The Best Enduro Bikes of 2018
In search of an aggressive bike that retains respectable climbing skills? Welcome to our enduro mountain bike round-up. We have our fingers on the pulse of the bike industry to ensure our test bikes are the most intriguing and compelling options on the market. We push these bikes as hard as possible on a wide range of terrain to learn about the key ride characteristics. What these enduro mountain bikes lack in climbing abilities they aren't the swiftest climbers. They will get you up the hill with a little bit of patience and a touch of muscle. Once aimed downhill, these shred-sleds are in their element, offering stable and confident performance. If you live for steep and rough downhills, these bikes were made for you. Seeking a better balance between climbing and descending skills? Head over to our trail bike review to learn about those practical bicycles.
Best Quiver-Killer 1
Yeti SB5.5 X01 Eagle 2017
The Yeti SB5.5 is a well-rounded enduro bike. This bike has impressive climbing skills for such a capable descender. The Yeti makes its money when charging at high speed and the 160mm Fox 36 paired with a 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion DHF makes for a mean front end. The small bump compliance on the 5.5 is excellent. Motoring over choppy rocks and roots is confident and exceptionally quiet. When its time to grind uphill, this bike is efficient. The active rear suspension moves a bit under pedaling loads but offers a ton of traction to keep that rear tired glued. The Yeti is a true quiver killer capable of both all-day rides and the local enduro race. This is a practical daily driver for the rider who doesn't mind working a little harder on the climbs
Confident, fast, and supple descender
Solid climbing skills
Not overly plush on large impacts
Overkill for daily smooth trail rides
The front end is excellent, but the Yeti's the rear end isn't quite as supportive on big impacts as the rowdy Evil Insurgent and Santa Cruz Nomad. The Santa Cruz Hightower LT provides similar downhill skills as the Yeti but sacrifices some small bump feel for improved support and composure deeper in its travel.
Buy it if you want a capable bike that can charge rough descents while retaining solid climbing skills. The Yeti SB5.5 balances its performance well and could be a one bike quiver. If you like active suspension and traction while climbing, this is a great choice. Riders who love a firm pedal platform at the expense of traction might prefer the Hightower LT. The SB5.5 has multiple build kits with prices range from $4,999 to $8,199 in sizes M to XL.
Read review: Yeti SB5.5 2017
Best Quiver-Killer 2
Santa Cruz Hightower LT XE 2018
The Santa Cruz Hightower LT is another beautifully well-rounded enduro bike. It avoids ultra-slack angles or huge travel number. The result? A balanced bike that performs on every aspect of the trail. The Hightower LT is stable and predictable on enduro grade terrain. It remains composed and supportive deep in its stroke where some 150mm bikes blow through their travel. The firm pedal platform makes hammering out miles on steep or technical trails as pleasant as possible. Flat or rolling trails are still fun on the LT as handling is sharp and pedaling is more snappy than most enduro bikes.
Solid and reliable downhill skills
Less aggressive on super-gnar
Supportive on bigger hits, less supple in chop
While it's marketed as an EWS-worthy rig, this bike feels less like an enduro race bike and more like a long-legged all-mountain bike. Pinning it down the super-gnar requires more finesse and skills compared to some of the slacker and longer travel options. The XE build we tested offers a mixed bag of component quality for $5,699. The Shimano XT drivetrain, Shimano brakes, and the new Fox DPX2 rear shock are highlights. Terrible Novatec hubs are not. Despite the high price tag, the bike's high-quality frame and impressive capabilities make it a reasonable value.
Buy it if you love climbing as much as charging challenging descents. You'll have to make smarter line choices than you would on some full-blown enduro bikes but this bike is more than capable. If you like excellent small bump compliance and a point and shoot attitude, check out the Yeti SB5.5. Prices range from $3,949 to $8,099 in sizes S to XXL.
