5 New 29er Downhill Bikes Ridden & Rated
From the moment they first emerged, 29" wheeled downhill bikes have caused plenty of heated debates, both online and in real life. After spending 12 months riding them, I discovered they are just bikes, and some of them offer performance and speed that is on another level to anything before. What are the pros and cons of the big wheels? For tall riders, it offers a better-proportioned bike with generally longer chainstays and bigger XL sizes, and a bike that feels like the wheels fit the rider. They also offer the usual better rollover and decreased fatigue, and increased traction from more compliant wheels which can be a big benefit for lighter riders, but heavier and hard-hitting riders might be looking to increase stiffness here. The biggest caveat is the lack of butt-to-tire clearance. I estimate that 5'9" riders are on the lower limit. At just over 6', with a 33" inseam, I had a couple of squeamish moments where a connection was made and things got scary really fast as I started to pitch over the bars. Just because you ride a trail bike with 29" wheel doesn't mean the DH bike will fit. That extra 40-70mm of rear travel, and the increased time pointing down steep descents mean that wheel gets closer to your ass than you might think, and more often.Here's a roundup of five downhill bikes that were put through the wringer in 2018.
The Cube, well, looks like a Cube, and while it offered solid performance, it wasn't mind-blowing. Many bikes are bought on looks alone, and the Cube likely won't catch your eye as a Trek or Norco would. It's more of an all-rounder than something you would want to attack a World Cup on, but for a few shuttle days a month and an annual trip to the Alps it suffices. If you want a simple bike, at a decent dealer-price, you won't be making a mistake.
|Compared to other 29" downhill trucks on test, the Cube feels more like a park bike than a World Cup racer.... Don't let that fool you into thinking it won't outperform many downhill bikes from the last few years, though. To me, it had the handling that I typically associate with a park bike, but I wouldn't want the wagon wheels for constant park laps.— Paul Aston|
|The combination of the bike's light weight, suspension design, and massive stiffness makes the Session pedal and accelerate very well. It also rails fast, smooth berms exceptionally well, and it's easy to see why some riders have had success on the World Cup circuit with this bike under them. That said, heading into the rough stuff I found the Session noticeably, well, harsh. Tracking across off-camber sections and carving flat corners didn't inspire confidence - the rear wheel had a tendency to lose traction when the bike was leaned over.— Paul Aston|
|On rough off-cambers when you want maximum traction, the Norco outperforms any four-bar bike I've tested, but it doesn't quite have the grip the Commencal offers. However, the Norco is more planted in corners than the Commencal when grip isn't at as much of a premium due to the lower ride height. Switching between corners and directional changes are slightly faster on the Andorran rig due to the higher bottom bracket and ride height, but we're talking fractions at most.— Paul Aston|
|Charging into rough rock gardens and braking bumps is unreal - I tried a section in Pila faster and faster, and the Supreme was the first bike I have ever ridden that got easier to handle the harder I pushed it. It never even came close to flinching.... The increasing chainstay length gives more confidence as it extends through the travel. The stiff but not harsh front end, combined with a fairly flexible swingarm, allows enough give at the rear wheel for fantastic tracking and line-holding through rough and off camber sections, without the springiness found with some carbon bikes.— Paul Aston|
|The first thing I noticed before even hopping on the bike was the insanely supple first few centimeters of rear suspension travel. The bike would sag under its own weight, and needed hardly any pressure to get it moving further. On the trail, this gave incredible tracking and grip in the first part of the travel, and rolling speed down the trails seemed massive, as you can barely feel the initial hit of the bumps trying to slow you down.... On long corners the Banshee corners like a demon, too; the achievable lean angle is more than anything else on test before breakaway.— Paul Aston|
Top PicksPersonally, I would pick the Commencal Supreme 29" without a single doubt. It was my favorite performer, and offers best value by far due to the fact that it's the only direct sale bike here. The Norco is a close call too, and as a flat pedal rider these high-pivot machines are the easiest to ride. Following this, I really enjoyed the Banshee Legend for its great corner-carving abilities and size. Finally, The Cube was too small without a bigger option, and the Trek was didn't offer the grip and confidence of any of the others.
End note: These are the downhill bikes we managed to put some serious time into and review during 2018. Don't worry though, downhill bike testing is still underway and 2019 promises reviews of the Intense M29, Saracen Myst, GT Fury and the Devinci Wilson.