TRAIL BIKE SHOOTOUT: MBA’S TOP 10 PICKS

TRAIL BIKE SHOOTOUT

PIVOT MACH 5.5

Although the Mach 5.5 is not a new bike in Pivot’s lineup, it’s definitely a trail bike worth mentioning. In fact, Pivot’s Mach 5.5 was one of the models used to help create Fox Live Valve suspension. Today, this mid-travel carbon bike with 27.5-inch wheels is every bit as modern as the day it hit the showroom floors.

Climbing: Pivot’s Mach 5.5 is a premium bike built for performance, and it shows as soon as you head up the trails. This 140mm-travel bike with dw-link suspension is a benchmark for climbing efficiency. The 27.5-inch wheels make it easier to turn, hop and spin over things, while 29-inch wheels make it easier to roll up and over roots and rocks. Riders looking for a nimble wheel size will fall in love with this Pivot.

Descending: Where the small wheels shine is when the bike points down a tight, twisty singletrack. The Mach 5.5 is always ready to ride at Mach 1 speeds and does so with confidence and style. This bike loves being whipped around the trails and is ready for whatever appears in front of it.

Who is it made for? The Mach 5.5 is made for the rider who loves the feel of a smaller-wheeled trail bike. Sure, 29ers roll over stuff more easily, but there’s always a place for a 27.5-inch wheelset. Should you feel you really need a 29er, you can check out Pivot’s Trail 429.

Price range: $5899-$13099

Frame materials: Carbon

Suspension: 140mm rear/160mm front

Wheel size: 27.5 inches

Hits:

• Impressively nimble yet confident

• Highly advanced design

• Performance-focused

Misses:

• Smaller wheels are more challenging on technical climbs

• High cost of entry

PIVOT MACH 5.5

 

 


 

ALCHEMY ARKTOS

Alchemy is a premium brand and therefore doesn’t offer a budget model aluminum frame. Instead, Alchemy is known for its high-performance carbon frames and unique Sine suspension system. Ultimately, these bikes are for serious riders looking to purchase a no-expenses-spared trail bike.

Climbing: Alchemy offers the Arktos with a few different suspension travel options, including 120mm, 135mm and 150mm. Our favorite is the 135mm-travel option with 29-inch wheels. This blend strikes a great balance, allowing riders to travel further while taking full advantage of the descents. The Arktos is a traction-grabbing climber that excels when pedaling up challenging terrain.

Descending: Alchemy’s racing roots begin to show as the bike picks up speed. This confidence-inspiring machine allows riders to push hard and fast down any trail, reminding them that they are riding a premium product.

Who is it made for? The Arktos is made for riders who want their bike to stand out from the crowd. These beautifully crafted frames demonstrate attention to detail and draw admiring looks from other riders on the trails.

Price range: $5699-$6599

Frame materials:  Carbon

Suspension: 135mm

rear/150mm front

Wheel size: 29

inches or 27.5 inches

Hits:

• Rides like a dream

• Versatile up and down the trails

Misses:

• Higher cost of entry

ALCHEMY ARKTOS

 


 

ORBEA OCCAM

Orbea set out to build a bike versatile enough to fit in with every crowd. From riders looking to climb thousands of miles per year to riders who prefer an easy chairlift ride to the top, the Occam doesn’t favor a single type of rider.

Climbing: Although the Occam has more travel than some of the other bikes in this roundup, its suspension performs quite well. Every pedal stroke was met with efficiency as we worked our way up the trails. Using the shock’s lockout switch provided an even more supportive feel on smoother trails.

Descending: While this Orbea won’t shy away from climbing, its heart is set on downhill runs. The bike still required our test riders to have some common sense going down the trails, but most obstacles could be handled by simply running them over. This Orbea has no problem being a point-and-shoot weapon that fires down range like an arrow searching for a bullseye.

Who is it made for? Truly, every rider who wants a well-rounded machine will get along with Orbea’s Occam. It’s a very versatile bike ready to take on any trail, any time.

Price range: $2800-$8500

Frame materials: Carbon or aluminum

Suspension: 140mm rear/150mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

• Versatile bike made for every trail

• Eight build kits and a frame-only option to pick from

Misses:

• Not snappy-feeling due to its supple suspension

ORBEA OCCAM

 


 

SALSA BLACKTHORN

Salsa is aware that not all riders have the luxury of purchasing multiple bikes, so they made one frame that can take on two different personalities. By swapping some linkage parts and the fork and shock, riders can transform the 140mm-travel Blackthorn into a 165mm Cassidy enduro model. That said, keeping this bike in its trail bike form proves it’s a worthy machine capable of conquering trails.

Climbing: The Blackthorn uses Split Pivot suspension and a 12-speed drivetrain to power its way up the mountain. It provides a solid platform that handles its 140mm of suspension well. From technical climbs to long, sustained singletrack, the Blackthorn finds its way to the top in a timely manner.

