In search of an aggressive bike that retains respectable climbing skills? Welcome to our enduro round-up. We do our homework to make sure our test bikes are the most intriguing and capable enduro machines on the market. Then we ride them, hard, on a wide of terrain to help you find the best bike for your needs. No, these enduro bikes aren't the most impressive climbers, but they are capable. Once aimed downhill, these shred sleds are in their element, offering stable and confident performance. If you live for steep and rough downhills, these bikes were made for you. Seeking a better balance between climbing and descending skills? Head over to our trail bike review to learn about those practical bicycles.
The Yeti SB5.5 offers high-level performance mountain wide. Admirable climbing abilities compliment its undeniable appetite for speed. A meaty Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5-inch front tire, burly Fox 36 fork, and 800 x 35mm handlebars make for a mean front end. Classic 29er-style plowing is definitely on the menu and small bump compliance is excellent. The SB5.5 encourages a red-lining attitude and its capability and confidence increase with speed. Reasonably efficient pedaling keeps the large front-end tolerable when climbing. The suspension design provides excellent traction and keeps the bike moving swiftly over rocks and holes. The SB5.5 occupies the hallowed space between trail bikes and uber-slack and squishy super enduro rigs. It's a practical daily driver for those who are willing to haul a bit more bike uphill to get rowdy on the way down.
Confident, fast, and supple descender
Solid climbing skills
Not overly plush on large impacts
Overkill for daily smooth trail rides
While the front end smooths out harsh impacts, the rear end translates them more than plush contenders like the Evil Insurgent or Santa Cruz Nomad. The trade-off for that rock swallowing front end is a sluggish feel on longer, smoother climbs and uphill switchbacks. The Santa Cruz Hightower LT provides similar downhill skills as the Yeti but stands up to bigger impacts better.
Buy it if you want a point-and-shoot machine on enduro grade descents that are still pleasant to pedal for hours. The Yeti SB5.5 balances enduro performance and all-mountain skills well enough to hold up as a one bike quiver. Initially, we favored the climbing on the Hightower LT. After more extensive testing we found the Yeti SB5.5's softer feel off the top provides better climbing traction. In addition, suspension motion is better at crawling up technical steps where the Hightower LT can get hung up. Prices range from $4,999 to $8,199 in sizes M to XL.
Read review: Yeti SB5.5 2017
The Santa Cruz Hightower LT doesn't borrow from one performance metric to shore up another. It avoids extreme angles or travel numbers, resulting in a balanced bike that performs on every aspect of the trail. The Hightower LT is stable and predictable when heading down enduro terrain. It remains composed and confident on bigger impacts where some 150mm bikes shutter. Pounding out miles on steep or technical trails is remarkably pleasant on this bike, despite its slack seat tube angle. Flat sections of trail are also a good time, with a snappier pedal feel than most enduro mountain bikes.
Solid and reliable downhill skills
Less aggressive on super-gnar
Good on big hits, less supple in chop
While it's billed as an enduro rig, this bike feels less like an enduro race bike and more like a dialed long-legged all-mountain bike. Piloting it down the roughest of terrain takes more finesse and better descending skills compared to some of the slacker and longer travel options. The XE build we tested offers a mixed bag of component quality for $5,699. The Shimano XT drivetrain, Shimano brakes, and the new Fox DPX2 rear shock are highlights. Terrible Novatec hubs are not. Despite the high price tag, the bike's high-quality frame and impressive capabilities keep its value reasonable.
Buy it if you love climbing as much as tackling the most challenging descents. You'll have to make smarter line choices than you would on some full-blown enduro bikes but the ride more than capable. If you'd like more support for similar performance with excellent small bump compliance and a mean front end, look to the Yeti SB5.5. Prices range from $3,949 to $8,099 in sizes S to XXL.
Read review: Hightower LT 2018
Excellent high-speed descending
Calm and plush suspension
Sluggish and tiring climbing
Not a good choice for a one bike quiver
The 2018 Santa Cruz Nomad V4 loves one thing and one thing only. High speeds and rowdy terrain. It forgoes swift and comfortable climbing skills in favor of slack angles and downhill domination. The Nomad's personality and handling skills improve dramatically when carrying a healthy dose of speed. A plush and calm rear end makes easy work of braking bumps, rocks, and roots. Bike park laps and truck shuttles are a strong suit of this obscenely confident shredder.
A little patience and whole lot of hard work will get you back to the top of your favorite downhill track. This hefty and long bicycle has a low slung feel and navigating technical pitches requires some attention. There is nothing fun or energy efficient about climbing this bike, but it gets the job done.
