ENDURO BIKE ROUNDUP

We test ten heavy-hitting enduro mountain bikes

While trail bikes reign supreme on many types of terrain, enduro bikes hold their own by offering similar versatility in a heavy-hitting package. With major improvements to enduro bikes being made every day, these downhill shredders retain a strong ability to climb back up the trails for round two. The ideal enduro bike is one that conquers climbs and saves riders’ energy while they prepare themselves for a wild, fast ride down singletrack and bike park trails. Here’s a list of the top enduro bikes the MBA crew has tested over the years.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ALTITUDE

The Altitude is full of attitude, reminding us of our rowdy sibling who’s always up to mischief. Built for Enduro World Series racing, the Altitude is no slouch when headed down the trail; however, it must perform well enough on the climbs to keep racers fresh and ready to charge full speed down every descent.

Climbing: Rocky Mountain’s Ride 9 chip and the Altitude’s two-position rear axle provide multiple adjustment points for racers seeking the perfect bike fit and feel. We found the bike performed best in Position 5, the neutral setting. This sets the head tube angle at 65 degrees and the seat tube angle at 76 degrees. While we swapped back and forth on the rear dropout positions, the shorter position added a bit more snap for steering into the tighter sections. With that said, the longer rear position did provide more traction in certain situations.

Once dialed into the conditions we were riding, it was noticeable how stable the bike was when climbing up steep terrain. In the slackest and long dropout setting on steep fire-road climbs, it was a bit tough to keep the front wheel in line, but there was a noticeable increase in traction.

Descending: Right out of the gate, we found ourselves having an absolute blast aboard this Rocky. It’s quick and adjustable, making it a truly great bike for serious enduro racers. That said, there’s nothing wrong with going for a trail ride on this performance-first machine. From cruising speeds to race day, the Altitude makes riding more fun.

Whom is it for?

The Altitude provides models ranging from more robust, lower-end options to professional-level, out-of-the-box race bikes. Riders looking to achieve wicked-fast speeds that will blur your vision will find the premium model ideal for the task. Meanwhile, the entry-level model provides an excellent platform with a much lower cost of maintenance and possibly lower repair costs. You can’t go wrong with the Rocky Mountain Altitude lineup.

Price range: $3649-$10,449

Frame material: Aluminum or carbon

Suspension: 160mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 27.5 inches (SM-M), 29 inches (M-XL)

Hits:

• Adjustable geometry for serious racers

• Race-ready and entry-level models available

Misses:

• Fine-tuning ability can lead riders to overthink their bike setup

KONA PROCESS X

The Process line from Kona offers three different travel options, along with multiple build kits to meet your desired price point. The Process X is the heavy hitter of the group, earning the letter “X” for its adjustable travel. Meanwhile, the Process 134 and 153 are direct representations of their rear-wheel travel in millimeters. The Process X is designed for enduro racers and aggressive trail riders looking for a point-and-shoot bike for race day or blasting down bike-park trails.

Climbing: Kona’s long-travel enduro bike placed riders in a powerful climbing position when seated thanks to the 78-degree seat tube angle. That, combined with a traction-enhancing suspension design, allows riders to clear technical climbs or lay down a consistent pace up fire roads. While you might not beat your cross-country friends to the top of the hill, the bike will greatly reward your effort when the trails start to point downhill.

Descending: The Process X is always willing to take the steepest and fastest lines down the mountain. It’s a long and slack bike that absolutely loves heading down an open singletrack. Additionally, the multiple adjustment points allowed us to fine-tune our ride to our liking. Riders can experiment with mullet wheel sizing with the linkage Flip Chip or use the rear-end chip to customize wheelbase and travel. Our testers preferred the bike in the short wheelbase setting combined with 29-inch front and rear wheels. Letting the Process run wild is our favorite thing to do.

Whom is it for?