Descending: Added suspension travel and a downhill-focused geometry allow this Salsa to fly down the trails with confidence and grace. Riders looking for a hang-on-tight type of ride will find the Blackthorn delivers what they want and need. Riders can adjust a flip chip in the rear end, giving this machine a bike-park-ready, 64.6-degree head-tube angle. The other position offers a slightly steeper angle for everyday trail riding.

Price range: $3300-$7900

Frame materials: Carbon or aluminum

Suspension: 140mm rear/160mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

Ability to transform into an enduro bike

Focused on descending

Climbs in a timely manner

Misses:

Less punchy on climbs

SALSA BLACKTHORN

 


 

NORCO OPTIC

Norco took a different approach to making a fun trail bike with the Optic. It’s a short, 125mm-travel frame, almost putting it in the cross-country category, yet it pairs its fun-sized rear travel with a relaxed geometry and a 140mm-travel fork. The Optic could very likely be the fastest descending 125mm-travel bike on the market. With a playful amount of travel in back and enough up front to plow through the trails, the Optic finds itself blurring the lines in the trail bike category.

Climbing: The Optic utilizes a super-short-travel, downhill spec’d shock and precision-tuned kinematics to conquer climbs. Norco was so confident in its ability to provide an efficient platform that it picked a shock without a lockout switch. Riders coming from an XC background might find the suspension on the softer side, while enduro riders will be blown away by this momentum-generating design.

Descending: When the trails point down, the Optic’s intended purpose quickly reveals itself. This party-in-front and business-in-back design allows riders to mash the pedals out of turns and plow through rock gardens with its longer front end.

Who is it made for? The Optic will suit riders looking for an efficient trail bike that isn’t afraid to tackle a challenging descent. Riders looking for a snappy-feeling bike will like the Optic’s ability to turn every trail into a BMX park.

Price range: $4100-$10500

Frame materials: Carbon

Suspension: 125mm rear/140mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

• A fun mix of travel

• Speedy up climbs

• Capable descender

Misses:

• No ability to lock out shock

• Rear travel is used fast on big hits

NORCO OPTIC

 

 


GIANT TRANCE X

The Trance is Giant’s do-everything trail bike that combines climbing efficiency with a confidence-inspiring downhill feel. It was recently redesigned with additional travel and a Flip Chip in the linkage to fine tune geometry. These features are seen across the line, from the entry-level alloy model up to the highly advanced top-end model. Speaking of the top-end model, the Trance X Advanced Pro comes ready to rip with Fox Live Valve suspension. This system electronically tunes the bike’s fork and shock to advance the ride quality. Meanwhile, the entry-level model comes with base-model RockShox suspension.

Climbing: During our testing with the elite model Trance X featuring Fox Live Valve suspension, we experienced premium performance, as is to be expected from a cream-of-the-crop bike. We did, however, turn the Fox Live Valve system off to see if the bike could still deliver top performance without aid from its electronic system. Although the bike had a squishier feel with the system turned off, it still proved to be a worthy climber capable of tackling most trails. Bikes without Live Valve suspension are tuned to provide the best possible performance with the respective components they come with.

Descending: An increase in travel often means more fun down the trails since bumps will feel smaller and hits will feel less harsh. The Giant also gets help from its tunable geometry via a Flip Chip system. The high and low positions let riders tune the bike between two settings, allowing for a faster-handling bike or a more relaxed and confidence-inspiring one.

Who is it made for? The Trance is truly a bike made for every rider. For beginners or pros, the Trance balances needs and delivers performance on every part of the trail. The ability to easily find a model in your price range is also a huge advantage of these bikes. The Trance allows riders to purchase just one bike and experience different styles of mountain biking before committing to a more specific category.

Price range: $2500-$8900

Frame materials: Aluminum or carbon

Suspension: 135mm rear/150mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

• Beginner to pro friendly

• Multiple price points

• Easy to ride and tune to your liking

Misses:

• The entry-level and high-end models are more like distant cousins than siblings.

• House-brand components may be less appealing to some riders looking for name-brand parts.

GIANT TRANCE X

 

 


CANYON NEURON

The Neuron is not only a trail-ready bike built for advanced riders, it truly is a bike built for the whole family. Canyon offers the Neuron in multiple build kits for men and women, as well as a model for younger riders. Canyon is dedicated to offering bikes that fit everyone, which is why they offer sizes all the way down to 2XS. This 130mm-travel trail bike is ready for every rider.

Climbing: The Neuron proves itself when the trails point up. Its geometry is more tailored for climbing thanks to an ever-so-slightly longer rear end and steeper head-tube angle. Canyon designed the Neuron to travel further on the way up while packing a punch on the way down.

