Best Short-Travel Trail Bike
Santa Cruz Tallboy D 29 2017
at Competitive Cyclist
Super playful and likes to be airborne
Rides like a longer travel bike
Great in the corners
No dropper post
Less than impressive build specifications
The freshly redesigned Santa Cruz Tallboy
is a hard-nosed, short-travel trail bike that doesn't shy away from burlier terrain. Not only does the Tallboy
have an aggressive personality, it was also the fastest climber in our test. This yellow speed wagon provides a spirited and well-rounded ride. Progressive geometry features a slack head angle, short chainstays, and longer top tube. A dialed chassis paired with a proven suspension design encourages riders to lift the front wheel towards the heavens and launch off anything in its path. Santa Cruz ticked all of the boxes with the re-incarnated Tallboy
Read full review: Santa Cruz Tallboy D
Most Nimble Trail Bike
Giant Anthem 2 2017
Great in tight turns
Best fork/rear shock/suspension combo
Long stem + narrow bars = less confidence
Narrower rims and tires aren't ideal
The Giant Anthem
rolls on 27.5 inch wheels and is the most nimble and responsive ride in the test. Riders who encounter a lot of tight corners and switchbacks will appreciate the responsiveness of the Anthem
and its easy-to-handle wheels. When traveling downhill, this bike allows riders to correct line choice with ease when compared to it's longer, heftier, 29 inch competition. What the Anthem
lacks in pure speed, it makes up for with sharp handling.
Read full review: Giant Anthem 2
Best XC-Oriented Trail Bike
Specialized Camber Comp 29 2017
Versatile, does everything well
No dropper post
Runs out of suspension quickly
Less aggressive, more XC ride
The easy-to-operate Specialized Camber
is a trail bike by definition but leans towards cross-country applications. With the steepest head tube angle in our test and one of the steepest seat tubes, the bike places the rider right on top of the cranks, resulting in ultra-efficient pedaling and climbing. While the Camber
does get spooked by gnarlier and tighter downhills, it is our clear choice for long days in the saddle hammering out the miles.
Read full review: Specialized Camber Comp 29
Our five wallet-friendly short-travel bikes after a six-week beatdown.
Best Trail Applications
Mountain bike technology has come so far in the past decade that it is hard to go wrong with a new ride. Still, each bike has a unique personality, skill set and set of applications where it really shines.
Santa Cruz Tallboy D —
is an excellent baseline bike for someone who wants to attack more aggressive trail and who might be interested in upgrading components over time. The Tallboy
is a nimble and exuberant 29er that encourages shenanigans. The most wide-ranging all-around trail bike in the test, the Tallboy
provides an excellent balance of downhill speed and confidence and fast, sure-footed climbing ability.
Giant Anthem 2 —
This bike is an open-minded rig that sports 27.5 inch wheels and a spritely personality. It's ability to change lines quickly and accelerate out of slow corners is impressive, making it a great choice for a shorter rider or someone who prefers smaller wheels for quickness and doesn't want to muscle a 29er. The Anthem's
skillset shines in locations with tight trails with flat and sharp corners. Those looking for pure speed may find some of the wagon-wheeled options more suitable.
Specialized Camber Comp 29 —
Four bikes with 29" wheels and one with 27.5" wheels. Each with its own unique personality and skill set.
is a balanced bike that is fantastic for riders who are leaning towards a more cross-country, climbing-minded style with trail capabilities. It has superior climbing skills with an emphasis on efficiency and an easy riding personality. But it shies away from rowdy and more aggressive descents. This bike is a perfect option for folks who enjoy the ride of a hardtail and want the comfort and safety net of a full suspension bike without sacrificing much in the ways of pedaling.
Trek Fuel EX 7 —
The Fuel EX is a fast-rolling bike with true 29er characteristics
and a balanced personality. Riders who like to carry their well-earned momentum will like this energy efficient bike. A noble climber and fast-feeling descender, what the Fuel EX
lacks in cornering ability, it makes up for with its speedy personality and impressive build kit. Riders who aren't looking to ride the super-gnar and who like a straight lining bike that prefers to keep the rubber on the ground will enjoy the Trek Fuel Ex
Niner Jet 9 1-Star NX —
The Niner Jet 9 is a stable, straight-lining trail-smasher
. It lacks quick handling and cornering skills. Riders who spend long days in the saddle on trails with wider or more open characteristics will appreciate this bike. Folks who encounter a lot of tight turns may look towards the Santa Cruz Tallboy
or Giant Anthem
The Fuel Ex features the most suspension travel among our test bikes.
Analysis and Test Results
We've raced high-end enduro rides down mountains and up nasty switchbacks and put top-shelf full-suspension trail rides through the wringer. For this round, we threw down the credit card for five of the best 2017 short-travel trail bikes on the market in relatively affordable complete bike builds — the Santa Cruz Tallboy 29 D
, Specialized Camber Comp 29
, Trek Fuel Ex 7 29
, Niner Jet 9 1-Star NX1
, and Giant Anthem 2
. Check out a summary of results in the table below. Keep reading to get the full rundown of how these trail shredders compare.
Wondering which type of mountain bike is right for you? A quick primer:
- Enduro (aka all-mountain, aka long-travel trail) Bikes have around 150-170mm of travel, down to 140mm for 29ers, with aggressive geometry, i.e. slack head tube, long top tube, steep seat tube angle and short chainstays. For charging technical descents and climbing reasonably well.
- Mid-Travel Trail Bikes have around 120-140mm travel and slightly less aggressive geometry. For balanced up and downhill performance.
- Short-Travel Trail Bikes are a step above the barebones feel of a cross-country bike with 100-120mm of squish and a more relaxed cockpit than a pure XC ride. For climbing and downhill performance with a climbing bent.
- Hardtail Trail Bikes have more relaxed geometry than XC hardtails and prioritize fun over speed. Aggressive front ends with around 120mm of travel encourage bolder descents than traditional hardtails but still climb well.