Juliana | Wilder X01 AXS TR Carbon CC
$9,450 // 23.7 LB (Small)
Purpose-built for the XC rider who has outgrown 100mm-travel bikes, the Juliana Wilder can take on more challenging trails, bigger features, and wilder terrain. At just under 24 pounds—in a size small—and with 115mm-travel in the rear, it’s an XC bike that is just as capable as many heavier-weight trail bikes.
Juliana sweats the details in the frame geometry. By incorporating chainstay lengths specific to each frame size, the brand delivers on the Wilder’s intentions of a snappy, fun ride. You’ll find this bike easy to flick between roots and rocks of any size. This bike begs you to let your hair down and rip the party lines.
The Wilder still responds with urgency when you want to be the first woman on the singletrack after the spicy gravel climb. The X01 Eagle AXS Shifting and 12-speed, 10-50 tooth cassette lend you the smoothness and grace you might be lacking once your heart rate gets pinned in pitch or battle. Once you crest the summit, drop the butter-smooth, RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post and let the Wilder wile out.
Beyond the Wilder’s ride quality, the bike is loaded with nice details. A tiny chainguide offers that little bit of extra security. Cable routing is fully internal, giving the bike a sleek, almost spacecraft-like majesty. The pairing of Industry Nine Hubs and Reserve 28H Carbon Rims is a great choice for climbing efficiency, lifespan, and reliable engagement. Parts of the frame most vulnerable to chain slap and trail spew are protected with a molded rubber coating.—Taylor Kuyk-White
Rocky Mountain | Element Carbon 90
$9,590 // 24.6 LB (Medium)
The new Rocky Mountain Element sheds the “race” from its cross-
country race bike roots and becomes a better bike in the process. For most of us, a World Cup–level race bike doesn’t make a ton of sense, but until very recently it’s been the only option for riders who like to ride fast uphill as well as down. The Element does nearly everything a race bike can do, and a whole lot more.
With its relatively low weight, trail-oriented geometry, and ample suspension travel, it’s capable on even the most technical East Coast rock-crawl-
style trails. But if you primarily ride or race mostly smooth, flowy trails without a lot of elevation change, the Element’s 120mm of rear wheel travel and 130mm fork might actually be too much bike.
The Element excelled on more rugged terrain. The combination of
the reworked suspension design, shock tune, and low weight felt incredibly efficient under hard pedaling, even with the suspension fully open. This combination shined brightest on technical climbs, where the Element tracked the ground well without ever feeling like it was wallowing in its mid-stroke.
For riders looking to ride a bit of everything, from technical climbs to steep and fast descents, who have no interest in dragging around a 30-plus-pound trail bike but find XC race bikes to be too limiting, the Element strikes the balance perfectly.
⚡ Yeti | 160E T1
$13,000 // 50.8 LB (Medium)
Yes, it has a motor, but to classify Yeti’s first e-bike as anything other than an enduro race bike is foolish. It rides like it was made to take the shortest, fastest line through every bit of terrain you can imagine; it unpuckers the pucker lines. Yeti’s new, and e-bike-specific, six-bar rear suspension is just short of a revelation, offering traction, support, control, and efficiency that’s close to a new benchmark for mountain bike suspension. But take heed: If you’re not going to pin it 100 percent of the time, you may be better off with bikes more suited to all-around riding. Yeti’s crew made the 160E for e-bike racing, and the ride experience leaves little doubt that they achieved their goal.
Specialized | Stumpjumper Evo Pro
$8,600 // 30.3 LB (S3)
Specialized | Stumpjumper Evo Elite Alloy
$5,800 // 33.4 LB (S3)
Here we have two Specialized Stumpjumper Evos with the same Fox Factory suspension (150mm rear, 160mm front), same tires, same geometry, and same features (1x12 drivetrain, SRAM Code brakes, internal frame storage, adjustable geometry, optional link to correct suspension and geometry when running a 27.5 rear wheel). The $2,800 price difference mainly comes down to materials: one using a carbon frame (with carbon rims and carbon handlebar) and the other being aluminum-framed (with aluminum rims and aluminum handlebar). They are both superb mountain bikes. As Specializeds, they don’t exude the ephemeral zest of a boutique brand, which means something to some riders. But they lack for nothing on the trail. They are two of the most well-rounded mid-travel trail bikes you can buy right now. Uphill, downhill, flow trails, tech trails, high speeds, low speeds—they are the definition of balanced performance.
