Ready for your next trail adventure? We’ve lined up 10 of the hottest trail bikes you should check out.
Buying advice: The best trail bike for you depends on what your ideal trail looks like. If you prefer tamer trails and like to cover more distance on your trail rides, then consider a shorter travel and lighter bike. At the other end of the spectrum, if your energy investment in elevation is purely for the promised descent, then look toward a bike with more than 130mm of rear travel.
TRANSITION Spur Carbon AXS
Explore the down-country
Transition Bikes is a rider owned brand based north of Seattle, in the US state of Washington. Their 120mm front and rear Spur trail bike is the shortest travel — or most XC-ish bike in the brand’s current lineup. The all-carbon frame is made from premium Japanese Toray materials in a layup said to maximize stiffness, strength and impact ‘toughness’. The bike has two sets of water bottle mounts, a gear accessory mount that sits under the top tube and a long seat tube that accommodates the trend to longer dropper posts. The Spur drops into our TOP 10 list because it is a lightweight play bike with anti-squat numbers tweaked for good efficiency on the ups and geometry tweaked for KOMS on the downs. If you are moving away from racing endurance events and are looking to spice things up with more trail time, then the Spur is a strong option. It’s a lightweight down-country explorer, that will pump some confidence into your trail game.
TREK Fuel EX 5
The quiver killer
Designed as an all-rounder, the Fuel EX is one of the top-selling bikes in the USA. The bike has 130mm rear and 140mm front travel, sports 29er wheels and a lightweight aluminium frame. The drivetrain and brakes are an all Shimano affair whilst the finishing kit of wheels, bars, stem and saddle are by Bontrager. Laced with a lot of the technology seen on the brands’ range-topping models – like ABP suspension, adjustable geometry and steering limiter – the potential and X-factor of this bike really comes to life on the trail. In our test, we’ve found it will handle just about everything a big travel Enduro bike can, but is just a little easier to climb. If you are not into endurance racing and are looking for a one-bike solution under R50k, put this one on your shortlist. Read our REVIEW
CANNONDALE Habit 3
Comfortable and versatile
The Cannondale Habit is a 130mm rear / 140mm front, full-suspension trail bike that is comfortable on janky trails, jump lines, or backcountry bundu bashing. The military-grade carbon front section is mated to an alloy rear triangle through a Horst-link suspension system which incorporates Cannondale’s own Proportional Response design. This design slightly alters the pivot points on the various frame sizes in order to tweak the anti-rise numbers so that all riders, regardless of height, enjoy the same calm handling under harsh braking. The build kit includes Fox damping, SRAM 1×12 shifting, Maxxis tires with Cannondale riser bars and dropper post. If you need more than 130mm travel on the rear, remember the Habit can run 27.5+ wheels which will offer more cush. Read our REVIEW
GT Sensor Carbon Elite
A wallet-friendly, fun ride
As a package, the 130mm 29er GT Sensor is a budget-friendly and very capable all-rounder which is a lot of fun to ride. With a 140mm RockShox Gold RL fork and the flip-chip in the low setting the head angle sits at a slack and confidence-inspiring, 65.5°. Overall, the geometry is pretty modern on this bike and a size large has a 470mm reach with a 480mm seat tube which is on the bigger side of things. Considering those numbers, you might want to consider a size smaller size than you usually do. The suspension is a rocker activated Horst-link layout, with the smooth action of a RockShox Deluxe Select+ RT shock controlling things. Examining the entire build kit it’s clear everything is built to last — there is no need to re-spec any parts on this bike — it’s good to go straight into the hills. Read our REVIEW
GIANT Trance X Advanced Pro 29 2
High performance trail bike
The Trance X is an all-carbon, 135mm rear and 150mm front travel bike released late last year. Giant hasn’t made any radical changes to their short dual-link suspension design for a while — mostly because it is one of the best systems available: efficient under power and soaks up the trail edges very well. Like the shorter travel Trance, this Trance X has a progressive suspension curve designed to handle bigger hits without blowing through the travel and bottoming-out. Further updates to the Trance X include a flip-chip for adjustable geometry, a revised carbon layup which Giant claims offers more compliance, integrated chainstay and downtube protection, and double-sealed bearings to improve durability. The build kit is a mix of Shimano brakes, SRAM drivetrain and Giant’s own brand wheels, handlebar, stem and saddle. If you are looking for a high-performance trail bike that can handle long rolls and punchy shreds then this should be on your shortlist. It’s a great buy and easily one of the best of 2021.
