If testers could choose just one … The Bible isn’t about finding our favorite bikes, it’s about finding out where each bike is best—which bike works where. It’s about making sure you, the reader, have enough information to go into the world and make an informed decision on your next mountain bike. Because there is no ‘perfect bike’ for everyone. But there is a perfect bike for you, and we have our biases too. So if it came down to the wire, and testers had to choose just one, these are the bikes that would make the cut.
Travis Engel's biography usually just gets cut-and-pasted from one year to the next, although the order always gets shuffled around a bit. Some years it opens with something about his frequent and inconveniently timed injuries. Others it's a not-so-subtly boastful story about all the time he spends building his perfectly sculpted dirt jumps (the kind of jumps you ride on a BMX bike, not a mountain bike). And somewhere in there it'll mention that he gets more excited about a decent affordable bike than an exotic expensive one, and that it worries him when there's more of the latter and less of the former. But it's missing one important line item this year: He recently put an end to his nearly 20-year string of bike shop jobs to man a cubicle as the gear editor here at Bike. Still, next year, the rest of his bio will likely be the same, though the nature of those frequent injuries may shift to something related to office life. Carpal tunnel syndrome perhaps.
Favorite Ride: The Kona Process 153 CR/DL 27.5
People do strange things when they're far from home. Things they often could easily do in their own neighborhood but never would. Some drink sugary, fluorescent alcohol from tall, strangely shaped plastic vessels. Others rent paddle boats, read books and cheat on their spouses. I, on the other hand, choose a 27.5-inch bike despite having plenty of excellent 29ers in the garage. My pick of the Kona Process CR/DL 27.5 makes that three years in a row.
Back home in the real world, the Orbea Rallon would be a safer bet. It's incredibly capable, but never rides like it's too much bike. Except this choice isn't about safe bets. Like the Process 27.5 itself, this choice is about having a good time. The Kona's short chainstays and small wheels gain it high marks for playfulness. But its long cockpit, long wheelbase and long travel help when playtime is over. Also, it's kinda' heavy. There's something about a dead-solid 32-pound bike that feels ready for anything. And the 76-degree seat tube makes that not matter on the climbs, so maybe it is ready for the real world.
Nicole Formosa embarked on her fifth Bible rather harried, after having recently taken over the editorial reins at Bike and quickly learning that 'Editor-in-Chief' is actually code for 'Ride less, stress more.' The Bible served as a welcome break from the chaos of transition, as Bike's gear editor Travis Engel and senior writer Ryan Palmer teamed up to shoulder the brunt of the daily business at our Bible headquarters in Marquette, Michigan. This freed up Formosa to explore the cultural side of the U.P. when she wasn't testing bikes, the highlight of which was finding a $3 grilled-cheese-topped Bloody Mary served with a proper Budweiser snit at a dark dive bar in Ishpeming. Formosa is still lamenting the fact that she missed out on seeing the Northern Lights during her first trip to the U.P., and thinks maybe she should have relied on her own eyeballs and not an iPhone app to inform her of the best viewing times.
Favorite Ride: Ibis Mojo HD4 GX with Ibis 742 carbon rim upgrade
When I looked at my list of favorites from this year's Bible, all I could think was, "What are all these little wheels doing here?" In the interest of full disclosure, I only tested bikes in my size, which was about a quarter of the full crop, but still, I've been riding and preaching the virtues of short-travel 29ers for some time. Realizing my favorites all wore 27.5-inch wheels spun me into a brief identity crisis, from which I recovered in time to continue lusting after the Ibis Mojo HD4. With its rocket-ship climbing abilities—despite having 160 millimeters of travel—and ground-hugging traction, this is the bike that stayed on my mind long after I left Marquette.
