle and push the bike a little harder. Overall, the bike cornered well, but it still had its limitations. The dropper did allow us to shift our weight a little differently than we might have otherwise with a standard seatpost.

GT-FullLight and quick: If there is one thing this shootout gave us, it was variety. From full-suspension all-mountain machines to carbon cross-country models, we had our hands full. The Zaskar was light and quick, and with the added Reverb dropper post, the smile factor was even higher.

Climbing: There was no doubt that this was the best climbing bike of the bunch. With the fork locked out and pedaling out of the saddle, we flew up the trail with ease thanks to the light carbon frame. Rockier climbs felt rough, but with some extra speed we were able to roll over most sections.

Descending: The Zaskar was definitely the biggest surprise of the shootout when it came to the descents. With its 27.5-inch wheels, carbon frame and dropper post, the Zaskar was impressively nimble and fun to rip downhill. The Zaskar definitely has its limits, but the overall fun factor was high.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

The bike doesn’t normally come stock with a dropper post, so if you’re an aspiring trail rider, we highly recommend upgrading to one. To keep things interesting, GT threw in a RockShox Reverb dropper post. We did have some issues with the front derailleur shifting, and think converting this to a single-ring drivetrain would change the ride quite a bit.

BUYING ADVICE

If you’re an aspiring cross-country racer or just looking for a lightweight trailbike for your local flowy singletrack, the Zaskar has plenty to offer. This isn’t the plushest trailbike, but this dark horse was one of the biggest surprises of this shootout.


kona logoCapability has been the theme of test bikes lately, and it is really one of the more important aspects of this shootout. The Process 134 is a very capable bike built on the same suspension platform all the way up to the top of the line. Kona developed the Process in the chunder of the Pacific Northwest and carries its roots to trails all over the world.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

The Process has a full-aluminum frame and linkage, with the exception of the car- bon bridge behind the shock mount. Kona uses the same suspension platform across the whole line of Processes, regardless of price point. The Process caps out with the Supreme at $5500, but our Process 134 starts things off at $2900, which is near the price cap for this shootout.

A trail-born slayer: With 134 millimeters of travel, on paper the Process falls into a mid-travel trailbike mold. On the trail, however, the capability feels endless and pushes riders on to ride faster.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

The KS E-Ten Integra post was a welcome sight, along with the RockShox Monarch RL rear shock. Kona did a good job choosing a beefy tread with the Maxxis DHF EXO front tire and Tomahawk rear tire and coupled it with Shimano brakes and drivetrain.

Kona2Strong bones: This wasn’t the most impressive build kit out of the bunch, but the suspension made up for that. From the entry level model to the top of the line version, the Process uses the same sus- pension platform.

Kona3Time and time again: Shimano’s XT Shadow Plus has proven itself to be a sturdy component that will always come back for more. The 10-speed Shimano drivetrain is solid and left us with confidence that it can take a beating.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Moving out: The geometry of the Process felt slack and low, giving us as aggressive of a position as we wanted on the bike. With a super-short stem and wide bars, the ergonomics felt spot-on. Kona has been pretty big on 35-millimeter bar/ stem combos, and this level of Process is well-equipped. It came in second place for loudest paint with the bright-green paint and orange decals. The paint didn’t bother most of us; we thought it looked fun.

Cornering: With the super-wide front tire and low geometry, the Process could be pushed hard through any type of corner. The wide bars gave us plenty of leverage and encouraged us to push the bike harder and lower. The Process has a low standover height that kept us active in corners.

Climbing: The Process isn’t a tank, but it was far from the lightest bike in the shootout. However, when the suspension was locked out and we put our heads down, we were able to crawl over technical sections and up steep trails. This bike carries its weight very well.

Kona-FullSocial butterfly: The Kona Process 134 is anything but shy and looks to find the most challenging trails to ride and conquer. While the weight is a little on the bulky side, we found that playing to our advantage when the ride got rowdy.

Descending: There was no doubt that this was the best descending bike in our shootout. In steep, rocky descents or fast, flowy sections, the Process ripped through everything. The impressively supple and controlled suspension kept the Process feeling more planted and confident than any other bike in our test. It also carried its momentum well, feeling like it accelerated faster, despite the slight weight penalty. The wide bars had us feeling quite confident, and the rear suspension felt active over the ever-changing terrain on the trail. Needless to say, we felt the need to push the speed with this bike on the descents.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

We would love to help the Process shed some weight. We would convert this to a 1×10 and ditch the bash guard for a narrow-wide chainring. Although we didn’t have any issues, Process riders should plan on upgrading the fork down the road to keep up with the very capable aspects of the frame design.

BUYING ADVICE

The Kona Process 134 has a lot to offer potential buyers, from a solid framework to a burly complete build; there are a lot of ways that this machine can go. While this bike is near the top of the price range for this shootout, there is more than enough value to justify the price.


scott logoWith the introduction of plus-size bikes in 2015, mountain bikers have suddenly found themselves with even more options when it comes to new bikes. Everyone is curious about plus-size bikes, but mountain bikers are approaching them cautiously. When the Scale 710 Plus showed up at the MBA office for the trailbike shootout, even we were curious to see how it would stack up against the rest of the mix. Of course, we were also eager to spend some more time on those ever-so-inviting wheels.

Scott1Simple and fast: There was never a shortage of smiles as we felt the big tires grabbing every millimeter of trail they could find.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Scott has made a name for the Scale on the cross-country race circuit, although not with the big-volume tires. Scott now offers the Scale in 27.5-inch and 29-inch versions with carbon or aluminum frames. The Scale 710 Plus, however, is only avail- able in a full-aluminum frame that is engineered with modern applications such as Boost spacing and internal cable routing. At $2600, the 710 is the more expensive offering from Scott in the hardtail plus-size arena, with only the 720 below it.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

It was tough to narrow it down to a few parts that we liked, as the whole build really impressed us. The Fox 32 FIT4 fork, SRAM GX1 drivetrain and even the Syncros X-40 wheels brought the whole bike together into a solid package.

A solid build: The Scale was near the top when it came to component specs and build. Between the SRAM GX1, Fox suspension and Syncros wheels, we felt like we had plenty of bang for the buck.

Scott2Kinda big: While it isn’t your average trailbike, it is farther from feeling like a fat bike than most think. The 2.8-inch-wide tires provided more than enough traction and were more nimble than expected.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Out of all the bikes in the shootout, testers were most curious to ride this one. They wanted to see what all the fuss was about with the plus-size setup. We were all in agreement that the Scale had good lines and an appealing color scheme that wasn’t too bold.

Moving out: The cockpit on the Scale felt comfortable with its wide bars and short stem. The bike almost felt like it was built for enduro-style riding. Among our diverse group of testers, no one had any complaints about the fit or geometry, as the Scale delivered on all counts.

Cornering: The traction of the 2.8-inch- wide tires seemed to never end. The tread spread out across the trail and seemed
to be made just for the purpose of trying to push a tire to its limits in corners. Surprisingly, the big tires didn’t feel overly sluggish and maintained speed coming out of even the tightest turns we could find.

Scott-FullBig wheels, more fun: The Scale 710 Plus sparked the most curiosity by far amongst our test riders. By the end of testing, we were all convinced of just how fun this bike actually is.

Climbing: You wouldn’t really expect a bike like this to climb well, but it did. Riders won’t be setting any personal records going up the mountain, but with the larger footprint, we were able to find traction with ease while staying planted in the saddle. The traction will allow you to claw your way up nearly anything with low gearing and enough gumption.

Descending: There’s no other way to put it: the Scale 710 Plus is simply fun to ride down the hill. The wide tires seemed to offer endless traction and rolled through loose dirt and sand with confidence. Granted, since it is a hardtail, the bike had some limitations when the trail got more technical, but overall, we were pleased with just how much fun we had.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

We were pretty happy with the overall build of the bike, but the Scale could benefit from a dropper post. The bike does come with a quick-release seatpost clamp, which we used plenty of times.

BUYING ADVICE

The Scale is a competitive, versatile trailbike that can handle a little of every- thing, especially trails with looser terrain and sand. With a solid build kit and modern frame technology, we could see this bike being a good option for more extreme enduro riders looking for a fun bike to train on, or even aggressive cross-country racers trying to find a fun, efficient bike for their off days.


For the purpose of our shootout, we narrowed down our evaluation to five different categories: climbing, descending, ergonomics/component group, general likability and would we recommend this bike to a friend? We used a panel of test riders ranging in skill level from beginner to expert, and told them to hit the trails. These are the results:

THE OVERALL RANKINGS

KonaConclusion

KONA PROCESS 134

Best Overall

While this wasn’t the lightest bike in the bunch, it certainly offered the most versatility. With the Kona, the positives far out- weighed the negatives. It really proved itself to be the best all-around rig. The Kona offers potential buyers a solid complete bike and a solid enough platform to slowly upgrade over time.

Our test riders came from various riding backgrounds—from minimalist cross-country riders to rock-slamming downhill racers—but when the votes were tallied, almost everyone agreed this was the best bike of the bunch.

SCOTT SCALE 710 PLUS

First Runner-Up

There were a few who wondered if this bike would take the win, but in the end, fun didn’t quite outweigh practicality. While we thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent on this big-wheeled bike, it came up short in the versatility department. We are confident, however, that anyone who chooses this bike with fun in mind won’t be disappointed.

CANNONDALE HABIT 5

Best Fit

If this bike had come stock with a drop- per post and a slightly better fork, it probably would have taken top honors. The Habit is a capable bike wrapped up in a very affordable package. The minor limitation of no dropper post shouldn’t be too much of a hurdle for potential buyers to overcome.

GIANT TRANCE 27.5 2

Best Suspension

The Trance was not to be overlooked in the final tally of our shootout. We liked the build kit and suspension platform, but never felt quite as confident on the bike, in large part because of the awkward fit and cockpit component choices. Fit can be adjusted, but the process takes time and can be costly, which our test riders felt was a major drawback.

GT ZASKAR CARBON ELITE

Best Climber

We loved throwing this light cross-country bike around on the trail. The Zaskar proved to be the best climber in the bunch by a long shot, and also arguably the best value. While it wasn’t the all-around trail- bike we were looking for in the conditions we tested in, we can see this thing being a serious weapon for riders who live in places that have smooth singletrack and don’t require the travel we needed. The dropper post is a welcome upgrade that’s made affordable thanks to the lower pricetag, and gave our test riders some big smiles on the trail.

KHS SIXFIFTY 5500

Best Value

We initially expected the KHS to win this shootout. It is arguably the best value in the bunch, sporting an awesome parts package, great aesthetics and a Horst-Link suspension design that’s impossible to poke holes in. Unfortunately, the sum of the parts didn’t quite add up for our testers. The bike proved to be a little lackluster in the handling, but still delivered among the best components in the bunch.

spec 1

spec 2


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