Looking for a new big wheeler bike?
Looking for a new big wheeler bike? Here are what we reckon are the best 29er mountain bikes for cross-country, trail riding and enduro.
Choosing a 29er is pretty much like choosing any mountain bike. 29ers are just mountain bikes after all. You can get a 29in wheel version of any and every type of mountain bike. XC, trail bike, enduro and even downhill.
With this in mind, you may want to check out our general buyer’s guide to choosing the best mountain bike for you.
Watch: 29in Trail Bike of the Year
The best 29er mountain bikes for cross-country riding
In price order, here are what we reckon are the best XC 29ers available.
Canyon Exceed CF SL 7.0 Pro Race, £2,699
Verdict: “We like the Canyon Exceed CF SL 7.0 Pro Race as it’s trying to push cross country hardtails into a more usable arena. The addition of the dropper, stiffer SID suspension fork and wider front rim make it a relatively fun trail bike with a wicked turn of speed that any rider will enjoy. Swap out the long stem and put some more aggressive tyres on it and it would be a great all-rounder. As it is it’s as much at home on the trails as it is between the tapes.”
Lapierre XR 529, £2,999
Verdict: “The Lapierre XR 529 sits more at the trail and marathon end of XC race machines thanks to the plush performance of the OST+ suspension design and rides more like a mini trail bike thanks to its relatively modern approach to XC race geometry. It loses out to more efficient, lighter and livelier bikes as a short course racer but if longer distance racing is your thing then the added comfort and stability the XR brings will pay dividends at the end of the race. The uninspiring wheels Lapierre has specced on the XR 529 detract from the ride quality of the full build, so if we were to go for the 529 we would be looking to upgrade those as soon as possible.”
KTM Scarp Master 12, £3,699
Verdict: “With tiny sizing, steep angles and monster gearing the KTM Scarp Master screams old school XC from the rooftops. But despite its shortcomings the Scarp still has some mileage left in it. The suspension, whilst yielding less travel than most, has a plush and active response, making the Scarp feel more capable and controlled in rougher conditions than the geometry and sizing initially suggest. It’s light too, so it simply rockets up climbs. So if you can find a size that fits, and look past the woeful handlebar remote, then the KTM Scarp will still reward your efforts in spades.”
Scott Spark RC 900 Team, £3,699
Verdict: “It didn’t take long to realise that the Spark RC 900 Team is a stand out XC race bike. You don’t have to be Nino Schurter to benefit from the blisteringly quick turn of speed or the calm way it dispatches descents. It simply feels more urgent and race ready than its rivals. The ergonomics of the TwinLoc remote encourages more use than any other suspension adjustment system, so you rarely feel like you are in a compromised setting, just optimum performance for the trail ahead. It’s the bike that all privateers should be queuing up to ride this year.”
Cannondale Scalpel-Si Carbon 3, £3,999
Verdict: “On paper the Scalpel seemed like the real deal, with the sort of build kit and features that get most racers’ heart rates elevated. Riding it however, leaves you feeling a little confused and wondering what could have been. Fundamentally, the frame sizing and geometry feels a little dated, making the Scalpel handle well enough but nowhere near as good as some of its competitors. Add in the miss matched suspension response, where the front end feels too separated from the trail and the rear feels like it needs a little more support. As such, the Scalpel-Si Carbon 3 hits just wide of the mark.”
Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29, £4,249
Verdict: “The Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 has to be one of the most versatile race machines on the market. The mix of trail-bike handling and XC weight makes it a real blast as a short travel, every-day use machine.But its versatility is also its downfall. As a true race bike, the Anthem lacks the urgency to truly be the best.”
Specialized Epic Expert, £4,800
Verdict: “Without doubt the Specialized Epic Expert is one of the fastest cross country race bikes ever produced. Razor sharp and confidence inspiring handling combine with a brutal efficiency to smash the climbs, speed through the singletrack and fly down the trail. If only you can get to grips with the Brain shocks.”
The best 29er mountain bikes for trail riding
In price order, here are what we reckon are the best 29er trail bikes available.
