WELCOME TO THE 2021
PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
10 Trail and Enduro Bikes Ridden and Rated
Words by Mike Levy, photography by Tom Richards
The modern mountain bike is an incredibly versatile machine that, depending on a few factors, is probably far more capable than whatever category name we're using to describe it. That's certainly accurate of the cross-country weapons we reviewed last time around
- who knew that 100mm could work so well? - but it's even more true if we're talking about trail and enduro bikes, with many becoming so well-rounded and competent that the lines between them can get a bit muddy. Want an EWS-winning bike that won't feel like a lead sled during your all-day missions and huge climbs? Not a problem in 2020. Looking for a short-travel trail bike that won't kill you while you're trying to chase your long-travel buddies? Yup, there are definitely some of those around as well.
With so many able to do so much, the right thing for us to do was get a whole bunch of them to review; five are trail bikes with differing takes on what matters, while the other five are more likely to be seen at an enduro race or lapping the bike park.
The 2021 Field Test includes ten of the newest, most interesting trail and enduro bikes, all of which saw countless laps against the clock.
How do we decide which bikes to include? While there are no set-in-stone rules, the list needs to have a combination of interesting, important, all-new, or notable checked off, with all ten of our contenders meeting some or all of that criteria. Yeah, we know the bike you wanted to read about isn't here, but we'd rather get to know ten bikes real well than only scratch the surface of what twenty are all about.
While it might seem like the most ambiguous category, you might also say that the name says it it: To be a trail bike, they shouldn't have any issues riding most
trails. Within reason, of course - they don't need to feel cross-country efficient or enduro capable, but it doesn't hurt if they're not far off. And some of the newest examples do exactly that.
Many brands don't just have slightly different takes on what a trail bike should be, they also offer different variants that dial-up certain traits, almost always at the expense of others.
For our purposes, rear-wheel-travel was capped at 140mm, and forks needed to have 160mm or less. We also wanted to include a spectrum of intentions, from classic trail bike vibes to new-school capability.
With its 130mm of dw link-controlled suspension, Ibis' fourth-generation Mojo filled the role as a sporty trail bike, and it also served as a direct competitor to Specialized's all-new, 130mm-travel Stumpjumper. In case you haven't heard yet, it's ditched Horst Link suspension for the first time in ever and is an entirely new animal. Speaking of animals, you can expect Giant's Trance X Advanced to devour climbs with its Fox Live Valve suspension, which is the opposite of what our final two bikes are meant to do. The 140mm-travel Salsa Blackthorn has a 160mm fork and get-after-it geometry, as does the Actofive P-Train that also adds a high-single-pivot and coil-sprung rear-end.
5 Enduro / Freeride Bikes
Our five enduro and freeride rigs are a mix of evolution and all-new, with Rocky Mountain's 160mm Altitude taking the debut headlines when Jesse Melamed rode the fresh bike to victory on its first public showing. And then again a few more times. Hey, at least we know that one goes fast. Trek's very orange Slash is back with more travel and less head angle, and there's also a fresh soon-to-be announced bike in the house for those who like to combine big travel with small wheels.
Wait, did I hear someone just say freeride?
If you're more interested in sending than racing, we've got two 180mm-travel beasts for you to read about. Norco's Shore A1 is a 37lb monster that uses a high pivot, idler pulley, and a whole lot of aluminum, while Propain's carbon fiber Spindrift employs carbon fiber to create a bike meant to do the same job. Both come with a coil-sprung shock, and both surprised us.
I'm not sure which one Kazimer preferred for the skinnies and which one he liked for going fast, but stay tuned to find out.
Nothing beats back-to-back testing and that's mostly what the Field Test is all about, but with Corona keeping Mike Kazimer in America and from joining me in Squamish, this cross-border edition of the Field Test was always going to be a bit different. There's a bit less shit talk because of that, but one thing that hasn't changed is the timing we do; the clock was running nearly every time a bike went out, letting us separate feelings from facts on the climbs and descents.
