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27.5” Trail Bikes — A Guide + Comparisons

Blister 27.5 Trailbike Guide Noah Bodman

Intro

So you’re thinking it’s time for a new bike. Sweet! But then you start to dig around and do your research, and things can get very complicated very quickly. This one guy you know swears that Bike X is perfect for you. But your local shop is telling you that you’d be crazy not to go with Bike Y. And the internet is telling you that every single new bike is the GREATEST BIKE EVER.

Fact is, there are a number of good bikes on the market these days, but figuring out which one will suit you best can feel practically impossible. (And bikes aren’t cheap, so you definitely don’t want to waste thousands of dollars on the wrong ride.)

So we’ve assembled a comprehensive comparison of 27.5” wheeled trail bikes to make it a bit easier to narrow down your list, and maybe introduce you to some bikes that weren’t on your list, but should be.

And if you’re not sure whether a 27.5″ wheeled bike is your thing, you should also definitely check out our Guide + Comparisons of 29er Trail Bikes.

What’s in this Guide

This 27.5 Roundup covers a huge spectrum of bikes that ranges from relatively short-travel trail bikes up to a few options that blur the line with dedicated DH rigs. (We didn’t, however, include full-blown DH bikes in here.)

So why the huge spread? Because there’s a huge middle ground, and it’s often worth comparing a bike that has 140 mm of travel to both a shorter travel bike and a longer travel bike.

We should also note that we’re not including 27.5+ bikes in this list. While they are running on 27.5” wheels, the Plus tires ride a bit differently, and it’s not necessarily an apples to apples comparison.

We will continue to add more bikes to this guide, but there are still a lot of great bikes that aren’t included in here. So this list isn’t exhaustive, but it contains legit information about the bikes we’ve spent time on, and we’ll stand by the info and comparisons.

How We’ve Ordered the Guide

The bikes here are listed in order from most XC / climbing-oriented, to most downhill-oriented. This isn’t to say that some of the bikes higher on the list don’t descend pretty well, or that some of the bikes lower on the list aren’t decent climbers.

Blister 27.5 Trailbike Guide Noah Bodman
And it’s worth underscoring that this isn’t a ranking of which bike is “best” or “worst” — there isn’t a terrible bike on this list. What the rankings are designed to do is to help you find a bike that will work best for where and how you ride.

Reminder: Setup Matters

And as with anything bike related, this guide comes with a significant caveat: setup matters.

With suspension tweaks and some componentry swaps, almost any bike can be made to climb a bit better or handle rowdy descents more competently. So the rankings we’re presenting here are based on a mid-level, stock build kit, and we’re basing it off of what we think the bike is best at, not necessarily what it could do with a bunch of changes.

Other Info We’ve Included

We’ve also included the model year of the bike we rode, as well as some measurements. Some bikes have seen changes to the build kits since we rode them, and one or two bikes have seen mild revisions to the geometry, but we feel these comparisons generally hold true for the current versions of the bikes as well.

We’ve also included a few basic stats on the bikes we rode, which are abbreviated as follows:

  • RT = Rear Travel
  • FT = Front Travel)
  • R = Reach – for a size Medium
  • HA = Head Angle
  • CS = Chainstay Length

For a more in-depth discussion of these bikes (including more thoughts on geometry, fit, and how they ride), check out our full reviews.

THE BIKES
(Most Climbing-Oriented to Most Downhill-Oriented)

2016 Cannondale Habit Carbon

RT: 120 mm | FT: 120 mm | R: 427 mm | HA: 68° | CS: 429 mm

Cannondale is known for making some of the best XC race rigs in the business, and that shows with the Habit, which feels like an XC bike with trail bike geometry. The Habit isn’t particularly supple, and the flexy frame gets overwhelmed in rougher terrain. But it’s quite light, and it’s a rocket on climbs, which makes it the most uphill-worthy bike on this list. It doesn’t have nearly the downhill chops of something like a Santa Cruz 5010 or Transition Scout, but its low weight and efficiency help it edge out other good climbers like the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt

2016 Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition

RT: 120 mm | FT: 130 mm | R: 420 mm (mid setting) | HA: 67.3° (mid setting) | CS: 422 mm

Like many of Rocky Mountain’s trail-oriented bikes (including the Altitude, which appears a little further down this list), the Thunderbolt’s suspension isn’t particularly supple. This is largely a result of Rocky Mountain’s use of bushings in some of their pivots. The bushings do come with a significant upside though: the Thunderbolt is quite stiff, especially considering its relatively light weight. The Thunderbolt also has Rocky’s Ride-9 adjustment, which is arguably the best system on the market for adjusting the bike’s geometry and leverage ratios. That great geometry makes for an efficient climber, only losing out to significantly lighter and shorter travel bikes like the Cannondale Habit and Giant Anthem. But the less than active suspension means the Thunderbolt gets bounced around on descents a bit more than something like the Devinci Django or Santa Cruz 5010.

