2019 Pinkbike Awards: Mountain Bike of the Year Nominees

Dec 18, 2019
by Mike Kazimer  
2019 Pinkbike Awards


Mountain Bike of the Year Nominees


We reviewed dozens of new bikes this year, everything from ultralight cross-country machines to race-ready downhill bikes. The sheer number of excellent options out there makes it challenging to select just four nominees for Pinkbike's Mountain Bike of the Year, but after several rounds of deliberation, the following contenders ended up on top. These are the bikes we couldn't stop thinking about, the ones that we wanted to take on one more ride, long after it was time to box them up and send them away.

The Forbidden Druid, Norco Optic, Specialized Enduro, and Santa Cruz Hightower / Juliana Maverick all have their own unique ride characteristics, but they share one obvious trait: 29” wheels. That's right, for the first time ever, all of the bikes that were nominated roll on big wheels. The pool of new 27.5” wheeled bikes was shallower than ever this year, and while there were several solid contenders, they didn't quite make the cut to get into the final round.

Last year it was Commencal's Supreme DH 29 that took the win - who will emerge victorious this time around?









Why it's nominated

Forbidden is a relative newcomer to the mountain bike world, but company founders Owen Pemberton and Alastair Beckett have years of experience in the industry that they were able to draw from when creating the Druid. Although it may look like a mini-downhill bike, thanks to that idler pulley and high pivot suspension design, the Druid is a trail bike through-and-through, with 130mm of rear travel and a 150mm fork.

The level of refinement on the Druid is impressive, especially considering that this is Forbidden's very first model. It's the ride quality that cemented the bike's inclusion on this list, with trail manners that make it stand out from the crowd. The geometry is modern but not extreme; pair that with the unique feel of the rear suspension and you have the recipe for one engaging ride.

As the original review said, “the suspension has the firmer, more supportive feel you'd expect from a shorter travel bike on smaller bumps, but its ability to smooth out bigger hits is what separates it from other bikes in this travel bracket. It's a sensation that seems to dare you to go even faster into chopped up sections of trail, simply to see how the back end will respond.” We all know that going fast is fun, and the Druid is one of those bikes that brings an extra level of entertainment to the trails.

From the review:

bigquotesThe Druid would be an impressive addition to a well-established company's lineup, which makes the fact that it's Forbidden's inaugural entry into the marketplace even more noteworthy. It's a well designed, very engaging bike to ride, and would make an ideal all-rounder for riders whose preferred trails are more technical than tame but don't want (or need) a long travel enduro sled.








Why it's nominated

The Optic was a smash hit at this year's Pinkbike Field Test, wowing testers with its mix of playfulness and surefooted descending capabilities. It's a testament to the importance of good geometry – Norco hit the nail on the head with the numbers on this bike. The concept of mixing a moderate amount of travel with relatively long and slack geometry numbers isn't a new one, but Norco pushed things a bit further than what had been done in the past, and the result is a bike that's at the top of the charts when it comes to all-out fun.

The 125mm of travel rear is handled by a pint-sized RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock, one that's free of any sort of lockout lever, a testament to Norco's confidence in the bike's pedaling abilities. Despite having way too many adjectives in its name, that shock performed admirably, even when we took the bike on trails in the Whistler Bike Park where it probably didn't belong. That's really the only downside to that geometry, if you can call it that; it makes it easy to forget that you're on a shorter travel bike, and you'll find yourself heading down lines that don't typically see trail bike traffic.

Sorted geometry, well-managed suspension, and a clutter-free frame design puts the Norco Optic in the running for Pinkbike's Mountain Bike of the Year.

From the Field Test:

bigquotesGeometry rules all, and Norco nailed it with the Optic by using numbers that let you ride not just above its (impressive) 125mm of travel, but also like your only goal is to have as much fun as possible out there.










Why it's nominated

The Enduro has been in Specialized's lineup for over 20 years, but the newest model is the burliest, most badass version yet. Specialized went all-in on the design of the new bike, taking the World Cup DH winning suspension layout from the Demo and combining it with truly modern geometry numbers to create a 170mm bump-crushing beast.

