Southern Utah Trail Bike Showdown
Winter is finally waning and we're gearing up to hit the trails! We're excited to give you the rundown on four outstanding trail bikes we recently tested in Southern Utah. We came away impressed and we're stoked to share what we thought. It’s hard to fault any top-end bike these days, so as such it’s hard to go wrong with any of the bikes we’re featuring. We’ll lay out some hits and misses and let you know what we think of these trail machines. We focused on how the bikes climbed, descended and cornered, and also wanted to form a complete picture of each bike. Our test fleet included the SCOTT Genius, the Orbea Occam, the Santa Cruz Hightower and the SCOR 4060 ST.
While the focus of a trail bike has traditionally been more on the descending side of things, we all know you have to get up to get down. Most trail bikes have evolved and become much more versatile and now climb better than in the past. These bikes illustrate that well, albeit in different ways. The Santa Cruz Hightower’s VPP rear suspension provides great traction and effectively negates the need for a lockout, but the overall climbing ability seems a bit limited by its geometry. The longer wheelbase and steep head angle prevent the Hightower from handling steep, technical climbs as well as the others. The SCOTT Genius is the only bike in the bunch to feature a remote full-lockout, which gives it a bit of an edge on the uphills, however the Orbea Occam is a nimble, super-efficient pedaler and felt like the best overall climber in the bunch. Our testers likened it to “a long-travel XC bike” in this regard. The SCOR 4060 ST places the least emphasis on climbing of the bunch, eschewing features like a lockout or climbing-friendly rear suspension. The SCOR’s focus is definitely on the descending and handling aspects of the ride.
The downhill side of things is often the most important part of the equation for many trail riders, so it’s no surprise that all of these bikes do a great job when pointed downhill. They do all differentiate themselves though.
The SCOTT Genius is a super steady descender, thanks to its long reach and long travel. It’s definitely not the most agile bike in the group, but solid overall on the downhills. The Santa Cruz Hightower is also a very confident descender with its long wheelbase and long reach, effectively putting more of the bike out in front of the rider. The Hightower’s nature is to feel as though it handles much of the work for the rider. The sure footed, high traction VPP rear suspension makes for great descending. The SCOR 4060 ST has a comparatively steeper head angle and shorter chain stays which makes it feel a bit more active than the others on the descents, but in a way that our test riders liked overall. The lower link suspension design is highly progressive, giving the feel of more travel than the bike actually has. The SCOR demands more of the rider on technical descents, but rewards with a high excitement factor and urges the rider to rely on skill, not letting the bike do all of the work. The Orbea Occam is a highly maneuverable descender, handling lower angle, technical downhill really well, but feels a little over its head on really steep stuff. The Occam is very capable, but not the best descender in the group.
As with the climbing and descending characteristics of these bikes, each of them draw on their individual personality traits to form a complete handling picture. Again, there’s no “bad call” here as all of the bikes do a great job overall, but there are some distinct differences to be aware of.
Genius - The Genius benefits from a stiff, one-piece bar/stem that helps the front end of the bike handle nimbly, especially given alloy wheels and big fork. However, the long travel of the bike slows down the handling a bit overall, so it's not quite as active as the other bikes. The Occam was the most nimble handler of the bunch, unsurprising given how it descends. What it might lack in descending prowess actually translates well to overall handling. Similarly, the SCOR 4060 ST brings a more exciting quality to the handling department, emphasizing the fun factor that SCOR is all about. The Hightower stood out as the most stable and secure handler, giving the rider a feel of being more “inside” the bike than on top of it. This might appeal to a much wider percentage of the trail riders out there.
These bikes do indeed all have different personalities and leave a different impression on the rider. We love having options in the market and these four bike offer a great selection for a wide range of trail riders. Here's what we thought overall and what we would recommend:
The SCOR for…. All-around *fun." Nimble and playful, the bike coaxes more skill out of the rider. Hat-tip for including a (small) storage area with an extra derailleur hanger. The SCOR is also scalable, with its flippable head cup and suspension chip. You can add a longer stroke shock and fork to set it up as a full-enduro bike! Two of our three testers picked the SCOR as their overall favorite and it's reasonably priced.
The Hightower for….. Simplicity, style, and overall functionality. The downtube frame storage is great, and may eliminate the need for a seat pack for many riders. The suspension bearings are standard across all Santa Cruz models, and are located inside the linkage rather than the frame itself. This makes the bearings easy to service and replace, and helps prevent creaking. The Hightower makes an excellent “companion bike," if you already have a short travel bike.
The Occam for…. Overall value and best bang for the buck. The Occam is the best climber in the group, super nimble and easy to throw around. We think the Occam is a great option for a larger percentage of riders and could be a blast on flow trails. Orbea’s MyO program offers customized paint options as well for those looking for a personalized touch.
The Genius for….Riders looking for a super-clean looking, technologically advanced bike. SCOTT did a great job with the integrated cockpit and hidden shock. The Genius could be excellent for long, crazy trail rides with hard to access lines. The rear lockout will be a big asset on the long climbs to get there. The Genius also features clearance for bigger tires, which could be an asset for some riders.