Which is the fastest enduro bike of 2020? With most of the 2020 season cancelled, we decided to put on a race of our own to answer that very question. Besides crowning an undisputed winner, we also gained a lot of new and exciting insights.
Table of content: What is in this test?
- The test field
- Where and how did we test?
- Our test crew
- The exciting findings
- Our tops & flops in test
- The fastest enduro race bike
Would the EWS podium look different if some riders were on different bikes? Could smoking your buddies be easy if you got a new bike? Are long bikes faster than short ones? To answer these and many other questions, we travelled to Canazei in Val di Fassa, with ten of the hottest enduro race bikes in tow. Canazei played host to the Enduro World Series last year and had it not been for this damn virus, the elite of the EWS would have been battling it out there again this year. Instead, we staked out a part of stage 1 from last year using a SPORTident timing system and held our own private race.
The bikes here in the test are of course quite specialists. If you’re looking for an all-rounder or simply the best mountain bike, check out our current comparison test with the 22 best MTBs for trails, tours and adventures. Either way – have fun reading!
EWS team bikes and heavily pimped machines – the test field
This is the third race bike group test that we’ve carried out here at ENDURO and despite being used to the sight of expensive and exclusive bikes, the rigs we received for this test still didn’t fail to make our palms all sweaty in anticipation of taking them out for a spin. We received actual team bikes from Canyon, GT, Lapierre, Nukeproof, Specialized and Yeti, with the same tuning and adjustments that the EWS pros ride with. The Strive we were sent is precisely as Jack Moir rides it in the EWS, and the Lapierre Spicy doesn’t just bear Nico Vouilloz’ name, it really is his private race bike. Yeti sent us the SB150 in size M, which most would think is too small, though Richie Rude gets along splendidly with it despite being 180 cm tall. More on that later!
Our test field was rounded off by some of the most popular bikes currently available and others that we find particularly interesting. COMMENCAL sent us the new META AM in a beautiful polished silver finish, equipped with FOX Factory suspension. RAAW sent us an all-black Madonna to take on the competition. YT and Trek supplied us with production bikes but we swapped tires immediately to even out the playing field – they wouldn’t have stood a chance on our test track with the thin-walled casings fitted. What about the brand new 2021 Trek Slash? We let it go up against the competition weeks before the new bike was launched.
Since the time and logistical effort required for so many timed runs is immense, not to mention the physical fatigue, we decided to limit the test field to just 10 bikes early on. We initially invited other brands like Ibis, Pole and Santa Cruz, but they could not or did not want to face the competition in this group test.
Why don’t we mention the bikes’ prices?
Since we specifically asked for tuned team bikes for this test, it’s impossible for us to quote a price. Some bikes received just a € 100 tire upgrade while others are equipped with custom components. But price isn’t all that relevant to this test anyway – what counts is the fastest time and the best handling.
|Canyon Strive CFR Jack Moir Edition
(Click for review)
|15.30 kg||160/150 mm||29″|
|Commencal META AM 29
(Click for review)
|16.08 kg||170/160 mm||29″|
|GT Force Carbon Pro Martin Maes Edition
(Click for review)
|15.38 kg||150/150 mm||29″/27.5″|
|Lapierre Spicy Team
(Click for review)
|15.26 kg||170/170 mm||29″|
|Nukeproof Mega 290c RS Team Edition
(Click for review)
|15.62 kg||180/160 mm||29″|
|Raaw Madonna V2 FOX Factory Custom
(Click for review)
|16.16 kg||170/160 mm||29″|
|Specialized S-Works Enduro Team Edition
(Click for review)
|15.89 kg||170/170 mm||29″|
|Trek SLASH 9.9 2021
(Click for review)
|14.70 kg||170/160 mm||29″|
|Yeti SB150 Team
(Click for review)
|15.56 kg||170/150 mm||29″|
|YT CAPRA Elite 29
(Click for review)
|15.40 kg||170/170 mm||29″|
|Ø 15.54 kg|
An actual EWS race stage – the test track in Canazei
Until last year, Canazei was unknown to most riders around the globe. The Italian ski resort in the heart of the Dolomites hadn’t yet played much of a role in the bike world, though that all changed when the Enduro World Series chose it as its fourth stop of the season. Everyone was blown away by the region’s breathtaking panoramas and the long, physically demanding stages.
