2023 Pinkbike Awards: Value Bike of the Year Nominees

Dec 5, 2023 at 9:47
by Seb Stott  

Value Bike of the Year Nominees

Leaving aside the current supply/demand mismatch in the bike market, it's a common complaint that the price of bikes keeps spiralling out of control. It's true that if you want to spend five figures on a mountain bike, you're spoilt for choice these days. But if you have a more realistic budget, the performance of what's on offer is now better than ever. You no longer have to pay big bucks to get the latest geometry, good suspension performance and fit-for-purpose components.

The bikes in this list include short-travel trail bikes up to park bikes, costing between $3,299 and $3,899 USD. While that's still a lot of money, they offer on-trail performance that leaves little to be desired even when compared to those top-end bikes. Many have cheaper stablemates, but we think these models hit a sweet spot for performance per dollar.

Why it's nominated

At $3,499, it would be a stretch to describe the Rift Zone XR 29" as "entry-level", but it's certainly offering a lot of performance and fun in a relatively affordable package. It was the most expensive bike in this year's Value field test, but it impressed with its confident descending character and enjoyable ride-feel. It wasn't the best climber (though not the worst either thanks to the steep seat tube), but the supple suspension, burly fork, powerful brakes and modern geometry make up for it on the descents. The performance belied the 130/140 mm travel numbers, to the extent that you could take it to the odd enduro race without feeling let down. Despite having less travel than some of the other bikes on test, it was one of the fastest descenders in timed testing.

The components are well-chosen and generally durable, making it a solid option for the money. Marin offers cheaper builds starting at $1,699, but we think the extra cash is worth it for the sorted spec if you can afford it.


Why it's nominated

This year saw YT update the Jeffsy after five years of the previous model. This time there were no Hollywood actors to convince you to buy one, but the price and specs should take care of that. The new Jeffsy rolls on 29" wheels only, with 5 mm less travel at the rear than the previous 29er version - it now sports 145mm travel with a 150mm fork - emphasising its remit as an efficient trail bike rather than a wannabe enduro bike. The anti-squat has been increased and the seat angle steepened for the benefit of climbing, but the head angle has gotten slacker too, now measuring 65-degrees in the low setting.

The result, according to PB's Dario DiGiulio, is a bike that's "predictable, fun, and simply easy to ride. YT seems to have nailed the tricky balance of a bike that is easy to cruise on while still holding its own when pushed hard or thrown into more serious terrain."

But YT's trump card is value, and the alloy-framed, Core 2 model is the pick of the crop. With Fox Performance suspension, GX mechanical drivetrain, Code R brakes and DT Swiss wheels all for $3,299/£2,999/€2,999, it's damn near unbeatable in the spreadsheet wars. Based on our experience with the Core 4 model, the geometry and suspension are very much on point too.


<Photo is private>

Why it's nominated

Merida wanted the One-Twenty to be simple, reliable and versatile for people getting into the sport. The frame does away with a pivot near the rear axle for simpler manufacturing and maintenance, has been stress-tested to enduro standards and carries a lifetime warranty.

Despite the name, it has 130 mm of travel at each end. Combined with a moderate 66-degree head angle and fast-rolling tires as stock, it's designed to be an everyday trail bike for typical mountain bikers who can only afford one bike.

Merida invited me to ride it at the Ex Enduro, a three-day stage race involving around 5,000 m of descending. While I would usually choose a longer-travel bike for this event, the One-Twenty held its own. The efficient climbing position and stable suspension help to save energy on the (many) climbs, while the progressive suspension and a long dropper post make it easier to deal with "oh sh*t moments" on the descents. The geometry is agile without being overly nervous, and the build kit is impressive for the price. I even managed to snag a cheeky podium on a bike that cost less than some frames (I'm looking at you, Yeti).

I rode the top-spec 700 model, which uses RockShox Select+ suspension, SRAM's NX gearing with their remarkably consistent DB5 brakes. It costs £3,100/€3,720. The mid-price 600 model might just be the smart money choice, however, with a Marzocchi Z2 fork, Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain and brakes, plus the same RockShox Select+ RL shock and long-travel dropper as the 700 model, all for £2,500/€3,000.


Why it's nominated

The Chainsaw fits into the illusive super-enduro/park/freeride category. It's probably not the kind of bike you'll see on the podium at the races (which is ironic given its namesake) but it's a good choice for those who want to ride hard in the bike park and beyond.

