Field Trip: 10 Value Bikes Face the Efficiency Test

May 14, 2021 at 13:05
by Sarah Moore  


10 Value Bikes Face the Efficiency Test

Gravel roads, power meters, a dose of pseudo-science, and no lock-outs allowed.

Not all of our ten value test bikes were designed to be cross-country efficient, but that doesn't mean that how they climb shouldn't matter to you. On any given ride, unless you've got a chairlift or a sweet shuttle vehicle, the proportion of time spent climbing will greatly outweigh the time spent descending.

In other words, even if the whole reason you're climbing is to get to that sweet singletrack descent, it's a good idea to consider how well-rounded your choice of steed is for the times when gravity isn't on your side. There's nothing worse than trailing behind your friends on a long climb and feeling like all of the effort that you're putting in to try and catch them is actually just being lost to an inefficient suspension design. Plus, if a bike feels slow when you point it uphill, it's probably not going to excel on rolling terrain or feel quick anytime you accelerate out of a corner.

We saw Loic Bruni playing with lockouts on his downhill bike at the World Cup in Lousa, Portugal, last year and Jesse Melamed locked out his coil shock for the pedally section at EWS Zermatt, so it's clear that efficiency also matters even on the downhills. With that in mind, we took our ten value test bikes of varying intentions and travel out to what Mike Levy claims is his favourite gravel road climb (I didn't see him there!) to see if our on-trail feedback matches what the clock says.

Pinkbike Field Trip 2021 Devinci Marshall
The Efficiency Test went up on a steep gravel road, but the differences matter everywhere, especially on singletrack.

To do it, we measured a half-mile course up a gravel road climb, then placed Freelap timing cones at the start and finish points. A set of Garmin Vector power pedals talked to my Garmin 530 head unit, and I set it up to display my normalized, 10-second, and 3-second power numbers, the idea being to have each bike finish the climb with the same normalized, 250-watt power number. While there's some pseudo-science involved, no doubt there, that should mean that the more efficient bikes will cover the same distance quicker than the less efficient bikes. Probably.

Don't forget that while this was a relatively short climb, the differences in efficiency between them will only be further amplified over a long climb or even longer day in the saddle.

Of course, this isn’t a lab test, and so there's some room for interpretation with the results. To keep things somewhat fair, all tired were inflated to the same tire pressure and each bike's suspension was left fully open, of course, and adjusted to suit. This time around, we didn't have control tires since we don't expect people to be spending an extra $200 on rubber out of the gate on their sub-$3,000 value bike. Does that skew the results? There's no doubt in my mind that it does. But we were out there in the real world so, just like the Impossible Climb, there’s certainly something to be learned while we had a good time… Wait, that was a good time?
Efficiency Test Results

1st Norco Fluid HT 1 - 3:04
2nd Vitus Sentier VR 29 - 3:08
3rd BMC Two Stroke AL - 3:15
4th Ibis Ripley AF - 3:20
5th Polygon Siskiu T8 - 3:21
6th Canyon Stoic 3 - 3:26
7th Giant Trance X 29 3 - 3:28
8th Rocky Mountain Growler - 3:29
9th Marin Rift Zone - 3:29
10th Devinci Marshall - 3:29

What did we learn after way too many trips up the gravel road? Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't the racey BMC Two Stroke AL that took the overall win but the Norco Fluid HT, followed closely by the Vitus Sentier. The Two Stroke rounded out the top three, which is the podium I would have expected, just not in exactly the order I might have expected it to be. As for the other two hardtails with their more aggressive geometry and meatier tires, they were out-climbed by some of the full suspension bikes, the most efficient of which was unsurprisingly the Ibis Ripley AF. What was surprising, however, was how well the Polygon Siskiu T8 fared in the Efficiency Test, beating out five of the other value bikes including a couple hardtails.

Norco Fluid HT Field Trip 2021
Norco Fluid HT 1. Photo by Tom Richards
The Norco Fluid HT outperformed in the sparkle watts category as well.

Sure, the Efficiency Test isn't a German-run lab with airlocks and results to be published in some peer-reviewed paper, but that's not the intention. Instead, it gives us a good idea of the relative efficiency between all ten bikes, and it's also somewhat confirmed our on-trail impressions of their climbing performance.

The 2021 Pinkbike Field Test was made possible with support from Toyota.