The fact that Specialized didn't hold back is one of the reasons they earned a spot on this list – the new Enduro is unapologetically gravity oriented, a bike that makes it even harder to justify owning a dedicated downhill rig. It's certainly not a bike for cruising on mellow trails, but it is impressively pedalable, with a better response under power than the previous version, a reasonable weight, and the unmatched convenience of that SWAT box in the downtube.


From the First Ride:

bigquotesIt's almost ridiculous how much the Enduro smooths out the trail, and how fast that trait will let you go. Fans of bikes that deliver a magic carpet type ride will find a lot to like here. The low center of gravity is very noticeable, especially when cornering – having the weight centered close to the bottom bracket makes it easy to really push into a tight turn without losing any traction.










Why it's nominated

The Hightower and its sibling, the Juliana Maverick, aren't the longest, slackest, or even the lightest 140mm bikes out there, but they are some of the the most refined, and it's that exceptional attention to detail that helped earn them a nomination. The Hightower's versatility is its strong suit, with enough travel to navigate all but the hairiest descents, and balanced geometry that gives it the ability to remain enjoyable on a wide range of terrain. The shock tune is well matched to the VPP suspension design, with plenty of traction for the slippery stuff, and enough support for grinding out those big climbs.

Feel like trying an enduro race? That's not out of the question, especially if you slapped on a 160mm fork and some tough tires. How about a long backcountry tour with a serious amount of vertical? That's entirely feasible too – there aren't too many situations where the Hightower feels out of its element. Bonus points go to Santa Cruz for also offering an aluminum version of the Hightower, which helps make the price of admission a little less daunting.

From the review:

bigquotesYes, there is a limit to what the Hightower can handle, but it takes a good deal of pushing to get anywhere near it, and trying to find the edge is part of what makes it so fun to ride. It hits the sweet spot, where there's enough travel to deal with rougher trails, while still remaining entertaining on smoother, flowier trails.











179 Comments

  • 143 1
 I guess we know which bike won the enduro category..
  • 6 52
flag LuvAZ (Dec 18, 2019 at 12:07) (Below Threshold)
 That was just from the first ride review. I am betting the Yeti will win the enduro category this yr.
  • 79 3
 @LuvAZ: The Yeti will likely win the SB165 category.
  • 9 14
flag Krzymndyd (Dec 18, 2019 at 17:31) (Below Threshold)
 the one that pays the most?
  • 4 0
 Came here to say that!
  • 108 3
 Norco... because sometimes pricing the bike so we can buy it is all that matters.
  • 17 0
 What confuses me if the significant price difference between the Optic and an equivalent-spec Sight. Optics are a great deal but Sights really aren't.
  • 10 1
 @big-red: the sight does run a carbon upper chainstay so that will add some cost. The sight C2 also has a more expensive fork than optic C2 a more expensive rear shock and more expensive brakes.

