We put together a comparison of 29er trail bikes recently, so now it’s time to do the same for 27.5” wheeled bikes. Again, we’re including the entire spectrum here, ranging from relatively short travel bikes up to a few options that blur the line with dedicated DH rigs (we didn’t, however, include DH bikes in here). So why the huge spread? Because there’s a huge middle ground, and it’s often worth comparing a bike with 140 mm 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.
Now, there are a lot of great bikes that aren’t included in here. This list is far from exhaustive, but it covers the bikes we’ve spent time on. As we get to ride more bikes, we’ll add them.
These bikes are ranked 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 don’t climb decently. And it’s also worth noting that this isn’t a ranking of which bike is “best” – there isn’t a terrible bike on this list, the trick is to find a bike that’s good for your particular preferences.
And as with anything bike related, this ranking 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. The rankings we’re laying out 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.
We’ve noted 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), and CS (Chainstay Length). For a more in depth discussion of the bikes including more thoughts on geometry, fit, and how they ride, click into the full reviews.
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 it’s light weight and efficiency help it edge out other good climbers like the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt
RT: 100 mm FT: 120 mm R: 421 mm HA: 68.5° CS: 432 mm
The Giant Anthem is a capable bike for its low travel numbers. It has a reasonably stiff frame that lets you push it a bit more in the rough than you might guess. It pedals pretty well, mostly because it doesn’t have much rear travel. This bike is just a bit like the old Santa Cruz Blur 4X bikes. It is fun to sprint around on, jump, and pump on flowy trails. In the rough, something like the Santa Devinci Django or Cruz 5010 will take the lead, but if you are looking for a short travel, playful bike, it is hard to do much better than the Giant Anthem SX.
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 that falls a little further down this list), the Thunderbolt’s suspension isn’t particularly supple. Largely, this is 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.
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 as both a 27.5 and 29er. 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.
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.
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.
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 bad and the rear suspension is a bit better through the rough. It 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 it will be confident and playful.
RT: 150 mm FT: 160 mm R: 415 mm (mid setting) HA: 67° (mid setting) CS: 428 mm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. The newest version 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.
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.
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 double duty as a park bike, shuttle rig, and enduro rig.
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.