The bike is available in two modes: enduro and DH. The former gets 170 mm of travel at each end, 29" wheels, a single crown fork, 12 gears and a dropper; the latter bumps up to 180 mm travel with a 190 mm dual crown fork, mullet wheels, DH gearing and a fixed seatpost. You could mix and match these traits to your heart's content - Matt Beer had his test bike set up with a dropper post and the wide-range gearing installed with the dual-crown fork and MX wheels.

After three months with the bike, Matt had this to say - "The Chainsaw is definitely full of downhill spirit that’s only held back by the braking power of the G2 REs. After a brake upgrade, the Chainsaw is ready to take on the gnarliest lines and lap chair lifts all day."

It starts at $3,899 USD, which is impressive, especially for a Canadian-made frame, but we'd recommend upgrading to the GX build (tested). For an extra $800, you have a lighter and crisper drivetrain, 4-piston brakes and a ZEB fork that is also 200g lighter than the Domain and has a compression adjuster.


Author Info:
seb-stott avatar

Member since Dec 29, 2014
298 articles

  • 98 2
 The real value product of the year is none of these, but is all the 2023 bikes which half price at your local bike shop at the moment Smile
  • 7 0
 And on the Chain Reaction/Wiggle warehouse clear out if you live in the UK
  • 3 0
 @vp27: It's not far from Belgium to the UK. Hop on the Eurotunnel and come get some of these deals
  • 12 0
 Value bike of the year is two kona processes
  • 1 0
 It wasn't even 2 years ago that bike shops were selling everything at MSRP, if they even had inventory. What wild times ...
  • 1 0
 @tom666: They also do mailorder. With CRC being Irish, Brexit shouldn't really get in the way for the Belgians would it?
  • 1 0
 @vinay: WiggleCRC are shipping to the UK only currently. CRC are located in Belfast which is in Northern Ireland (part of the UK with Wales, England and Scotland, out of the EU). The Republic of Ireland is in the EU but that's a different country to Northern Ireland. There is a border in between. Also CRC's warehouse is in England I believe.
  • 1 0
 @tom666: Yeah, but wasn't there some agreement that there would always be free trade and travel between Northern Ireland and Ireland which was deemed important to end the Troubles? I know it was a complication when they wanted to realize the Brexit and with the subsequent crises (pandemic, war) I lost track of what they agreed upon eventually.
  • 82 5
Canadian made aluminum frame, awesome design, solid build options.
  • 2 2
 Competitively priced and no Wilson creak.
  • 10 1
 Ordered the DH today! Can't wait.
  • 4 2

