Long considered too big and cumbersome by the enduro and downhill markets, 29ers conquered the fast and steep this year in our testing.
Intense Sniper Trail Pro Build ($5,899)
Best For: Long rides
It used to be that if you wanted a bike fast and light enough to race, you had to sacrifice trail ability and handling. But this carbon 29er with 120 millimeters of front and rear travel epitomizes a new breed of “down-country” models that blend the snappiness of a cross-country rig with the confidence of a downhiller. The bottom bracket is lower and the head angle slacker (a surprising 66.5 degrees), yielding the planted feel of a bike with much longer travel. The addition of 780-millimeter riser handlebars, a dropper seatpost, and meaty but still quick 2.35-inch Maxxis Forekaster tires add to the go-anywhere feel, yet the Sniper Trail tips the scale at a feathery 24.6 pounds. (And the 100-millimeter version is almost two pounds lighter.) Time and again, testers expected the harsh, unmanageable ride of a race whip and came back impressed with how easily the bike rolled over big, nasty terrain.
GT Sensor Carbon Pro ($5,000)
Best For: Daily driving
After years of building full-suspension bikes around solid but convoluted shock designs, GT revamped its proven four-bar linkage to deliver the Sensor, one of the finest machines the company has ever crafted. It feels more assertive and adventurous, thanks in part to the slack front end and the combination of a stubby stem and 800-millimeter bars. Though its travel is hardly long by today’s standards, we were surprised by how hard we could push the bike around corners and through rock gardens. Our only niggle was with the spec, a mixed bag of smart picks (1x12 SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain, 29-inch Stan’s NoTubes Flow rims for a wide contact patch, and the reliable KS Lev Ci dropper) and slight misses (underpowered Level TL brakes and paper-thin Nobby Nic tires). Still, it’s great to see GT back with such a sturdy and nuanced trail bike.
YT Capra 29 CF Pro Race ($5,499)
Best For: Bike parks and downhill runs
Bikes like the Capra, which has a whopping 170 millimeters of travel mated with big hoops, played a large part in the 29er renaissance. This bike leveled the gnarliest trails we threw it down, with the large wheels skipping over obstacles and the fat, sticky E Thirteen LG1 tires clinging like flypaper. And YT’s direct-to-consumer model brings the cost of the top-shelf version—including Shimano XTR drivetrain, SRAM Code brakes, and carbon wheels, bars, and crank—to the level of most companies’ midgrade offerings. At 29.7 pounds, the Capra is hardly light and not exactly built for techy pedaling (the grippy tires gave the feel of plowing through molasses when pointed uphill), but it holds its own in the category. And when gravity kicked in, no other bike could keep pace.