As a self-proclaimed group of mountain bike nerds, who look over and analyze countless press releases and review the latest crop of bikes every year, Singletracks has done a number of geometry analyses over the years. Mostly, they’ve been reserved for trail bikes, which we’ve called the category with 120mm of travel up to 150mm. And we’ve done enduro bike geometry analyses, with travel ranging from 150mm to 170mm.
And every time, we’ve chewed on what categories mean and why we call them what we do. Long-travel/enduro/park…it doesn’t really matter does it? Some people will buy an “enduro” bike and never race it, but it is a convenient catch-all for whatever the zeitgeist is for that category.
And them came “downcountry,” with the word peaking in popularity in the summer of 2020 according to Google. Why 2020? No idea. We have posts dating from 2018 with the word, and Singletracks forum users chatted about it in the summer of 2020 too.
Santa Cruz released their totally revamped Tallboy in summer 2019, calling it the “downhiller’s XC bike” and got more people who haven’t traditionally been into short-travel bikes stoked about them. Transition released their Spur in summer 2020. In early 2021, Ibis introduced the Ripley AF. No doubt, these bikes have helped build a ton of momentum for the category, though a few brands were already making aggressive short travel trail bikes—before the D-word was ablaze.
For Evil Bikes, it started in 2015, when the industry and consumers were figuring out to do with two new wheel sizes.
“The Following launched when 27.5″ was so young it was still called 650b,” said Evil CEO Jason Moeschler. “At the time, 26″ was dying and there was an entire class of riders that was saying all 29ers were dumb while the entire industry was in the process of brainwashing the consumer during the shift to 27.5″ wheels. The easy thing for Evil would have been to make a 150mm 27.5” bike. As hard as it might be to believe, the design criteria for the Following were to create a 120mm 29″ wheel bike with similar playfulness to the Uprising (a 150mm 26″ wheel all mountain bike). Evil wanted to maintain the bike-shaped skateboard feel of the 26″ Uprising while integrating all the best capabilities of the DELTA suspension system into a 29″ geometry and kinematics package — something that had never been done. It was a huge risk given the consumers’ newly found affinity for 27.5″ wheels. We didn’t build any alternate geometry test mules. Instead, we utilized a head tube large enough for an adjustable angle headset and integrated flip chips on the rear end, which allowed us to slacken/steepen the bike and give it much more versatility.”
Shortly after, another core MTB brand released its first short-travel 29er/27.5+ trail bike in 2016, after starting with a 26/27.5″ downhill and enduro bike.
“We wanted to make a Guerrilla Gravity bike for the riders whose average trails weren’t quite steep enough or rocky/rooty enough to justify a long travel rig, but who appreciate the benefits of the longer, lower, slacker geometry GG has been known for since 2014,” said the brand’s president, Will Montague about their Trail Pistol.
“This type of bike provides a fun combination of playfulness and sportiness, while still being able to maintain composure when the rider does find themselves in high speed or rough and rocky trail sections. Obviously, this needs to be combined with the right suspension kinematics, which our Chief Engineer, Matt Giaraffa, has always been great at designing. For these shorter travel setups, you want something that’s sufficiently soft off the top, but has plenty of ramp up so riders can still push the bike hard.”
So, while a flock of new bikes around 2020 helped move the downcountry category, they weren’t necessarily trailblazers. Let’s get into the numbers now.
We split some hairs in this analysis and gave the downcountry a 10mm spread from 115mm to 125mm of rear travel. It’s tighter than any other time we’ve reviewed geometry, but it’s also a more niche category. Not everyone will be pleased with that, or that some bikes have been left out and that’s alright. But 100mm-110mm still feels extremely cross-country, and at 130mm, we are squarely into the trail category. Besides, when we look at the averages of the bikes we reviewed, the travel numbers that make a downcountry bike are already there.
The averages of these 21 bikes tell us this: a downcountry bike has 120mm of rear travel and is paired with a 130mm fork (on average), and has a 65.75° head tube angle, a 76° seat tube angle, 450mm of reach (size M), an 1,189mm wheelbase, and 435mm chainstays
Downcountry head tube angles
There was a range from 67.5° (Revel Ranger) to 65° (Rocky Mountain Element in slack setting) with the median being 65.75°. The mode, or most commonly occurring number was 65.5°. While a lot of the measurements vary bike to bike, like the wheelbase, the stack heights, and standover heights, most bikes seemed to settle on a pretty narrow range of head tube angles and seat tube angles.
Seat tube angles
There were a few outliers here. The range of seat tube angles varied from 74° (Cannondale Scalpel SE) to 78.3° (Guerrilla Gravity Trail Pistol), with the median being 76°, same as the mode. While 74° might seem slack for a seat tube angle these days, the Scalpel SE also had one of the more conservative head tube angles at 67°.
