Combining elements of cross-country racing fitness and the technicality of downhill racing (minus those huge jumps), enduro has its origins in the French Alps. It was here that riders formulated a purer version of all-day racing, which prioritised descending, without the benefit of chairlifts.
An enduro bike can’t feature the same sacrificial terrain-absorption ability of a downhill bike, because it must be pedalled uphill too. An element of suspension efficiency is crucial. As such, mountain bike engineers and component designers have supplied an entirely new class of bikes and gear to cater for this discipline’s unique demands.
When the Enduro World Series (EWS) started in 2013, racing was dominated by 27.5 wheeled bikes, with 150mm of travel. In 2020 there is a selection of 29er alternatives, designed around the same amount of travel, while the 27.5-inch bikes have become even more capable, averaging 160mm of rear-suspension.
The fact that enduro events are raced blind means these bikes have now matured into the most forgiving and capable single-crown descending frames available, effectively transforming modern mountain bike geometry.
The best enduro mountain bikes
The Coloradoan brand dominated Enduro World Series racing in 2015 and 2016, with Richie Rude and Jared Graves winning overall titles aboard its SB160. Replicating all the virtues of that bike, with the benefit of 29er wheels, is Yeti’s SB150.
Frame weight is impressively light, as you’d expect for a bike of this price, with an enduro build coming in at just 13.5kg. Geometry numbers are just shy of most dedicated downhill bikes in terms of head angle and wheelbase. The latest iteration of Yeti’s renowned switch infinity suspension system gifts the SB150 tremendous climbing efficiency without sacrificing descending ability.
Debits? It is a very expensive bike and the rear tyre clearance, slightly limited, for those who like to ride larger casings than 2.4 – especially in muddy conditions.
Modelled from Specialized's Demo downhill bike series, the Enduro sees many of the lessons learned in suspension performance get passed across and shaped into an Enduro format. Sporting 170mm of terrain-consuming suspension the S-Works Enduro is designed to handle the roughest tracks and, for most riders, the Enduro will happily turn it's hand to some downhill racing as well. A flip-chip in the shock mount changes the characteristics from chirpy enduro bike into a gravity hungry machine if you intend on riding laps of a bike park or an uplift day. All these descending capabilities don't mean it's a poor climber, while the Enduro might not be a whippet back up the hill, the suspension is well controlled to eliminate pedal induced bob and keep the rear wheel planted for traction.
Geometry is unsurprisingly at the extreme end of long, slack and low so as to keep everything tracking true when you're off the brakes and using the full 170mm of suspension. Specialized has done away with the traditional small, medium and large sizing, instead opting for a sizing scheme based on reach. This gives more flexibility on sizing so if you normally ride a medium you can opt for the S3 for a more nimble ride or an S4 for increased stability.
Componentry on the S-Works model is unsurprisingly top end with a combination of Shimano XTR and SRAM AXS combined with Fox suspension, for those not wanting to outlay so much cash Specialized do a Comp, Elite and Expert builds.
There’s no escaping the top-end price of the Switchblade. Hit the trail though and that immediately all seems forgivable. Its ability to turn every section of trail into an ultra high definition pop, rip and power through playground is as good - if not better - than any other bike we’ve ridden.
While it doesn’t feel like it has more rear travel than 142mm, the quality of flat-out flow and tight power response is exceptional. The seemingly unbalanced front (160mm)/rear (142mm) travel actually syncs superbly and while they aren’t the most radical numbers the geometry is perfectly poised for the vast majority of real-world riding. It’s also one of the few bikes where you can still swap to plus-sized wheels if that’s your thing but for most, it’ll be the delicious detailing and visceral, dynamic speed of the Switchblade that makes it something very special.
Pivot offers the Switchblade in a number of build options to cater for Shimano or SRAM preferences and budget limitations although even the 'budget' XT build requires some significant finances.
The Californian brand has an impeccable pedigree in gravity racing and popularised the long-travel 29er with its original Tallboy LTC back in 2012. A radical reconfiguration of Santa Cruz’s VPP suspension system increases rear-wheel travel to 160mm, by employing a lower-link driven shock, which runs through the frame.
Santa Cruz has resisted extending its enduro bikes to extreme geometry, with the Megatower having a relatively average 470mm reach (in size large), although there is some geometry adjustment available.
