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$2,500 Full-Suspension Mountain Bike Comparison Test 11

Four full-suspension bikes go up against four ripping testers. Find out how these budget mountain bikes handle our test.

$2,500 Full-Suspension Mountain Bike Comparison Test

Vital MTB is stoked to bring your our $2,500 mountain bike comparison test with four full-suspension 29ers and four hard-hitting testers. About a year ago, we compared six $2,000 mountain bikes to see if a new rider buying a bike for the first time could really get a trail-ready bike at that price. We came away with plenty of smiles and tons of respect for the bikes we rode, so this time around, we’ve bumped the budget up another $500 to see what kind of difference that might make in bike durability and performance.

From L to R: Amanda Wentz, Brad Howell, Trevor *Trixie* Boldi and Steve Wentz - our testers.

We’ve been lucky enough at Vital MTB to test some really nice, expensive bikes over the last 11 years, but we always love coming back to a more affordable price point. While we’re calling $2,500 affordable, we know this is not chump change, and $2,500 spent in the used bike market could land a really great bike that’s only a couple of years old.

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We found four full-suspension 29ers in the 120mm to 140mm rear travel range. They’re considered trail bikes, if you’re unaware of how mountain bikes are classified these days. This is a mountain bike that’s made to do a little bit of everything and hopefully do it pretty well. It has more travel than a cross-country bike and less travel than what’s called an enduro bike.

Watch our test video

Every bike we tested was a size medium, they are all aluminum frames, and coincidentally, they all featured 12-speed 1x drivetrains which means there is a single chainring up front at the cranks and no front derailleur, keeping the bike simple, efficient, and quiet. While there were component similarities between the bikes, each bike was definitely its own machine, each with unique riding characteristics. The test took place in the Boise, Idaho, area at Wilson Creek, Table Rock, Eagle Bike Park, and Boise Bike Park to find out where these bikes shine, who they’re best suited for, and what could be improved.


Polygon Siskiu T8 - $2,399

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Highlights

  • 6061 Aluminum frame
  • Faux Bar suspension design
  • 135mm rear travel / 140mm front
  • FOX 34 Rhythm fork / FOX Float DPS shock
  • Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain
  • Tektro 4-piston brakes
  • 2.6-inch Schwalbe tires
  • 5-year frame warranty
  • Weight: 34 pounds, 3oz, size medium, no pedals

We’ll kick things off with the 2021 Polygon Siskiu T8 which was actually one of the favorites of the test. The retail price is $2,399 and if you’re in the USA, the bike must be purchased on the internet via bikesonline.com. You buy the bike, and it gets shipped in a box, to your door. In the USA, there are no local bike shops that sell Polygons, but other countries around the world may have local dealers. The Polygon arrives partially put together but requires some basic assembly by the new owner. Basic tools are included with the bike and instructions are online, but if you’re brand new to mountain bikes and not mechanically inclined, instead of building it yourself, taking it to a local bike shop for assembly is an option. Figure that will probably cost anywhere from $50 to $100.

Trixie
Bracing
for Impact

Polygon Siskiu T8 Geometry

This Siskiu has a lot going for it. Size small only comes with 27.5-inch wheels, Large and XL come in 29-inch wheels only and medium has the choice of either wheel size. Our testers rode the medium 29er. The geometry of the bike is modern with a roomy 460mm reach, playful 66-degree head angle, 76.5-degree effective seat angle, and neutral 430mm chainstay length. Our Polygon Siskiu T8, out of the box was 34 pounds, 3 oz, or 15.5kg.

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The parts that come on the Siskiu T8 are up to some serious riding. Front and center is the FOX 34 Rhythm fork that gets 140mm of travel and a FOX Float DPS shock handles the bumps eaten by Polygon's "Faux Bar" linkage-driven single-pivot suspension design with 135mm of travel out back. It’s rare to find FOX suspension in this price range and even with that, the Siskiu has a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain, the nicest in the test. The 4-piston Tektro brakes provided great stopping power, and the 2.6-inch-wide Schwalbe tires have plenty of grip but their high volume may not be for everyone. There’s a fun, 35mm stem and the paint and graphics on the Polygon may trick onlookers into thinking you’re on a carbon bike. On paper and the wallet, this bike is a home run, but how did it perform on the trail?

