The best budget trail bike of 2019 – 11 mountain bikes head to head
How much does a good trail bike cost? This group test proves that € 3,000 is enough! But there are a few things to consider if you want to make sure your savings don’t come at the cost of fun and durability in the long run. We’ve gained many exciting insights from this group test – and found a clear winner in our test!
We always have a lot of fun at ENDURO when we get to compare affordable trail bikes for this group test. Why? It shows us how much performance and value you’re able to get for your money. In times when bikes costing more than € 10,000 are nothing out of the ordinary, this test proves that having fun on the trail doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. But what is it that you have to look for in a good trail bike?
What makes a good trail bike?
The best trail bike is the perfect do-it-all machine. It should be fun to ride both uphill and downhill, performing well on flow trails as well as more demanding, rough terrain. A trail bike is just as suitable for multi-day adventures in the Alps as it is a trip to the bike park. It’s the one bike in your garage that you can get on and always know you’ve got the right tool for the job.
The test field
Although the bikes in this group test share some similarities, they couldn’t be more different. On average, they cost € 2,791 – the € 2,199 FOCUS JAM 6.8 NINE is the most budget-friendly, whilst the € 3,099 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Alu 29 is the most expensive. Travel varies between 115–150 mm at the rear and 130–160 mm in the front. The Giant Trance 29 2 is the underdog in the travel stakes, while the Trek and Canyon offer the most. We had 29ers and 27.5″ bikes in the test field. The lightest bike is the 12.98 kg ROSE PIKES PEAK AM1, while the most expensive bike, the Specialized, is also the heaviest, measuring 14.90 kg on the scales. But of course, numbers on paper never tell the whole truth.
The test field
|Bike||Price||Weight||Travel (f/r)||Wheel size|
|Canyon Spectral CF 7.0||€ 2,999||13.70 kg||160/150 mm||27.5″|
|FOCUS JAM 6.8 NINE||€ 2,199||14.68 kg||140/140 mm||29″|
|Giant Trance 29 2||€ 2,599||14,08 kg||130/115 mm||29″|
|MERIDA ONE FORTY 800||€ 2,999||14.14 kg||150/140 mm||27.5″|
|Propain Tyee AM Performance||€ 3,015||14.12 kg||150/145 mm||27.5″|
|RADON SLIDE TRAIL 8.0||€ 2,499||14.06 kg||150/140 mm||29″|
|ROSE PIKES PEAK AM1||€ 2,999||12.98 kg||150/150 mm||27.5″|
|SCOTT Genius 950||€ 2,999||14.50 kg||150/150 mm||29″|
|Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Alloy 29||€ 3,099||14.90 kg||150/140 mm||29″|
|Trek Remedy 8||€ 2,999||14.08 kg||160/150 mm||27.5″|
|YT JEFFSY 27 AL Base||€ 2,299||14.48 kg||150/150 mm||27.5″|
Since when is € 3,000 cheap?
Granted, € 3,000 is a lot of money for a lot of riders, and to call these bikes cheap is bordering on irony. But let’s face reality – there aren’t many brands with a new, trail-ready, full suspension bike for less than € 3,000 in their portfolios. Besides, according to our reader survey, you’re looking to spend an average of € 3,599 on your next bike – that’s at least € 500 more than the price range of this test field (€ 2,199–€ 3,099).
You voted, COMMENCAL didn’t deliver
We asked you on Facebook which bike you would like to see in this group test. The COMMENCAL META TRAIL got the majority of the votes. Unfortunately, COMMENCAL didn’t want to participate. So we invited the brand with the second most votes: Propain. You can find our full review of their Tyee AM in this group test.
Who tested the bikes, where, and how?
Trail bikes have to prove themselves in every kind of terrain, both uphill and downhill. For this reason, we rode them on our varied home trails at our headquarters in Leonberg, on the demanding trails around the sun-drenched Laces in Vinschgauu and even rounded the test off with trail excursions in the foothills of the Alps and in Germany’s low mountain ranges.
The team crew
The test crew consisted of experienced ENDURO test riders and newcomers alike. Just click on the images to find out more about the riders.
It is important to set the right priorities
With an unlimited budget, buying a really good bike is relatively simple – you just get top-of-the-range everything. But when your budget is tight, you have to prioritise. What influences the handling more, good suspension or a high-end drivetrain? All manufacturers have had to compromise on the components spec in this group test, but they set their priorities very differently. For example, the € 2,499 SLIDE TRAIL 8.0 from the direct-to-consumer brand RADON, has a carbon frame but a low-end fork. In contrast, while you “only” get an aluminium frame with the € 500 more expensive Trek Remedy 8, you also get a much better RockShox Lyrik fork. ROSE and Propain are the standouts regarding equipment, offering the customer a lot of choice with their online configurators.
