Best Enduro Mountain Bikes

Five of the top enduro mountain bikes in the world stand at attention  which are the best of the best?
Which enduro mountain bike is the top performer? To find out we bought five of the world's best and torture tested them in the most exhaustive and scientific side-by-side comparative review ever completed. Four testers, a dozen bike-obsessed consultants, a team of mechanics, and an onslaught of strong opinion cranked the bikes through hundreds of miles, torturous challenge courses, long backcountry missions, and gut-punching benchmark performance tests – 135 time trials in total. Bikes have never been tested like this. Read on to find out which enduro mountain bikes came out on top.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
, Paul Tindal, Sean Cronin, Curtis Smith

Last Updated:
Monday
September 12, 2016

Best All-Mountain Enduro Bike


Yeti SB5.5C


2016 SB5.5 Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $6,999 at Competitive Cyclist


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Fastest enduro bike uphill and down
Rolls over everything
Unmatched all-mountain performance
Not our favorite for big technical descents
Not very flickable
The Yeti SB5.5c delivers extraordinary performance, creating its own speed category on both the up and downhill benchmark time trial courses – sonic. It won the bike-against-bike races by a wide margin. As such it was a shoo-in for our Editors' Choice Award. More nimble than any 29er we've tried, this bike is as much of a blast as it is fast. Cornering competently and rolling over anything in its way to the finish line, it makes every ride feel like a race that you're winning. Not quite playful, even at speed, the bike still sends jumps, maintaining trajectory like an arrow. The perfect machine to rip down your local trails or across entire mountain ranges, the Yeti is that elusive quiver-of-one.

Best Downhill Enduro Bike


Santa Cruz Nomad


2016 Nomad Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $6,599 List


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A super stable descender
Playful at speed handling
Best rear suspension in the test
The fork is more adequate than amazing
The Santa Cruz Nomad dominates all things downhill. No other bike was more fun or capable on the big technical descents. Everyone backed off the brakes, charged harder lines and got more airtime on the first run. Simply put, this bike equals confidence. And, the more miles we put in, adjusting our riding to highlight the Nomad's talents, the more respect we gained for its nuanced climbing and cornering prowess and it's playfulness at speed. With solid pedaling, a ridiculously plush suspension, superior stability, and a comfortable, forgiving cockpit – this is the bike that gets up the hill to make way for a killer descent. The only intrinsic issue arises from its low, long, stability-enhancing build. When combined with 170mm cranks, that low bottom bracket sets you up for some serious pedal strikage till you get the timing down.




The Santa Cruz Nomad  Pivot Mach 6  Ibis Mojo HD3  Yeti SB 5.5c and Specialized Enduro Expert are five top enduro mountain bikes in the world. We put them through the most extensive testing and rating process ever completed to find out which are the best of the best.
The Santa Cruz Nomad, Pivot Mach 6, Ibis Mojo HD3, Yeti SB 5.5c and Specialized Enduro Expert are five top enduro mountain bikes in the world. We put them through the most extensive testing and rating process ever completed to find out which are the best of the best.

Analysis and Test Results


We invested nearly two years, engaged a team of 20, rode thousands of trail miles, and bought 16 cutting edge enduro bikes – all to create the most exhaustive enduro mountain bike review process ever. We spent a year in R&D to work out our testing process, starting in April, of 2015, with 11 of the most highly regarded enduro mountain bikes in the world. A team of consultants rallied them across the Sierra Nevada for a year while working to dial in specific testing and analysis procedures. In April of 2016, we put the resulting test plan to work with four testers and five brand new 2016 model bikes: the Yeti SB5.5c, Santa Cruz Nomad, Ibis Mojo HD3, Specialized Enduro Expert and the Pivot Mach 6.

Yes, that is a Yeti SB5.5c 29er stacked up against four enduro mountain bikes with 27.5" wheels. We're at a moment of boundary breaking innovation in bike design – where plus-size tires and wheel diameter interact with suspension design in novel ways. We don't want to place boundaries on our test bike selection based on just one component, even a significant one like wheel diameter, when so many design choices have overlapping performance implications. Our philosophy is straightforward: we want to find out which complete bikes perform the best. So, we selected the top performing enduro bikes of 2016 – the bikes we think you would be most interested in buying, subcategories aside. We tested them head-to-head to find out which was truly the best, letting the bike's real-world performance be our guide. Forge on to find out how we did it and what we found out.

Criteria for Evaluation


For two months we passed these five bikes around like ($6,000) winnings at your weekly poker game. We tested them on mountain epics and in head-to-head time trials, digging deep to peel back the layers of geometric and suspension system mystique. Then we ranked the 2016 Enduro Mountain Bikes based on their downhill, climbing and cornering performance as well as their fun factor and build. This section explains each criteria, how we tested it, and how the bikes performed relative to one another. For more information about our testing process check out our How We Test article. To read more about any one of the bikes, click on it's highlighted link or its image at the top of the page.

We benchmarked each bike's performance by timing them on carefully defined up and downhill race courses to determine which bikes were the fastest.
We benchmarked each bike's performance by timing them on carefully defined up and downhill race courses to determine which bikes were the fastest.

