Enduro mountain bikes have taken the mountain bike world by storm and it's easy to see why - more runs, more fun. These are bikes designed to hit the descents alongside their downhill bike siblings, only to be pedalled back to the top. None of that pushing up lark or paying for an uplift.
The rise of the enduro bike is down to the format of its namesake, the racing itself. A race format that is essentially like being out with your mates, it is all about competing on the down, not too worried about heading back up. This is an ethos that most mountain bikers can get along with, racing or not. These modern enduro bikes are really going everywhere with us now. From hacking it about your local woods to big alpine days out, they are seriously versatile bikes.
If you looked at them as a sum of their parts, enduro bikes would look very similar. Sporting on average 150mm to 180mm travel, with wide bars, dropper seat posts and running 1x drivetrains, you could say they were all one species. Characteristically however, these are all different animals. Each has a mind of its own, some bulldozing through the descents like a bull elephants on heat, while some climb like supple leopard eager for the big days out. Companies are really pushing the boundaries of geometry too, all in the quest of making these bikes as capable as ever. They come in a range of materials, with many companies exploring the world of carbon whilst some delve deeper into aluminium. Proving that neither material is superior.
Then you get to the big question - 27.5 or 29 inch wheels? The real answer is that there are great options in both wheelsizes and neither should hold you back. Read here for an in-depth guide to the wheel that's right for you.
We put the bikes through some serious testing to come out with this year's Dirt 100. So without further ado, here they are, the cream of the crop...
It was a class act that simply needed updating... but what an update it's been! The Rallon now comes with a striking, one sided, asymmetrical frame that can be totally customised to suit your needs.
Straight out of the box this bike is a weapon! Built to go fast and eat up the terrain and even more so in our opinion with the coil damper fitted. Not too stiff, not too flexy, and certainly with no harsh feedback over the high frequency bumps that we often experience with some carbon frames.
There is a real feel of quality to the carbon in this bike with a great balance to the feeling of the chassis. The Rallon’s excellent frame is complimented by the DT Swiss EX1500 wheel set with the 30mm wide aluminium rim giving compliance where needed.
The lifetime warranty rounds the package out and shows that Orbea have real confidence in the bikes they build.
PRICE: £6899 (Rallon M-Ltd)
It’s the case that every now and again you come across a bike that probably requires you to write something vaguely intelligent when all you want to do is simply smile and keep riding. Pace, balance and energy are central to the Pivot Firebird but more than anything it’s comfortable and supportive even in the biggest breakers.
We have not read any marketing around this bike; we’re simply not interested. What we have is a fast bike that feels great. The speed of this bike across the ground is phenomenal. In corners, pushing through breakers, popping off lips, gripping cambers, this bike is superb. That’s two big words in two sentences. But phenomenal and superb are what the Firebird is.
PRICE: Frame £3400, Build kits from £1850
There was a time when you felt safe in the knowledge that 150mm travel would get you through. Those times seem to have passed with the coming of bikes such as the bigger, longer Jekyll. There is no doubt about this bike’s capability, there never was, but this bike is a very different beast to its predecessor. The former Jekyll was more trail/enduro, this bike is a full on power house.
The Jekyll is one of the fastest and least tiring bikes of this travel that we’ve ever ridden. Some might say its too light and too flexy but the clock and the body suggest otherwise. And ultimately that’s what matters. Great bike.
PRICE: £2899.99 - £5999.99
Once in a while a bike rolls into the Dirt office that catches us off guard. The Radon Swoop is one of these bikes – a brand that only two years ago we were not familiar with. Just like YT and Canyon, Radon is a direct sales brand from Europe offering excellent value for money.But it’s not all about the equipment level; this 170mm travel aluminium enduro bike instantly won us over with its modern and very thorough approach to geometry and sizing. The result – ride quality and handling that is class leading.
How does it ride? We were blown away on our first ride and this sensation stayed with us. The Swoop is so low, so slack, so balanced, and just a hooligan through and through. There simply can be no measured remarks about this bike when the delivery is simply so flat out in its nature. This is a long travel bike that has a light ride character, is reasonably quiet and has excellent balance between flex and stiffness. We’ve yet to find any real-world compromises.
PRICE: €2199 - €3999
YT Capra 27 CF Pro Race
For 2018, YT is now releasing a completely new evolution of its mountain goat. As before, the YT Capra comes with a carbon or aluminium frame but now also in two wheel sizes, thanks to a completely new 29er version with up to 170mm of travel. Although the look is similar, it’s a slightly different machine and the latest 27.5in wheel Capra is even more downhill focussed.
In a way, just how well the latest Capra rides kind of surprised us, as even though it has more travel and a longer reach it feels more chuckable. Lower top tubes and shorter seat tubes help with this, even though reach has grown around 15-20mm on all sizes. This extra length is welcome news, as is the addition of a XXL frame size. The 2018 frames have also dropped a chunk of weight - the 27.5” full carbon chassis starts at 2.4kg in size small, with the aluminium frame only 600g heavier. The new Capra really is fit to retain its title in this category.
