Heavy on performance and light on the wallet.
Bikes are expensive. $8,000 bikes are really expensive. Our reviews are full of high-end bikes that are usually dripping in carbon and blingy components. Well, this one is a little different. We have four bikes under $3,000 for a Trail Bike Showdown. Still a lot of money, but not second mortgage amounts of money. The $3,000 price point is great for a beginner to intermediate full-suspension mountain bike that will perform well and last a long time — Ideal for a first-time bike buyer or a shredder on a budget. The four bikes we’ve selected are the same models as their high-end, carbon counterparts. You get the same frame design, suspension platform and geometry as the version that costs $8,000 — no watered down, cheapo bikes here.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a bike snob. I’ve been lucky to ride a whole lot of really nice bikes. I like light and stiff carbon frames, powerful brakes with all the adjustments and suspension with so many knobs and dials it looks like a fighter pilot’s cockpit. Here’s the deal though — I also understand that bikes are bikes. They have two wheels, a seat and a way to make them go. They’re a hell of a lot of fun to ride and always end up putting a big grin on my face. So will these less expensive bikes be any less fun? I doubt it. After all is said and done, they’re bikes.
The Bikes on offer
Ibis Ripmo AF – NX // Santa Cruz Hightower – D Aluminum // Orbea Occam – H20 // Giant Reign 29 – 2
You’ll notice some name brands in this showdown. High-end brands like Santa Cruz, Ibis, Orbea and Giant. All four of our test bikes have between 140 and 147mm of rear travel, 140 – 160mm of front travel and all of their head tube angles lie between 64.9° – 66°. That puts each bike squarely in the trail/all-mountain/enduro/aggressive trail/well rounded/everyday/do-everything…… category. Look, there’s too many damn categories these days. Let’s agree to call this group of bicycles “mountain bikes that can go up and down mountains.” The geometries, travel amounts and intended uses of these bikes are all pretty similar. They’d all be good options if you like mountain biking. Oh, and as a bonus they all have steep seat tubes with the slackest at 76°.
Interestingly enough, all four of these bikes utilize different suspension platforms, DW-Link, VPP, Maestro and a concentric axle pivot design. I’d argue that the differing platforms will be the defining characteristic between them all.
Build kits between all four bikes are pretty similar. They all have alloy frames, a mix of Shimano and Sram 12-speed drivetrains, hydraulic disc brakes and dropper posts. They each sport a different fork with the offerings including the Fox 34 Performance, DVO Diamond, Rockshox 35 Gold and the Rockshox Yari. If I had to guess what my biggest hangup would be with each of these components specs, it would be the brakes. All the bikes come with either the Shimano 500 series brakes or Sram’s guide T counterpart.
I’m going to keep these short and sweet. If you want to dive deeper, watch the video or read the specific reviews linked under each bike.Enough with all this preface stuff. Let’s get down to it.
Trail Bike Showdown Orbea Occam H20 – $2,999
The Orbea Occam H20 is a trail bike — no ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s not trying to be anything more or less. The best way to describe how it rides is the following. It’s a 120mm trail bike with an extra 20mm of travel for those spicy moments. That make sense? The Occam feels quick, snappy and efficient like a 120mm bike usually does, except it has 140mm of travel. It climbs very well and rewards that extra effort. The extra travel is really nice for when you get in over your head, or pick a bad line. But, this bike isn’t for charging into rocks with reckless abandon — it requires some finesse and an active pilot.
Climbing — 5/5
Descending — 3/5
Value — 4/5
Trail Bike Showdown Giant Reign 29 2 – $3,000
If you want a burly descender, look no further. The Giant Reign 29 2 takes the cake when it comes to flat out speed and stability in rough terrain. The extra long reach and wheelbase give the bike a very planted feel no matter what’s happening where the tires meet the dirt, or rocks, or roots. The suspension feels amazing and does a great job of providing traction and control. There’s plenty of support to make soft landing out of the biggest hits. It’s not the most excited climber or the snappiest bike. If you’re after that, look elsewhere. It’s not a pig — It does well enough.
Climbing — 3/5
Descending — 5/5
Value — 3/5
Trail Bike Showdown Santa Cruz Hightower D Aluminum – $2,899
There’s something about the way the new lower link VPP rides. It’s super plush, provides gobs of traction and is supportive for both climbing and descending. The Hightower D Aluminum takes full advantage of Santa Cruz’s amazing suspension performance. The bike climbs well, despite being the heaviest in our test. It may be heavy on a scale, but doesn’t feel heavy on the trail. It turns the terrain into a magic carpet ride on the way back down the mountain. It offers incredible small bump sensitivity and traction. Just try to get the wheels to brake loose — we dare you. All that adds up to the best all-rounder in our test.
Climbing — 4/5
Descending — 4.5/5
Value — 2/5
Trail Bike Showdown Ibis Ripmo AF NX – $3,000
The Ripmo AF is probably the bike we get asked about the most in our test. Everyone wants to know if it’s too good to be true. A bike that rides like the famed Ripmo for three grand? Well, it’s real folks — not some magical unicorn that doesn’t actually exist. The Ripmo climbs well, descends really well and somehow brings some incredibly high-performing, adjustable suspension to the table for $3000. Add up the fork and shock alone and you’re already at $1,500. How do they give you the rest of the bike for only another $1,500? We’re stumped — it must be magic.
Well, there you have it. Four modern mountain bikes for under $3000. The thing to remember is that these are all bikes. They come in at a price well under what their high-end counterparts cost, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less fun. Sure, you’ll miss out on a few niceties like extra-crisp shifting, the ability to tune and tweak your suspension (except if you buy the DVO equipped Ripmo AF), ultra-strong brakes and the ride qualities of a carbon frame. In all honesty, those niceties probably add only a small performance gain. In the end, you’ll still be riding a bike and bikes are fun.