Mountain Bike of the Year Nominees
We reviewed dozens of new bikes this year, everything from ultralight cross-country machines to race-ready downhill bikes. The sheer number of excellent options out there makes it challenging to select just four nominees for Pinkbike’s Mountain Bike of the Year, but after several rounds of deliberation, the following contenders ended up on top. These are the bikes we couldn’t stop thinking about, the ones that we wanted to take on one more ride, long after it was time to box them up and send them away.
The Forbidden Druid, Norco Optic, Specialized Enduro, and Santa Cruz Hightower / Juliana Maverick all have their own unique ride characteristics, but they share one obvious trait: 29” wheels. That’s right, for the first time ever, all of the bikes that were nominated roll on big wheels. The pool of new 27.5” wheeled bikes was shallower than ever this year, and while there were several solid contenders, they didn’t quite make the cut to get into the final round.
Last year it was Commencal’s Supreme DH 29 that took the win – who will emerge victorious this time around?
Why it’s nominated
Forbidden is a relative newcomer to the mountain bike world, but company founders Owen Pemberton and Alastair Beckett have years of experience in the industry that they were able to draw from when creating the Druid. Although it may look like a mini-downhill bike, thanks to that idler pulley and high pivot suspension design, the Druid is a trail bike through-and-through, with 130mm of rear travel and a 150mm fork.
The level of refinement on the Druid is impressive, especially considering that this is Forbidden’s very first model. It’s the ride quality that cemented the bike’s inclusion on this list, with trail manners that make it stand out from the crowd. The geometry is modern but not extreme; pair that with the unique feel of the rear suspension and you have the recipe for one engaging ride.
As the original review said, “the suspension has the firmer, more supportive feel you’d expect from a shorter travel bike on smaller bumps, but its ability to smooth out bigger hits is what separates it from other bikes in this travel bracket. It’s a sensation that seems to dare you to go even faster into chopped up sections of trail, simply to see how the back end will respond.” We all know that going fast is fun, and the Druid is one of those bikes that brings an extra level of entertainment to the trails.
Why it’s nominated
The Optic was a smash hit at this year’s Pinkbike Field Test, wowing testers with its mix of playfulness and surefooted descending capabilities. It’s a testament to the importance of good geometry – Norco hit the nail on the head with the numbers on this bike. The concept of mixing a moderate amount of travel with relatively long and slack geometry numbers isn’t a new one, but Norco pushed things a bit further than what had been done in the past, and the result is a bike that’s at the top of the charts when it comes to all-out fun.
The 125mm of travel rear is handled by a pint-sized RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock, one that’s free of any sort of lockout lever, a testament to Norco’s confidence in the bike’s pedaling abilities. Despite having way too many adjectives in its name, that shock performed admirably, even when we took the bike on trails in the Whistler Bike Park where it probably didn’t belong. That’s really the only downside to that geometry, if you can call it that; it makes it easy to forget that you’re on a shorter travel bike, and you’ll find yourself heading down lines that don’t typically see trail bike traffic.
Sorted geometry, well-managed suspension, and a clutter-free frame design puts the Norco Optic in the running for Pinkbike’s Mountain Bike of the Year.
Why it’s nominated
The Enduro has been in Specialized’s lineup for over 20 years, but the newest model is the burliest, most badass version yet. Specialized went all-in on the design of the new bike, taking the World Cup DH winning suspension layout from the Demo and combining it with truly modern geometry numbers to create a 170mm bump-crushing beast.
The fact that Specialized didn’t hold back is one of the reasons they earned a spot on this list – the new Enduro is unapologetically gravity oriented, a bike that makes it even harder to justify owning a dedicated downhill rig. It’s certainly not a bike for cruising on mellow trails, but it is impressively pedalable, with a better response under power than the previous version, a reasonable weight, and the unmatched convenience of that SWAT box in the downtube.
Why it’s nominated
The Hightower and its sibling, the Juliana Maverick, aren’t the longest, slackest, or even the lightest 140mm bikes out there, but they are some of the the most refined, and it’s that exceptional attention to detail that helped earn them a nomination. The Hightower’s versatility is its strong suit, with enough travel to navigate all but the hairiest descents, and balanced geometry that gives it the ability to remain enjoyable on a wide range of terrain. The shock tune is well matched to the VPP suspension design, with plenty of traction for the slippery stuff, and enough support for grinding out those big climbs.
Feel like trying an enduro race? That’s not out of the question, especially if you slapped on a 160mm fork and some tough tires. How about a long backcountry tour with a serious amount of vertical? That’s entirely feasible too – there aren’t too many situations where the Hightower feels out of its element. Bonus points go to Santa Cruz for also offering an aluminum version of the Hightower, which helps make the price of admission a little less daunting.