Field Test: 7 Unique Enduro Bikes Battle Another Impossible Climb

Sep 6, 2022 at 14:56
by Matt Beer  


A Wild Assortment of 7 Enduro Bikes Battle the Impossible Climb

Carbon, Coil Springs, Mixed Wheels; This Impossible Climb Has it All.

This might have been the Field Test with the deepest variety because there were bikes made from aluminum, carbon, and steel - some with 27.5” rear wheels and some with coil shocks. How would all of those factors rank them in terms of their climbing capability? That answer isn’t simply down to one aspect, but the sum of their parts. Geometry and suspension play a massive hand in how high these enduro bikes would reach on the Impossible Climb.

What lay ahead of me this time around was a steadily increasing grade made of sandstone that appeared to have grip, but was covered in wet fir tree needles, fist-size boulders, and other organic matter, conveniently placed by expert Impossible Climb course designer, Mike Levy. Climbing up this piste was a physical test of directing the bikes up, and then over a strategically placed log. Looping out and testing the limits of friction is always a real concern - crashes can happen while climbing too! Even on this short stint of a climb, weight and drag were also noticeable factors.

Both of those downsides really sap energy. Was it really a surprise that the coil shock and idler wheel of the Contra MC, which pulled my fastest timed descent time, felt like the most work uphill? No, but the suspension did move a whole lot less than the Fezzari La Sal Peak. That kept my balance square on the bike through those lunging maneuvers. However, the Fezarri did track the ground quite well and was super comfortable to pedal while seated on longer rides.

Transition Patrol Carbon - Bellingham Field Test Photo Dave Trumpore

A similar story to the Contra rings true for the Commencal - it's heavy, but stable. Those are two bikes that deal well when churning the pedals constantly to keep the train rolling. Any stop-start, trials-inspired moves will leave you gassed. That caused those longer, heavier bikes to stumble on the log hop, so ideally, lines like this on a regular trail should be avoided. Neither the Claymore and Megatower pulled out any surprises and were simply middle of the road in terms of how an enduro bike should climb. They weren't the heaviest or the most agile. I was simply along for the ride in a comfortable position, waiting for the descents.

How about that lighter weight Transition Patrol and active Intense Tracer 279? Those bikes were open to dancing around allowing for powerful burst moves and easier corrections. Out back, 27.5” rear wheels have that catch-22 shadow hanging over them; they do accelerate quicker, especially when there is a sturdy downhill casing tire attached, but they are reluctant to carry on over obstacles.

I didn't anticipate making it nearly that far up the climb, but the Tracer was surprisingly eager to keep motoring up the slippery wall the furthest. Would I have guessed that from our test sessions? Most definitely. The Tracer rode lighter than its measured weight and higher in the 170mm of travel, almost tackling the whole Impossible Climb.

The 2022 Enduro Bike Field Test is presented by Rapha, POC, and Continental. Thanks for keeping us dressed, safe, and rolling rubber side down.

