Best Overall: Kenda Booster Pro
After breaking it in on local trails, we raced the Kenda Booster Pro in Israels Samarathon MTB Epic stage race, which covered miles and miles of flat hardpack, sand, rock slabs, and everything in between.
That was 2019, and were still riding the same pair of tires on our local trailstheyre that durable. They also roll extremely fast and quiet, even with an aggressive tread and grippy single-compound rubber that corners reliably on a wide variety of surfaces.
They come in TR and SCT . Both are tubeless, and both use a supple 120tpi casing. But the SCT versions add an extra nylon fabric layer from bead to tread cap to improve tubeless performance and add a bit more protection against sidewall cuts. It adds about 70g per tire, but if youre racing a marathon in a foreign country, thats peace of mind worth carrying.
Not only are these some of the lightest XC tires on the market, they also come in the widest variety of sizing. From kid-bike-friendly 20-inch options to 29ers, and 2.2 up to 2.8 widths, theres literally something for everyone.
- Style: All-around racing
PROS: huge size range, lightweight, durable, fast, grippyCONS: Not great in mud
How Does It Make You Feel The Mountain Bike As A Means To An End
The bike industrys most recent technical developments have reached new heights, but things have also become so convoluted that you often cant see the forest for the trees. Standards have changed so often until they disappeared altogether. The focus was on trying to include as many technical features as possible, during which we lost sight of what mountain biking should really be about: the way it makes you feel.
At its core, a bike is a means to an end. A tool that
- takes us to places we would otherwise never have seen.
- allows us to see our surroundings from a new perspective.
- allows us to quickly escape everyday life and get into nature.
- introduces us to new people, helping us forge new friendships and become part of a cool community!
- takes our fitness and endurance to the next level.
- is hip, cool and stylish!
- provides excitement, a feeling of adventure and variety after work or on the weekend!
- has changed the way we commute to work and calmed our ecological conscience.
- challenges us to try new lines, jump bigger jumps and push our boundaries.
- improves our technical understanding, fascinates us and turns some of us into tech nerds.
- ensures that we feel more alive and experience life more intensely.
- is like meditation our thoughts calm down with every revolution of the cranks.
- might help us win races.
- is brilliant in every way.
Despite The Svelte Facade The Foundations Are Sturdy
To balance out the tight head angle, Orbea has specd a new-school 44mm fork offset, which is no doubt one of the best things thats ever happened to the modern XC bike.
Unlike steeper-angled bikes or those with longer offsets , the Oizs handlebar doesnt need taming quite so much on the descents. In general, its less likely to develop a mind of its own. Theres less oversteer, less wiggle, and it does well to keep a head level at speed. The bendy Fox fork doesnt exactly give it point-and-shoot confidence when things get really blown out, but thats standard for a lightweight XC fork, and the bike manages to work alongside you rather than trying to find its own way down.
Helping out here is the fact that Orbea has also kept the Oiz quite low to the ground, with the BB sitting 47mm below the hub axles. Thats similar to the new Epic, but its a lot lower than the Scalpel and Lux. Only the Trek Supercaliber is lower, but then that bike can be since it only has 60mm of rear wheel travel. In general, a low-hanging BB keeps your centre of gravity closer to earth, placing you down between the wheels, improving overall stability.
Surprisingly, I havent been clipping my pedals all that much though, likely due to the Oiz anti-squat that helps to extend the rear shock under forceful chain torque. Im almost always in the firmer Medium suspension mode on technical climbs too, which keeps the whole bike riding higher to begin with.
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The Best Downcountry Bikes
With trail bikes getting heavier and travel getting longer all the time, a new breed of agile, responsive but still impressively controlled and fun-to-rally ‘downcountry’ bikes have appeared. A lot of the models that claim to be in this category are too heavy or slow, however, so we’ve picked our favourites carefully.
The Izzo is YT’s debut into the lightweight full-suspension bike category is more downcountry than cross country with 130mm of travel front and rear. However while this may not be a pure-bred race bike, it can keep up with the pack on climbs and then shred them on the descents.
The suspension is Kashima-coated, Fox Factory series with a 34 fork up front and Float shock at the rear, and the shock has a remote lockout. The bike is outfitted with a SRAM X01 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain and SRAM G2 brakes. The DT Swiss XMC 1200 Spline wheels are wrapped in Maxxis tires.
While the Pro Race launch spec version we tested was already light for its category, YT have now bought out an ‘Uncaged 7’ version of the Izzo with RockShox SID suspension and Maxxis Rekon Race tires at both ends. This drops travel to 120mm but at just 11.4kg and with faster rolling rubber its a proper rocket ship.
Check out our full review of the YT Izzo Pro Race.
The Epic has been Specialized’s flagship XC bike for a number of years now, and this year the brand introduced an EVO version for those who want a bit more travel and handling prowess.
Types Of Mountain Bikes
- Trail bikes: These bikes work best for all-around riding styles. They’re great for casual riding or if you’re just looking to get into the sport.