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Polygon Siskiu T8 Strengths

  • Great spec for the price
  • Comfortable geometry
  • Stable at speed
  • 4-piston brake power
  • Flexy rear end helps bike track
  • Solid do-it-all bike
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Polygon Siskiu T8 Weaknesses

  • Noisy frame
  • Flexy rear end may not be for everyone and could lead to long-term durability issues
  • High-volume tires can get squirmy when pushed

Polygon Siskiu T8 Upgrades or Changes?

  • Lower volume tires

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Who is the Polygon Siskiu T8 for?

The Polygon Siskiu is for riders looking to expand their skill sets and push their abilities in aggressive terrain. It can handle a wide variety of riding situations including days at the bike park or a first enduro race.

Nice work Polygon. We now understand why there were so many requests to get the Siskiu tested. Visit www.bikesonline.com to purchase the Siskiu T8.


Scott Spark 960, $2,499

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Highlights

  • Alloy SL frame
  • 120mm rear travel, 130mm front travel
  • Custom X-Fusion NUDE RLX Trunnion shock travel / geo adj. 3 modes: Lockout-Traction Control -Descend
  • RockShox Judy Silver TK Solo Air
  • Shimano 12-speed drivetrain
  • Shimano MT201 two-piston brakes
  • Maxxis Rekon 2.4 tires
  • Weight: 33 pounds, size medium, no pedals

At the other extreme of our test bikes is the Scott Spark 960. But don’t let the 120mm of rear travel and more XC-oriented geometry fool you – our testers had a surprisingly good time aboard this bike. It was also the lightest bike in our test.

While not super-svelte-XC-race-light, the Spark was a pound or more lighter than anything else in our test at 33 pounds, flat. Giving the bike a quick glance, the weight savings is easy to find…it’s in the tires. With 29 x 2.4 Maxxis Recon tires front and rear, a 67.2-degree head angle, and Scott-specific X-Fusion Nude shock with remote TwinLoc, it’s clear that rolling speed and pedaling efficiency is the goal of the Spark. And that’s why we wanted to test it. Not everyone is looking for a big plow machine for dropping to flat at the bike park.

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The Spark 960 is at the top of our budget at $2,499. We actually requested its sibling 970 model that costs just $1,999, but COVID and all, it was not available, so we took what we could get. The spec on our 960 featured a 12-speed Shimano drivetrain with that tricky-bike-industry-eye-candy high-end rear derailleur – in this case, a Shimano XT. The rest of the drivetrain was Shimano Deore-level, which is totally acceptable. The bonus of any 12-speed Shimano setup is the Microspline-equipped Boost rear wheel, which means upgrading to any level of nicer Shimano drivetrain componentry is possible without a new rear hub. A press-fit bottom bracket on the Spark isn’t our favorite these days, and the Shimano MT-201 brakes stop the bike, but for bigger riders, the two-piston power may be underwhelming.

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Keeping in line with Scott’s tradition of on-bike adjustability is that X-Fusion Nude shock and RockShox Judy Silver TK with Scott’s TwinLoc feature. The suspension has a lever on the handlebar that lets a rider adjust the travel. The shock can be fully open for descents, halfway closed for what Scott calls “traction control,” or fully locked out for no suspension movement during climbs. At Vital, we rarely use these kinds of gizmos and find that the added complexity could lead to durability issues. The clutter of extra cables and levers in the cockpit area is not appealing. While Scott did well to wrap the cables together nicely, swaps or changes to any of these components will mean re-wrapping. In the case of the Scott, the lock-out lever is in a position where we normally find the dropper lever, so there was some habit-breaking to activate the pretty-short 125mm dropper seat post instead of the suspension lockout.

Scott Spark 960 Geometry

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Geometry is what we’ll call fairly old-school with a 432mm reach on our medium and a slack 73.8-degree seat angle. The effective top tube length, however, was only 1mm shorter than the Polygon thanks to that seat angle. Remember that 67.2-degree head angle? Yep, on paper, this isn’t the bike that most of our testers would have their eye on. But did that matter? What was the Scott Spark like out on our test laps?

Scott Spark 960 Strengths

  • Maneuverable, lively, and a fast-rolling, efficient climber
  • Lightest weight in test
  • Shines in longer days on the trail and XC scenarios

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Scott Spark 960 Weaknesses

  • Remote suspension adjustments seemed unnecessary, added clutter, and could lead to long-term hassles.
  • Front tire needs more bite
  • Brakes under-powered for bigger riders
  • Seat angle is slack
  • Can get overwhelmed when speed increases or terrain gets rough

Scott Spark 960 Upgrades or Changes?

Who is the Scott Spark 960 for?