Author Info:
mattbeer avatar

Member since Mar 16, 2001
348 articles

  • 66 8
 This is what I've been waiting for. As much as I love the downhill, I spend far more time going up. They both need to be fun.
  • 67 5
 Both? Impossible! Least unfun is what I’m looking for in climbing ability.
  • 23 0
 Yeah. All of these bikes are fairly good at going downhill, but lots of us ride up hills too.
  • 18 79
flag gravity354 (Sep 7, 2022 at 10:05) (Below Threshold)
 I hesitate to say it, but...EBIKE!
  • 9 1
 @theaeriopagite: "I want the Least unfun as possible". I believe you have a good t-shirt/logo design going there. Big Grin
  • 3 2
 @gravity354: Different bikes, different styles of riding ,etc for Ebike. Not bashing, just....different. This is all about bikes (regular, analog, classic, etc.)
  • 7 30
flag d-man (Sep 7, 2022 at 10:51) (Below Threshold)
 @gravity354: exactly!
  • 3 0
 Sounds like you just need to do everything in reverse. Then it'll be far more downhill than uphill
  • 12 10
 Going up can be fun. I used to see if I could climb downhills that were way too steep just for kicks. Just to see how far I could make it. However, I think the idea of just riding for kicks has been killed by everyone with the "you ruined my Strava time" mentality if you get in their way on a trail just having fun.
  • 6 17
flag bman33 (Sep 7, 2022 at 14:52) (Below Threshold)
 @MTBfloat The "Strava-holes" (Strava As*holes) are a nuisance. If they do yell, especially on a climb....I slow down or at least pretend I don't hear them
  • 25 6
 @bman33: How do you know they are Strava users? Maybe you're just slow as f*ck?
  • 6 27
flag bman33 (Sep 7, 2022 at 15:19) (Below Threshold)
 @d-man: I may be slow uphill, but I was/am referring to the common 'STRAVA' yell that many use or have used in the past to 'pardon' their hurry when blasting you or being over all dicks on the trail in the name of Strava times. Sounds like you may be one? Next time I am up in BC maybe you meet me and see if you can pass me up or down? Wink
  • 10 2
 @bman33: Chill man you are bringing in to much negative energy to the conversation. Of course I live in an area where really no one uses Strava or cares about it. I do use the Trailforks tracker for fun though just so I can see where I have been throughout the summer.
  • 2 16
flag robcartwheel (Sep 7, 2022 at 16:12) (Below Threshold)
 @theaeriopagite: pssst. It's called an e-mtb.
  • 1 4
 @powderhoundbrr: I didn't interpret his words as anything negative at all. To me it seemed more like encouragment to avoid being overly competitive.
  • 54 2
 Bikes that would have made it to the top easily: new Grim Donut, new Smuggler.... But like unicorns, world peace, and my wife being happy with my 'performances' we can only dream about such fantasies.
  • 15 4
 I always tell women one thing before I take them to bed: "Lower your expectations."
  • 58 9
 Imagine being a Mormon and having 5 wives to disappoint
  • 17 1
 Hang in there bud. World peace might happen.
  • 8 4
 @MarioandKristie: Definitey hard to be a constant disappointment. Maybe that’s why they no longer practice polygamy.
  • 5 0
 @Lanebobane: At this point the unicorn is where I'll be placing my bets.
  • 46 1
 Hmmm Intense is one of the fastest on the downhill, and best climber as well.

Tell me again why it's not the winner of this "Enduro" bike test?
  • 21 1
 Because somehow some people are trying to make Intense the new Ellsworth.
  • 14 0
 Must have lost pretty epically on flat ground.
  • 18 0
 Because it's all broscience. The overall impression means more than these so-called climb/descend tests.
  • 2 2
 Because its still a prototype....
  • 3 0
 Maybe it blew up epically on the huck to flat and we haven't see it yet!
  • 2 0
 Not sure why this tracer gets so much hate... Its really baffling to me! In terms of a skeleton, it looks exactly like the Santa Cruz's (Bronson, Megatower, Nomad etc.) that everyone drools over. In terms of paint jobs, they have a mild one in tan and a bright one in red. Aside from going boring ass black, they have all the bases covered there. Complete package if you ask me
  • 2 0
 @marshallthewolf: @marshallthewolf: Same. I am seriously considering buying the frame only option and building it up.
  • 3 0
 @nozes: Intense seemed to lose their way for a bit and maybe rested on their laurels for too long but it's clear to see they have thrown a lot at developing new bikes recently. The DH results are starting to come good and this latest Tracer looks sweet. Investing in development like this deserves to be rewarded.
  • 1 0
 Broke two Intense frames,and numerous customer service issues, before I told myself I'd never deal with them again.
  • 16 0
 Would also be cool to hear what the scoop is on the new Conti tires vs the typical maxxis control tires. Hopefully review dropping soon?
  • 5 0
 There was a full review back in April
  • 18 0
 @unicornmtb25, here's Seb's review:

