Winner: Pivot Switchblade
When the Mtbr edit team began to narrow down our list of finalists for the trail bike category, we argued endlessly over what exactly defined these bikes. The problem is that cross-country bikes have grown increasingly slacker (and even gained some travel), while enduro bikes are now more pedal friendly than ever before.
With each new improvement, it’s become increasingly more difficult to draw hard lines between categories. So after several rounds of heated debate, we begrudgingly settled on a definition: Each candidate, regardless of wheel size, had to have between 120-140mm of travel.
After narrowing the criteria, it was time for another round of debates. Each bike we considered for this list offers something special, be it cutting edge geometry or incredible performance. Our eventual winner, the Pivot Switchblade, does all this and more. Not only is it an exceptional long travel 29er, it’s also a remarkable plus bike. While other brands also offer models that can switch between wheel sizes, the designs are often compromised by the need to balance tire clearance, chainstay length, and drivetrain choice.
To get around this obstacle, Pivot skipped the now standard boost rear spacing in favor of 157×12. This is not a new standard; 157×12 has been standard issue on downhill bikes for nearly five years. Using this hub width allowed Pivot to give the Switchblade an extra 12mm of tire clearance, significantly shorter chainstays, front derailleur compatibility, and a stiffer rear end. Not only can this bike clear massive 27.5x 3.5” tires (or 29×2.4” if you prefer) with room for mud, it has better heel clearance than the Mach 4.
Now the downside to all this has to be q-factor, right? Turns out, Pivot thought about that too. The bike uses a standard PF92 bottom bracket. For 1x setups, you can run a Race Face Aeffect or Turbine crank with the chainring flipped. For a 2x system, you can order a slightly longer spindle. Both these options give you a q-factor somewhere between 173-177mm, which is comparable to boost.
The last major feature we’ll point out is that the Switchblade is available in a huge range of sizes. Most manufacturers won’t produce a size XS or even small mid- to long-travel 29er because they don’t want to compromise the geometry, but Pivot somehow managed to make a frame that will work for sub 5-foot tall riders, too.
We could literally gush about this bike for hours, but the main takeaway is that the new Switchblade in an engineering marvel that uses pre-existing standards to achieving something truly incredible. For more information, check out our in depth first look.
Runner Up: YT Jeffsy
The internet is a marvelous place for scoring a deal. Whether you’re searching used or price shopping new, the ability to bypass traditional outlets has drastically altered the retail landscape. As a result, we’ve seen a massive die-off of local bike shops, which simply can’t compete with the often-outrageous bargains found online. We won’t comment on the morality or reality of this situation. Instead, we’re going to focus on the positives — affordability. When brands bypass the standard shop model, they’re able to offer consumers big savings.
A stellar example of this model is YT. Their Jeffsy offers ridiculous value. For under $3000, you get an aluminum frame equipped with a RockShox Pike fork, Monarch shock, Reverb dropper, DT Swiss wheelset, and Shimano SLX drivetrain and stoppers. If you double that budget, you get a carbon frame dressed in the fanciest Fox bits, plus a SRAM X01 drivetrain, Guide Ultimate brakes, Race Face Next SL Cranks, and carbon DT Swiss wheels. You’d be out nearly $10,000 for the same level build from most if not all traditional brands, which is why the direct-to-consumer model is at the heart of so much controversy.
But how does it ride, you ask. Damn good. This 140mm travel 29er has one of the slackest headtubes in the category, a curb scraping low BB, and it charges with the very best of them. For more info, check out the Mtbr first ride review.
Honorable Mention: Marin Hawk Hill
The main selling point of the Marin Hawk Hill is price. At $1500, it’s not cheap, but it’s a veritable bargain in a sport where high-end rigs can top 10 large. But don’t let the low price fool you. This 27.5” trail bike isn’t just for beginners. With contemporary geometry that rivals anything the big brands are putting out, well thought out spec, and appealing aesthetics, this is a bike even advanced riders can enjoy. Well done Marin, well done. For more info, check out the Mtbr first look here.
This post is part of the Mtbr Best of 2016 awards series. You can see all this year’s announced winners here.