As a reminder, we chose to analyze size medium bikes. The range varied from 430mm (Scalpel SE) to 471mm (Alchemy Arktos 120). The median was 450mm and the mode was 445mm. Reach has obviously grown quite a bit over the years. We had a much bigger range of bikes when we analyzed trail bike geometry in 2018, but our size larges averaged 446mm for reach then, almost the same as size mediums for this analysis. However, if we look at one of our more recent trail bike geometry analyses from 2021, the size large average was about 470mm, likely putting mediums at 445-450mm, however this included bikes from 115mm of rear travel up to 150mm.
With reach, wheelbases have steadily increased. Numbers ranged from 1,148mm (Scalpel SE) to 1,229 (Cotic Flaremax). The average wheelbase for a medium downcountry bike was 1,189mm with the mode being 1,174—only two bikes had the same length, though most seemed to settle between about 1,180mm and 1,200mm.
Chainstay lengths mostly resembled characteristics of the wheelbase: most are on the shorter side, giving the bike agility and cornering maneuverability, but I suppose it depends on what we call short these days. The range of chainstays was from 430mm (Pivot Trail 429) to 448 (Cotic Flaremax) while the median and mode were 435mm. If we call 430mm short and 440mm long for a set of chainstays, then most people landed right in the middle. The biggest change to chainstay sizes of late is of course the decision by many to produce size-specific chainstays on certain models.
The other numbers
We often focus on the numbers above as some of the most important for mountain bike geo. Stack heights had a wide range, influencing the “upright” position on downcountry bikes, blending what’s always been a big difference between “on-the-bike” XC bikes and “in-the-bike” enduro bikes.
Standover height was a fairly low average at 715mm for mediums accompanying short seat tube lengths for longer dropper posts, and it seems just about everyone has settled on short fork offsets for their short-travel trail bikes. Only two out of the twenty used a 51mm offset.
While most of these bikes have a very similar geometry, it’s important to note that even two bikes with very similar geometry will still ride very differently due to the unique angles, their suspension designs, frame material and frame design. Having ridden five or six of these modeIs, I can say that no two feel similar, even two that share very close geo and the same suspension linkage.
So what’s the point of this then? Some bike brands arrive at these angles and bikes earlier than others. Some take the risk of getting to a “new category” more quickly than others while some safely arrive later. But anyone who nerds out on numbers until they’re numb can have fun seeing what the latest trends are and what they mean. It does also seem like many of these numbers are slowing down and geometry is reaching a point of diminishing returns. But if that’s not the case, we can look back on this and see how much things have again changed in a few years.
The future of downcountry
Though downcountry has been a thing for a few years now, it hasn’t slowed yet. We’re still seeing brands come out with their versions of short-travel trail bikes, like the Commencal TEMPO or the REEB SST. Evil and Guerrilla Gravity don’t seem intent on following trends and if the precursor to downcountry bikes is any indication, they’ll stick around.
“The Following launched in 2015 and it has been a pillar of Evil’s bike line ever since,” said Moeschler. “The goal of the Following has never been to categorically check a box for the bike industry. Evil is in the business of selling fun. In designing the Following, we wanted to make the most fun 29″ bike possible. If the customer wants to build it as a lighter weight 120/120 bike, that’s great. If they prefer to slap a 150 fork on the front and take it to the bike park, go for it. Either way, it will be awesome.”
Montague from Guerrilla Gravity believes the downcountry category will blend again with trail bikes. Their Trail Pistol has been a favored bike from the beginning too.
“Honestly, it’s been one of our most popular bikes since we released it, it just didn’t have the fun category name,” he said. “Our perspective is ‘downcountry’ will move more towards just ‘trail,’ which we think is an apt category name for—ya know—your standard mountain bikes, that 80% of riders throughout the country use to ride their local trails.”
I went from a long travel trail bike (Santa Cruz Hightower), to two pure bread XC bikes (Santa Cruz Blur and Scott Spark RC), to a short travel/downcountry bike (Ibis Ripley). I feel like I’ve settled in the sweet spot for the type of riding I enjoy and the trails I have access to. The Hightower was fully capable but not as snappy as I liked. The XC bikes were absolute rockets but beat you up on our rocky trails. The Ripley is the perfect combination of all of those bikes. It’s amazingly fast but still gives me plenty of confidence when things get rough and gnarly.
With the exception of those who spend most of their summers at bike parks, I feel the majority of riders out there are incredibly over-biked.
If I had just one bike this is a really good category. But, what part of the country/terrain you ride and what kind of riding you do is the ultimate decision maker. For example, east coast, tight trees, no crazy technical stuff then XC is really fun. Big rocks out west, sure, enduro type lots of fun. And so forth and so on…ANY of them are fun anywhere of course. I am fortunate enough to have more than one bike and have for years and really love all the difference and options.