Benchmark Testing


A benchmark is a standard against which something can be measured. In the world of mountain biking, we often say whether or not a bike is good, but how do we determine if another is better? Conventional wisdom says it all comes down to a rider's preference. Which is a way of avoiding the question. There are very few objective parties pitting one bike directly against another, and none are using benchmarks to measure bikes' relative performances in the real world. So we did. We raced them – not rider against rider, but bike against bike.

To do this we created two relentless, enduro style test courses, one uphill and one down, and conducted over 135 timed trials. Three of our four testers stepped up to the ego-testing benchmarking challenge, running each bike through four laps on both courses. We then averaged each bike's resulting times (12 uphill and 12 downhill) to get the benchmark testing results.

These time trials provided very enlightening feedback. When we could have sworn one bike was faster than another, the stopwatch would prove otherwise. That's why benchmark time trial testing is so important – our perception of a bike's speed often doesn't align with its actual performance. Using the stopwatch as a tool, we came to a different understanding of the bikes' relative speeds. It was like using a guitar tuner, helping us dial into the sound, i.e. speed, over time.

The Race Courses


The downhill course, aka The Scorpion, is a loose, decomposed granite, high altitude track with wicked, cliff-lined turns, tight techy squeezes, big rock drops, and a ridiculous granite slab connected by the fast and the flat out. The uphill course, aka The Soul Grinder, is a quick set of switchbacks and square stairs with a narrow but negotiable thoroughfare. Every enduro bike manufacturer claims their bike can hike up a hill. The Soul Grinder determines which bike climbs the hardest.

The Results


Once we had 12 solid uphill and downhill lap times per bike, we calculated averages per rider and then per bike to get a sense of each bike's relative speed on technical ups and downs. To find out what we learned read on intrepid one.

The two fastest bikes in our downhill tests are the Yeti SB5.5 and the Santa Cruz Nomad. Here the Nomad is shown handing out yet another incredible ride.
The two fastest bikes in our downhill tests are the Yeti SB5.5 and the Santa Cruz Nomad. Here the Nomad is shown handing out yet another incredible ride.

Downhill Performance


The enduro category inspires innovative bike design because to win an enduro race, a bike has to climb efficiently while leaving the rider enough energy to smash downhill with the authority of an angry, territory-defending grizzly bear. It also needs to survive said smashing. Since the descending portion of the race is the bit that's timed, we weigh the bikes' relative downhill capabilities higher than the other factors at 30%.

The Santa Cruz Nomad is the most downhill-oriented enduro mountain bike in the bunch. But, though most of us would agree that flying on the wings of gravity is the fun part, we'll get to that in Fun Factor. Here we're talking performance. And when it comes to performance the Yeti SB5.5c's speed nabs to soon on the podium.

The Santa Cruz Nomad and the Yeti SB5.5c tied to top out the downhill test at a 9 of 10. The Santa Cruz's heavenly suspension and playful-at-speed cheekiness stole the gravity show but the Yeti's speed and superior rollover abilities kept pace, making it impossible to choose between the two. The Ibis Mojo HD3, rates a 6 and had the best fork in the test, giving us a refuge from its rough riding rear end. Conversely, the Pivot Mach 6's plush rear suspension allowed us to stay off its fork, which had a hard time handling the pressure that the frame's short reach (397mm) forced on it. The short reach also translated to an off-balance cockpit, which made it hard to enjoy the ride. We gave it a 5. The Specialized Enduro Expert offered no respite from its solid but skull rattling descending skills. It's overall utility earned it a 6.

Speed


The Yeti flies. After a 29er's typical sluggish start, lasting 3 to 4 pedal spins, it takes off, feeling like it will accelerate forever, and holding speed like a bullet. The Santa Cruz is similarly slow to start and maintains speed, but it's 27.5" wheels don't offer the same feeling of momentum as the Yeti's 29ers. Both of the bikes encourage high mph on the descents, but the low riding Santa Cruz has a bad habit of smashing cranks. This forces riders to back off the pedals or risk slamming to a stop. So, slower.

This chart shows the average time advantage of each bike on our downhill test course The Scorpion. Average course time was 3:38 min:sec.
This chart shows the average time advantage of each bike on our downhill test course,The Scorpion. Average course time was 3:38 min:sec.

As such the Yeti comes in a full 5.8 seconds ahead of the last place Pivot Mach 6 on The Scorpion, our downhill test course, equating to a 1.6 second per minute gain. The Santa Cruz is the runner up, finishing 2.5 seconds behind the Yeti and 3.3 in front of the Pivot. Meaning the Nomad gains nearly a second per minute on the Mach 6.

The downhill advantage each bike gains relative to the others in seconds per minute is shown above.
The downhill advantage each bike gains relative to the others in seconds per minute is shown above.

The Specialized Enduro Expert and Ibis Mojo HD3 are the fastest accelerators in the test. To maintain that initial burst of speed, the Ibis requires constant pedaling. But, the Specialized holds speed like a rabbit. As a result, the Specialized feels racier than the Santa Cruz and reaches speed faster than the Yeti, but it still suffered in the time trials, largely due to its trick tires, which skidded out early, often, and without warning. We kept them on through the testing (sticking to our complete bike convictions) but switched them out for extra runs afterwards. Some knobbier rubber really improved the Specialized's feel, though not its speed.