Read review: Hightower LT 2018
Santa Cruz Nomad R 2018
Excellent high-speed descending
Calm and plush suspension
Sluggish and tiring climbing
Not a good choice for a one bike quiver
The 2018 Santa Cruz Nomad V4 loves one thing and one thing only. High speeds and rowdy terrain. It forgoes swift and comfortable climbing skills in favor of slack angles and downhill domination. The Nomad's personality and handling skills improve dramatically when carrying a healthy dose of speed. A plush and calm rear end makes easy work of braking bumps, rocks, and roots. Bike park laps and truck shuttles are a strong suit of this obscenely confident shredder.
A little patience and whole lot of hard work will get you back to the top of your favorite downhill track. This hefty and long bicycle has a low slung feel and navigating technical pitches requires some attention. There is nothing fun or energy efficient about climbing this bike, but it gets the job done.
Buy it if you want unmatched downhill performance and don't mind drastically sacrificing climbing skills. If you want slightly improved climbing abilities at the expense of a small amount of top-end downhill performance, look to the Evil Insurgent. The Nomad is available in aluminum and two grades of carbon fiber. Prices range from $3,599 all the way to $8,199. The Nomad V4 is available in XS-S women's frame
Read review: Santa Cruz Nomad R 2018
Best High Speed Descender
Evil Insurgent X01 Eagle 2017
Wickedly fun on technical descents, the Evil Insurgent lives for high speed. Its handling improves exponentially with every increase in RPM. A dialed DELTA suspension system glides over rocky gnar, providing a quiet, grounded feel and plenty of traction. This bike's downhill prowess cannot be overstated. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't shake the Insurgent.
Outrageous high-speed descending skills
Listless climbing skills
Cumbersome at slow speeds
The Insurgent's long and low geometry is a lot to manage at modest speeds or when climbing. Slow speed handling and uphill skills suffer dearly as a result. This bike gets you to the top of the hill, but it certainly won't inspire day-long pedal missions.
Buy it if you like to go downhill fast and get a little sendy at the bike park. This is not a middle-of-the-road enduro mountain bike. It was made to go downhill. Everything else is a distraction. It's best for those that tend towards shuttling missions or are willing to work harder on the climbs for screaming downhill performance. Prices range from $4,699 to $6,199 in sizes S to XL.
Read review: Evil Insurgent 2017
Best Budget Enduro Bike
Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Essential
The Commencal Meta AM has a singletrack skillset that resembles that of the Evil Insurgent for almost half the price. Based on our First Look of the Insurgent, the Evil is a livelier and more dynamic descender than the Commencal. The straight lining Meta AM can take on the same terrain. It just displays a bit less personality while doing so, and its suspension is far less refined. The rear end is easy to trick. If you get too ambitious with multiple line choices, you'll overwhelm its composure and lock it up. While it settles into speed with increasing confidence, the Meta AM never quite gets playful. It keeps its head down. If you hold a steady line, the bike remains cool and calm in even the most rugged chutes.
Excellent downhill performance at speed
Impressive component specifications
Sluggish, slow speed handling
At slow speeds, the long and low bike is a sluggish handler. It's also one of the least inspired climbers we've ever lugged up a hill. If you sit down, relax, and seek some inner zen, you'll get to the top eventually.
Buy if you want impressive, high-speed downhill performance at a bargain. If you love a playful enduro ride, look to the Evil Insurgent or Santa Cruz Nomad. Less aggressive riders or those who place equal emphasis on climbing should refer to the two quiver-killers up top. Prices range from $2,449 to $5,199 in sizes S to L.
Read review: Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Essential
Best Budget 29er Enduro Bike
YT Capra 29 CF 2018
The YT Capra 29 is a relatively well-rounded enduro mountain bike. When the shock's climb switch is employed the Capra is a respectable climber. This bike can make its way up smooth climbs and doubletrack with relative ease. Just sit down, zone out, and you will crest that hill eventually. Technical and tight climbs can prove a bit more problematic. The long and low geometry causes pedal strikes and tight switchbacks can be tough.
Top-notch build value
Super-progressive suspension design can harsh on the descent
When aimed downhill, the Capra is a mixed bag. The geometry is aggressive and inspires riders to attack the trail. The ultra-progressive suspension design provides a harsh and jarring ride regardless of shock pressure/setup. This aggressive, long-travel bike, feels less travel than it does. Still, this bike is capable of riding down plenty of nasty terrain with composure.
