by Wil Barrett
March 17, 2017
Rewind to Issue #110 of Singletrack Magazine, for our Big Names Trail Bike Group Test.
Travel to any popular trail centre in the UK and have a gander at all of the different bikes whizzing around the trails. While your wandering eyes may be drawn to the pretty Santa Cruz, Intense and Yeti frames being loaded onto the roof racks of European sports-wagons, try to look past the colourful bling distracting you, and take note of which brands you see more than once.
Start to identify some patterns? I thought so. Because once you start paying attention, there’s a very good chance that over half of the bikes being wheeled around the car park belong to less than half a dozen brands. Big, well-known brands.
Of course, we may all like to lust after the exotic. The unusual. The rare. The left-of-centre. The exorbitantly expensive. We certainly do here at Singletrack Towers. Mind you, it is our job, so I don’t really need to pretend otherwise.
But, while we all love reading stories about boutique custom builds and artisanal hand-crafted frames, the reality is that when it comes time for a new bike purchase, chances are that all of us (brand loyalists aside) will be seriously considering options from those bigger names.
During some recent trail centre missions, we conducted our own audit of the different bikes we could spot. Whether it was on the trail, in the car park, or leaning up against the walls of the visitor centre cafe, we discovered that there were three brands represented in greater numbers than any of the others. Those three big names? Giant, Specialized and Trek.
For this test, we chose some of the most popular mountain bikes currently available in the UK. We spoke with Giant, Specialized, and Trek in order to find out what their bestselling full suspension trail bikes were. Not necessarily the lightest, longest travel, or most expensive models, but the most popular. The sort of bikes that you’d regularly see down at your local trail head, or hovering around the start line at a mountain bike event.
There are a few reasons why these particular models are some of the most sought-after by British mountain bikers. For a start, they’re widely available, with established global dealer networks that mean you’ve got a very good chance of seeing them on a showroom floor wherever you are in the country. And while the direct-to-consumer brands are enjoying rising popularity in today’s market, the reassurance of buying from a local shop is still a highly important factor in the purchasing process for many riders.
Given that these models come from three of the biggest bicycle brands in the world, they’re also built for mass appeal – both in a performance and in a monetary sense. All of our test bikes hover between the £3-3.5k mark and feature full suspension designs with 110–130mm of travel.
They’re neither full-blown cross-country race bikes, nor radical long-travel all-mountain rigs. Instead, they occupy that hazy space that lies somewhere between the two. They’re designed to be light and efficient enough for pedalling up the climbs, and equipped with sufficient suspension travel to handle the vast majority of technical riding you’d come across at the average trail centre.
With these three bikes taking up a considerable slice of the British mountain biking pie, we wanted to pitch them against each other to see just what each brand is bringing to the table for 2017.
Do big brands get you big performance and big value? Well, let’s find out eh?
2017 Giant Anthem 1
- Price: £3449
- From: Giant Bicycles,
As the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, it doesn’t get much bigger than Giant. And as far as popularity goes, it doesn’t get much more popular than the Anthem. It’s like the Costa Coffee of the bike world. The Anthem was first introduced in 2006, and has since become a stalwart of the racing scene.
There have been changes to both travel and wheel size over the years, but the Anthem has ultimately retained its focus on sharp handling and efficient pedalling. For 2017 though, the Anthem gets its biggest redesign yet. Showing a substantial… Read more here.
2017 Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29
- Price: £3200
- From: Specialized,
Thanks to the longstanding success of the Specialized Epic and Stumpjumper, the younger Camber model is a bike that often flies under the radar. But it really shouldn’t. With carbon and alloy frame options, 27.5in or 29in wheels, the Camber is the people’s trail bike.
“It’s for the riders who aren’t so turned on by the overtly hardline intentions of the Epic FSR race bike, and for those who consider the 150mm travel Stumpjumper to be too much bike. Because despite what the marketers tell you, there is indeed such a thing. Redesigned for the 2016 model year, the latest Camber frame carries through to 2017, albeit without…” Read more here.
2017 Trek Fuel EX 9 29
- Price: £3200
- From: Trek Bikes,
Originally launched in 2005, the Fuel EX first emerged as a more practical version of the Top Fuel race bike, with 100mm of front & rear suspension and an upright riding position. In recent years however, the Fuel EX has grown longer and musclier legs.Just like the Specialized Camber, the Fuel EX has slowly gravitated away from its XC roots, adopting modern technologies and drawing from the bigger travel Remedy to produce a more technically competent trail bike.
For 2017, the Fuel EX has been redesigned yet again. The new version is equipped with 130mm of travel front and rear, along with beefier tubing and slacker geometry. It’s available in… Read more here.
While I arrived at the start of this test with some preconceptions, I found out that there are plenty of reasons why these three bikes are some of the most popular in the UK. They’re all built to very high standards, they ride well, and they represent excellent value for money. When compared with their boutique brethren, each bike is proof that paying more doesn’t necessarily equal more performance.
Despite being the result of mass production, don’t assume that any of these bikes are lacking in the quality department. Far from it. In fact, you could argue that you’re looking at three bikes here with more R&D investment behind them than most other bikes on the market. And while they may not be as exotic as some brands out there, there is surely something reassuring about a bike that has been manufactured in the tens of thousands, rather than in the tens.
Of course being mass-produced items, you won’t find any radical genre-busting geometry going on, and there’s a distinct lack of whacky suspension designs too. But for the vast majority of riders out there, that’s actually a good thing.
And as to which bike will suit you?
Don’t just consider where your riding is at now, but where it may be in six or twelve months’ time. Do you want a race bike? Or do you want a rock-plough machine? Perhaps you’ve got a list of epic rides you want to tick off the list? And, as always, make sure you do your research on sizing, because modern geometry and cockpits are continuing to evolve. As we found through our testing, assuming you fit the standard ‘Small, Medium or Large’ based on your height alone isn’t always going to be the right solution.
Whichever way you go, it’s likely you’ll be in safe hands with any big name option. Because when it comes down to it, the three test bikes here are kind of like the trail centres of the bike world. They’re popular, they’re built well, and they’re accessible to a wide range of riders.
Want to read more about our experience with each bike? Then head to the Reviews section of the website for all of our current bike tests. Or if you want to get your hands on a digital or print copy of Issue #110, then head to the online shop to get yours now!