Every year for the last few years, Dirt Rag has gathered up a half-dozen or so full-suspension trail bikes for complete testing that fall into the entry-level/affordable/budget category. Yes, three grand is still a lot of money, but good bikes aren’t cheap and this price point is much more reasonable for the average enthusiast rider willing to invest some coin in a great ride. So, there you go.
This year we are changing things up significantly by opening our test up to all types of mountain bikes, not just suspension bikes. The following caught our eye for one reason or another, but all of them are bikes we’d look very hard at in their respective categories. Or, rather, these are bikes I would look at since, really, these are all my choices. Direct your ire toward me about whatever it is that has you all wadded up. The rest of the DR crew is just here to ride the things and give us their honest opinions.
We’ll roll out first impressions of these bikes over the next few days and full reviews in Dirt Rag issue #189 (January). Subscribe today so you don’t miss it. In the meantime, here are the reasons each bike ended up on the list and who the testers are.
Scott Spark 950 — $2,700
I still have fond memories of the Spark 29 RC I raced in the Trans-Sylvania Epic a few years ago. The 950 is a much less expensive version of that bike, with an aluminum frame and a less expensive build kit. What is doesn’t lose is the Twin-Loc lockout and what is perhaps the most aggressive geometry for a cross-country race bike you can buy. Head angle is a slack 68.8 or 68.3 degrees; the bottom bracket height is around 13 inches; and the chain stays are right at 17 inches, which makes me think this bike would be well served by a dropper.
Dirt Rag Editor-in-Charge Mike Cushionbury is our resident former XC pro license holder, and assigning him the Spark is my continued attempt to get him on more modern bikes. Now if only I can pry those narrow bars and long stems out of his grasp, then we’ll be getting somewhere.
Devinci Hendrix — $2,999
I was surprised to see the Hendrix, to be honest. Devinci is a small company and a bike like this (120/110 front/rear travel, 27plus wheels) is taking a big chance with the limited resources smaller companies have to develop new products. Working in Devinci’s favor is in-house aluminum frame production, which saves a lot of time. With the American dollar strong against the Canadian dollar, those of us in the States have some serious buying power.
What really drew me to the Devinci is its aggressive geometry paired with shorter travel, a recipe that usually spells F-U-N. Dirt Rag’s new art director, Stephen Haynes, gets welcomed to the fold with this pretty righteous test bike.
Norco Torrent 7.1 — $2,425
Norco has a number of bikes under $3,000, but this is the newest to the lineup and is a return to the heavy-duty hardtail category for the Canadian brand. Maybe it is just me, but after years of riding all kinds of knobby-tired bikes, this thing looks almost perfectly proportional. And in case anyone was wondering about which 27plus tires are best for fall use on the East Coast, the Schwalbe Nobby Nics are perhaps the best thing to happen to leaf-covered trails.
I (Tech Editor Eric McKeegan) am riding this bike and am stoked on its slack, low and short geometry.
Marin Attack Trail — $2,750
I’ve been digging Marin’s evolving lineup over the last few years. The Attack Trail is a standout for a number of reasons. While the SR Suntour fork and shock might not be as well-regarded as the bigger names, both have more damping adjustments than many bikes at this price. The 1×10 drivetrain has a Sunrace 11-42-tooth cassette for most of the range of more expensive 11-speed systems. And out of every bike here, I think the Marin looks least like its price tag.
Our general manager and Dirt Rag photographer Justin Steiner is testing the limits of those Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires on the leaf-covered trails around Dirt Rag’s Pittsburgh HQ.
Kona Hei Hei Trail — $2,500
We’ve been fans of the many new bikes from Kona in the last few years. Kona has a bigger range of sub-$3k trail bikes than just about anyone, but another 29er seemed to be the best bet for this group so the new Hei Hei Trail got the nod. Taking the proven Hei Hei cross-country platform and swapping in some sturdier parts and a longer fork has resulted in something that I would almost describe as a Process 111 lite.
We might have lost Adam Newman as Dirt Rag’s web editor, but he moved only a few feet away to play editor-in-chief of our sister mag, Bicycle Times. He’ll be riding the Hei Hei in its Pacific Northwest homeland.
Surly Wednesday — $1,500
The Wednesday is a true sleeper. On the surface, it looks like just another fatty in an already-crowded field of Surly fat bike offerings, but looking more closely reveals a refined and thoughtful bike. A 177 mm symmetrical rear end, 100 mm threaded bottom bracket shell, horizontal drop outs that can fit either thru-axles or quick releases, full length cable housing, tapered head tube, internal dropper post routing and enough braze-ons to keep everyone happy. Mix that up with modern trail geometry and suspension fork compatablity and it looks like a winner to me. Its cheapest-of-the-bunch price tag and Addams Family-inspired name are the icing on the cake.
Our new web editor, Katherine Fuller, took the reigns on this one and is out in Colorado bouncing over rocky singletrack waiting for the snow to fall.
Charge Cooker — $2,400
A little confession: I really wanted this bike to be Cannondale’s Beast of the East, but it wasn’t ready in time and was replaced with this bike from Charge, another bike brand in the Dorel family. This video is what got the Cooker on my radar originally and, after seeing them in person at Interbike, I was pretty interested. The stock Trailblazer tires aren’t ideal around western Pennsylvania this time of year, but swapping the front tire to a much bigger and more aggressive WTB Trail Boss has helped tremendously.
Our circulation guy Jon Pratt is pedaling this one into fall and probably missing his dropper post.
Transition Patrol 4 — $2,999
Did you know you can get a complete Transition for under $3,000? Yes, even if only by one dollar. For a brand that is as well-regarded as Transition, this is good news for riders with smaller credit card limits. Considering that the frame itself retails for $1,999, there is a great deal of value in the parts kits. The Marzocchi fork up front was a bit of a worry, at first, but with the news that Fox purchased the mountain bike side of Marzocchi there is much less reason for worry about parts and warranty support.
Friend of Dirt Rag (official title) Bill Kirk is on this one. This Transition is a hell of a good looking bike for the money.