This bike could be a great option for aggressive trail riders, enduro racers or even some bike-park junkies. The Process X is ideal for racers who want to tune their ride thanks to the multiple adjustment points. If you’re the type of rider who can feel the difference between a few millimeters here and there, the Process X is a great bike for you.

Price range: $5199-$7199

Frame material: Carbon

Suspension: 158 or 164mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches, size S (27.5 inches)

Hits:

• Fully adjustable geometry

• Race-worthy with freeride roots

Misses:

• Only two Process X models available

CANFIELD BALANCE

Canfield has a reputation for building raw yet refined mountain bikes that are built to take abuse and deliver top performance. The Balance is Canfield’s all-mountain/enduro machine designed to charge full-speed down the most demanding trails. The Balance became longer and slacker via its latest updates, which provide increased high-speed stability and control. Additionally, the bike received an ever-so-slight increase in travel, further improving its big-hit performance and small-bump compliance.

Climbing: Considering this Canfield packs a heavy punch with 169mm of travel, you can’t expect to effortlessly fly up the mountain. That said, with the MRP shock in the locked-out position, riders can expect a solid platform for working their way up the trails. On technical sections, riders can get away with the shock in the open position, providing added traction over rocks and roots.

Descending: This downhill bruiser is built tough and uses its long-travel coil suspension to provide a traction-filled, ultra-plush ride down the trails. Our test riders found the Balance to be highly predictable and playful as they charged down singletrack. This bike is far from the lightest enduro bike on the market, yet it feels surprisingly nimble leaning in and out of turns. On fast straightaways, the Balance remains poised and ready to take on more speed.

Whom is it for?

Canfield built the Balance to take on big hits and keep on trucking down the trails. This burly beast is far from the lightest in our roundup but delivers a robust frame that should hold up to the most aggressive riders.

Price range: $4399 ($1799 frame only)

Frame material: Aluminum

Suspension: 169mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 27.5 inches

Hits:

• Robust frame for aggressive riders

• Plush suspension

Misses:

• Cable noise near downtube

GIANT REIGN

The Reign is a classic within Giant’s lineup. It is well known for being a plush, long-travel machine built for overcoming climbs and annihilating descents. The Reign quickly became the bike of choice for hardcore trail riders, later shifting its attention towards enduro racers as the demand began to grow. In order to create an incredibly competitive machine, Giant has revamped this bike through the years with small geometry changes and new materials. Depending on your style, Giant now offers the Reign with either 29-inch or 27.5-inch wheels and with both carbon and alloy frame options.

Climbing: Giant has been following the trends and experimenting with seat tube angles to find an ideal position for pedaling the longer-travel enduro rig. While our custom 27.5-inch 2019 Reign has a seat-tube angle 4 degrees slacker than the new 2021 29er, the pedaling efficiency is still excellent, given that it is a long-travel bike. The coil shock, with Giant’s Maestro linkage, provided a great deal of traction. Although there is a bit of bob on steep climbs, the DHX2’s climb switch allowed us to firm up the shock to improve efficiency.

Descending: By no means does the Reign want to be ridden slowly. The bike keeps begging for high speeds and motivates you to ride the roughest, most direct lines. The overall feel truly gave us the confidence to hold on tight and go for lines we would not normally attempt. Compared to the Reign 29, we preferred the maneuverability of the 27.5 wheels through tight sections and quick corners. As intended, the Maestro suspension responds with sensitivity and almost feels endless on the bigger hits.

Whom is it for?

The Reign suits a wide variety of riders,  thanks to the many versions available. From carbon to aluminum and 29-inch to 27.5-inch, the Reign offers a build kit tailored to meet the needs of every enduro rider. The high-end Reign is a serious podium contender that can be seen at the top level of enduro racing, the Enduro World Series. There, Giant’s Factory Off-Road team can be seen pushing the Reign to its absolute limits. Meanwhile, the entry-level model boasts a great price of $3300.

