Outerbike Test Sessions: In search of perfect 29er trail bike

Mtbr rides eight contenders seeking the best big wheeled do-it-all machine

Scott Genius 920
Outerbike Test Sessions: Scott Genius

With 150mm of rear travel, this was one of the bigger bikes in this test.

Travel: 150mm rear/150mm front
Headtube Angle: 65 degrees (or 65.6 degrees in high BB setting)
Seat tube Angle: 74.8 degrees (or 75.3 in high BB setting)
Weight as tested: 28.9 pounds (size Large)
More Info: www.scott-sports.com

Outerbike Test Sessions: Scott Genius

Love or loathe, buying a Scott means a TwinLoc equipped cockpit.

The Pitch: A year after completely retooling its Spark XC bike platform, Scott went to work on the Genius, releasing this latest version in summer 2017 highlighted by a complete reposition of the shock, which is now vertical making for better off-the-top performance and a more progressive end stroke ramp up. With 150mm of rear travel, it’s one the biggest bikes in this test. But because it has Scott’s ever-present three-position TwinLoc lever on the bars, concerns about suspension bob while climbing are nullified. It also plays the dual-purpose game, skillfully switching between 29er and 27.5+ form via a single-bolt flip chip on the shock linkage. Finally, it has a ton of tire clearance. Our test rig was set up 29er with 2.6 Maxxis Rekon tires, netting gobs of traction going up and down.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Scott Genius

By adopting the Trunnion mount, the shock body now extends between the two lower mounting bolts, meaning the shock has more stroke for the same eye-to-eye length.

Things We Liked: Think TwinLoc and you invariably think about the full-lockout mode. But it’s the middle mode that makes this bike unique. By toggling the lever to its “traction control” position you reduce travel to 110mm by adjusting spring rate and damping, making it climb like a well-sorted XC bike, not a bumpy hardtail. It also reduces sag, putting the rider in a taller more efficient climbing position. Heading downhill, the Genius was an expectably capable descender, allowing its pilot to stay on the gas and pedal even through particularly rough terrain. It also was a capable carver with a playful personality, thanks to chopped down chainstays that measure 438mm. And yes, there is room for a water bottle inside the main triangle.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Scott Genius

The Genius has a ton of standover clearance and can smoothly toggle between 29er and 27.5+ via a flip chip.

Head Scratchers: The inclusion of TwinLoc will always be polarizing, and whether you love or loathe, there’s no denying that it makes for a crowded cockpit. Points are also taken off for the fact that the dropper post lever is situated above the bars, meaning you have to subtly unweight your grip to raise or lower your seatpost. We also didn’t love the fact that this 150mm/150mm bike came spec’d with a Fox 34; a 36 would be far more appropriate. Fortunately that’s how the higher end builds come. We also noticed a slight imbalance in the middle mode, with the fork feeling more damped than the shock. Jordan also managed to hit his ankle on the chainstay a few times.

Specialized S-Works Stumpjumer FSR 29
Outerbike Test Sessions: Specialized Stumpjumper

No expense is spared on this high zoot build.

Travel: 135mm rear/150mm front
Headtube Angle: 67 degrees
Seat tube Angle: 74 degrees
Weight as tested: 29.2 pounds (size XL)
More Info: www.specialized.com

Outerbike Test Sessions: Specialized Stumpjumper

The front end was definitely on the tall side.

The Pitch: One of the most expensive builds we tested, this $8500 Specialized dream machine has all the bells and whistles. Full carbon frame, carbon wheels, carbon bars, SRAM Guide RS Carbon brakes, SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain, and custom Ohlins shock and fork. It’s also a great looking bike (arguably the best among this bunch) and has the very cool SWAT door in the downtube, which along with space for a water bottle in the main triangle means you really don’t have to use a hydration pack unless you’re going really deep into the backcountry. Key angles and chainstay length are on par with other bikes in this test, internal cable routing is fully enclosed, and sizes run from small to XL. Suspension is tried and true FSR, which is active both going up and down.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Specialized Stumpjumper

Tried and true FSR suspension is exceptionally active, making for great descending traction.