The Pivot Mach 6 has tire problems, too. Between this, a soft front fork and what felt like an undersized cockpit (we'll dig into these details below, as well as in the Pivot Mach 6 review) everyone was too scared on the Pivot to mach at all.

Riding the Yeti is like exploring the world with golden lit glasses  everything's just better.
Riding the Yeti is like exploring the world with golden lit glasses, everything's just better.

Confidence


The Santa Cruz Nomad hands you confidence like a military medal. You'll be whispering your own myth as you ride: Hero. Our only worry is cartwheeling off when the 800mm handlebar smacks a tree or a pedal slams a rock. But we got the timing and spatial awareness down. You will, too. The Santa Cruz has the slackest head tube angle, measured at 65.2°, the plushest rear end, i.e. a VPP suspension with a RockShox Monarch Plus shock, and some of the most stable handling in the test – there's just no contest when it comes to instilling confidence in your descending skills.

The 800mm handlebars on the Yeti and Santa Cruz were a liability in tight squeezes but helped us toss the bikes around  improving handling.
The 800mm handlebars on the Yeti and Santa Cruz were a liability in tight squeezes but helped us toss the bikes around, improving handling.

If you'd rather have confidence in your descending speed, go for the Yeti SB5.5c. This bike will get you places before you're ready for them. It takes a while to adjust your expectations, like riding a trail in fast forward. In addition, sitting up higher over a front wheel that's tucked further beneath the bike than the Santa Cruz, feeling the hits through the 140mm rear suspension more than on the Nomad, and fighting the bars to recover can feel precarious. But once you realize the Yeti can roll right over almost anything, you'll be less concerned.

As so often happened in this test the Ibis Mojo HD3 fell into neutral territory. With an unbelievably buttery 160mm boosted Fox 36 Factory fork, a rough riding DW-link and Fox Factory Float DPS shock rear end, and responsive handling that twitches up at speed and on steeper descents – this bike just averages out.

The Pivot and Specialized are at the negative end of the confidence spectrum. The Specialized's sneaky skid on their spec'd Butcher and Slaughter Control tires guarantees a slower, more cautious ride. The rear FSR suspension with an Φhlins shock is also one of the rougher rides in the test, which squirrels up the bike's handling. We focused more on making it through than having any fun. Curiosity made us switch out the tires for a minute, which helped, but the choppy RockShox Pike RC fork and rear end still rattled nerves.

The Pivot also suffers from a front tire slide, exacerbated by narrow rims. Its major problem was a bizarrely uncomfortable cockpit that sets the rider up right over the front fork, making the otherwise solid 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork feel divey and soft, decimating trust. Luckily the excellent DW-link rear suspension with a Fox Float X shock is some consolation, but we find ourselves riding further back than we'd like to avoid going over the bars.

The Santa Cruz sets you up for solid descends.
The Santa Cruz sets you up for solid descends.

Handling


The Santa Cruz Nomad and Yeti SB5.5c are both incredibly stable. But, as their 800mm wide handlebars suggest, they require some wrangling, mostly in the turns. Still, the Santa Cruz is plenty responsive and the Yeti's boosted front fork translates to very direct steering. But while the Yeti is quick to start a maneuver, it can be a little slow to complete it.

Both bikes can feel cumbersome when rolling slow, but while the Santa Cruz morphs into a nimble, rollicking monster at speed – the Yeti just puts its head down and charges, no playing around. If you're looking for playful and fast, you may prefer the Santa Cruz.

Playful First
If popping and hopping is your main MTB goal, and you don't mind rolling a little slower over less hardcore terrain, the Ibis Mojo HD3 could be for you.

Both cockpits are comfortable, requiring minimal body adjustments, though you have to actively shift back on the descents on the Yeti while the Santa Cruz puts you there automatically. This is handy as the Santa Cruz's steering flops if you're up over the front wheel. You could probably pull off a handstand on the bars without the Yeti noticing.

The most nimble bike in the test at slow speeds, the boosted fork on the Ibis Mojo HD3 contributes to extremely direct steering. But the bike's rough rear end squirrels up the handling in the rough spots and at speed. The Ibis is the most flickable bike in the test, but it's so good at hitting a tight line that you don't actually need to throw it around. But it sure is fun to.

The Specialized Enduro is nearly as maneuverable as the Ibis, but it's raucous suspension and drifting front tire keep us from enjoying it. You feel every hit and many deflect the front wheel. So, while the Santa Cruz Nomad draws a straight line from top to bottom, the Specialized ricochets its way down. It handles great on smoother tracks.

The Pivot Mach 6 is nimble at slower speeds and is an almost charger on descents. It's kind of stable, if you can stay off the back while weighting the front enough to keep it from drifting. If you weight the fork, the steering starts to twitch. The off-balance cockpit and flexy rear wheel and rear triangle force us to shift around constantly for balance. The key to the Pivot is moderation. It handles great at moderate speeds on moderate slopes.