Price range: $3300–$9000

Frame material: Aluminum or carbon

Suspension: 146mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 27.5-inch or 29-inch

Hits:

• Impressive suspension system

• Great price range

• Available in both 27.5” and 29” kits

Misses:

• There’s some bob on steep climbs until you use the climb switch to firm up the shock

KHS 7500

KHS has over 35 years of experience manufacturing a wide variety of bikes—from urban and youth bikes to road bikes and mountain bikes. The KHS 7500 is the company’s top-of-the-line enduro bike built to conquer the most demanding trails. Seeing the KHS Pro MTB team in action is enough to inspire any rider to go out and push the limits of what a bike can do.

Climbing: The 7500 loves technical climbs where its suspension can grab the trail and propel itself forward with each pedal stroke. On smoother trails, however, this KHS benefited from its lock-out compression lever. Just one click from the three-position lever provided a firm platform, allowing riders to lay down power without bouncing up the trails. This KHS wasn’t intended to be the fastest up the hill, so don’t expect lightning-fast speeds, but do expect to get to the top of a descent promptly. The 7500 is no slouch with a strong rider powering it.

Descending: Flowing down the trails is when the 7500 is happiest. The suspension and geometry provide a stable ride at speed and a plush feel capable of soaking up rough trails. In tight sections, this KHS felt nimble enough to be tossed around while retaining high-speed stability when the trails opened up.

A huge part of the 7500’s descending prowess comes from its Fox Performance series suspension. Launching off jumps is met with pillowy-soft landings, encouraging riders to go a little bigger the next time around. In corners, the suspension provided mid-stroke support, allowing riders to push through turns with confidence.

Whom is it for?

At the end of the day, this KHS will put a smile on most riders’ faces as they descend the trails and the suspension soaks up larger trail features. Sure, you could find a lighter or possibly more capable enduro bike on the market, but it would likely cost a lot more. The KHS 7500 is far above entry-level performance but not far off in price. Yes, $4000 is a lot of money, but considering this bike’s suspension package, drivetrain and overall design, this KHS is a great value.

Price range: $4299

Frame material: Aluminum

Suspension: 150mm rear/160mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches (M-XL), 27.5 inches (S)

Hits:

• Great value

• Can be upgraded to compete at top levels

Misses:

• Lacks a true high-end build kit

PIVOT SWITCHBLADE 29

The Switchblade is designated as the most versatile bike in Pivot’s lineup. As the bike of choice for Pivot’s enduro team, it has the unique ability to adapt to any trail task. The latest Switchblade iteration was first seen at the beginning of 2020, replacing the previous design launched back in 2016. While this model had the enduro label, the Switchblade is a bike that can’t be pigeonholed into a single category. We feel that this modern mountain bike exudes confidence and performance on every part of the trail. To learn more about Pivot’s wildly impressive machine, we put in the hours and racked up the miles aboard the Switchblade for a complete test result.

The Switchblade got a few facelifts on the latest version. Not only is the appearance changed with straighter lines, but there is also a new vertical shock layout, size-specific frame tubes for the same riding experience, 2mm-longer chainstay for more stability, a Flip Chip to tune geometry, increased travel from 135mm to 142mm, updated DW-link, more tire clearance, Fox Live valve integration, and a lower standover height. While it’s not as heavy-hitting as its longer-travel sibling, the Firebird, the Switchblade feels balanced and composed when pointed down considering its mixed suspension travel.

We often left the shock in the wide-open position, and while we did experience some bobbing, we simply reminded ourselves that we were pedaling an enduro-capable bike up the trails. The Switchblade shines most on technical climbs where it can put its traction-grabbing suspension to work. High-speed stability is delivered via its long reach and slack head tube angle, and the short rear end, along with a low seat tube height, increases maneuverability on the tightest trails. This do-it-all mountain bike is hard to categorize since it combines the descending prowess of an all-out enduro bike with trail-bike-climbing performance. This is a bike that welcomes a rider to explore deep into the backcountry, race weekend enduros and challenge buddies to the top of every climb.