No love for the everythingcountry bike these days!
I do hope as trends continue we start going back to slightly steeper head angles for down country and trail bikes. I think 67 or so is the sweet spot. 65 is too slack for most trail riding.
Having a longer reach and short stems helps greatly when it comes to technical riding. Adding a super slack head angle to the longer reach just makes the bikes feel like choppers and it sucks for most non-downhill trails.
Something with a 67° head angle is perfectly rideable around here for most stuff, but I certainly don’t think it’s ideal. I find that 65°-ish range works really well where I live. Any steeper than 66° or so, and things start feeling a little nervous when speeds get up beyond say 25 mph.
I agree, but 25 MPH is a rare speed for most singletrack trails most people are riding.
Although I do have to say, expert and pro level BMX racers exceed 25 MPH on technical tracks with 20 inch wheel and 74 degree head angles. So there is definitely a skill element involved. I absolutely have no problem ride well past 25 MPH with a 67 degree head angle. An example such as when I rode Trestle bike park and so on.
Riders on DJ bikes riding slope style courses on bikes with 69 degree head angles.
We can keep making the bikes so single purpose or we can make them more well rounded with the expectation that riders can develop the skills.
More of the HTA topic has to do with one’s physique and how that interfaces with the bike and its caster angle.
I run a 65° HTA and it is a blessing on every ride… for me, how that would work for the next rider…
This and other geometry and dimension choices are precisely why I do the CAD, create blueprints with callout page loaded with “Shall” statements that I can either fabricate from or hand off to WaltWorks for a frame custom fitted to only one crash test dummy!
Custom obviously eliminates plastic frames and at that point, I expect fine titanium anyway.
I have a spreadsheet almost identical to that. So sad.
A lot of these down country bikes were simply trail bikes just a few years ago. I think they’re still trail bikes. I haven’t owned/ridden all of them, but I know for a fact I can ride a Trail Pistol, Ripley, Spitfire, Tallboy, and Arktos 120 on 90% of the stuff I ride in Colorado without really even having to slow the pace vs my Ripmo. Hell, most of the time I find myself wondering why I bought the Ripmo instead of the Ripley.
Honestly, the spreadsheets are kind of fun to create and reflect on. I met with a buddy recently who made his own too when he was looking at new bike options.
I’ve been on a Ripley AF lately in Co, and it’s been crushing too. Such a solid bike.
The spreadsheets are fun to create, though I have to admit it’s a bit of a sickness! I spend way more time putting stuff like that together than a healthy mind should.
I haven’t ridden the aluminum Ripley, but on paper it’s even better suited to my kind of riding than the carbon Ripley. I saw the article on how you built it up, and that seemed about perfect.
Nevermind the paperwork, start prototyping and testing.
The majority of riders out there are over-biked in terms of travel. I ride rocky and steep trails in WV and my Ripley does exceptionally well on 90% of it.
Exactly Mojo. I have used the Ripley for the last 4 years and can ride most anything.
Great article! I keep spreadsheets like this to determine which bike would fit me best and cater to my preferences. I really support bike companies producing a wider gamut of sizes for that reason. I am normally a medium as well, but prefer a slightly longer reach. The full picture of all the numbers combined can create some major riding differences bike to bike.
I have a 2021 Scaple se and was purchased from a bike shop owner who beefed up the rear shock . Installed a short stem and put 800mm bars on it . It was a capable xc bike before the changes but could you say the bike would fall more in the down country range now ?
Question for those riding this category on more technical downhill trails- aside from the obvious factor of rider ability- have you ever felt like there was less ability to keep yourself away from getting in over the capability of the bike?
I ask because I am actively looking to move from my present 150-130 all-mountain bike to a 140-125/130 bike in this category. But I admit that my 160-150 all mountain bike always feels like it handles downhill, tech, chunder issues really well and keeps me out of trouble that I sometimes have to make adjustments for when I feel it start to go south on my lesser rig. Surely part of that is riding ability and choice of lines but I’d love to hear folks’ input because this is what has held me back so far.
Frankly, you might look into renting a bike that piques your interest… Many LBS’s will apply the rental fee to purchase and you get a good taste for the bike prior to a commitment.
I’m bummed to not see the Specialized Epic Evo in that spreadsheet. Isn’t that one of the more popular down country rides out there?
Because we chose the rear suspension travel cutoff at 115mm, the Epic EVO doesn’t fit (it’s 110mm). We also have a 110mm Canyon Lux Trail in for test right now that the brand categorizes as downcountry, so unfortunately there’s not clear line.
Ah got it, thanks for the clarification/comment, Jeff. Didn’t realize that the Epic Evo was on the lower end of the rear travel in the category. The more you know!