Our goal with the Bible of Bike Tests is not to present you with a “winner.” Instead, we aim to describe the way each bike rides, an approach that doesn’t produce the sensational “BEST BIKE EVAR THIS YEAR”-type headlines that the economy of clicks favors, but hopefully provides real value to you, the reader.
We provide a diverse group of testers–from whippersnappers coming off the tail end of Gen Y to crusty former and current editors–out of which you might find riders like yourself, and therefore preferences like your own. The bikes listed here are our testers’ personal picks out of the 35-bike fleet we rode this year in Northwest Arkansas–some of the best bikes of 2017.
Ryan Palmer has been Bike’s gear editor for four years now, and has participated in seven of the eight Bible of Bike Tests we’ve done. This means that for the better part of a decade, he’s somehow managed to convince people–mostly very narrowly–that he knows what the hell he’s doing, or is at least worth keeping around another year. Palmer, who is also referred to as the master of the spreadsheet, has the daunting responsibility of making sure all the bikes, products and testers show up on time and are ready to ride. More importantly he added finding a beer sponsor to the list this year. When the crew showed up, there was a kegerator in the kitchen with rotating kegs from Bentonville’s Bike Rack Brewing. Palmer wanted to think this would increase productivity, and was therefore shocked when it took the crew three hours to get ready each morning. Still, there’s no solid evidence to prove this had anything to do with alcohol consumption.
Palmer is better known for his ability to make other people’s bikes go fast, but he still enjoys pushing his own riding limits. Because of his East Coast roots, he’s much more comfortable on technical trail than machine-built flow–he’s still not quite sure what to do with berms.
FAVORITE RIDE: Ibis Mojo 3
Last year I chose the Trek Fuel EX 9 29 as my favorite bike because of its insane value. The 2017 Fuel EX 9.7 is the same price, but now has more travel and a carbon frame. On last year’s premise, the EX would likely win again. If my choice was simply based on value, the Specialized Enduro Comp 29 could also take the cake. But another bike stole my heart this year: the Ibis Mojo 3, set up with 2.8-inch plus-size tires. I honestly didn’t expect to have such an uncompromised and incredibly fun experience on a bike with plus tires, but the Mojo 3 is special. For me, it exhibited all the benefits of a plus bike, without any of the crazy tire bounce or sluggishness that most have. The bike just rips, so hard. Seriously. Please don’t make fun of me.
As the editor of Bike, Brice Minnigh has spent most of his nearly nine years at the magazine accumulating a bizarre collection of nicknames–most of them decidedly unflattering. Among those which kind of stuck are ‘Bad Vlad,’ ‘Busta,’ ‘Von Munchdown,’ ‘Vultch,’ ‘B-Rice,’ ‘B-Mag’ and his social-media moniker, ‘bricemag.’ Lately though, most of the staff have just been calling him ‘Boss’ or ‘Old Man’ (hopefully in reference to his status as the senior statesman of Bike and not simply a disparaging dig at the number of revolutions he’s made around the sun).
Minnigh has been around since the beginning of The Bible of Bike Tests and has somehow managed to survive all eight of them, despite being the butt of a never-ending barrage of practical jokes (a perennial favorite of which is reversing his brakes to moto-style before his test laps to see if he’ll notice).Though he loves riding everything from pinner XC race whips to full-blown DH sleds, Minnigh can usually be found aboard a 5- or 6-inch-travel bike–even if he’s on a ride with extensive climbs. For this and many other reasons, the Bike staff have come to consider Minnigh his own worst enemy, and fellow editors point out his masochistic streak every time he absconds from the office on some ill-conceived adventure in another country with a name ending in ‘Stan.’
FAVORITE RIDE: Yeti SB5.5c
I continue to be a staunch supporter of short-travel 29ers, but this year’s crop of capable mid- to long-travel 29ers has me reconsidering my priorities. My three favorites from this year’s test are wagon-wheelers that fall on the longer end of the travel spectrum. The Evil Wreckoning, with its bump-gobbling 161 millimeters of rear travel, blew my mind by letting me get away with things that most other bikes would penalize. And the 120-mil Devinci Django 29 stole my heart with its extraordinary agility and playfulness. But the Yeti SB5.5c, with its truly balanced geometry and unparalleled pedaling performance, is the bike I’d take anywhere.
