August 2017 Update
Bike Changes — We checked in to see if any of our trail bikes are updated for 2018. The Ripley LS gets a total overhaul, and the Bronson switches out shocks. Both come in new colorways. The SB5.5 gets a new dropper, the Mach 429 Trail gets a longer stem, and the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie gets burlier rotors. The Intense Recluse is holding steady. Read all about the changes in the individual reviews.
Consumer Direct Addition — We just tested four Consumer Direct mountain bikes, two trail and two enduro whips. We've included the winner here as a best buy trail bike option. Check out the Commencal Meta TR sum up below.
Best Aggressive Trail Bike
Yeti SB5.5 2017
Comfortable on steep terrain
Composed at high speed
Undeterred through chop
Slower on sustained mellow climbs
Prefers to have rubber down
Poorly located bottle cage mount
The Yeti SB5.5
is a hard-charging trail bike for those who live for rough terrain. This aggressive turquoise machine can ascend burly terrain with impressive composure. While its heft is evident on smoother uphills, the bike's climbing abilities remain respectable. Once aimed downhill, the SB5.5
keeps building speed and will not be denied by roots, rocks or deep bomb holes. Wagon wheels, aggressive geometry, and 140mm of Switch Infinity suspension help this blue demon carry high speeds through mixed terrain with composure to spare. Because of the stable and hard charging nature, the SB5.5
lacks a playful attitude. It prefers to be driven at high, ground-shaking, speeds.
Read full review: Yeti SB5.5 2017
Best Trail Bike
Ibis Ripley LS 2017
at Competitive Cyclist
Quick steering and cornering
Playful and fun-loving
Bland climbing abilities
High number of pedal strikes
Four testers spent three days aboard the redesigned 2018 Ibis Ripley LS. Curious? Take a peek at our First Look review of the 2018 Ibis Ripley LS
The Ibis Ripley LS
combines the fast-rolling and trail-smoothing abilities of a 29er with the cornering abilities and sharp handling of smaller wheels. Pointing this bike downhill compares to reaching the top of a rollercoaster. Whoot! Responsive and playful with minimal effort this bike is off the fun-factor charts. Despite excessive drag from wide rims and sticky rubber, climbing is comfortable and measured on smooth terrain aboard the Ripley LS
. Unfortunately, pedal strikes are common through the rocks, which kept us from wanting to take it on rough and technical climbs. Ibis
released the 2018 or 3rd generation Ripley LS
. It features a reworked rear triangle with increased stiffness and clearance for 29 x 2.6" tires. We demoed one from a local shop and had four testers hammer out some miles. While the frame redesign is minor, ride characteristics improved. If the cost is comparable we say go for the '18. If you get a good deal on the 2017 Ripley LS
, however, we wouldn't hesitate to jump on it.
Read full review: Ibis Ripley LS 2017
, Ibis Ripley LS 2018
Best Buy Trail Bike
Commencal Meta TR 4.2 Essential
Nimble, precise and snappy
Shaken in super-rowdy terrain
Subpar tire choice
The Commencal Meta TR4 4.2 Essential
is the runaway favorite from our recent Consumer Direct Mountain Bike Review
. At $3,249, this is a ride that can take you everywhere that the Santa Cruz Bronson
can go at half the price. That's nothing to sniff at. The Bronson's
plush suspension offers a totally different ride, smoothing the trail out almost too much at times, but the Commencal's
geometry can keep up. And the shorter travel guarantees a lively trail feel. Only the Ibis Ripley LS
can compare to the Meta TR's
playful attitude and swift line changing abilities. The Commencal's
heft is unmistakable when compared to these spendier options, but the bike carries it admirably and climbs shockingly well. An excellent pedal platform and sharp handling get you up and down trails efficiently. The 2.25-inch tires are too narrow for the trail category. Otherwise, the build spec is flawless and unheard of at this price point. If you're looking for a budget all-arounder that will keep you happy for years, this is an excellent option.
Read full review: Commencal Meta TR 4.2 Essential 2017
Best Climber and Best Switch Bike
Pivot Mach 429 Trail 2017
at Competitive Cyclist
Performs well as a 29er or 27.5+ bike
Fun and confident with 27.5+ tires
Not as confident downhill with 29er wheels
While it's narrower tires and rims keep us from crashing down descents on the Pivot Mach 429 Trail
29er, it climbs like a dream. The Mach 429 Trail
hikes up mountainsides with far less effort than we're used to, whether the trail is featureless or full of switchbacks and stairs. Things stay efficient when you switch out the wheelset to the 27.5+ option, and they get a lot more fun too. We love this bike with plus-sized tires. It keeps it's precise handling and gains rally-inducing confidence. The spec'ed 2.8" tires don't slow the bike down too much on the climbs and add grip through the trickier sections. Hanging on to its climbing prowess while upping its gravity game, the 27.5+ version of this bike is an all around performer that's hard to fault.
Read full review: Pivot Mach 429 Trail 2017
Santa Cruz Bronson 2017
Only a standout on mellow uphill climbs
It's not as bashable on descents or as flat out, confidence inducing fun as our two award winners, but the Santa Cruz Bronson
is a solid performer in all trail-related tasks. There's a reason this bike is so freaking popular. It's comfortable, climbs like a dream on less techy terrain and can get you down any singletrack you point it at, you just might have to work it more than the Ripley LS
or the plus-tire versions of the Stumpjumper
and Mach 429 Trail
. If you're not planning on pushing it to the max too often and just can't wrap your mind around the SB5.5's
29" wheels this is a great all-arounder.
