Revel Rascal ($7,199)
For the past few seasons, companies have focused on producing long-travel bikes with ever slacker front ends: great for enduro racing, but often unwieldy for the average rider. This year saw the rise of short- and mid-travel trail bikes with frame geometry made for climbing efficiently and tackling any terrain on the way down. Sitting atop the heap is the Revel Rascal, a versatile 29er with 130 millimeters of rear suspension, a 140-millimeter fork, and geometry that places the rider in a neutral position for optimal handling. The high-end version we tested came with SRAM’s Eagle XX1 drivetrain and Enve carbon wheels. (Lower-cost builds with respectable components start at $5,000.) Raved one tester, the bike was “fun at any speed,” with a Canfield Balance Formula suspension platform that uses pivot and linkage placement to keep pedaling and braking from affecting rear travel. This yielded incredible traction and the feeling of gliding over rough terrain rather than bouncing from one impact to the next. The Rascal was especially agile through corners and on choppy trails, making it a blast pretty much everywhere.
Juliana Joplin ($8,199)
Best for Women
The women-specific Juliana Joplin and its unisex sibling, the Santa Cruz Tallboy, are hard to categorize. The slack 65.7-degree head angle and long reach would have been cutting-edge on last season’s enduro bikes, but the 120 millimeters of rear suspension paired with a 130-millimeter fork place it in the short-travel trail-bike category. Where the rubber meets the dirt, this translates into a bike that devours technical climbs but feels like a mini downhill machine on steep descents. When terrain turns rowdy, the long, slack front end encourages riders to speed down the trail and take bonus lines, though it’s easy to run out of suspension. Testers frequently had to rein in the Joplin, remembering that the geometry outpaces the short travel. But that didn’t stop them from grinning ear to ear.
Trek Supercaliber 9.8 ($5,900)
The light and fast Supercaliber is a purebred cross-country racing steed. It’s also surprisingly fun, and more capable on technical terrain than it should be. Credit goes to Trek’s clever IsoStrut rear suspension, which is lightweight and integrated into the bike’s top tube, helping to give the bike its clean lines. Despite only 60 millimeters of rear travel, it does a commendable job of absorbing trail impact and providing additional traction during out-of-the-saddle efforts. Testers preferred its pedaling performance to the high-tech (and expensive) electronic Fox Live Valve that other brands use on their cross-country bikes. We also appreciated that the IsoStrut system let us carry two water bottles on the main frame. If you have podium ambitions, or you appreciate the simplicity of a hardtail but need a little extra give, the Supercaliber is for you.
Guerrilla Gravity Smash ($6,195)
Guerrilla Gravity is no ordinary brand—it builds its frames in Denver—and the Smash is no ordinary bike. The aggressive 29er sports 145 millimeters of rear travel and a 150-millimeter fork. An optional accessory kit ($1,520) lets you swap out the fork, shock, and seatstay to transform the Smash into a 120-millimeter trail bike. (This short-travel iteration, known as the Trail Pistol, is also available by itself, with a conversion kit for transforming into the Smash.) The dialed geometry makes it nimble in the air and forgiving when landings are poorly placed. The frame features Guerrilla’s unique headset that lets riders adjust the frame’s reach and wheelbase by ten millimeters to favor either agility or stability. The fact that riders can invest in one frame platform to suit multiple riding styles made the Smash a hit with testers.
Specialized Turbo Kenevo Expert ($8,225)
E-bikes have evolved and worked their way into every segment of the cycling market, including mountain bikes that border on downhill rigs. Sure, e-MTBs have their naysayers, but we think there’s a lot to be said for relying on yourself (along with a battery-powered assist) rather than a chairlift or vehicle to earn your turns. Boasting 180 millimeters of front and rear suspension and a 250-watt motor, the Turbo Kenevo Expert is capable of a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour. It’s essentially a downhill bike that gives you the ability to swiftly pedal back up to the top of the trail. Specialized did an excellent job of keeping the weight centered and low. As a result, testers found that despite the extra heft from the motor and battery, the Kenevo was still playful and nimble during high-speed descents.