The latest dual-suspension bikes climb faster, descend quicker, and make riding fast and fun. Here’s our pick of the best...
In the realm of marathon mountain biking, which has become the most popular form of cycling in South Africa, the performance gap between race bikes has never been narrower – meaning the competition between them is at its fiercest.
In this specific segment of the market, most major manufacturers have embraced what we at Bicycling like to call the ‘new generation’ of speed machines. These offer dramatically improved handling, capability and traction – without losing any of their revered acceleration, steering agility or liveliness.
FAST ≠ SKETCHY
This new generation can be loosely characterised by relatively slack head angles ( below 70°), longer front centres paired to shorter stems, and short, snappy chainstays. And they’re generally built specifically for 1x drivetrains – no surprise there, as this is the modern racer’s choice.
Effectively, these updates mean the era of race-winning XC/ Marathon MTB machines being dangerously twitchy is well and truly over.
In a nutshell, we asked our testers to focus less on the spec of each bike (we’ll reveal why shortly), and more on the ride experience itself… things like the immediate sensations felt when laying down power, and how the bikes responded to ups, downs and technical terrain – as well as finer details, such as the presence or absence of two frame-mounted bottle cages, and the nuances of the various remote lock- out systems.
But ultimately, the question we posed to each test rider was: “If you wanted to achieve your best performance, be it in a race or on a specific Strava segment, on a course that incorporated mixed terrain and topography – and bearing in mind that you’d have to live with the bike day in and day out – which of these bikes would make you the fastest?”
COMPARING APPLES WITH APPLES
Before we get stuck into how each bike performed, let’s deal with the finicky details – like comparable specs and pricing, which we didn’t want to dramatically skew our decision-making process.
It’s important to note that we endeavoured to source models as close as possible to one another in spec level; but the fact is, manufacturers assign different values to different parts (wheels, cranks, finishing kit, etc). This creates a dizzying web of combinations, so it’s difficult to make accurate, like-for-like comparisons.
This is why we aimed to quantify the overall ride experience for each bike, rather than focus too heavily on the specifics. ( Unless, of course, there was something that stuck out like a Lycra bandit at an Enduro event.)
THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE
As we all know, an inarguable reality of racing is that there can be only one winner. In the same vein, while all bike manufacturers invest valuable resources in designing, engineering and testing their bikes, at the end of the ride there can be only one bike on the top step of the podium.
With this in mind, we rustled up five of South Africa’s most popular 29er marathon race machines, to find out – for those at the sharp end of the race – which one rules the roost.