All of our testers confirmed that the aspiring NICA racer would feel right at home on the Scott Spark. Additionally, any rider looking to log big miles and long days will appreciate its efficiency. Even with its XC demeanor, the Spark was still able to handle sessions at the jump park and was quick in corners.

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As we learned in our budget bike test a year ago, sometimes the bikes we may not favor on paper, showed us a hootin’ hollerin’ good time on the trail. Shave $500 from your budget, eye up the Scott Spark 970 and you’ll be ready for plenty of miles on the trails. Scott-sports.com has the details and retailer locations.


Devinci Marshall Deore 12s - $2,599

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Highlights

  • Aluminum Optimum G04 frame made in Canada
  • Split Pivot suspension design
  • 130mm rear travel / 140mm front travel
  • RockShox 35 Silver TK SoloAir 140 fork
  • RockShox Deluxe Select R Debonair shock
  • Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain
  • 4-piston Shimano brakes
  • Maxxis Minion 2.5 DHF / Minion DHR II 2.4 tires
  • Lifetime frame warranty
  • Weight: 35 pounds, 3 oz, size medium, no pedals

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Made in Canada – That’s the right, the alloy frame of the Devinci Marshall is cut, welded, and assembled in Quebec and features a lifetime warranty. Now, we keep bringing up issues due to Coronavirus and they don’t stop with the Marshall. When we received this bike for our test, the price of the Marshall was $2,099 US, and we were hyped. A bargain for sure. As we were testing the bike, literally, while on the trail, we received notice that there would be a price increase of $500 putting the Marshall Deore 12s at $2,599. We’ve seen this same thing happen with many bike brands as parts supply dwindle, shipping costs escalate and currency exchange rates remain volatile. As a consumer, who really cares about business problems? We want a bike we can afford. This price jump is unfortunate, to say the least, but thankfully this Devinci still delivers.

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We tested the medium Marshall with 29-inch wheels. Sizes XS and Small only come with 27.5-inch wheels while Medium, Large, and XL Marshalls are equipped with 29-inch wheels.

Devinci Marshall Models and Pricing

There are two models of the Marshall – a SRAM SX version or a Shimano Deore. We chose the Deore because we prefer the drivetrain performance over that of the SX, and like we mentioned on the Scott, a rear wheel with a Microspline hub allows for upgrading to any level of Shimano 12-speed drivetrain component. Drivetrain and brakes aside, the SX and Deore Marshall models are the same...except for the price. The SX is $2,299 after the price bump compared to our $2,599 Deore version. Even with the $300 difference, we'd still choose the Deore over the SX for drivetrain and brake performance, as well as drivetrain upgrade-ability.

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Rear travel hits 130mm as a RockShox Deluxe R Debonair controls the Split Pivot suspension design and a RockShox 35 Silver TK Solo Air fork hits 140mm up front. The tire spec is great for an aggressive trail bike featuring a 2.5 Maxxis Minion DHF up front and 2.4 Minion DHR II rear tire and stopping those big meats are powerful Shimano 4-piston brakes. Another highlight is the Enduro double-lipped sealed bearings on all pivots.

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Devinci Marshall Geometry

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All this awesomeness comes at a price though, and not the money kind of price. The Devinci was the heaviest in our test. How heavy? Our medium 29er Marshall was 35 pounds, 3 ounces and we double-checked that the frame didn’t have any left-over poutine in the tubes from the factory. Seriously though, despite the heft, thanks to the modern geometry, the bike was ready for serious shredding. Very similar to the Polygon Siskiu in our test, the 460mm reach and 66.5-degree head angle were ready for speed while the Marshall’s longer 435mm chainstay length kept that theme moving. The steep 77-degree seat angle helps propel this beast uphill comfortably.

Price hikes and poutine jokes aside, how did our testers get along with the Canadian-made Marshall?

Devinci Marshall Strengths

  • Stable and planted in rough sections of trail
  • Lifetime warranty on frame
  • Tire spec
  • 4-piston brakes

Devinci Marshall Weaknesses

  • Noisy
  • Had on-the-bike feel which can make direction changes challenging
  • Weight during climbs
  • Price is now $2,599

Devinci Marshall Upgrades or Changes?

  • Longer dropper post
  • Mastic tape or frame armor to help silence the bike

Who is the Devinci Marshall for?

The Marshall will make novice riders feel confident as they increase their speed on the trails and get into rowdier, rougher terrain.

