PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
10 Trail and Enduro Bikes Face the Efficiency Test
Gravel roads, power meters, a dose of bro-science, and no lock-outs allowed.
Our ten test bikes were never designed to be cross-country efficient, but their all-around intentions mean that most of them have to be at least halfway decent at turning your watts into forward motion, regardless of if they have 130mm or 180mm of travel. And yeah, most of them have shocks with pedal-assist levers that might be able to take the bike from gooey to get a move on, but there are plenty of situations where the trail doesn't give you time to fiddle with your shock or push buttons on the handlebar. Does that mean you should be okay with your trail or enduro bike's squishy suspension making you feel like you're stuck in mud?
Definitely not, and it isn't just about climbing. If a bike feels slow and inefficient on the way up, there are probably other places where it's not at its best as well, especially on rolling terrain or anytime you accelerate out of a corner. Yes, even on the downhills. So with that in mind, we took our ten test bikes of varying intentions and travel out to my favorite gravel road (Wait, you don't have one of those?) to see if our on-trail feedback matches what the clock says.
To do it, we measured a half-mile course up a gravel road climb, then placed Freelap timing cones at the start and finish points. A set of Garmin Vector power pedals talked to my 1030 head unit, and I set it up to display my normalized, 10-second, and 3-second power numbers, the idea being to have each bike finish the climb with the same normalized, 300-watt power number. While there's some bro-science involved, no doubt there, that should mean that the more efficient bikes will cover the same distance quicker than the less efficient bikes. Probably.
Don't forget that while this was a relatively short climb, the differences in efficiency between them will only be further amplified over a long climb or even longer day in the saddle.
Of course, this isn’t a lab test, and we’re not putting the same wheels on every bike or using supercomputers to tell me the friction coefficient between my ass and chamois before dividing that by how many donuts I had for breakfast. It's also a slightly different climb than we used the last time, so don't bother comparing these times to the previous Efficiency Test
. But we were out there in the real world so, just like the Impossible Climb, there’s certainly something to be learned while we had a good time… Wait, that was a good time?
Efficiency Test Results
1st Giant Trance X (5/5 Live Valve) - 2:45
2nd Specialized Stumpjumper - 2:48
3rd Giant Trance X (1/5 Live Valve) - 2:49
4th Salsa Blackthorn - 2:53
5th Santa Cruz Nomad - 2:54
6th Ibis Mojo - 2:56
7th Propain Spindrift - 3:00
8th Rocky Mountain Altitude - 3:04
9th Trek Slash - 3:10
10th Actofive P-Train - 3:12
11th Norco Shore - 3:28
What'd we learn after way too many trips up the gravel road?
Not surprisingly given its intentions as an efficient, fast bike made to cover a lot of ground, Giant's Trance X had the quickest time at 2:45 with its Live Valve suspension set to its firmest, 5/5 mode. The trout-colored Giant felt more like a 24lb cross-country whip than the 30lb trail bike it actually is, and it was only 4-seconds back with Live Valve turned to its least intrusive (but still very firm feeling) 1/5 mode. Splitting the Giant's two times is the new Stumpjumper at 2:48 - I had previously talked a lot about how fast and efficient this bike is
, so it's nice to see that confirmed by the Efficiency Test.
If you're okay with adding a bunch of wires (and cost), Fox's wild Live Valve suspension can make your chunky trail bike climb like a flyweight.
There are a couple of things to mention, though, including the Nomad surprising us all with a 2:54 that put it in 5th place overall and 6-seconds up on the closest enduro bike, the 180mm Propain Spindrift. Unsurprisingly, the P-Train (the most active feeling trail bike) and Norco Shore (the heaviest enduro bike) brought up the back of the pack, although I suspect that potential owners of those two won't be too fussed about it given that hose bikes aren't about getting to the top quickly.
Sure, the Efficiency Test isn't a German-run lab with airlocks and results to be published in some peer-reviewed paper, but that's not the intention. Instead, it gives us a good idea of the relative efficiency between all ten bikes, and it's also confirmed our on-trail impressions of their climbing performance.
The 2020 Pinkbike Field Test was made possible with support from Dainese apparel & protection, Sierra Nevada refreshments, and Smith eyewear and helmets. Thanks also to Maxxis, Garmin, Freelap, and Toyota Pacific.