Trail and Enduro Bikes

Dirty Dozen – Long travel 29″ enduro bike test

An introduction to this comprehensive review

Twelve of the best 150-160mm long travel 29” wheel bikes in a shoot-out to find which one beats the rest. Why the hell not? Ultimately it comes down to which are the bikes that we would we put out own money down on.

Words and Images: Steve Jones

Here’s the introduction to this twelve bike shoot-out, listing the bikes we are testing and what we are looking for when evaluating them. We’ll be dropping one bike test a week onto the Dirt website over the following months, so stay tuned. There will be a verdict at the end, highlighting our favourite bikes and what makes them the best of the bunch. Also worth mentioning is the fact that some 2018 bikes in our initial wish list are not available yet (the Transition Sentinel being an example) but the results from this test will bring benchmarks for further testing as we roll into 2018. The Scott Genius had not arrived in time for our first photoshoot so it’s missing from our images here.


The bikes in test range from the £3799 Nukeproof Mega 290 to the £6200 Intense Carbine. Of note is that there were no direct sales bikes available for the test simply because nobody makes them. Not yet at least. Many people have commented that it’s not right to compare a six grand bike to a three grand one. Or a garden shed built steel bike to a carbon fibre bike. Our response to that is clear from last year’s tests of similar bikes in that if the Starling Murmur can out-pace bikes three times the value and also have a fatigue free ride then why not? The test is about learning, feeling and putting some times in. If you stick to pre-set magazine rules governed by price points then nobody really learns anything right? Is a Fox 36 at over a thousand pounds twice as good as Manitou Mattoc Pro at around £500? We certainly think not. The bottom line here is what’s the performance advantage of a super expensive bike? There’s got to be one right?


Buying a bike is a huge decision, and so therefore we have ridden in a multitude of locations and terrain. Some of the team have wondered into the hills, some have raced enduro events, others have done quick loops of the trail centres. What we have all done is try and ride a big hefty chunk of natural terrain comprising root, camber, rock on varying soil types with different average track speeds. We’ve gone up, down, along and across in this test.


There are some 2017 Dirt 100 picks here (revised for the 2018 model year) and other bikes which are all-new showing that there are plenty of brands getting involved in this long travel 29″ wheel category.

Here are the twelve bikes competing in this shoot out:

  9. WHYTE S-150
  13. ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT BC  (late entrant)

Frame Materials

Carbon, steel and aluminium. Many of the test bikes are full carbon, some full aluminium and a few a mix of both. Only the Starling is full steel. What we will not have is any pre-conceived ideas on the performance of each material. Last year the steel Starling was the best feeling bike (and also the fastest) but these are some all-new bikes in this test so we will be starting from scratch, as you will find out.


The test bikes are all in sizing large or extra large to reflect the test rider heights. One of the key measurements here are not numbers but a knowledge of the bikes in question. Members of the test team will have ridden each of the bikes in different sizing before we made our selection.

Unsurprisingly the reach numbers – a very rough indication of sizing but not fully indicative of ride comfort – are all in the same area with an average number of around 480mm, the extremes being the Specialized Enduro at 470mm and the Scott Genius on 499mm.

On numbers alone the Starling is the longest in wheelbase at 1275mm whilst the Marin is the shortest at 1229mm. The Whyte S-150 and Orange Stage have the lowest quoted bottom bracket height of 335mm whilst the Trek Slash has the highest at 352mm. Head angles are again similar although the Starling is the slackest at 64.5mm (and only a mm off being the lowest too). The Nukeproof Mega 290 has the longest chainstay at 450mm whilst the shortest is the Evil Wreckoning at 432mm.

What the numbers hint at is the philosophy of each brand when it comes to rider weight distribution on the bikes for even millimetres make a big difference on each of the bikes. The numbers will not reveal the true dynamic of the bike either for each suspension design and shock absorber will have a big impact as well as bar height and width and stem length. These are all details which we will feedback to you over the coming months.


We are not fooled by high priced products. At the same time if the inexpensive Shimano Deore brakes are not up for the job in hand we will tell you. Also heritage has no bearing on the test. For example forks that we might have given high praise to in the past might well have been altered for the worse in the new model year. Some fork brands might even have forgotten to put oil in the lowers.

Tyres have been an interesting point of discussion but the bottom line is that there have been such big differences in performance of many of the bikes that we will only begin thinking of getting a standard tyre by the time we hit the top half dozen and conclusions. Riders also have to recognise that we’ll be riding in very different conditions and it could well be that a certain tyre shines. We want to find these things out before homogenising the test. Wheels on the other hand are a huge subject, probably more so than tyres. Stay focussed.

What are we looking for?

Performance. Value. Speed. Fun. And also a fatigue free ride. From the outset on a location we rode together the difference in the fatigue levels over a six minute downhill/enduro run became very, very evident. This was something the entire test team felt and something that many media tests will not reveal. We feel the importance of rider fatigue on each of the bikes to be a massive topic. One that we will NOT shy away from telling you. We have no preconceived ideas on stiffness or compliance over performance or indeed progressive versus linear systems. It’s all up for discussion. We’re searching the ultimate all-rounder whilst being fully aware of the difference needs of each of the test team.

The results might not be for everyone. Be prepared.

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