The Yeti sends straight off the lip before casually landing and shooting off to the horizon.
The Yeti sends straight off the lip before casually landing and shooting off to the horizon.

Suspension and Traction


The couch. The armchair. Heaven. These are a few of the Santa Cruz Nomad's nicknames. That suspension is just. so. Good. Add that to a slack head tube angle (measured at 65.2°) for an incredible mix of relaxed comfort cruiser and downhill destroying machine. There's no pushback when landing big jumps. It catches you like a magic carpet, whisking you away to the next adventure. Traction is endless. The suspension glued the tires to the trail at all times. There is room for improvement though. The Ibis Mojo HD3's fork is better.

The Yeti SB5.5c's suspension is less revered, but just as effective. A little stiff early in the stroke, the Yeti feel similar to the Ibis or Pivot Mach 6, but better as its bigger wheels smooth over the smaller hits. And, while the Yeti opens up to soak hits up nicely, it's steeper head tube angle (measured at 66.1°) doesn't erase square hits as well as the slack and cushy Nomad. But the suspension system is also plenty to keep those big wheels on the ground. Adjusting the rebound setting on the nestled rear shock on both the Yeti and the Pivot is a huge pain compared to the other bikes, requiring tools to adjust.

A stiff and bucky rear end has us all over the Ibis Mojo HD3's fork. But, the boosted RockShox Pike RCT3 is so buttery smooth that it's hard to stay away. The Ibis maintains plenty of traction, but not as much as we expected from those 2.5" tires. Though they're both running DW-link suspension systems, the Ibis and Pivot couldn't be more different. The Pivot's rear shock rocked, but its fork felt soft since the bike's short reach (397 mm) forced it to shoulder more of the rider's weight than the other bikes. The same Fox 36 Factory fork came on the Yeti, but it was boosted, and felt completely solid.

All the other forks have three or four high speed compression settings with an addition adjustment for fine tuning the low speed compression, the Specialized Enduro Expert's has 14 high speed settings, and no low speed knob. The rear end is similarly difficult to dial in, with the Φhlins Single Tube rear shock sporting three high and nine low speed compression settings and six clicks on the low speed rebound. We could barely tell one from the other, and they were all rough. We could never fine tune the shock to absorb the bigger hits. The suspension seemed to maintain traction well, but it was hard to tell because the trick tires kept skidding out on their own.

The Yeti  a.k.a. "the goat"  in its natural habitat.
The Yeti, a.k.a. "the goat", in its natural habitat.

Climbing Performance


The enduro category, meant to create great racers, is also spawning impressive all-mountain machines. All-mountain days are usually spent with friends – fast friends, strong friends, friends you'd like to dust.

The chart above shows the bikes' relative performance advantage on The Soul Grinder  our uphill enduro race course. The average course time was 2:14 min:sec.
The chart above shows the bikes' relative performance advantage on The Soul Grinder, our uphill enduro race course. The average course time was 2:14 min:sec.

The Yeti SB5.5c is the high horse that'll get you to the top first. Fastest in the timed test – coming in 6.4 seconds ahead of the last place Pivot on our uphill test course, The Soul Grinder – there's no denying that the Yeti is quick on its big, heavy, 29er feet. That equates to 2.9 second per minute lead on the Pivot. The Santa Cruz and Specialized tie to rank second, 2.6 seconds ahead of the Pivot but 3.8 seconds behind the Yeti. They gain 1.2 seconds per minute on the Mach 6.

This graph shows the uphill advantage each bike gains relative to the others on our enduro climbing course  The Soul Grinder  in seconds per minute.
This graph shows the uphill advantage each bike gains relative to the others on our enduro climbing course, The Soul Grinder, in seconds per minute.

The Yeti is an insane climber. We rate it a 9 out of 10 on climbing performance. The issue between it and uphill perfection is its sluggish acceleration, which can momentarily blind you with effort when topping out a steep technical section. But once it's rolling, it pedals well. The wheels dismiss obstacles and provide a satisfying "flying" sensation. When not clawing up the super steeps, the Yeti's speed is obvious. In contrast, the Specialized and Santa Cruz never felt that fast.

Set up nicely for climbing, but slightly large, the Yeti's cockpit is the second best for climbing, just behind the Specialized. But the Yeti's longer wheelbase sacrifices some mobility in exchange for stability. It is the most challenging bike in the test to steer through the tight technical turns on our uphill course, The Soul Grinder. Even the slightly longer Santa Cruz is easier. While the Yeti is harder to swing around, it works. Its steering is extremely direct and predictable, aided by those wide handlebars and boost axle. The Yeti's suspension maintains good traction and pedaling efficiency, with little nonessential movement. Those big wheels also smooth out the trails more than the other bikes.

It can be hard to keep those big wheels rolling on the punchy climbs  but you'll appreciate their easy spin on the moderate slopes.
It can be hard to keep those big wheels rolling on the punchy climbs, but you'll appreciate their easy spin on the moderate slopes.

