Although the latest batch of modern short-travel rockets has gained some unlikely fans among the Beta Testers, most of us will always return to our big bikes. If you don’t know what you’re going to run into on a ride, more is always better. As we each looked back at which bikes, 140 millimeters and up, we wanted to have our backs in the backcountry, these are the ones we chose.
Photos: Anthony Smith
Travis Engel: Evil Wreckoning
My go-to will forever be a long-travel 29er. Unless I move to a region with trails of a very different character, I will always want the most capable bike that I can comfortably pedal up a hill. And it’s not because I’m a rockstar who is simply too much for anything less. Quite the opposite. I do OK, don’t get me wrong, but I just want to stay safe out there. It’s worth a little extra weight, a little extra squish and a little extra forethought in the switchbacks if I know I can trust whatever is beneath me to carry me over whatever is in front of me.
I do have my limits, though. I hold my BMX past close to my heart, and I like to cover as much ground as possible between sunrise and sunset (and often before and after). Very few big-wheeled big bikes feel as quick as my beloved Scott Ransom, which I ride every time I don’t have a test bike staring at me from the weekend to-do list. But something’s changed now that I’ve ridden the Evil Wreckoning. The things that Evil has done to its rowdiest bike have brought it an uncanny sense of … approachability. It’s as if the new Wrecknoning knows that if it wants to succeed at its heavy-metal persona, it ought to sneak in a little something for the masses. Unlike the previous generation, which had less travel but somehow felt more vague, the new Wreckoning feels perfectly at home sneaking an off-camber inside line on a tight left turn or dipping a manual after a water bar. You would not think that a bike this burly would be this responsive. The short chainstays and dialed leverage curve lend the Wreckoning a light-footedness that could be summoned on demand if the perfect gap-to-bank arises, and then immediately forgotten when it goes horribly wrong and you’re sent into a rock garden where you need to just survive. And throughout all of it, despite every build coming with a coil shock, the Wrecknoing feels just as eager to get up the hill as it does down it. Apologies to my Ransom, but I’m in love.
Nicole Formosa: Trek Slash
The Trek Slash isn’t a bike I’d consider an all-arounder, and it didn’t stand out to me for its climbing capabilities, but it made me feel invincible descending, and that’s what I want from a bike with this much travel.
In fact, this version of the Slash has the most travel this model ever has, with 160 mmm of rear travel and 170 up front. Combined with a super long wheelbase and 29-inch wheels, and this thing straight plowed through everything in its path. And the more it picked up speed, the more stable it felt, hence that notion of invincibility. But it wasn’t just that. On the Slash, I still felt like I was in control—not overwhelmed by the bike’s burliness—and that spending more time on it would result in some serious confidence gains, particularly in big, scary terrain. Often, long-travel bikes have the opposite effect. They expose my shortcomings as a rider instead of mask them, leaving me feeling like I’ll never ride aggressively enough to truly tap into the potential of a bigger bike.
There are plenty of short- and mid-travel 29ers out there that shine equally climbing and descending—and that’s the type of bike I’m always going to choose for my daily driver—but when I get on a bike like the Slash, I’m prepared to sacrifice a little efficiency on the ups to know that the descents are going to be ridiculously fun, and that’s just what the Slash delivers. Plus, I appreciate that Trek offers five sizes of the Slash across eight models, with an entry price at a reasonable $3,700, so more sizes and types of riders can join the party.
Ryan Palmer: Evil Offering
What makes a bike “long travel”? Categories are defined differently depending on who you are, where you’re from, and even what year it is. It wasn’t long ago that a 140mm 29er would have been considered to be a long travel bike by anyone anywhere. Nowadays though, many people have completely pedal-able daily drivers with 170 millimeters of travel, the Evil Wreckoning being one of them.
If we had separated the crop of bikes that we tested in Ely into, say, three categories, the Evil Offering probably would not have landed in “long travel,” and in that scenario I would have chosen the Wreckoning for my long travel pick. But we didn’t, so the Offering it is.
No matter how we categorize the Offering, the fact remains that it’s one of the best, most versatile bike’s I’ve ever thrown a leg over. So is the Wreckoning. But the Wreckoning, despite its insane climbing skills, and mysteriously lively nature and pop, is still more bike than I normally need.
The Offering, on the other hand, can do everything I need, without ever being too much. It’s got the lively demeanor of a many 120mm bikes, mixed with the security and stability of many 160mm rigs. I’m happy to take the Offering on big, chunky alpine rides, where something smaller would be too skiddish, and something bigger would break my legs. I personally really like the Offering paired with a 150mm fork, because it give me the best climbing and undulating terrain handling, while remaining composed on the descents, but those looking for more can bump to 160 millimeters without totally messing up the bike’s geometry. The Offering really is one of the best all-rounders there is right now, regardless of what category it lands in.
Mike Ferrentino: Devinci Troy
If there was a bike that was target locked on me, my preferred terrain, and my riding style, it would be the new Specialized Stumpjumper. That bike is a geezer trail rider’s answered prayer. Light, nimble, fast as hell, perfect for backcountry soul searching. But it’s not my favorite. I own a shorter travel Epic Evo that is even lighter, even faster, and my go-to bike for any ride that is likely to be “flowy” rather than “chunky.” So, that particular corner of my heart is already spoken for.
The bike that did win my cold, grinchy old heart was a total surprise given my history with the brand. Every Devinci I have ever swing a leg over has traditionally made me feel like a wuss. Super-capable suspension that really comes alive when you start taking scary big lines, stiff frames that sneer at any passive riding; they have always felt way burlier than my most heroic aspiration. The new Troy is every bit a Devinci in that sense. It can be pointed down the gnarliest shit and it will eat it all up without a shrug. The suspension is incredible. The stability is amazing. But there’s something else going on that didn’t use to be there. A gentle side, if you will. The Troy is incredibly easy to ride in slow tech, forgiving and precise at the same time, and even with tires that might as well be cinder blocks it climbs with a composure and ease that is hard for me to wrap my head around. The Troy was the bike that I couldn’t stop thinking about afterward; a true do-it-all from big to small wrecking ball, with the kind of manners you’d be proud to take home and introduce to mom.
Anthony Smith: Evil Wreckoning
The new Evil Wreckoning was a platform that I assumed might not age well among the crop of long-travel bikes we had in Ely, Nevada. When I first rode the original Wreckoning in 2016, it outclassed any other bike in the category, but I didn’t expect this latest iteration of the version to still be at the top of my list. And still, here we are. Evil has somehow have done it again.
When I say outclass, I’m not talking all-out speed or performance per se. It’s the bike that puts the biggest smile on my face out of everything I rode, regardless of travel. If we are just talking about the pure joy of riding, it’s hard to think of anything else that compares. It’s just so damn fun.
Why? The 166 mm of rear suspension doesn’t wallow like you might expect, so it doesn’t feel like a one-trick-pony that will only be fun on the downs. It has a ton of support while still offering a bottomless feel when needed. You can dig your heels in and pop up and over anything on the trail. It can even hold its own on the climbs. The chainstays are short, and that’s not going to be for everyone in this travel range, but for me it’s just a blast to be able to lock into a manual or slash through turns. Somehow this 166/170mm travel 29er can compete with the lively playful feel of much shorter travel bikes, while still feeling planted at speed.
As a non-racer lover of big-travel bikes, it doesn’t get much better than the Wreckoning. It’s more bike than I’ll ever need, yet all I really want.