Buy it if you want unmatched downhill performance and don't mind drastically sacrificing climbing skills. If you want slightly improved climbing abilities at the expense of a small amount of top-end downhill performance, look to the Evil Insurgent. The Nomad is available in aluminum and two grades of carbon fiber. Prices range from $3,599 all the way to $8,199. The Nomad V4 is available in XS-S women's frame
Read review: Santa Cruz Nomad R 2018
Wickedly fun on technical descents, the Evil Insurgent lives for high speed. Its handling improves exponentially with every increase in RPM. A dialed DELTA suspension system glides over rocky gnar, providing a quiet, grounded feel and plenty of traction. This bike's downhill prowess cannot be overstated. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't shake the Insurgent.
Outrageous high-speed descending skills
Listless climbing skills
Cumbersome at slow speeds
The Insurgent's long and low geometry is a lot to manage at modest speeds or when climbing. Slow speed handling and uphill skills suffer dearly as a result. This bike gets you to the top of the hill, but it certainly won't inspire day-long pedal missions.
Buy it if you like to go downhill fast and get a little sendy at the bike park. This is not a middle-of-the-road enduro mountain bike. It was made to go downhill. Everything else is a distraction. It's best for those that tend towards shuttling missions or are willing to work harder on the climbs for screaming downhill performance. Prices range from $4,699 to $6,199 in sizes S to XL.
Read review: Evil Insurgent 2017
The Commencal Meta AM has a singletrack skillset that resembles that of the Evil Insurgent for almost half the price. Based on our First Look of the Insurgent, the Evil is a livelier and more dynamic descender than the Commencal. The straight lining Meta AM can take on the same terrain. It just displays a bit less personality while doing so, and its suspension is far less refined. The rear end is easy to trick. If you get too ambitious with multiple line choices, you'll overwhelm its composure and lock it up. While it settles into speed with increasing confidence, the Meta AM never quite gets playful. It keeps its head down. If you hold a steady line, the bike remains cool and calm in even the most rugged chutes.
Excellent downhill performance at speed
Impressive component specifications
Sluggish, slow speed handling
At slow speeds, the long and low bike is a sluggish handler. It's also one of the least inspired climbers we've ever lugged up a hill. If you sit down, relax, and seek some inner zen, you'll get to the top eventually.
Buy if you want impressive, high-speed downhill performance at a bargain. If you love a playful enduro ride, look to the Evil Insurgent or Santa Cruz Nomad. Less aggressive riders or those who place equal emphasis on climbing should refer to the two quiver-killers up top. Prices range from $2,449 to $5,199 in sizes S to L.
Read review: Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Essential
The YT Carpa is a relatively well-rounded enduro sled, but we think of it more as a stout trail bike. When the shock's climb switch is employed the Capra is a very effective climber. It sets you up in a fairly efficient and forward climbing position on top of the cranks. Power transfer is reasonable for such a burly bike, and the Capra can work its way up technical terrain better than most enduro rigs we've tested. The long and low geometry doesn't lend itself to bending around uphill corners especially well. Given the stellar climbing skills, the YT Capra is a nice option longer rides with substantial amounts of climbing.
Surprisingly effective climber
Top-notch build value
Super-progressive suspension design is harsh on the descent
When aimed downhill the experience is more mediocre, especially for the enduro category. The ultra-progressive suspension design provides a harsh and jarring ride regardless of shock pressure/setup. This aggressive, long-travel bike, rides like it has substantially less travel than it does.
Buy it if you want an enduro bike that climbs well and has excellent components. While the descending skills are harsh, there is no doubt that the Capra is capable when aimed downhill, it's just a far cry from the downhill-dominating options on this list. The Capra is available in carbon fiber or aluminum in S-XL with build kits ranging from $2,599 to $5,599.
Read Review:YT Capra AL Comp 2017
Is Enduro Right for You?
The enduro mountain bike is a great option for riders who opt to ride black to double black terrain regularly. Most of these bikes get more playful as speeds increase and offer their highest levels of performance to aggressive riders. Still, these bikes can help newer riders feel confident on descents by providing them the geometry and squish to succeed. They also diminish the addictively lively feel of a trail bike on the majority of terrain.
Meant to tackle the roughest trails around, enduro mountain bikes are built to patiently scale climbs well enough to eschew lift service while approaching downhill bike proficiency on descents. As the enduro category evolves, the bikes are getting better. They shred downhill harder than ever, and their climbing abilities are steadily improving. These advancements resulted in a massive surge in the number of riders using these bikes as daily drivers. If they can climb kind of like a trail bike and descend twice as well, it seems like a no-brainer, right? The reality is that few trails demand as much travel as a hardcore enduro rig provides. These bikes smooth out ordinary trails enough to render them dull. Aggressive geometry — including slack head tube angles, longer top tubes, and longer wheelbases than pure trail bikes — can make enduro bikes feel cumbersome and sluggish by comparison. Thus, the resurgent trail bike still reigns supreme for the majority of riders on the majority of trails.
Find the Enduro Bike for the Ride You Like
Enduro bikes range from beefed-up trail bikes to slimmed down freeride bikes. The type of enduro mountain bike you want depends on the type of terrain you usually ride. Here's some food for thought.