  • 62 0
 Tires, tires, tires. A trail bike with DH tires and inserts is going to feel more sluggish on climbs than an enduro bike with light trail tires in virtually all cases.
  • 11 9
 This test is so unscientific. They would probably have just as accurate results if the AI bot tested it on his ride loop.
  • 5 0
 Even a Scania 770 would feel sluggish with DH tires AND inserts.
  • 4 0
 Yeah, it would have been interesting to see them put on control tires to level the playing field. Maybe do the test with and without control tires to see if/ how much it would change the results?
  • 2 0
 @dcaf: I'd be curious to see that test.
  • 1 0
 @DoubleCrownAddict: she said its not scientific about a dozen times. Not sure what your complaining about
  • 35 0
 I understand wanting to test these bikes as is, but for efficiency purposes introducing a control tire would have been great since the range of tires that come stock on these bikes is so vast. That being said, I definitely thought the BMC with those Barzos would have been all conquering here. Thanks to Sarah for doing an interval session in the name science!
  • 48 1
 You’re welcome. I’m still recovering.
  • 1 0
 Didn't see your last sentence and thought for a second Sarah's response may have been ... (shock) sarcastic. Had a giggle from the thought.

Good luck on your recovery Sarah, seems like a burly job.
  • 2 0
 The Ripley is on big, heavy soft compound tires front and rear. I guess it could beat even the hardtails on more appropriate rubber.
  • 28 0
 ".....not published in some peer reviewed journal..."? What do you think the PB comment section is, some insignificant peanut gallery? We are your peer review, we let you know every time we approve or disapprove of your findings!
  • 17 0
 Hey guys, in the Efficiency Test Results table, you accidentally put Ripmo AF instead of Ripley AF.
  • 7 0
 Thanks, I’ve edited that.
  • 21 6
 If the bike comes with a lock out, use the lock out! It's there for a reason
  • 85 10
  • 8 0
 Actually, would be interested to see a lap with the climb switches engaged. For comparison sake, and for those that generally use the climb switch uphill.
  • 5 3
 Speaking of lockouts,what makes so difficult to shock brands to come up with a lockout that automatically opens when the bike hits a large bump?
That would save me from all those times I forget to open the lockout after a big climb,and I know I'm not alone!
  • 5 2
 @nozes: You mean like Fox Live Valve, or like the dozens of iterations of "platform damping" that have come out from various companies over the years? Hint: They don't usually perform that well.
  • 4 0
 @mammal: More like some sort of blow off valve that once opened would stay open until we manually close it again.
I remember Brian Lopes using something like that on a Fox fork on his 4X days,a technology MX bikes used.
  • 4 0
 @nozes: that's really a good idea!
  • 3 0
 EXT Storia v3 features this
  • 2 0
 @nozes: This this this. A friend told me some 2000’s suspension systems had these. Anyone with more knowledge that knows what they were/how they worked?
  • 3 2
 @nozes: isn't that a description of Specialized's Brain tech? Quote from their website: "An inertia valve that blocks oil flow in the shock when closed, creating an efficiently firm pedaling platform on smooth terrain. The inertia valve opens instantaneously when a bump force is encountered, allowing suspension to compress and absorb the impact"
  • 4 0
 @riddenagenda: Not the same. I'm talking about something that you lock manually,and then unlocks on the first big bump (a threshold tuning option would be nice) and stays open until you lock it again.
That way you would lock the shock on the base of the climb,or road stretch,and it would open on the first jump/big hole/compression.
  • 3 0
 @nozes: Pace used it in there XC race fork, the XCR 100.. Hit the button on the top of the right fork crown and it would lock down till you hit a bump at a preset threshold.
  • 2 0
 @nozes: I'm pretty sure bruni was using something like this on his fork as well. Probably not actually a problem haha, just remember to flick the switch.
  • 13 3
 This test could go from pseudoscience to real science quite easily. The test set up it pretty good, but the execution of how you're collecting and analyzing data can make the difference.
I don't know enough about the Garmin Vector power pedals, but if they give you data of instantaneous power output as a function of time, then you can integrate the area under the curve, and that will be the energy required for each bike to make the climb. The theoretical minimum energy required to make the climb will be the full weight of the rider and the bike (in kg), multiplied by the vertical climb in meters, multiplied by the gravity constant 9.81 m/s^2. Divide the theoretical minimum by the actual energy required for each bike and you will get a percentage that is the true efficiency of each bike on the climb.
  • 7 0
 Well since they finished all the climbs with the same average power number (integrated power divided by time), the total energy numbers will be exactly proportional to the lap times they've already published here. And lap time is more intuitive than a percentage of an (somewhat arbitrary) energy number IMO.
  • 7 0
 That's not more scientific though. That's just running the same data through more mathematical functions. Any issues with their data will be reflected in this analysis and no real new information is gathered.
  • 9 0
 That Polygon is such a wildly nice bike for the money. Modern geo, descends well and obviously climbs well enough. Hard to wrong when its such a damn good looking bike too. SLX and Fox suspension for 2360$ performing that well is ridiculous.
  • 9 0
 Shuttling most of these bikes is akin to taking the chairlift wearing your cross country skiis.
  • 35 0
 Which I have definitely been known to do, thanks Silver Star Mountain!
  • 2 0
 @sarahmoore: Yes, great fun alpine skiing with old school single camber skate skis at Silver Star. When it's packed powder high speed dynamic parallel is possible