They're very good - I've been running them all summer with excellent results.
  • 11 0
 @FensterM & @mikekazimer: well damn...i'm dropping the ball. Thanks fellas!
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: how would you compare them to a dhr2 and Assegai?
  • 1 2
 I wanted to try them but the good compounds and casings are all sold out
  • 1 0
 Got dh casing kryptotals with the super soft compound on amazon for $75 from cycling pros! They have 27.5 and 29 @Dogl0rd:
  • 6 2
 @ruckuswithani: someone downvoted me so now I'm Maxxis for life
  • 15 0
 Couple thoughts: I can attest that that climb is very steep and difficult even on a XC climber. Good pick. Maybe too hard? Alicia - you've got Bellingham fashion figured out, very casual indeed.
  • 15 1
 As the race director of the Nullarbor mountain bike club I've zero interest on how these bikes climb or descend.
  • 7 0
 Only the Aussies will get that.
  • 3 0
 Classic hahaha
  • 4 0
 I’m curious what the demand for emtb is in your area. (Seriously)

“ The Nullarbor Plain is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia”
  • 2 0

For much of the year it's too hot to ride anything in that region, but when you did, an Ebike wouldn't offer much except to the laziest of riders. It really is super flat, super dry, barren desert.
Maybe an E fat bike?
  • 2 0
 @heckler73: it's just up the road from satire creek, another great area.
  • 12 0
 This climb is basically impossible even before they put all of those turns and obstacles in; it's hard enough to walk up that thing.
  • 2 0
 I can make it about a quarter of the way, in the dry.
  • 1 0
 I agree
  • 1 0
 Never made it.
  • 9 1
 I always wonder: what is the impact of physical fatigue from the first climb to the last one? I mean, it does change one of the variable of the experiment, making a bit less objective. Still enjoyable!
  • 11 1
 It would make sense to reverse the order and give every bike a second go at it. There is too much pure chance involved in one attempt. Also, does the tester get multiple attempts before the test begins or is the first bike his first actual attempt?
  • 36 0
 @funkendrenchman: Even expecting this to be marginally scientific is ridiculous. Just enjoy it as entertainment.
  • 2 0
 I think that on a short climb like that, practice/experience more than offsets fatigue - unless you’re doing all seven climbs nonstop with zero rest, which I doubt was the case. I would have liked to see the weaker performing bikes retested at the end. For science.
  • 1 0
 Depends on how fit they are. All three of them are more bike fit than most. They ride 4k vert or more days multiple times a week. If they’re all fresh, the difference would be negligible given proper recovery.
  • 6 0
 Every field test I think "well shit that is just impossible" and then I realize they are ten steps ahead of me and put it right in the name.
  • 4 0
 Nerd question for Seb stott please. Comparing the intense mullet Matt more or less said the 27.5 tire has less ground contact than the 29ers. Is that 100% correct? Equal weight on equal tire pressure should mean equal ground contact? Not trolling Matt, I would be happy if I could ride a bike 10% as well as he can.
  • 7 2
 There is going to be a longer contact on the 29 because the degree of the rim is less dramatic in contrast to the flat (ish) ground and you there for end up with a less dramatic rim slope, therefore more ground contact.
  • 7 1
 @Chondog94: No, same contact area but the 29er is longer and narrower.
  • 1 5
flag plustiresaintdead (Sep 7, 2022 at 14:01) (Below Threshold)
 @Joecx: Here’s the way I understand it, you displace the same **volume** of air with either tire size. The larger your wheel diameter is, the larger the contact patch will be. Imagine a wheel with a 1000000” diameter, the contact patch would be nearly flat when compared to a smaller wheel and the contact patch would be super long but would not go very deep into the tire “travel”. An infinite diameter wheel would have an infinitely large contact patch.
  • 3 0
 @Joecx: I think the question is interesting because one of the common "cons" of mullet setup is "worse climbing traction because of smaller ground contact". Which may not be 100% correct
  • 1 0
 @Joecx: truth is I want a new nomad so bad Im going crazy thinking about it
  • 5 2
 All else being equal, a 29 would have a greater contact patch than a 27.5. But does that equate to more traction? The amount of pressure being exerted per square inch of contact patch would be greater for the 27.5, so I think that would at least somewhat offset the effects of the size of the contact patch.
  • 1 2
 @Joecx: Not necessarily. Tire size/brand has something to do with it but if the tires are equal the contact will be greater. Pretty simple?
  • 3 0
 Seb did a great video a few years ago on tire widths. Not exactly your question but interesting. All else being equal, the difference in climbing traction between 27.5 and 29” is probably minimal, an untestable difference and placebo. The 29” may deliver better traction due to rollover.
  • 1 2
 @boopiejones: By that logic a 25mm tire would exert even more pressure and have better traction still.
But that only works if the connection between the tire and the substrate is really solid, like a road bike tire to smooth asphalt or concrete.
On dirt, almost without exception that isn't so. Typically the sketchier the surface you are on, the bigger your tires need to be to deal with it.
The best analogy I can make will make sense if you have done any rock climbing. Think of the difference in the way you hold onto a face hold on steep rock compared to the way you palm a smooth bulge on a slab climb.