There might be more to it than that but from what I can tell those things would cause a price increase
  • 15 0
 I love that Optic, I want one
  • 16 18
 I shouldn't give a shit but that bike has the worse colours and decal designs I've even seen on a bike. tragic because they nailed everything else.
  • 12 6
 Santa Cruz because this is PB.
  • 3 0
 @jclnv: the bike looks waaaaay better in person . I thought it looked terrible in all the photos but I saw one yesterday and thought it looks pretty good
  • 4 0
 @jclnv: I own one and will agree that if you have only seen it in pics it's not the best. But in person it's worlds better.
  • 3 0
 @MrDiamondDave: i bought the Optic based on the review and I could not be more pumped with it. I have had and currently have too many bikes and it is without a doubt the best bang for my buck ever...
  • 3 0
 another happy optic owner here! I disliked the colour at first, but as mentioned, in the flesh its way nicer. Plus all the positive reviews made me somehow learn to love it!
  • 1 0
 Optic looks like the perfect bike for me. If I didn't have a spark I'd likely pull the trigger on one.
  • 1 0
 @j-t-g: Are you speaking of the green?
  • 2 0
 @big-red: $1650 with RS Super Delux aluminum frame $2900 with Fox Factory X2 carbon frame is pretty good?.Frame price is what I use to index the deal since the only variable is the shock.
  • 1 0
 @patternw: sure am
  • 1 0
 @cole-inman: Fair point indeed.
  • 3 0
 @jclnv: Disgusting colours = Nobody wants it = Epic sale discount.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Comp 2017. Pictures online looked hideous. Got it for a sweeeeeet price. Actually looked decent in the flesh. Result!
  • 88 2
 The Druid is the most drool-worthy imo. It gets my vote
  • 21 39
flag ryanandrewrogers (Dec 18, 2019 at 13:59) (Below Threshold)
 The druid is the only slightly innovative bike in this list. The enduro is uninspired, a good bike but nothing nobody else in the industry was already making (cough cough santa cruz). The optic could've been made 5 years ago with slightly smaller sizing. The new hightower is nice, nothing really new though and it doesn't even have half the racing pedigree of the old hightower in the EWS.
  • 49 7
 @ryanandrewrogers: if you think the enduro is a copy cat Santa Cruz you should go take up trail running.
  • 6 0
 Agreed... HSP has so much potential on all bikes. I sent them an email to try and convince them to make a longer travel enduro bike with the same design lol.
  • 2 0
 @jawzzy3: I'm confident a WeAreOne co-designed/in-house built enduro bike is in the works.
  • 2 0
 @robnow: A Druid with WeAreOne wheels and a mix of OneUp and Chromag bits might be the nicest Canadian bike around. Though maybe an aluminum Devinci or small-scale steel maker frame like a Chormag is technically more Canadian as they'd actually be built here as well.
  • 1 0
 @big-red: No, I'm talking about WeAreOne actually laying up the carbon for the new Forbidden enduro bike...100% Canadian hand made carbon bicycles.
  • 1 0
 @robnow: Sweet zombie jesus shut up and take my money!
  • 3 0
 i really want to see a longer travel 275 bike from them
  • 4 0
 @big-red: I'm in process of building my Druid right now, WeAreOne wheels, OneUp dropper and pedals, Race Face Turbine stem, Next R bar, Next R cranks and BB. And of course XT 4 piston brakes and 12 speed drive train.
  • 70 29
 If the Enduro wins, will the credit go to the design team behind the Megatower?
  • 28 14
 It's not running a vpp suspension design.
  • 19 4
 @hayden19: And here I thought the difference between SC and Specialized was the paint. You mean to tell me they also use different suspension designs?
  • 12 4
 @Hayek: The original Enduro prototype highlights how different they are:
www.pinkbike.com/photo/17601397
  • 8 4
 From 2002-2004 the Enduro had a similiar design to what the new Enduro has.... Oh and that was loooong before SC did it as well so..... Nope SC gets no credit sorry.
  • 2 2
 My bad, mild typo. 2005-2006
  • 3 4
 @TheBearDen: So if I follow your logic, either Specialized copied its own design from 2002, or SC copied Specialized’s design from 2002. So in either case, you’re saying the inspiration for the new Enduro came from the 2002 Enduro, and Specialized deserves the credit for the new Enduro and possibly for the Megatower as well?
  • 5 1
 @Hayek: that's correct? I think yeah? Lol
  • 5 10
flag theronsta (Dec 18, 2019 at 17:30) (Below Threshold)
 @acali: that photo is quite obviously photoshopped, from the specialized logo on the downtube that does not match, to the Roval text imposed over the max of logos and the clear white straight lines that somebody used in paint. Plus you can see the Santa Cruz logo on the steer tube ya dunce
  • 1 0
 dang I replied to the wrong one
  • 2 3
 Of course Spesh would inspire themselves off of SC’s designs! Look at those frame lines, logo and shock placement. Yeah I know it’s a different suspension system but c’mon!
  • 1 0
 @acali: love the pic
  • 1 1
 @agent84: stay woke.
  • 6 0
 @agent84: Have you seen the demo tho? Nobody talked about it looking like a nomad (or any sc model right now). Maybe compare the top tube and downtube from the enduro and the Stumpjumper (or silhuettes). The enduro is the perfect mix between demo and Stumpjumper and side by side it doesn't look like SC. The only thing that's similar i.m.o. is the paint job. Low mounted shocks are easily very common and can be found on some other brands bikes right?
  • 35 0
 Druid looks sick but the Norco seemed like it blew minds in testing. Glad none of the enduro test field thats been released is here
  • 34 0
 What?! No Slayer?! Oh, too soon? Sorry.
  • 28 1
 Br(e)aking performance wasn't up to par.
  • 9 3
 That bike’s such a cracker, like
  • 3 1
 its nomination must of fell through the cracks
  • 9 2
 We learned that metal holes crack, and metal poles bend... story of life
  • 2 0
 You slay us Bwahahaha.
  • 2 2
 @headshot: So is Sly involved in all this now? Does he have to go to back to Vietnam to bring justice to quality control that approved this axle and chainstay?
  • 34 7
 I was hoping a Guerrilla Gravity would have made the list....
  • 10 2
 Yeah, kinda seems like a clear standout to at least make it on the list. North American made carbon with a unique process – and with glowing reviews.
  • 10 1
 The Guerilla gravity is allready one of the ‘best value mountainbikes of the year’
  • 13 6
 Not everyone wants a bike with graphics designed on microsoft paint
  • 1 2
 @jchkeys ...and incomprehensible that there are no DH or E bikes nominated for 2019. Any bike without a double crown is practically dead to me, get with the future Pinkbike!
  • 3 2
 @mtbracken: USA made doesn't mean anything to anyone but Americans.
  • 4 1
 @CM999: Process, sustainability practices, and worker conditions (vs. Chinese-made carbon) may matter to some outside of the USA.
  • 4 0
 @CM999: We get that, but our new Revved carbon manufacturing process has the potential to change the way all carbon bikes are made.
  • 18 1
 Out of all the field tests if I had to spend my own money it'd be an Optic. But really my bike is only 12 months old. There's nothing I've seen that makes me think spending thousands is worth it. Sure I'll get 1.5cm more reach and maybe half a degree slacker HA but can't help but feel learning some more skills and some coaching for a few hundred bucks would make me better and make me enjoy biking even more than the media-led, thisllmakeyabetteryournotarealmountainbikerif... BS propogated. Just ride
  • 15 0
 Santa Cruz at the paint shop:

