Find the best full suspension mountain bike for you
In association with Alpinestars we bring you our rundown of the best full suspension mountain bike in each of three core wheel sizes: 27.5in, 29in and 27.5 Plus.
Say the words “trail bike” and so many different images spring to mind. For some, it will be a 160mm enduro bike, for others, a hardcore hardtail. Terrain, skill level, affordability and even fashion play a big part in how each rider defines a trail bike. Boiled down to its very essence, it’s nothing more than the bike you ride trails on.
That would be far too broad a church for our 2017 Trail Bike of the Year test though. And given that we have our annual Hardtail of the Year bonanza coming up soon, and we’ve covered enduro bikes extensively this year, we decided to concentrate on the middle ground to find the best full suspension mountain bike for regular trail riding.
The best full suspension mountain bike
Even then, there’s a broad spectrum of mid-travel full suspension bikes to choose from. After much deliberation and chin rubbing we decided to split it into three distinct categories, each defined by wheel size. Yep, that’s right, travel takes a back seat in this test.
We have 12 bikes in total at capable trail bikes: four with 27.5in wheels, four 29ers and four 27.5 Plus bikes rounding out the test.
To minimise overlap, as lots of models are available in multiple wheel sizes, and to cover the widest ground possible each category has been focused at different price points too. The 27.5in bikes hit the £2.5k sweet-spot, the 29ers are all around the £3k mark, while the Plus bikes push the budget all the way up to £4K. Something for every pocket and riding style then.
This year’s winners
27.5 Trail Bike of the Year
Back in black, the Commençal Meta TR V4.2 Essential is anything but dull. With a shape profile, killer geometry and suspension that can handle anything, it’s a total trailblazer.
Commençal’s Essential component selection leaves nothing wanting either. The sizing is comprehensive and the suspension is a breeze to set up. It’s everything a 130mm bike should be: it’s tight, it’s reactive and it’s very effective. It’s no slouch on the climbs either; you never feel like you’re over-biked. It’s been a long time coming but the Meta is back where it needs to be.
29in Trail Bike of the Year
The Jeffsy CF Pro is one of the fastest 29er trail bikes we’ve tested with a turn of speed that literally takes your breath away. It’s also tons of fun and will flatter and rider, no matter their ability. With 140mm of travel it can get a bit out of shape on steeper, rougher tracks, the flip side being that it’s incredibly agile, and can still punch its way out of most skirmishes.
Mesh this stand-out ride quality with the parts adorning the Jeffsy CF Pro, and you literally have one of the best pound-for-pound 29er trail bikes on the market today.
27.5 Plus Trail Bike of the Year
As you’d expect from a pumped-up XC race bike, the Spark isn’t intended for ploughing down trails and riding passively. You need to work your limbs to make up for the shortfall in travel, but the rewards for your efforts are spectacular. We were constantly in awe of what this bike can do. Yet unlike a highly-strung athlete, it’s neither nervous nor neurotic, and its confidence is infectious.
Already it has been ridden to two Olympic gold medals; well now it can add our Trail Bike of the Year award to its glittering palmarès.
This year’s test bikes
Take a cursory glance at the ratings and it’s crystal clear that the trail bike segment is stronger than ever. So regardless of wheel size or price point, our 2017 Trail Bike of Year test offered up some real gems, and a rough diamond or two as well.
It’s a mere coincidence that the spread of ratings are identical for each category, but it’s hardly surprising as they only offer a snapshot that helps establish the pecking order; they certainly don’t tell the whole story. In fact, without reading all 12 reviews you’d be blissfully unaware that the 27.5in and Plus bikes were more closely contested than the 29ers.
That could simply be because the YT Jeffsy is the new kid on the 29er block, and it quickly established its dominance, building on the shoulders of brands that have come before it. It’s similarly to the Stumpjumper is no coincidence, but we suspect the lull in 29in trail-bike development, as manufacturers switch their focus to Plus bikes could also play a part. Either way, the YT Jeffsy CF Pro 29 is a truly amazing bike with a turn of speed that complements the rollover of the 29in wheels. Factor in the dream specification, that’s unmatched in this entire test, and the Jeffsy as got to be a prime candidate for our Bike of the Year award.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In the 27.5in category the Whyte T-130 S and the Commençal Meta V4.2 Essential were so closely matched that we didn’t uncover the subtle difference that separated them until we fitted the same tyres to both bikes. In the end, it was the more balanced handling afforded by the longer chainstays and the superior performance of the Charger damper housed inside the RockShox Pike fork that gave the Commençal the edge it needed to clinch the win.
With no sales-direct brands in the Plus category, it had the most level playing field of all. This wasn’t a conscious decision on our part though, it just reflects the fact that it’s the older, more established brands that have the resources to invest in new technology and push things forward. In the introduction to the test we indicated that the amount of travel each bike had took a back seat in our selection process.
Well, the amount of travel didn’t count for much in the results either, with Scott proving that it’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with it that counts. The new 120mm Spark 710 Plus instantly ignited our imagination with its dual-fuel attitude that buns down trails just as quickly as it smokes up them. And just like in the 27.5in category, it was a very close call with the Trek narrowly missing out on the title. Both bikes have nigh on identical build kits and ultimately it was the better tyres choice and lower price tag on the Scott that edged the Trek out.
On that note we rap up our first Trail Bike of the Year test in almost a decade. Three truly amazing bikes, all scoring top marks and all unique in their own right. Needless to say, we’d be chuffed to bit to own any of these three best full suspension mountain bike models. It’s been an absolute blast testing them. We hope you enjoyed it every bit as much as we did, and even though the mud has only just started to cake on the bikes we’re already looking forward to doing it all again next year.