We brought five of our absolute favorite trail bikes to the incredible trail system of Nevada City, CA with the goal of assessing their real-world capabilities beyond the glossy marketing claims. Rather than determining a definitive "best" bike, which varies depending on individual rider preferences, we aimed to analyze how each bike excels in the specific ride characteristics we value for trail riding.

Following the test, each rider was asked to distribute 100 points across the five categories to determine the bike's relative standing among the others.

Climbing: How well does the the suspension and seating position work together to get you to the top?

Descending: How does the bike deliver confidence and control in high speed, steep, and technical situations?

Handling: How well does the bike take your weight shifts and steering inputs and translate that into where the bike goes?

Pedaling Efficiency: Does the suspension and frame design effectively turn your power and strength into forward movement or is there wasted effort?

Value: What do you get for your money and how is this the bike priced relative to others with similar specs?








140MM TRAVEL | 29" Wheels



Situated about an hour northeast of our Mike’s Bikes stores in the greater Sacramento area, Nevada City checks the box for “idyllic mountain town”. Its extensive trail network, meticulously constructed and cared for by the dedicated members of BONC (Bicyclists of Nevada City), sprawls throughout the surrounding area.

With huge redwood trees and loamy dirt, Nevada City emerges as a sought-after haven for riders seeking the perfect blend of fluidity and fun.

Hailing from the Bay Area, Brandt is the Tech Manager for Mike's Bikes of Highlands Ranch in Colorado, and (as you'll see in the videos) has a healthy lack of fear when the trail points down.

Our fearless leader from Colorado, Whitney, leads all of our stores throughout the greater Denver Area. She’s a lifelong mountain rider who firmly believes in building a better cycling community.

Mike’s Bikes ambassador and Bay Area local, Justin, works with local programs like the Bay Area Bike Project and East Bay Rippers. His mission is to get more people on bikes and to connect the community through organized group rides and impactful social media engagement.

What We Love: There is the trail as you see it, and the trail as the Santa Cruz 5010 can ride it. Every rock, root, bump, and berm is a launch pad for the 5010 to connect parts of the trail in ways that you never expected.

It’s never the fastest, but it’s always the most fun. It was the only MX wheel (27.5” rear and 29” front) bike in our selection and it helps keep the back end tucked underneath the bike and the front end floating over the ground like a hovercraft. But, that’s not it – The 5010 pedals just shy of a proper XC bike meaning that you can always put power down to keep your momentum and maneuver the bike with ease.

What We Love: Of the bikes we had on display, the Giant Trance X is the most true to the much-loved trail formula. Want a bike that climbs, descends, handles, and pedals great? Look no further than the Trance. While every other bike in our selection seeks to amplify some aspect of the trail experience, the Trance takes the high road and is truly the bike that is the most capable in most situations.

It also must be said that Giant brings the widest range of price and spec to the game – from crazy spec with Fox’s LiveValve suspension to models with practical ride-it-and-forget-it trims.

What We Love: The Pivot Trail 429 stood out as the epitome of suspension excellence within our group. Its exceptional suspension prowess brings on confidence in challenging situations where other short travel trail bikes would tremble in fear. Pair the plush suspension with the ability to put power down to the trail telepathically, and you’ve got a bike that feels way more confident than your average 120mm travel bike.

While we wouldn’t classify Pivot as a value brand, we’d be remiss if we didn’t call out that Pivot only has 1 level of frame, the best. No matter the spec level, you walk out with the best layup and linkage pivot can make, without any compromises. And hey, that’s value, right?

What We Love: The Habit is the bike for your buddy who ALWAYS wants to lead the downhill, always has their hand up to hit a jump first, and somehow manages not to soil their drawers when they run out of talent. It was the most capable and longest travel bike of our group of trail bikes and had the slackest and most stable ride. Not to mention, you get all that, and you don’t have to break the bank.

Whether you opt for the Carbon LT1 that we were riding or the entry-level alloy habit, Cannondale has curated the component selections to enhance the Habits capabilities, all while ensuring a reasonable price point that allows you to buy it with the spare change hidden in your couch cushions (assuming you have a generously-sized couch).

What We Love: Truly the downhiller’s XC bike, the Joplin’s (and Tallboy’s) 29” wheels give confidence at speed over any terrain you throw at it or help carry momentum while you’re learning the ropes. To put it simply, the Joplin has range. It will make a beginner fall in love with the trail with its ease of riding and let the most experienced rider absolutely float over the gnarliest line you can find on the trail.