Read full review: Santa Cruz Bronson 2017
The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie, Santa Cruz Bronson, Ibis Ripley LS, Yeti SB5.5, Pivot Mach 429 Trail, and Intense Recluse are among the best trail bikes in the world. We raced them through the most rigorous MTB testing process ever created to find out which are the best of the best.
Analysis and Test Results
We asked the obvious question after wrapping up our groundbreaking 2016 enduro review
So what's the best trail bike? To find out we bought and brutalized the top six trail bikes of 2017 — the Ibis Ripley LS
, Yeti SB5.5
, Pivot Mach 429 Trail
, Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Pro Carbon 6Fattie
, Santa Cruz Bronson
, and Intense Recluse
. The table below sums up the results, read on to find out all the nitty-gritty details.
How We Test
Six elite riders spent a month and a half meticulously examining the bikes' abilities to climb, descend, corner and show us a darn good time (i.e. fun factor). We also analyzed their build quality. After weighting the scores for each of these metrics according to their relative importance, we arrived at each bike's ranking.
Taking in the shifting evergreen views and sun warmed pine scent isn't an option when you're sending. Our lead tester takes benchmarking seriously.
Our most unique testing measurement is speed. To get it, we run the bikes through benchmarking time trails, essentially racing the bikes against one another along a given section of trail. We ran 230 timed laps on three courses — a technical downhill, a technical climb, and a smoother singletrack climb — to get four solid times for each rider on each course.
Downhill Trail — The Scorpion
is an unforgiving course linking big rollover drops, chunder gardens and a gargantuan granite slab with fast, smooth singletrack and narrow squeezes. While each tester takes the same line every time, he or she can choose whether to roll over or launch the drops according to their comfort level with the bikes' suspension setup and geometry.
Technical Uphill Trail — The Soul Grinder
is a techtastic climbing test to compare the bikes' uphill navigational skills through square step switchbacks.
Smooth Uphill Trail — The Crank
is a smooth, winding singletrack incorporating a few sandy switchbacks and one short and steep rock slab.
We had four testers on the downhill track, three on the technical uphill and two on the smooth uphill. That gave us 16 downhill, 12 rocky uphill and 8 smooth uphill times to average, resulting in the benchmark speed testing results. Read more about our process in How We Tested
If each of our test trails lasted exactly one minute, the Yeti SB5.5 would win the race, gaining 2.6, 2.1 and 3.8 seconds over the Intense Recluse for every minute ridden.
Our Editors' Choice winner for Best Aggressive Trail Bike, the Yeti SB5.5
wins the race. If all of our test courses lasted exactly one minute, the SB5.5
would come in 8.5 seconds per minute ahead of the last place Intense Recluse
. The Yeti
came in 1.2 seconds per minute ahead of our other Editors' Choice Winner for Best Trail Bike
, the Ibis Ripley LS
. These two bikes are nearly on opposite ends of the speed spectrum. What do our winners the Ibis
and the Yeti
have in common? They are well-rounded rides that outperformed the rest on the downhill Scorpion
crushed it on our technical climb The Soul Grinder
, but its performance on the smooth climb (The Crank
) wasn't outstanding and we wouldn't grab it for a climbing day. The 6Fattie's
downhill times didn't shine either. So we consider the third place Pivot Mach 429 Trail
to be the other racey bike in the test. A nearly cross country worthy ride, the Mach 429 Trail
flew up the climbs but slowed down on the descent.
The Yeti SB5.5 keeps turning up in the lead.
Trail bikes are built light to crush mountain climbs and fly along smooth singletrack, but still need enough travel and stiffness to smooth over the occasional rock garden of death on the way back down. To balance each bikes' relative skills, we weight their downhill and climbing performance scores equally at 25%. While hucking your meat down roller coaster trails without tracks is really, really fun — we'll get into that in Fun Factor
. Here we focus on the bikes' relative descending skills.
The Ibis Ripley LS
busted out and away from the braaap
pack as an early favorite, blowing our testers away with its playful yet confidence inspiring downhill handling and fast AF feeling. It's a rocket ship and makes us grin like kids sitting in a cardboard cutout of one. It came in a solid second for downhill-ability with a score 8 out of 10, bested only by the 2017 Yeti SB5.5
, an updated version of our 2016 Best Enduro Bike Review Editors' Choice. We expected this bike to slay and it didn't disappoint, casually winning speed and earning the highest downhill score of a 9 for its indomitable stability.
was a surprise hit on the descent, with many of our testers embarrassed to admit what a ridiculously good time they had riding it to a third place tie in the downhill scores. (The bursts of manic giggling kind of gave it away.) It matched up with what we often describe as the average
descending skills of the Santa Cruz Bronson
at a 7. Turns out, "average" performance for a $6,599 trail bike is pretty freaking great.
Given our utter adulation of the 2016 Santa Cruz Nomad's descending chops in our last review, we wondered if the Bronson's pedaling advantage would make up for the wide gap in their descending skills. Two of the three testers who rode in both reviews would go Nomad every time. They're some of our most aggressive riders. The other tends to put in more miles and breaks for the Bronson.
With 116mm of rear suspension and narrow tires meant for mellower trails, the Pivot
couldn't hand us the smooth ride on technical terrain that the bigger travel bikes offered. It has game on smoother trails though. Overall it's a very capable descender, rating a 6. With way more travel, the Intense
didn't flinch much, but we wanted too. Its suspension was the harshest in the test, with a fork that took hits we felt right on the chin, knocking it back to a 5.
