Many regard downhill bikes as the pinnacle of what a mountain bike can do. Designed to plough through the roughest rock gardens, you throw them down a hill and they'll take anything that comes and then beg for another run. These bikes aren't your do it all Swiss Army knife, they have one job, and that is to get you down that hill as fast as possible. You just have to hold on.
Perhaps that is what makes them so appealing, these are bikes for one purpose. That exclusivity coupled with the fact that they are piloted by what we regard as the fastest racers makes them oh so desirable. With our modern enduro bikes coming on leaps and bounds with technology and geometry inspired by their bigger downhill siblings, they're trying to give the downhill bike a run for its money, with their ability to pedal them back to the top being another string to their bow. Though the key word there was "trying". They'll never compare to the sheer speed you can rip out of the gnarliest trails, feeling like a world cup racer on board your downhill bike. This is a different ball game. One that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Dirt have been riding, reviewing and breaking downhill bikes for years, with new bikes and new tech coming out every year for us to love or loathe. These innovations come from somewhere though, the flagship bikes that the world's best ride. Keeping in the know about these super bikes, however out of reach they are, is useful. The tech that they are wrapped in is bound to trickle down into the lower end models and into different lines. If you're a world cup racing hopeful or even just have deep pockets, you'll want to pay attention to this list. Though with new crops of direct sales bikes bringing that price down (even with Brexit-inspired fluctuation in price), you're bound to get a lot for your money.
So, in no particular order, here they are. The fastest bikes in the Dirt 100...
CANYON Sender CF
It's bang on two years since the launch of the Sender back in the spring of 2016. Canyon certainly meant business with this new DH machine. Did they deliver? Very much so, and this direct sales brand scored an instant hit with us and went straight into the Dirt 100 last year. For a price that'll give you some change out of £4500, this bike is "scarily good value", but, it wasn't just the price that impressed us. With Barel's attention to detail present in every inch, it's silence and impressive sizing (second only to Nicolai's radical G19), led us to placing it in our round up of bikes last year and in the good books it remains this year.
The pace of the Sender is immediately apparent and this alone puts it into the higher end of our downhill bike ratings. The geometry is simply sparkling. But it’s when you add in a low weight (around 16kg) and almost silent ride characteristic you begin to realise what a class act the Sender really is.
Propain Rage Carbon
Possibly one of the lightest production downhill bikes on the circuit currently. The full-carbon, Propain Rage comes after the success of its previous aluminium counterpart. Although coming in two size options (S/M and L/XL) the Rage is still one of the longest on the market. The overall reach may come in smaller than the XL Sender but with huge amounts of adjustability coming from both the headset and chainstay, you can take the Rage into heavy terrain with a ride we found super planted and stable with plenty of character to boot.
With prices starting from £3029 complete, Propain are another company swearing by the direct sales approach, bringing high spec to lower prices. Another of our biggest likes is that Propain also offer a superb personalised bike option, taking literally seconds to get a bike that’s suitably kitted out to your budget and aesthetic taste.
Price: From £3119.99 (Carbon Comp)
At just shy of £2700, the Vitus Dominer is one of the most affordable DH bikes on the market and competes with the aluminium YT Tues and the Norco Aurum. Straight out of Belfast and pushing its fellow Irish stablemate the Nukeproof Pulse really hard, the designers of this Vitus have in no way held back and made some genuine upgrades for 2018, with only a small price increase. A key improvement is the addition of an XL frame size – something we felt was missing on last year’s Dominer.
The Dominer tackles geometry, affordability, reliability and the huge momentum that comes from the German direct sales brands. Vitus is definitely on the move, producing neat, well thought out bikes that are on the money and simply ready to roll
Price: £2699.99 (Frame)
Giant Glory Advanced
The Giant Glory has bloomed, from privateer workhorse to thoroughbred racing machine. The Glory has grown more refined over the years. Carbon has replaced the aluminium, yet the character that has always peaked our curiosity continues to do so. At the centre of the bike is the Maestro suspension, which despite having fairly average dampers fitted, really makes the best of what it has, going on to produce a ride that is remarkably balanced. This bike is truly made for racing with Marcelo Gutierrez piloting it towards multiple WC podiums.
The bikes carbon construction balances strength and flexibility in a way that few manufacturers have yet to master and is only bested by the Specialized Demo in terms of pure performance, a bike you do pay more for. We really rate this bike, it shows that they can build a bike with good sizing, specced with great components and truly refined suspension. A real super bike that doesn't have to cost at least one of your kidneys.
