So it turns out we like riding bikes more than talking about bikes, and we ran out of time to film the Editors' Choice discussion on the trail bikes during this year's Field Test. Flights needed catching, and filmers needed sleep, so the question of what we'd choose out of the Trance, Sensor, Habit, and SB130 had to wait.
But don't worry, we'll answer that question now, albeit without the witty(ish) video banter.
We had four different bikes in our trail bike category, ranging from 115mm to 130mm rear travel as well as 65.5° and 66.5° head-tube angles. While they're all similar in travel and purpose, they are still very different bikes on the trail. After riding each of them, it's apparent that categorizing bikes based on one number or another is increasingly difficult. But hey, this is where we drew our lines and we hope the comparisons are useful for you.
Testing in Whistler, BC, where there are just as many pedally trails in the valley as there are lift-access DH runs, we were able to understand each of these bikes in a way no geometry chart or product presentation could ever convey. We debated their strengths and weaknesses relative to their intended uses, and although they're all good bikes, we each chose one that, personally, we would most like to ride.
Sarah Moore: Yeti SB130
If I had to choose just one of these bikes to ride on my home trails in Squamish, it would be the Yeti SB130. I like a bike that caters to my current weakness, the climbs, and the SB130 was the bike I felt quickest and most efficient climbing on. I liked the super stable suspension platform that didn’t wallow under power, but also maintained traction on steeper, technical climbs.
I’ve been dabbling in racing Enduro since retiring from XC, so I appreciated the SB130's confidence at speed. Of all the bikes we tested in the category, it was the most capable all-rounder, and felt like it could take anything I threw at it. While it's not an enduro race bike, I wouldn’t hesitate to ride any of my favourite trails on it.
The Giant Trance 29 would be my second choice. It was so light it almost had me inspired to train for a marathon XC race and get back into peak climbing shape. The best part was that it could also rally on the descents thanks to its forward-thinking geometry. Maybe the perfect BC Bike Race bike?
I enjoyed riding the Cannondale Habit, and while it's seat-tube length makes it a non-starter for riders with shorter inseams (or riders looking to size up in reach), it's a good all-round bike. As for the GT Sensor, I definitely didn't get along with its harsh-feeling suspension on technical climbing and chundery descents. It's worth noting that the shock tune was revised by GT as a running change after our testing in Whistler. That could improve the suspension characteristics, so while I walked away nonplussed after the Field Test in Whistler, I am interested to try it with the updated tune. We're organizing a long-term review to follow up.
Daniel Sapp: Yeti SB130
While all of the bikes in this category are solid choices, for me, it was always between the Giant Trance 29 and the Yeti SB130. The prowess that the Yeti SB130 has while descending has impressed me time and time again and right now, it wins out... ask me next week though and I could easily say the Giant Trance 29. The Yeti SB130 is a 130mm travel bike that is over forked in a way that makes it a trail eating machine. Since initially testing it in BC during the Field Test, I took it home to the rock-and-root-infested East Coast; I have yet to get it out of its comfort zone in the several months I've been riding it.
The SB130's steep seat-tube helps it climb efficiently and precisely, while the long reach and added suspension up front helps it feel stable and secure while descending. The true test of any test bike for me comes down to which one I want to ride when I don't need to necessarily be "testing" and the Yeti SB130 is consistently the bike I choose. I feel that it's versatile as a bike should reasonably be and it feels at home everywhere I've ridden it so far.
Although I should only choose one bike and the Yeti SB130 is that bike, I would really like to choose two and have the Giant Trance 29 as well. It's lively and fun. It has a very capable spec and for someone who enjoys logging lots of miles in technical terrain without worrying about breaking themselves or a bike, like myself, it's an excellent choice. Where the Yeti SB130 is flat out fast and capable, the Trance will cover more ground and be an equally good (but different) time.
Richard Cunningham: Cannondale Habit
Cannondale's Habit Carbon was my favorite in the trail bike category. First off, I like its simplicity. Carbon where it makes the most sense, in the larger frame members of the main triangle, and aluminum for the rear stays where the smaller tubes must withstand more direct impacts.
Yes, the seat-tube could stand to be a little shorter to accommodate 170mm+ dropper posts, and yes the suspension requires your setup to be more than an afterthought. But it's worth it. The choice of a Horst-Link arrangement may not score vanity points like proprietary wonk-i-link bikes do, but there is no arguing that a consistent leverage curve contributed much to the Habit’s no-nonsense feel and its balance of efficient pedaling and small-bump compliance. This bike doesn’t shout about its technology, it lets its versatile performance do the talking.
Longer-travel enduro bikes have dulled the swords of trail riders with super-stable geometry and gravity-spec component selection that make riding all but the pointiest lines mistake-proof. The Habit pares off the excess from the enduro equation, without robbing the benefits of big wheels, up-to-the minute components, and trustworthy handling. In my opinion it offers up fast-paced trail riding as it should be: a blur of nature and technology, shared equally between rider and bicycle. The basic mountain bike, only better.