A purebred speed beast, the Yeti SB5.5
busted out of our downhill test track, The Scorpion
ahead of the pack yet again, but this time with a narrower margin. In our 2016 Enduro Review the second place Santa Cruz Nomad
fell an average of 2.5 seconds behind the 2016 Yeti
. This round the Ibis Ripley LS
narrowed that gap to just over a second. Those 29" wheels are hard to catch.
This chart shows how many seconds, on average, each bike finished our benchmarking test track, The Scorpion, ahead of the slowest bike in the downhill benchmarking tests. The course took an average of 3:41 min:sec.
Our downhill test course, The Scorpion
took an average of 3:41 min:sec to complete. The SB5.5
and Ripley LS
finished it the fastest. While the Ibis
are the snappiest accelerators in the test, all three 29ers hold speed like champs. Their downhill performance advantages fall into a hierarchy of suspension systems and tire choices. The Yeti's
140mm Switch Infinity suspension, 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork and 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF make it hard to argue with.
The Yeti SB5.5, Ibis Ripley LS and Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie all make you feel like your bike's got your back.
Both the Yeti SB5.5
and the Ibis Ripley LS
instill quiet, trail commanding confidence, but in different ways. The Yeti
is point and shoot. If your line is vaguely plausible for your skill set, its insane rollover will do most of the work for you. The shorter travel Ibis
requires more forethought to find a reasonable thoroughfare but is a capable, controllable descender with a Cheshire Cat grin. You never lose that sporty feel, which is fun but can knock the confidence factor down a notch. It doesn't excuse you from addressing the trail honestly - e.g. when hitting bigger features like rock rollovers, you'll need to get further off the back. Both bikes reward bold riders. The Yeti
hands speed junkies an ever smoother ride and the Ibis
gets snappier and more commanding with every uptick in RPMs.
Then there's the next level confidence granted by the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
. Throw your leg over and start shredding. Spending mental energy picking a line on this bike is a waste of calories, which is good because you'll burn plenty pedaling it around. Pack one more Gu and just go. The tires will take you anywhere, or at least that's what they'll tell you.
The Santa Cruz Bronson
is solid. The Intense
isn't — its surprisingly stiff Fox performance fork and rear shock kept our guard up. The Pivot Mach 429 Trail's
wide saddle made it hard for three of our downhill testers to get off the back of the size large in time for the trickier downhill sections, but that's a quick fix.
You've got to muscle the Stumpjumper 6Fattie to convince it that your line is worth taking.
The faster the Yeti
go, the better their handling gets. But the Ibis
has a different riding style, more butterfly float and bee sting than the Yeti's
straight knockout. There's satisfaction in both. The Ibis
get's the job done with sharp steering and killer long, low and fairly slack geometry, while its 120mm of suspension and boosted 130mm Fox Float fork let the trail do some talking. In contrast, the Yeti's
front end has an all-business attitude, enforced by a boosted 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork and 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF front tire. Neither of these bikes excels at slow speed handling. While the Ibis Ripley LS
handles less like a traditional 29er, it still takes some time to move those big wheels around without momentum.
It's challenging to tell which bike is harder to ruffle, the Yeti SB5.5
or the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
. Both make every trail feel dirt road wide. You can go anywhere, take any line. But while the Yeti's
direct steering feels all-day energizing, muscling the Fattie's
plus-size tires pumped our forearms. It was only a true challenge for our smaller riders (140lbs) on the technical descents.
The Pivot Mach 429 Trail
also closely aligns with the Ripley LS
. Both are precise as surgeons but while the Ibis's
light suspension translated to a playful, trail feel, the Mach 429 Trail's
reaction to taking a technical downhill stretch at speed was to twitch up.
The Santa Cruz Bronson
and Intense Recluse
both look like big hit bikes on paper and should be able to handle aggressive descents with style. The Bronson
does so with sharp handling, great tracking and the best suspension overall, but it required more aggressive handling than the SB5.5
or Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
at high speeds. The, Recluse's
stiff suspension had us on guard, and its precise steering was undermined by a poorly tracking rear end.
The Intense Recluse is good in the jump lines but can feel front heavy on natural terrain drops.
The Yeti SB5.5
wins suspension. This bike is a linebacker to your play calling quarterback. It's not overly plush but keeps the tires on the ground and they hold up their end of the traction bargain. Understandably, the Yeti's
burly 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork, 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF front tire, and 140mm of rear travel smoothed out the ride far more than the Ibis's
130mm Fox Float 34 up front and its 120mm rear suspension operated by a Fox Factory Float DPS.
That rear shock was the Ibis's
biggest gravity liability, requiring much higher air pressures than we expected, which began to impact small bump compliance. While the bike excelled at smoothing out small chatter, it took big hits pretty hard. We expected that, but we didn't expect to bottom out quite so consistently, and sometimes harshly. It was underwhelming to say the least. We'd love to try that bike out with a RockShox Monarch Debonair and a Pike Fork with 10mm more travel. (A side benefit would be reducing the number of pedal strikes the low bottom bracket enforced on the climbs. More on that later). After testing we added a large volume spacer the rear shock's performance improved.
Three-inch tires dominated the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie's
suspension sensation, feeling ridiculously smooth but a bit bouncy. The boosted 150mm RockShox Pike RC Solo Air 29/27.5+ fork is a great one and the more-or-less unadjustable Custom Öhlins STX rear shock works fine for the descents, though it's hard to tell, because, tires. The Santa Cruz
also runs a boosted 150mm RockShox Pike, but it's an RCT3 Solo Air. The two vie for the best fork in the test. When combined with the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 to offer an incredibly (bordering on overly) smooth ride.
