Short or long travel: which is the best complete MTB? | Tech US News

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If you want a bike to do everything, how many gears should it have? All bikes have to find a compromise between uphill and downhill performance, and suspension travel is often considered a good indicator of where a bike sits on that spectrum.

But recently, short-travel trail bikes have become much more capable, while long-travel bikes have gotten much better at climbing. So how much slower is a modern long-travel uphill bike? And what are the differences downhill?

Caught up in all of this is the question of tire choice. How much of the difference in climb speed between an enduro bike and a trail bike depends on the tires? Can fast rolling tires close the gap? And can sticky tires make a short-travel bike descend as well as a long-travel bike? Let’s find out.


Nuclear proof reactor
• Travel of 130 / 150 mm
• Weight as tested: 14.4 Kg / 31.7 lbs (trail tires, 200mm rotors)
• Size tested: XL
• Price: €5,999.99
Nukeproof Giga
• Travel of 170 / 180 mm
• Weight as tested: 15.2 Kg / 33.5 lbs (trail tires, air shock)
• Size tested: XXL
• Price: €6,299.99

The bicycles

To make things as comparable as possible, I got a Nukeprof Reactor RS and a Nukeproof Giga RS. The Reactor has 130mm of rear travel and 150mm up front, while the Giga has 170mm (rear) and 180mm (front). These models have identical brakes, transmissions and cabs. With the same wheels and tires mounted, only the frame and fork are different. Both use full carbon frames and RockShox Ultimate level suspension. The Reactor has a Lyrik fork for the Giga’s Zeb, but the difference in chassis diameter is appropriate for the travel offered in each case.

Although the photos used here were taken with a coil shock installed on the Giga, the test was run with a RockShox Super Deluxe air shock to match the shock of the Reactor. I upgraded the rear rotor size on the Reactor to 200mm so both bikes could accept the same wheels for comparison testing.

Set up both bikes with 30% shock drop and suspension settings as you normally would.

For the most part, I used Reactor wheels for both bikes to eliminate the variable of tire choice. These tires were a Maxxis Dissector, EXO+ casing, MaxTerrra compound (rear) with a Maxxis Assegai, EXO casing and MaxxTerra compound (front). For brevity, I’ll call these “trail” tires from now on. Fitting these tires and the air shock to the Giga reduced its weight to a respectable 15.2kg, just 800g (1.8lb) more than the Reactor with the same wheels.

I tried lighter, faster “trail” tires (left) and stickier “enduro” tires (right).

I also tried a pair of stickier tires (fitted to another set of alloy wheels to make changing wheels easier). These were a Maxxis Assegai with DoubleDown casing, MaxxGrip compound in the rear, with a Schwalbe Magic Mary, SuperGravity casing, Soft compound in the front. We’ll call them “enduro” tires. These wheels/tires weighed 600g more than the trail wheels/tires.


Escalation

For the climbing test, I used a pair of SRM power meter pedals to monitor my effort, which I kept at a constant 250W. I rode both bikes up the same smooth, gentle fire road climb. I used a short climb so I could ride five laps of each bike in quick succession and average it. If I only did one or two longer climbs on each bike, there would be no way to tell if any difference in times was due to the bike or just chance.

I did this first with the trail tires at my usual pressures (23 and 26 psi) and then tested the Reactor again with the enduro tires. Here are the times:

As expected, the Giga was slower on average than the Reactor, but the average time was only 0.8% slower. Because the Reactor wasn’t always faster and the average difference between the bikes was so small, we can’t be sure with these numbers if the difference between the bikes is real or just a fluke. In scientific terms, the difference was not statistically significant.

But even if we take the 0.8% difference at face value, that’s what we’d expect just from the weight difference between the two bikes, suggesting that the travel itself (ie pedaling efficiency) wasn’t to have any effect.

In contrast, with the enduro tires installed, the Reactor was 4.1% slower, or 3.4% slower than the Giga with the trail tires. In both cases, these are statistically significant differences, because the Reactor with Enduro tires was consistent slower To give you some context, over the course of a half-hour climb, the enduro tires would add a minute and fourteen seconds to the Reactor’s time. Or to go at the same rate, you would need to produce about 260W instead of 250W; if you’re already working hard, that can be very noticeable.

The added weight of the heavier tires is only expected to slow things down by a maximum of 0.6%, so most of that difference is due to rolling resistance. This added drag will make ground coverage slower on the flat and even downhill (as long as traction and braking aren’t speed limiting).