Photo editor Anthony Smith has been involved with The Bible of Bike Tests since its inception in Whistler, British Columbia, back in 2009. Much has changed since the inaugural Bible, when Smith had the distinct honor of piloting the Sh*tbike in Whistler’s annual Halloween Toonie race, sporting a mismatched hockey kit that looked like it had been lifted from the set of “Slap Shot.” Now older, wiser and just a touch slower, Bike’s token Canadian brought his love for slack angles and big travel back to the testing process after a six-year hiatus. Smith also worked alongside senior photographer Bruno Long as they captured the day-to-day routine of our crew’s testing process. Shooting everything from the magnificent to the mundane (mostly mundane) required two weeks of late nights, earlier mornings and enough IPAs to wash away an entire season’s worth of fitness.
FAVORITE RIDE: Evil Wreckoning
Naming my favorite bike from this year’s test had me speaking in a whisper. I didn’t want my other favorite to hear me say it. Although the new Trek Slash wowed me more than almost any other bike in recent memory, the Evil Wreckoning was that other bike. The feeling I had charging through our roughest sections of trail was awe-inspiring. It felt like my rear wheel was glued to the ground–endless traction and bottomless travel. I know what you’re thinking: sweet, an under-gunned DH bike. Not quite. It climbs too. I was making every climb we had alongside other bikes touted as our all-day, super-efficient trail weapons. So what does that mean about the Wreckoning? Simple. It’s a bike I could ride all day, every day, until the end of days.
Bike’s managing editor of the past four years, Nicole Formosa, looks forward to ‘Bible Camp’ every year as a respite from the planning and organizational tasks that normally dominate her days. She’s all too happy to hand those responsibilities over to gear editor Ryan Palmer so she can go have fun riding bikes with the rad lady crew. Formosa landed at the junction of mountain bikes and magazines by accident, and while it’s a career destination she never fathomed while hastily declaring a major in journalism after scoring well in a grammar class, she feels pretty lucky to have stumbled into this world. As a native Oregonian, Formosa was raised to resent Californians who move north and use their deep pockets to buy all the land, and now can’t believe she has become one. Well, except for the deep pockets part. But after nearly a decade living in the Land of Perpetual Sunshine and Traffic, she has finally adapted to her ‘SoCal’ surroundings, and finds immense joy in the year-round riding and abundant fish tacos.
FAVORITE RIDE: Yeti SB5 Beti
Women’s bikes advance every year, and we had our best lineup yet this go-around. Trek deserves applause for committing to a much-needed modernization of its women’s bikes–the Remedy was a blast to ride downhill. And the Juliana Joplin is the quickest, ablest short-travel 29er money can buy. But the Yeti SB5 Beti stood out as ‘the one.’ With its equally balanced climbing ability and descending prowess, I would trust this bike on any ride, in any country and in all conditions. Several smart updates made an already-kickass bike even better, and with the lower-cost carbon-fiber frame, Yetis are more affordable than ever.
Mike Ferrentino is the oldest member of the Bike mag test crew. Mike Ferrentino has been writing about riding bikes for longer than a quarter of this magazine’s readership has been alive. One would think that all that time spent riding and writing would make Ferrentino a good rider. This is not entirely true. While he is not too shabby at making it down new trail without totally messing everything up, he’s still not very pretty on a bike. Mike Ferrentino will never get the timing and approach speed right with even the most benign double jumps. Mike Ferrentino needs his sleep. Mike Ferrentino has a problem remembering people’s names, even when they are old friends. This could be a sign of early onset dementia, or a sign that maybe he ought to just pay better attention. Mike Ferrentino is very uncomfortable referring to himself in the third-person. Mike Ferrentino thinks his name sounds funny when it gets used frequently.
FAVORITE RIDE: Kona Hei Hei Trail DL
Every year at this shindig, I end up having to re-evaluate my biases. This year, as with the previous two, I ended up liking something that was totally not what I expected to like. The crow-pie this year came in the form of the Kona Hei Hei Trail DL. It’s a light, snappy, very sweet-handling bike that scoots uphill with more alacrity than the stated travel would lead one to expect. Normally, I look at rear suspension that utilizes a flexstay to simplify the rear triangle and allow the linkage to still do its stuff as something best avoided. They usually tend to be less comfortable across a broad range of impacts than more sophisticated suspension. In this case, that may be true to an extent, but I didn’t care. Muttering something about short femurs, steep seat angles and Strava times, I loaded the bike into the back of my van at the end of Bible camp and headed west.