"What do you got new this year?"

"Well, we've got a new line called 'baby shit' that ranges from 'taco surprise' all the way to 'too much birthday cake'"

"Sounds great, we'll take it!"
  • 1 0
 Hahahaha
  • 1 0
 The blue colour is much nicer and the Juliana red version is even better
  • 1 1
 Preach ????
  • 15 1
 I own the hightower and can attest to its greatness. But the Norco Optic is the bike of the year, geometry, build spec and price point make this bike very marketable to everyone.
  • 15 0
 I guessed the Optic and Enduro would be on this list, but the Druid was a nice sight to see here. My bet is on the Norco for winning overall
  • 12 0
 Druid is the sexy one, Optic is the one you take home to meet your parents, the Enduro is just gonna get you in trouble, the Santa Cruz is hot but just wants you for your money.
  • 15 1
 Specialized is cool until you get a rock in your linkage...
  • 2 6
flag Tmackstab (Dec 18, 2019 at 13:36) (Below Threshold)
 I guess a square of moto foam couldn't help that hey?
  • 15 2
 Why no Pole?? I'm going to sit here and fold my arms until you guys bend to my will and explain.
  • 10 0
 Norco. not only because it rides amazing but it is half the price of these other bikes
  • 12 2
 I was hoping to see a Revel in this list.
  • 11 1
 Druid, because... just look at it
  • 11 0
 Norco!
  • 9 0
 Bought my optic after the field test and still has my vote on this! Love the optic spec and geometry are sooo nice!
  • 9 2
 Geometron G1 for the win!


