As we start to dig out our baselayers, and search for that pair of waterproof socks we swore we bought last year, it’s also time to consider which mountain bikes will be making waves next year out on the trails.
We don’t need our crystal ball for this, because we’re not exactly attempting to predict the future. Instead, we’re out to identify where things have evolved and what designs might become popular over the next 12 months or so.
With that in mind, it’s time to introduce our headline bike test for 2023, with eight machines that each represent a compelling direction for MTB tech in the year ahead.
Setting the pace for 2023
All eight bikes are here for a reason.
The Trek Fuel EXe illustrates how electric bikes are developing and where, potentially, the future lies. And yes, we know we said similar about the Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL last year, but you only need to look at the numbers to see that Trek has shifted things up a gear.
It’s a similar story with the Hope HB.916, the UK brand’s new high-pivot enduro bike. If Hope, too, is getting behind this newly popular suspension design, will we see an even bigger influx of high-pivot bikes next year?
Like the Hope, the Pole Voima is extremely interesting, and not just because of its geometry or design. The Finnish company’s approach to manufacturing is very different from most brands, and it’s great to see a fresh take on what’s possible when it comes to making bikes.
We’ve also included the new Canyon Strive, because of its stretched-out, rather radical geometry, which can be heavily adjusted on the fly.
Also on the enduro front, we have the new Santa Cruz Nomad. It seems a simpler machine than the Canyon, but this heavy-hitter has switched to a mixed-wheel setup for 2023. Is this the beginning of the end for the dedicated 27.5in front wheel?
From one extreme to the other, we haven’t neglected hardtails, either. Decathlon’s Rockrider Race 900 Team Edition is a pricey bike for the French sporting goods megastore, but how does it cut it for riders who are serious about cross-country racing?
Finally, Bird’s Forge is a classic UK hardtail with stable geometry, a customisable parts package and a classy stainless-steel finish, which helps it stand out from the pack.
What’s more, each of these bikes has been tested by the BikeRadar and MBUK magazine team, and we’ll be publishing reviews of every one over the coming month.
These bikes may be setting the trend for 2023, but how does that translate onto the trails?
Regardless of what you’re after or what you’re into, there’s something for everyone coming next year and it’s a great time to be a mountain biker.
Now, let’s introduce our headline bikes for 2023.
Trek Fuel EXe
As a ‘mid-level assist’ electric mountain bike, the Fuel EXe, launched in July, promises to deliver a helping hand on the way up but a more traditional trail bike feel when bombing back down.
Thanks to the dinky motor from German brand TQ – a compact unit delivering 50Nm of torque, with a peak power of 300 watts – Trek says geometry isn’t compromised and weight is kept relatively low.
The Fuel EXe represents the next generation of lightweight eMTBs, with a number of other brands offering similar models.
That includes BMC, with the new Fourstroke AMP LT – another machine to use the TQ-HPR50 motor – and Wilier’s Urta Hybrid, which swaps in a Fazua Ride 60 drive unit.
High-pivot mountain bikes have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, with big-ticket launches from brands including Cannondale, GT, Devinci and Norco all adopting an idler and coming with claims of improved suspension performance.
But it’s safe to say that there have been mixed reviews so far.
What about Hope? On the face of it, there’s something wonderfully unique about the British brand’s new enduro bike.
While somewhat of a departure from the previous HB.160, it still uses a carbon fibre mainframe and a mix of carbon and alloy in the rear triangle.
Changes include a new high-pivot rear-suspension design and bigger 29in (or mixed-size) wheels, while Hope has pushed the geometry figures more than many mainstream brands.
Hope may be the latest brand to adopt the suspension system, but is it more successful than its competition? And if the British brand is going down this route, will there be an even bigger influx of high-pivot designs in the future?
Though launched last year, the Forge reminds us that the British-designed, steel hardtail mountain bike is here to stay, and the future for this genre of bike looks good, to us at least.
