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Test Riding the Best Downhill Mountain Bikes of 2021

Author: PinkbikeTime: 2024-01-24 09:25:00

Table of Contents

Introducing the Downhill Bikes

The video compares four of the newest downhill mountain bikes released in the past year: the Cube 215 HPC SLT, Specialized Demo Race, Canyon Sender CFR, and the Commencal Supreme DH 2927. Downhill bikes are designed for riding aggressively down very steep and rough terrain at high speeds. They have long travel suspension, beefy components, and slack geometry to provide stability. While downhill bike sales are relatively small compared to more mainstream mountain bikes, they provide a uniquely fun and exhilarating riding experience going straight down the fall line.

Specialized gave the Demo a major overhaul in recent years, moving away from their old design approach focused on low progression and brisk suspension. The new Demo has more progression and improved anti-squat and load transfer properties. It retains the four-bar suspension layout but with tweaked pivot locations and extra links actuating the shock. The Demo Race also now accommodates both 27.5" and 29" wheels via adjustable chips on the Horst pivot.

The Commencal Supreme DH has become one of the most successful downhill race bikes in recent years. For 2021, Commencal released a mullet wheel version alongside the full 29er. The new model also focuses on adjusting the idler position for optimized anti-squat and suspension performance. Commencal bikes are now some of the longest in reach, whereas they used to be on the shorter side. The high single pivot suspension design remains for its rear wheel traction benefits.

Canyon sought to refine rather than redesign the latest Sender CFR. Lightness was a priority, achieved via the full carbon fiber construction. They also moved the shock mount to the down tube for added stiffness without extra weight. Canyon adopted mullet and 29er options depending on frame size, with the medium and smaller running 27.5" rear wheels. The suspension layout is unchanged, but many pivots are now concentric.

Cube went with a full carbon mainframe and rocker link for their newest Two15 downhill bike. The frame design and suspension layout remain similar, still using a four-bar Horst pivot configuration. One interesting choice was opting for an Imperial shock size rather than metric. Cube also incorporated headset adjustment to tune the head angle by 0.5 degrees. The HPC version tested is very lightweight even in the extra-large size.

Specialized Demo Race

The Demo Race was the easiest bike to jump on and feel comfortable riding out of the four tested. However, the recommended shock setup was quite far off from what ended up working best after experimentation. In the 29" wheel configuration, the Demo gains stability and more balanced front to rear handling. A limiting factor for very tall riders is the Demo's relatively short reach and stack height - our size large test bike was the smallest of the group. While not as single-mindedly focused on speed as some others, the Demo Race can certainly still go fast in the right hands. It's more playful and easy to ride character makes it a great companion for riding a variety of trails. The adjustability to run either wheel size is also a nice bonus for tuning handling and ride feel.

Commencal Supreme DH

The Commencal Supreme DH is intensely focused on going as fast as possible straight down the mountain. Once dialed in, it rewards aggressive riding by railing through rough sections barely decelerating. However, the recommended shock setup is extremely stiff and fast rebounding - suited for elite racers but tough for average riders. Slowing down rebound helps but is limited by the light damper tune. The highly progressive leverage ratio works wonders for absorbing heavy impacts but can feel a bit underdamped and bouncy with high frequency chatter. This also leads to significant dynamic geometry changes as the suspension compresses. The Commencal feels very solid and planted through technical sections - the extra weight likely contributes to this. Similar to the Demo, wheel size changes do alter the personality noticeably. An aggressive rider will feel right at home charging as fast as possible on the Supreme DH.

Canyon Sender CFR

The Canyon Sender CFR inspires confidence right off the bat. Both testers and times confirm it is extremely stable at speed in rough terrain. Canyon provides little suspension setup info but we ended up close to their baseline suggestions. The size L has a very comfortable and balanced contact points layout for aggressive riding. It doesn't feel overly plank-like despite its race intentions. Small bump compliance isn't the most supple but it handles bigger hits with aplomb thanks to composure and chassis control. The full 29er rear wheel does require a bit more physical input when rapidly changing lines compared to the 27.5" options. However, it rewards this with improved rolling speed and momentum through janky sections and long G-outs.

Cube Two15 HPC SLT

The Cube Two15 HPC goes incredibly fast when pointed straight and given its head, but it's the most physically demanding bike to muscle around the trail. The extra-long reach paired with the slack head angle lead to very fast corner entry speeds and stability but tighten up switchback require much more body English to navigate. Another polarizing design choice is the extremely progressive leverage ratio producing a soft yet bouncy ride quality with excessive chassis movement. This eats up physical energy attempting to stabilize the bike through consecutive bumps and requires careful tuning of spring rate/damping balance to control.