But which one should you buy? The aluminum bike is the smarter purchase. If dropping $8,600 on a mountain bike is no big deal, then get the carbon bike. But for many, spending $5,800 on a mountain bike is rough enough. After riding both bikes back-to-back, we don’t think there’s enough difference in the way they feel or perform to make the carbon bike worth the additional money.
What it really comes down to is bike weight and how much it means to you. The carbon bike is not quite 10 percent lighter—30.3 pounds for the carbon and 33.4 for the aluminum. If you climb a lot—and especially if your climbs are steep—climbing is easier and faster on a lighter bike. A rider on a 10-mile-long climb with a 10 percent grade, and holding 200 watts of power, will get to the top about two minutes quicker on the lighter bike. Is a handful of minutes on every long, tough climb worth $2,800 to you? If it is, there’s your decision.
As for us, we’re not buying a 30-plus-pound 150mm bike with uphill PRs in mind. If there had been a significant difference in the way the two bikes handled or performed, we might be swayed. But there wasn’t. There was only a slight difference in the reactivity between the bikes. Not surprisingly, the lighter carbon bike changed direction a tiny bit easier and popped a little more on hits. But it wasn’t a $2,800 difference. Note, however, that a three-pound difference might be more significant to smaller or less powerful riders.
We don’t want the performance of both these bikes to get buried in this comparison. Both of these Stumpjumper Evos are superb bikes—almost annoyingly good. Specialized packed a lot of features and adjustability into a clean-looking bike. The Stumpy’s FSR rear suspension is about a gazillion years old, but on the Evo it realizes its potential to be one of the best, most well-
rounded—meaning climbing performance, bump control, sensitivity, support, braking traction, climbing traction, pedal kickback—systems found on a modern mountain bike. The geometry and handling meet the needs of today’s riders and trails but remain accessible to less-skilled riders. It’s hard to imagine a rider in the market for a trail bike who wouldn’t be well served by the Stumpy Evo.
Santa Cruz | Chameleon D AL
$2,400 // 32.5 LB (Large)
Aluminum hardtails are the unsung heroes of mountain biking. Often passed over for flashier carbon-fiber rigs or complex full-suspension designs, a good aluminum hardtail remains a great option for lots of riders hitting the trails. Whether you want to go fast but don’t need big travel or can’t be bothered with the extra maintenance of a full-suspension bike, if this sounds like you, the Chameleon might be your next bike.
Offered in either dual 29-inch wheel or MX (29-inch front, 27.5 rear) wheel configurations, the $2,400 Chameleon D AL comes with 12-speed SRAM Eagle drivetrain, grippy Maxxis tubeless tires, and an SDG dropper post. The Chameleon frame has tons of standover clearance, and the dropouts can be easily swapped if you want to run the bike as a singlespeed.
YT | Capra Uncaged 6
$9,499 // 32.0 LB (Medium)
No bike that we tested in the past year captivated our team the way YT’s Capra did. The 170mm-travel 29er arrived with the force of the first-gen iPhone—promising wondrous tech and rare utility. That tech comes from RockShox’s Flight Attendant smart-suspension system married to a surprisingly light and lively long-travel 29er.
The bike is made for winning Enduro World Series races and rallying
in bike parks. It feels nearly unflappable on all-out descents, with the stiff frame and supportive suspension providing precise control in corners. But the Capra also impressed us with how energetically it ascended techy climbs and happily cruised down flow trails.
The bike’s inherent versatility makes it an excellent platform for RockShox’s Flight Attendant system. The new platform uses wireless sensors on the fork, in the shock, and in the crankset to change suspension performance based on the terrain. Those sensors make calculations every five milliseconds, and relay that info to actuators in the fork and shock to quickly—but not instantaneously—change the suspension’s damping mode between open, pedal, and firm settings.
