Downcountry is a relatively new name for an existing type of bike which sits somewhere between an all-out XC race bike and a trail bike.
The definition is loose and there is overlap with other genres but the name is starting to stick. Essentially it pertains to shorter travel trail bikes which are more capable on technical trails than 100mm bikes. Downcountry bikes are versatile. Some of them can be raced with your mates at a marathon or stage race and perform well. On the other hand, some of them are just built to thrash about on your local loop and have just as much fun going up, as you do going down the trail. Here is a list, in no particular order, of Downcountry machines you need to look out for in 2020.
MERIDA 120 | 3000
The undercover shredder
Merida has a well-earned reputation for producing good value bikes and this 3000 model is likely to reinforce that. For under the R50k mark you are getting yourself a very sexy looking 120mm rear and 130mm front suspension Downcountry shredder. You will love the grippy Maxxis Minion front tyre, the wide (inner diameter) aluminum rims and the generous BB drop of 40mm. This bike is a noteworthy descender. You’ll also appreciate the floating link suspension system which delivers a bottomless ride-feel and the short offset Rock Shox Revelation fork which improves the cornering characteristics. IF YOU BUY IT and want to do something like Sani2C or Wines2Whales with your Chinas, then a faster rolling (and lighter) set of tyres would be worth looking at.
GIANT Trance 29 2
The quintessential Downcountry machine
With 115mm rear travel, a 130mm fork and a lightweight frame that is one of the most efficient under power, the Trance is the quintessential Downcountry machine. Yes, it is aluminum, but Giant has some of the lightest aluminum bikes on the planet. The DW suspension linkage, known as Maestro, is one of the best in the business too. It is incredibly efficient when pedaling and does a decent job of isolating braking forces from the shock. The 2020 Trance 2 features a carbon rocker arm, slack (66) head angle, a Grip damper in the fork and a Fox Float DPS shock. The 12-speed drivetrain, brakes and shifters are from the robust Shimano SLX range. IF YOU BUY IT slide the seat a little further forward on the rails as the seat tube angle could be steeper.
TITAN RACING Cypher Pro Carbon
Hit all the A-lines and still perform on the climbs
The Cypher Pro Carbon is a 120mm travel race bike which is a lot of fun to ride. In a world of varying suspension and frame designs, we still appreciate the more organic lines of the chassis. The standout features on this South African designed bike are the longer reach numbers which marry well with the trend to shorter stems, a flip-chip which alters geometry to suit your riding and the ability to carry two water bottles inside the front triangle/frame – on the three bigger sizes. With carbon wheels, a carbon frame, suspension lockout and a SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain the value is staggering. The bike has a 5-year multi-user warranty. IF YOU BUY IT you might just be faster than when you raced a 100mm bike and you most certainly will have more fun (and be safer) on the A-lines at trail centers and race tracks.
TREK Top Fuel 9.8
A capable race bike which is ready to rally
While the old Top Fuel was an all-out XC race bike this new version is far more versatile. With 115mm of rear-wheel travel, a 120mm fork and revised geometry, this is a fun and fast machine which is highly capable on technical terrain. The forward pivot placement design yields impressive small bump compliance for a 115mm bike. At 11.8kg, with a Twistloc dual remote lockout, it is no slouch on the climbs either. Trek gives you a full carbon build on the 9.8, including Bontrager carbon wheels in a very on-trend 30mm inner diameter, a 170mm dropper (on the three bigger sizes) and a Grip damper in the fork. The 9.8 is one of the lightest bikes in this list and as a result is not out of place at a marathon/endurance / XC race when the terrain is technical. If you want to trim that weight down to the low 11kg mark then swop the dropper post out, downsize the tyres and look at an alternate crankset. IF YOU BUY IT do yourself a favour and head to the Trek website to make use of the ‘suspension calculator‘ which works out all the suspension settings specific to you and this (or any Trek) bike.
CANNONDALE Habit Carbon 3
Climb. Shred. Repeat.
