Vital MTB Test Sessions: Five of the Best 27.5 Downhill Bikes Raced and Reviewed 40

Multiple back-to-back tests of the Canyon Sender, Norco Aurum HSP, Pivot Phoenix, Specialized Demo 8, and UNNO Ever revealed their strengths and weaknesses, and then we raced them against the clock!

Vital MTB Test Sessions: Five of the Best 27.5 Downhill Bikes Raced and Reviewed

The beloved downhill mountain bike. Though few of us own them, many of us lust after them, study their performance on the World Cup circuit and rejoice when their slack, high-performance technology trickles down to our trail bikes. After years of Vital MTB Test Sessions that involved bikes for the masses, it was time to put modern day 27.5-inch-wheeled DH weapons up against the clock and each other.

 

From the relatively affordable $5,999 Canyon Sender to the uber-exclusive $10,650 UNNO Ever, and from the ultra-modern high-pivot Norco Aurum HSP to the tried-and-true Specialized Demo or race-proven DW-Linked Pivot Phoenix, today's downhill bikes vary as much as today's trail bikes in style, design, and performance. 

We corralled a sampling of five head-turning World Cup-caliber DH machines to be abused and scrutinized at Angel Fire Bike Park in New Mexico.

With terrain ranging from brutally rocky to face-meltingly fast with natural and machine-made trails aplenty, Angel Fire was the perfect place to race a three-segment test track that would show where our test bikes would shine or fail.

Prior to the test, each bike was equipped with gold standard Maxxis Minion downhill tires front and rear to keep the playing field even. Using LITPro's high-definition GPS software, our riders compared hard data along with years of riding experience and feel to compile their final results. Welcome to Vital MTB Test Sessions for 27.5 downhill bikes.

This was a big project, and we encourage you to dig deeper into the reviews and race results below. Each review features a video with a concise summary of our thoughts specific to that ride, more clips of the bike in action, plainly stated strengths and weaknesses, a detailed suspension analysis, and a summary of who we think each bike is best for. DIG IN!


Canyon Sender

Read the Canyon Sender review

  • Travel: 200mm (7.9-inches) rear // 200mm (7.9-inches) front
  • Suspension Design: MX Link
  • Frame Material: Carbon front end // Aluminum rear triangle
  • Measured Weight: 35.2-pounds (16.0kg, stock tires, without pedals)
  • Size Tested: Medium
  • Model Tested: Sender CF 9.0 Team
  • MSRP: $5,999 USD 
  • More Info: www.canyon.com

Norco Aurum HSP

Read the Norco Aurum HSP review

  • Travel: 200mm (7.9-inches) rear // 200mm (7.9-inches) front
  • Suspension Design: High single-pivot with an idler pulley
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Measured Weight: 35.6-pounds (16.2kg, stock tires, without pedals)
  • Size Tested: M/L
  • Model Tested: HSP1
  • MSRP: $7,999 USD 
  • More Info: www.norco.com

Pivot Phoenix

Read the Pivot Phoenix review

  • Travel: 204mm (8.0-inches) rear // 200mm (7.9-inches) front
  • Suspension Design: dw-link
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Measured Weight: 34.3-pounds (15.6kg, stock tires, without pedals)
  • Size Tested: Large
  • Model Tested: Carbon Saint
  • MSRP: $7,499 USD 
  • More Info: www.pivotcycles.com

Specialized Demo 8

Read the Specialized Demo 8 review

  • Travel: 200mm (7.9-inches) rear // 200mm (7.9-inches) front
  • Suspension Design: FSR with concentric main pivot/bottom bracket
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Measured Weight: 35.3-pounds (16.0kg, stock tires, without pedals)
  • Size Tested: Long
  • Model Tested: S-Works
  • MSRP: $7,500 USD 
  • More Info: www.specialized.com

UNNO Ever 

Read the UNNO Ever review

  • Travel: 200mm (7.9-inches) rear // 200mm (7.9-inches) front
  • Suspension Design: Dual-link
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Measured Weight: 34.6-pounds (15.7kg, stock tires, without pedals)
  • Size Tested: One size only
  • Model Tested: Factory
  • MSRP: $10,650 USD (9350€)
  • More Info: www.unno.com

Comparative Suspension Analysis

Using the bike industry's leading linkage analysis software, André Santos was able to determine a close approximation of each bike's kinematics for the purpose of this comparison. Though they don't always tell the full story, these charts provide great insight into several key factors that impact how the bikes ride. 