Bring back the Wilson though! FFS!
  • 1 0
 @wafflecakee: Good for you, bike looks awesome!
Hope the new year is full of huge sends, smooth landings, and smashing berms!
  • 1 1
 No question it is a good bike, but does it need to be in this list? From what I understand they didn't really test the 3900USD bike in this list, but rather recommend the 4700USD version. Then if they recommend the potential buyer browsing this list for a budget bike to rather get the 4700USD bike, is the 3900USD version still a worthy option? If made in Canada is a criterium then maybe made in the UK is a worthy alternative. If you get the Cotic RocketMax with the "bronze" build (so also with a Domain fork), you Canadians will be paying 2850GBP ex VAT (including shipping and without import duties). Which bike is the better one may need to be tested but at least to me the price for that Devinci doesn't appear to be extremely low for a bike made in a western country. Plus of course by now we may have reached the point where Taiwan is as high tech if not more high tech than the western countries hence whatever is made there shouldn't be a bargain.
  • 31 2
 Marin and it aint even close. In between the SQ the RZ and even the AT they offer one of the best ways to get into biking and still go through a bike shop. As well as a full line up of every frame and wheel size. Legends for that. XL 275ers and S 29ers for the outliers!!
  • 4 0
 The Hawk Hill was my first full suspension. Then I moved on to Santa Cruz, specialized, Mondraker, and few others. Eventually went back to a Marin with the Rift Zone. Realized at that point I just didn’t need to spend more for a great bike. It road just as well as the others. Just bought my third Marin, an Alpine Trail E1. At this point I’ll probably just look to Marin first when looking for another bike.
  • 29 9
 Hardtails would like to have a word with this list.
  • 28 4
 Is it still a value if one has to learn line choice and technique?
  • 16 0
 @bushbush: Yes, if I don't have to buy new knees, ankles and back.
  • 23 6
 @bushbush: something something I am better than everybody because I ride a hardtail and make such skilled line choices cruising greens
  • 8 0
 Really should have been one hardtail listed. So many good options out there.
  • 9 0
 Especially with the wild sales going on now. I grabbed a Knolly Tyaughton at 40% off. Steel frame with modern geo, 36 fox factory fork, full GX drivetrain, Magura MT5 brakes, spank wheels and cockpit for $2200. You could literally just take all the parts off and sell them on buy/sell and get close to the whole bike
  • 5 0
 Most decent hardtails I've seen lately are not good value at all compared to the nominated bikes though. Cheaper =/= good value. Although of course I understand if someone has a hard budget cap where fs isn't an option, then it is what it is.
  • 1 0
 @bananowy: Every brand has an aluminum-framed trail hardtail for approx $1,500 US that are excellent 1st bikes for a new rider.
  • 7 0
 @AndrewFleming: That's right and my opinion is that $1500 for a fairly basic hardtail is not great value. It's good that it exists if you have a hard cap at $1500 but if you can stretch to an equally basic fs, I think you will get more bang for buck. Imho the ride experience between the two is way more different than the price delta would suggest. The Marin above starts at $1699 for a functioning fs bike. That's incredible value.
  • 2 0
 @bananowy: Well, a basic hardtail is $1k US or less. But spend $1,500 and you get a decent build that’s at least 5 pounds lighter than a $2k full suspension bike. For some riders - like a 140 pound teenager or someone with access to only fast smooth trails or someone who will struggle with keeping the full suspension tuned, that’s the right bike.
  • 2 0
 @AndrewFleming: I agree that the addition time/cost/skill it takes to maintain a full squish affects the value proposition, especially for newer riders, or people like me who only have a couple hours a week they can dedicate to anything bike related. Every hour I spend maintaining a bike is an hour I can’t ride.
  • 2 3
 @bushbush: You dont see value in learning line choice and technique?
  • 1 0
 @AndrewFleming: So is a good used bike, prolly better in fact
  • 1 0
 @onawalk: Yes, definitely, but that doesn’t give these brands any credit which hurts advertising which hurts Pinkbike.
  • 1 0
 @AndrewFleming: That feels like a different conversation.
I think a good used bike is a better investment for new riders than anything new.
Better bang for your buck, youll undoubtedly get a better spec/bike, and its the opportunity to learn/work on your bike.
Thats a win-win in my book
  • 8 2
 @onawalk: I'm so tired of this narrative. Riding a hardtail doesn't teach good lines and proper technique. Learning good technique and line choice has nothing to do with the amount of travel on your bike. For most riders, riding a hardtail will teach them to ride a semi-squat reactive position with their cog shifted over the rear wheel and to over use their rear brake, amongst a few other bad habits one quickly develops trying to use an ineffective tool for the job. Its a tired uniformed opinion elitist gate keeping mountain bikers spout off in the comments about, people learning need the right tools for the job. Would you give an inexperienced chef a dull knife to hone their skills? No, sharp knives are safer and easier to use. Right tool, right job.
  • 6 1
 @dmrluc: Easy boss,
I started riding when hardtails were the only option, I dont think theres anything elitist about riding a hardtail (I havent ridden one in well over a decade).

Couple of points Id make

-I didnt say it was either the right tool for the job, or the way to learn skills, I merely asked about the value of learning and technique
-you can still learn terrible techniques on a fully, in fact most of us have. Simply riding a bike with suspension does not teach good technique
-You can learn excellent technique while riding a hardtail, pretty well any XC focused rider is a testament to that
-learning skills/techniques on a hardtail is still transferable to graduating to a fully, of note, trail scanning becomes a more important skill on a hardtail, obviously
-riding a hardtail can help people to focus on different things, and at a slower pace, all skills learned on a hardtail will help when moving to a fully
-Any coach should be able to help transfer the skills from the hardtail to the fully
-working with a skills coach is the best/quickest way to be able to adapt any skill to pretty well any type of bike
-we all ride different trails, and those different trails easily require styles/skills as different as ones from riding a hardtail to a fully
-My brother went to a culinary school, and had a practice knife, it was in fact so dull that you couldnt cut yourself with it. He used it with kinetic sand to understand/practice the basic principles, which he learned at slower speeds, to help better focus.

Now I get your frustration on what you think is gatekeeping from elitist riders, but in reality, does it matter? If we all ride our bikes, and have fun, thats all that matters. I like riding all kinds of different bikes, and they all require different skills and style to get what I want to get from them. Learning and practising all those skills just brings more and better skills to all the different riding I do
  • 1 0
 @onawalk: I’m just pointing out that Pinkbike can’t run an article on the Secondhand Bikes of the Year!
  • 1 0
 @AndrewFleming: Sure they could,
That might actually be a real cool article.