Subjectively, you can feel a bit of pedaling from either bike, but not much else with the Giga. The position is quite different due to the Reactor’s lower stack height and more relaxed seat tube angle (74.5° vs. 78°); this stretches the spine which I find much less comfortable, especially on long climbs. Doing timed tests on technical climbs is practically impossible because the time can vary greatly from run to run depending on the choice of line, technique and luck, but when driving over rough terrain the Giga is noticeably smoother. The softer suspension obviously helps here, but having your weight more in front of the rear axle also reduces how much it lifts when the rear wheel moves over a bump. Although I can’t put a number on it, I much preferred the Giga for technical climbs.


descending

To see how they compare for the descent, I chose a short local trail that I know well with a good mix of roots, rocks, steep winding sections and fast flat sections. It’s not the most technical route in the world and certainly not the roughest, but on the day of the test (which was a couple of days before I took these photos), it was wet and slippery, which made it a good challenge . To even the playing field and keep things simple, I stuck with trail tires on the Giga and enduro tires on the Reactor.

The Giga was first, and despite doing two laps to catch up on the course before taking out the stopwatch, I shaved 2-3 seconds off my time from one race to the next. This is always a problem with timed trials. My first time on the Reactor (my fourth timed run of the day) coincided with the first time on the Giga. It improved from there but leveled off at one minute and sixteen seconds.

I did one more run on the Reactor with the trail tires and matched my fastest times on the Reactor, suggesting that the stickier tires weren’t a huge advantage on this course. I’m sure that on a more treacherous course – or in the hands of a rider who is better at finding the grip limit – the enduro tires would become a significant advantage.

Subjectively, the enduro tires felt much more cushioned and secure and I was locking up less on the steep sections, but that didn’t seem to translate into more speed for me. Even with the sticky Reactor tires, the Giga felt much smoother, quieter and more stable. The taller bar and slacker head angle combined with suspension that feels more settled “on the trip” makes going faster feel more within my comfort zone. I also felt there was more time left on the table with the Giga, whereas the last two runs on the Reactor would be hard to improve upon.

Because there are so many variables at play when going downhill, I wouldn’t read too much into the times themselves. But they reveal that while I felt closer to the edge of the Reactor, I was actually going slower.


Closing thoughts and opinions

For me, the biggest difference is the difference tire choice makes in climb speed. Sure, the enduro tires I’ve tested are pretty draggy, but they’re not DH tires or mud spikes, and trail tires (with an Assegai in front) are far from the fastest you can get. In fact, they held their own on slippery slopes.

I’m sure a lot of people don’t mind going a little faster or feeling more comfortable on steep descents; in fact, I often hear people say that they find it more fun to do a sketchier ride at slower speeds. But if that’s the case, why not fit smoother tires that will offer a real increase in climb speed as a bonus? You can always use lockout or run a 10% drop if you want your enduro bike to feel more sketchy. I personally have more fun on a long travel bike as it gives me the confidence to try new lines or ride them with more commitment.

The other surprise was that the Giga was barely slower uphill than the Reactor with the same tires, and if you want to close the efficiency gap even more you can always use the lockout.

One caveat here is that a power meter may not be the best way to measure and monitor effort in a performance test when comparing suspension efficiency. I take this up with Mike Levy in this episode of the Pinkbike Podcast, but the bottom line is that I think the power meter method is valid for measuring efficiency when pedaling while seated (as in this test), but it doesn’t work outdoors. sprinting-of-the-saddle, and that’s where the extra travel is most likely to be a disadvantage.

It’s also fair to say that the Reactor isn’t the fastest short-travel bike out there. But the Giga probably isn’t the most efficient of the 170mm and larger bikes either. It is based on a downhill bike and is designed to be even more gravity focused than Nukeproof’s Mega enduro bike. What’s more, it doesn’t have a huge amount of anti-squat, and higher levels of anti-squat would probably make it climb even better. In one of Levy’s efficiency tests, the 170mm-travel Santa Cruz Nomad (which has plenty of anti-squat) was faster than the 130mm Ibis Mojo (despite having slower tires), suggesting a bike long travel with generous anti-squat can be just as efficient as a shorter travel.

The bottom line is that wide suspension travel needn’t be a hindrance uphill, but grippy tires will slow you down a lot. So if you want a bike to do it all, it might make sense to choose a long-travel bike with a spare set of fast-rolling tires for smoother rides.


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