Descending: Consistent with its more cross-country-friendly styling, our test riders found this bike to be less of a point-and-shoot descender, requiring them to find the path of least resistance on the way down. The bike is plenty fast downhill but finds itself searching for smooth race lines over playful bonus features.

Who is it made for? The Neuron is Canyon’s answer to riders who want to speed up and down the trails, either on the clock or just for fun. It’s truly a fast bike in the right hands but is less willing to go for bigger trail features than the other bikes in this lineup.

Price range: $1900-$6500

Frame materials: Carbon or aluminum

Suspension: 130mm rear/130mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches or 27.5 inches

Hits:

• Speedy up and down the trails

• Great for marathon racers

Misses:

• Favors race lines over jump lines

CANYON NEURON

 

 


 

KONA PROCESS 134

Kona is known for making bikes tough enough to handle its headquarters’ Pacific Northwest playgrounds. The Process 134 is no different. The 134 eats up rocks and roots and spits them out behind it. The lineup includes five 29-inch-wheeled models along with two 27.5-inch options. Carbon frames are only available with 29-inch wheels, which is what we recommend for most riders. Kids and smaller adults may find the 27.5-inch wheels more comfortable to manage.

Climbing: The single-pivot suspension platform offers a supportive feel, even with the shock set in the open position. With the steep seat-tube angle and long reach, this bike centers riders on the Kona, which allows them to put power to the ground without lifting the front wheel or spinning out the rear. Technical sections are handled well, and long fire road climbs don’t hinder this Kona’s ability to maintain a smooth and consistent pace.

Descending: The newest version of the 134 provides an even more progressive leverage curve than its longer-travel brother, the 153. This added support allows riders to push this trail bike to the extreme when jumping off wood features or rolling natural rock sections. Kona designed a relaxed geometry that aids riders’ ability to get aggressive with their favorite trails.

Who is it made for? The 134 is designed to satisfy a broad range of riders. It can be tailored to please a cross-country rider looking for a little extra squish, or it can be beefed up with a coil shock and downhill-casing tires to become a mid-travel shredder.

Price range: $2399–$5999

Frame materials: Carbon or aluminum

Suspension: 134mm rear/140mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches

Hits:

Climbs quickly and descends with confidence

Meets the needs of many riders

Misses:

Hard to point any out

KONA PROCESS 134

 

 


MARIN RIFT ZONE

The Rift Zone is Marin’s trail bike built for fun and is an incredible value. The Rift Zone’s base-model aluminum build sells for an impressively low $1769, while the top-end carbon model retails for $4300. That said, the top-end model features a Shimano SLX trim that’s often seen on mid-level builds from other companies. The Rift Zone doesn’t try to oversell you; it’s a trail bike built for taking advantage of every trail while leaving some cash in your pocket for post-ride burritos.

Climbing: With a slightly shorter 130mm-travel fork and a more balanced geometry, the Rift Zone favors climbing a little more than the Optic; however, the difference is very marginal. Blasting up climbs is no issue for the Rift Zone, since it often feels more like a long-travel XC bike than a trail bike.

Descending: The cross-country feel quickly goes away once the trails turn around. The Rift Zone might not have tons of travel, but it uses it really well to get riders safely and quickly down the mountain.

Who is it made for? The ideal rider for the Rift Zone is one who not only wants to strike a balance in ride performance across disciplines but also one who’s a smart shopper looking to purchase the best value he or she can find.

Price range: $1769-$4300

Frame materials: Carbon or aluminum

Suspension: 125mm rear/130mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches or 27.5 inches

Hits:

Exceptional value

Excellent performance across the ride

Misses:

Lacks a true high-end component model

MARIN RIFT ZONE

 

 


ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT

The brand-new Instinct has quickly become one of our favorite trail bikes due to its ability to feel like an enduro bike downhill and a lightweight charger on the way up. It’s balanced, sleek and ready to take on anything tossed in front of it.

Climbing: The Instinct is certainly not afraid to earn its descents through climbing. In fact, this may be the best feature of the bike. It hides its travel best when it’s pointed uphill and rewards climbing effort with an efficient and relatively lightweight feel that loves to go uphill.

Descending: The Instinct takes full advantage of every millimeter given to it. Its stroke provides a soft beginning for soaking up small hits and progressively becomes firmer as its rider takes on bigger hits. This Canadian trail bike is ready to tackle North Shore features or take a rider along gentler singletrack.

Who is it made for? Riders who push their trail bikes to the limit will find the Rocky more than willing to handle the task. Meanwhile, newer riders will find the Instinct is friendly and intuitive, making it an excellent choice for everyone.

Price range: $3129-$10,449

Frame materials: Carbon or aluminum

Suspension: 140mm rear/150mm front

Wheel size: 29 inches ο

Hits:

• Easy and fun to ride

• Can be ridden at an extremely high level

Misses:

• Puts performance above value

ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT


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