Equipped with that killer tech, the Capra becomes a big bike with few limits—something that devours big hits and wild descents but that you won’t mind climbing or pedaling on mellower trails. If you’re not an early adopter of tech, or if the Capra Uncaged price deters you, YT offers less expensive versions without Flight Attendant that start at $4,499. If dual 29-inch wheels aren’t for you, YT also has mixed-wheel sizes (29-inch front/27.5-inch rear) available on Capra MX models.
Scor | 4060 ST GX
$6,600 // 30.5 LB (Medium)
Fun, like obscenity, is hard to define but always knowable. I don’t usually say a bike is “fun” in a review; riding bikes is inherently fun and therefore almost all bikes are fun. But there are bikes—like this SCOR 4060 ST—that make the word rise to the top of my brain. The feeling manifests as involuntary hoots that punctuate moments and features on the trail. I don’t know exactly what ingredients make a bike feel more fun than others, but it has something to do with a bit of extra quickness in the handling, a little more pop in the suspension, and a bit more whip in the frame—all qualities this SCOR has.
I’m also mightily impressed by the 4060’s dual-link suspension, which pedals crisply for efficient climbing while also offering a nice balance of sensitivity, support, and control in all phases of its travel. But while the 4060 ST feels quick and ready to change direction with a light touch, it’s also adequately calm at higher speeds, inspiring confidence when I pushed my limits in demanding terrain.
I think these traits stem from its snappiness. I find that many of today’s long, slacked-out mountain bikes don’t respond quickly enough at trail speeds, and require a lot of muscling. That can feel unnerving like they’re pulling me along where they want to go. Some of my favorite bikes—this SCOR, Evil’s Following, Spot’s Mayhem 130—all have a bit more quickness, an “on the toes” feel—less stable. The SCOR may not plow the chunderiest chunder at freakish speeds like a bro-sled, but that’s not the point of this bike. It’s a great trail bike that’s unapologetically entertaining. And that’s something to celebrate.—M.P.
⚡ Santa Cruz | Heckler CC MX
$13,300 // 48.3 LB (Medium)
Santa Cruz’s second-generation Heckler e-bike received a number of updates that differentiate it from the bike’s original version, but the three key points are: a much larger 720Wh battery, a geometry- and suspension-altering flip-chip, and a dual 29-inch wheel
option (in addition to the 29-inch front/ 27.5-inch rear mixed option on the MX). These changes make an already good e-bike even better. Between the Shimano motor system and its Santa Cruz-iness, the Heckler is a no-fuss e-bike, with no unnecessary, annoying apps or awkward controls. The riding position, geometry, and handling are a bike reviewer’s nightmare: All are so sorted there’s nothing to criticize. That makes the new Heckler both capable and approachable. It’s easy to use and ride, but always ready when you want to push your limits.
Marin | Alpine Trail Carbon 2
$4,500 // 34.8 LB (Large)
With 29-inch wheels and 160mm front/150mm rear travel, there’s no getting around that this is a lot of bike, but it performs well on proper terrain.
The Alpine Trail Carbon doesn’t use gimmicks, just a sturdy carbon main frame and aluminum rear triangle, reliable suspension design, and go-fast downhill geometry. Smooth shifting comes by way of a Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain while stopping duties are handled by four-piston SLX brakes. For suspension, the excellent-performing Fox 38 fork handled everything we threw at it, from big bike park jumps to rock-strewn chutes.
The normally great Fox Float DPX2 rear shock was out of its comfort zone in the bike park. The more gravity-oriented Float X, or even a DHX coil shock, would be a better fit for those long and rocky descents.
Liv | Embolden 1
$2,300 // 31.5 LB (Small)
Mountain bikes don’t have to be expensive to be capable on the trail; the Embolden proves it. With a 12-speed SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, Maxxis tubeless tires, RockShox Monarch rear shock, and Giant-branded 130mm-travel suspension fork and dropper post, the Embolden 1 is A LOT of bike for the money.
The Embolden has 120mm rear travel from its aluminum FlexPoint single-pivot full-suspension frame. The frame itself features internal cable routing for a clean look, Boost 148mm rear hub spacing and tapered headtube in case you ever want to upgrade your wheels or fork, and lots of tire clearance. As a women-centered brand, Liv has sizing for riders 4'11" to 5'11", all with 27.5-inch wheels for sizes XS–M and 29-inch wheels in S–L.