- Cross-Country: Designed for faster riding with less suspension. They’re easier to climb hills with and focus on efficiency for longer rides.
- Fat tire bikes: With giant tires to improve traction, these bikes are good for sand and snow.
- All-Mountain: If you don’t want to compromise between downhill speed and uphill ease, consider one of these.
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Is It Bad To Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road
While theyre built for off-road use, mountain bikes are perfectly fine to ride on roads, though we wouldnt recommend them for races or century rides.
The knobby tires are a bit bumpier than road tires and the added weight of a mountain bike can wear on you on inclines. Theyll do in a pinch for short commutes or a quick ride to the store, however.
Whats The Lightest Xc Bike
Of course any discussion about XC racing wouldnt be complete without talking about weight. For those who are hunting grams, you may be wondering whats the lightest XC bike out there?
In all of our bike reviews youll find a confirmed weight, which is taken with the tyres set up tubeless and with no pedals installed. However, since were not always testing bikes at the same price point , those weights arent really comparable. Also, some XC bikes are still sold without a dropper post, which obviously tilts the weight balance in their favour.
For those reasons, its no surprise that the $21,000 AUD Specialized S-Works Epic is the lightest XC bike weve tested at just 9.46kg. The heaviest bike in our list is the 11.3kg Giant Anthem, though it is less than half the price of the Epic, and it also comes with a full-length dropper post.
Where things get a little easier to compare is frame weight. Shown below are the claimed weights from each manufacturer, which is for a bare unpainted frame with the rear shock and hardware
- Specialized S-Works Epic EVO 1,659g
- Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 1,735g
- Orbea Oiz OMX 1,740g
- Scott Spark RC HMX SL 1,870g
- Cannondale Scalpel Hi-Mod 1,910g
- Santa Cruz Blur 4 1,933g
- Canyon Lux CF SLX 1,922g
- Merida Ninety-Six RC 2,064g
- Canyon Lux Trail CF 2,276g
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Salsa Rangefinder Advent X 275+
Salsa Salsa Rangefinder Advent X 27.5+ Bike
Salsa Salsa Rangefinder Advent X 27.5+ Bike
- 27.5+ tires have lots of traction
- Tires are not tubeless compatible
For a few years, plus-size tires27.5-inch wheels with 2.8- to 3.0-inch wide tireswere all the rage for mountain bikes. They offer more traction and cushier ride quality than typical 2.25 or 2.5 wide mountain bike tires and without the added weight penalty of 4-inch fat bike rubber. But as quickly as the plus tires showed up on the scene, they seemed to disappear even faster. Salsa is one of the brands still proudly flying the plus tire flag.
Salsa’s Rangefinder is a super versatile and well-rounded hardtail. Want to explore some new singletrack? Maybe do a backcountry bikepacking trip? The Rangefinder is a great multi-tasker. The Advent X 27.5+ model features a 10-speed Microshift drivetrain , 2.8 wide Maxxis tires, and hydraulic disc brakes. The Rangefinder can also fit 29 wheels if you want to swap wheels for fast-paced rides.
- Bontrager Kovee Elite 23 Carbon, tubeless-ready wheels
- Lightweight carbon frame with IsoSpeed decoupler
- 100mm RockShox Reba RL fork with remote lockout
- 720mm handlebar is on the narrow side
- Lightweight and tubeless ready XC race tires
- Some may want tires wider than 2.25-inches
Component Highs & Lows
Aside from the mishap with our original frame, performance and durability has been impressive across the board on the Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 1.
The new Giant XCR 1 wheelset has been a particular standout. It is very light at just 1,531g on our workshop scales , and its also highly responsive thanks to the use of a 54T ratchet freehub mechanism. The wheels are quiet on the trail, with a lacing pattern that results in no contact between any of the spokes. The rim profile is all-new, featuring a 30mm inner width that provides an ideal platform for those brilliant 2.4in Maxxis tyres.
Although the Shimano XT groupset has performed well, shifting has been a little lacklustre due to the curious choice of a KMC chain. The fit is a little sloppy, and gear changes are just not as crisp as weve come to expect from Shimanos 12-speed stuff. If this were my bike, Id be fitting a genuine Shimano chain.
While Im on the drivetrain, the new-school 55mm chainline also sees a pretty aggressive angle when youre in the 51T sprocket. It surely cant help with efficiency, but Giant says the wider chainline is necessary to fit in the 2.4in rear tyre while keeping the chainstays both beefy and short.
And while Im not usually a fan of 35mm carbon bars, the use of foam grips, the supple Fox 34 SC fork and 2.4in tyres mean that front-end compliance is actually quite good. Its still a race bike, but I certainly didnt rattle my teeth out.
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Bike Types Explained: Xc Enduro Trail All
A cross-country bike is built for uphill and downhill speed as well as mellower terrain. Most cross-country bikes have 100mm suspension and come with 29-inch wheels, which are faster than 27.5-inch wheels.
To optimize for climbing, cross-country bikes usually have a steeper head tube angle. But recent advances in suspension design are blurring the line between XC and trail bikes.