I say you write it up, and submit to @kazimer, and @brianpark

i bet they got plenty of traffic on the articles they used to do about bikes in the buy/sell

but I hear what youre saying, remember, its an entertainment site, that is paid for by advertising, driven by traffic and engagement. You could make an argument that an article about best used bikes of the year would drive engagement, which would put eyeballs on advertisers, similar to the baller or bust videos of a couple years ago.
  • 1 0
 @AndrewFleming: this excalated quickly, eh? Riding both regularly, I agree it would be good to see at least one hardtail in this lineup. Both HT anf FS have their place and both can have a value build.
  • 10 0
 I think its really interesting that the 2023 rift zone is so highly praised, and rightly so. However, the previous generation of the bike was in the value bike field test a couple years ago, and no one really seemed to like it. The geometry is functionally identical, travel is only 5 and 10 mm different. Suspension on this one is a z1 instead of z2 and float x instead of dps. Those things make a difference, but its really the same bike with a slightly different build and some minor quality of life improvements. I guess it goes to show what a big difference the reviewer makes in these things, as the people riding the bikes in the value field test of the RZ3 are different than the folks riding the RZ XR this year.
  • 2 0
 I noticed this too, seems like the reviewers all really prefer the suspension feel of the new one while the old one was meh in their opinions
  • 11 0
 Mechanic here. The suspension geo is substantially different, which isn't reflected in the numbers. More sensitivity, and less anti-squat than the previous generation, and you can feel it. Doesn't climb quite as well, but rips on the descents.
  • 7 0
 @noctox: Got a new Marin Rift Zone 29 3 last week $1570, it’s great.
  • 1 0
 @noctox: thats interesting, i can believe that. So much of a bike isnt reflected in the numbers or suspension layout. The strange thing though is that the reviewers of the previous gen really bagged on it for not climbing well enough. Idk. I think my 2022 feels great descending, id say its weakness is that its a little chattery pedaling through, well, chattery stuff.

I got mine right before the 2023's came out, and i was a little bummed about that. Also a little bummed that folks are getting them for 1300 under msrp now. But at the end of the day, i still got a good deal on mine, and enjoyed every minute of the 1200 miles that i put on mine in the year that ive had it, and im going to very happily continue to ride it for years to come.
  • 2 0
 @KWxbmc: That’s a bargain!
  • 2 0
 @KWxbmc: Congrats! i got mine about a year ago for 2200 and it was a great deal, i cant believe that under 1600! Like even before covid made things wierd, i feel like the cheapest FS you could buy that was an actual mountain bike was a giant stance and i think it was definitely more expensive than that, and not anywhere close to as good. I keep telling my buddies this would be a pretty good time to upgrade, but theyre deep pockets short arms type people. all good.
  • 1 1
 It depends on what Pinkbike is trying to market at the time... They overlook a lot of great products if it doesn't fit the current trend or the latest "kinematics" or whatever.
  • 1 0
 @noctox: have you ridden it?
  • 10 0
 I would still point people at the Norco Fluid. A friend just picked up one of the entry level builds on sale for 2K CAD.
  • 1 0
 I picked one up on sale for my son. Its a great platform to build on and the price was very good. He loves it, and I kind of wish I had one too.
  • 7 0
 It's not MSRP so it probably doesnt qualify but Specialized has been selling the Stumpjumper Evo Elite Alloy for $3,500 for months, I'm starting to wonder if that's just the new price now until the next model comes out.
  • 14 10
 How about the Fezzari La Sal. It's on sale and is a crazy deal right now, but even when it's NOT on sale, a full carbon frame with SLX drivetrain+brakes and DVO suspension for $3700. With responsive customer service and lifetime warranty.
  • 7 5
 Why buy a bike for 3700 where you immediately need to swap the suspension out on? Not good value
  • 4 1
 @bigmeatpete420: lots of people, myself included, have had great experiences with DVO
  • 3 0
 @Jshemuel: more of us who own DVO have had nothing but issue with their products. I've had to send my Diamond Fork in twice in the first year of owning it for warranty work. Their QC is garbage.
  • 1 0
 @Jshemuel: lol. Must been one of the lucky few. After 2020 their quality control went so far downhill