2017 Devinci Django

RT: 120 mm | FT: 130 mm | R: 440 mm (low setting) | HA: 67.5° (low setting) | CS: 427 mm

The Django is one of a few bikes on this list that are available with both 27.5 and 29” wheels. It’s an active bike that’s more playful than any of the more climbing-oriented bikes further up this list, but despite the supple suspension, it still pedals quite well. The suspension does a great job of smoothing out the trail, but it still doesn’t get completely overwhelmed on bigger hits. It’s not quite as stable at speed as the Santa Cruz 5010, the Transition Scout, or the 29er version of the Django, but its lengthy front end keeps it from feeling too twitchy. The Django would be a great option for those looking for a 27.5” wheeled bike for long backcountry rides where pedaling efficiency matters and supple suspension is nice to have for some added comfort, but you still want a bike that’s fun to ride on the descents.

2016 Santa Cruz 5010

RT: 130 mm | FT: 130 mm | R: 425 mm | HA: 67° | CS: 426 mm

The 5010 saw some revisions for 2016 when it got longer and slacker, which makes it one of the best shorter travel bikes when it comes to descents. It’s closest rival is the Transition Scout — the 5010 has a smidge more travel, but the Scout is a little bit more stable mostly because it’s a little longer. And while the 5010 is a great descender and is really good at carving through corners, it’s also fairly efficient, so it climbs respectably well. While it doesn’t have quite the downhill stability and smash-ability of longer travel bikes like the Specialized Stumpjumper or the 5010’s bigger brother, the Santa Cruz Bronson, the 5010 is still competent in a wide variety of situations. The 5010 is noticeably more stable than the Devinci Django, and it retains much of the same suppleness over smaller bumps, and thus is another great option for those big backcountry adventures. The 5010, along with the Scout, is one of those do-everything-well type bikes that I end up recommending to a lot of people.

2017 Transition Scout Carbon

RT: 125 mm | FT: 140 mm | R: 432 mm | HA: 67° | CS: 425 mm

The Transition Scout is a really hard bike to not like. It’s stable at speed, yet poppy and playful. It smooths out the trail nicely, but it doesn’t feel inefficient. The geometry is neutral, and it’s as comfortable grinding up a climb as it is sending some jumps. For all those reasons, just like the Santa Cruz 5010, the Scout is a bike I’d recommend to a wide variety of people. The Scout gets the slight nod over the 5010 for descending prowess, but the 5010 is more efficient on the climbs. Like the 5010, the Scout is quite a bit more stable at speed than the Django, but the Django definitely pedals better. It’s noteworthy that this is the most descent-oriented short travel bike — everything further down this list has significantly more travel than the Scout. And those longer travel bikes aren’t necessarily clear winners; the Scout’s descending abilities aren’t far behind the bikes like the Rocky Mountain Altitude, despite the fact that the Scout has way less travel.

2017 Canyon Spectral

RT: 140 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 430 mm | HA: 67° | CS: 430 mm

The Canyon Spectral’s neutral geometry and short chainstays really characterize how it rides. The bike favors an active, playful riding style, loves to wheelie and manual, and does well scrambling up rock ledges. However, the suspension feels less supportive than on the Santa Cruz 5010, and it can easily be overwhelmed on big hits and flat landings. This, in combination with geometry that favors cornering rather than holding a line at speed, makes it a less capable descender than most bikes spec’d with a 150 mm fork. Nonetheless, this a pretty fantastic bike for popping off natural lips, changing direction quickly, and riding lower speed, tighter trails.