All-Day Adventures -or- Daily Local Rides with Big Mountain Strike Missions — Looking to work hard all day to get to the top of some nasty downhill lines? Spend weekdays on moderate local trails but split for big lines in the mountains every weekend? A bike that isn't too sluggish on climbs and mellow lines or too skittish to tackle big terrain is the holy grail. The two quiver-killers have it. If your long day in the saddle skews toward brutal, hard-hitting descents, the Santa Cruz Hightower LT is a great option. Ride a lot of trails with chattery, rapid-fire small bumps? The Yeti SB5.5 is a calm descender on trails without too many big impacts. Intitially, we gave the Hightower LT the nod in the climbing category over the SB5.5. Now we aren't so sure. The Yeti suspension remains more active when climbing which can be beneficial. The Hightower LT has a firmer pedal platform.
Mellow Days or Smooth Flow Terrain — Enduro-grade suspension numbers can easily drown out the fun rolls and features of chill trails. The lively Santa Cruz Hightower LT is most adept at toning it down and enjoying a casual rip. Handling at slower speeds are far better than the ultra-long and squishy shred sleds. in. If this is the type of trail you ride every day, however, you want a trail bike.
Race Day — The enduro category is named after a style of race with multiple timed downhill sections or stages. The mandatory climbs or transfers to the top of the next downhill stage are not timed. Optimizing a bike for this type of riding means making it a killer descender than can pedal effectively. Some feel that saving energy on the climbs on a more efficient bike is the way to win the race. In addition, some of the downhill stages are particularly pedally and efficiency matters. Others want a downhill focused machine and don't give a whip how well it wobbles uphill.
Downhill Laps — Just looking to chug up fire roads, hitch shuttle rides, or head to a bike park bang out laps? The Santa Cruz Nomad, Evil Insurgent and Commencal Meta AM are all excellent options to lap your favorite burly trails.
You buy consumer direct mountain bikes directly from the manufacturer. This cuts out the middleman, i.e., the revered bike shop. This results in substantial savings and insanely high-end builds. What it doesn't buy you, is a relationship with a local bike shop mechanic. Sure you can still pay a shop to work on your bike, but they may be far less likely to perform any complimentary work. It's up to you whether you favor the cash savings or the support network of buying a bike locally. We reviewed the Commencal Meta AM noted above along with four other consumer direct models from Commencal, YT, and Intense. They are all excellent bikes, but not the best of the best.
Women's Enduro Bikes
There aren't many enduro mountain bikes build specifically for women. The Liv Hail and Juliana Strega are two exceptions. The Hail has women's specific geometry. The Strega shares a frame with the Santa Cruz Nomad V4. Both come with shock tuning to suit the lighter weight of women riders. They also feature women specific contact points such as saddles and grips. For the most part, women are riding the same unisex enduro bikes that men are.
Aside from the lighter shock tune, the most female-friendly action a bike manufacturer can take is providing bikes in smaller sizes. All of the bikes on this page come in a size small except for the Yeti SB5.5 which starts at a medium. Only the Santa Cruz Nomad — a.k.a. the Juliana Strega — comes in an extra small.
After you figure out what kind of terrain you want to tackle, there are some component decisions to make. These choices will help you narrow the field and figure out which complete build options will work for you.
Many mountain bikers will tell you that the quality of a bike's components determine how it will perform on trail. We find the opposite to be true. An awesome frame with subpar components outperforms an average frame with a killer component package every time. If you're going to splurge, we recommend doing so on high-quality geometry and suspension design. You can slowly replace components over time. Components are expensive, but this spreads the cost out. The danger here is that you may lose the race against mountain bike innovation. Geometry can evolve so rapidly that by the time you have your frame all built up, you may want a new bike.
This is not to say that you should automatically spring for a high-cost carbon fiber chassis. Aluminum only sacrifices marginal amounts of weight, strength and long-term durability. It's not a difference that makes or breaks ride quality for most people. Splurge on carbon fiber if your bike is your baby and you plan on having it for a while.
Each bike's suspension/linkage design tries to optimize performance by absorbing small and large hits and maximize efficiency by resisting activation via pedaling or braking forces. These designs vary in appearance, complexity, and functionality and often have a distinct feel across a brand. Some work better than others. Rear travel should start at 140mm for a 29er and 150/160mm for a 27.5 bike.
Enduro bikes exist on a spectrum. None of them are particularly well suited for a beginner rider, but many are forgiving enough to encourage less experienced riders to charge downhill. If you want the benefits of an aggressive descender along with all-day comfort and climbing abilities, check out the quiver killing Yeti SB5.5 or Santa Cruz Hightower LT. If you want the most aggressive ride downhill on a bike that can still climb, look to the Santa Cruz Nomad, Evil Insurgent or Commencal Meta AM.
— Clark Tate, Pat Donahue