An amazing thing happened in the last 12 months: mid-fat bikes—and specifically 27.5+—went mainstream. At Interbike in 2014, there was only one entry in the category, the Rocky Sherpa, and that didn’t even go to production until late last spring. Now, almost every manufacturer on the floor had one to offer, and tire and fork manufacturers were pushing the trend almost as hard. Of course, there were plenty of great new 29ers, 29+, and fat bikes, too. But the buzz at the moment definitely centers around 27.5 and its oversize offshoot.
Salsa Pony Rustler ($5,500)
The Minneapolis-based, QBP flagship bike brand proved last year, with its Gear of the Year-wining Bucksaw, that it can make incredibly light and lively full-suspension fat bikes using its licensed Split Pivot design. So we have great expectations for this 120-millimeter carbon trail bike with 27.5+ wheels. Three models will be available, and as usual with Salsa, the builds and specs offer high value: the Carbon X01 and Carbon GX1, for $5,500 and $4,500 respectively, and the alloy GX 2x10 for $3,500. The top spec, pictured here, gets the SRAM 1x11 drivetrain, a RockShox RT3 shock, 130-millimeter Pike fork, new WTB Bridger tires, and a dropper post—all of which signal the bike's aggressive, trail intentions.
BMC TeamElite 01 ($10,600)
Race bikes may be a thin segment of the market, but they're still important. Like Trek with its new Procaliber, Swiss manufacturer BMC is pushing the category with a new micro-travel design*. Using a damper system built into the seatstay-seattube junction, the bike provides 15-millimeters of damping that BMC says adds compliance without affecting frame stiffness or pedaling efficiency. There are three interchangeable bumpers constructed of varying durometer rubber to tune the stiffness of the rear end based on racer weight and riding style. The system runs on two sliders, like tiny fork stanchions, built inside the frame, which give the system structure and integrity. The bike will come in three builds, from a World Cup-ready Di2 setup for an eye-watering $10,600 price tag, down to an XT model for $4,600, as well as a frameset for $3,600.
Alchemy Arktos ($3,750 for frameset)
This boutique manufacturer out of Denver built its reputation on absolutely exquisite hand-built, custom carbon road bikes (like last year’s Helios), and now they’ve jumped into the mountain bike market in a big way with the 150-millimeter 27.5 Arktos. At the heart of the bike is a new suspension by David Earle, who designed the Switch link technology, popularized—then abandoned—by Yeti with its excellent SB66 and SB95 models. That platform was one of our favorites when it released, though limited by Santa Cruz’s VPP patents, so we’re thrilled to see what the new setup brings. According to Alchemy, Sine accomplishes what Switch was able to—and more—using fewer moving parts*. At $3,750 for the frameset, the Arktos is an expensive proposition, but Alchemy points out that’s only $250 more than a Specialized S-Works Enduro or Yeti SB6c. And while it’s not custom, the bike gets the same high-end build process and hand finishing as the company’s road machines, as well as two-hue paint options from a 15-color palette.
Heller Bloodhound ($2,200)
The country’s largest cycling distributor, QBP, has been a huge proponent of fat tires with its Surly and Salsa brands, and now it's launched a new brand, Heller, dedicated to building high-quality fatties. The company debuted with just one model, the Bloodhound, a carbon hardtail with 4.5-inch tires and middle-of-the-road geometry (68.5-degree head tube angle and somewhat long chainstays at 445 millimeters) that’s available in just three sizes. There are two builds, a rigid for $2,200 and a suspension-corrected version with RockShox Bluto for $2,600, both with 2x10 drivetrains.
Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned Plus ($8,000)
Scott led the 27.5 charge when it debuted the Genius with the midsize wheels in 2012, and it's continued to offer the model in excellent 29er versions. This year, the company expands the Genius range with three 27.5+ models, as well as three 27.5+ versions of the long-travel LT. The latter is a full-fledged enduro machine, with head tube angle between 65.8 and 66.3 depending on the settings, and 160 millimeters of travel front and rear, including a meaty Fox 36 fork. The bike has Scott’s excellent TwinLoc mechanism, which controls both front and rear suspension from a single, bar-mount lever. And it’s spec’d with 40-millimeter-wide Syncros rims mated to 2.8-inch Nobby Nic tires, a width that Scott says offers the optimal blend of weight and traction based on extensive testing by Schwalbe.
GT Force X Carbon ($5,420)
GT debuted this 150-millimeter 27.5 all-mountain machine last year, but the anemic suspension options and middling spec choices didn't pique our interest. This year, the bike is back with burlier parts (and awesome new colorways), and we think it’s finally ready for the U.S. market. With a Fox Float X piggyback shock and a 160-millimeter RockShox Pike fork, the Force X is built for some serious banging. The head tube is pretty slack at 66.7 degrees, the bottom bracket is low at 352 millimeters, and both models have dropper posts for better high-speed descending. There’s a full bling Pro model, but we love the look and finish of the second-tier Expert (pictured here), which goes for $5,420.
*This article has been updated to clarify how the technology works.