Why? Well as more and more brands pump out longer-travel bikes, those looking for a little more connection to the ground, but still wanting to hit the ever-growing network of steep, loose, technical trails, now have a raft of hardtails designed specifically for rattling through tech.
This hardcore hardtail promises to combine the forgiving ‘zing’ that draws riders to ferrous tubing with the rust-resistance of stainless steel, in a ‘slack and long’ shape that may not be as radical as when Swinley-based Bird launched, but still looks good for getting rowdy on the trail.
The Forge Stainless uses stainless steel, and while it comes at a higher price than even fancy non-stainless steels, the rust-resistant material is also more impact resistant, and so those knocks and scrapes that are part and parcel of mountain biking are more likely to to be shrugged off.
Another ebike, this time from Finnish brand Pole.
Much like the Hope, the Voima has an interesting take on progressive mountain bike geometry and design. But that’s not why it makes this list.
The bike industry isn’t known for being the most innovative, so it’s great to see a brand trying a fresh approach to building its bikes.
Pole’s first power-assisted offering boasts striking looks and an unusual CNC-machined aluminium construction process debuted on the Finnish brand’s Stamina trail/enduro bike.
It’s a jaw-dropper that goes against the industry grain in terms of geometry, handling, manufacturing and aesthetics.
Canyon Strive CFR
The brand-new Canyon Strive CFR, revamped in April, has enjoyed a bit of a growth spurt.
It’s stretched out and has undergone some radical changes, with the geometry also being highly adjustable.
In its old role as Canyon’s only long-travel 29er, the Strive had to please all kinds of riders – including trail riders – and it was left behind a little in terms of geometry for the enduro bike genre.
But now Canyon has a longer, 150mm-travel Spectral 29 trail bike and a 175mm Torque 29 bike-park rig, so the latest Strive has been able to regain its place as an unapologetic enduro racing bike, with sights set on the top step of any podium.
But has it been a step in the right direction for the Canyon Strive? And can it fight it out with the best enduro bikes?
Santa Cruz Nomad
The sixth-generation Santa Cruz Nomad dropped in August and remains heavily gravity-focused, while gaining more versatility for 2023.
While, on paper, the Nomad may not be as complex as the Canyon Strive, the brand’s do-it-all heavy hitter has switched to mixed wheel sizes for 2023, and Santa Cruz has also updated the suspension kinematics and geometry.
The new Nomad also dishes out 170mm of suspension travel front and back, and is paired with slack and capable geometry for tackling ferocious descents.
But back to those wheel sizes, Santa Cruz has ditched the old 650b front wheel in favour of a mullet bike setup (29in front, 650b rear).
With the Nomad known previously for maintaining its 650b status, has it lost any of its magic? And are we going to see more mullets knocking about next year than in a 1980s nightclub?
Decathlon Rockrider Race 900 Team Edition
Decathlon has an enviable reputation for quality and value, and we’ve been impressed by past budget bikes from the brand.
But it was a surprise when we heard the French sports superstore chain was getting into World Cup XC racing.
With the Rockrider Race 900 Team Edition, Decathlon has kept both the carbon frame and component weight to a minimum, in a bid to make this a super-light XC race weapon.
Can its team rig compete with the big guns?
Mondraker’s mid-travel trail bike stands out with its svelte looks, but also its MIND telemetry system. Is data at the heart of future suspension tech?
Magnetic field sensors on the fork and shock send live data to an app, helping you see how much travel is used where, and giving setup hints.
Telemetry has the potential to be an invaluable tool to the dedicated rider looking to eke the maximum performance out of their bike. But how useful – and usable – is it in the woods?
MIND aside, the Raze features a compact 130mm rear end with a burly forked 150mm up front.
The Raze’s ‘Forward Geometry’, with its long front end and short stem, places the rider in the kind of progressive position we’d expect of a mountain bike in 2023, though it may not be classed as radical anymore.
We’ll let you know how the Raze stacks up – along with the rest of our headline bikes – when we deliver our review.