(I’m not connected to the company btw, but am a fan...)
  • 9 0
 No Revel?!
  • 5 0
 Bets on the norco. Spesh need to make an ally enduro with some proper spec options. At the moment is a dentist bike, or dentist bike frame with awful parts & still over priced.
  • 6 2
 That's a tough one. You should have put the new tallboy in there though. I don't know anyone that's not loving that bike. I'd say it's a toss up between the Enduro and the Druid.
  • 11 0
 I wonder if the Optic stole a bit of its thunder in the minds of Mike and Mike who've written about both for the site. The Optic seems to take what the Tallboy does and push it a bit farther.
  • 11 3
 Megatower!
  • 6 0
 Ah Man, that Optic is a nice bike, but I cannot get behind the colour. All the other bikes look great!
  • 1 0
 They come in different colors FYI.
  • 5 1
 Hightower deserves the overall. First time in a while a bike company came out with a middle of the pack kinda bike and made it seem more utilitarian and less of a cliche. Props to SC
  • 6 0
 Druid looks rad and has something different to offer the market.
  • 6 1
 Seems like the Supercaliber would be on a short list for real innovation? Maybe too unproven yet?
  • 5 1
 If the Druid wins Bike of the year for 2019 good chance a company not far from Forbidden wins it in 2020.
  • 2 0
 Are you cryptic here? Meaning some other brand will use their kinematics?
  • 3 0
 @marco222: Might be talking about the 2021 range. That's the bike I'm waiting for.
  • 2 0
 @marco222: check out the Deviate Highlander
  • 1 0
 @tomhoward379: close buuut nooope
  • 1 0
 @TheBearDen: For... Forbidding? Notouchytouchy?
Am I close?
  • 1 0
 @jimmyconnors: noooooooope haha
  • 1 0
 The new FS from Chromag ? Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @TheBearDen: A certain company from Bellingham getting themselves a new rear suspension layout?
  • 1 0
 @marco222: haha nooooope. It is funny to see who did win bike of the year though.
  • 6 1
 That Druid is sweet!! I’d love to try it out
  • 6 2
 I have only ridden the new Hightower. It is as advertised; therefore, it gets my vote.
  • 4 0
 Winner of the frame with the most bearings: Specialized enduro coming in at 20!
  • 1 0
 Someone has to beat Knolly.
  • 4 1
 No GG, I disagree. Also, the hightower is great, but I would put plenty of bikes in front of it for being more capable and much more exciting.
  • 3 0
 Still wondering how the new Revel Rail didnt get nominated. The pinkbike review for it was glowing and that bike ticks near every box for an enduro enthusiast.
  • 3 0
 Very cool to see this Canadian bike company rise to the lime light. They deserve it. They build bikes for riders not for flashy pictures in editorials. Norco Rocks!
  • 3 0
 Spent two days on the Norco. and I'm sold this bike was the best bike I have ever ridden. and I ride a lot of different bikes of all brands.
  • 1 0
 Mmm I dunno I mean you say that and then your user name... just doesn’t check out
  • 2 0
 @jimmyconnors: what do you mean?
  • 6 2
 Norco is my current dreambike. Hoping that wins.
  • 3 0
 The Druid is such a nice bike but for $4000 CAD frame only I can buy a whole Norco Optic for 500 more LOL
  • 1 0
 Not even close in craftsmanship and druid is full carbon
  • 3 0
 Where did the Revel fall in the list? I thought that would have been in there after the reviews it got???
  • 1 0
 I think most of the other awards have DH nominees, but the Mountain Bike of the year isn't ... very strange, especially this year, so much has been said about them ...
  • 6 2
 Hightower for sure!
  • 3 1
 I did read the selection criteria but should 2020s really be in the 2019 mountain bike of the year category
  • 3 2
 I wish they had done a field test on the new Hightower. Just because SC released a bunch of new bikes this year, doesn't mean it wouldn't be a valuable bike to review.
  • 3 0
 I was hoping to see the Revel or Giant Reign 29.
  • 2 0
 The Druid and optic sound like rad bikes, but the knolly fugitive should be on the list too.
  • 4 0
 soooooo not the slayer?