If you’re itching for more play on the mountain then this might just be the ride for you. The Habit 3, which touches down in South Africa in early February, is a 130mm front and rear machine which is bound to turn up the fun factor for you. It is a light package that features some unique innovation in the form of a size-specific suspension engineering approach which the Cannondale gurus have unearthed. The need for it came about after extensive field testing to determine how the varied center of gravity from differently sized riders, impacted on how a bike’s suspension performs. Cannondale then used that data to engineer slightly different pivot locations across the size curves of the new Habit to ensure they all performed equally, regardless of size. Dubbed as Proportional Response it ensures riders of different sizes will enjoy the same suspension performance. The Habit Carbon 3 is decked with SRAM Guide brakes, a SRAM SX / GX drivetrain combo, Stans rims, Maxxis tyres, a Fox 34 Grip Damper fork and the DPS 3 position rear shock. IF YOU BUY IT you will love the low standover and the bikes propensity to play. The BB is on the low side (which makes it so stable and fun) so get your sag spot on to avoid rock strikes.
CANYON Neuron CF SLX 9.0 LTD
Designed for all-day adventures in the wild or mid-week lunch-time sprints
The Neuron CF SLX 9.0 Ltd tips the scales at 11.7kg which is remarkable for a versatile 130mm bike. The frame weighs 2,280 grams for a size M, without axle & shock which Canyon says almost mutates the bike into a race rocket. The build kit is top drawer stuff: Shimano XTR 1×12 drivetrain and brakes, FOX Float DPS Factory shock and FOX 34 Factory fork with DT Swiss XMC1200 carbon wheels. A 67.5 head angle is not overly slack and the wheelbase and reach numbers are on the conservative side which means the ride dynamic is agile, especially at lower speeds. IF YOU BUY IT pay special attention to the sizing as the seat tubes are quite long.
COMMENCAL Meta TR 29 Race
The award-winning, no-nonsense, all-aluminum, Pinner
As a 130mm rear and 140mm front bike, the Meta TR just (kind of) sneaks into the Downcountry classification but it is such a brilliant bike that it would be an injustice to exclude it. It is the shorter travel version of the Meta 29 and can be run with a 150mm fork. You will like the Charger 2 Pike Ultimate for its buttery smooth damping quality on the trails and the SuperDeluxe rear shock features a lockout that comes in handy on smooth long climbs. The geometry is as modern as it gets with short seat tubes and good reach numbers through the size curves. IF YOU BUY IT you will get strong! Yes, it is not a particularly light bike but the ride quality is superb.
YETI SB 130
Rip the ups and the downs
13.5kg with a 130mm rear and 150 fork, the SB 130 is available as a frame-only option or right through to the top of the line AXS build at R165 999. You will love the Infinity Switch suspension system which alters the pivot as the bike moves through its travel. What does it do? Well, it optimizes anti-squat for great pedaling characteristics and improves the ‘butteriness’ through square edges as you roll down the trail. You won’t notice it working but will notice that you are riding away from your mates on the climbs and having more fun on the downs. Strava will concur. IF YOU BUY IT dig deep into your pocket as it is not small change. Secondly, the size curve runs on the larger side so you may fit a smaller size. Lastly, come and visit, because we want to stare at it.
GIANT Stance 29 2
Modern geometry in a wallet-friendly package
A 130mm fork, 120mm rear bike with a 67.5 head angle, wide bars, short stem and SRAM SX Eagle (12 speed) drivetrain. The all-new Stance 29 is a very modern chassis laced with a base build kit to get you going. If you are new to mountain biking this is not a bad place to start as the modern geometry and single-pivot Flexpoint suspension will not disappoint on the trail. IF YOU BUY IT and have a little more budget, ask your bike store owner to add in a dropper seat post to complete the package.
SANTA CRUZ Tallboy
Open the throttle
The new Tallboy 4 shares the same engineering principles as Santa Cruz’s longest travel bikes, meaning the efficient VPP suspension design with a progressive lower link-mounted shock feels equally at home on marathon stage races as it does through your local rock garden. Sporting 120mm of VPP lower link rear travel and paired with a 130mm fork, the legendary Tallboy becomes ever more appealing to riders who like to open it up. Available in Carbon C and Carbon CC frame options with various build kits you will love the speed, both up and down the trails. At 65.5°, the head angle is, let’s just say, ‘out there!’ – and that’s really the big enabler of this short travel shredder. If you like to tinker with geometry then this is the bike for you. The Tallboy has no less than two flip-chips, one which alters the chainstay length by 10mm whilst the second one moves the BB and head angle to suit your riding. The Tallboy has a short and straight seat tube which means you can run long dropper posts on this bike. IF YOU BUY IT you should consider the carbon C option as the difference in weight between the C and CC frames is not dramatic and the VPP system is efficient so you will barely notice it.