TREK Roscoe 7
The hardtail shredder
The Roscoe 7 is a hardtail with a slack head angle to inspire confidence on techy trails. A 120mm fork, Dropper Seatpost and overall relaxed geometry will have you hitting all the fun lines on your local trails. Courtesy of it’s bigger volume 27.5″ tyres, the traction through turns and up slick surfaces is so ridiculously good, we guarantee it will have you giggling for days. The build kit includes Shimano brakes, a RockShox air fork, SRAM 1 x 12 drivetrain, Formula hubs and a TranzX dropper Seatpost. Bontrager supply the rims, saddle, bar and stem. You can fit 29″ wheels (with 2.4″ tyres) on this bike — but we simply wouldn’t recommend it — we found the 27+ higher volume tyres stick to the dirt better than apricot jam does to a work shirt. If you are looking for a simple trail bike to get out, explore and play more then take a closer look at the Roscoe. It’s a robust buy and ideal for kids too.
CANYON Spectral 29 Ltd
Updated to 29″ wheels
The all-new Spectral is a 150mm rear / 160mm front travel trail bike that rolls on 29″ wheels. There are four sizes available, each with generous reach and wheelbase numbers. This is the top of the range edition which is dripping in Fox’s gold Kashima coating 36 fork and DPX2 shock, with Shimano XTR drivetrain and brakes. The DT Swiss XMC1200’s are a carbon wheelset which no doubt help reduce the bike’s total weight down to a claimed 13.57kg’s. Other than bigger wheels, the new Spectral gets the longer and lower treatment to its geometry — with a head angle now at a steezy 64.5°. The bike has a revised suspension kinematic to assist climbing, SRAM’s new durable UDH Derailleur Hanger and a flip-chip to adjust the geometry. The long-travel dropper (180mm) suggests this bike will be more than capable on any trail South Africa has to offer. If Trail is your thing and you are shopping with a deep-wallet – the new Spectral is worth considering.
SPECIALIZED Stumpjumper Alloy
Specialized’s iconic trail bike underwent a makeover late last year and received some welcome tech updates. The Stumpjumper is now exclusively available as a 29er with kinematics revised to suit its 130mm rear travel. Specialized have also updated the geometry to improve handling and rider fit. This alloy base level model is the only complete bike from the range that is available in South Africa. The build kit includes a RockShox 35 Silver air fork, an X-Fusion shock that is custom-tuned for Specialized, SRAM SX drivetrain and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes. The Stumpy is available in six sizes with S1 being the shortest and S6, the longest. The carbon model is available in South Africa, as a frame-only purchase.
TREK Slash 8
Rail the trails
Whilst it casts a similar silhouette to the outgoing model, the next-generation Slash is vastly superior. Notable updates include 10mm more travel (170 front / 160 rear) to boost its capability, bigger reach numbers for that stable (and safer) in-the-bike feel and shorter seat tubes to run longer dropper posts. Trek has also refined their proprietary Thru-Shaft shock — it no longer runs on the Re-Aktiv damping technology and the bike will accommodate a coil shock, should you want to go that route. The range of the steering lock system — which protects the frame in the event of a crash — has been increased and all models in the lineup include a neat downtube storage system. This Slash 8 is an all-alloy option, weighs 15.04kg’s and is available in five sizes. The bike has a RockShox Lyrik Select+ fork, a Debonair Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, SRAM Code R brakes, a GX drivetrain and a 10-52T cassette. This no-nonsense trail shredder will eat up any line you point it at — it’s also a perfect bike for that Enduro race you are eyeing.
COMMENCAL Meta TR Race
More compelling than ever
The aluminum-framed Meta TR from Andorran brand Commencal underwent some recent revisions and is now more compelling than ever. The most notable changes are a bigger fit throughout the size curves, an extra 10mm of rear travel — now 140mm — and a head angle that sits at a very capable 64.5°. Further improvements include a straight top tube to improve standover height, a shorter seat tube to accommodate longer dropper posts and slightly narrower linkages for more clearance between the frame and rider. In terms of the build kit, the Race version has the bling specced where you need it most. You are getting a light DT Swiss wheelset, a SRAM 10-52t cassette and GX drivetrain, with the range-topping SuperDeluxe Ultimate coil shock and Lyrik Ultimate by RockShox. If you are looking for a brawny trail bike that is a steady climber but remains calm on janky trails – the Meta TR Race is your business.