Voodoo Bizango, £650
Verdict: “In a blind test with the other bikes here the Voodoo Bizango would easily come out top because it has a superb frame with good geometry, lots of tyre clearance and it’s configured for modern 1x drivetrains. It also has the best performing fork on test, weighs the least and is a total blast to ride. That’d easily be enough to win this test but the Bizango 29 is also a £100 cheaper than the competition and just recently we’ve noticed that it is discounted to £530, making it one of the best value hardtails we’ve ever tested.”
Norco Charger 2, £725
Verdict: “The Charger 2 has the best attributes of the 29er wheels and is great for longer distance rides, but for anything more challenging you’ll need to splash out for some new tyres.”
Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX, £2,699
Verdict: “The Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX has a real urgency about it and when you combine that with the stunning build, it’s a shoo in for 29inch Trail Bike of the Year. However, this comes with a caveat. We haven’t given the Vitus Escarpe 29 a perfect 10 because it’s bit too tall in the seat tube, the BB is a touch too high and it’s the heaviest bike on test, mostly due to the Double Down??? reinforced casing tyres. It is however, the cheapest bike on test by almost £150, which means you do have a bit of money to play with those corrective components and some lighter parts.”
Trek Fuel EX 9.7 29, £3,000
Verdict: “Being sold through bricks and mortar retailers means Trek can’t offer the same stellar build as direct sale brands like Vitus and YT but the Fuel EX is still a really balanced package. The 11-speed drivetrain is a step down but the suspension is first rate, the frame is stiff and lightweight and the bike has the best wheels on test. As a result, it flies uphill and feels incredibly agile on twisty singletrack. If we had to knock out an all-day epic or long weekender at a UK trail centre, the Fuel Ex 9.7 29 is definitely the bike we’d reach for.”
YT Industries Jeffsy 29 CF, £3,199
Verdict: “Even though the Jeffsy 29 CF is £200 cheaper than the bike we tested 12 months ago, it still has an amazing frame and fantastic components for the money. Unfortunately, while the spec has moved on, the ride quality has taken a step back. We felt perched on the Jeffsy 29 CF and it felt nervous and edgy compared to the other three bikes in this test. The issue with the seat post also put the mockers on a lot of our rides because we were constantly worried about it firing back to full height.”
The best 29er mountain bikes for enduro
In price order, here are what we reckon are the best 29er enduro bikes available.
Whyte S-150 S, £2,850
Verdict: “The Whyte S-150 S has the best geometry and sizing in test, it also feels incredibly balanced and holds a line in a corner truer than any bike here, and the only limiting factor is the lacklustre performance of the RockShox Revelation fork. That’s not really the fault of the fork though, we just think Whyte should have bitten the bullet and fitted the better Pike fork from the outset. This would have pushed the price of the Whyte S-150 S to just over the £3K and it would still have been within the price range of this test.”
Orbea Rallon M-Team, £5,699
Verdict: “After tyres, the fork is easily the most important component on a mountain bike, and at present there’s simply no better option for enduro than the Fox 36 RC2 fitted to the Rallon M-Team. And good as the new Rallon is, it isn’t perfect. The size range is limited and the rear suspension isn’t as capable as the Specialized Enduro, even if Orbea’s geometry has the measure of both. Would it be even better if it were a 160mm bike? Probably. Would it be better still if Orbea offer a more comprehensive range of sizes? Definitely. Still, if the shoe fits, you’re in for a treat.”
Specialized Enduro Pro 29, £6,500
Verdict: “With its recently revised geometry the 2018 Enduro Pro 29 now has the attitude and riding position to capitalize on its 165mm travel. Unfortunately, the Öhlins 36 RXF fork can’t quite keep up, its distinct lack of small bump sensitivity chipping away at rolling speed and the rider’s ability to hold on when the going gets rough. It’s the only real sticking point on an otherwise amazing bike. Now that Specialized has rolled out its “build your own” program in the UK (see link above) where you can spec an Enduro up with your choice of wheel size, drivetrain and most importantly suspension components. With Fox Factory level suspension, the Enduro 29 could be THE one.