In contrast, the Intense Recluse's
boosted 150mm Fox Performance Float 36 fork and the later recalled Fox Performance Float X2 rear shock that we rode for downhill testing on the combined to create the worst suspension system in the test.
We went googley eyed and goofy-grinned for the the boosted forks of the 2016 Yeti SB5.5c and the Ibis Mojo HD3 in our Enduro Review. In 2017 every single one of these bikes is boosted, and we're ruined. Yet another upgrade we're already taking for granted. It's worth noting that the Intense Recluse had a boosted fork and rear axle spacing but its wheels and axles were not. Compatibility was created with spacers.
Despite having only 4mm less travel than the Ibis
, the Pivot
couldn't hang with the top bikes on the rough downhills. Its rear suspension actually performed better than the Ibis's
. Running a Fox Factory Float DPS rear shock without an EVOL sleeve, it never bottomed out. The problem was its poor early stroke sensitivity and tendency to get bounced around in the chatter. When the trail matched up with the Pivot's
tires, the bike rips. We'd love to ride this with wider rims and more aggressive tread.
The Yeti SB5.5 and Santa Cruz Bronson are both bosses on the climbs, the Yeti smashing technical climbs and the Santa Cruz busting up the smooth ones.
There are bikes that climb well enough to let you zone out on smooth uphill singletrack — take in the sun-glinting glory of those mountains you're climbing, banter with your battle buddies or just meditate on the state of compassion in the world. Then there are bikes that make you oh so aware
of every. grinding. pedal. stroke. The Pivot
is the first, the Intense
was our favorite overall climber. Winning with a 9 of 10, it spun up smooth singletrack so well we almost accused ourselves of mechanical doping. It didn't win our technical uphill test course, The Soul Grinder
, but it didn't lag far behind, hanging in there with the rock-busting Yeti
. Both were a big step behind the Stumpjumper
, a surprise uphill rock crawling phenom. The rest fall somewhere in between, allowing for moments of mental respite before the lactic acid buildup brings you back to your body's fight with gravity.
The Santa Cruz
feels slightly less zippy than the Pivot
when you're cranking away, but its combination automatic uphill steering and efficiency (not to mention its win on the pedally uphill course, The Crank
) earn it a spot between the Pivot
. It gets second place in suffering with an 8.
is just a hair behind the Pivot
in pure pedal-ability, but it doesn't climb as well due to a pedal striking problem on the rockier trails. It comes in for third in uphill with a 7. The Yeti
is a great pedaler and holds momentum better than any bike in the test, but, compared to the bantamweight trail bikes, its burlier fork and 2.5" front tire exact a toll when climbing. It feels like a lot of bike to drive uphill. This handicap ties it with the Ibis
Then there's the Stumpjumper
. In technical terrain, where inattention can end in injury, the forgiving tires of the Specialized
and the unflinching suspension of the Yeti
gain favor. These bikes finished first and second on our rocky climbing time trial The Soul Grinder
. But while the Yeti
combined that strong showing with a reasonable result on the far more mellow Crank
to tie for a third place finish in the climbing rankings at a 7, the Specialized's
poor showing on the smooth uphill slog, when combined with our reticence to ride it uphill in general earned it only a 5 of 10 in climbing.
The Pivot Mach 429 Trail wins the uphill race.
Climbing performance varied between our two timed courses, with the burlier steeds, i.e. the Specialized
, leading the rocky climb and the best-all-around Bronson
and best climbing Mach 429
leading the way on the mellow rolling uphill, The Crank
Technical Uphill Benchmarking Performance on The Soul Grinder -
The freakishly good technical climbing skills of the Stumpjumper 6 Fattie
rolled to a first place finish, 11 seconds ahead of the Recluse
on average. Those tires take out the technical aspects of the trail, making it easier to pilot through, which is the same reason the SB5.5
came in a distant second place, 2.1 seconds behind the Stumpjumper
Smooth Uphill Benchmarking Performance on the Crank -
The Stumpjumper 6Fattie was the fastest bike on technical climbing course, The Soul Grinder**, which took an average of 2:07 seconds per minute.
The balanced Bronson
is the surprise winner of the smooth climb, The Crank
, at 10.9 seconds ahead of the Recluse
. The Santa Cruz
can't match the acceleration or roll out of the Ibis
but seems to set riders up perfectly for a sit and spin sprint. Hot on its heals, the Mach 429 Trail
comes in just 0.3 seconds behind. No surprise here, the Pivot
is fast to accelerate and loves holding speed. The Ibis
are both pleasant enough to climb up a smooth track, but both seem to suffer in uphill performance for their downhill preference.
The Bronson and Mach 429 Trail took top honors on the non-techy climb, The Crank. This was a 3:24 minutes:seconds spin on average.
When you translate those scores into seconds gained per minute ridden, you can see how balanced the bikes' technical and smooth climbing abilities are. The Mach 429 Trail
and Ripley LS
balance these somewhat conflicting climbing skills most effectively, finishing the two courses within 0.5 seconds per minute of one another. The Mach 429 Trail
and Ripley LS
doing slightly better on the rocky course and the Bronson
favoring the smoother trail. This surprised us too.
When combining the uphill course results in seconds per minute the Pivot Mach 429 Trail wins the day.