A 14-minute stage as you’d typically encounter in the EWS would have been far too long for our test. Not only would rider fatigue have had too much of an effect on the consistency of the results, we would have only managed to get in a few runs each day. Instead, we marked out a section from the first stage of last year. Our test track was around 2 minutes 30 seconds long and featured as part of an EWS stage. It starts in Pecol and combines two trails called 9.90 and Electric Line. After a steep start with a few tight turns that are best approached via a high line, there is a fast middle section and a short pedalling section, followed by a rock garden and a mix of open, fast and tight corners. The route isn’t your classic bike park track with fast berms, featuring mostly natural terrain instead. To do well here, the bike’s handling needs to be precise and agile but also composed and able to generate a lot of grip.
Doing it like the pros – timekeeping by SPORTident
To time our runs, we didn’t rely on the inaccuracy of our smartphones or GPS devices but resorted to professional equipment and used a timing system from SPORTident, as used in the EWS. For even more reliability, each rider was fitted with two transponders and we took several splits along the route. At the end of each run, we printed out the times and uploaded them to our computer. The riders themselves didn’t get to see the times to avoid any bias or anomalies on their second run.
How do you guarantee the fairest possible comparison of the bikes?
Don’t you get to know the track better with every run? Don’t you get tired after several runs? What if a rider makes a mistake? Doesn’t the track change over time? All of these and a lot of other questions come to mind when you think about how to compare the bikes in our test as fairly and objectively as possible. In order to achieve a fair result despite the countless variables that, more often than not, are beyond our control, we gave a lot of thought to our test procedure. First of all, we walked the track together to pick our lines and we prepared key sections in such a way that we could repeatedly ride the same line consistently. What good is the hero line if you fail to hit it on 3 out of 5 attempts?
Having prepared the track and picked our lines, the entire test crew completed several practice runs and we also did a photoshoot on the track before getting down to business. We also arranged the starting order in such a way that every bike was ridden both at the beginning and end of the test. The test riders were switched at random between bikes. After setting up a bike, we first rode a different section of trail to check whether we were happy with it, only making small adjustments before the timed runs. Each bike was ridden twice in a row. If the rider made a mistake on their run, the time was discarded.
From EWS racers to weekend warriors – the test team
Putting together the team for this test didn’t take long – there are more than enough riders who would love to ride these dream bikes. But the rider’s motivation alone isn’t enough. Know-how, experience and the right instinct are what really count. ENDURO editors Christoph Bayer and Felix Stix test almost every bike we review and have years of experience when it comes to geometry, suspension and all the black magic that has an effect on a bike’s handling. Felix Gotzler, on the other hand, has been accompanying us on our group tests for years. He holds a number of KOMs on popular enduro trails in the Alps and has competed in several EWS races. The team was rounded off by Hannes Sturma, who also regularly works with us as a test rider, and Lukas Pachner, a professional snowboard crosser who competed at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The test riders vary in height between 178–187 cm, which meant that they could all ride the same frame size.
The most exciting findings of the race bike group test
During our timed runs, we didn’t just find out which enduro bike is the fastest on our 2 minute 30 second stage. We can also tell you why shorter bikes usually have an advantage, why you should probably shorten your handlebar and why it’s worth keeping an eye on weight.
EWS professionals ride surprisingly short bikes – for good reason
The development of innovations always follows certain trends. Often the pendulum swings far in one direction only to level off somewhere in the middle. This seems to be the case with modern geometry. If you check out the race bikes on test, you’ll probably be asking yourself how Richie Rude, who is 180 cm tall, can be so fast on a bike with a reach of only 460 mm. Jack Moir is 1.91 m tall and rides a size L Strive, which, due to the extremely tall cockpit, is guaranteed to have a reach under 460 mm. The mullet conversion on the GT Force Carbon that Martin Maes rides has also shrunk the bike down to less than 460 mm in length. The reason for this became clear during the course of our test. Not only did the shorter bikes record faster times, they also allowed our test riders to change direction more quickly and position themselves better before corners to carry their speed through them. On top of that, the agile handling of compact bikes is usually more fun. Anyone who thinks that these bikes aren’t composed at high speeds can rest assured: handling stability is heavily determined by the suspension and all the bikes on test performed brilliantly in this regard.
Narrow handlebars are awesome!