and XXC Ski (down-country for skiing) is a real thing
  • 7 1
 If I remember correctly, this is a value test? So the point was to use the bike as stock as possible, being the reason that they did not all have the same tires. I think that’s the reason that the tires varied.
Am I getting it? @sarahmoore @mikelevy
  • 3 0
 You are correct! If you're on a tight budget, it's a lot harder to justify adding $200 of rubber to your bill than it is if you're on a $5,000+ bike.
  • 8 0
 Love this stuff! Thanks @sarahmoore
  • 1 0
 Thanks! Glad you liked it.
  • 6 0
 In the future, could we please get information about tyres and bike-weight right in the comparison?

And by the way: How about a broad range tyre efficiency test?
  • 6 0
 Yeah. My Rift Zone 2 felt like a completely different bike once I switched out the tires. I love it now.
  • 1 0
 Ah, what did you switch to/from? Grippier, faster, better durability?

I'm a perpetual tire swapper. Really liking Rekons right now in the light trail category, fast grippy good sidewalls. But wear is silly fast.
  • 1 0
 Yeah I can confirm this. Those Vee tires are strictly for mud, sand, and loam. There’s none of that around me unless I’m riding an OHV trail or something similar.
  • 3 0
 that's weird! suprized the bmc was not the fastest.

regarding geo: not sure this is a factor here. since you keep the power constant on the pedals it's all about how the bike transfers this power to actual motion. geo is more about how much effort is required for the human to put this amount of power on the pedals I would say. but you can't really measure this unfortunately.
  • 3 0
 I expected a much wider spread given the different platforms, tyres and even drivetrains. It really shows how well developed some of the suspension platforms are. Fair play to Sarah for such a consistent power output, I had a burning in my chest watching
  • 1 0
 You expected MORE than 25 seconds on a 3 minute section? This is more than 10 percent difference. Similar to adding 8 kg of weight to the frame. I bet it gets way way less if you put the same tires on and do a calibration of the power meter at the start.
BTW, @sarahmoore, for measuring the effeciency you don't need 250W of power all the time. Works just as well at 150. Should be easier with the talking Smile
  • 1 0
 @ak-77: Yeah I was going to do 200W initially but then I decided part of the fun was making it hard!
  • 5 0
 waiting for @mikelevy to ride the Pinkbike Hot Lap on all value bikes tup
  • 2 0
 For the next test, can you add my list of 50 favorite bikes to the test? Oh, and retest each bike with by 20 favorite combinations of tires? Then rerun with different tire pressures, suspension settings, and with clipless vs. flat pedals?

I DM'ed you the lists. Thanks!
  • 3 0
 Did you do this test on the same section as it had been in case of your "10 Trail and Enduro Bikes Face the Efficiency Test"?
  • 3 0
 Very similar but I can’t promise that we dropped the Freelap cones in exactly the same spot!
  • 2 2
 too many variables as there were no control tyres in this test
  • 3 0
 The Polygon did pretty well considering the comments about its active suspension. I wish brands would stay with the same colorway from year to year...
  • 1 0
 I think folks way overestimate how much difference AS makes. It definitely feels faster. On smooth stuff it is faster, but the difference in speed =/= the difference in perceived speed.
  • 1 0
 The colorway on current generation Siskiu is better than on the old ones though
  • 1 0
 @rifu: yeah but you can't tell your partner that it only looks new because you washed it
  • 2 0
 Just for kicks let's see this climb test using:
1/ Current 19lb hardtail, Maxxis Aspen tires.
2/ Current 22lb FS, Aspen
3/ 2000 Kona Kula, Ritchey Speedmax
4/ 2000 Kona Stinky Delux, Nevegal
  • 1 0
 Can we see if weight or rolling resistance plays a bigger part in how long it takes to ride up a hill. I heard Seb talking about this once and made a lot of sense! Also test whether front and rear tire combos make a bigger difference. Eg DHF and Rekon vs Dual Rekons
  • 3 1
 What if your shuttle vehicle isn't sweet?
what if it's savoury, sour or bitter
maybe means I spend more time downhilling on my down-country bike
  • 3 0
 I think we can all say that the most important video is the huck to flat, so can we get on with it please?
  • 7 0
 One more climbing video first and then you’ll get the Huck to Flat, ie: best for last!
  • 1 0
 wasn't there a huck to flat clip in each of the individual videos? I'm too lazy to go back and check the HT vids from a few weeks back but I definitely remember it in the FS vids.
  • 3 0
 The tyres play so important role here, that adding them next to the bikes would be good idea.
  • 12 0
 Here ya go.