We rate the Specialized Enduro Expert at a 7 and the Santa Cruz Nomad at a 6. This was a tough call, as the Santa Cruz climbs really well, with nice pedaling, comfy cockpit and uber cushy suspension. The Specialized is less comfortable, more barebones. It actually feels a little out of control, but it also feels more efficient for longer climbs. The Specialized's light pedaling feel and fast rolling tires make it easy to move, but it's always-open suspension feels like running in sand. It doesn't even pretend to lockout, and still feels choppy on the bigger hits. While this seems incredibly inefficient, our stopwatch said otherwise. It's a pretty fast climber.

We agreed that the Specialized has the most comfortable climbing cockpit in the test (the Yeti is the runner up), giving you plenty of room to move around. Which is good, because this bike requires a lot of body english, taking more effort to get over obstacles than the Santa Cruz. It's also hard to keep this bike on track. It's responsive steering makes it easy to overcorrect and it's front tire alternates between flopping over (like the Santa Cruz has a tendency to do) and wandering (as the Pivot's often does). We found ourselves stumbling up the trail, linking one recovery to the next. But the Specialized feels so light in the smooth sections that it still saves our legs. The suspension keeps the tires on the ground, but it's hard to tell as we lose a lot of traction from the low profile rear tire spinning out.

In contrast, the Santa Cruz Nomad handles very well. But, as mentioned above, the front wheel will flop when your body weight is over the bars. Move your balance point back a bit, and mash the pedals and it works great. Steamrolling over everything after a slow start, the Santa Cruz is a very Yeti-esqueclimber. But the Nomad sinks into its suspension more than the Yeti, especially when standing and pedaling. This helps the Yeti leap ahead in efficiency, as do its bigger wheels. The most visceral difference between the Santa Cruz and the Yeti, however, is the pedal striking zone. It's huge on the Santa Cruz. The entire bottom half of the pedal stroke exposes you to a crank-on-rock collision. We got a few strikes on the Yeti but they were glancing.

But while both bikes roll over anything in your way, the Nomad isn't slowed down as drastically by obstacles or super steep pitches. "The thing's more like a tank," says one tester, "it just kinda goes where it wants to and you go along for the ride." And the suspension keeps the traction feeling supreme. But its cockpit feels too relaxed for long ascents. (It's hard to climb on a couch.) All-in-all, the easygoing attitude of the Santa Cruzbalanced the Specialized's agro speediness.

The Pivot is a nimble climber  but it takes more body english to maneuver it up the stairs than the smash-n-roll Yeti and Santa Cruz
The Pivot is a nimble climber, but it takes more body english to maneuver it up the stairs than the smash-n-roll Yeti and Santa Cruz

Surprisingly the more nimble rides with upright cockpits rank the lowest in climbing, with the Ibis Mojo HD3 coming in at a 5 and the Pivot Mach 6 at a 4. It took a stopwatch to tell us we were going fast uphill on the Specialized and Santa Cruz, and it took one to tell us that our Ibis and Pivot times were slow. While they are both easier to move around than the longer wheelbased bikes, instead of busting over the rock steps, we wheelied over. Apparently this took longer.

The Ibis and the Specialized vie for the top pedaling spot with the fastest acceleration. But the Ibis just doesn't hold speed like the Yeti, Santa Cruz, or Specialized, leaving it well behind in the speed trials. The Pivot doesn't maintain momentum either, and is as sluggish to start as the Yeti or Santa Cruz.

Both bikes have direct, light steering that can tend toward twitchy in the rough, but the Ibis handles better. It's incredible fork can handle a rider's input without sacrificing precision steering and tracks your gaze, going anywhere you look. In contrast, the Pivot tends to tack when you're up on the bars, which is hard to avoid in such a cramped cockpit, especially in steep technical climbs.

The Ibis has an excellent lock out for smooth sections. Its trail and open modes feel equally efficient pedaling while maintaining enough suspension to maintain traction, particularly with those fattier tires, which practically grabbed hold of the rocks to haul the bike up and over. The Pivot also has a great lockout and a strong pedaling platform, but it's trail and open modes let some pedal power slip through to the suspension. The back tire slipped out about as often as the Specialized.

The Nomad rails through berms.
The Nomad rails through berms.

Cornering


Our winning bikes didn't win corners; the Ibis and the Pivot did. Tying at a 8 of 10 the Ibis is outta hand and the Pivot practically a BMX. Their short wheelbases lend them a fast, snappy nature. Both whip-tail out of tight turns, scream through the longer, wider berms and hold it together through flat corners. The Ibis wins out on direct steering, with the rear wheel perfectly tracking the front. The Pivot has more play, owing to some flex in the rear wheel and a bit in the frame, which shoots it out of corners like a bow. While the Ibis has no traction problems, the Pivot's front Maxxis High Roller II tire skids as it transitioned to its side knobs. It's predictable enough to get past. Tthe Pivot's plush rear end is a little better in rougher corners, where neither of these bikes shine.

Splitting the two cornering skill sets is the Specialized, ranking a 7. With the tires it was originally spec'd with we rank it at a 2 of 10. At that point it was impossible to trust coming into a corner. So we switched them out and its sharp handling skills and nice balance came out to play. After that it swooped through the berms. It still only liked smooth tracks, could get twitchy through short turns, and for some reason we still didn't think of it as fun. But the bike gets the job done.