Ryan Palmer is by far the best rider on the test crew, which when written in the third person, sounds almost believable. Anyone who's actually seen him ride knows this isn't true, but when writing in the third person, Palmer can say whatever he chooses to say about himself and it sounds legit. In reality, the only thing Palmer is better at than everyone else is getting wildly worked up about things nobody else seems to care about. Like, for instance, leaf blowing mountain bike trails. This is apparently a thing that happens, and it offends Palmer to his core. If people want manicured surfaces, get a friggin' road bike and leave my—ahem his—trails alone. And while you're at it, leave the rocks and roots too. As a longtime mechanic, he gets equally fired up about crappy cable housing and improper tire fitment, but might be more justified in doing so since he's the only one who's wrenched at the Olympics. Palmer prefers the obviously superior 29-inch wheel, likes tech over flow, thinks plus is fun as hell, and has nothing against e-bikes. Perhaps Palmer is getting old.
Favorite Ride: Orbea Rallon Team
I cannot decide which out of all the bikes at this year's Bible was my favorite to ride, so I'm choosing my favorite underdog instead. The Norco Sight 29 gets an honorable mention. It surprised everyone by how comfortable and balanced a shredder it was. But it's not that much of an underdog because most people already know that Norco makes fun bikes. It's not enough of a surprise that the Sight rips. The true victory belongs to the Orbea Rallon. Nobody expected Orbea, who's known more for its road and cross-country bikes, to go and make one of the best-riding, most well-rounded, long-travel 29ers ever built. It's slacker than the Evil Wreckoning but climbs far better. It's comfortable on double blacks and blue squares alike, and it's beautiful to boot. I can't for sure say it's my favorite bike, but it's definitely up there. As far as exceeding expectations, nothing else even comes close.
Mike Ferrentino lives in a world defined by poison oak, biting insects, summer wildfires and constant tractor repair. This has done nothing to improve his abilities to ride bikes or assess their qualitative merits with regard to one another. He continues to be surprised that he gets invited back to Bible Camp each year, and harbors a suspicion that the main reason he's included is so that the other test riders can feel good about how much better they look on camera than he does. In spite of this, he continues to attempt getting his back low and his elbows out. He still can't jump worth a damn, is getting slower uphill by the day, but is OK at cornering. He prefers nuggety and rough old trails over purpose-built flow, doesn't mind chairlifts but can't handle crowds, and is a big fan of cocktails chilled with single large cubes of ice.
Favorite Ride: Orbea Rallon Team
After a couple years where I have been falling in love with mid-travel 27.5-inch bikes, this was the year that the big-and-burly 29er came storming back to the forefront. There were so many long-travel 29-inch bikes in the test herd that were just incredibly well-balanced and fun to ride. I secretly wish I was man enough to justify owning a Transition Sentinel, because I found myself going faster downhill through ugly rough stuff on that bike than I ever thought I could. But the terrain I ride mostly isn't burly enough to justify the extremity of that bike. I really should be on a Stumpjumper, because that bike checks all the boxes for the reality of my riding. But my tastes run toward the weird, and that means I inevitably pine for something a little exotic. And the bike that did that, as well as impressed me the most, surprised me with its all-round ease of getting familiar with and blew me away with its broad range of capability was one I least expected: the Orbea Rallon.
Jonathon Weber was elated to be invited to Bible this year, and a little surprised given that he'd just abandoned his post as Bike's full-time online editor. Then, a week before he was supposed to leave for Marquette, a few too many rides on the ass hatchet of a seat that came on his new commuter bike resulted in a swollen saddle sore that almost took him off the roster. If you're going to survive two weeks of testing, you better arrive with your rear end in prime condition. His was far from it. Thankfully, his sensitive spots healed in time, but he wasn't taking any chances, and so Weber's first go-around as a full-time tester was also his first experience with chamois butter. There aren't many trails Weber would be content to lap 40 times over a two-week period, especially since he joneses for jumps as much as tech-gnar. His ideal trail combines the two and rewards riders who link together airs between the roots and rocks. Luckily, Jethro and Ya Hey provided that eclectic mix of terrain, so test laps never felt like work.
