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The Best Enduro Mountain Bikes of 2018

Wednesday October 17, 2018
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We shredded the most intriguing enduro mountain bikes in the world. We purchased these compelling bicycles and rode them as hard we could on the nastiest trails in the region. We rode these bikes to learn as much as we could about the key ride characteristics and the critical subtleties. These burly bicycles like long, fast, and rough downhills. What they lack in climbing abilities, they make up for with pure capability. Bike park days, shuttle laps, big mountain riding, these bikes can do it all. If you place more of an emphasis on charging down rocky downhills, an enduro bike may the best option for you. If you require a better balance of uphill and downhill performance, make your way over to the trail bike review to learn about those beautifully balanced bicycles.


1

Best Quiver-Killer 27.5


Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon S 2019


Top Pick Award

$5,199.00
at Competitive Cyclist
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Wheel Size: 27.5 in | Rear Travel: 150mm
Excellent descending skills
Solid climbing abilities
Not a full-on enduro bike
Expensive

The all-new 2019 Santa Cruz Bronson is an excellent quiver killer for the aggressive rider. Climbing abilities remain impressive while downhill skills are excellent. The new lower-link shock mount improves small bump compliance compared to the previous iteration of the Bronson. This bike offers solid climbing abilities given how well it performs on the downhill. On the descent, this bike operates well at speed and is capable on rowdy terrain.

The Bronson is a fantastic one-bike quiver for the rider who doesn't feel the need to ride the absolute gnarliest terrain. This bicycle shreds almost any downhill but is a little limited on the rowdiest trails at the bike park. The Bronson is a solid choice for the rider who needs to climb to most of its downhills. The new suspension layout has its merits and

Buy it if you need an enduro bike that needs to climb well and prefer 27.5-inch wheels. This is not the most aggressive enduro bike, but it is definitely one of the most versatile.

2

Best Quiver-Killer 29


Santa Cruz Hightower LT XE 2018


Santa Cruz Hightower LT XE 2018
Editors' Choice Award

$5,699 List
List Price
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Wheel Size: 29 in | Rear Travel: 150mm
Solid and reliable downhill skills
Impressive climber
Less aggressive on super-gnar
Supportive on bigger hits, less supple in chop

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.

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 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. Prices range from $3,949 to $8,099 in sizes S to XXL.

Read review: Hightower LT 2018

3

Best Descender


Santa Cruz Nomad R 2018



$3,599 List
List Price
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Wheels: 27.5 in | Rear Travel: 170mm
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

4

Best High Speed Descender


Evil Insurgent X01 Eagle 2017



$6,199 List
List Price
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Wheels: 27.5 in | Rear Travel: 151mm
Outrageous high-speed descending skills
Hard-charging personality
Listless climbing skills
Cumbersome at slow speeds

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.

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

5

Best Budget Enduro Bike


Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Essential


Best Buy Award

$3,349 List
List Price
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Wheels: 27.5 in | Rear Travel: 160mm
Excellent downhill performance at speed
Impressive component specifications
Sluggish, slow speed handling
Uninspired climber

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.

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

6

Best Budget 29er Enduro Bike


YT Capra 29 CF 2018



$3,699 List
List Price
See It

Wheel Size: 29 in | Rear Travel: 160mm
Aggressive geometry
Top-notch build value
Super-progressive suspension design can harsh on the descent
Loud

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.

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

The YT Capra 29 is a capable enduro bike.
The YT Capra 29 is a capable enduro bike.

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.

Enduro bikes range from all-mountain slayers to descending machines. If neither fits your style  there are a lot of trail bike options that are nearly as burly and more versatile.
Enduro bikes range from all-mountain slayers to descending machines. If neither fits your style, there are a lot of trail bike options that are nearly as burly and more versatile.

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 — If you are looking to grind your way to the top of the downhills, a lighter enduro bike will be the best choice. The Santa Cruz Hightower and Santa Cruz Bronson are both great choices for this type of riding. These bikes will use less effort than some of the super-aggressive enduro bikes to get to the top of the hill while still providing very impressive downhill skills.


Mellow Days or Smooth Flow Terrain — Enduro bikes do not excell on mellow terrain. If you live in a place with smooth, flowing, trails on rolling terrain, a trail bike is likely a better option for you. If you still want an enduro bike for your trip to the mountains and can only have one bike, the Santa Cruz Bronson and Hightower LT are excellent choices. They are lively enough to still be fun on regular trails.

Race Day — Enduro racing hs exploded in popularity over the past several years. An enduro race features multiple downhill stages which are timed. You need to climb to get to the top of the timed downhill stages, these are called transfers. All of your timed downhill stages are added together and that gives you your final time. Some racers prefer burly enduro bikes for top-notch downhill performance while others opt for the quicker handling and superior pedaling of a quiver-killer enduro bike.


Bike Park/Downhill Laps — Heading to the bike park on weekends or just looking to slowly grind your way up fire roads to access your gravity-fed shenanigans? A pure, burly, enduro bike could be a stellar option. Bikes like the YT Capra 29, Santa Cruz Nomad, or Commencal Meta AM are great examples of bikes that can get you do the top of a climb, and then absolutely rip the descent. These bikes are also perfectly happy ripping around the bike park on the weekend.

Some assembly required.
Purchasing from a bike shop comes with ready made connections. You can also build them on your own.


Consumer Direct


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.

Megan Davin getting ready to ride the Juliana Strega.
Megan Davin getting ready to ride the Juliana Strega.

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.

A frame-complementing build is a thing of beauty. The 2017 Yeti SB5.5 X01 Eagle complete bike does this really well  for $7 199.
A frame-complementing build is a thing of beauty. The 2017 Yeti SB5.5 X01 Eagle complete bike does this really well, for $7,199.

Frame


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.

Commencal only makes aluminum bikes. We can't say the choice mattered much to us. We loved this bike's downhill performance.
Commencal only makes aluminum bikes. We can't say the choice mattered much to us. We loved this bike's downhill performance.

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.

A solid rear shock and fork make a big performance difference on a descent focused enduro.
A solid rear shock and fork make a big performance difference on a descent focused enduro.

Component Decisions

  • 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.

The 2.4-inch Maxxis High Roller II front tire on the Commencal Meta AM is less aggressive than we prefer.
In contrast  the 2.4-inch Maxxis Minion DHR II front and rear tires on the Santa Cruz Hightower LT hold tight to the trail.

  • 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 like a healthy dose of chatter.
Enduro bikes like a healthy dose of chatter.

Conclusion


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 Santa Cruz Bronson 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, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal