PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
12 Downcountry and Trail Bikes Face the Efficiency Test
Gravel Riding For Science
Through this field test, we’ve talked about any number of exciting new concepts. Whether it’s downcountry or the famed aggressive-variable-trail-enduro bikes, it’s all got a bit exciting. What about, however, something boring and old-fashioned such as efficiency? How much your shock bobs about might not be the top of your concerns, but then again you probably don’t care about 120mm bikes that are unaccountably not called trail bikes either, yet here we are.
To do it, we measured a 750-meter course up a gravel road climb, then placed timing cones at the start and finish points. A set of Garmin Vector power pedals talked to a 1030 head unit, and we set it up to display normalized, 10-second, and 3-second power numbers; the idea is to have each bike finish the climb with the same normalized, 250-watt power number. This means that at the same power output the more efficient bikes should take less time to complete the course.
The climb is relatively short and, as fire roads go, it wasn’t particularly rough. That’s not to say it was as smooth as glass, but it was more about seated easy climbing than out of the saddle grunts and bumps.
This is a different climb from any that we’ve used before so it doesn’t hold many comparisons outside of this year’s group. However, within that context, it’s very telling. It’s also worth noting that mechanical efficiency is easy to measure via a power meter. Metabolic efficiency is not only far harder to compare but is also, rather staggeringly, even less interesting.
Efficiency Test Results
1st Trek Top Fuel – 2:37
2nd Rocky Mountain Element – 2:38
3rd Santa Cruz Blur TR – 2:41
4th Canyon Lux Trail – 2.42
5th Niner Jet – 2:43
5th Giant Trance 29 Advanced (climb mode setting on Live Valve) – 2:43
7th Giant Trance (open mode setting on Live Valve) – 2:45
1st Specialized Stumpjumper Evo – 3:10
1st Raaw Jibb – 3:10
3rd Scor 4060 ST – 3:11
4th Starling Murmur – 3:13
5th Propain Hugene – 3:14
6th Ghost Riot – 3:17
What’d we learn after way too many trips up the gravel road?
Not surprisingly, the downcountry bikes were faster, even if the size of the gap did surprise me. The grippy, thicker casing tires no doubt played their part in that. Within each category the gaps were seconds… but when you change tires the results become drastically different. The fastest trail bikes were also metal. Weird. It’s almost as if frame material and suspension travel are only two pieces in a larger puzzle, but that can’t be it.
The Jibb and Stumpjumper Evo shared top honours for the trail bikes. Both aluminium, yet faster than everything else.
Let’s be real though – our efficiency test is a good indication of a bike but it’s not the be all and end all, and it isn’t always representative of how fast a bike will be on singletrack. It’s interesting but it’s not a peer-reviewed science experiment.