If you want to go fast down the hill and let the bike do the work, the Devinci Marshall should be on your short-list. Keep in mind that this bike is now $2,599, $500 more than we bargained for when this test began, but that may just be the reality of our new MTB world. Grab some mastic tape to quiet the Marshall up a bit and get to charging on this Canadian-made trail bike with a lifetime warranty. Cruise to www.devinci.com to learn more.


Cannondale Habit 5 - $2,500 for 2021

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Highlights (2020 Cannondale Tested)

  • SmartForm C1 Alloy frame
  • Horst suspension
  • 130mm rear travel / 140mm front travel
  • FOX FLOAT DPS Performance, EVOL air can, 3-position adjust shock
  • RockShox 35 Gold RL, DebonAir spring, 51mm offset fork
  • SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain
  • Shimano MT200 two-piston brakes
  • Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 / Minion DHR II 2.3 tires
  • Weight: 34 pounds, 2 oz, size medium, no pedals

Last and certainly not least is the Cannondale Habit 5, which was also not immune to some COVID chaos. We somehow received a model year 2020 Habit 5 because the 2021 was out of stock at the time of our test. We still grabbed the bike because our 2020 frame is the same as the 2021, and we’ve had enough experience on the 2021’s components to assess the value and performance of that bike.

The 2021 Habit 5 we tried to get.

2020 vs. 2021 Cannondale Habit 5

Our 2020 retailed for $2,700 with a SRAM SX 12-speed drivetrain, FOX DPS shock, RockShox 35 Gold fork, and Maxxis Minion DHF / High Roller II tire combo. The 2021 Habit 5 is $200 less at $2,500 but comes with a Shimano Deore 11-speed drivetrain (yep, 11, not 12), RockShox Deluxe Select Debonair Shock, and RockShox 35 Silver fork, very similar to what was on our Devinci Marshall test bike. The brakes on the 2021 are Tektro M275, while our 2020 test bike had Shimano MT200’s. Finally, tires are a performance differentiator between the two model years. The Maxxis combo on our 2020 bike is great for hard-charging trail riding while the Maxxis Ardent tires spec’d front and rear on the 2021 Habit leave us a little less excited. Build differences aside, the Habit was put to the test as our riders chased their inner Ratboy.

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Cannondale Habit 5 Geometry

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The shorter, dare we say fun, geometry on our medium reveals a 430mm reach, 66-degree head angle, 74.5-degree effect seat-tube angle, and 435mm chainstay length, making the Habit 5 primed for on-trail jibbing and bonking. At 34 pounds 2 ounces, it was the 2nd lightest bike in our test. So, did our riders spend their time trying to flick like Jasper Penton? Here are some highlights of the Habit.

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Cannondale Habit 5 Strengths

  • Playful nature
  • Jumping and cornering ability
  • Tire spec (on our 2020 test bike)
  • Suspension spec (on our 2020 test bike)

Cannondale Habit 5 Weaknesses

  • Feedback through pedals when pushed into higher speeds and rougher terrain
  • Slack seat angle
  • 2021 tire spec and 11-speed drivetrain
  • 2-piston brakes are underpowered

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Cannondale Habit 5 Upgrades or Changes?

  • Longer dropper post
  • Beefier front tire for 2021 model

Who is the Cannondale Habit 5 for?

The Cannondale Habit is ready to take on the jumps, jibs, and berm slashes of a young rider looking to ride like their Bryceland and Ropelato role models.

At $2,500, the 2021 Cannondale Habit 5 seems a lesser value than the 2020 model we tested. For only $200 more our 2020 had nicer suspension and tires along with a 12-speed drivetrain. While the 11-speed Shimano drivetrain on the 2021 is peculiar, the wide range of its 11-51 cassette, is solid, but the Hyperglide freehub body it uses means upgrading to 12-speed Shimano would require a new rear hub, too. Dual Maxxis Ardent tires on the 2021 seem skimpy in our opinion, as well. While this trail bike is fun and playful, harnessing the spirit of a rider like Josh Bryceland, the value on the 2021 Cannondale Habit 5 is not quite up to snuff when compared to the other bikes we’ve thrown a leg over. If you can hunt down a 2020 Habit 5, you’ll be having some good times. Hit up www.cannondale.com to find a dealer in your area.

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Conclusion

Thank you for checking out our $2,500 mountain bike test. Despite some hurdles, we had a lot of fun and we hope you found this test informative. Leave any questions in the comments, and we’ll do what we can to answer them. In the meantime, don’t worry about what bike you’re riding, as long as you’re riding. We’ll see you on the trails!


View key specs, compare, and rate these and similarly priced bikes in the Vital MTB Product Guide.

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