André's Observations:

  • As expected, all of the DH bikes presented here have a progressive suspension design. The amount of progressivity varies significantly, however. The Norco Aurum HSP and UNNO Ever have very progressive designs, the Canyon Sender and Pivot Phoenix have moderate progressivity, and the Demo 8 has the least progressive linkage of the group.
  • The majority of the bikes tested have quite high anti-squat values (near 150% on average), which is an interesting observation given that most modern trail and enduro bikes have anti-squat values near 100%. It is not clear why these DH bikes have so much anti-squat, but one hypothesis might be to counteract pedal bob during heavy pedaling and sprinting. The Specialized Demo 8 is an exception on this group, with very low anti-squat values, and therefore low pedaling efficiency. As an advantage, the Demo 8's suspension is not impacted by chain forces (giving a chainless feeling).
  • Regarding braking, the amount of anti-rise also varies a lot with the Demo 8 offering the lowest anti-rise and the Aurum HSP with the highest anti-rise. While low anti-rise values might offer some advantages (the rear suspension is less affected by braking forces), high anti-rise values also have advantages (the rear suspension squats slightly when you squeeze the rear brake lever, reducing forward pitch of the bike under braking). 
  • On the chain growth championship, the Aurum HSP takes the medal with virtually no chain growth due to the high-pivot with idler design.
  • While most bikes have a relatively vertical axle path, the Aurum HSP has a very rearward axle path.

Which 27.5 DH Bike Is the Fastest? Timed Results

For race-ready bikes like these, there's nothing more telling than the clock. Following four days of riding and filming our testers were able to get intimately familiar with the trail and dial in each bike's suspension settings. Then, using the same state-of-the-art LITPro device and analysis software used by Supercross racers and World Cup downhill teams alike, we were able to accurately time the bikes during a mock race.

Prior to the race, we determined segments that showcased bike performance in specific types of situations. Here's the breakdown:

Segment 1 - Steeps / Turns
Segment 2 - Wide Open / Rough
Segment 3 - Sprint

Brian Buell's Results

Brian's fastest times were posted on the UNNO Ever through the segments filled with steep portions, turns, and sprints. The Norco Aurum HSP took the honors through the wide open and rough segment.

Brandon Turman's Results

Brandon's results showed a different story, with the Specialized Demo 8 taking top honors through the steeps and turns. The Canyon Sender showed lots of promise through the wide open and rough. Finally, the Pivot Phoenix ruled the sprint segment to the finish.

Averaged Results

By averaging the results, we're able to get a more clear overall picture. In this instance, the UNNO Ever was the fastest bike across both riders. The Canyon Sender and Pivot Phoenix consistently placed 2nd and 3rd overall, respectively.

Consistencies Between Riders

Segment 1 - Steeps / Turns

  • Specialized fast (2nd / 1st)
  • Canyon mid-pack (3rd / 2nd)
  • Norco mid-pack (4th / 3rd)
  • Pivot slow (5th / 4th)

Segment 2 - Wide Open / Rough

  • Canyon fast (2nd / 1st)
  • Norco top three (1st / 3rd)
  • Pivot mid-pack (3rd / 4th)
  • Specialized slow (5th / 5th)

Segment 3 - Sprint

  • Pivot fast (2nd / 1st)
  • Specialized mid-pack (3rd / 3rd)
  • Canyon slow (4th / 5th)

Relative Performance Ratings

With a wide variety of trail features and pitches under our tires, the areas where each bike excelled or struggled really came to light. Considering both the timed results and how things felt on the trail, we rated each of the bikes on various performance metrics relevant to the downhill category. We encourage you to dive into the individual bike reviews for much more detail.

Canyon Sender - Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5
Norco Aurum HSP - Average Rating: 4.1 out of 5
Pivot Phoenix - Average Rating: 4.2 out of 5
Specialized Demo 8 - Average Rating: 4.2 out of 5
UNNO Ever - Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Individual Bike Reviews

Canyon Sender -

Norco Aurum -

Pivot Phoenix -

Specialized Demo 8 -

UNNO Ever -


Which type of bike should we test next? Are there any models that really interest you? What test location would be best? Leave your suggestions in the comments. We look forward to your feedback.

Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Angel Fire Bike Park, Maxxis, and LITPro. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Fasthouse, and Five Ten.

Photos by Sean Horton // Video by Jake VanHeel

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