Of course, being balanced doesn't equal being fast. The Mach 429 Trail
leads the way in overall uphill speed but is followed by the very unbalanced Stumpjumper 6Fattie
, who's result in the rough stuff gives it a big leg up in the overall speed scores.
The Pivot Mach 429 Trail
and Ibis Ripley LS
have the fastest acceleration and most pleasant pedaling feel in the test. They also hold speed extremely well, but the Pivot
edges the Ibis
out here, enjoying the extra rotations its lightweight 2.3" Maxxis High Roller II tires afford while the Ibis's
Schwalbe Nobby Nics dig in to cause more drag. The pedal strikes on the Ripley LS
also verge on laughable. The Santa Cruz Bronson
is the third fastest accelerator, but its 27.5" wheels don't have the ramp up and speed holding abilities of the 29ers. As with all other things Bronson
, its drivetrain performed perfectly adequately and demanded little fanfare.
slow start has us doubting our devotion to it for about 2.5 pedal strokes, then the momentum kicks in and so does our undying love. Once moving the pedaling feels efficient and the ramp-up endless. In contrast, the Specialized
starts out feeling okay, but those fat tires are fighting you the whole way. The Intense
pedaling is its score killing weak point. It gaslights us out on the trail: "I swear I'm pedaling harder but the bike isn't going any faster. Am I going crazy?!"
It's not as sharp as the Ibis Ripley LS or Pivot Mach 429 Trail or as steady as the Yeti SB5.5 but the Santa Cruz Bronson will get you where you need to go.
The snappy handling of the Pivot Mach 429 Trail
and Ibis Ripley LS
works your arms, while the slightly slower steering roll-over-everything-anyway
skills of the Yeti SB5.5
tends to work your legs. The balanced Santa Cruz Bronson
divides the work between the two, making climbing quite comfortable. The Intense Recluse
is just work all the way around.
has the most automatic steering in the test. That means we love pedaling it up the smooth uphills but get a little tired of having to use every ounce of precision to put it right on the line through technical climbs. It repays your efforts though, getting you to the top with plenty of energy to spare.
Given our ecstatic experience descending on the Ibis
, we expected the bigger contact patch under the wider rims to smooth out the uphills as well. They didn't on our square staircase climb. Also easy to control, the Ibis
complains if we don't get it right on line. The impacts are a bit softer than the Pivot's
but the front wheel can flop over when wheelied up over a step or even deflect when hitting a rock with anything other than a direct line.
smaller, 27.5 feel
is partially due to its relatively low standover height (we measured 797mm at seven inches in front of the bottom bracket). The trade-off is a low bottom bracket (measured at 321mm). It should be the Ripley LL
S — long, low and slack. We didn't notice much on the smooth climbs but it set us up for a multitude of pedal strikes on the technical climbs.
The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
has light handling but feels more like a 29er than the three bikes we actually ran with big wheels in the test. Its response time is very much like your favorite stoner friend. A little sluggish and giggling like crazy. Its tires just grab on and transmodulate around rocks in the way — tracking like a tank up the hill. It's not flawless though, it drains your tank and if you miss your tire placement you can get a kickback, or bounce back as it were. We also don't like that the Öhlins rear shock doesn't offer a firm pedal platform feel. As we noted in our last test, none of the compression dampening knobs on the shock seem to do anything. You're pumping energy into the tires and rear shock. Somehow it still works, and maybe we'll get used to this someday, but we aren't there yet.
You've got options on the Bronson
, you can pick it up and over everything in your way or pick up speed and bust the suspension through. Its balanced uphill manners shine through on our smooth uphill test but weren't gritty enough to tackle our technical uphill climb. The Recluse
has precise handling but not the rear wheel tracking or suspension follow through to keep it on track.
The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie erases the rocks on the climb.
Suspension and Traction
For the burly climbs, the Yeti's
suspension works with its 29er wheels to create an athletic pedaling platform. It transfers plenty of power to the tires while remaining active enough to do the rough, rock cushioning work. Its 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF front tire works with the stout fork to smooth out any sharp transitions while the narrower Maxxis Aggressor trailing behind holds traction but not too much. That boosted 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork strikes the right balance between firm lockout and responsiveness. On smoother climbs, the tires and extra weight from the suspension bullies the pedal power into submission. Slowing down the speed train.
is the opposite with its solid lockout, fast tires and excellent pedaling efficiency swinging light and free on the smoother uphills but getting knocked about in the rougher stuff. Similarly, the Ibis
suspension locks out nicely for the smoother climbs but it bucks around on the rough ones.
suspension is near perfection, in or out of the saddle, you can just crank. Expect solid pedaling efficiency paired with subtle response to rocks. The Recluse
is the opposite.
The cushiest ride in the test is undoubtedly offered by the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie's
tires, but the rear shock's lack of lockout is frustrating. Between that and the dampener-free tires, nothing about this bike felt efficient on the climb. Miraculously, it still is. Fairly. If you're climbing it a lot though — expect some very swole calves.
Four of Five trail dogs agree - the Yeti lays it down in the berms.
That low bottom bracket helps the Ibis Ripley LS
dive in and out of turns and the Schwalbe Nobby Nics rail the whole way around, no brakes needed. It's pretty awesome, without a hint of the typical 29er gyroscopic complaint. Thus, the Ripley LS
takes top cornering honors in the test, we rank it at an 8 of 10. Tying in second place are the Yeti SB5.5
and Santa Cruz Bronson
with a score of 7. Both have a long bike feel that requires aggressive handling to corner but neither ever threaten to twitch up or betray your trust by sliding out.