  • 2 0
 The new Hightower is bananas. It absolutely ruled here in the Bellingham area.
  • 3 0
 I'm honestly sold on the optic.
  • 2 0
 I spent a lot of time on it and it is just awesome. have one on order. honestly the best bike I have ridden to date.
  • 1 0
 @bikelots: I might actually steal the geo chart and rebuild it in titanium (I know, not cool, but I want it.....in titanium)
  • 1 0
 In Vegas the line is +21 Norco Optic, I'd bet money on it for other reasons even if it werent the best of these, which it actually is
  • 3 1
 Doesn't matter what we ride as long as we progress!!
  • 5 3
 Cue the baby wheel whiners.
  • 1 2
 I had to scroll up and check; Mountain bike of the year? So a 24lb XC bike and the V10 are contenders in this category?
Missing the criteria for "Mountain bike". Maybe 30 years ago.
  • 3 0
 Team Norco.
  • 1 0
 Wonder if they should create a new category - best excuse for a frame breaking during a field test
  • 2 0
 Yeah, that Optic is gonna win this one
  • 1 0
 So trying to decide between keeping my 2020 Hightower or trying the new Druid - anyone have any experience with both bikes?
  • 8 10
 My vote goes to the Duid. Has somthing really different to it. In a good way. Isn't the Norco Optic rather a Transition Smuggler acopy? The Smuggy is dope to ride so the Optic having almost identical geo should be too.
  • 6 0
 Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
  • 1 0
 @woofer2609: you don’t go out looking like that for a job on a weekday, sir?
  • 1 0
 Not to insinuate that you didn't thoroughly research your comment here, but can you be specific about how the geo is almost identical? Becuase when I compare them the Norco is longer, slacker, lower-slung, and has size-specific frame layups and geometry.
  • 1 0
 @dkidd: The Optic is certainly more refined than the Smuggler. But when you look at the M size frame, seat angle, chainstays, bb height, reach, front and rear travel (5mm are ) are almost the same. Yes, the optic has size-specific stays and a little slacker head angle, and a dh shock in the back, those are nice improvements.
  • 1 0
 What’s the difference between Santa Cruz and juliana?
  • 2 0
 Shock tune, colour, saddle, grips, size range.
  • 3 0
 Marketing
  • 1 0
 Surprised the Ripmo AF wasn't a contender...
  • 3 0
 Go check budget bike of the year
  • 2 0
 Ibis Ripley?!
  • 2 0
 No hard tail?!
  • 1 2
 Unfortunately not. You know: it`s Pinkbike. If it`s not complicated, trendy, in carbon and expensive, it doesn`t deserve to be nominated. Sometimes talking about the essence of mountain-biking but often forgetting it.
  • 3 0
 @softsteel: Because bikes that only have front suspension are the "essence of mountain biking"
  • 1 2
 @mikelevy: I don`t have to justify anything and I don`t need any futile exchange with you.
Same planet / different worlds.
  • 2 0
 @softsteel: Exactly Wink
  • 2 0
 Boring
  • 2 0
 Optic... thats all.
  • 1 0
 No Ibis RipMo? This list can’t be serious without it.
  • 1 0
 Forbidden Druid...because I own one...
  • 4 4
 Kona got robbed!!!
#Kona Process
  • 1 1
 That bikes been around for a while, they wanted to pick something new for 2019
  • 4 0
 @willdavidson9595: Process 134 is new for 2019, no?
  • 2 2
 I feel like there should be at least on DH rig in here.
  • 2 2
 The revel should be in there but it's not a 29ers so...
  • 2 1
 No Doctahawk????
  • 1 1
 What about the Pole n Evil?
  • 1 1
 Specialized Enduro will win, I think you know it why?
  • 4 5
 Trek Supercaliber Mountain Bike of the Year
  • 5 1
 Appeals to roughly 0.5% of mtbers nowdays
  • 2 5
 What about the Rocky Mountain Instinct or the Trek Fuel EX? Similar to the Norco Optic with geometry and component choice and also good value buys!
  • 2 3
 2020 only bikes shouldn't be eligible for the 2019 bike of the year award.
  • 5 6
 Where's the new Turner?
  • 2 0
 Czar owner here....
  • 2 0
 Burner 4 life!
  • 1 0
 5.Spot is still in use-ish
  • 3 6
 Really like that Specialized Knolly. Very original design.
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