Low-end components are getting better
If you check internet forums, users repeatedly complain about the fact that bikes are getting more expensive and supposedly with cheaper components. “They used to spec an XT derailleur, now you only get the SLX,” is a phrase you’ll likely hear. That’s true, but a lot of the low-end components of today perform better than the more expensive components of recent years. Good examples in this group test are the SRAM NX-Eagle drivetrain and the FOX 34 Rhythm fork. Both are the entry-level components in their respective product range, but they offer solid and reliable performance.
Weak brakes are a common problem
While the performance difference between a low-end SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and the higher-end GX Eagle is barely noticeable on the trail, underpowered brakes make a big difference. Not only is it dangerous if your brakes fade on long runs, but it also robs you of confidence and tires you out quicker. Of course, heavy riders notice it the most, but even our lightest test rider (about 60 kg) had problems! Even the assumption that the rear brake needs fewer pistons is a fallacy – after all, you tend to drag your rear brake in steep terrain, generating a lot of heat. The SRAM Code R on the MERIDA and the MAGURA MT5 on the Propain proved to be ideal. All the other bikes in the test field struggled with underpowered brakes.
Tops & Flops
Often small details can make a huge difference: seamless integration, first-class ergonomics and carefully selected parts. Easier said than done – here are some of the tops and flops from this grouptest.
The never-ending battle: 27.5″ vs. 29″
It’s an on-going duel between 29″ and 27.5” wheels, though currently, they seem to be at a tie. There’s an equal split of wheel sizes in the test field, with five 29ers and six 27.5″ bikes, each offering closely matched performance. There are some excellent, agile 29ers, as well as composed 27.5″ bikes. Both wheel sizes have their pros and cons and play a role in defining the handling of a bike, but in the end, they’re not the deciding factor. However, the wheels on lower-end bikes are usually heavier – a disadvantage that is particularly noticeable on a 29er.
Direct-to-consumer vs. local bike shop?
There are some brands that won’t participate in group tests as soon as the field includes direct-to-consumer bikes. They’re worried about being punished due to poor spec in a point scoring system, the way other magazines do it. While we don’t use a point scoring system, the fact remains that the direct-to-consumer bikes in this group test are either around € 500–800 cheaper, or have better componentry. However, this doesn’t necessarily reflect how a bike handles and is to live with in the long run. Of course, a direct-to-consumer bike means you’ll have to make do without a local dealer for after-sales service.
There’s no such thing as a beginner’s bike
The phrase “our bike is ideal for less experienced riders” often sounds like an excuse, because it usually is. After many years of testing with many different test riders, we can say with confidence that a good bike serves novices just as well as riders looking for maximum downhill performance. Everyone benefits from balanced geometry and well-tuned suspension. Just because you don’t ride as fast doesn’t mean that the bike’s suspension doesn’t have to be progressive. Even less aggressive riders can benefit from a plush, progressive rear end with a lot of feedback. Of course, different bikes have different characters, but the best manage to combine allegedly opposing properties. Bikes that don’t succeed in doing so simply aren’t that good.
The best trail bike for € 3,000
The good news first: none of the bikes was a total disappointment. They all delivered a solid performance that a few years ago we could only have dreamt of. Nevertheless, there are some significant differences in the handling, workmanship, suspension and componentry. The best affordable trail bike is the Trek Remedy 8! With its super-balanced handling, outstanding rear suspension and well thought-out spec, it secures our coveted Best in Test. On easy, flowing trails, its agile and direct handling is sure to put a big grin on your face, while also offering enough composure to compete in an Enduro race if you wish. It climbs superbly thanks to the central pedalling position and the efficient rear suspension. The only tuning tip we have is to swap the 2.6″ wide tires for a narrower alternative before you leave your local bike shop.
We would like to have awarded one of the bikes in the field with our Best Value Tip, but none of the other bikes is even nearly as versatile as the Trek. Either they have weak points in the componentry or finishing quality, or their handling is too one-sided. Some climb less efficiently, others are less fun on flow-trails, and others are quickly overwhelmed in demanding terrain. Yet this specialization is also the strongest argument for some of them. The Canyon Spectral and the YT JEFFSY 27 AL Base are great bikes if you want to let rip on demanding descents, but they get bored on more moderate trails. The Giant Trance 29 2 is the opposite with spritely and direct handling, but a harsher ride. You’ll find in-depth reviews of the bikes on the following pages.
All bikes in test: Canyon Spectral CF 7.0 | FOCUS JAM 6.8 NINE | Giant Trance 29 2 | MERIDA ONE FORTY 800 | Propain Tyee AM Performance | RADON SLIDE TRAIL 8.0 | ROSE PIKES PEAK AM1 | SCOTT Genius 950 | Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Alloy 29 | Trek Remedy 8 | YT JEFFSY 27 AL Base