2017 Yeti SB5

RT: 127 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 424 mm | HA: 66.5° | CS: 437 mm

The SB5 is a pretty versatile platform that’s proof that good progressive geometry is as important, if not more important than having a bunch of travel. The SB5’s suspension isn’t quite as supple and plush as some bikes higher up on this list (like the Transition Scout and the Santa Cruz 5010), but the longer travel fork and slacker, longer geometry mean that the SB5 is still more than willing to rally down rough trails at speed. But the SB5 still feels pretty snappy on the pedals, so despite the longer fork and slacker angles, there’s still a fair amount of pep in the SB5’s step when it comes time to lay down some power. Comparing the SB5 to some longer travel rigs like the Giant Trance and Specialized Stumpjumper, the limitations of the SB5’s rear travel are a bit more apparent, but that’s not too surprising.

2018 Patrol 672

RT: 160 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 412 mm | HA: 67.5° | CS: 430 mm

The Patrol 672 brings dated geometry and unrefined suspension kinematics to the table, which makes this a tricky one to place on this list. On one hand, it has a fair amount of travel, on the other hand, it doesn’t use that travel effectively. There are bikes higher on this list that descend rough, fast trails more competently, but placing the 672 further up the list would imply that it climbs well, which it doesn’t. Perhaps, with significant modifications to the rear shock and the addition of a dropper post, this bike could be serviceable on descents. Or you could just buy something that works well in the first place.

2015 Giant Trance SX

RT: 140 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 425 mm | HA: 66° | CS: 439 mm

Like the rest of the Giant SX series bikes, the low rear travel relative to the fork makes this a relatively efficient pedaling bike. It also makes it more playful and poppy. It doesn’t pedal as efficiently or react to pedal input as snappily as a Santa Cruz 5010 — or the Santa Cruz Nomad for that matter, but it isn’t badm and the rear suspension is a bit better through the rough. The Trance SX is most notable for how good a value it is and only slightly less notable for how versatile it is. It would feel out of place on a rough trail in a bike park, but on anything less demanding it will be confident and playful.

2014 Rocky Mountain Altitude BC Edition

RT: 150 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 415 mm (mid setting) | HA: 67° (mid setting) | CS: 428 mm

The Altitude saw some significant revisions this year, but this comparison is for the older version. Once we’ve gotten some time on the new Altitude, we’ll update accordingly. The Altitude comes in a few different flavors, and the BC edition of the bike gets burlier parts and a longer travel fork. Like the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt, the Altitude gets Rocky Mountain’s excellent Ride 9 adjustment, which allows for changes to the bike’s geometry and leverage ratio. A neutral geometry makes it an easy bike to hop on and get comfortable with quickly, but it has a less-than-active suspension that’s common on many of Rocky Mountain’s bikes that use bushings instead of bearings in the pivots. The Altitude’s suspension was tough to get dialed, and no matter what I tried, the bike never felt as planted as a bike like the Specialized Stumpjumper, or for that matter, some of the shorter travel bikes like the Transition Scout. The rear end of the Altitude tended to skip around quite a bit, and it’d get overwhelmed on harder hits, which is why some short travel bikes like the Devinci Troy actually descend a bit better.

2016 Specialized Stumpjumper

RT: 150 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 414 mm | HA: 67° | CS: 420 mm

The Stumpjumper is one of the lighter options in this travel class, and it’s a bit lighter than quite a few bikes with less travel that are higher up on this list. The lack of heft makes the Stumpjumper a bit more maneuverable, and more pleasant on the climbs, but it also means that the frame is noticeably flexier than something like the Devinci Troy or Santa Cruz Bronson. The Stumpjumper has a very active suspension, and does a better job of smoothing out little stuff in the trail than the Rocky Mountain Altitude, the Devinci Troy, or the Santa Cruz Bronson. That said, the active suspension means it’s also not the most efficient pedaler — it’s a bit worse in that regard than the Altitude, Troy, Bronson, or Tracer. The Stumpjumper’s geometry is shorter and steeper than most of the bikes further down this list, which means it’s not quite as stable, although the suspension does handle big, high speed hits competently. But due to its steeper, shorter geometry, the Stumpjumper feels like a trail bike that can handle rowdiness, rather than a burly bike that’s acceptable at trail pace.