The Santa Cruz is a more versatile cornerer than the Yeti. You can throw it around in the tighter turns. It's really hard to throw the Yeti, at least the 29" Yeti SB5.5. That earned the Santa Cruz a 6 of 10 to the Yeti's 5. Other than that, the two are similar. In tight/choppy turns you really have to toss the Santa Cruz into the corner to bounce back out. If you aren't aggressive, you have to slow down, which isn't a big deal if you aren't racing the clock, or your friends. And those pedal strikes are still an issue. In long banked berms you can really dig a pedal into the dirt if you time it wrong.

Incredibly maneuverable for a 29er, the Yeti's direct steering and short chainstays make it surprisingly easy to move around tight, slow, turns on the uphill. But when hauling downhill at speed you gotta be heads up, you can't just turn it, you've got to lay it over. Those big wheels don't want to lay down. To balance gravity against their gyroscopic desire to stand back up you've got to get aggressive. Dumping a 29er into a turn is a tough move for beginners. Once you've got the corner angle and the start-turning-sooner timing down, it works well. A bit of flex in the back triangle pops you back out and the bike really shines in the mid-sized turns.

With the Santa Cruz you've got more options. You can aggressively lay it over, skid it through or toss it around turns. It works better at speed. Just push the bike in front of you and around the turn, settle into your rearward sweetspot, lean – and you boomerang around. The aggressiveness required is accessible for intermediate to advanced riders. The only difficulty for them is in flat, tight turns requiring mandatory slowdowns. The Santa Cruz isn't as willing to tip, skid, or get tossed at slower speeds. Its motorcross sporty in the berms though, loading the suspension into the sidewall before launching out to the next turn.

If flying sounds fun  the Nomad can take you there.
If flying sounds fun, the Nomad can take you there.

Fun Factor


The Santa Cruz crushes the fun factor, with every tester agreeing that it takes the top prize. We rank it as a 10 of 10. Why? An unshakable suspension, handle-it-all steering, handholding stability, flight-like jumps and explosive at speed – it has all of the things. As in, everything is more fun on this bike.

Meanwhile, the Yeti just gets it done, and there's a lot to like about that. Scoring a 9 of 10, the Yeti SB5.5c is fast fun. If you're happiest when your eyes are watering and your kit's whipping in the wind, then the Yeti is gonna give you all the smiles. Plenty of good times are had while winning and the surprisingly nimble handling will keep you happy all the way to the finish line. But, for those who love the playful pop, the Yeti might smooth out the trail a tad too much.

If you're a less of a speed demon and love hitting every side jump, snappy movement and g-force turn, the Ibis Mojo HD3 might be your best bet. It was called playful more than any other bike in the test and comes in third at a 7/10.

The Specialized Enduro Expert and Pivot Mach 6 are more Type II Fun, bordering on Type III. The Specialized was most often referred to as capable. It was well liked but never inspired a sparkle in any of our eyes. Its obscure suspension setup just made us shake our heads and its tires only worked in well packed soils. The Pivot is loved and loathed alternately. It rips downhill and screams through corners and comes close to fulfilling our fast turning, hard charging fantasies, but falls short due to its short reach and awkward fit. Battling our way back from almost over the bars was dangerously close to negative fun.

Sure  this job looks fun  but that face is all business. He has to report on almost a dozen handling characteristics after every ride.
Sure, this job looks fun, but that face is all business. He has to report on almost a dozen handling characteristics after every ride.

Race Factor


Combining the enduro mountain bikes' up and downhill performance advantages on our enduro race courses, The Soul Grinder and The Scorpion, gives us a combined speed advantage. We like to think of this as a bike's race factor – how quickly, and efficiently, it will get you up the hill in order to win the race back down. See the results below.

See the combined up and downhill performance advantages for all the bikes above. The combined courses took 5:52 min:secs to complete.
See the combined up and downhill performance advantages for all the bikes above. The combined courses took 5:52 min:secs to complete.

Yeah, the Yeti SB5.5c is real fast. Dominating the up and downhill courses, it has a 12.1 second combined uphill and downhill advantage over the last place Pivot Mach 6 and has 6.3 seconds over the second place Santa Cruz Nomad. It rips. Fastest of the 27.5" bikes, the Santa Cruz is no slouch, holding a 5.9 second lead on the Pivot and keeping 4 seconds on the Ibis and 2.4 seconds on the Specialized. The Specialized's speedy climbing couldn't compensate for its slow descent scores. And the Ibis's lackluster downhill score definitely wasn't enough to pull it out of its sluggish climbing rut.

This graph shows combined up and downhill advantage each bike gains relative to the others in seconds per minute.
This graph shows combined up and downhill advantage each bike gains relative to the others in seconds per minute.

These time differences are substantive. Six seconds is quite a bit on a course that took an average of two minutes and 56 seconds to complete. If you expanded that time difference to a longer course, you could plan on the Yeti gaining an average of 4.2 seconds on the Pivot every minute. On an hour long course that would equate to a 4:12 min:sec lead. Not too shabby. See the relative second-per-minute gains in the chart below.