Things We Liked: SWAT, SWAT, SWAT. It’s so simple, yet so awesome. The mechanic who set up our bike showed us a trick where he tied a string to his lightweight rain jacket, then jammed it way up the downtube. Next he inserted a tube, pump, tools, and a snack — basically everything you need to carry on a ride except for water, which resided in the bottle cage that easily fit inside the carbon frame’s main triangle. On the trail the bike climbed well, though you definitely need to toggle over to trail mode to reduce suspension activity. But that activeness is what people love about FSR suspension, and this bike was no exception when pointed downhill. It was playful and poppy charging in and out of turns or boosting small hits. And the 135mm rear/150mm front travel was plenty to blast into high speed chunder without hesitation.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Specialized Stumpjumper

With the handy SWAT box, that hydration pack was really not necessary.

Head Scratchers: While headtube and seat tube angles felt dialed, the reach (and therefore cockpit space) was a little restricted. It also was a tad tall up front, thanks in part to the riser bars and stem. That made it trickier to lean it way over in bermed turns. Some will also be turned off by the amount of Specialized branded stuff on this bike, which includes dropper post, cockpit parts, wheels, and tires.

Spot Mayhem
Outerbike Test Sessions: Spot Mayhem

This was one of the most lively and fun bikes we rode during our test sessions.

Travel: 130mm rear/130mm front
Headtube Angle: 66.7 degrees
Seat tube Angle: 75.7 degrees
Weight as tested: 28.5 pounds (size XL)
More Info: spotbrand.com

Outerbike Test Sessions: Spot Mayhem

The Mayhem comes stock with a 130mm fork, but will accept up to 150mm.

The Pitch: It’s all about the bike’s unique suspension, which Spot calls Living Link. Created by Avid founder Wayne Lumpkin with some help from former Maverick designer Andy Emanuel, Living Link borrows from the motorsports and uses a carbon leaf spring. This is done to eliminate use of maintenance-intensive cartridge bearings, and increase the frame’s lateral stiffness. This is said to increase control on rowdy descents, and enhance pedaling efficiency when climbing. The bike, which we tested in 5-star $6999 form, is designed around a 130mm fork, but will play nice with up to 150mm. You can also run it 27.5+ if you’re seeking max traction.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Spot Mayhem

Apologies for the focus issues, but you can see the leaf spring tucked in behind the seat tube.

Things We Liked: Simply put this bike had an exceptionally pleasing and lively feel, and felt really well balance whether scampering up technical reversals or charging headlong downhill into a volleyball-sized rocks. The Mayhem also had the steepest seat tube angle of any bike we tested, which really helps keep the front wheel well-mannered and in control no matter how steep a climb gets. It honestly was XC-bike good going uphill, just a few pounds heavier. Going down, it felt far more capable than its 130mm/130mm configuration.

The way the design was explained to us is that the composite leaf spring interfaces with a short dual link design where the lower link is connected to rear with the leaf spring. This replaces what is normally a set of pivot bearings to ease maintenance headaches, and the leaf spring bends downward through the sag range a few degrees to provide better pedaling support. It also has a nice linear feel, smoothing out the air spring curve while being supportive. Of all the bikes we tested, this is the one I personally would most like to spend more time on just to see how it would fare in more varied and rowdier terrain.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Spot Mayhem

This bike begged its pilot to have fun, and not just hold on and hope.

Head Scratchers: Every new idea faces some headwinds, and the Mayhem is no exception. Though this suspension design may turn out to be the best thing since tubeless tires, being an early adapter in mountain biking is something many consumers will not be comfortable with. It’s also pretty expensive for a bike that has a SRAM X1 crankset and no carbon wheels.

Yeti SB4.5
Outerbike Test Sessions: Yeti SB4.5

In hindsight the Yeti SB5.5 would have been a better fit for this test. But the SB4.5 is one heck of a bike nonetheless.

Travel: 114mm rear, 140mm front
Headtube Angle: 67.4 degrees
Seat Tube Angle: 73.3 degrees
Weight as tested: 27.5 pounds (size XL)
More Info: www.yeticycles.com

Outerbike Test Sessions: Yeti SB4.5

Yeti employs a mismatched suspension set-up, where there’s 114mm in the rear and 140mm up front.

The Pitch: While they don’t use the phrase, this is clearly Yeti’s attempt at a quiver killer. But how do you push a capable climbing bike with 114mm of rear travel into the trail bike category. It’s a lot more than slapping a 140mm Fox 34 fork on the front. Indeed, it’s called Switch Infinity. Yeti’s unique suspension design employs a pair of Fox-made Kashima-coated rails that reside above the BB and alter the bike’s axle path. As the bike moves through its travel, the axle path moves rearward for better pedaling performance. But as the rear wheel gets deeper into its travel, the contraption moves downward, lessening chain tension to improve big hit absorption. Add in terrain-chewing 29er wheels, lightweight parts, and a stiff (and beautiful) carbon frame, and this is an intoxicatingly attractive package.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Yeti SB4.5

The Switch Infinity is one of the most highly regarded suspension designs in mountain biking, but it also means no water bottle inside the main triangle.

