PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Four cross-country race machines were put to the test in Squamish, BC.
Words by Sarah Moore, Photography by Margus Riga
We grabbed our Lycra, visorless helmets, and carbon-soled shoes and took four top of the line cross-country bikes and put them through a series of demanding tests on Squamish's lung-busting trails. All of these race machines were significantly more pleasant to pedal uphill than your average trail bike, and they impressed with their descending abilities - for the most part - despite having not much travel and relatively quick-handling geometry. But let's be honest, it was all about the uphill segment hunting, and these bikes really do make you feel like a superhero on the climbs.
It's hard to believe just how much better these four bikes are than anything we were racing on a decade ago, but we're not comparing them to those dated machines, and despite all of them coming out within a few years of each other, there were some clear standouts. While Mike Levy rode these bikes in the Efficiency Test and up the Impossible Climb, I did the bulk of testing on them. I sat down with Mike Kazimer and Levy at the end of the test period to chat about what I did and didn't like on these four bikes and to choose my favorites out of the category.
4 Cross-Country Race Bikes
Despite the polarizing Lefty Ocho on the front of it, Cannondale's Scalpel not only surprised me, but it was also my favorite bike. It still looks odd when I watch myself riding in the video and look at photos of it with its distinct fork, but since it performed superbly throughout the test period, I'm hardly going to let that hold it back from being my top pick. The traction on climbs was exceptional, it felt plusher than its 100mm of travel suggested on the downhill, and it was fastest overall on our timed loop. Not too shabby.
The Scalpel is part of a new generation of cross-country race bikes that are designed for more technical World Cup courses. There's also no rigid, abrasive climbing feel that we've come to associate cross-country bikes, and that means you can stay in the seat and pedal for longer on climbs and across rough traverses without being bounced off-line.
5'7" / 170cmWeight:
160 lbs / 72.6 kgNotes:
Content manager, too fast to be so nice
On descents and when the trail gets rough, the Scalpel's 100mm of rear suspension works well, and it was much less exhausting than the 60mm-travel Supercaliber or 100mm Canyon Lux.
The Scalpel proves that a bike doesn't have to feel harsh to be fast. That also means that it would be a great bike for a shorter XCO distance, as well as a long marathon race.
That being said, I would like to spend more time on the Specialized Epic with the most modern geometry of the pack to see if I can get used to the Brain suspension on the descents. I have a feeling it would be easier if I weren't jumping back and forth between three other bikes. Plus, it has rainbow AXS, a power meter, and a gorgeous red paint job. What's not to love?
And if I'm riding a rolling trail with jumps and berms, I'd choose the Trek Supercaliber because I loved the compact fit and it just feels so fast and is so much fun to pump it along on that type of terrain. When we were shooting on the flowy Another Man's Gold trail, I had the biggest smile on my face while aboard the Supercaliber.
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.
Photos: Margus Riga
Video: Jason Lucas, Cole Nelson, Max Barron