2016 Devinci Troy

RT: 140 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 440 mm (low setting) | HA: 67° (low setting) | CS: 426 mm

The Devinci Troy gets high marks for being one of the more versatile bikes on this list. It’s slack enough and burly enough to tackle high speed, rough trails comfortably, but it’s also a reasonably efficient bike that’s well suited to big alpine adventures. In terms of that versatility, it’s very similar to the Santa Cruz Bronson — I’d give the Bronson a slight nod for pedaling efficiency and stability at max speed, and the Bronson’s lighter. The Troy is a little more playful, it’s bit stiffer, and the frame comes with a lifetime warranty (which are some of the reasons I give the nod to the Troy for bigger guys). The Troy is less slack and has less travel than the Intense Tracer, but the suspension has a wider range of “good” setups. The supple suspension and heavier weight make the Troy a little slower on the climbs than something like the Rocky Mountain Altitude, Specialized Stumpjumper, or Giant Trance, but it’s a more capable descender. For a bike with broad appeal that has less travel, look at the Santa Cruz 5010 or Transition Scout. But if you’re looking for a versatile bike with a bit more travel that’s a little more descent oriented, the Troy and the Santa Cruz Bronson top the list.

2017 Spot Rollik 557

RT: 140 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 435 mm | HA: 67° | CS: 433 mm

The Spot Rollik 557 is a hard bike to rank on this list. Its pedaling characteristics make it feel like a much shorter travel bike, but it is surprisingly capable when things get fast and chunky. It feels about as stable as a Bronson on technical trails, but its steeper angles and snappy handling make it fun on technical climbs and in basically all the situations where 6 inch bikes are overkill. This is a bike that rewards popping and skipping over rocks rather than plowing, and with the right riding style it should be able to keep up with a bigger bike. That said, the bikes that are farther down the list will get you down the hill without requiring as much finesse.

2018 Cannondale Trigger

RT: 145 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 439 mm | HA: 66° | CS: 420 mm

The Trigger’s Gemini rear shock allows the 145 mm travel to be reduced to 115 mm with the flip of a handlebar mounted remote. Which means that the Trigger, in short travel mode, climbs a bit better than the bikes immediately above it on the list. But it’s reasonably slack geometry and supple suspension make it a solid descender when it’s in the longer travel mode. It falls more on the playful end of the spectrum, and bikes like the Mach 5.5 and Bronson are better at speed. But the Trigger is more fun to jump, and it works better in twisty, rolling terrain.

2018 Pivot Mach 5.5

RT: 140 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 439.9 mm | HA: 66.5° | CS: 430 mm

The Mach 5.5 is the sort of bike that does everything pretty well; it’s a reasonably efficient pedaler and it’s not overly heavy, so it does ok on longer rides with plenty of climbing. But it’s supple suspension and long-ish geometry keep it stable and composed on rough descents. The Mach 5.5 is a bit more stable at speed than either the Devinci Troy or the Specialized Stumpjumper 650b. The Santa Cruz Bronson, on the other hand, is a bit more stable than the Mach 5.5, and is a bit more comfortable when it comes time to point it straight through a rock garden.

2016 Santa Cruz Bronson

RT: 150 mm | FT: 150 mm | R: 425 mm | HA: 66° (low setting) | CS: 432 mm

The Bronson, like the 5010, was revised in 2016 and got longer and slacker. The new version is stable at speed, and the suspension feels pretty supportive — it pumps through rolls and pops off of jumps nicely. It’s pretty similar to the Devinci Troy, and they could almost be swapped in their ranking. The Bronson is a tiny bit more efficient, it’s lighter, and it smooths out small trail detritus a little better. The slacker angles on the Bronson also make it a hair more stable. But the Troy pops better and handles big hits better, and generally feels a little more playful. The Bronson is definitely capable of mixing it up on descents with some of the longer travel enduro bikes, and if someone were to argue that the Bronson should be a couple spots further down on this list, I don’t think they’d be entirely wrong, it sits a bit higher up because it’s also a respectable climber.

2015 Intense Tracer

RT: 140-160 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 416 mm | HA: 66.5° | CS: 432 mm

The Tracer, like many Intenses, gains some points for being adjustable — travel can easily be adjusted from 140 mm to 160 mm. The Tracer isn’t quite as slacked out as many of the other bikes in the 160 mm travel segment — it’s not as stable as bikes like the Transition Patrol or Devinci Spartan, and it feels like a lot less bike than something like the Giant Reign or Pivot Firebird. In that regard, the Tracer feel more like a long travel trail bike, but like the Pivot Mach 6, the suspension can be a bit fussy to set up so to get the most out of it, plan on some time dialing things in.