The best rear suspension award goes to the RockShox Monarch Plus in the VPP Suspension.
The best rear suspension award goes to the RockShox Monarch Plus in the VPP Suspension.

Build


We bought each bike's mid-priced, carbon frame complete bike and tested it as is, components intact. You can find more in-depth discussions of each bike's build in the individual reviews linked to the table at the top of the page.

The Santa Cruz's build ranks highest at a 9 of 10 for its considerate construction. It's combination of Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension and RockShox Monarch Plus shock is undisputedly the best rear suspension in the test. While its 160mm RockShox Pike RCT3 fork isn't as amazing, it works just fine. It has a chainguide, which we consider a must for aggressive enduro riding. Our one issue with this ride is an easy fix: switching out the odd front tire choice, a Minion DHR, which drifted in some corners.

Yeti's boosted 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork is the second best in the test.
Yeti's boosted 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork is the second best in the test.
We drop the Yeti down one point to an 8 due to a lacking chainguide and just enough brake rotors. The boosted axle spacing is awesome, a must for 29ers, contributing to an excellent performance by the 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork. The rear end's 140mm travel Infinity Switch suspension, and Fox Float X rear shock got the job done well, but was choppier than the Santa Cruz. The brakes were good but we'd like 203mm rotors to increase braking power.

We rank the Ibis right in the middle at a 5/10. The 110 mm boosted axle on the 160mm RockShox Pike RCT3 fork is the best in the test, but the 150mm travel DW-Link system should have come spec with the Fox Float X2 rear shock. The lack of a reservoir on the spec'd Fox Factory Float DPS offered a too-rough ride. The rear brakes were underpowered with a 160mm rotor.

The boosted 160mm RockShock Pike RCT3 fork was by far the best in the test.
The boosted 160mm RockShock Pike RCT3 fork was by far the best in the test.

The Pivot ranks a 3/10. The spec'd rotors were an out-of-date version that, due to design flaws, are susceptible to excessive noise. They are also one size down from those on the other bikes (except the Ibis, which could also use larger rotors). Then there are the inherent issues with the frame, an uncomfortably short reach, which creates an uncomfortable cockpit and puts too much pressure on the fork. There's also that bit of flex in the rear triangle. The weird feeling handlebars, bad front tire, flexing wheels and narrow rims compound the issues. Unimpressed.

A point lower, the Specialized scores a 2/10. We appreciate that it has a chain guide, like its dropper seat post lever and its brakes are okay. But its dropper post is only semi-functioning due to cable tension issues. We don't appreciate the ever-spongy rear suspension on the obscure Φhlins shock, and the 160mm RockShox Pike RC fork is a step down from every other fork in the test. Also, those tires are just ridiculous. While there are no issues inherent to the frame and the cockpit, the sheer number of bad components in combination with those scary bad tires force us to rank this bike last.

The odd fit on the Pivot had us way off the back all the way down.
The odd fit on the Pivot had us way off the back all the way down.

Cockpit and Fit


The Santa Cruz and Specialized have comfortable, cockpits that fit our normally medium riders well. The Specialized is less biased to the descents than the Santa Cruz. making it the best all around fit. The Yeti's is also comfortable, but it's on the large side. If you're in between sizes on this consider going down one. In contrast, the Ibis tends toward tight, so consider sizing up if you're on the line. We're tempted to say the Pivot runs small, but malformed may be more accurate. According to our measurements, it has the same effective top tube length as the Specialized Enduro, so sizing up might not help.

Here's a quick sizing and fit guide:
  • Santa Cruz Nomad — S (5'0"-5'5"), M (5'5"-5'10"), L (5'10"-6'2"), XL (6'2"-6'6")
  • Yeti SB5.5c — M (5'7"-5'11"), L (5'11"-6'3"), XL (6'3"-6'6")
  • Ibis Mojo HD3 — S (5'0"-5'5"), M (5'4"--5'9"), L (5'9"-6'2") , XL (6'0"-6'6")
  • Specialized Enduro Expert — S, M, L
  • Pivot Mach 6 — XS (4'11"-5'4"), S (5'4"-5'8"), M (5'7"-5'10), L (5'10"- 6'2"), XL (6'2"+)

Applications



Yeti SB5.5c – This is the bike for enduro race days, all-day mountain epics, far flung adventures and flow trail laps. This is the bike you'll love on mellow local trails that will always be big and bad enough to take on the nearest mountain or high desert destination.

Santa Cruz Nomad – This bike will get you uphill almost as fast as you want it to so you can go back down. This is your go-to for big technical, descents. You can race it, but we'd take the Yeti. This is also the bike we'd recommend to those newer to, or more timid about, downhill riding.

Ibis Mojo HD3 – The Ibis is a very versatile bike that can handle most terrain, though it's less fun on bigger descents, where its stability shutters away. If you don't live for speed and like moderately challenging trails with side features for days, this could be your ride.

Specialized Enduro Expert – This is a good race day bike, for a cross country trail. Spend some cash outfitting it with a fork and shock that can keep up with the other test bikes and it would be a different story.