Favorite Ride: Norco Sight C2
Two of my favorites from this year are the same bike in different wheel sizes. Norco's Sight 29 and 27.5 turned out to be the dark horses of the test, and not just because they're both painted black. Coming into the Bible, they were probably the bikes I was least excited to ride. It turned out that I wasn't the only one: Every time a local approached us at the trailhead, they'd fondle the Ibis and the Evil and the Specialized and then stroll right by the unremarkable-looking Norcos. Both bikes were also remarkably unremarkable on the trail—but I mean that in the best way possible.
They simply do everything extremely well, with absolutely no fuss. Set them to 30-percent sag and go ride. They'll pedal, climb and descend anything you want, but both are most impressive due to their suspension performance on descents. I hardly had to pay any attention to the Sights while riding them, and if you ask me, that should be the goal for any bike.
The other standout to me was the Nomad. Like the Norco, it did everything incredibly well—even climb, given that it has 170 millimeters of travel. It was supple without giving up on playfulness, and Santa Cruz nailed the details—from the threaded bottom bracket to internally guided cable routing and a shuttle pad on the underside of the downtube.
For the better part of the last 20 years Ryan, or 'Cleek,' as most people who aren't his parents refer to him, has kept the lights on as a writer, photographer and filmmaker. After a decade as the gear and features editor at Los Angeles-based Mountain Bike Action magazine, he enlisted for a three-year tour of duty as a creative content producer for a little bicycle brand out of Morgan Hill, California, before joining forces with Bike in 2015. Having raced bikes since he was just 5 years old, Cleek's world very much still revolves around two wheels; although these days the idea of a Masters division championship doesn't exactly stoke his competitive furnace. When not riding, writing, shooting, perusing celebrity gossip websites or attempting to digest Alan Watts lectures on YouTube, Cleek runs his creative services agency, LookAlive Productions, which has delivered award-winning feature-length films, branded marketing content and a bunch of other shit you've probably never seen.
Favorite Ride: Santa Cruz Hightower LT
As one who's skidded around the mountain bike block a few times, I know what I like, and I feel I have strong, evidence-based opinions that support my feelings. Therefore, I honestly admit my favorite bike of the 2018 Bible completely took me by surprise (forgive me, Satan). In the 2017 Bible testing sessions, I was not shy about my lack of affection for the Santa Cruz Hightower, and I stand by how I remember that bike performing. However, after putting down several grin-fueled outings aboard the new Santa Cruz Hightower LT, which shares the original Hightower front triangle, yet bumps front and rear travel to 150 millimeters and incorporates a new shock linkage and rear triangle, I was simply blown away. For a long-ish-travel 29er, I found the Hightower LT to be extremely stable when mad-dogg'n through rough terrain, but it also felt agile and playful when pointed down jump-filled and bermy flow-style trails. During our time on the remarkable trail system of Marquette, Michigan, I rode dozens of cutting-edge bikes from the sport's most talked-about brands. Yet, the Hightower LT was the only one I wanted to sneak home inside my gearbag. And, if the frame were black, rather than the "nuclear urine" colorway (for the record, my name, not Santa Cruz's) I just might have tried.
Peering into Kristin Butcher's garage in Boulder, Colorado, is like looking into her soul, and not just because it's dark, cold and reeking of various lubricants. Hanging from the walls are a mishmash of bikes, including a fancy 29er, two mod trials bikes, a drop-bar commuter that she rides down staircases too often for her mother's comfort, a cruiser with a built-in wine rack and a litany of kids bikes that are in far better shape than her own. She fixes things. She breaks things too, usually while trying to fix them. The "Butcher Paper" columnist and bike-tomfoolery specialist embraces her flaws with the same fervor in which she minimizes her strengths. She sucks at climbing and knows it, yet is unwilling to put the same effort into getting better at climbing as she does complaining about not being a better climber. Instead, she dedicates most of her ride time to curating a skillset best described as completely useless outside of competitions that require balancing on her front wheel for inordinate periods of time.
