So many choices...
It seems the mountain bike industry is constantly changing. Not quite as fast as the tech world, but I think we can all agree the options out there can be dizzying - suspension travel, wheel size, to suspension platforms, frame materials, drivetrains – the list goes on and on. We use the term "Trail" loosely, as it can include cross country bikes, trail/all mountain bikes, and enduro bikes. "Trail" just happens to be the median of the bunch, so it's a convenient word to describe all of them. For those who aren't researching every new bike that comes out, it can be daunting to sift through all the options to determine what's best for you. This guide will dig into the trail bikes we sell, offer helpful insight, and will hopefully assist in finding the perfect bike to suit your needs.
The great wheel size debate
As of last year, the main wheel size options were 27.5" and 29". But as we mentioned, things are constantly changing. This year, we're bringing on board the "mid-fat" wheel size, which comes in both 27.5"+ and 29"+ flavors. These bikes are not fat bikes with 4" - 5" tires, but they also are not the standard bikes we're used to with 2.1" - 2.5" tires. As the name would suggest, they fall somewhere in between, roughly the 3" - 3.5" tire size. The most common "plus" bike is 27.5+, which results in a wheel/tire combo with a diameter very similar to that of a regular 29er. The ride characteristics are quite different though; you get a slightly heavier wheel due to the added rubber, but one that has a much larger contact patch and the traction that goes along with that. Mid-fats, or plus bikes, do have their place in the mountain bike world, but like any segment, they aren't for everyone.
In years past, 29'ers were the obvious choice for XC-oriented riders, but very few others. A recent crop of aggressive, highly capable 29'ers have come out in the last year, so that is no longer the case. With the advent of a new, wider hub standard, called "Boost," historically weaker, flexier 29" wheels are now just as stiff and strong as their smaller counterpart. There are now 27.5” and 29” trail bikes that are similarly capable at both climbing and descending, so at a certain point, it boils down to your personal preference.
At this point, all we have really established is that there's no clear-cut answer as to what wheel size will be best for you. To get to the bottom of it, let's learn a little more about what's out there so that you can narrow down your options and then get out and test ride some bikes. When possible, test rides are the best way to finalize your decision and make your pick. This allows you to get a feel for the bikes behavior on dirt, analyze their strengths and weaknesses, and most appropriately match your future bike to your own riding style.
Speaking of riding style...
Let's chat about your average ride. Some of us LOVE the grind – the more pedaling the better. An average ride consists of 3500+ feet vertical climbing on a 25 mile journey. Some of us only pedal up hill to get to the downhill, at which point we will hit every single jump, stunt, and obstacle in our path. The more travel the better! And then some us fall somewhere in between. An occasional jump, some climbing, some descending, but a fairly neutral bike is what we need for a good all-around time. For the sake of keeping this guide somewhat simple, we'd like to place you into one of three groups:
Group A // Climbing is my top priority – the steeper the climb, the better.
Group B // I do it all – I appreciate a bike that climbs well, but I also need something that is confidence inspiring on the descent.
Group C // I'll climb in order to get to the top, but the descent is why I ride. Jumps, stunts, and technical descents are my cup of tea.
As you consider the options below, it will be key for you to determine which group you fall into so we can guide you towards the best bike for your needs. We will include several bike models within each category. Hover over each bike to view model details, product video clips, and pricing.
Group A – THESE BIKES LOVE TO CLIMB
No pain, no gain, right? Long, arduous climbs with huge amounts of vertical is your ticket to adventure. Generally speaking, we are going to want to consider bikes with relatively short travel, maybe even a hardtail is not out of the question. No matter how you shake it, the more travel you have, the tougher it will be on the climbs. The bikes we've selected for Group A are designed to get you up those long ascents while still leaving you with some energy to get back down. These bikes climb incredibly well, and are generally fairly lightweight too. For the descent, Group A bikes won't be quite as comfortable or confidence-inspiring as the bikes in Group B. You wont want to take them down the steepest, nastiest descent you can find. But that's okay because that's not their intended use. These bikes climb mountains for you, and will be right at home at an XC race.
Group B – Ride it all
You love everything about riding bikes – the climbing, the descending, the occasional drop or jump. It's all good in your book, and you need a bike that excels in many conditions. Your typical ride may vary from a quick hour loop after work, to a 25-mile epic on the weekends. These bikes are true jacks of all trades. They will get you up the hill quickly with little effort, and they'll get you back down with confidence.
Group C – Descend with confidence
You're a thrill seeker, or perhaps a downhiller at heart who has decided to see what this trail bike thing is all about. Who knows, maybe you'll even start competing in enduro races. Regardless, your top priority is slaying the technical descents with enough suspension travel to soak up whatever you can throw at it. Climbing may be a bit more of a task on some of these bikes, but with recent advancements in suspension platforms and rear shocks, the climbing performance really is quite impressive given the amount of travel.
Need more help?
Still not sure which bike is right for you? We totally understand! Even if you've narrowed it down to a specific bike, there are still lots of build options which will affect how that bike performs. Feel free to get in touch with any of us here at Fanatik. We all ride many of these bikes on a daily basis, and we can offer you real-world honest feedback on part choices, sizing, and more.