Awful products. Best people in industry.
  • 1 0
 @OlSkoolJake: I hear you. tbh my Sapphire was plagued with warranty issues too, but my Diamond has been solid. Also helps that I have all the tooling to service their products entirely at home
  • 4 1
 Love the Chainsaw. Reminds me of 2008 - 2011 when all the gnarly freeride was done back in the woods with a dual crown bike. Even shuttling in the Pisgah national forest back then everyone brought DH bikes, climbing be damned!
  • 3 0
 If we couldn’t work out a shuttle we would smash down our dual crowns with ratchet straps. Please tell me this wasn’t just my crew
  • 2 0
 @slayersxc17: That's hardcore, never heard of that technique but hey whatever works! Highway 181 north of Morganton is where I really learned about gravity riding and how addicting it is
  • 1 0
 @t-rick: that’s where I cut my teeth in too. Transition Dirtbag!
  • 1 0
 @slayersxc17: That's awesome. Beehive, Headleys, Greentown, Raspberry, Headquarters, Sinkhole, etc. Good times!
  • 1 0
 @t-rick: oh yeah, that was weekend from 05-09. Did you ever ride Canyons in Blowing Rock before it go shut down?
  • 1 0
 @slayersxc17: I wish. I once found the bottom of it and hiked up some of it. Wish I could've ridden it though!
  • 1 0

Here's a video of the action!
  • 1 0
 @t-rick: Heck yeah! Nothing says that era more than your buddies white rims! I live only just hour an hour from Wilson Creek, and never get over there.
  • 1 0
 @slayersxc17: hahha my white rims. Heck yeah that's close!

Some high school buddies and I met up from different cities and shuttled headleys and then rode headquarters and beehive one morning. I think 2 years ago. They are still running good!!

Hit me up if you want some GPS pins for the trails. I can even share the Google maps I made of the area. Let me know!!
  • 2 0
 @t-rick: sounds like a good time. I know where all those spots are, thanks though!
  • 5 0
 My pick is the new Jeffsy. Probably the best do-everything bike in this group. That Marin is nice too, though.
  • 8 2
 no yeti or pivot?
  • 22 0
 they could only send miniatures for that price
  • 8 3
 Fezzari La Sal Peak Shimano Comp.
$2799 full carbon bike.
Can't beat that.
  • 4 0
 What about getting two Kona Processes for the price of one? Might actually be a quiver killer...
  • 3 0
 this. Process X and 134 and you're set. all you need is a dirt jumper, a gravel bike, a DH bike, and an XC bike and you can consider your quiver killed
  • 5 1
 how in the actual fuck are any bikes that cost over 3k considered value bikes.
  • 5 1
 The Polygon Siskiu T8 is only 1799 right now.. She rips!
  • 2 0
 I know the current sales aren't evergreen, and only limited sizes are available, but there are numerous banger deals on solid MTBs that blow these out of the water.
  • 2 0
 I'd pick the Merida 120 because it has that super-rad headset cable routing that will make me 20% faster and twice as good-looking.
  • 3 0
 Twice of zero is still zero, friend...
  • 1 0
 @Flc3344: LOL!! Oh, the truth hurts. ;-)
  • 4 0
 Bird bikes anyone ?
  • 1 0
 I don't know, given that it's not the end of the year and we're seeing 50% off DW bikes, Santa Cruz, etc, this list might need to be revised.
  • 2 2
 At $3,499, it would be a stretch to describe the Rift Zone XR 29" as "entry-level" Then pick another bike perhaps? Specialized status?
  • 8 1
 It's a value bike award, not an entry level bike award. I think for people who are already getting serious about mountain biking and are looking for a solid build kit without the need to replace parts soon, this is actually a pretty decent offer that has more "value" than an entry level bike you will quickly outgrow
  • 1 0
 @hardtailpunter: You can pick up a status here in the UK for £1950, that leaves a LOT of room for upgrades up to the full price of the marin, at this price you could upgrade the spesh with hope wheels, brakes and slap on an slx drive train. The Status has lots of amazing reviews to boot.
  • 1 1
 I'd say any Kona bike wins this category, since you get two for the price of one. Buy the top model, sell the other bike, and voilà !!
  • 2 0
 Jeffsy all the way!!! I just got one and it's totally awesome tup
  • 1 0
 Whichever wins, it will be green or blue...
  • 1 0
 that'd be a fun way to bet on this
  • 1 0
 The value bike of the year is 100% irrelevant this year...
  • 4 6
 How about the stump jumper evo expert with the deal it has had for close to 50% of this year? best deal on the market by far
  • 27 0
 Kinda hard to give out awards based on limited time sales vs msrp
  • 1 0
 Ive looked at spech webpage twice a week, trying to decide between Evo and stumpy, no longer on sale as of this morning. Waited too long. Maybe go back on sale later or have they cleared out their excess inventory
  • 2 1
 Very strange clicking on Spesh link on PB, sales price doesn't show. Going direct to web page sale shows up. Wtf
  • 5 6
 The fact that no polygon is on this list… smh
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