If that face hold has a sharp edge you squeeze it with your fingertips, so you touch it with a small surface area but the contact is as strong as your fingers can make it.
When you palm a bulge there's no sharp edge, you smear as much skin as you can to get traction.
And typically, the more surface area that touches, the more traction you get.
This is of course an oversimplification, not taking into account tire shape, lug size and arrangement, etc. But I think that it still applies. Bigger tires almost always have more grip, all things being equal.
  • 1 0
 @danger13: I only said the pressure exerted by the smaller diameter tire would somewhat offset the effects of the larger tire - not completely offset. Regardless, your rock climbing example has too many variables and only proves that different surfaces require different grips.
  • 6 0
 I think do best of 3 for each bike. Not one take. You could make a mistake on the bike that could win!
  • 2 0
 While it seems that this is just for jest, I would love to see each bike being ridden, and then do just one more lap with the very first bike again and see how high up you get with the first bike.
My point being: every single time I've ridden a new trail, I can't clear certain sections. And after riding it a few more times, I can. Does that mean my Sentinel became a better bike after multiple runs? No. I just learned from body memory how to better accomplish the tasks at hand. So it would be neat to see it done again, with the first and perhaps second bike to give them a fairer shot.
  • 2 0
 A strange test, in which the effect of a trip along such a route depends 90% or even 98% on the skill of the climber and on the luck or acumen of the stability of the obstacle. For example, as if he did not ride up on this stone but just avoided it, he did not stop and it would turn out that it would be possible to ride this equipment to the very top.
Such a test is difficult to carry out and such a climb can strongly distort the results.
For fun such a test is ok, but not for any meaningful results and evaluations of bikes and their suspensions and climbing abilities.
  • 2 1
 Not very conclusive test, but I do think the Tracer and Megatower are better climbers because of the VPP suspension platform. Pedaling extends the rear travel, so it puts the bike in a better climbing position. VPP is one of the better climbing suspension platforms.
  • 4 1
 I think we need to be specific when we talk about "good" climbers. Is it good because it has lots of traction on technical sections, or good because it has an efficient bob-free feel? I tend to look for the latter and therefore like the VPP design. I think VPP suffers on rocky and rooty climbs relative to the more active designs though.
  • 1 0
 Umm, maybe where you ride, but on really technical climbs the VPP is not all that.
  • 1 0
 @avgas: But the same could be said with more active suspension platforms that it can suffer on rocky and rooty climbs because rear suspension sags and puts the bike in a poorer climbing position. I have own/used both active suspension designs and VPP a lot because have had several bikes in several suspension platforms. I still find VPP is better in rocky and rooty climbs for me. It just comes down to what you like.
  • 1 0
 @nurseben: I ride some really rocky, rooty, and loose technical climbs. My best climbing bike for really technical climbs was an Intense Carbine with VPP. It was super light, nimble, not as slack. good traction, and good amount of travel to tackle super technical climbs. I sold it and kinda miss it. Lol.
  • 3 1
 27.5 Rear wheel effectively results in a lower drive gear, no? So a 52t on 29 will be harder to pedal than a 52t on 27.5... so for steep and tight, 27.5 has something going for it Smile
  • 1 0
 It deppends of the rider skills and stamina more then the bike. Give the bikes to Chriss Akrig.. They can't do the comparison like that, in every try to get to the top there is a chance to make a mistake and that is what I see..
  • 4 0
 Was the additional 60ft of tape necessary?
  • 2 0
 I find this test most intriguing, most bikes will go down well but some go up horible. My 2020 Tracer factory is just as difficult to pedal up hill as my 190mm aluminum Uzzi.
  • 2 0
 Would you ease off on the impossibility of the lower half of the climb please? I want to see Matt’s suffering prolonged to further up the hill. Sorry Matt Smile
  • 2 0
 probably would have been more entertaining to just ride up that trail without the extra gameplay....and maybe ride each bike twice
  • 4 0
 These are good fun
  • 1 0
 I'm probably only confused cuz my bike doesn't have one, but does "climb switch is open" mean it's using the climb mode or the wide open mode?
  • 2 0
 wide open mode
  • 4 1
 Specialized Endurbro climbs the best
  • 15 17
 I feel sort of let down by this...I know it's tongue-in-cheek for the most part, but I'd really appreciate it if more than minimal effort was put into it. The log that rolls away on its own and banana peels make it feel more like mario kart than an actual test. The ledge was quite small and the switchbacks and placed rocks made it seem....half-assed. There has to have been some trail around there that you guys could have climbed that would have actually been a test.
  • 40 3
 It's more for entertainment than anything else - it's pseudo-science at its best. There's no way to eliminate all the variables that would make it a truly statistically relevant test, so we have a good time with it instead. And Mario Kart banana peels are funny.
  • 10 1
 You're more than welcome to come to Bellingham and give that climb a try without the added "obstacles"

