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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.

THE BRIEF

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.

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