Favorite Ride: Spot Mayhem 27.5+ 4-Star Build
Once again, my sleep-deprived week of testing more bikes than I deserve left me drooling more than usual. I was dumbfounded to fall for not just one bike, but two, both of which caught me completely off-guard. The Spot Mayhem made me see a previously unnoticed 27.5+ hole in my quiver. With traction for days and a stability in the air that let me send jumps in a way that I haven't before (namely, by catching air at all), I was ready to commit right up until the last day when I grabbed the trim and sexy Ibis HD4 for a short pleasure ride. Which bike is my favorite? Obviously, the only way to decide is through an extended test on each. Now if I can only get my editor to agree.
Tucked away in the rainy northwestern corner of the U.S., Lacy Kemp can often be found procrastinating on important tasks in order to get in as much riding as she can. A self-proclaimed gravity addict, she prefers rides that end in big, adrenaline-pumping descents. Equally at home in the bike park or on one of Bellingham, Washington's infamous trails, she believes escapism via bike and a daily dose of scaring the crap out of yourself is a healthy way to handle most of life's challenges, hence her appreciation for riding bikes.When not riding, or writing about riding, or dreaming about riding, she can be found teaching yoga at local parks or gyms, having deep conversations with her dog, frequenting one of Bellingham's breweries, snowboarding, attempting to surf or working her new job as Kona's communications manager. She prefers her plate full, but still makes time to do absolutely nothing when the mood strikes.
Favorite Ride: Norco Sight C2 27.5
For the first time in my three-year tenure as a Bible tester, my favorite bike was an easy choice. The Norco Sight C2 27.5 was the clear winner. I could not stop riding this bike. It felt awesome on everything. We rode some pretty rowdy rock slabs, my favorite kind of terrain, and it just cruised down everything with no sketchiness whatsoever. I wasn't surprised it was a good climber, but I was amazed at its descending qualities. This is a bike I would love to ride at home on terrain that really tests me. Marquette offered a ton of variety in terrain, but I want to see how it handles on a big all-day epic, which is where fatigue usually gets the best of me.
I also want to give an honorable mention to the Ibis Mojo HD4. While still on the fence about wider tires, I admit that the 2.6 tire of the HD4 was totally unobtrusive. The bike climbed great and was a total blast downhill. It was slightly cumbersome on some of the slower techier sections, but overall was a total joy to ride.
Will Ritchie was quite excited about the prospect of Bible Camp. You mean—ride bikes, get picky, drink coffee, repeat and maybe the coffee's free? OK fine, add beer too? And the bikes are so-weet? Where does he sign? Ritchie recently joined Bike as managing editor, moving down to Southern California from Marin County—land of mountain bikes' arguable birth and debatable death. As a result of trail riding Mount Tam in high school—during a time before it was cool to admit to riding bikes—Ritchie prefers tighter, technical, medium-speed trails and can only climb fire road and descend singletrack. Anything else and he'll turn to dust. He's not entirely sure what all this talk is of machine-built trails—sooo, ask the machines nicely and they build the trails for you? He likes a little bit of coffee with his half-and-half, and loves thinking over the next bikepacking trip.
Favorite Ride: Evil Following MB
Favorite bike to me means most fun bike. It's the bike that once I ride it, I can't help but want to ride it more—beyond that, I can't help but just want to ride more period. I don't have to justify it—the bike for climbing, bike for real-deal descending, bike for this trip, that trip, long ride, short ride, NorCal, SoCal … too many nuances. The favorite bike needs to be simple.
My favorite bike is the Evil Following MB. OK—yes, this bike gets a lot of love. Even so, the Following MB actually tells you you're awesome. I'm hearing voices and they're saying nice things. I'm not awesome so this is quite nice to hear. Self-preservation minded or not, it's time to pop off that rock, thread those roots, gap—dare I say it—gap that patch of trail to that one. Anything and everything becomes fun. It has this lovely supple, then supportive, then controlled smoothness throughout the stroke, addictively nice.
A close runner-up is the Kona Process CR/DL 27.5. I'm a 29-inch extremist with a religious fervor for the big wheel that is second to none. Evangelical puts it lightly. The Process CR/DL 27.5 with its height-challenged curious wheels makes me wonder if I've gone craz(ier), it's simply splendid.