Another trend that is swinging back is extra-wide handlebars. The professionals on the EWS circuit ride astoundingly narrow handlebars. The Renthal bar on the Yeti measures just 750 mm, the one on the Canyon is 765 mm wide and the Lapierre had a 755 mm model fitted. After taking a little while to accustom themselves to them, four of our five test riders found the narrow models better overall. They found them to offer more direct steering and increased freedom of movement, reducing tension on the bike with arms spread less wide. After the test, we ended up shortening the bars on our private bikes, starting at 770 mm. In any case, the fact is that 800 or 810 mm, as some manufacturers fit on their bikes these days, is too wide for most 180 cm tall riders.
Balance is key
Admittedly, for us, durability always takes precedence over excessively lightweight construction and we also believe that uphill performance is influenced much more heavily by the suspension and riding position than the total weight of a bike. But the fact is, if you save weight in the right places, you can invest more elsewhere. The carbon Canyon Strive only weighs 15.30 kg despite its aluminium bar and rims, as well as downhill tires, while the aluminium RAAW Madonna with its carbon NEWMEN rims, lighter Doubledown tires and ENVE carbon handlebar weighs 16.16 kg. The COMMENCAL META AM isn’t light either at 16.08 kg yet comes fitted with “lightweight” Schwalbe tires. If you mount the same tires and inserts as on the Yeti, it would be about 1 kg heavier. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide based on your own priorities and preferences. However, you should be aware of the following fact: if you combine a heavy aluminium frame with super robust components, you won’t be far off the 17 kg mark.
The first group test without punctures
It almost seemed like a miracle: this was the first group test at ENDURO where we didn’t have to stop at least once to fix a flat tire. That’s not because of our extremely smooth riding but rather the fact that all bikes were fitted with robust tires with Doubledown, Super Gravity or even thicker casings. In addition, some bikes had tire inserts and almost all of them rolled on aluminium rims. Professionals have long known that to finish first, you first have to finish – punctures or broken rims rob you of any chance of winning in such a tightly contested race. The additional weight of thick casings is a worthwhile investment even for most hobby riders. If you’re the kind of rider who uses a lift or shuttle anyway, we recommend investing in more robust tires as soon as possible if you haven’t got them already. You’ll have more grip, more puncture protection and more fun.
The only thing better than a lot of braking power is more braking power
A well-known piece of wisdom amongst racers is that the later you brake, the longer you’re going fast. But you don’t only need a lot of braking power for late braking. Powerful brakes are crucial on long descents, resulting in significantly less fatigue and, above all, less arm pump. Our test riders, weighing around 85 kg, often had problems with fading brakes when paired with small 180 mm rotors. We therefore wholeheartedly recommend running at least 200 mm rotors, front and rear. You can find more about this in a separate article we’ve written which explains why it may make sense to use a larger rotor at the rear than at the front.
Is a mixed wheel mullet set-up the solution?
Mullet bikes with 29” wheels up front and 27.5” wheels on the rear are a hot topic in the Downhill World Cup scene. In this test field, the GT Force Carbon was the only bike that came with mixed wheel sizes but it wasn’t the fastest bike. Of course, this can’t be attributed to the wheels alone. However, we never had any problems with large 29” wheels on the rear during this test and we only rarely came into contact with it on particularly steep sections. However, smaller riders could benefit significantly more from a mullet setup. The positive thing about the GT was how quickly and directly it responded to steering input. That said, the best bikes, such as the medium Yeti SB150, offered similar handling with the bigger wheel on the back. To mullet or not to mullet? It’s a very personal question and the setup has to suit the overall concept. In a separate experiment, we put a 29″ wheel on the front of a 27.5”-wheeled FOCUS SAM to find out more about the advantages and disadvantage a mullet build can offer.
So, which enduro race bike is the fastest? In the end, we found a clear winner despite the changing conditions!
After four days of back-to-back testing, putting in over 150 runs, WITHOUT any flat tires and with loads of high fives after our descents, we found it: the fastest enduro bike of 2020. But there’s a caveat we have to mention up front.
Don’t trust any statistics that you didn’t fake yourself!
Our goal was to find the fastest enduro race bike and that was what we did. However, there was a problem: the conditions on the track changed more than we had anticipated. Rainfall in the days before the test had softened the ground and as testing continued, grip and thus speed increased. We wouldn’t have been happy to publish these results as they didn’t represent a fair comparison, especially amongst the mid-field contenders. So, we extended our test by another day for further timed laps and with the conditions more consistent, we were able to confirm which bikes were the fastest and which were the slowest. However, it was too late to redo the whole test and the differences between 1st, 2nd and 3rd place and the slowest bike are significant enough for us to feel confident publishing them. It also turned out that the bikes with the fastest times were the bikes that our testers felt were the fastest and the most intuitive to ride. The slowest bike, on the other hand, required the most rider input on the trail and all testers described it as demanding and unbalanced.
