$2000 Trail Bike Shootout: Specialized, Giant, Scott, Kona And Fezarri Battle It Out

What’s the Best Way to Spend 20 Benjamins?

Two thousand dollars will buy you many things. It could buy you a junky car, a laptop computer, a thousand cups of coffee, or one very competent trailbike. While the Mountain Bike Action wrecking crew tests our share of $10,000 mountain bikes, spending that type of dough is not a prerequisite for having fun on the trail. Trickle-down economics has brought technology previously reserved for the fastest or most well-financed riders to the mainstream. With this in mind, we corralled five trailbikes to see which one would reign supreme for less than a down payment on a house. The guidelines for this shootout were simple: we contacted companies and asked them to send us their best trailbike for around $2000. Anything else was fair game. This meant the bike companies could send us any frame material, wheel size, drivetrain or suspension design (hardtail, dual or rigid) as long as they hit the price target. The companies responded by sending us five dual-suspension, aluminum framed trailbikes that used very different designs to get the job done. The only thing to do now is to ride them. Let’s find out: What’s the best way to spend 20 Benjamins?

This is the everyman shootout. No, these are not the bikes that you’ll find in a trailer at a World Cup race, but they are the ones that we can scrape pennies together to buy if we’re truly passionate about the sport. We set out to see which of these bikes would deliver the most fun per mile of singletrack and which one we would spend our hard-earned dollars on. We used the normal wrecking crew (Jimmy, Mike, Doug, Sean and John) and invited other riders as well—from “cream of the crop” cross-country racers, to downhill specialists, to beginners who had never spent a day on a full-suspension bike, to big-wheel riding slackers whom we never underestimate on the trail.
Every bike we tested in this shootout is a great one. As we tested them, we discovered that it’s not about a simple ranking from top to bottom; it’s more about choosing the right bike for the right terrain and the right rider. This was a heated shootout. The riders were so passionate that the discussions following the test rides were peppered with everything from intelligent arguments to insults. We found that every one of these bikes has attributes we like. That being said, we had to choose a winner.

The Ranking:

Winner: Giant Trance 3 — Score: 293
-29.1 pounds
-26-inch wheels
-4.9 inches of travel

This bike is solid across the board. While the Trance did not have a standout attribute that blew away the competition, consistently high scores clinched the win for this bike. It received the best scores for pedaling performance, drivetrain performance and was in a tie for best component spec. This is the best all-around trailbike in the category, hands down.

Second: Scott Spark 50 — Score: 289
-28.3 pounds
-26-inch wheels
-4.7 inches of travel

The Spark is a performer and the best choice for the person looking for a racy-feeling bike. It garnered consistent scores, but the best-in-class weight and climbing performance were what propelled this bike into the second spot. While the TwinLoc provides a great pedaling platform, not every crewer liked the idea of a remote on the handlebar, which helped prevent it from snagging the top spot.

Third: Kona Tanuki Deluxe — Score: 276

-30.8 pounds
-26-inch wheels
-5.1 inches of travel

Make no mistake, the Tanuki is a burly bike. It suffered in both climbing and perceived weight categories, probably due to the excess weight in the wheels and tires. Going downhill, however, this is the best bike to have. The Tanuki scored highest in the descending category from every crewer, proving that this is a serious trailbike for the rider who wants to push the envelope on the descents.

Fourth: Fezzari Alta Peak — Score: 263
-30.9 pounds
-26-inch wheels
-5.9 inches of travel

The Alta Peak is a great overall trailbike, but nothing jumped out that would put it ahead of the pack. The component spec tied for first with the Giant and Kona, but it wasn’t enough to put it further up the ladder. This is a killer trailbike overall. If you don’t mind adjusting the cockpit with wider bars and a lower stem, it could perform with the best in the group.

Fifth: Specialized Camber 29er — Score: 255

-31.4 pounds
-29-inch wheels
-3.9 inches of travel

The Camber proved to be the most polarizing bike in the group. One crewer placed it at the top of his list, but at the end of the day, the wheel weight, lackluster component spec and overall bulky feel kept this bike from performing
with the rest. We love 29ers, but this bike proved to be an eye-opener. If you’re planning to buy a 29er at this price point, we’d wait for the 2013 Camber that addresses the problems we found here.

How the Scores Broke Down When the Dust Settled:

For the complete Shootout Story, check out our October 2012 issue