The desert is brutally sparse, so it’s only natural that we spent some time in Tucson riding hardtails. I mean, the things I like about the desert are the same things I like about hardtails: They’re straightforward and nuanced at the same time, they’re punishing, and they’re f*ckin’ rad if you pay attention.
With fork travel ranging from 120mm to 160mm, our four test bikes weren’t exactly united by a single purpose, but they did all have features that we liked and didn’t like, they’re all priced between $1,500 and $2,100, and they all went through the Tucson trail beatdown with us. It’s time to pit them against each other and chat about what we learned from riding these things in the American Southwest.
Find all of the individual reviews and more from the Field Tests HERE.
The Salsa Timberjack XT 29 rose above the rest when it came to a do-it-all trail hardtail that climbs well, descends well, and has good parts on it. Of course, it’s the most expensive of the bunch, so it’s hard to hold any spec deficiencies against the others, but it was still impressive to see how the Salsa performed with its XT drivetrain, sensible Maxxis tires, and feature-filled frame. When deciding which bike we’d most like to have as our own, the Timberjack was the largest area of Venn diagram overlap among the three of us.
That said, the Marin Team Marin 1 was another standout bike for entirely different reasons. The entry-level cross country bike comes with a Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain and a 120mm RockShox Judy Silver TK fork, but unfortunately no dropper post. Despite the high seatpost, the Team Marin was another bike that we all thoroughly enjoyed riding, and it helps that the bike comes with a nice enough frame that beginner cross-country riders could potentially upgrade the parts to help the bike grow with them as they progress into the sport.
While we’re still on our favorites, Mike Kazimer was especially fond of the Commencal Meta HT AM Origin. The Meta HT is the most aggressive of the bunch, with a 160mm fork up and 27.5″ plus tires. Like the Team Marin, it lacks a dropper post, but the $1,500 price tag hopefully leaves some room in the budget to add one on, and in the meantime, there’s a quick-release seatpost clamp. The frame details on it are also quite refined, with clean cable routing and cable port protection, so it’s ready for any of the nicest components you’d want to hang on it.
With three of the four test bikes rising to the top of the field, that leaves just one behind to, well, sink. The Diamondback Sync’r has good intentions, a nice color scheme, and an entry-level price, but it’s outperformed by other bikes that accomplish what Diamondback tries to with less weight, updated geometry, and better parts compared to the perhaps aptly-named Sync’r.
Watch the roundtable video to hear more of our impressions from this group of hardtails.