Fun video!
  • 4 0
 @mikekazimer: Keep the pseudo-science impossible climb to make the video fun and engaging, but use it to talk about your climbing impression of the bikes throughout the whole test period. Also talk more about which bikes do well in different climbing scenarios; long forest roads(efficiency), tight switchbacks(maneuverability), and rooty/rocky technical(traction).
  • 4 0
 @mikekazimer: I've mentioned in other impossible climb videos that determining the bikes "climability" by the first time a foot goes down is dumb. Keep riding to the top and see how many times a rider has to put a foot down would give a better comparison.
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: A good climber (rider) on a difficult tech section can tell the difference just like the impressions they give of a bikes downhill performance. I've had a long time frustration with most reviews (not just Pinkbike) when they discuss climbing performance because they usually don't make much distinction between pedalling up normal singletrack/road and tech climbing. "This bike climbed well with minimal bob" well what the hell does that mean when your struggling for every % of traction while humping it up an uphill root cluster on a steep wall.
  • 1 0
 @preston67: and, many of us on longer travel bikes are using these bikes for long days with significant climbing BECAUSE, we also enjoy the down as a reward.

A bike has to climb well, it’s really what mountain biking is about, the down will always be fine.
  • 2 0
 Okay, now do it again.. Without the log.
  • 4 2
 You mean the bike that he couldn't lock out had the most traction???? lolz
  • 2 0
 All of the bikes were left wide open.
  • 1 0
 @avgas: "this is the only bike with out a lock out" led me to believe otherwise. My b.
  • 1 0
 The reason for the impossible climb is to riff on Levy. The huck to flat is for watching the carnage to Jason’s ankles.
  • 1 0
 Looks like a monkey humping a basketball while trying to push a wheelbarrow with a flat tire full of wet concrete
  • 1 1
 Reading between the lines, it appears that high pivots don’t climb tech very well, hmmm. I’m not surprised, but then I drank the koolaid once, just once.
  • 1 0
 Mike vs Mike idea: impossible climb showdown on a bike of choice
  • 1 0
 That's a slippery slope. Soon we'll have a XC race on our hands. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I love a good XC race.
  • 3 3
 Stupid is as stupid does
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