During his interview for the online editor role at Bike, Jonathon referred to The Bible of Bike Tests as “the best thing on the internet.” Now, he gets to refer to it as “the best two weeks of his year.” The experience of hanging out with a team of the industry’s most-talented and intermittently hardest-working photographers, writers and videographers, all while spending long days testing and arguing about the cream of the year’s crop of new bikes only became more surreal the second time around. Despite his penchant for jumps, drops and steep, chunky trails, Weber was inexplicably quarantined to the short- and mid-travel categories this year, which was fine with him given how well-suited those bikes were to most of Northwest Arkansas’s terrain.
FAVORITE RIDE: YT Jeffsy
This year’s bumper crop of inspiringly capable short- and mid-travel bikes made for close competition, but a few stood out. Cannondale’s Scalpel SI’s combination of lightweight efficiency and willingness to hit rocks and roots at full speed reshaped my notion of how much fun can be had on an XC bike. Conversely, Durango Bike Company’s not-especially-svelte-looking Blackjack caught me off guard with its lively ride and tractable seated climbing performance. If the time came to dole out the G-notes, the Devinci Django and YT Jeffsy would be top contenders. They’re both balanced trail bikes, the Django leaning to the XC side with efficient pedaling and climbing performance and a lively confidence thanks to conservative angles and travel quantities. The Jeffsy’s aptitude for more aggressive terrain tilts the scales in its favor, though, with its reasonable pedaling performance tempered by slacker angles and longer travel. I love bike shops, but savvy buyers would be remiss to ignore the value offered by the consumer-direct brand.
Kristin Butcher likes bikes with the same fervor that dogs like rolling in whatever will ruin your evening the most. She’s been mountain biking for a few decades, during which time she’s dabbled in the worlds of advocacy, trail building and general bicycling tomfoolery. Her quiver is a rotating mass of beaters, cruisers, barely-functioning bike-Lego contraptions, trials bikes and a mountain bike or three. As a Colorado transplant raised in Florida, she’s come to accept that her legs will always climb with the prowess of wet bags of cement–but she climbs her butt off anyway because she’s a glutton for punishment. The “Butcher Paper” columnist and Bike senior contributor isn’t ashamed to ride gear into the ground and regularly has to defend her use of outdated parts, so she’s not easily swayed by newfangled bits or the latest industry lovechildren. What she does appreciate are bikes that make you absolutely desperate to ride, even if you just got back from the trail.
FAVORITE RIDE: Juliana Joplin
There are few things that make me feel as simultaneously lucky and undeserving than spending two weeks riding new bikes and being tasked with choosing one to rule them all. Both the Trek Remedy 9.8 and the Yeti SB5 Beti were downright delicious on beefier trails. The Beti’s slim and snappy platform makes it maneuver exceedingly well, while the Remedy exerts complete control on the rowdiest rides. For my personal riding style and the trails that permeate my backyard, I just bid farewell to an old steed so that a Juliana Joplin could complete my quiver. On Colorado’s Front Range, the Joplin is a perfect partner in grime. Together we chew up climbs in a way that makes me understand what it’s like to not entirely hate climbing. But what really steals my heart is when the Joplin’s stiff frame and 29er wheels make it look like I actually know what I’m doing.
Our man on the street, Travis Engel is still punching the clock at a Southern California bike shop. He misses out on all of our juicy office politics and hysterical inside jokes, but gets to experience firsthand the changing trends among suppliers and consumers. His 23 years of riding have seen his primary two-wheeled passion shift from XC to trials, to BMX, to trailbuilding, to endurance, to road, back to BMX again and then repeat in no particular order. When off the bike and out of the shop, Engel runs a growing brand of American-made, mountain bike-inspired BMX frames, called Common Ground, which really just means he can write off his fuel expenses when he drives to his dirt jumps. Every year, we have to ground him for the six to eight weeks leading up to The Bible to keep him from getting too injured to participate, which has happened. Twice.
