WELCOME TO THE 2021
SUMMER FIELD TEST
9 Enduro and eMTBs Ridden and Rated
Words by Mike Levy, photography by Tom Richards
Looking back on the approximately eighty-seven previous Field Tests we've done, you'll find head-to-head reviews on everything from full-blown enduro race machines to overly-capable trail bikes to laser-guided cross-country weapons that feel like they have less travel than those enduro sleds have sag. In other words, we've seen a lot of bikes. But I think it's safe to say that the 2021 Summer Field Test includes not just some of the best descending bikes we've ever had at a Field Test, but also the most capable climbers by far.
Because they have motors.
Yup, this is the first Field Test to include eMTBs, with four of the latest that run from relatively lightweight to "I could power a small town with my battery.
" They join a fleet of five interesting enduro bikes and all take different approaches to whatever the e-word (e-bike or enduro) means to you. All nine spent a few weeks doing non-stop runs in the Sun Peaks bike park under former Canadian National downhill champion Matt Beer and the impossibly English Henry Quinney. If it all goes to plan, you should be able to watch the first Field Test video review tomorrow morning.
While it used to imply some sort of race-y intentions, these days 'enduro' could be anything from a raked-out tank with an idler pulley to what's essentially a long-travel trail bike. So that's precisely what we got in to review, but we've also brought back an old friend for comparison's sake: the 2020 Specialized Enduro that's impressed us so much over the last couple of years. Just how far have bikes progressed since then? We're about to find out.
There are differing takes on how enduro an enduro bike should be, but there's no doubt that it has to be extremely capable on the descents. And while many brands seem to focus solely on that, many others offer a more rounded take on it, the result being a diverse range of choices and no one and only one way to get the job done.
Our enduro bikes start at 150mm of rear-wheel travel with We Are One's Arrival that uses a dual-link suspension layout and an exotic-looking Cerakote ceramic finish. Up against the Arrival is YT's re-designed Capra that gets new geometry, improved frame rigidity, and 165mm of travel with revised kinematics. Oh, and have you seen that paint color before? If you came here looking for high pivots and extra pulley wheels, you're in luck. GT's Force gets updated with an idler pulley and 160mm of travel, while our other idler-equipped bike is Norco's 170mm-travel, 37lb Range that could almost do double duty as a downhill bike on the weekends. If you're looking for all the travel but a bit less complication, there's also Transition's also-new Spire that has 170mm of both ends, a few year's worth of purple, and the lowest, slackest geometry of the bunch.
So, who's your money on?
With geometry and suspension layout in a place where most things work pretty well, mountain bike design is seeing smaller improvements rather than leaps (and stumbles) ahead that make a difference on the trail. But eMTBs? They're still the Action Park of bike design. Some brands seem to modify existing platforms to work with a motor and battery, while others have released new bikes that use eMTB-specific suspension layouts with revised motor and battery integration. Not only that, but you can also choose from either a sorta-light eMTB, normal heavy eMTB, or a full-fat version with a whopping 900Wh battery. Our four eMTB test bikes represent the current spectrum of what's possible while giving us a chance to compare how the different approaches to battery-biking perform.
If you were in the market for a new eMTB, would you choose a relatively lightweight, low-powered ride or are you looking for all the juice?
How Do We Choose the Bikes?
And why don't we have more of them? There are no set-in-stone rules, but they should check off a combination of interesting, important, or entirely new, with all nine of these contenders meeting some or all of that criteria. We already know that the bike you wanted to read about isn't here, but the shortage means that it's probably not anywhere else, to be fair.
Not only that, but we'd rather get to know our nine bikes real well than have one-day-stands with twenty bikes in the same amount of time.
If this is your first Field Test, there's really just one thing you need to know: this gong show is all about comparing the bikes to each other, and nothing does that better than back-to-back riding. And then some back-to-back-to-back riding, followed by a bit of back-to... Okay, you get the idea. This time around we were at the Sun Peaks Resort, just forty-five minutes outside of Kamloops and home to some of the fastest and best lift-accessed riding in the world. And did I mention a lack of lift lines?
With a chairlift on our doorstep, you can't blame us for not doing a bunch of climbing on the enduro bikes, can you? Besides, we mostly just want to know how the bikes perform when it matters most, so Matt and Henry spent a few weeks swapping bikes to feel out what they like and, more importantly, didn't like.
Do you prefer the feels or the data? Either way, we've got both for you: Matt smashed out timed laps on all the bikes on the same rocky, rough descent, including the ones with motors. In fact, our timed downhill was used as a stage for the Canadian National Enduro Championship, which is about as appropriate as it can get.
Field Testing means many bikes, a ton of riding, a bunch of timing, and of course those matching control tires. The thing is, tires obviously have a massive effect on how a bike performs, but they also wear out, get torn, thrown in the trash, and replaced with some other over-priced tire from your favorite brand. Putting matching tires on all the bikes - Maxxis' DHR2 on the front and a Dissector for the rear, both with sticky rubber and proper casings - means that we can concentrate on how the bike handles and evaluate the suspension performs on equal terms, unsullied by tires that you may or may not run anyway.
Impossible Climb & Huck to Flat
There are plenty of times when it pays to take things seriously... Just not when we're doing the Impossible Climb. Of course it's back, but in a very un-Pinkbike move, Brian could sense that I still have PTSD from all the previous episodes and mercifully made Matt get it done instead. Turns out he's not just handy at going down. The mountain bikes faced a tricky climb with four distinct sections to challenge the bikes in different ways, and yes, we definitely had to modify the course in order to give Matt some trouble on the eMTBs.
While I got to skip falling over on camera a few dozen times, no one else put their hand up for the Efficiency Test. Weird. I rode all the mountain bikes up a gravel fire road course at the same 300-watt output using Garmin's new Rally XC power meter pedals. Then I did the same on the 57lb Norco Range VLT, just to illustrate the difference between watts and watts
. Can you guess which bike was the quickest? And speaking of climbing and self-flagellation, Brian also tasked me with finding out how long all these batteries last. Picture me climbing over 18,000-feet in seven hours, then me eating a few dozen donuts for dinner, then me going to bed at 7pm and that about sums it up.
With so much climbing to get done it's a miracle that we had time to squeeze in the Huck to Flat, but we also knew that there might be a riot if we skipped it. Jason Lucas is the man you should thank, especially as it didn't exactly go as planned this time around. Again. We all know it's better that way, though, don't we?
5'10" / 178 cmWeight:
160 lb / 73 kgNotes:
Tech editor, quick on a bike, but never on time
6' / 183 cmWeight:
183lb / 83 kgNotes:
Tech editor, full-time Branston pickle enthusiast
While Matt, Henry, and I did all the riding, our film and photo crew behind the camera did at least five times as much work. Maybe six times as much now that I think about it, and all with 40lb camera bags on their backs and with only a bit of yelling at us to stop forgetting our lines on camera after fourteen hours of filming. With the whole plague thing still happening, our skeleton crew of Jason Lucas, Max Barron, and Tom Richards had their work cut out for them. Making these Field Test videos is a lot of fun - and we hope that comes through on camera - but they also require stamina for long days, a good attitude, and some hustle, all things this team has plenty of.
Stay tuned for the first Field Test video review that goes live tomorrow, followed by so many more
over the coming weeks. Which review are you most looking forward to watching?
The 2021 Summer Field Test was made possible with support from Dainese apparel and protection, and Sun Peaks Resort. Shout out also to Maxxis, Garmin, Freelap, and Toyota Pacific.