2017 Marin Attack Trail

RT: 150 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 412.5 mm | HA: 66.5° | CS: 435 mm

Like the Intense Tracer, the Attack Trail has slightly steeper angles and a significantly shorter front than many of the bikes further down this list, which makes it a bit easier to ride at “normal” speeds on “normal” trails, but it’s less stable when the pace picks up. The biggest downside of the Attack Trail for all around riding is that the seat angle is quite slack — a rearward bias while seated makes steeper climbs a chore. The suspension is a bit more supple than the Intense Tracer or Pivot Mach 6, which makes the Attack Trail feel like it has a bit more travel than it does. For true descending prowess, the Attack Trail can’t quite hang with the Transition Patrol or Devinci Spartan, but it also feels a bit less doggish on flatter terrain.

2014 Pivot Mach 6

RT: 155 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 401.6 mm | HA: 66° | CS: 430.5 mm

The Mach 6 loses out a little bit on the stability front due to its short geometry and somewhat dated sizing — many newer bikes are effectively a full size larger (or more) than the Mach 6, and for that reason it’d be worth considering getting on a larger size than you might normally ride. But the Mach 6’s geometry and stout build also make it an easy bike to flick around and throw into corners. Suspension setup can be a bit finicky, and it’ll likely take more time to get the bike dialed in and feeling balanced. The suspension on the Mach 6 isn’t quite as active as the Transition Patrol or Devinci Spartan, but it retains decent pedaling efficiency for getting you to the top of the hill. The Mach 6 is more comfortable at speed than the Intense Tracer, and it handles big hits better than the Marin Attack Trail.

2016 Turner RFX V4.0

RT: 165 mm | FT 160 mm | R: 412 mm | HA: 66° | CS: 438 mm

The Turner RFX is the latest revision of a long-standing bike model, and that shows. It is a bit more traditional in its geometry and that keeps it a playful bike. The RFX is very subject to how it is built. With a light fork and kit and lightweight tires it feels like a long travel trail bike that is less substantial than the Mach 6. But, throw on a bigger fork and some meaty tires and it can bowl its way through rock gardens effectively. This is largely because of the rear suspension. It is more active than the Mach 6 — or just about any other bike. It is really outstandingly smooth over rough terrain, but at the same time it pedals quite well. The longer chainstays make keeping weight on the front wheel easy through corners. The shorter, traditional reach numbers and wheelbase keep this bike from swinging in the same class as the bikes listed below at high speed, whether in rough terrain or on jump trails. But, it will disappear from most of them in tight, twisty terrain.

2015 Transition Patrol

RT: 155 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 432 mm | HA: 65° | CS: 430 mm

The Patrol has a smidge less travel than some of the other bikes that would fall into the “enduro” category, but it’s decidedly slack and there’s no doubt it can handle high speeds and rough trails. The Patrol is a reasonably efficient pedaler – maybe just a hair worse than the Pivot Mach 6, and partly for that reason, it’s better as an all-around trail bike than something like the Giant Reign or Pivot Firebird. That said, the Patrol is more stable at speed and more comfortable going really fast than the Intense Tracer, Marin Attack Trail, or Pivot Mach 6. The Patrol, like the Devinci Spartan, works well when ridden actively, and falls a little bit more on the “playful” end of the spectrum, as opposed to the “ignore everything and smash through it” side of things.

2018 Zerode Taniwha

RT: 160 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 420 mm | HA: 65° | CS: 431 mm

The Zerode is a bit different than any other bike on this list; it uses a gearbox instead of a traditional derailleur and cassette. The reduced unsprung mass makes the suspension track rough ground better than any other bike on this list, and the gearbox is relatively maintenance free. Shifting takes some getting used to though, and the bike isn’t the lightest. The Taniwha’s suspension is equally at home sticking to the ground and plowing as it is popping off of every little feature on the trail, meaning it can easily hang with bikes like the Trek Remedy and Devinci Spartan, but it also retains some of the playfulness of bikes further up this list. Sizing is a bit odd on this bike, but ultimately, the gearbox is the primary selling point of the Taniwha.