Light and outrageously capable, the Megatower is most appropriate for riders who prefer to hang-on and allow the bike to plough over terrain.
If a frame’s racing lineage is your unit of analysis, this is the world’s best enduro bike. Ridden by current Enduro world champion and former Downhill phenom, Australian Sam Hill, the Mega has seen updated geometry and options for either aluminium or carbon for 2020.
Nukeprrof haven't just added a new material for the 2020 Mega, geometry numbers have been tweaked. Slackening the head angle, steepening the seat tube and speccing a short offset fork has improved the handling. Geometry numbers are still not overly daring (470mm reach on a large frame), but the Mega 290 has 160mm of rear suspension travel that has also been updated for better small bump performance and a reputation for bombproof reliability.
The suspension design does prioritise big-hit absorption capability, at the cost of isolating pedal input – so it does bob a bit under power.
Commencal has been making race-winning gravity bikes for a while now however the Andorran outfit hasn't chosen a second crunching approach with their new Clash. For all intents and purposes, the Clash sits comfortably in the enduro category but rather than design an out and out thoroughbred Commencal has chosen more playful all-round gravity bike, funduro if you will.
By modern standards, a relatively steep 65 degree head angle will show weakness on steep terrain but combined with 27.5 inch wheels it makes for a snappy direct cornering and a poppy jumper which will appeal to those who spend as much time in the bike park as they do on the enduro trail. The rest of the geometry figures are equally un-revolutionary but this creates a predictably dialled bike that most riders will feel at home on from the first lap.
As with a lot of Trek bikes, the Slash 9.8 has been designed with racing in mind. With Trek's RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft technology for better suspension control and well-balenced ride characteristics the Slash is a platform that can be worked hard to gain every little advantage on the trail.
Trek has finished the Slash with some nice details, the Trek OCLV Mountain Carbon frame features clean Control Freak internal routing and Knock Block which stops the bars spinning all the way around and causing extra damage in a crash. The Mino Link in the pivot at the top of the seat stays adds a small amount of geometry adjustment to fine-tune the ride feel, adjusting the head angle and seat tube angle by half a degree, reach by 6mm and bottom-bracket drop by 7mm.
The Taiwanese brand has produced a potential giant-killing bike with its 29-wheeled Reign. An evolution of the existing Reign platform, this is 2020’s latest Enduro bike and combines a hugely competent 146mm of rear-suspension travel with an array of fork options ranging between 160mm and 170mm.
Other significant upgrades that the progression to bigger wheels have brought to Giant’s Reign include a trunnion mount rear shock and the choice between 42- or 44mm fork offsets, offering riders, with appropriate skills, a much quicker steering option.
Geometry numbers feature a meaningfully longer frame than Giant’s 27.5-inch Reign, with the new 29er stretched to 494mm of reach on a large frame.
Enduro might be about descending but a light bike is never a debit, especially if you are trying to lean it into and through high-speed corners for an entire afternoon. With build kits rolling onto the trail at only 13.1kg, this Scott certainly won’t hold your fitness to ransom…
Scott’s Ransom is one of the lightest long-travel enduro frames available and offers great adaptability by accepting both 29er and 27.5-inch wheels.
The Ransom also features adjustable geometry, allowing you to tune its angles, and climbs with an efficiency that no 170mm bike should, thanks to Scott’s twin-loc system, although some might find an additional handlebar remote (for the twin-loc) annoying.
The evolved Force has been part of GT’s significant brand revival over the last year and a half, by regularly podiuming (and even winning) Enduro World Series events. Part of that success is due to GT abandoning the brand’s own pivot design and reverting to a horst-link suspension configuration.
GT has finally answered demand for a big-wheeler version of its proven enduro bike and the Force 29 blends the value of aluminium construction with entirely contemporary geometry.
If you pine for the glory days of GT (circa 1990s), this is a greatly symbolic enduro bike which can trade on more than merely sentiment.
You don’t need to pay silly money to access the very latest trends in enduro bike geometry. From Swinley comes the Bird Aeris AM9, which is a long-travel 29er presenting uncanny value. Geometry numbers are very current, with 500mm of reach on a large frame.
