2020’s most important test, the ultimate full-sus models from £2.5k

It’s the test you’ve all been waiting for, where the best full suspension models fight it out for the coveted title of MBR Trail Bike of the Year 2020.

>>> Best hardtail mountain bikes in 2020 under £375, £500, £750 and £1000

A big change to this year’s test is that we have split it between direct-sales brands and bikes that are available from physical shops.

trail bike of the year

Trail Bike of the Year in association with Alpinestars

The bikes: Shop-Bought

The bikes: Direct-Sales

Shop-Bought Trail Bike of the Year 2020:

best full suspension

Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite, £3,799.99

In the Reactor 290c Elite, Nukeproof has delivered a 29er trail bike that easily meets the demands of modern trail riding. It has a buttery smooth suspension response, where its reactive 130mm travel never feels too soft or lacks the support needed for hard charging. And charging hard is what this bike actively encourages. The full carbon frame makes for a precision instrument that can be used to slice through any trail, but the Reactor is not so stiff as to make it a double-edged sword. Balance is the key, and Nukeproof has delivered on all fronts.

It was evident from last year’s Trail Bike of the Year test that, even though some of the bikes from bricks and mortar brands offered a superior ride quality, there was simply no way they could compete with online-only brands on price. It was one of the key reasons we split this year’s test by business models rather than wheel sizes. And in doing so, it has allowed great bikes like the Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite to really shine. Specifically, it has better sizing and geometry than the Radon and the rear suspension is more effective too. But that’s not the complete picture.

Read the full review of the Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite

Direct-Sales Trail Bike of the Year 2020:

best full suspension

Radon Slide Trail 9.0, €2,999

There are couple of things on the Slide Trail 9.0 that would normally prevent it from getting a perfect 10 rating, but everything seems to have fallen into place. It doesn’t have a full carbon frame, yet it’s the lightest bike. The BB height doesn’t seem to stack up either, but the ride is dialled. We’ve even grown to like the JPS colour scheme.

As with most direct-sales brands, Radon delivers a lot of bike for the money. With the Slide Trail 9.0 however, you also get a big fat grin included in the price, which alone makes it worthy of our direct-sales Trail Bike of the Year award.

The test really brought home to us just how dominant the German brands are in the direct-sales sector. So it is fitting that another German brand, Radon, picked up the baton for 2020 – the Slide Trail 9.0 impressing us with its turn of speed, blinding specification and uncanny ability to put a smile on our face every single time we rode it. It’s hardly surprising then that it bagged a perfect 10 rating, even with some minor imperfections.

Read the full review of the Radon Slide Trail 9.0

Finding the best full suspension bike of 2020

best full suspension

Every year we shake up our best full suspension Trail Bike of the Year test to bring you the most comprehensive test of current best full suspension trail bikes. This year is no different. We still have two categories clearly divided by price, but rather than splitting them into 27.5in and 29in wheel sizes, like in previous years, this year we have gone all in on 29in wheels. That’s right, there are no 27.5in bikes in this test. The reason? Well, there are in fact several.

First and foremost, it’s where most of the product development is. From XC racing to enduro and downhill, most manufacturers have made the switch to bigger wheels, or are currently in the process of doing so. As such, what was once considered a big step up in wheel size has now become the natural evolution of 27.5in. That’s not to say that 27.5in wheels aren’t relevant, far from it, and plenty of the bikes in this test are still available in both options, and are likely to be so going forward.

There’s even a strong case for including the best 27.5in bikes regardless, simply because the overall performance of a bike is determined not just by wheel size. Unfortunately, the best testing format is a reductionist one, where variables are eliminated or controlled. Which is the very reason why we separated 27.5in wheels and 29ers into individual categories in the past. After all, if you want to find the sweetest apple, you don’t compare what you have to oranges.

Granted, this move isn’t without casualties; great bikes like the Canyon Spectral and Whyte T-130 are automatically excluded from the test. But with an increasing number of the new best full suspension trail bikes being released with 29in wheels, we think it’s a small price to pay if it means we can bring you all of the latest models.

Another big change to this year’s test is that we have split it between direct-sales brands and bikes that are available from bricks and mortar shops. So we still have two distinct categories, with separate prices points for each. And while this could be considered a backwards step, last year’s test really highlighted the pricing advantage that selling direct to the consumer offers.

But this move isn’t driven purely by a desire to level the playing field, though that certainly helps. We’re also convinced that the majority of riders looking to buy direct or from a store, want to do so exclusively, and are actually different consumers with different buying habits. Well, at least when it comes to big ticket purchases like buying a new bike. As such, we wanted to target the test accordingly.

Initially, we were shooting for an even split between shop-bought bikes and direct-sales, but there are so many more bricks and mortar brands that we ended up with nine bikes in total, with four that can be delivered straight to your door.

There’s quite a gap in the target price points too. The shop-bought bikes start at £3,499 for the Whyte S-150C RS V2 and top out at £4,199.99 for the GT Sensor Carbon Pro. Contrast that with €2,699 for the Commençal Meta TR, which is the cheapest direct-sales bike, or £2,799.99 for the most expensive option, the Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX.

Even though there’s a gulf in price between both business models, if you take look at the spec page at the end of the test, you’ll see that regardless of the buying method, all the bikes have similar specifications. And the biggest shift has been in drivetrains. Last year we had three Shimano-equipped bikes, one with a 10-speed drivetrain and two with 11-speed. This year all of the bikes have 12-speed transmissions.

On the Fox-equipped bikes, we’ve also noticed a move from 34 forks to the beefier 36. And it’s something we’ve been requesting for ages, because the bigger 29in front wheel acts like a longer lever, so it makes sense that you need a stiffer fork in 29in to match the stiffness you’d get with, say, a 34 and 27.5in wheels.

So we’ve flipped the price points on their head, done away with 27.5in wheels entirely and separated bike shop brands from web-based sales. What’s left is a test with a laser-sharp focus on finding the best full suspension trail bikes of 2020.

The runners up: Direct-Sales

The runners up: Shop-Bought

trail bike of the year

Trail Bike of the Year in association with Alpinestars

Which bike to get?

With regards our two great winning bikes, ultimately, only you can decide if value or performance take priority, but what we can guarantee is that whichever option you choose, our two test winners won’t disappoint.