Issue 144 Bike Test: WTF is a Trail Bike?

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Benji and the team set out to stick to the trail, without veering off into the enduro or cross-country.

Words: Benji, Photography: Amanda

We can’t remember when the term ‘trail bike’ came into being. It feels like it kind of snuck into the conversation sometime around the surge of enduro into the mountain biking mainstream. Like most bike niche names it’s annoying, but also useful.

A trail bike is almost defined by what it is not, as opposed to what it is. It’s not a weight-focused cross-country bike. It’s not a stopwatch-checking enduro bike. It could be argued that a trail bike is no longer ‘allowed’ to be a hardtail. A trail bike has got to consciously have no wilful restrictions about what sort of riding it gets up to. A trail bike has got to have suspension at the back and a healthy amount of travel up front. We’d say we’re now at the point in the evolution of mountain biking that the minimum amount of fork travel that can be truly classed as un-compromised is 140mm (maybe a very good 130mm fork).

With that in mind, here we have three mountain bikes that fall within the suspension bracket: 140–160mm forks, 125–150mm rear travel. Kitted out with realistic finishing kit. Nothing OTT in terms of needless bulk nor limiting weight weenieism.

In alphabetical order then, first up is the Canyon Spectral 125 CF 8, from Canyon’s totally new model range. Seriously modest amounts of travel (140mm/125mm) paired to eyebrow-raising progressive geometry. Next up is the Pace RC295. We’ve been waiting a long time to have a go on this unique looking 135mm travel (150mm fork) mountain bike from one of the most storied Brit bike brands of all time. Rounding off our trail bike trio is something of an obvious choice. It’s a Stumpy. But not just any old Stumpy. This is the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Alloy. It’s a benchmark bike. It’s indicative of where we’re at with trail bikes.


Are we any closer to defining what a trail bike is in the Year of our Lord 2022? We think we might be.

A trail bike has to be capable. Capable on any type of terrain it is likely to encounter. And, crucially, it has to be enjoyable on any type of terrain. A trail bike is not a cross-country bike. Cross-country bikes aren’t capable on bike park or enduro track insania. A trail bike is not an enduro bike. Enduro bikes are not enjoyable on mild moorlands.

Of the three bikes we tested, the different amounts of rear suspension travel did have an impact on the ride experience but it was not the governing factor. How each bike’s suspension was dished out, regardless of amount, was key.

The Canyon Spectral 125 turned out not to be a trail bike even though its travel numbers would put it there or thereabouts. The Spectral 125 is a… dunno. It’s a delicious oddball. It’s a ragging playbike for off-road BMXers.

The Pace RC295 was unashamedly MOReish (Middle of the Off-Road) and makes for a great dance partner for the more balletic bikers. It was a better bike than we ever thought it would be and it’s great to see the Pace marque on such a modern machine.

The Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Alloy was the excellent every(wo)man. It’s not a compromised Jack of all trades. It’s more like a renaissance ripper that is pretty genius at everything. Easy to set up, easy to ride, easy to trust, easy to live with.

The crazy Canyon was firm AF. The purring Pace was an elegant absorber. The stunning Stumpjumper was Artificial Intelligence aceness.

Review Info

Brand: N/A
Product: N/A
From: N/A
Price: N/A
Tested: by Benji for 2 months

Orange Switch 6er. Stif Squatcher. Schwalbe Magic Mary Purple Addix front. Maxxis DHR II 3C MaxxTerra rear. Coil fan. Ebikes are not evil. I have been a writer for nigh on 20 years, a photographer for 25 years and a mountain biker for 30 years. I have written countless magazine and website features and route guides for the UK mountain bike press, most notably for the esteemed and highly regarded Singletrackworld. Although I am a Lancastrian, I freely admit that West Yorkshire is my favourite place to ride. Rarely a week goes by without me riding and exploring the South Pennines.

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Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Issue 144 Bike Test: WTF is a Trail Bike?
  • eddiebaby
    Free Member

    Stumpy Evo Alloy was the best bike (for me) that I’ve ever ridden.
    I just gelled with it and never had a bad ride on it. (3 sadly as it wasn’t mine).

    Full Member

    @Benji – which 130mm forks do you regard as very good?

    Full Member

    I think you may have the wrong Benji, @mwab65.

    But there was a first-look at the Ohlins 130mm fork a while back which sounded fairly glowing:

    Öhlins RXF 34 M.2 130mm fork: first ride review

    (Sadly the price of it might make your bank account glow too from the friction as all those pounds and pennies fly out of it)

    Full Member

    Thanks for the link.

    Free Member

    What bikes are on test?

    Full Member

    So, after reading this article again. What is the point of a trail bike?

    They’re not the best at:
    – Easy cc (best bike would be a short travel xc bike)
    – Long distance off-road gravel routes (gravel bike would be king here)
    – Long distance MTB routes like marathon racing (xc or down country bike would be ideal for this)
    – Steep and or technical trails (enduro or downhill bike would be better here. Or even a LLS hardtail)
    – Winter muddy rides (can’t see past a rigid bike or even a singlespeed for proper winter filth)

    So what’s left.
    – Trail centres

    Unless of course you only have enough room for one bike.

    When riding a trail bike you’ll never be on the right bike really as someone else will be riding a slightly lighter or more capable bike than you.

    I sold my Orange 5 because of the above and spent the last 5 years buying bikes that do rather well at their specific discipline.

    Trail bikes, jack of all trades but master of none.

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)

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