Mondraker Summum Carbon Pro
Mondraker's Summum has been a mainstay in the Dirt 100 for nearly as many years as it’s been published. With its first appearance in 2010 – as an aluminium DH frame – and now in 2018 as a full carbon bike, of which there are two build options available. In 2018 the Summum is still in the ballpark geometry wise, although not as radical as it once was. Take a size XL - a reach of 468mm makes it shorter only than the Canyon Sender, YT Tues and Nicolai/Geometron G19. A head angle that can go as low as 61° still is chasing horizons though. The closest match is the G19 at 61.5 but when most sit at 63, you really can feel the difference on this bike.
There’s a confidence-inspiring, bottomless feel to the chassis that encourages you to keep pushing on hard. This pioneering bike still has it… although the pricing is starting to look a touch high when compared to carbon bikes with a similar specification.
Price: Bike £5699 - £7799, Frame £3699
Intense M16C Expert
With Intense Cycles making the switch to consumer direct sales late last year, a restructure of the pricing has resulted in some incredibly well-priced machines. Here in the UK, Intense bikes are now shipped to the buyer with as much care and attention as you would hope for when shelling out many thousands of pounds. Suspension pressures and settings are dialled in to suit the rider’s weight and tastes and Intense are confident enough in this approach that you can return it up to 14 days after receiving it if you’re not happy with your purchase – even if you’ve ridden it.
For the price, this bike has a solid spec. Fox Performance Elite level 40 fork and DHX2 coil damper, Shimano Zee transmission and a Renthal cockpit are all proven choices. The wheels and the brakes are the areas we’d upgrade over time though but having this stunning frame at the heart of the bike makes it a very sound long term investment.
YT Industries Tues CF Pro
The YT Brand is going from strength to strength. In their first year of racing world cups, they couldn't have wished for more success. Straight up (g)winning, with Aaron Gwin plowing through the competition on-board a stock Tues, a bike you can buy direct from YT. We only ever had one issue with the Tues, our 6ft plus riders were limited by size options, but with a new XL introduced last year, the Tues is looking stronger than ever. A true world cup bike built for good times.
With a spec sheet that'll have you set for a season of World Cup racing, this is a bike that you would not expect to come in at the price it does. The new colour scheme is achingly beautiful too. Don't be scared to throw this bike into the rough though, as this bike is built to destroy. With the newest version unveiled at the first round of this year's World Cup series, it looks like the Tues will continue to dominate for years to come.
Price: £4499 (CF Pro Race)
With production 29” wheel DH bikes only just hitting the market, this Orange is the only big wheeler that’s made the line up, mostly down to availability and timing. More 29” DH bikes will follow, that’s for sure and although this Orange is only a prototype we’re told that it’s very close to the proposed production version.
So how does it ride? First impressions were that the amount of grip on offer was next level. It could be thrown into a corner and trusted to hold the line with no loss of traction. The 29” wheels may be slightly harder to get up to speed but the ease in rolling over obstacles is where the benefits come in. This matched up with the grip offered from the big wheels and there’s no doubting this is a quick bike.
A great start from Orange with this 29” DH bike – a truly engaging machine that we’re absolutely itching to spend more time on. This is one to watch for sure.
Specialized S-works Demo 8
It's here again. The Demo has rarely taken a year away from the Dirt 100 and rightly so. We’ve remained convinced by this bike again this year and it still is the ‘go to’ DH machine for many of the testers here at Dirt. The Specialized S-Works Demo 8 is a bike that appears to have come straight from the future, gifted to us from the sci-fi engineers at Specialized who dedicated a whole year to its creation. This is a bike that has tasted world cup podiums and is always hungry for more.
This bike is a different animal. The bike comes as the only production bike to be equipped with the Ohlins TTX, it sits right in the cut away section providing heaps of cutting edge beauty. If there were to be any negatives to throw its way, it isn't the longest bike and the Boxxer on the front has not impressed us in the past. Minimal. An issue hopefully ironed out with the introduction of the 2018 Boxxer. Take it down the steepest track you can find, it is sure to provide you with tenacious confidence, always ready for more. The Demo 8 is a beast that’s been tamed and one that rarely falters.
PRICE: £5500 (S-Works £8000)
As the joint most successful downhill bike of the World Cup circuit last year, the Transition TR11 was on our radar even as a prototype. Straight off the bat this thing looks the business, clean lines and a slick paint job is not everything but it sure as hell helps. Look a bit closer though and you’ll see the carbon chassis has some real purpose with girth and strength there when it is needed. The Fox suspension platform compliments the suspension design giving hold while keeping a great feel.
In fact, the whole spec is World Cup worthy - X01 drivetrain, SRAM Code brakes, Maxxis rubber and a heap of E*Thirteen finishing kit - there’s nothing you need to swap out here. Transition have nailed the sizing on the TR11 with the large bike that we tested having more than enough room with a stable length while keeping a playful feel.