Rank and File: Full suspension trail bikes under $3,000

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We often hear the usual complaint about always testing bikes that are well out of the price range of riders who don’t have a substantial disposable income. But Dirt Rag has always covered (or at least attempted to cover) a wide variety of price points in the bike world. We gathered six bikes to review that represent the entry level for full-suspension trail bikes.

To be clear, we are well aware there are plenty of trail hardtails out there that will make fine companions for less money, but this is strictly about the fully-sprung category. Lord knows, we love hardtails, but we aren’t talking about that here.

We are talking about six fine examples of trickle-down technology and smart parts spec. We assigned each bike to a tester and will share our thoughts in Dirt Rag #182, due on newsstands and mailboxes in February. (So subscribe already, and buy another subscription as a gift.) Without further ado, here is the cast of characters, in no particular order:

$2500 bike-1-2

Santa Cruz Bantam D – $2,500

  • Weight: 30.2 pounds
  • Wheels: 27.5
  • Fork: RockShox Sektor Gold RL 130mm
  • Shock: Fox Float CTD Evolution 125mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano SLX/Deore, SRAM X5 Mix, w/clutch
  • Brakes: Sram DB1 w /Sram G2 CS Rotors, 180mm Front/160mm Rear
  • Gearing: 2×10 22/34

Is the linkless single pivot still a viable design in todays link-filled marketplace? Santa Cruz thinks so, and offers three different travel options of this simple setup alongside its six VPP bikes. The Bantam is the single pivot brother to the 5010, with almost identical geometry and travel. Maybe I’ve been riding long enough to be nostalgic, but I think this a fine looking bike, bringing to mind classic Santa Cruz designs like the Tazmon, while still looking thoroughly modern.

$2500 bike-1

Cannondale Rush 1 – $2,170

  • Weight: 29.6 pounds
  • Wheels: 29-inch
  • Fork: RockShox 30 Gold TK 100mm
  • Shock: RockShox Monarch RL 100mm
  • Drivetrain:Shimano Deore
  • Brakes: Shimano M445 with 180/160MM Rotors
  • Gearing: 3×10

Frame production is long gone from Cannondale’s Bedford, Pennsylvania, factory, but I still like seeing this brand on Pennsylvania trails. The Rush was missing from Cannondale’s line up for a few years but has returned as a 100mm travel trail bike hitting a lower price point than the hard-edged, race-oriented Scalpel platform. The Rush sticks to standard suspension design too—no single-sided forks or carbon fiber flex zone in the rear suspension.

$2500 bike-2

Niner Jet9 1-Star – $2,600

  • Weight: 30.1 pounds
  • Wheels: 29-inch
  • Fork: RockShox Recon Silver Solo Air 100MM, 15MM
  • Shock: RockShox Monarch RL 100mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore w/clutch
  • Brakes: Shimano M445 with 180/160MM Rotors
  • Gearing: 2×10 24/38

This is a very technically advanced frame (air formed tubing, CVA multi-link suspension design) wrapped up in a no-nonsense but very functional parts spec.

$2500 bike-3

GT Helion Elite -$2,550

  • Weight: 30.2 pounds
  • Wheels: 27.5
  • Fork: RockShox XC32 TK 110mm
  • Shock: X-Fusion 02 RL 110mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore w/ SLX clutch rear derailleur
  • Brakes: Shimano Deore 80/160MM Rotors
  • Gearing: 2×10 24/38

GT still seems to be finding its way in the US market after losing a lot of dealers and some forays into large sporting goods retailers and internet sales. But GT’s engineering staff hasn’t been waiting around, it’s been designing World Cup and World Championship winning downhill bikes for the Athertons and developing a new suspension design for trail bikes: AOS, or Angle Optimized Suspension. Sitting in a middle ground of longer travel XC, or extra-short travel trail bike, the Helion maybe be the most unpredictable of the bunch.

$2500 bike-4

Giant Stance 27.5 1 – $1,875

Weight: 29.70 pounds
Wheels: 27.5
Fork: RockShox Recon Gold RL Solo 120mm
Shock: RockShox Monarch R 120mm
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore w/ XT clutch rear derailluer
Brakes: Shimano M355 hydraulic 180/160mm
Gearing: 2×10

The Stance was a bit of a surprize, and bike no one here was paying much attention to. It uses a Giant’s new FlexPoint suspension, which foregoes the rear seatstay pivot, instead utilizing engineered flex to deal with the tiny amount of rotation needed to track the arcs of the swingarm and shock linkage. As one of the least expensive bikes in the test, it kills it on parts spec, and the geometry looks like a good time as well.

$2500 bike-5

Kona Precept DL – $1,899

  • Weight: 30.8 lbs.
  • Wheels: 27.5
  • Fork: RockShox Sektor Silver Air
  • Shock: RockShox Monarch R
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Alivio/Altus/Deore/SLX mix
  • Brakes: Shimano 180/160mm
  • Gearing: 3×9

We haven’t been hiding our love of Kona’s Process line up of bikes, so we are stoked to get in this Precept DL for the round up. Much like the Bantam, the Precept uses very similar travel and geometry as the more expensive models that inspire it, but keeps the spec much less expensive but still trail worthy.

Keep reading

Watch our website for our first impressions of each of these bikes in the next few weeks, and keep an eye on the mailbox for our full, long-term reviews in the next issue.



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