Desert Battle Of The Cross Country Bikes
A lot of bikes come in and out of the doors at Contender Bicycles. While we get the opportunity to see a lot of bikes and "test ride" a lot of bikes, we don't always get the opportunity to really ride and rally on the bikes to give a true comparison. So, this year we decided to travel down to the Southern Utah desert with three of the best cross country bikes available; the Orbea Oiz, the Santa Cruz Blur TR, and the Scott Spark RC, and really push these bikes to their limits. These three bikes were all designed to take their racer to the top of the podium and definitively prove their bike to be the best. We wanted to see for ourselves which bike would be the favorite, but more importantly how they all ride. Let's just say, these bikes all excelled in different places, so be sure to ask yourself exactly what you want in a bike before you choose one.
We set out to find a trail that had a little bit of everything you may encounter on a XC race to truly test it. We found a trail that had it all, some short switchback corners, a wide-open double track, a tough climb, some technical rocks and some tight, fast corners. We rode each of the three bikes over this terrain to see where each one felt best and where we may want to have a different bike.
One of the big questions when it comes to cross-country mountain bikes is how do they climb? Each of the bikes felt good on the climbs, but the Orbea Oiz stood out the most. With the easy-to-use Squidlock lockout, the bike maintained speed, comfort, and quickness throughout the entire effort. At the exit of each of the corners the Oiz felt as if it were chomping at the bit to get going again.
The Scott Spark was a very close second to the Oiz, but just failed to match the Oiz due to the shorter reach. The shorter reach made the bike more squirrelly at low speeds, because it felt as if each sway of your body due to fatigue was being translated directly into the bike. The Oiz, having a little bit longer reach, made the bike more steady and stable on the trail at low speed. Everywhere else the Spark and Oiz were very similar in both feeling and capabilities.
The Santa Cruz Blur came in third on the climbs in our opinion. This is not to say that it is a bad climber, more that it just was not quite as good as the other two. The Blur lacked some of the explosiveness that was felt in the Oiz and the Spark which made it fall below the other two. The bike was very stable, making it a comfortable and fun climber but not our first choice to torch it up a climb.
These bikes were all good in their own way on the descents. The short reach on the Scott Spark paired with the 67 degree head angle made the bike responsive in tight corners and snappy over technical sections. The one place where the Spark felt not quite up to par was when you had to get over a drop, where you would have to push the front wheel out in front of you. Because the reach was short, when you push out for a drop there’s a larger impact on the landing, because your weight is farther back making the suspension less effective. However, the Spark was the most fun on the descents. With the progressive suspension setup the bike was playful and definitely brought a smile when riding flow sections or doing some jumps.
The Santa Cruz Blur was the most confident descender of the bunch. The bike felt stable under you, and it made it so the descents were fast and fun. This was the most point-and-shoot bike of the test, with the other too relying on line choice just a bit more. The Blur impressed on the descents due to its capability and aggression, there are few cross-country bikes like it. Even towards the end of a long descent, there was a lot less fatigue than what you normally feel on a XC bike.
The Oiz was solid throughout the descents but didn't really stand out in any one way. That being said, there really was not any negatives about the bike. It was confident throughout the rock gardens and responsive in the corners. The only place where the Oiz dropped off significantly from others was during high speed descents, when the back wheel would feel jittery on the trail due to how the suspension is set up.
In terms of handling, it is hard to say if one handled better than the others, they all just handled differently. The most responsive and snappiest of the bunch was hands-down the Scott Spark. The Spark was ready for and expecting your next move, so the bike felt as if it were making the decisions before your brain fully processed what you were doing. As a rider, you are fully in tune with the bike, so you are always ready to dodge obstacles, get around the next corner, or easily get to and stay on the racing line.
The Blur was the most stable and controlled bike of the lot. This bike was not as snappy as the other two, but made it up for it by being confident on the trails. The Blur was harder to move around through the descents, but with how it was set up you did not need it. It would not only stick to the line you were already on, but also roll over the obstacles with confidence and ease. When riding the Blur, you will not find yourself longing for something with a snappier handling, because the bike was simply so stable and reliable.
The Oiz is right between the two of these bikes. Orbea designed this bike for long days in the saddle and it is reflected in the handling. The bike is snappy and responsive, while still preserving some aspects of stability and confidence. Orbea wants you to be able to handle a downhill you may find 75 miles into a race, without the bike throwing you off. It is the perfect blend of comfort and speed.
There are so many factors to consider when choosing your next cross-country bike, and each of these bikes check a lot of boxes. We would recommend the Scott Spark for the all out racers, the Santa Cruz Blur for those just wanting to ride, not race, and the Orbea Oiz for those wanting to do marathon biking events. With that being said, these bikes share a lot of attributes that make them a great option for an all-around mountain bike. For in-depth information and feedback on the ride quality of these bikes, watch our video review.