Whom is it for?

The Switchblade is a true do-it-all bike that won’t leave you wanting more. From rock gardens to flow trails, Pivot designed the Switchblade to conquer it all. Riders can choose 29-inch wheels for speed and rollover or 27.5-plus-inch wheels for additional cushion and traction. The Flip Chip allows riders to further tune the bike to meet their needs. The Switchblade’s price is likely to appeal more to mid-level and advanced riders looking for a serious mountain bike, one that’s capable enough to race an enduro or play around on local trails. If you’re looking to purchase a bike in the $6000-and-above range, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Pivot’s newly updated Switchblade.

Price range:  $5999–$11,299

Frame material: Carbon

Suspension: 142mm rear/160mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

DEVINCI SPARTAN

The Spartan became Devinci’s answer to the growing segment of enduro racing back in 2015. Skip forward to today, and professional-level enduro racing is more popular than ever. The Spartan received major updates in recent years with a new metric shock, a set of Boost hubs and a completely redesigned frame. Devinci is constantly looking for ways to push the limits of the Spartan. The Spartan 29 is a weapon built for war, ready to battle its way to a gold medal at an enduro course near you.

Climbing: When we tested the Spartan with 27.5-inch wheels, its climbing performance was a pleasant surprise. The 29-inch version we later tested continued to impress us, and while the taller wheels might take a little more effort to spin around, the ability to fill holes through technical rock gardens is second to none. If your trails are littered with chunky, technical climbs, the larger 29-inch wheels make getting to the top just a little easier.

We also noted that the suspension platform provided a stable feel, giving us the much-needed support we wanted for long transition climbs between descents.

Descending: The 165mm of Split Pivot suspension with a stellar fork and a balanced geometry lend confidence to any rider who throws a leg over this machine. Picking a line is a thing of the past, as the Spartan 29 has the ability to steamroll down the trails. The bike manages to stay fun and lively, hopping off every trail feature in sight, thanks to its short chain stays and stiff rear end. Once the trails began to straighten out, the Spartan’s long reach and slack head angle boost high-speed stability and rider confidence. You know, the kind that makes you ask, “Did I just ride that, or was it all in the bike?”

Whom is it for?

The Spartan 29 is a big, squishy machine built to take on the world’s toughest enduro courses. It’s built to transfer from one stage to the next without exhausting its rider. Devinci packed climbing performance into a bike with downhill capabilities, and while a true enduro bike might not be right for everyone, it offers a certain group of riders everything they could want or need.

Price range: $3699-$5599

Frame material: Aluminum or carbon

Suspension: 165mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

• Confidence-inspiring geometry

• In-house-made aluminum frames

• Quality suspension components

Misses:

• Entry-level model provides solid platform for new riders

SPECIALIZED ENDURO

Introduced over 10 years ago, the Specialized Enduro has continued to set benchmarks for mountain bike technology with each new model. Specialized aims to uphold the Enduro’s heritage of evolutionary performance with no compromises. Offering 170mm of suspension travel, the new Enduro is essentially a shorter-travel iteration of Specialized’s downhill bike, the Demo 29. The Enduro frame has room for a water-bottle cage and even includes Specialized’s clever SWAT Door that integrates a hidden storage compartment into the downtube, along with the internal cable routing. This premium bike comes armed to the teeth with every bell and whistle an enduro rider could want or need.

Climbing: The longer wheelbase and super-slack head tube angle—63.9 degrees in the low setting and 64.3 degrees in the high setting—are noticeable when climbing; however, Specialized was able to engineer more anti-squat into the new Enduro. It does a good job of isolating pedaling forces from influencing the suspension, resulting in increased traction compared to previous models. The new Enduro encourages the rider to conquer ascents with the same confidence and prowess with which it tackles descents.

