All photos by Tyler Frasca.
This article is part of the Mtbr’s Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here–http://reviews.mtbr.com/category/enduro-compare-o-2014
After much riding, debate and balloting, we’ve finally come to the point of revealing the Mtbr Enduro Compare-O award winners. To say the voting was close is an understatement. In almost every category the difference between the winner and runner-up came down to one or two votes, and in some cases tie-breakers.
And while on the one hand picking the winning bikes was challenging, it also serves as a reminder of how many good bikes are available these days. As we tried to address in the Who is this bike for? section of our Bottom Line reviews, it’s not about whether or not a bike is good, but whether a bike is good for YOU, and the way and place you ride it.
If you missed how we went about testing these bikes, you can take a look at our introductory article for a primer. For the end results, keep reading…
BEST OVERALL BIKE
Specialized has been called “off the back” because of their apparent reluctance to bring 27.5-inch wheeled bikes to market amidst the avalanche of hype. But after spending some quality time on their S-Works Enduro 29, we understand their reasoning—it’s hard to imagine the new wheel size would improve anything. In fact the Enduro 29 is so good as-is, we’ve named it the Best Overall Bike in our Enduro Compare-O, wheel size be damned. Silky smooth on descents, surprisingly capable on climbs and just plain fun to ride, the Enduro 29 dominated our voting. When Spech’ inevitably rolls out their 27.5ers—soon we expect—some will say they’re just playing catch-up. With the Enduro 29, we say they’re already way out ahead. Read the Bottom Line review here.
Runner-up: BMC TrailFox TF01 XX-1 Trailcrew
Also getting votes: Ibis Ripley 29, Intense Carbine 29, Pivot Mach 6, Scott Genius 710, Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR Evo 29, Trek Remedy 9.8
BEST ENDURO RACE BIKE
While a large percentage of our high-dollar fleet inherently has podium potential, Santa Cruz’s much vaunted Bronson Carbon goes to the top step. Slack and stable, galloping fast and eager to attack, the Bronson has that extra je ne sais quoi to nip the field at the line. Undoubtedly the smart, high-zoot build helps, but at the heart of it, Bronson’s stiff, responsive and fun-to-ride chassis wins the day. The bike rockets out of corners and is punchy up short, steep inclines—just the kind of terrain that separates winners from losers on race day. What’s more, even on those in-between days when there is no timing and scoring, to throw your leg over a Bronson Carbon for a fun ride with friends is to notch a victory of another kind. Read the Bottom Line review here.
Runner-up: BMC TrailFox TF01 XX-1 Trailcrew
Also getting votes: Intense Carbine 29, Orbea Rallon, Pivot Mach 6, Rocky Mountain Altitude MSL 770 Rally Edition, Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR Evo 29
Clearly many of the bikes in our test can do a lot of things well. But the Pivot Mach 6 stood out as the one bike that covered the entire range with the fewest compromises. While you could swap out parts on several of the bikes and tune their capabilities towards one end of the spectrum or the other, the Mach 6 can dance one minute and brawl the next without changing a thing. If we had one basket to put all our eggs in, the Pivot Mach 6 would be it. Read the Bottom Line review here.
Runner-up: Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 0
Also getting votes: BMC TrailFox TF01 XX-1 Trailcrew, Ibis Ripley 29, Intense Carbine 29, Scott Genius 710, Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR Evo 29
When bikes start to get an evangelistic following, our collective eyebrows raise with suspicion. Are these shout-it-from-the-rooftop types just drinking the Kool-Aid, or are they really on to something? In the case of the Ibis Ripley 29, probably a little of both. But heck, after taking another KOM they deserve drink! Though our capable group of test bikes produced many contenders, none could quite keep up with the Ripley’s throttling pace on fire roads and still claw its way like a rock crawler up techy steeps. Giant’s feathery Trance Advance 27.5 0 made a race of it, but in the end the Ripley 29 reached down into its stealthy bag of dw-link tricks and pulled out the win. Read the Bottom Line review here.
Runner-up: Giant Trance Advance 27.5 0
Also getting votes: BMC TrailFox TF01 XX-1 Trailcrew, Fezzari Timp Peak, Pivot Mach 6, Scott Genius 710
The Enduro 29’s win in this category is not only remarkable because it makes the Specialized the only two-award-winner in our test, but because it beat a strong field of gravity-focused designs like the Orbea Rallon, Rocky Mountain Altitude MSL 770 Rally Edition, and Norco Range Alloy to do it. Through some magic matrix of its big, 29-inch wheels, 155mm of rear travel and ridiculously short chainstays, the Enduro 29 set the standard anytime the trail pointed downward. We’d be remiss not to mention the suspension here—RockShox’s über-buttery Pike RCT3 fork and Cane Creek’s Double Barrel Air CS rear shock which Specialized balanced to perfection on the E29. Read the Bottom Line review here.
Runner-up: Orbea Rallon
Also getting votes: Intense Carbine 29, Niner WFO 9, Norco Range Alloy, Pivot Mach 6, Orbea Rallon, Rocky Mountain Altitude MSL 770 Rally Edition, Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR Evo 29
When you mention the word “value,” expectations usually go towards the lowest price, but that’s not what we mean. A good value is getting the most bike for the fewest dollars, and by packaging some of the best componentry in the test—a RockShox Pike, SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and a frame that’s a functional work of art—Niner’s $5,000 WFO 9 takes the title. No, $5K is not chump change, but the WFO 9 delivers performance way in excess of its price point—as does our runner-up, the carbon-framed Fezzari Timp Peak. Read the Bottom Line review here.
Runner-up: Fezzari Timp Peak
Also getting votes: Intense Carbine 29, Norco Range Alloy
Trophies to be presented at Sea Otter
In honor of their accomplishments, we’ll be presenting each of the winning manufacturers with a physical reminder of their bike’s accomplishment—a trophy we call the Golden Pliny at the Sea Otter Classic next month. Named for the premier IPA of the local Russian River Brewing Company, the award is a tip of the helmet—and a tip of the glass—to the best of the best. Check our Sea Otter coverage in mid-April when we distribute this very special award to our winners.
James Brown Award Winners
There’s a bit of irony in James Brown’s nickname “Soul Brother No. 1.” He holds the record for the most top-10 hits (six) without ever achieving a no.1 hit. So in honor of the Godfather of Soul, we’re giving two oh-so-close bikes unofficial James Brown Awards.
The Intense Carbine 29 didn’t make the podium even once, but got votes in more categories than any other bike. Similarly, the Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR EVO 29 was the subject of more enthusiastic post-ride conversation than any other bike, but ended up short of getting hardware as well. This just underscores both the fierceness of the competition, and how hard some of these decisions were to make. But worry not Carbine and Stumpy Evo supporters, as the award’s namesake proves, you don’t need a trophy to be a legend.
What about X, and what’s next?
We realize—and you reinforced—that our field of contenders is incomplete. Where is the Kona Process? Where is the Turner Burner? Where is the Trek Slash? Where is the Evil Undead? Where is the fill-in-the-blank? Though we tried to get some of these, for one reason or another we couldn’t obtain a sample bike for our test period. Also, once we got to around the 20 bike mark we stopped asking in order to keep things manageable.
That said, we’re always interested in giving our readers what they want, so use the comments to let us know what other bikes we should test this year. We may not be able to put them head-to-head with dozens of other bikes, but we can give ‘em a go and tell you what we think.
Finally, thanks for taking part in the Enduro Compare-O…we hope you have as much fun on your bike as we did on these.
To see all the stories and reviews from the 2014 Mtbr Enduro Compare-O click here.