The Intense Recluse
rates a 6 of 10s. The mechanics of the turn are similar to that of the Bronson
but it's slightly more agile handling gets it around the tight corners quickly. It loses speed in the berms though, drifting down the face, and bucks in the rough stuff.
Tying for last place at a 5 of 10 are the Stumpjumper 6Fattie
and Mach 429 Trail
. The 6Fattie's
vague feel didn't work for our pro testers. While the traction is endless if you're weighing both tires equally. But it's not impossible to get the tires to slide, and when they do there's no warning, their lack of edges mean you can never be sure where you are on the tire. The bike rewrites the rules of turns, dumbing down a precise skill. This can be fun for beginners or intermediate riders but took away a lot of what our riders love about biking.
The Mach 429
mostly suffers from a tall-bike feel and tire choice. This bike just wants to stand up tall and hold a straight line, so laying it over to the side knobs and railing it around is a struggle. Those cornering knobs don't give you enough confidence to toss it down too hard.
The Stumpjumper 6Fattie's landing is so cushy you might not even notice it.
The first rule of bike testing is: you do not talk about bike testing. We keep our opinions about the bikes to ourselves until the bitter end, but it was hard to keep our poker faces on this one. The lead tester wasn't exactly keeping his opinions to himself while gleefully cackling down the trail astride the Specialized
. The joyful Stumpjumper 6Fattie
tied the Ibis Ripley LS
at a 9 of 10 for first place in fun.
The two bikes really shine in different situations. The 6Fattie
is fun because you can plow through anything with impunity, even on the technical uphill it had us grinning with incredulity. The Ripley LS
, however, lets you feel every feature on the trail, taking off just enough edge to keep you confident and smiling. Both are playful but the Stumpjumper
frolics more at slow speeds while the Ripley LS
ramps up a higher speed. That means the fun factor decreases for the 6Fattie
on smooth trails and the Ripley LS
gets a little too rollicking on the most technical trails.
combines the plow-ability of the 6Fattie
with the more precise skills of the Ripley LS
. It just doesn't have quite the sense of humor these two bikes have. It comes in third at a 8 for pure confidence inspired full-speed smashing and increased odds that you'll reach the top or bottom of the trail ahead of your pals. The Bronson
came in fourth with a 7 of 10. It's fun everywhere but, compared to the bikes above, it has a dry sense of humor. You don't get the joke till you're back at the bar with a beer. You get a slow burning, quiet joy from this one. We're not knocking that feeling.
goal is performance, which it nearly overachieves, be we're hard pressed to call it a fun bike. We gave it a 6 of 10. The Recluse
would be fun if it was the only bike of the bunch you rode, but, in comparison, it just doesn't give you the grins. We gave it a 5.
The 800mm bars feel a little wide for the Bronson's cockpit but handed over solid handling.
We tested a broad range of trail bikes on a wide range of trails. The components with the least proportional impact in our test are tires. They have a huge affect on confidence and speed and
are one of the easier components to trade out. The range of wheel sizes and rims and tire widths is increasing, and it's difficult to know which ones work the best where. So we stick with the manufacturers' decision about what combination best compliments the frame they built and the component spec they put together.
Thus we chose the 29er version of the Mach 429
and the plus sized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
based on Pivot's online explanation that it build a 29er bike that is "27.5+ capable" and a call to Specialized to see which version of the Stumpjumper
its staff prefers. They recommended the versatility of the 29/27.5+ 6Fattie
. Shifting between the Mach 429
and the Stumpjumper 6Fattie
is pretty, shall we say, extreme. We switched out their wheelsets to try both versions, check out the results in the individual reviews.
The Fox Factory Float DPS EVOL on the Ibis Ripley LS is sporty.
The Santa Cruz Bronson
has the best build in the test with our favorite fork and shock — a boosted 150mm RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air and RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 — working nicely in the context of the VPP suspension. We ranked it at a 9 of 10. The Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR2 tires are great but they feel a little dated in their 2.3" iteration. The WTB Silverado saddle is as uncomfortable as they come, but the 800mm carbon handlebar is great if flirting with the too-wide line. The RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper is one of the best in the test, but several testers have had problems with them wearing out over time. We also appreciate the adjustable nature of the SRAM Guide RSC brake levers combined with the power of 180mm centerline rotors.
Coming in second with a score of 8, the Yeti SB5.5
is no slouch in the build department. We took it down a notch for its SRAM Guide RS brakes. We like that "C" adjustability. The Maxxis Minion DHF/Aggressor tire combo took the top honors in our MTB tire review
. Love 'em. The wide 800mm Race Face SixC carbon handlebar fits the Yeti's
big-bike handling. The Race Face Turbine earned one devotee and a lot of meh
. It works just fine, with a super fast / sometimes scary return. That 160mm boosted Fox 36 Factory fork and Fox Float X Factory rear shock don't joke around, they just get the job done.
The SRAM shifter and Shimano brake lever vie for space on the bars.
The only bike to dive into Shimano territory, the Pivot Mach 429 Trail
has a solid build, but we only love the brakes. So we ranked it a 7 of 10. Requiring far less finger strength than all the SRAM Guides we were running, those Shimano Deore XT's were hard to hop on and off, but they work flawlessly. Having them mounted on a separate bracket than the SRAM shifter does make them hard to place however. The saddle's wide wings got in our way when we headed off the back. Annoying, but an easy fix if you experience the same issue.