The film crew: ''Yeah, can you guys try to look better on camera?'' The riding crew: "Yeah, can you guys make us look better?''
Our timed sections were representative of the bikes' intentions, too, with the enduro and freeride rigs facing some serious terrain under Kazimer and the trail bikes not far behind up in Squamish, BC. Yes, I'll always lean towards subjective feel and hastily scribbled post-ride notes over what the clock tells me, but it's neat to see those impressions backed up by cold facts. And especially because timing is one of the last things we do.
One of the first things we do, however, is put all the bikes on matching 'control tires' to try and limit the variables we're dealing with. After all, we want to know how the bike handles and how its suspension performs on equal terms, not on a set of tires that may only last a few months into you owning the damn thing before putting something different on. We decided on Maxxis' Assegai and DHR II tires for the enduro bikes, both with EXO+ casings (Double Down wasn't available in time), while the trail bikes all wore a Minion DHF and Dissector combo with the same casing and sticky compounds. Of course, that'd all be a waste of time if they weren't always inflated to matching pressures.
While all of the bikes had to do plenty of human-powered climbing, nothing beats shuttle runs for timing the downhills.
Aside from swapping to identical rubber, all ten bikes were tested in completely stock form, including the cockpit, seatpost, and any other components. That said, there's a big difference in stock spec between some of our test rigs, with more than $4,000 USD separating the priciest from the least expensive. That's why we focus on overall handling and performance, and also why it's likely that future Field Test series will include some sort of reasonable-ish budget cap.
I mean, are you really surprised when the $12,000 bike is awesome? NOTE: This year's wide range of prices is thanks to limited availability—everyone is struggling with their supply chains right now, so getting bikes with more evenly matched price tags wasn't possible. That said, we've struggled with pricing every year in the Field Test; brands understandably want to give themselves the best chance at a positive review, so they insist on sending Bezos-priced bikes. That's why next year we're going to implement a hard cap on pricing for each Field Test. I don't know where we'll set that limit yet, but it'll be low enough to make the product managers' jobs harder. We want to actually evaluate their choices rather than just having every bit of unobtanium thrown at the one we try.
Rider protection for this year's Field Test is from Dainese, and post-ride brews came from Sierra Nevada.
It wouldn't be a Field Test without a dash of bro-science in both directions from the Impossible Climb, Efficiency Test, and the ever anticipated Huck to Flat. As always, Jason Lucas sent all ten trail and enduro bikes, but you'll have to wait until the end of the Field Test to watch it. Who doesn't want to see these bikes use their travel and then a little more in some Phantom-powered slow-mo pornography?
And if you care at all about what happens on the way up, this year's Impossible Climb proved itself to be literally impossible and we wouldn't have it any other way.
5'11" / 180cmWeight:
160 lbs / 72.6 kgNotes:
Managing Tech editor, 3x as responsible as Levy
5'10" / 178 cmWeight:
155 lb / 70.3 kgNotes:
Tech editor, patiently waiting for aliens to arrive
With borders closed, travel suspended indefinitely, and it certainly not being the time for group fun, the 2021 Field Test was a bit different than previous editions. So instead of our usual all-encompassing fall extravaganza, this year's was put together by a pared-down video and photography team consisting of Jason Lucas, Max Barron, and Tom Richards who were charged with doing more with less.
As usual, those three did many times the work that Kazimer and myself were tasked with, from riding and filming with a 40lb camera bag all day to then spending all night editing. It's a ton of work, but we all had fun putting these videos together and hope everyone enjoys them. A special thanks also goes out to Ty Deschaine for handling the filming in Bellingham.
Stay tuned for the first Field Test video review that goes live tomorrow, followed by so many more
over the coming weeks!Previous Welcome to Field Test ArticlesWelcome to the 2020 Pinkbike Field TestWelcome to the 2020 Pinkbike Field Trip - Value Bike EditionWelcome to the 2020 Pinkbike Field Test - Cross-Country Bike Edition
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.