Niner Rip 9 RDO Bike
The sculpted carbon tubing, the color-matched fork, and the blinged-out red hardware accents—every detail on this 5.1-inch trail bike screams quality. You feel it in the ride, too. The Fox CTD shock provides killer traction and a surprisingly firm platform when climbing and a totally secure feel bombing even the chunkiest rock gardens. Niner, as its name implies, is one of the longest-running purveyors of 29-inch wheels, and the Rip 9 RDO is extremely well balanced and stable but also nimble and quick. The new SRAM XX1 drivetrain, which eliminates the front derailleur by putting 11 cogs out back (including an über-easy 42-tooth ring), is a brilliant simplification. “Plush. Sweet. Awesome. Beauty. Ultimate heaven,” one tester gushed. And he wasn’t exaggerating. 26.4 lbs.
Rocky Mountain Altitude 750 MSL Bike
BEST FOR: Romping through the bike park.
THE TEST: Throughout our test, we liked the 650B wheel size best on all-mountain carbon-fiber bikes like the 5.9-inch Altitude: you get the rollover benefits of 29s but not the clumsiness. “It’s playful and jumpable like a 26er but so much more stable,” wrote one tester. The Altitude has a short cockpit and upright riding position, which translated to steady trail manners on descents, but it still managed to shimmy uphill fine, though the front end tended to wander a little.
THE VERDICT: It’s not as assertive as the Norco, but if you’re after an amusing all-mountain ride, the Altitude is worth a look. 28 lbs.
GT Zaskar 9R Elite Bike
BEST FOR: Cheap thrills.
THE TEST: We took to calling this the Captain America for its bold, fun-loving looks. For such an affordable bike, this aluminum hardtail 29er rode heroically, too. It diced up tight singletrack and smoked bikes twice as expensive. The RockShox Recon fork is jouncier and less adjustable than the company’s top offerings, but testers loved the bar-mount lockout control. The fast, low-profile Maxxis Aspen tires were the perfect choice for such a quick steed; it’s always nice to get quality parts like those—and a Crank Brothers seatpost and Formula RX brakes—at this price.
THE VERDICT: Best bike for the money. 25.7 lbs.
Scott Genius 910 Bike
BEST FOR: Aggressive racers.
THE TEST: The 910 is as light and snappy as most cross-country rigs, but with 5.1 inches of travel and a fairly slack 69-degree head angle, it’s more capable than the average race bike. We threw this 29er down babyhead-choked gullies, and it surfed them like an enduro bike. Scott’s TwinLoc lever—it adjusts the fork, shock, and bottom-bracket height from full lockout to 3.5-inch climbing mode to fully open with the push of a single button—is, um, genius. And though testers found the DT Swiss shock more firm than plush, they appreciated the climbing efficiency.
THE VERDICT: A hyperefficient trail bike. 27 lbs.
Open Cycle Hardtail 0-1.0 Bike
BEST FOR: World Cup racers and wannabes.
THE TEST: Open is a startup from Gerard Vroomen, cofounder of Cervélo, and there are plenty of nods to his past, including surgically sculpted carbon wire-thin seatstays and full internal cable routing. But the only detail that matters is how fast this thing goes. “Twitch your right toe and you shoot forward,” remarked one tester. Credit, in part, the Enve wheels, which are some of the lightest we’ve ever ridden, though the Schwalbe tubular tires (yes, on a mountain bike) are practical only for racing.
THE VERDICT: It’s no soft ride, but that’s not the point here—winning is. 18.2 lbs.
Surly Krampus Bike
BEST FOR: Midfat biking.
THE TEST: We love the flotation and grip of fat bikes but not the attendant equipment trade-offs like special-size hubs and added weight. This steel hardtail’s “midsize” three-inch tires, which are built around standard 29-inch wheels, are the perfect balance: super grabby, but still fast on moderate climbs. A few testers wanted more gears—there’s just a single chainring up front (a necessity to accommodate the bigger tires)—but subbing in something smaller than the 34-tooth ring is an easy fix.
THE VERDICT: “All the high-tech stuff we tried,” one tester concluded, “and I like this simple bike the best.” 29.3 lbs.
Norco Range Killer B2 Bike
BEST FOR: Burly descents.
THE TEST: We took the aluminum Range to the ledgy slickrock trails of Sedona, Arizona, and not only did it win over all comers to Norco bikes, it sold us on 650Bs. “I didn’t want to like a new wheel size,” groused one reviewer, “but it is hands-down better than either 26 or 29 for enduro-style riding.” Thanks to a slack 66.5-degree headtube and 6.3 seemingly bottomless inches of travel, it floated over stairstepping drops and, on higher speed descents, flattened chunder like a sledge.
THE VERDICT: It’s a phenomenal deal, especially with a Fox Talas 34 fork and a
Float CTD shock. 31 lbs.