The hardest part about this whole showdown was trying to come up with a name for this type of bike. I couldn’t bring myself to use the “downcountry” word. “Upduro” is even worse. “XC-ish” felt too vague. So, I settled on a generic yet descriptive name. Welcome to the Short-Travel 29er Showdown. None of these bikes are pure cross-country race rigs, nor are they full-blown trail bikes. They fall into no man’s land between the two categories. Additionally, we found we could separate these four bikes into two smaller subcategories — long-travel XC and short-travel trail. The Orbea Oiz TR and Cannondale Scalpel SE fall into the former, while the Transition Spur and Yeti SB115 are in the latter category. Now that I’ve used up my hyphen quota for the month let’s get into how these bikes ride.
It has been a good year if you like riding short-travel 29ers. So many new and promising options have launched in the last few months. The short-travel 29er is a great daily driver for most folks in Northern Utah. For the most part, they are capable enough to ride all but the most challenging trails yet fast enough uphill to make light work of the climbs. They also tend to make the most out of mellower terrain. They’re great for pumping, jumping, and goofing off. In the right hands, they’ll do just fine on rough and rugged Southern Utah trails like Captain Ahab, Zen, and The Whole Enchilada. Ideally, you’d ride something with a little more travel on those trails, but these bikes will be OK.
All four of our bikes have between 115 and 120mm of rear-wheel travel and 120-130mm of fork travel. That’s about where the similarities stop, however. The geometry varies radically, the suspensions platforms feel very different on the trail, and each bike has its unique ride quality. Interestingly enough, three of the four bikes rely on carbon frame flex instead of a pivot near the rear axle.
I’m going to cover each bike’s key features here, but if you want to learn more about each one, I’m also going to link to their original full-length reviews.
short travel showdown Orbea Oiz tr – The Sporty one
The Orbea Oiz TR is incredibly light. It uses Orbea’s OMX carbon layup, which allows for a frame and shock to come in under 1800 grams. That’s impressively lightweight. It uses frame flex instead of a pivot at the rear axle like Orbea’s other full-suspension mountain bikes. Ditching the pivot saves weight while not sacrificing too much on suspension feel.
The Oiz TR rocks 120/120mm of travel and the most XC geometry of the bunch. The head tube is steep at 68 degrees. The bike is short, keeping it spry and agile. The reach in size large is 446mm, and the wheelbase is 1150. For reference, that’s smaller than a medium Transition Spur. At 608mm, the stack height feels very XC, bringing your weight more over the front wheel. It helps on steep climbs and rolling terrain. The low front end is a little intimidating when the descents get steep and rocky.
The Oiz is a full-on rocketship. It accelerates very quickly both up and downhill. Give it a few pedal strokes out of a corner, and you’re back up to full speed. It rides surprisingly smooth in chattery terrain, keeping its speed through small bumps. When the trail gets really rough, the Oiz can get in over its head. It’s not a bike that will let you close your eyes and plow through the rocks. You’ll need to be careful about picking good lines. The suspension feels firm and supportive throughout the entire stroke. If I had to sum it all up in one word, I’d say it’s sporty.
short travel showdown cannondale scalpel se – the balanced one
Like the Oiz, the Scalpel SE rides more like an XC bike than it does a trail bike. Although, its head tube angle is a degree slacker at 67 degrees. The slacker front end adds a bit more capability and confidence on the downhills. It still doesn’t descend like a trail bike, though. Everything from the suspension, fit, and ride quality says, “XC.”
The Scalpel’s geometry is more traditional XC. It has a 67-degree head tube angle, 450mm reach (size large) 1172mm wheelbase, and a low stack height of 611mm. It all adds up to a nimble ride. The Scalpel SE is great for picking your way up technical climbs. The suspension provides enough pedal platform to eliminate pedal bob, while also offering decent traction. For medium-sized bumps, the suspension opens up nicely. The suspension feel is rather plush, considering it relies on frame flex instead of a rear pivot.
Speaking of suspension, The 120/120mm of travel does an outstanding job on the downhills too. I was particularly impressed with the RockShox Sid fork. For being on the lighter side, it feels stiff and controlled. I didn’t notice too much deflection. The 35mm stanchions are to thank for that.
short travel showdown Transition spur – the rowdy one
From the very start, the Transition Spur felt like a trail bike. Considering the more extreme geometry, it makes sense that the Spur would fit and feel more like a trail bike. It’s tough to tell if the Spur is an XC bike or a trail bike based on climbing performance. It’s very fast uphill and covers ground quickly. It’s not as quick to accelerate as the Oiz and Scalpel, but it feels snappier than most other trail bikes. On the downhills, it is the most rugged descender thanks to the geometry. It feels very “Transition.”
It has 120/120mm of front and rear travel and also uses carbon flex instead of a rear pivot. The head tube angle is the slackest of the bunch at 66 degrees. The reach and wheelbase are also the longest at 480mm and 1219mm, respectively. The stack height isn’t as tall as the Yeti’s, but it more closely resembles a trail bike at 619mm.
The Spur is a bit unique in that it fits and feels like a big bike, yet it only has 120mm of travel. It can get you into a little bit of trouble at times. The geometry allows you to ride pretty fast. However, when things get really rough, it doesn’t have a ton of travel to back you up. It requires laser focus to ride at the speeds it wants to go. If you want a light and quick bike for big days in the mountains, but don’t want to sacrifice your riding style on the descents, the Spur is going to be the bike for you.
short travel showdown Yeti sb115 – the sneaky one
Don’t let this one fool you. While it might look pretty XC, it’s way more trail than you might think. The Yeti SB115 looks a bit odd on paper. The geometry is a mix of old-school XC and modern trail. Yet, it works really well out in the wild. The XC side of the geo keeps it snappy and nimble, while the trail-esque geo lets it descend above its weight class. The 115/130mm suspension eats up bumps both up and downhill. The Switch Infinity suspension platform proves why it is at the top of the class.
The SB115 has a steep head tube angle for a trail bike at 67.6 degrees. The reach and wheelbase are also fairly short at 450mm and 1180mm, respectively. That’s the stuff that keeps it quick and agile. The tall stack height of 628mm keeps the front end high and confident when the trail gets a bit steeper. It makes for a balanced ride whether you’re grinding uphill of flying back down.
The star of the show here is the Switch Infinity suspension platform. It feels the most refined of the whole test group, striking the perfect balance between efficiency and traction. It is exceptionally smooth both up and downhill. The rear wheel moves out of the way of obstacles easily, allowing you to keep your speed high.