A trail bike wont be quite as light as a cross-country bike, and it will usually have more front and rear suspension. Trail bikes are fast uphill with geometry and suspension thats forgiving and fun riding downhill.
An all-mountain bike is the most versatile style of mountain bike. It will take you almost anywhere you want to pedal.
With a 120-130mm suspension in back, if you have your sights set on big rides that balance climbing and descending, a nimble all-mountain bike is the best choice. They rally through anything but the biggest downhill features.
An enduro bike is downhill-focused, but a bike you can still pedal. Enduro bikes are usually heavier than all-mountain and trail bikes because they have more front and rear travel. This enables you to sail through technical roots and rock gardens, over jumps, and down drops.
An enduro bike will have a noticeably slack geometry. Many enduro bikes now have shorter chainstays and other modern bike kinematics that make them as good pedaling uphill as crushing descents. But theyre made for races where the downhill is timed, but the uphill is not.
Punches Well Above Its Weight
Frame: CC carbon, 100mm | Weight: 10.41kg | Rating: 8/10
Pros: So light it barely needs any human propulsion.
Cons: Rear suspension is not the firmest under power.
This is no average XC race bike. Yes, the Blur XC is light, only has 100mm travel and all of the components have been selected with durability and compatibility in mind. Stand up to sprint and its tight and reactive. Bomb down the descents and its remarkably composed. Spin along the flat or grind up a climb, however, and the rear suspension is, how do we put this, overly active. So unless you use the remote lockout, the Blur XC feels slightly laboured on the climbs. Its the bikes only shortcoming. But in XC racing, you cant afford to show any weakness. If youre not racing however and just want a fast bike for trails
We had to borrow Lycra from our sister publication for this test
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Best Xc Hardtail Mountain Bikes
For minimal weight and maximum efficiency, nothing beats the XC hardtail. The rigid rear end makes sure every watt goes from the pedals into the ground. They are perfect for less technical trails, flow trails, and rides that mix in fire roads, gravel, and even some pavement. These are our favorite fast hardtails.
If The Trail Is Too Rough Youre Too Weak: Our Brawler Bike Recommendation
You love taking the high lines, cornering at maximum speed and getting tunnel vision as you plough through roots? You dont ride around obstacles, but over and off them, and your bike should still roll straight after a week of hard riding? The Nukeproof Reactor 290C Factory could be just what youre looking for, making the most of its 130 mm travel at the rear. If your budget allows, you should also consider the new Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper EVO.
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What Size Bike Should You Get
A lot of people are riding around the wrong size bike.
The first myth to bust is that smaller bikes are more nimble/playful/maneuverable. Nope. Smaller bikes are less stable, more sketchy and uncomfortable. Dont buy a bike thats too small thinking itll be alright. Dont get suckered into buying the wrong size bike because its at a bargain price.
A cheap bike thats big enough for you and has good geometry will be infinitely better than a half-price bling bike thats too small for you.
Dont buy a too-small bike. Even if thats what all your mates have done. Even if thats what the bike shop staffer says. Theyre wrong.
The best way to do it is consult with what the bike manufacturers height advice says. You should also check out our guide to choosing your mountain bike frame size. Once youve found what size the manufacturer advise, have a nosey at the next size up. Have a look at the seat tube length and standover. If youd still be alright on the larger size, you should try both the recommended size and the next size up when you go to try the bike for size. Long top tubes can be addressed by fitting a shorter stem and moving the saddle forward on its rails.
Light Weight With Sharp Handling
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 13.86kg | Suspension travel: 140mm f | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Lighter than most rivals. Handy tool stashed under the saddle.
Cons: Poor wet weather brake performance, but youll need new discs and pads to improve it
Merida has done everything right with this latest evolution of the Big Trail. Its engaging ride quality and feature-packed frame instantly impressed us making it a very compelling choice. With its low weight and sweet handling the Big Trail 600 ripped, especially in drier conditions. The frames range of sizing should cover riders big and small, without having to opt for a smaller wheel size.
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Takeaways From The Bikes
If youre lost after reviewing all of these full suspension mountain bikes, then worry not. They all kind of blend together at this price point. As I was writing this, I noticed a lot of the same components over and over. Most of the bikes have the same RockShox Recon or 35 forks and Deluxe rear shocks, aside from the Ibis, Fezzari, and Polygon which use either Fox or DVO. And, aside from the Ibis, all of these bikes utilize a single-pivot or Horst link for their suspension designs.
Most of these bikes also use the same Shimano brakes and SLX or Deore drivetrain, except for the Fezzari again, which uses a SRAM GX drivetrain and G2 brakes. With the budget-friendly component packages, all of the bikes will probably be on the heavier side, weighing between 32 and 34lbs. Based on the build and price alone, the Fezzari probably has the best build, considering the suspension, brakes, and wheels, but the Polygon, and Ibis are really sweet deals too with Fox suspension.
All of these bikes have fairly similar geometry, with longer wheelbases, and slacker head tube angles for better descending, and all of them have steeper seat tube angles for seated climbing, but read each section for notes on where one might perform differently than another.