PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Cross-Country & Down-Country Bikes VS The Efficiency Test
Gravel roads, power meters, a dose of bro-science, and no lock-outs allowed.
When you hear someone say "cross-country," what do you picture? No, I'm not talking about a bunch of really skinny people with an odd enthusiasm for suffering, although you're not far off. While it doesn't get spoken about with the same affection as descending, cross-country riding - and especially racing - puts much of the focus on climbing. That's where races are usually won or lost, and being as quick as possible up the hills requires a special type of training and dedication from competitors, as well as a particular emphasis from their machines. Not only must the bikes be as light as possible, but they also have to utilize a rear-suspension design that maximizes pedaling efficiency.
After all, wasted watts mean you're going slower and that just won't do. If you're thinking ''That's what lock-outs are for,
'' you're 100-percent correct; firming up a bike's suspension is a useful tool that makes sense to use when racing.
But if you've raced, you'll know there are often occasions when you're speeding across rolling terrain, suspension unlocked and you out of the saddle, stabbing at the pedals because all semblance of good form was forgotten after the first hour. And when the eyes cross and you lose control of your breathing, sometimes you can forgot that your bike even has a lock-out.
So yeah, of course they're efficient when locked out, but want to know how they perform when the suspension is allowed to do its job.
There are a bunch of different suspension designs out there, many of which claim to be able to smooth your path to victory while also raising your FTP by twenty points and fixing the razor burns on your legs. But how much really separates these efficiency-focused suspension layouts?
By using a set of power meter pedals from SRM, a Freelap timing system, a gravel road climb, and a healthy dose of bro-science, that's what we set out to answer.
Here's how we did it: First, we marked out a half-kilometer gravel road ascent that would be easily repeatable but included both mellow and steep sections, and then we dropped Freelap timing cones at the start and finish points. My bumpy line on the side of the road was identical on each lap, as were my cadence, gear ratio-ish, and the summer sun doing its best to fry me. Most importantly, those SRM X-Power pedals talked to a Garmin head unit that gave me current, average, and 10-second power readings live. That allowed me to hold a reasonably consistent effort of 305 to 308 watts for each and every trip up the climb. Yeah, it was about as fun as you think.
My one buddy swears that dual co-rotating links are the best, while another tells me he thinks dual counter-rotating links are ''Like, so much better, man.'' Meanwhile, Jon over in the UK says you're a fool for not buying the high-single-pivot bike that he loves. Whatever anyone tells you, it's not that simple and any layout can be made terrible or amazing.
All ten bikes were ridden with both their fork and rear-suspension left fully open, while the Specialized Epic had its inertia-valve Brain system switched to the most active setting. A note about that: The Brain system still has an affect, even when adjusted to its lowest mode. Of course, all were setup correctly for my weight as well. And while we didn't use the same wheelset, all ten bikes were still on identical Schwalbe tires set to matching pressures.
I bet I know what you're thinking...
Sure, it's certainly more bro-science than real science, and there are plenty of obvious holes in this "test" that I bet you've probably commented on below, but I'd argue that it does hold at least a bit of water. To be honest with you guys, I most definitely didn't want to include this obviously questionable experiment in the Field Test because, well, I don't think it'd get a passing mark if it were my grade 10 school project, as a few readers pointed out in the comments of an earlier Field Test Article. But I do agree - we're not taking enough factors into consideration, especially bike weight, let alone being anywhere near precise enough to be confident in the resulting times.
Many bikes use suspension layouts that appear to be drastically different yet actually fall under the same umbrella. On the other hand, layouts that look remarkably similar can perform drastically dissimilar on the trail due to small, hard to see differences like pivot locations and shock tunes.
But I did it anyway, mostly because I was told to, and a funny thing happened: The bikes pretty much finished in the order that, having spent a month riding them back-to-back, both Sarah and myself would have predicted. So yeah, maybe forget about the times and look at how the bikes finished.
The notes that Sarah made previously while testing the Canyon show it to be the least forgiving bike of the group with a focus more on speed than comfort and traction. And guess what: The Canyon was the quickest bike of the Efficiency Test by a wide margin, confirming her thoughts. You'd expect the Brain-equipped Specialized Epic to be among the leaders, too, and it was, a handful of seconds quicker than its Brain-less EVO brother. Makes sense so far. And the bike with the slowest time up the hill? I mean aside from the Grim Donut. It was the Yeti SB115, the one that I have in my ride notes as not being as inspired and efficient feeling as the rest, again confirming our earlier feedback.
As for the rest of the bikes, there wasn't much separating them on the clock - only a handful of seconds - which is kinda how they act on the trail as well.
Efficiency Test Results
1st Canyon Lux - 2:32
2nd Specialized Epic - 2:38
3rd Trek Supercaliber - 2:43
4th Transition Spur - 2:43
5th Specialized Epic EVO - 2:43
6th Trek Procaliber - 2:43
7th Cannondale Scalpel - 2:45
8th Cannondale Scalpel SE - 2:45
9th Revel Ranger - 2:50
10th Yeti SB115 - 2:51
11th Grim Donut - 3:38
Bottom line: While I wouldn't put much stock in the actual times, the order the bikes finished matches our on-trail impressions.
The 2020 Pinkbike Field Test was made possible with clothing, protection, and support from Giro. Control tires provided by Schwalbe, and power meters provided by SRM. Filming took place at The Backyard pub in Squamish.
Video: Jason Lucas, Cole Nelson, Max Barron