2017 Trek Remedy RSL

RT: 150 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 428 mm | HA: 65° (low setting) | CS: 435 mm

Like the Transition Patrol, the Remedy has a bit less travel than some of the bikes further down this list (and some of the bike further up on this list), but it uses that travel extremely effectively, which means it can easily hang on the roughest, steepest trails around. A more active rear suspension means it’s not the most efficient pedaler, but great small bump sensitivity combined with one of the lowest front ends on the market make the Remedy an extraordinarily strong technical climber. Suspension setup is semi-critical on Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv rear shock, but it allows for dramatically different ride characteristics with relatively small changes in air pressure. The Remedy feels most at home flying low and plowing, but it’ll pop and pump when needed. The Remedy is a little less playful than the Transition Patrol, Devinci Spartan, or Evil Insurgent, but it does a bit better at leveling the trail and staying composed in rough chunder. It’s worth noting that this comparison is of the “Race Shop Limited” (RSL) version of the Remedy, that has a longer travel 160 mm fork, whereas the “regular” Remedy has a 150 mm fork, and slightly steeper geometry because of it.

2017 Banshee Rune

RT: 160 mm | FT: 160mm | R: 427 mm | HA: 65° (high setting) | CS: 434 mm (high)

The Banshee Rune is best described as a tank of a trail bike. The suspension stiffens under pedaling forces making the bike slightly more efficient, yet it still does not pedal uphill with ease. The long, slack and low geometry (the “neutral” setting has a head angle of 65, the “low” drops it down to 64.5) doesn’t lend to quick handling or a highly responsive ride, but the Rune comes alive at speed. It feels supportive in corners and handles larger trail features well. The Rune stiffens a bit under braking and gets caught up on square-edged rocks more than other bikes with similar amounts of travel, such as the YT Capra, or Pivot Mach 6, which at times leads to a harsh feeling. The Rune favors high-speed trails, and the burly frame would likely hold up well to bike park use.  One great feature is that the Rune is compatible with different wheel sizes and spacing options with the use of different dropouts. The Rune can run 27.5 or 26 inch wheels with 142×12 or 148×12 spacing, allowing riders to use wheelsets that may otherwise be deemed obsolete.

2015 Devinci Spartan

RT: 165 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 413 mm (low setting) | HA: 65.8° (low setting) | CS: 432 mm

Of the longer travel, slacked out enduro bikes, the Spartan falls a bit more on the playful, poppy end of the spectrum, whereas some of the bikes further down the list like the Giant Reign and the Pivot Firebird fall more into the category of “point it in a straight line and crush through everything.” This isn’t to suggest that the Spartan isn’t a capable bike in rough terrain and at higher speeds, but its shorter front end and slightly steeper headtube angle make it feel a bit less boat-ish. It has a bit more travel than the Transition Patrol, so it gets the slight edge there for descending prowess, but both bikes do relatively well as all-arounders. By enduro bike standards, the Spartan is a reasonably efficient pedaler, so while it’s not the lightest bike in its class, it’s not an insufferable chore to get it to the top of the mountain.

2016 Evil Insurgent

RT: 150 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 433 mm (steep setting) | HA: 65.6° (steep setting) | CS: 430 mm

Wow. Corners! And Jumps! That pretty well sums up this bike on descents. The single pivot suspension lets this bike curl up into corners or jump lips and then explode out of them. It doesn’t hurt that the rear suspension is taut and the frame is very laterally stiff. The rear travel is on the shorter side for a slacked out enduro weapon, but it bottoms very, very softly so you don’t notice the shortage on drops. Instead, it is just a little less smooth in seriously rough terrain. The reach is moderately long, but the short rear end and nimble nature of the bike help to counter that, making this a playful ride. The biggest surprise is how well it climbs — the rear end hardly bobs. The steeper setting (which Evil calls “low” mode) is preferable for most riding, but setting the bike in “extra low” mode would make the bike comfortable ripping fast laps in pretty much any bike park. Compared to the Santa Cruz Nomad, it’s almost as capable, but decidedly more playful.

2015 Santa Cruz Nomad

RT: 165 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 415 mm | HA: 65° | CS: 433.1 mm

The Nomad is a long-standing stalwart in the all mountain/enduro category that received a significant re-design in 2017. We haven’t had a chance to swing a leg over the new version yet, so this comparison is still referencing the older (3rd generation) version. The Nomad pedals remarkably well and is easy to build up as a lightweight ride due to a low frame weight. The relatively short chainstays make it pretty nimble, but the slack head angle and ground hugging suspension don’t make it a particularly playful ride. You can flick it around well, but it doesn’t beg you to do so. Like the Devinci Spartan and Turner RFX, the front end is relatively short, so many people might consider sizing up. The Nomad is ubiquitous because it is good – it can be efficient for long rides and handle rough descents without flinching. The frame is stiff, light, well built and has room for a bottle cage. If you are looking for a confidence boost and want to cover significant miles it is a great ride, but if you want to play, the Devinci Spartan or Evil Insurgent might be a better bet.