Testing the Downhill Bikes on Diverse Terrain

Throughout testing over several months, the downhill bikes were subjected to riding on a wide variety of trail types in the mountainous regions of Switzerland. This included classic Alpine steeps with big elevation drops, technical root/rock gardens, bike park tracks built on hardpack or soft dirt conditions, flat sections linking stages to build speed, off camber trails requiring delicate balance, and many other challenging situations.

Multiple testers with different riding styles and weights between 160-220lbs evaluated each bike to determine if traits remained consistent across various pilots. The goal was to expose strengths and weaknesses in performance by putting them through the wringer on diverse trails a consumer might encounter beyond controlled bike park laps or race stages.

Assessing the Ride Quality and Handling

The Specialized Demo Race has a very easygoing personality making it simple to hop on and feel comfortable riding at a decent clip almost immediately. However, dialling in the shock took more time compared to others because the recommended settings were quite far off. Once configured, the Demo doesn't exhibit the single-minded focus on speed of the Commencal or Canyon but can still motor when pushed hard. The adjustability between 27.5 and 29" is a nice bonus.

Conversely, the Commencal Supreme DH wants to go Mach 10 straight down the fall line whenever possible. This bike begs to be ridden aggressively and rewards a fearless pilot by devouring chunky terrain without speed checks. However, the recommended shock setup catered towards elite racers requires significant adjustment to work for average aggressive riders. It also has a very livelier ride quality than the competition which keeps you busy absorbing chatter.

The Canyon Sender CFR might have the highest outright speed potential with the least amount of effort expended wrestling it around the track. It immediately infuses confidence to charge tricky rock gardens and root webs due to unflappable composure and stability. Light weight certainly helps in this regard compared to the tank-like Commencal. It's also comfortable and intuitive to move around on despite the big bike intentions.

Finally, the Cube Two15 is a beast requiring considerable muscle to force around tighter sections of trail. Going in straight lines, it wants to scream downhill yet almost violently ejects sideways if your chosen race line has varied entrance/exit points. The highly progressive leverage ratio gives it a bouncy sofa suspension feel exacerbating chassis pitch.

Comparing Speed and Times on the Infamous Champéry Course

To quantify differences in outright speed between the downhill bikes, test laps were performed on the legendary Champéry World Cup track in Switzerland. This is considered one of the most challenging courses with 1.1km of length, 395m of vertical drop, and a 35% average grade. Riders attacked the track pushing hard while trying to clean the technical sections.

The Canyon Sender was fastest at 2:38.5 minutes, a mere 0.6 seconds quicker than the Commencal Supreme DH. The Specialized Demo clocked in at 2:41.3, about 3 seconds adrift. Finally, the Cube Two15 posted a 2:43.8 lap time which was over 5 seconds slower than the leading Canyon.

The Verdict: Ranking the Best Downhill Bikes

While the Cube Two15 is blazingly quick in ideal conditions, it's more difficult to ride at ten-tenths compared to competitors. The Specialized Demo Race lacks the razor's edge race pedigree of the Commencal and Canyon but counterbalances via superior versatility making it the most well-rounded choice depending on riding objectives.

The Canyon Sender CFR takes top honors when judging purely by speed and race intentions. Its composure and stability at ridiculous velocities with minimal rider input cemented its position during testing. However, the Commencal Supreme DH was only a hair off the outright pace yet feels notably burlier in terms of construction to stand up to abuse making it the best overall package.


Q: What are the main downhill bikes tested?
A: The bikes tested were the Specialized Demo Race, Commencal Supreme DH, Canyon Sender CFR, and Cube Two15 HPC SLT.

Q: Where were the downhill bikes tested?
A: The bikes were tested extensively in the mountainous Valais and Vaud regions of Switzerland.

Q: What type of terrain did they test the bikes on?
A: The downhill bikes were tested on steep trails, bike parks, flat sections, roots, rocks, hard-packed ground, loamy soil - all manner of conditions.

Q: How were the bikes assessed?
A: The bikes were assessed based on ride quality, handling, suspension performance, speed, composure, and fun factor.

Q: Which bike was the fastest in testing?
A: The Canyon Sender CFR clocked the fastest time on the Champéry World Cup downhill track.

Q: Which bike won best overall?
A: The Commencal Supreme DH 29 was chosen as the best downhill bike due to its speed, solid construction and value.

Q: Were there any disappointments?
A: The Cube Two15 HPC SLT didn't match up to the competition in speed or handling.

Q: What were the pros and cons of each bike?
A: Each bike had unique strengths and weaknesses - see the full reviews for details. The Commencal won for its pure speed, while the Specialized was more versatile.

Q: Should I buy one of these downhill bikes?
A: For experienced riders looking for a top-shelf downhill bike, these models are well worth considering.

Q: Where can I get more info on these downhill bikes?
A: Be sure to check out the full individual reviews of each bike on Pinkbike for more details.