The 130mm Fox Float 34 fork works fine but a bit more travel would raise bottom bracket up a bit. We'd like to ride it with a stiffer Fox Float 36 or a Pike.
The Ibis Ripley LS
rates a 6 for a less uninspiring fork and shock combo. The boosted 130mm Fox Float 34 fork is okay, but we think we'd prefer the Pike or the stiffer Fox Float 36. That Fox Factory Float DPS EVOL bottomed out harshly on the downhills out of the box. We added a large volume spacer after testing, letting us run lower pressures, which improves small bump compliance and kept us from topping out the shock. The Lo-Fi 760mm bars that we tested are uncomfortably low for the climbs, but we like the Hi-Fi ones that we switched to. The saddle is uncomfortable but not horrible.
SWAT - your answer to the spare tube carrying conundrum, also great for snack attacks.
We gave the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
a 5 of 10 for an uninspiring boosted 150mm RockShox Pike RC fork (for the price point an RCT3 would be better) and our lack of Öhlins love. All we want is a little pedal platform here. We were also bummed at the value on the SRAM Guide RS brakes and the aluminum cranks and handlebars. The tires dampened any vibrations that might have made it to the bars but this is a $6,500 bike. The Command Post IRcc seatpost works, but we've got no love for it. Pretty stoked on that SWAT though.
Those flashy golden rings are spacers bridging the gap between the 110mm boosted fork and the 100mm hub.
Taking a big build hit for its later recalled Fox Performance Float X2 rear shock and our dislike of the Cane Creek DB Air CS replacement they offered — the Intense Recluse
got a score of 4. It also had and boost spacing but non-boosted axles. The aluminum 760 mm Renthal Fatbar handlebars also exacerbated the hard hitting suspension, led by a lower tier 150mm boosted Fox Performance Float 36 fork, which doesn't offer low-speed compression damping adjustments.
The 150mm boosted Fox Performance Float 36 fork on the Intense offered only low-speed compression damping.
— The DT Swiss 350 hubs on the Bronson
, Mach 429 Trail
and Ripley LS
are the gold standard for cost to performance ratio. We didn't appreciate the hubs on the Roval Traverse 650 and the Mavic XA Elite Ultimate wheelsets on theStumpjumper 6Fattie
, respectively. Both are a little slow to engage, slowing acceleration.
Insert eagle sound here.
The Eagle Has Landed
The SRAM X01 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain showed up on five of our six test bikes, with only the Intense Recluse
going with the 11-speed E13. While we rarely need that 50t cog in the back, it was nice to have when taking on the odd half-day long and stupid steep climb. We were more impressed with the crisp and stealthy shifting. None of the Eagle drivetrains has a trace of the clunky feel that SRAM's drivetrains can sometimes translate.
The Chain Though
— The problem is that we are nervous about loading extreme gears due to the extreme angles the chain was forced to while taking on heavy loads. Early on in testing our lead tester kept saying it: "I don't trust the chain," "I'm nervous about the chain," "there's just so much cross loading." His instincts weren't off. Three different riders broke three different chains on three different bikes during seven weeks of testing. We didn't break one chain during two months enduro mountain biking. We don't take this lightly.
That Vigo saddle is nice and comfy for most of our testers but isn't the easiest to get behind.
Cockpit and Fit
Generally, our 5'7 to almost 5'10" testers fit within the manufacturers' height suggestions for a medium frame and all prefer medium frames from most brands. The fit worked perfectly for all six testers on the SB5.5
and, more or less, the Recluse
, which set us up a little too far forward. The Stumpjumper 6Fattie
also has a very comfortable cockpit for all, but the two smallest (5'7" and 140lbs) have to work much harder to handle it, affecting their ride experience. They might have benefited from sizing down. On the other end of the spectrum is the Ibis Ripley
. Ibis frames run small, as you may surmise from the fact that they cut their medium size recommendations at 5'9". We have three testers that are 5'9.something
. Two of them think the Ibis is borderline cramped. It never gets uncomfortable and we don't believe it affects performance. We've also tried out large Ibis frames and found them a bit tall and long for our testers. So we stuck with the medium Ripley LS
- All of these bikes is a size medium except for the Pivot Mach 429 Trail. We discussed the sizing with Pivot CEO Chris Cocalis who felt our testers are more aggressive riders and should size up. We took trial runs on both the medium and large frames and decided the large would be a better fit. While we liked it for climbing, it didn't descend aggressively and we had a harder time dropping behind the saddle than on the other bikes. Find out more in the Pivot Mach 429 Trail review.
The Stumpjumper 6Fattie belongs anywhere your riding could use a little more confidence.
While the testers agree on their favorites, this was a really great batch of bikes - save for the surprisingly problematic Intense
. As a result, if any of the top five bikes' particular strengths match your preferences, we say go for it.
— This bike is perfect for mountain or desert MTB destinations. Vying with the Bronson
for the most versatile bike in the test, the Yeti
is a one-and-done, go everywhere, do anything and love every minute of it ride — and it does downhill much better than the Bronson
. The Yeti
is perfect for long days in the saddle, linking as many epic descents as you can.
Ibis Ripley LS
— The Ripley LS
is meant to play its way down a hill and will respond at any speed you're comfortable going. But the bike eschews technical uphills. As such, it doesn't belong in a mecca for rocky climbs. If you stick to the less gnarly climbs, you'll have a blast bringing it back down all but the most challenging downhill.