Descending: Suspension performance is best in class on the new Enduro. Fox’s Grip 2 damper provides industry-leading control and tune-ability; however, the ability to independently adjust high- and low-speed compression and rebound requires an increased understanding of proper suspension setup. Expert riders will love the authority to fine-tune the exact feel of the bike’s suspension and the potential to alter it on-the-fly for trail conditions; we felt spoiled aboard the Enduro. Beginners and novices may be overwhelmed with the adjustability at first but will be excited to learn how capable the Enduro can be with the right setup.

Whom is it for?

Specialized did a thorough job of dressing the Enduro S-Works with the best-of-the-best equipment. The new Enduro accelerates the pace of evolution and challenges the entire enduro category to pursue mountain biking’s most aggressive terrain. In fact, if your most frequent rides aren’t black-diamond trails, the Enduro might be too much bike for you. But, riders looking for the most capable bike possible to descend—and ascend—the gnarliest terrain will love the Specialized Enduro.

Price range: $4700-$10,500

Frame material: Carbon

Suspension: 170mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

• Best-in-class performance

• Hidden storage box

• Premium suspension

Misses:

• Comes with Kool-Aid

TRANSITION PATROL

Transition is a proud Pacific Northwest company that lives to party on the trails. Trust us, we’ve been to their office, and “rowdy and loose” would be the best way to describe the riding style of Transition’s employees. Off the bike, these guys know how to put their heads down and craft high-performance mountain bikes capable of earning medals or exploring backcountry trails. Case in point, the Patrol. The latest version from Transition comes ready to tackle tough trails with a coil shock. The Mountain Bike Action crew thoroughly enjoyed its time charging trails with the Patrol Coil.

Climbing: To our surprise, the Patrol’s coil shock and suspension platform performed great while climbing, considering its travel category. For most of the trail, we left the coil shock in the open setting due to its traction-filled feel; meanwhile, the lockout switch seemed to be too stiff. That said, the lockout was quite handy on smooth fire roads and pavement in between trails.

Yet another aspect of the Patrol that surprised us was the planted feel of its front end. With such a slack head tube angle, we predicted the front wheel would be loose and floppy, but the Transition did a great job keeping it in check due to the reduced fork offset and steep seat tube angle that helps center rider weight.

Descending: While the Patrol shines on the climbs, it’s the descents where this machine is truly at its best. Transition employees live for flow trails full of jumps, and it shows in the Patrol’s design. Even with a coil shock and increased sag, the Patrol has a progressive feel that keeps riders in mid-travel and away from bottom-outs. This is the type of bike you can send deep on a jump, clearing the landing without having to worry about a harsh hit.

In the corners, the Patrol is agile and dances around like a bike with nearly half the amount of travel. Its long and slack geometry are ideal for high-speed runs, while the short rear end is easy to toss around. All in all, the Patrol provides confidence whether racing the clock or taking a slower, playful run down the trails.

Whom is it for?

The saying, “Work hard; play hard,” could be the motto for Transition bikes. While the company sure knows how to let loose and have some fun, its passion for mountain biking bleeds through every bike the company builds. The Patrol is built for riders who want to go fast, take chances and party on the trails. With the addition of a coil shock, the Patrol gets even rowdier and begs to be pushed to its limits during every run.

Price range: $3399-$6199

Frame material: Aluminum or carbon

Suspension: 160mm rear/170mm front

Wheel size: 27.5 inches

Hits:

• Great range of price

• Smaller wheels make for a nimble ride

Misses:

• Harder to roll over larger objects

NINER WFO

Brand new to the enduro market is Niner’s WFO. There is a full review of this big shredder elsewhere in this issue. It’s a fully downhill capable machine and promises to reward riders with efficient pedaling when it’s time to climb. Head to that full review to learn more about this new machine.

Price range: $4500 to $10,000

Frame material: Aluminum or carbon

Suspension: 170mm rear/180mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches 

Hits:

• Great range of price

• Efficient climbing

Misses:

• Not so good for racing up hills

You might also like