Pivot Mach 6 – We would take any of the other bikes first, but this one would be a good all-around bike for more moderate trails if you can comfortably fit the reach.

Five of the top enduro mountain bikes in the world stand at attention  which are the best of the best?
Five of the top enduro mountain bikes in the world stand at attention, which are the best of the best?

Conclusion


Our testers have very different backgrounds but came to very similar conclusions. The Santa Cruz Nomad and the Yeti SB5.5c were undeniably superior enduro mountain bikes. The Santa Cruz for a gravity day and the Yeti to take you to the horizon and beyond. The Ibis Mojo HD3 was a solid third place, well liked by all but not able to crack the veneer on our winners. However, if you are a less aggressive rider who loves popping off every rock and roaring through turns, but are unlikely to hit the high speeds the Santa Cruz requires for playful action, the Ibis could be your bike. Particularly if you upgrade the rear suspension. But don't choose it just for its climbing abilities. As one tester said, "the Santa Cruz climbs just as well and it's more fun downhill, so why would you go with the Ibis?" The Specialized Enduro had a solid foundation but failed to bring it together in the build details. The Pivot Mach 6's cockpit was just wrong. These last two were a bit confused and left us the same.

Some of our bike models are our testers  others are consultants  mechanics or friends of the cause.
Some of our bike models are our testers, others are consultants, mechanics or friends of the cause.

The Testers


Four testers, one woman and three men, took these enduro mountain bikes on as many rides as our legs could take in two months. We analyzed how the bikes felt climbing, pedaling, descending, and cornering. We noted how our body positions and riding styles shifted amongst the different rides. We compared the bikes to each other, to our own bikes, to the dream bikes we've cobbled together in our minds. At the end of each day our brains were just as worked as our hamstrings.

The male riders were our benchmark time trial testers, due to concerns that the bikes would be a little large for the our female rider, affecting outcomes. She fit all the bikes nicely however, and we'll likely include women in future time trials. All four of us rode the flow and WTF laps, essentially quintangulating an opinion. (Read more about these in our How We Test article.

Tester Background


Our testers are extremely experienced current or previous racers – two uber aggressive enduro descenders, one all-mountain charger, and one excessively efficient, national-award-winning cross country guru who has a passion for big descents. It's important to get such a range of opinion because bikes made for the ups and downs of enduro racing also make solid all-mountain machines that can take the big hits. This diversity of opinion makes us super confident in our conclusions. While we varied somewhat in our opinions of the bottom tier bikes, every single one of us agreed on the incredible abilities of our two award winners. Here's a little insight into our riding lives:

Paul Tindal, Lead Tester


Paul Tindal grew up in Australia racing in triathlons and on road bikes. He quickly rose in the national ranks to become a high ranked junior before moving into the senior rankings. Shortly afterwards, he moved to South Lake Tahoe, and onto fat tires. He raced in the National Off Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) series, while road racing on the side as training. Several years ago he started racing in the California Enduro Series as a pro. This year he raced in the open class. Paul averages about 10 hours and 100 miles a week. He owns a Specialized S-works Crux, a Specialized S-works Enduro and a Specialized Crave 29er rigid.

Height and Weight: 5'10 and 170lbs, he prefers a medium frame from most manufacturers.

Sean Cronin, Collaborating Tester


Sean Cronin started racing BMX bikes at age six. He moved on to fat tires by high school, training in the early hours before class. He now lives in Lake Tahoe so he can take the long way to work when he feels like it, a 35-mile dirt commute. He also finds joy in passing roadies in baggy shorts and a helmet with a visor. He rides two to seven days a week, varying from quick climbs and quicker descents to epic 65-mile loops, linking world class downhills. Currently he rides a 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad C, which he considers an upgrade from his previous hardtail 29er.

Height and Weight: 5'10 and 150lbs, he prefers a medium frame from most manufacturers.

Curtis Smith, Collaborating Tester


"Cardio" Curtis Smith grew up working in a southern CA bike shop bike and now resides in South Lake Tahoe, CA with his wife and daughter. He's won the Sierra Cup Series and made the National podium in XC MTB, won the Pro Open class of the Sacramento Cyclocross Series, and races road Cat 2. He prefers singletrack, earning his turns on steep and challenging trails, and has racked up an impressive number of Strava KOMs. "Cardio" rides five days a week for 10 to 30 hours. He owns a Trek Emonda SLR, Trek Boone 9, and a Santa Cruz Bronson.

Height and Weight: 5'10 and 150lbs, he prefers a medium frame from most manufacturers.

Cat Keenan, Collaborating Tester


Cat Keenan is passionate about investing in high performance bikes to conquer more challenging terrain. While she enjoys the climb, and the satisfaction of cleaning a technical uphill line, she does it for the descent. Willing to work a little harder on the ups to feel more confident on the downs, she prefers nimble but solid bikes that can handle the technical rock gardens she likes to take at high speed. Cat rides four times a week for up to three and a half hours. Currently she rides a Giant Reign Advanced.

Height and Weight: 5'7 and 141lbs, she prefers a medium frame from most manufacturers.
Clark Tate, Paul Tindal, Sean Cronin, Curtis Smith
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