PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
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.
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.
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.