Buy it if you want a wagon-wheeled enduro mountain bike that climbs okay and has excellent components. While the descending skills are harsh, there is no doubt that the Capra is capable. The wagon wheels mow down technical features and the geometry is spot-on. Just don't expect the downhill performance to be comfortable. The Capra is available in carbon fiber or aluminum in M-XXL with build kits ranging from $2,499 to $5,199.
Read Review:YT Capra 29 CF 2018
Is Enduro Right for You?
Enduro bikes are a solid option for those who place tremendous value on the descent. Riders who love rough and rowdy trails and deemphasize climbing abilities. Yes, these bikes will still get you to the top of the mountain, but downhill performance takes precedent. They are best suited to aggressive and confident riders. Some of these bikes need to be ridden very hard to come alive.
As the enduro category evolves, the bikes are getting better. They shred downhill harder than ever, and climbing abilities are steadily improving. These advancements resulted in a massive surge in the number of riders using these bikes as daily drivers. If they can climb kind of like a trail bike and descend twice as well, it seems like a no-brainer, right? The reality is these bikes are overkill on the majority of terrain.
Find the Enduro Mountain Bike for the Ride You Like
Enduro bikes range from beefed-up trail bikes to what used to be called mini-DH bikes. The type bike you want depends on the type of trails you ride most often. Here is an overview.
All-Day Adventures -or- Daily Local Rides with Big Mountain Strike Missions — Looking to work hard all day to get to the top of some nasty downhill lines? Spend weekdays on moderate local trails but split for big lines in the mountains every weekend? A bike that isn't too sluggish on climbs and mellow trails or too skittish to tackle big terrain is the holy grail. The two quiver-killers have are great choices. The Santa Cruz Hightower LT and Yeti SB5.5 both climb well enough for all-day rides. In addition, these bikes are both happy aimed down a dose of gnar.
Mellow Days or Smooth Flow Terrain — Enduro bikes are not the best choice for mellow terrain. The Santa Cruz Hightower LT and Yeti SB5.5 are the best options for this kind of terrain. Why? They are genetically most similar to trail bikes and have less travel. Too much squish can drown out the fun of mellow terrain.
Race Day — Enduro is a style of MTB race that has become extremely popular. These races feature multiple timed downhill stages. These timed downhill stages are added together to give you a final time. In between all of these timed downhill stages are transfer stages which are untimed climbs. There are a couple schools of thoughts on enduro race bikes. Some opt for super burly bikes for top-notch downhill performance. Others choose a slightly smaller bike that helps preserve energy on transfer stages and maximize pedal strokes on pedally downhill stages.
Downhill Laps — Just looking to slowly chug up fire roads, rip shuttle laps, or head to a bike park bang out laps? The Santa Cruz Nomad, Evil Insurgent and Commencal Meta AM are all excellent options to charge gravity-fed terrain.
Consumer direct manufactures sell their bikes directly to the consumer. They skip the middleman, or the bike shop, and can offer impressive prices. YT, Commencal, and Canyon are a few of the largest consumer direct brands and offer boast superb prices with high-quality components. It isn't a perfect system. It can be very beneficial to have a relationship with a local shop. Wheeling in a bike you purchased online into a bike shop isn't the best way to cultivate this relationship. Any shop can still work on your consumer direct bike but don't expect much in the way of complimentary service.
If you buy consumer direct, you will need to deal with any warranty issues directly with the manufacturer. As a result, it is beneficial to have some intermediate mechanical knowledge.
Women's Enduro Bikes
There are not many enduro bikes that are pitched as women's bikes. The Liv Hail, Juliana Roubion, and Juliana Strega are a few notable exceptions. The Hail has women's specific geometry. The Strega is a repainted Santa Cruz Nomad. Most Importantly, Juliana and Liv use a lighter shock tune to work better with lighter riders. This is very important to a comfortable and high-performing ride. In addition, they also feature women specific contact points such as saddles and grips. The majority of women ride unisex frames and swap out some critical parts.