One wouldn’t expect a featherweight bike for the blend of features and price, yet the Aeris AM9 isn’t uninspiringly heavy.
As a value offering, this bike is essentially unbeatable. It has sensible rear triangle mud-clearances too, which will allow you to run 2.5in width tyres on a wide rim.
If you want total hard-edged precision, or lightweight, long-travel trail agility then the RocketMax isn't for you. The radical geometry with its need to take the longer way round tighter sections won't suit everyone either and it's the first bike too long to fit straight in our test van. The steel tube aesthetics with their transverse pipe section terminals won't float the boat of fat carbon fans either.
If you want a bike that delivers all the damping and shock shrugging advantages of steel, while retaining a warm sense of spring but never twanging too far off line then it's fantastic. The geometry and key componentry have been carefully curated to take the unshakeably grounded and gripped feel from tyre knob to bar tip. The result is an enduro tank that stays utterly calm and confident well beyond our test team's normal panic points and takes up position as one of the fastest gravity bikes we've ridden - regardless of material or origin. Additionally, it pedals well enough to hide a lot of its weight and stays enjoyably engaging on less taxing trails.
A boutique Finnish frame that combines outrageous geometry with an advanced alloy construction. The Stamina is effectively machined into two halves, with the frame glued together to form a single monocoque.
If you are a tall rider or ardent believer in the new trend of extra-long bikes, this is the bike for you, boasting a reach of 510mm (size large) and slack 63.5-degree head angle. This is one of the most vanguard enduro bikes you can buy and offers massive tyre clearance of up to ‘2.8 on 29er rubber.
A very clever feature is the ability to remove a linkage bolt, which allows the Stamina to fold in two, making it wonderfully easy to transport in a car or store in an apartment.
Best enduro mountain bikes: what you need to know
As the popularity and participation numbers in enduro have grown, the market has responded with a greater diversity of bikes – at all price levels. Below are a few attributes worth considering before making a purchase.
1. Frame material
While frame material is important, it doesn't necessarily make as much of a difference as other cycling disciplines. Carbon allows frames to be built lighter and stiffer however there has been a noticeable resurgence of aluminium frames which are just as capable. The advantage of aluminium is that it's a lot cheaper produce which leaves more money for better components such as suspension, wheels, brakes or tyres where performance enhancements will be more pronounced.
Rear suspension design and geometry are the most important features worth considering when evaluating an enduro bike. With special stages that can run for far longer than expected (up to 3-miles), the issue of shock fade, due to overheating, is a real concern for enduro riders. Therefore, a frame which offers sufficient shock clearance to run a high-volume air shock (with a piggyback reservoir) or coil shock, is vital.
While air and coil shocks have their own characteristics, top-end frames are generally built with suspension systems that are designed to work with a specific style of shock. Some frames can be enhanced by retrofitting a different shock but the possible effects should be researched first in case your upgrades don't compliment the suspension kinematics.
The Enduro category, with its requirements for all-day riding endurance and extreme terrain taming ability on descents, has revolutionised mountain bike geometry. Longer bikes with increasingly extreme angles are the defining trend, optimising the theory that an elongated wheelbase is inherently more stable. As geometry is based on many other factors such as reach, bottom brack drop and fork offset, what might be right for you and your trails will likely be different for others. Generally, a head angle slacker than 66° and a seat tube steeper than 74° shows a bikes intent for descending although most enduro bikes will push beyond these figures.
Many bikes also feature flip-chips for their suspension rocker arms or mounting hardware, which allow for small geometry adjustments – and those might make all the difference for your riding.
4. 29" vs 27.5"
Originally 27.5" (or 650B) wheels were the default option, striking a balance between the old standard 26" and the fast but more cumbersome 29er cross country bikes. Much has changed and as geometry has continued to evolve 29er wheels have become equally popular and have proved very successful on the racing circuit.
While some will argue that the performance benefits of each are significant, unless you are racing, the difference is likely to be much less noticeable thanks to advances in geometry and better components. Due to a 29ers larger diameter, they roll better over rougher terrain as well as generally maintaining better momentum. A 27.5" wheel, on the other hand, allows a shorter chainstay length for improved cornering on tight terrain. It can also be argued that 27.5" wheels are lighter and stronger due to their smaller size.