Things We Liked: We were on the fence about whether to test the Yeti SB4.5 or SB5.5, and ended up going with the shorter travel option. For this exercise it was probably a mistake, but that’s taking nothing away from this bike. If the objective was to find a one-quiver option (and not a compliment to an XC bike), the SB4.5 would be in a death match for do-it-all supremacy with the Evil The Following. Just like the Evil, the Yeti has the uphill mannerisms of an XC racer, but can blast down moderately rough terrain with aggressive trail bike capability.

Outerbike Test Sessions: Yeti SB4.5

If you could only own one bike, this would be a very strong contender.

Head Scratchers: No water bottle cage inside the main triangle is something Jordan our XC dork can’t live with. Yeti’s are also expensive propositions, with this SRAM XO1 Eagle equipped bike selling for $6999 sans carbon wheels. It also doesn’t play the 29er/27.5+ game, which would be a nice option to have. And at the end of the day, 114mm of rear travel, no matter how good it is, just wasn’t enough to make it a podium contender for this buying decision exercise. The SB5.5, on the other hand, could have definitely ended up on the final podium had we had time to test it, too.

Outerbike Crested Butte

The demo area at Outerbike Crested Butte was about a 2-minute ride from the bike park. Photo by Dave Kozlowski

The Final Word

Before chiming in with my own thoughts, I’m obliged to let Jordan speak. This was his 29er trail bike buying decision after all.

“Given my XC background/tendencies, I would lean towards the Scott Genius because it descended as well anything we tested, yet also climbs really well, outperforming the other bikes we tested when locked out on smooth trail/fireroads,” he said. “I also don’t mind the bar clutter, and the extra percent or two it gives you on climbs is worth it to me. But for non-XC weight weenies or those uninterested in a remote lockout, the Pivot Switchblade would be the winner, as it descended extremely well and was the stiffest bike we tested. And if this was going to be my only bike, I would take a step down towards XC and go with the Spot or Yeti.”

For the most part I agree. I thought the Genius was a terrific bike with a lot of versatility. I was also very enamored with the Switchblade, and am a huge fan of the all-around capabilities of the Yeti, which along with the Evil could easily become the only bike I owned.

My personal advice to Jordan (given these eight choices) is flip a coin between the Pivot and Scott and never look back. I guarantee he’d be happy with either — and hopefully stop riding non-dropper post equipped bikes in full Lycra. It hurts my eyes…

But for me, after this short round of testing, I kept coming back to the Spot, wondering what it’d be like with a 140mm or 150mm fork. I’d need to know more before making my own final 29er trail bike decision. But that’s what makes these consumer demo events so valuable. You get to ride before you buy.

To learn more about all the Outerbike events, head to www.outerbike.com. For beta on Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Evolution Bike Park, pop over to bike.skicb.com. And for a full rundown of all the riding in greater Gunnison County, visit mtbhome.com.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • Alexdi says:

    Nice, good notes. I have Jordan’s bike. A dropper and big tires make it really fun for most terrain. The ride gets a whole lot smoother and confidence goes way up on the downhills.

  • Mark says:

    Seems like a Trek Fuel Ex 29er should have been in this line up. I just test rode a Eagle GX $3400 2018 model and I thought it was pretty bomb given the price.

  • Craig says:

    Having moved from XC hardtail riding a couple years ago I did the same when looking for a new ride. Liked the Tall Boy but in the end bought a Fuel, liked the suspension better. Now have moved to a new V3 Ripley and feel it’s even better then the Fuel.

  • Warren says:

    Excellent review. I love these types of shootout articles. However, I question the criteria of such a slack head tube angle. I know it has to be great for riders going down black runs but for me I think this “modern geometry” makes the bike sluggish and boring on more normal terrain. Granted though, I only go down what I can ride up.

  • onehill2climb2 says:

    Pivot Switchblade all the way. Pedals really well, geo is dialed, playful chainstay length makes the bike feel like a 27.5, AMAZING on the downhills. And when you see it in person….sheer beauty. Best bike I’ve ever owned. And I do a new bike every year (sometimes two) and have tried every format known to man (and other species as well) since I’ve been riding since the early ’90’s.

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