Aside from the lighter shock tune, the most female-friendly action a bike manufacturer can take is providing bikes in smaller sizes. All of the bikes on this page come in a size small except for the Yeti SB5.5 which starts at a medium. Only the Santa Cruz Nomad — a.k.a. the Juliana Strega — come in an extra small.
The quality of the frame design is critical to on-trail performance. While nice components only enhance the ride, it is very important to have a solid frame design. Finding the right geometry and suspension design is far more important than having the best fork or brakes.
Be open-minded about frame material. Carbon fiber is a little lighter and significantly stiffer than aluminum. Aluminum is far more cost-effective and is much tougher when crashed. It is more important to find the right frame and not worry too much about the material.
Each bike has a suspension design that optimizes performance. The difficulty is for manufacturers to balance small bump compliance with support on bigger hits. In addition, bike companies have to figure out a way to tune the suspension to work under pedaling loads without bobbing or moving too much. In addition, there are a lot of patent/licensing constraints that manufacturers need to work around. Different designs vary drastically in appearance. Some are simple, some are complex.
- Fork and Rear Shock — Fork travel, damper and chassis size are important when considering a fork for your enduro bike. Travel numbers will be close or slightly more than your rear suspension number. Most enduro bikes somewhere between 150 to 170mm of travel. In terms of a burly and stiff chassis, the 35mm RockShox Pike, Lyrik, or Fox 36 are great choices. Look for a piggyback reservoir on the rear shock. This which lets the oil cool down enough to keep it from binding up on long descents. Volume spacers or volume bands are a way to fine tune your rear suspension. Adding more bands will make your suspension curve more progressive and increase "ramp up". Removing volume bands will make your suspension more linear. Coil shocks are an increasingly popular option. Coil shocks are better over small bumps but are inherently more linear. Sensitivity can be altered by running a stiffer or lighter coil. Being able to adjust high-speed and low-speed compression is nice, but this is reserved for very high-end products.
- Wheel Size — 29ers roll faster and monster-truck their way over obstacles. They carry speed well and are not easily disturbed by holes or roots in the trail 27.5-inch bikes are more playful, accelerate faster, and are quicker in the corners.
- Rim Width — Wider rims let you run wider tires and get more traction. Modern rims rarely have an internal width below 25mm. We recommend rims with a between 26 and 30+mm on a modern enduro mountain bike.
- Tires — Wide tires take advantage of wide rims to give your bike a wider footprint on the trail. The extra control and traction compensate for any additional weight or loss of rolling speed. We prefer tires between 2.4 and 2.6-inches wide for enduro bikes. The type of tires is even more important. Check out our tread-testing mountain bike tire review for more details.
- Drivetrain — Shimano and SRAM are the major players. Shifter feel, setup, and the clutch mechanism differ slightly between the two brands. You want a gear range that allows you to ascend without too much effort and too still crank out the speed on flat sections of trail and descents. Aim for at a 30-tooth chainring and at least a 42-tooth cog in the rear to give you a reasonable power range. The SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed is our reigning favorite for its price to performance ratio.
- Brakes — Bad can be downright dangerous. SRAM Guide R brakes are found on a lot of our test bikes. Shimano XTs are some of our favorites. Beware of Shimano Deore or SRAM Level brakes.
- Seatpost — Dropper posts are necessary. They make it easy to get the saddle out of shuffle your weight around. There was a time when they were only found on high-end models. Now they are standard fare. Here are our favorites.
Enduro bikes range from heavy-hitting gravity fiends to well-balanced all-mountain bikes. They may not be the most suitable options for newer riders as they require higher speeds and an aggressive pilot. If you are seeking an aggressive daily driver of an enduro mountain bike, we recommend the Yeti SB5.5 and Santa Cruz Hightower LT. If you are looking for a gravity-focused aggressive gnar-wagon, the Evil Insurgent and Santa Cruz Nomad. Stay tuned for to hear about the latest and greatest options.
— Pat Donahue
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