Price: Bikes from £2299 (Alu), £3399 (Carbon)
Orange Alpine 6 Factory
We’re looking at a very well regarded, UK designed long travel bike with the Alpine 6, a machine capable of anything from uplifting technical DH tracks, enduro racing to big mountain multi-day trips. The Alpine, as its name suggests, can handle itself in most terrain and the spec choices needs to match this attitude too…
This latest version of the Alpine is now more active over small bumps yet inspires confidence on really rough and technical tracks. A whole bundle of small changes here, but they all add up for a significant improvement on what was already a very accomplished design.
We’ve chosen the top Factory spec here for the Dirt 100 but bike prices start at £3200 and a frame with shock can be yours from £1900. Frame and decal colour options are available at the time of ordering, as are selected component upgrades. A British built classic…
PRICE: £5800 (Factory spec)
Their newest iteration of the Snabb enduro bike is an eye catcher, there’s no doubting that. Whether it’s the disco paint scheme, the in-your-face frame silhouette or the dripping specification, this was a bike we simply had to swing a leg over.
The Snabb hit the nail on the head of two of our very important criteria - noise and fatigue. The aluminium frame has plenty of give and thought has clearly gone into its cable routing and chain clearance - simple things that make all the difference out on the trail. In no uncertain terms this really is a cracker of a bike. The build spec may have some small issues but the price allows for some wiggle room for upgrades. The Snabb has up to date sizing and a clean smooth look. This really is up in the top end of the ranks.
All new for 2018, Canyon has really done a fantastic job here, creating what is possibly the best long travel air sprung park bike currently available – it really is the Sender’s little brother. Canyon has paired a 180mm travel fork to a 175mm travel carbon main frame, with design influences and suspension kinematics from the Sender downhill bike. This bike blends stability, traction and grip with an eagerness to get airborne.
Canyon has also totally nailed the stiffness to flex balance on the Torque. There is enough give that you don’t get pinged about when smashing through roots, while keeping the stiffness there when charging on the pedals for a precise drive. Super fun, limitless suspension feel and stability when needed, this 2018 Canyon has seriously impressed us with how it dealt with getting out of hand and wild on the press launch in Madeira. With a broad range of build kits and a well priced frame option there is plenty of choice with the Torque and we feel that this bike is going to be a real hit.
Price: Bikes from £3199, Frameset £2299
Trek Slash 9.8
There are a few key changes for the 2018 bike. First is Trek’s new ‘Through Shaft’ tech used on a RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock. This metric shock takes the place of the old Fox Float X2 damper from the Slash 9.9. Trek has also changed out the full carbon frame for the 9.8 build with aluminium chainstays in place of carbon.
Ride wise, this bike is still fast! There is no taking away from the ability of the shape and purpose here. The light feel to the ride and the compliant aluminium wheelset means the rider’s body does not get beaten about when pressing on. At £1200 cheaper than the 9.9, the 2018 Slash 9.8 does drop some of the dream spec but carries with it the magic that we fell for last year.
Specialized, just like Trek, has been in the carbon game for many years now and this experience shines through in the Enduro’s ride quality. The fatigue factor has been combated very well and there’s a refinement on this bike that is missing on many of the competition. It’s still one of the fastest bikes on the market and although the Ohlins suspension took some fettling before we were totally happy with the set up, the Enduro impressed us with its composure and comfort when pushing on in rough terrain.
There’s been a Specialized Enduro in every Dirt 100, something that no other bike can boast. From 26" all the way to 29" the Enduro has been able to impress on ALL wheel sizes. It really has evolved with the times.
Merida One-Sixty 8000
The 160mm travel market is packed with loads of choice. Well-executed examples, with thoroughly sorted geometry, proven suspension layouts and robust components are available starting at keener than ever price points.
The Merida One-Sixty, with a 170mm fork and 27.5" wheels goes right up against Dirt 100 favourites such as the Orange Alpine 6, Radon Swoop and the ever-popular YT Capra. It’s a full makeover for this 160mm travel hard hitter from Merida and we were keen to see how it stacked up. Let’s say that we weren’t disappointed…
he carbon chassis feels spot on and with aluminium rear stays the engineering team have got the stiffness flex balance on the money with no real issues over high frequency bumps. The lightweight build of the Merida also allows for a super fast pickup off the mark when charging out of the gate. Merida is a brand that has gone to the next level in a short space of time, challenging others that are in their comfort zone.
We’ve spent plenty of hours on the Sommet and it has proven itself as a very reliable and capable full suspension bike. In this fiercely competitive mid-travel part of the market it’s one of the cheaper options but has a frame and spec list that is hard to find fault with. This is an area where many riders default to; 27.5" wheels with 150-160mm front and rear – bikes that blur the line between trail and enduro.
If you’re looking for a hard hitting, mid travel bike, you won’t be disappointed with the Vitus Sommet. A sorted frame design kitted out with an up-to-date spec, dishing out a ride that is truly impressive at an exceptionally keen price.
Price: Range starts at £1699.99