The fastest enduro race bike
Did Richie Rude only win in Canazei last year because of his bike? Unlikely, but after our test, we can at least confirm that his Yeti SB150 certainly will have helped him. On our test track, the Yeti was by far the fastest bike with an average time (all runs, all riders) of 2 minutes 22 seconds – on a size medium! Many riders will have asked themselves why Richie Rude, who is 180 cm tall, chooses to ride a medium frame and we have to admit that we also had our doubts. However, when we were done with our testing, we knew that on technical enduro stages, the deciding factor is the speed at which you exit the corners. It is essential to be able to set the bike up with precision and change direction as quickly as possible. The key word here is balance! It’s about finding the right balance on the bike and thus the perfect distribution of grip across the front and rear wheels, as well as the balance in handling between sufficient composure and lots of agility. The Yeti is fast, agile and demands little effort to manoeuvre. The heavy downhill tires, including a CushCore insert, provide plenty of grip and keep the bike safely on track. The suspension is sensitive and offers a lot of traction yet it responds to rider input immediately, allowing you to carry a lot of speed. Overall, the medium Yeti SB150 impressed us and left the competition behind. Here you get the full review on the Yeti SB150.
The two other race bikes on the podium
Canyon Strive CFR & Nukeproof Mega 290C
The Canyon Strive CFR (click for review) with Jack Moir’s setup, which came in second with an average time of 2 minutes 24 seconds, and the Nukeproof Mega 290C (click for review) in third place, with a time of 2 minutes 25 seconds, performed excellently too. You might have noticed that these two bikes are also moderate in terms of reach and don’t have excessively slack head angles. The front centre and chainstay length of both are nicely balanced, positioning the rider centrally on the bike. This allows you to change direction very quickly and both bikes are intuitive to ride, requiring little effort from the rider.
The loser of this test
The clear loser in this test is the COMMENCAL META AM in size large. On average, it was a whopping 9 seconds slower than the medium Yeti. The main reason is its long front centre with a reach of 495 mm in combination with a short 433 mm rear end and slack 63.6° head angle. This combination means that you have to ride the bike very actively to generate enough grip on the front wheel when cornering. In tight sections, the META AM tends to understeer a lot and if you don’t reduce your speed, you’ll simply slide through the apex of the turn. Besides costing you a lot of time, it’s exhausting. The bike’s length also comes at the cost of precision through rough sections. On the other hand, in open high-speed sections the bike excels with its super plush yet supportive suspension. After our test in Canazei, COMMENCAL sent us a size medium META AM to compare and we tested it in the bike park in Innsbruck, Austria. In direct comparison with the larger bike, the smaller one is much more agile, balanced, lively and fun. We are sure that the medium META AM would have delivered a significantly better performance on our test track. In size L, the COMMENCAL is the loser of this test and proof that the trend towards increasingly longer bikes has definitely reached its limit.
The COMMENCAL META AM in size L was the slowest bike on test. Ultimately, it was the combination of an overly long front triangle and short rear end that made the bike too imprecise. In size medium, the result could have been very different, as we found out when we tried the bike in a smaller size.
We weren’t looking for the best all-rounder!
This test wasn’t about finding the best all-round enduro bike. Speed was our only yardstick. That’s why we didn’t test the bikes’ climbing capabilities. All bikes in this test can be pedalled uphill but they prefer doing so at a comfortable pace. The differences are likely to be huge. To find out more, we recommend taking a look at our group test of 17 high-end enduro bikes, that we did in San Remo at the beginning of the year. If you’re looking for a good all-rounder, take a look at our group test of the 15 hottest trail bikes. an. If your budget is limited, we also reviewed 9 enduro bikes under € 3,500.
All bikes in test: Canyon Strive CFR Jack Moir Edition (Click for review) | Commencal META AM 29 (Click for review) | GT Force Carbon Pro Martin Maes Edition (Click for review) | Lapierre Spicy Team (Click for review) | Nukeproof Mega 290c RS Team Edition (Click for review) | Raaw Madonna V2 FOX Factory Custom (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Enduro Team Edition (Click for review) | Trek SLASH 9.9 2021 (Click for review) | Yeti SB150 Team (Click for review) | YT CAPRA Elite 29 (Click for review)
Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer