Review -

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″

Canyon Spectral CF 7.0 | 160 mm/150 mm (f/r) | 13.70 kg | € 2,999

FOCUS JAM 6.8 NINE | 140/140 mm (f/r) | 14.68 kg | € 2,199

Giant Trance 29 2 | 130/115 mm (f/r) | 14.08 kg | € 2,599

MERIDA ONE FORTY 800 | 150/140 mm (f/r) | 14.14 kg | € 2,999

Propain Tyee AM Performance | 150/145 mm (f/r) | 14.12 kg | € 3,015

RADON SLIDE TRAIL 8.0 | 150/140 mm (f/r) | 14.06 kg | € 2,499

ROSE PIKES PEAK AM1 | 150/150 mm (f/r) | 12.98 kg | € 2,999

SCOTT Genius 950 | 150/150 mm (f/r) | 14.50 kg | € 2,999

Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Alloy 29 | 150/140 mm (f/r) | 14.90 kg | € 3,099

Trek Remedy 8 | 160/150 mm (f/r) | 14.08 kg | € 2,999

YT JEFFSY 27 AL Base | 150/150 mm (f/r) | 14.48 kg | € 2,299

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.

Christoph Bayer, 31, Editor-in-Chief/Test Manager
Christoph has been heading the tests at ENDURO for more than five years. As an all-rounder, he attaches importance to well-balanced handling and good suspension. The best bike manages to combine completely opposing qualities.
Felix Stix, 27, Editor
Felix studied sports equipment technology, bringing with him a wealth of expertise in suspension and biomechanics. He likes to stay off the brakes and go as fast as possible. His demanding riding style quickly reveals a bike’s weak points.
Finlay Anderson, 18, Trainee
Finlay is a newcomer to the ENDURO team. He currently lives in the Tweed Valley, the Scottish trail mecca. His riding style is fast and wild. Finlay loves to race, and also loves to see if he can rip the tire off his rims in the corners. For him, agile, fun handling is important, but not at the cost of high-speed stability.
Valentin Rühl, 23, Editor
As a former dirt jumper, Valentin is just the guy to judge a bike’s jumping capabilities. Which one is easy to get off the ground, which one is stable in the air and which bike is best left on the ground?
Andreas Maschke, 33, Editor
From South America to the Dolomites, Andreas has done numerous bike-packing trips and knows all about long rides. For him, ride comfort and reliability are crucial.
Sarah Fischer, 26, Test rider
Sarah doesn’t have that much experience with bikes – but that doesn’t matter because we want her opinion as an average, beginner rider! She values freedom of movement, good-natured handling and reliable braking power.

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 SRAM CODE R brakes at the MERIDA deliver a lot of braking power and excellent modulation. Heavy riders should still upgrade to 200mm rotors.
As with the Enduro version, the geometry and suspension progression of the PIKES PEAK AM can be adjusted via a flip chip within seconds, without the risk of losing parts – an ingenious system.
The best in the test
The RockShox Lyrik delivers unbeatable performance. It smokes the competition and plays a significant role in the Trek’s test victory!
Although you can’t fit a bottle cage to the bosses on the top tube, you could attach something like the B-RAD system from Wolf Tooth, among other things. Convenient for carrying a spare tube.


The small 180 mm rotors, paired with the two-piston calliper at the rear, aren’t reliable enough for long descents. That’s a problem a lot of test bikes have in this test.
Too thin
The 2.6″ MAXXIS Rekon offers surprising amounts of traction at the MERIDA and SCOTT, but it can’t convince in terms of puncture protection and in muddy terrain.
The climb switch lever easily jumps from open to trail mode at the FOX shock on the YT. During our tests, the shock switched from closed to open by itself several times.
Too tight
The tire clearance in the rear of the FOCUS JAM is too tight. If you push the bike into corners, the tire rubs on the frame. When things get muddy it’s bound to leave unsightly scratches.

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.

Best in test – Trek Remedy 8

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

This article is from ENDURO issue #038

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