2015 GT Sanction

RT: 160 mm | FT: 170 mm | R: 435 mm | HA: 66° | CS: 439 mm

The Sanction is a step away from the bikes further up on this list. Bikes like the Transition Patrol, the Devinci Spartan, and the Santa Cruz Nomad are built as all around bikes with a focus on descending. The Sanction takes that up a notch – it’s built for descending. End of sentence. Yes, it still has to pedal to the top of the climb, and both the build and the geometry recognize that fact, but anything other than descending is a sideshow. With that in mind, the Sanction’s “Independent Drivetrain” linkage makes for a reasonably efficient pedaler, so while it’s not a particularly light bike, it’s still a better climber than the Giant Reign. The downside there is that the linkage tends to wear out quickly, and needs frequent maintenance. The Sanction’s steeper headtube and shorter front end (which still isn’t that short) means it’s not quite as stable as the Giant Reign or Pivot Firebird, and it also doesn’t swallow rocky terrain quite as well as either of those bikes. The Sanction does, however, pump and pop off of terrain features a bit better.

2015 Giant Reign

RT: 160 mm | FT: 160 mm | R: 444 mm (approx) | HA: 65° | CS: 434 mm

The Reign definitely falls into the category of “mini DH bike” — it’s one of the longest, slackest “enduro “ bikes on the market. And like the other bikes that occupy the lower, DH oriented rungs of this list, it feels fairly stupid on any trail that isn’t pointed downhill. The Reign is a bit more stable and planted than the GT Sanction, but it’s less inclined to pop off of jumps and work the terrain – it’s more of a plow bike. Compared to bikes like the Devinci Spartan and Santa Cruz Nomad, the Reign feels like more bike; those bikes are passable as all arounders (albeit all arounders heavily inclined towards descents). The Reign is really built to go downhill, and it only goes uphill by virtue of having some climbing gears bolted to it. But for that reason, the Reign is one of those bikes that could handle multiple duties as a park bike, shuttle rig, and enduro rig.

2017 Pivot Firebird

RT: 170 mm | FT: 170 mm | R: 445 mm | HA: 65° | CS: 430 mm

Pivot’s newly revised Firebird falls at the bottom of this list, meaning it’s the most DH-worthy bike in this comparison. Purely by the numbers, the Firebird’s intentions are reasonably apparent: it has the most travel of any bike on this list, it’s the longest bike on this list, and it’s one of the slackest bikes on this list. While the GT Sanction and Giant Reign aren’t too far behind it, the Firebird takes the cake when it comes to utterly destroying fast, rough descents. It’s one of a very few “enduro” bikes that I think could legitimately replace a DH bike for a lot of people. The new Firebird doesn’t pedal particularly efficiently, and relies heavily on the climb switch to get to the top of a climb. But on the way down, it’s a low, slack monster that handles big hits easily and levels out everything in its path.

17 Comments

  1. Andrew October 23, 2016 Reply

    It’s to bad you guys didn’t get on a Kona process 153, I would have been curious as to where that stacked up, but still, it’s a good article.

  2. Erik October 23, 2016 Reply

    Been on the Ibis Mojo 3 or Salsa Redpoint? Curious as I was able to ride those recently, and would like to know where they fit. As an aside, the Redpoint climbed awfully well for a 150 bike.

  3. Brian Lindahl October 25, 2016 Reply

    Most playful, poppy bike on the list that corners well? Surprised you didn’t put the Yetis in here.

    • Noah October 25, 2016 Reply

      I’d love to put the Yetis on there, but I haven’t ridden any of the newer 27.5″ options yet. Hopefully I’ll get on one next spring.

      For a bike that corners well and is playful and poppy, I’d go with the Santa Cruz 5010 for a shorter travel bike. For something with more travel, the Evil Insurgent seems like it might top the list. I haven’t actually ridden that one (Tom Collier has been spending time on it, and he wrote the blurb in this comparison), but by his description, it seems like it fits those criteria to a T.

      -Noah

  4. Kay October 26, 2016 Reply

    Would have been nice to see Banshee on the list – the Spitfire is an amazing bike.