Intense Carbine 29C Factory, £6,999
Verdict: “The Intense Carbine is all about hauling in direct lines straight down the biggest mountains. The RockShox suspension is best on test, with the Lyrik fork and Super Deluxe shock really isolating bumps, remaining smooth and fluid. With a high BB and longer offset fork, the steering and cornering poise of the Intense isn’t as intuitive as the Santa Cruz Hightower LT or Ibis Ripmo, which can make it feel a bit hesitant at slower speeds. Also, you need to be strong to ride this bike, as the stiff chassis and cockpit makes the Carbine a more physical ride on harsher terrain.”
Scott Genius 900, £6,999
Verdict: “Would I buy this bike? I can confidently say that the Scott Genius 900 Tuned is hands down the best trail bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s also the most expensive. But if money wasn’t an issue, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Personally, I would be looking more towards the middle of the range, and with bikes available from £2,399 upwards, there’s a Scott Genius for every budget.”
Santa Cruz Hightower LT X01 CC, £7,299
Verdict: “It’s easy to see why the efficient Hightower LT is the first choice of many Santa Cruz sponsored athletes. It might not have the smoothness and bump swallowing capacity of the latest lower-link driven Santa Cruz bikes, but it’s still fast, versatile, comfortable and the most fun bike here. Sure current trends like super-slack geometry, reduced offset forks and steep seat angles aren’t on the menu here yet, but we didn’t really miss them with such a infectious ride quality. Ultimately, the Hightower LT is a seriously fun bike for aggressive trail riding and packs enough punch to endure racing.”
Buyer’s guide to best 29er mountain bikes
- Big wheels roll over bumps better
- 29ers feel more stable at speed
- The wheels don’t drop as deeply into holes so the bike carries more speed on rough terrain
- There’s more grip and tractionIncreased stability for jumping
- More comfortable riding position for climbing
- Smoother than 27.5in wheels on small bumps
- When you break traction it happens in a slower, more controlled manner, reducing the chance of crashing
- According to the clock, they are faster
- They’re different, and make the same old trails feel different too
- 29ers are heavier — that’s just how it is
- Increased rotational weight of the wheel makes 29ers accelerate more slowly
- Bigger bikes can be more awkward and harder to manoeuvre in really tight terrain
- Increased unsprung mass (the parts of the suspension that move up and down over the bumps) reduces the suspension’s ability to react quickly to changes in terrain
- It’s hard to go back to 27.5in wheels
- Bigger wheels buckle and bend more easily
They feel like they have more travel
While bigger wheels definitely take the edge off smaller bumps, they don’t increase travel. The bikes definitely feel more stable though, giving a handling response more akin to a longer-travel 27.5in bike.
29in tyres have much bigger contact patches
They are bigger, but the increase in the area of tyre touching the ground can be as little as five per cent. The greatest difference is in the length of the contact patch, but it’s nothing like as big as swapping out a 1.9in 27.5in tyre for a 2.3in.
29ers aren’t suitable for smaller riders
Ignore the cynics who say that pros only ride 29ers because they’re paid to. Tiny Willow Koerber had her best season ever on a 29er.
You need to learn how to ride a 29er
There’s some truth in this one, especially for the experienced riders who have fine-tuned their inputs on 27.5in bikes. That said, we’ve seen plenty of riders hop straight on a 29er and instantly decide it’s for them.
29ers aren’t as much fun
Easier to pedal uphill and faster on the way back down. What’s not to like?
They are no good for jumping
OK, it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a surge in 29er slope-style bikes, but for the average guy that gets his wheels off the ground once or twice on a ride a 29er will feel way more stable in the air. Also, because you’ll be rolling up to the lip of the jump faster on a 29er, you’ll jump further too.
29ers are a marketing conspiracy to make us buy more bikes and parts
It might have that consequence, but when you ride a good 29er the only thing you’ll be thinking is: why didn’t someone tell me to try this sooner?