Without a budget cap for this Field Test, it's no surprise that most brands opted to ship us their high-end models to review rather than more money-minded bikes. Can you blame them? If your company had a new machine, would you risk the focus of its first review being on a cut-rate fork or wheelset that let us down? Of course not, which is why we often end up with bikes in the $8,000 to $10,000 USD range. But while some of us are just fine with spending that much on a bicycle, whether it took years of saving or that's just spare change, I'd wager that most either can't or won't be okay with those kinds of numbers.
That's why we made this video looking at our five Field Test trail bikes to see which model gives you the most bike for your buck in each range.
There are six Stumpys to choose from, with the other three carbon models costing $7,000 for the Pro, $4,700 Expert, and $4,000 for the Comp. It’s important to note that all use Fox forks with the GRIP or GRIP2 damper, all have 4-piston brakes, and all have the exact same geometry as they’re all the same carbon frame. The biggest difference is the alloy wheels on the Expert and Comp - the others have carbon hoops.
Geo and suspension are everything, so if you really want a carbon frame, it’s hard to ignore that $4,000 Comp model that comes with SLX - a favorable spec compared to many others at this same price. Don’t care about carbon frames? While there is a $2,300 Stumpy, I like the look of the $3,200 Comp Alloy that comes with more capable suspension, as well as an NX drivetrain instead of SX. One note here: the alloy bikes actually still use Horst Link suspension whereas the carbon ones are now linkage-driven single pivot. I’m sure they act a bit differently on the trail, but I haven’t ridden the alloy bike yet so…. Giant Trance X
If you want to keep it to carbon with the Trance X, there are three versions to choose from: The expensive ‘0’ that we reviewed, the $5,500 ‘1’ model, or the $4,500 ‘2’ - all of which see their parts hanging off the same carbon frame. They all have carbon wheels, too, although the ‘0’ gets a lighter version. The 1 comes with Fox’s high-end fork and shock, whereas the 2 gets a less expensive Pike Select with the Charger RC damper, and it’s GX versus NX as well.
But it’s the alloy models that stand out most to me. If you’re okay with ditching the ‘Advanced’ tag in favor of aluminum, have a look at the $3,200 USD Trance X 29 ‘2’ that gets a Fox 36 with a GRIP damper and an SLX drivetrain. That is absolutely bang for your buck, especially compared to most others at this price point. Ibis Mojo
The $6,267 USD Mojo we reviewed is the least expensive trail bike of the bunch, but does the SLX and carbon wheel’d bike offer the most performance for your bucks of the five versions?
If it were my pennies, I’d have a real hard time looking past the Deore-sped Mojo that costs $4,500 USD. We’ve been super impressed with that drivetrain, and that money also gets you a Fox 34 with the GRIP2 damper. If I had somehow scraped together another $800 to burn, I’d spring for the wide carbon rim upgrade option as Ibis’ wheels have been some of my favorites in the past. But only if that was literally spare money. Actofive P-Train
Am I really supposed to talk about value in the same sentence as a high-end, handmade exotic that's manufactured in very small numbers? Er, I guess so…
The frame on its own is somewhere around $4,000 USD without a shock, depending on exchange rates, duties, and the mood of obscure shipping rules that are designed to make things as difficult as possible. And if you want your exotica with a shock, that’ll be more Deutschmarks, please; around $4,666 USD with an EXT Storia, because you’re not gonna put something boring on it, are you? No, I hope not.
Actofive doesn’t sell complete bikes, but I don’t think anyone is going to be hanging an inexpensive drivetrain or a cheap fork on this thing. The question is: If I wanted a P-Train but needed to build it up without going crazy, what parts would I choose? For a fork, I might get something like a Pike Select with the Charger RC damper, and it’s hard to overlook a Deore drivetrain, isn’t it? The P-Train was made to descend, so four-piston brakes are a must as well; SRAM, TRP, and Hayes all offer good stuff. Wheels would be aluminum, of course, and either Stan’s or Spank. But not those godawful colorful rims. Just some nice black ones. My cockpit and everything else would be aluminum as well. Salsa Blackthorn
Onto Salsa’s 140mm-travel Blackthorn. There are three carbon bikes, two aluminum bikes, and I should point out that they also sell not only a carbon frame for the usual carbon price but also an aluminum frame/shock for $2,100 USD. That’s notable as very few other brands offer a relatively inexpensive alloy frame on its own, worth keeping in mind if you already have some decent suspension and parts to throw at it.
Speaking of aluminum, I had assumed that one of the two alloy Blackthorns would make the most sense - they sport the same geo as the carbon ones, after all - but both come with value-minded forks that use second or third-tier dampers. If you’re an experienced, hard-charging rider who’s used high-end stuff before, you’ll definitely notice the difference. This is where more money can buy more performance, with the $4,900 Carbon SLX Blackthorn being the least expensive version I’d want to buy. Not exactly inexpensive, I know, but that gets you a mostly SLX drivetrain, 4-piston brakes, and a Lyrik with Rockshox’s awesome Charger 2.1 damper.
What does all that mean? I’m gonna admit that being a Pinkbike test editor for the last 12 or 13 years hasn’t exactly helped my eye for value. I'll work on that, but I think the common thread here is the same as always - if they have the identical geometry and good suspension, there’s relatively little on-trail difference between carbon and aluminum frames.
If value is the question, the real answer is an aluminum frame with a high-end suspension fork or at least one that uses the best possible air spring and damper. We don’t see enough of that. With that in mind, the bike that stands out to me is that aluminum Giant Trance X 29 2 that costs $3,200 USD. That gets you the same adjustable widely geometry as the carbon bike, a Fox 36 with the GRIP damper, and the impressive SLX drivetrain. What else do you need?
Let us know what you think in the comments - did I nail it, or am I out to lunch?