  5. alfred October 31, 2016 Reply

    Thoughts on the YT capra? 165/165 or 170/165 travel. 27.5 affordable, Pedals well

  6. Zev November 3, 2016 Reply

    Noah, have you spent any time on a Trek Remedy? I demo’d a 2017 and loved it, but I was thinking about purchasing a Devinci Troy due to price and thinking that suspension characteristics would be similar. However, I don’t have a way to demo a Troy so I would greatly appreciate your take on the two bikes. Thanks!

    • Noah November 3, 2016 Reply

      Unfortunately I haven’t been on a Remedy for long enough to come to any real conclusions. But yeah, by all accounts it’s an awesome bike, and it certainly bears some similarities to the Troy’s design. I’m just not sure how that actually translates on the trail.

      If I get a chance to spend some time on one, I’ll update this piece with a comparison.

      -Noah

  7. rj February 20, 2017 Reply

    sure would like to see a Warden in this comparison.

    always checking your reviews out, thanks!

    • Noah Bodman Author
      Noah Bodman February 21, 2017 Reply

      Hey RJ,

      We reviewed the Warden a few years ago – you can check it out here: http://blistergearreview.com/gear-reviews/mountain-bike-reviews/2014-knolly-warden

      Knolly has tweaked the Warden a bit since then, so we didn’t include it in this lineup because we haven’t yet had a chance to get on the current version. Based on the Warden I rode previously, I’d tentatively place it on this list somewhere in the neighborhood of the Turner RFX or the Transition Patrol. This is a bit speculative since I haven’t ridden the newest version, but I’d guess that it (still) has a really active suspension that does extremely well on super technical trails, although I’d bet that it gives up a little ground in terms of pedaling efficiency.

  8. Matt June 29, 2017 Reply

    It would be cool to see Blister Reviewers bikes of choice. Having a huge list is cool, but what you guys grab when you are riding for fun would speak volumes.

  9. Chris July 1, 2017 Reply

    I’m surprised the Pivot Mach 5.5 didn’t make the list. I don’t own one, I own a 5010, but the latest reviews call it the “Quiver Killer.”

  10. Bobby July 11, 2017 Reply

    Agreed on the Yeti comment. I have ridden a few of the bikes on this list, and ended up getting a Yeti SB6. Nothing else seemed to be in it’s league on sustained, and technical downhills, yet felt as good as the SB6 on 2K – 3K ascents.
    Going with a PIKE / DebonAir seems to have put some spring in it’s step and made it a little more plush than with FOX hardware. It’s a big bike that needs some big / open lines to do it’s job – but once it settles into the type of terrain that it was built to ride, I can’t imagine another bike being more predictable, stable, fast, and ultimately fun to ride….

  11. Pedro September 14, 2017 Reply

    Hey Noah, Totally awesome roundup! And love the way to stacked the list. Looking to upgrade to carbon. Really interested in the Turner RFX – coming from a Burner – because I want a bike that can pedal well and be “snappy” at times. Could care less about uphill “efficiency”, just use the pedals to get me up to speed for the next fun feature on the trail! Very intrigued by the Insurgent as a “playful” bike. That’s what it’s all about for me. Does it “pedal” as well as the RFX? Thanks!

    • Tom Collier September 15, 2017 Reply

      Pedro, I’ve got a bunch of time on both the RFX and the Insurgent so Noah directed your question my way. The Insurgent corners really well and likes to pop off any and every feature in the trail. I’ve been able to boost over some gaps that I’ve struggled with on other bikes. It definitely does need to get up to speed before I start playing on trail features though.

      The Turner RFX is a really easy bike to toss around. It doesn’t have a super boost button like the Evil on jumps, but it is very quick and fun. On slower, more technical trails I appreciate how nimble it is. At higher speeds it definitely gives up something to a bike like the Evil or the unflappable Nomad.

      Out here in Park City I’m finding more occasion to use the Insurgent. If I still lived in NH and was riding tighter, slower trails I’d probably be having more fun on the Turner. Hope this helps!

      • Pedro September 15, 2017 Reply

        Thanks Tom! That was really helpful. Appreciate the straight-up, no-nonsense input from guys like you. Happy riding. If I didn’t have family tying me to NJ, I’d prob be living out in PC!

  12. Martin Persson September 29, 2017 Reply

    I would love to see a review on the German Propain Spindrift…

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