Santa Cruz Bronson
— The Santa Cruz
can do it all, but induces a smaller grin on the descents than the Yeti
. It lacks the confidence of the big wheel bikes but is incredibly capable, an excellent choice for a rider that tackles a diversity of terrain at just shy of break neck speed.
Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
— The Stumpjumper 6Fattie
is a great training wheel bike to push skills to the next level, whether those are beginner turns or expert level downhills. It's also a great mood elevator, making its riders laugh with a strange mix of joy and incredulity. It's novel, a fun training bike and allows you to ride outside of your normal comfort zone but efficient it's not. None of our testers would want it for their only ride.
Pivot Mach 429
— The Mach 429
is a good choice for almost much any kind of climb. It's solid on descents but it doesn't defy its suspension size. Steer it into the rough and you're quickly reminded that 116mm of travel and 25mm rims have their limitations. A burlier wheel/tire setup could expand its range.
— The Intense Recluse
is a pretty sweet collection of parts, but they don't come together with any type of synergy. Its lackluster suspension and the buzzy front end make this our sixth choice bike on most rides. Fun on the descents this bike is a pig to pedal. It's good as long as you don't try any of these other bikes.
The 2017 Test Trail Bikes.
The superior all-mountain skills of the Yeti SB5.5
are undeniable, and none of the bikes could match the lively downhill and lithe cornering the Ibis Ripley LS
achieved. Our motley crew of very different riders agreed these two are the best bikes of the bunch. But the Santa Cruz Bronson
, Pivot Mach 429
and Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie
aren't blown out of the water. These are all exceptional bikes we'd be happy to have around. The Bronson
does everything well but is out-descended by all of these bikes aside from the Recluse
and Mach 429 Trail
, which is by far the best climber of the test. Meanwhile, the 6Fattie's
silly descending skills and forgiving nature (worthy of a saint) are great for pushing your comfort level. The Intense Recluse
can't keep up, its poor pedaling performance and harsh suspension detracting from what would be a fun ride.
Two of our testers packing up after a long day of testing.
Racers, mechanics, life long riders — these testers are dedicated to the craft of mountain biking and are passionate about the form and function of their bikes. Three love downhill enduro-style racing, two are true-blue trail bikers and one edges into the cross-country zone. Corroborating opinions between such diverse riders gives us a high degree of confidence in points where our thoughts converge.
Paul Tindal, Lead Tester
Put Paul Tindal on a bike and he's happy. As a youngster, Paul rose through the Australian junior and senior rankings as a triathlon and road bike racer. He moved on to mountain bikes when he came to South Lake Tahoe shortly thereafter and started racing in the National Off Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) series. He kept road biking on the side. Paul started racing in the pro category of the California Enduro Series several years ago and now races in the open class. An aggressive rider Paul averages 100 miles of riding a week on his Specialized Crave 29er rigid, S-works Crux or S-works Enduro.
Height and Weight:
5'10 and 170lbs, prefers medium frame
Sean Cronin, Collaborating Tester
A BMX racer at age six, Sean Cronin was riding mountain bikes by high school. What's more fun before classes start than a little sunrise training? He keeps those antics up these days by taking the long way round to work, 35-miles of mountain biking. Sean rides between two to seven times a week, varying quick out-and-backs with 60-mile loops to link every world-class downhill in striking range. A longtime devotee to his hardtail 29er, Sean is now on a 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad C.
Height and Weight:
5'10 and 150lbs, prefers medium frame
Joshua Hutchens, Collaborating Tester
Joshua found his two-wheeled ticket to freedom early in life. From the BMX track to the bike shop, he's had most every position you could imagine in the bike industry. Bikes have taken him around the world as a guide, to the podium as a racer and to the beach as a dad. Now living in South Lake Tahoe with his wife Hillary and daughter Penny, Joshua can usually be found on the trails around his home. He typically throws his leg over a Santa Cruz Bronson, a Retrotec 29'r, or a Metrofiets cargo bike.
Height and Weight:
5'10 and 165lbs, prefers large frame
Cat Keenan, Collaborating Tester
An enduro racer Cat Keenan likes a good techy, lung crunching climb, but she's in it for the downhill. She's willing to pull a little more bike up the hill to feel more confident in the rock gardens that she likes best at high speed. Cat is passionate about pushing her skills and is willing to invest in getting the bike that can help her achieve this goal. Cat rides around 13 hours each week on her Giant Reign Advanced.
Height and Weight:
5'7 and 140lbs, prefers medium frame
Curtis Smith, Collaborating Tester
A southern California shop kid, "Cardio" Curtis Smith had no hope of escaping a bike life. A winner of the Sierra Cup Series and podium finisher of the National XC MTB, Curtis also won the Sacramento Cyclocross Series in the Pro Open class. He races road Cat 2. Now living in South Lake Tahoe with his wife and daughter, Curtis rips up the steep and challenging local singletrack. A second nickname could be "Strava". He's got an impressive list of KOMs, putting in 10 to 30 hours a week on his Santa Cruz Bronson, Trek Emonda SLR or Boone 9. He just bought the 2017 Ibis Ripley LS from this test.
Height and Weight:
5'10 and 150lbs, prefers medium frame
Otto Trebotich, Collaborating Tester
A local South Lake Tahoe sender, Otto can be seen flying down mountainsides year-round on bikes, skis or any other gravity focused equipment. He's too young to have racked up much of a formal racing record, but you can catch him blurring by on the trails around town. He's also one heck of a bike model.
Height and Weight:
5'7 and 140lbs, prefers medium frame