Feast on a trail centre for breakfast, a natural ride for lunch and some cheeky tracks for dinner
Everytime we’re out on the trails we always get asked the same question – what is the perfect trail bike? Should it be a 29er or 650b? How much travel do I need? What brand should I get? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer, because having a certain wheel size, travel, geometry or spec, is no guarantee of anything. Put simply, there isn’t one single attribute that makes the perfect trail bike.
With every change in wheel size, the do-it-all trail bike has evolved. When 26in wheels ruled supreme, 140mm travel provided the optimum balance of weight, efficiency and performance.
Then the 29er steamrolled into town and flipped that long-standing idea on its head. The extra rollover and momentum of the dramatically bigger wheels meant that you could get away with 120mm travel, or less, with the best 29ers proving to be faster and more efficient than their 26in brethren.
In the pursuit of performance, the goal posts have shifted once again, and the current trend sees most bike manufacturers hedging their bets, both in terms of wheel size and travel. As such, there’s an emerging group of 130mm-travel trail bikes with 27.5in wheels professing to be the next big thing in trail riding.
However, if you come at this problem from a different angle, there is one prerequisite for every great trail bike: the ability to be ridden as fast as your limits — not its — will allow. It should instill confidence, which, in turn, lets you push harder on every ride.
Finding this perfect trail bike is a full-time job at mbr. We’re constantly testing and reviewing bikes trying to work out if this bike is The One.
Watch the most exciting bikes of 2016
Progress rarely happens in leaps and bounds. More often than not, if the time frame is long enough, it’s the small changes that add up to make the biggest difference. Slightly bigger wheels, new hub standards, advances in shock technology, 11-speed cassettes, fatter tyres; name any component part on a modern trail bike and chances are it’s changed for the better in the last 10 years.
Individually, these incremental steps could quite easily go unnoticed, but taken together they make the best do-it-all trail bikes even more capable. Other than the inherent obsolescence that gradual change brings, the key problem with the current rate of development is that, if bikes are not progressing, they are going backwards.
Yes, the specification is important to overall performance and value, but it is only part of the picture. The same is true of the amount of travel — more isn’t necessarily better. You also can’t isolate one aspect of the geometry and say this is responsible for why this bike is more fun to ride. In fact, the only constants here, other than the price and wheel size, are the tyres, which we fit ourselves.
The point is, trail bikes come in lots of shapes and (wheel) sizes, so variations in performance can be due to a combination of factors, including travel, geometry, sizing, suspension and even price. Ideally you want sublime handling coupled with the best possible spec for your money.
More often than not, the bikes with the best ride and handling are greater than the sum of their parts… let’s see if that’s the case this time round.
The mountain bikes for under £2,500
Not rounded enough to be a great trail bike - £2,299.99
Whyte should be commended for doing such a sterling job with the Whyte T-130 S. It's still one of the…
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A great looking frame with full XT let down by a flimsy fork - £2,399
When we start a test we usually have a checklist of things we think a bike should have, and for a trail bike costing £2,500 that means a dropper post, quality suspension fork, lightweight wheels and a well-built aluminium frame.
We also have a checklist when it comes to performance. This isn’t something you can tell by looking at a spec sheet, it’s an overall picture of how the bike rides in certain situations — was it good at cornering? Was it fast on the climbs? The list goes on.
We then marry the two together and weigh up the positives and negatives. The aim is to build up an impression of what the bike is like and how it’s positioned relative to the other bikes in the test before we dish out the final ratings.
It sounds clear-cut, but sometimes a bike turns up that has cheap bits on it, and weighs a ton, but rides great. Alternatively it can have absolutely the best specification ever, but ride like a dog.
We also have a bias at mbr when it comes to rating bikes; we tend to value ride quality over specification, which means the bikes that ride well do better in our tests. Why? Because they are more fun to ride, which, ultimately, is what mucking about on bikes is all about. Very occasionally we get both; a great build and amazing performance. They’re the bikes that get 10 out of 10.
The Stumpjumper Evo is one of the best trail bikes ever produced. It’s not the best specced though, which should give other manufacturers hope.
To produce a bike that’s unanimously praised you need to get everything right. The Whyte T-130 S Yari is one such bike. With Whyte raising the benchmark to a new high, however, everything has changed. Best of all, it’s the trail rider looking for a capable 130mm bike that has benefitted most.