FAVORITE RIDE: Evil Calling
Just two bikes battled for my favorite this year. The short-travel Devinci Marshall 27+ offers some pretty remarkable price points across its lineup, and it was the only plus-sized bike I thought could really party. It still offered the suppleness and traction you can only get with 2.8 inch tires and somehow always showed up to the trailhead with cake and ice cream. But then the brand-new Evil Calling would show up with a handle of Jack Daniels and a box of Roman Candles. The unmatched performance of the DELTA link gave this 130-millimeter-travel bike the small-bump sensitivity of a 29er and the big-hit confidence of an extra inch of travel. And it’s as eager to pop and slide as a slopestyle bike. Ultimately, if I had to replace a garage full of bikes with just one, it would be this one. And nobody would ride a plus-size bike and nothing else … right?
“The boy’s gonna kill himself on that bike!” Ryan’s grandfather, Harold Morrison, said after witnessing the 2-year-old fly off a wooden ramp at the bottom of a steep, concrete driveway. Little did his grandpa know, 30-some years later Cleek’s life would still revolve around skids and wheelies. Cleek, as most people call him, lived a majority of his life hop-scotching through Los Angeles, however he has called the Bay Area home for the past few years. Cleek began racing bicycles at only 5 years old, and his enthusiasm for cycling ultimately carried over to his career. A graduate of Butler University’s School of Journalism, he was a staff writer and photographer at Mountain Bike Action magazine for over a decade, before a stint at Specialized Bicycles. In 2015, Cleek partnered with Cam Zink to produce the award-winning documentary “Reach For The Sky,” which tells Zink’s story of perseverance in pursuit of his dreams. Cleek considers himself an all-around rider, and feels at home on everything from snappy trail bikes to squishy, DH machines.
FAVORITE RIDE: YT Jeffsy
After a few weeks of riding some incredibly capable trail bikes, a few of them took me by surprise. Both the Knolly Warden Carbon and Rocky Mountain Slayer were impressive climbers for bikes with remarkable descending capability. I’d be content shredding either of these machines at a bike park or in an enduro race. We tested several mid-travel trail bikes and although most were fun and capable, one didn’t truly jump out above and beyond the others in performance until I rode the last bike of my testing sessions: the 140-mil-travel YT Jeffsy 29er. After hours of laboring through our rough, rock-strewn test loops on several bikes of similar travel, geo and intended use, the Jeffsy re-energized my riding. Its geometry makes for such a playful bike that if blindfolded most people wouldn’t believe was a 29er. It’s snappy and stable, pedals well and offers incredible value. It took until the last few laps of testing to find a true favorite, but it was no contest.
Lacy Kemp can usually be found trying to strike a balance between adrenaline and meditation, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes she’ll go a week straight averaging four hours of sleep per night, and some days she’ll manage to squeeze in three yoga classes. When she is asked to describe her job she struggles to answer succinctly. Part marketer, part writer, part filmmaker, part athlete manager, dog walker and yoga instructor, she tends to keep her plate pretty full. Along with her dog, Roscoe, Kemp calls Bellingham, Washington, home and feels like she’s finally found a place that truly suits her lifestyle. With amazing singletrack in every direction, there’s always something challenging and fun to ride.
FAVORITE RIDE: Yeti Beti SB5
While normally one bike stands out as a personal favorite, I struggled to decide between the Juliana Joplin and the Yeti Beti SB5. But, when considering my ideal type of bike on terrain I’d most likely ride outside of The Bible, I opted for the Yeti. I rode the Turq model (which Yeti sent along with our tester) and was blown away by its pedaling efficiency. Not a fan of climbing, I tend to just deal with a slog uphill and choose bikes that are fun on the descents. The Yeti stood out because it was the best of both worlds. I actually enjoyed climbing due to the Switch Infinity suspension and the incredibly light (just a shade over 25 pounds) complete setup. When pointed downhill, I could be heard hooting and hollering out of sheer joy. In addition to the bike’s weight (or lack thereof), I was a big fan of its SRAM Eagle 1×12 drivetrain, mostly due to the fact that one extra gear is never a bad thing. The slightly longer travel in this year’s model–150 millimeters versus 140 millimeters last year–gave her the extra boost of confidence to try some of the hairier lines on the Coler trail, which is riddled with big rock gardens and funky little hucks to nowhere. The Yeti SB5 is truly a dream bike: lightweight, beautifully designed, fast uphill and down and spec’d with top-notch components.