Ripley: Schwalbe Hans Dampf
Marshall: Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR
Rift Zone: Vee Flow Snap
Trance X: Maxxis Minion DHF and Dissector
Siskiu: Schwalbe Hans Dampf
Growler: WTB Trail Boss
Fluid: Maxxis Ardent
Twostroke: Vittoria Barzo
Sentier: Schwalbe Magic Mary and Nobby Nic
Stoic: Schwalbe Magic Mary and Hans Dampf

(sorry, no casing or compound info)
  • 1 0
 @ABhardtail: I see why the Fluid did so well. That said, I'm surprised the sentier did as well as it did, that magic mary/hans dampf combo definitely isn't the fastest but sure is amazing for grip.
  • 1 0
 @ABhardtail: my son is on the Flow Snaps, super tacky, super meaty tire. Its alot of tire compared to an Ardent
  • 1 0
 @ABhardtail: IIRC, on Siskiu T8 it was blue addix compound (second hardest in Schwalbe range?) with Apex casing, 29x2.6 wide.
  • 2 0
So they basically timed the (rear) tires it seems.
  • 3 0
 Honest question, what happens w/ the bikes when these tests are done? Back to the manufacturer?
  • 2 0
 It would be nice to see a discussion of the results. REasoning about the impact of tires, bike weight and suspension on the times. That would really help.
  • 3 0
 Is Levy having relations with that tree in the intro video?
  • 1 0
 pretty sure it's called "grooting", ie., that's how baby trees are made
  • 2 0
 I wonder what the difference would be between fastest and slowest times if I was 5lbs lighter?
  • 6 0
 Easy to test. Do a timed loop. Stop. Drink 2 cups laxitive. Recover for 30 mins. Do your next timed loop. Added bonus is you will see your exact line choice.
  • 1 0
 @onemind123: Dang ... that there's quite a creative solution. lol
  • 2 0
 500m up a 10% grade at 300 watts on a 30 pound bike (sorry for the mixed units).

170 pound rider - 2.97 minutes at 6.27 mph

165 pound rider - 2.9 minutes at 6.42 mph
  • 1 0
 @hllclmbr: Thanks for the calculations. Faster time and speed, as well as less energy too. Losing body weight has big advantages for hill climbs, but it's the hardest to lose (at least for me).
  • 2 0
 @njcbps: For climbing on a mountain bike, you won't be far off by ignoring aerodynamics and use the equation that the time it takes is proportional to total weight. So if you are 100kg in total (bike, rider, equipment), losing 1 kg will save you 0.6 seconds per minute.
  • 1 0
 @ak-77: I hadn't considered it might be linear. It's not only the time is faster when my body weight is lower, but it's taking less energy to do so. That's not as important when young, but it matters now (to me). Smile
  • 2 0
 The readers really would have benefitted if you had included the Grim Donut in this test.
  • 1 0
 Doesn't surprise me the RZ3 is one of the slowest as the stock tires suck so bad for climbing.
  • 1 0
 Real question:
If i remember correctly!?
The BMC is the most XC of all of them!?
How, end up and finished 3rd ???
  • 1 0
 Definitely Thank you for the test! Ibis Ticks all boxes so far ( besides how it looks)
  • 1 1
 @sarahmoore What was the elevation gain on the 500m climb?

Thanks for the video - interesting (I wouldn't call it pseudo science, because there were controls in place).
  • 2 0
 Vee tires, WTB tires, and Maxxis DHF the slowest tires. Predictable.
  • 1 0
 My 6 year old is running the Vee Flow Snaps, I think their probly softer and meatier than anything out there. Very confidence inspiring.
  • 1 0
 Interesting that in the review the RZ was said to be XC like on climbs but fell 2nd to last on efficiency test.
  • 1 1
 Should try this for top of range bikes too?
Or would that cut sales for top end bikes that you cant buy any way?
  • 1 0
 I'm definitely going to buy some hans dampf tires after this.
  • 1 0
 Be cool if pinkbike did this as standard test for all bike reviews
  • 1 0
 thank sausage spotted.

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