Trail bike for a big guy

A robust reader is breaking his trail frame, and he’s looking for an upgrade. I think he should step up to an “all-mountain” bike.

Hi Lee,

I’m in the market for a new bike. I’ve been riding an Enduro for the past 5 seasons, and I really really like the way it rides. I started off on an 00, then an 01 then an 03 … You see, I have a recurring problem with the Enduro: the seat mast. I keep breaking them where the seat post inserts into the frame. I weigh on average 205. The riding I do is mostly x-c, but pretty rough. Lots of rocks, roots, ups, downs, small drops (never more than 2 feet). I tend to prefer the sit and spin approach to riding, though I’ve had to learn to be lighter on the bike over the years. The seat mast cracked last year again, and Specialized would only provide me with a frame — at cost — and a Stumpjumper at that (even lighter weight than the one I’ve broken 3 times). No worries, I understand their position, they’ve already given me 2 replacement frames. So I had a reinforcement gusset welded on that wraps around the seat mast. It lasted the season, so I’Ë™m happy.

So. I’ve tried a Heckler which was ok but didn’t impress while pedaling over bumps, and I’m curious about the VPP and Maestro designs, but from my reading, I think they still don’t perform as well as Horst link bikes that I enjoy so much when climbing in rough, rooty, rocky climbs (which tends to make up about 60-70% of my time on any given ride). Price isn’t the biggest concern: I want to buy something that will last. I’ve narrowed it down to (in order): Turner 5-spot, the new (06) Norco Fluid, and then maybe the Giant Reign or Santa Cruz Blur LT. I’d like to keep the bike to around 30lbs with good solid wheels.

Any thoughts? I’m concerned the new 5 spot isn’t a Horst link, and wonder if the Norco is strong enough … it sure is a better value.

Thanks for any advice you might have, a keep up the good work on this most excellent site


Ottawa, Canada

Hi Sylvestre.

First, if you’re breaking seat masts, that tells me you’re riding too heavily in the saddle. From now on, try to drive as much weight as you can into your pedals. The less weight you put on your bars and seat, the better your bike will handle, and the longer your frame will last.

OK, now to bikes.

VPP and Maestro bikes are great, but if you’re sensitive to pedal feedback VPP will drive you crazy — especially in longer travel models.

It looks like you’re looking at trail suspension bikes; 4-5 inches, pretty light, much like your Stumpy. That’s a fun category, but you seem like a good candidate for the next step up in travel and burliness. These bikes have about 6 inches of travel and they’re made for “aggressive” trail riding. That or a big brute like yourself. Some 6-inch bikes are super burly and made for freeriding. You want the lighter, trail-riding models — sometimes called all-mountain. Some great examples:

  • Specialized Enduro (2005+ – the 6″ one)
  • Turner 6-Pack
  • Santa Cruz Nomad
  • Maverick ML-8
  • Intense 6.6
  • All of these bikes will come in under 30 pounds. They’ll be awesome trail bikes for you, and they’ll withstand even more aggressive riding.

    My opinion: If you’re going to throw down on a high end bike ($3,000+), get one with a modern suspension design. A lot of people love VPP. Try that. If you go for a four-bar, make sure it has a Horst (aka FSR) Link. Without the FSR link, you’re getting a single pivot. That’s fine at the low end, but it’s inexcusable when you pay thousands of dollars. My opinion!

    Also see: Good XC/Super D bikes

    13 replies
    1. Sylvestre says:

      Awesome… thanks! I’ve been killing myself trying to figure out if the virtual pivot and it’s offspring pedal as nicely as Horst link designs. By the sounds of it, they don’t, so now I have a much clearer picture of what I’m looking for and can go and test out a few bikes!!!

      Thanks so much.

      As for the advice of driving more into the pedals, I hear you loud and clear, and have been but will continue to work on that everytime I ride.


    2. leelikesbikes says:

      Right on.

      To clarify,

      VPPs and Maverick Thrust Links feel snappy and work well on smooth ground. When you pedal over rough stuff, that’s where the FSR link pays.

    3. Steve says:

      Hey Sylvestre, you should also take a look at the offer from Iron Horse bikes probably at the ones which have the DW-Link on them, like the MKIII for trail use or the beefier 7Point series
      I see you haven’t mentioned the DW-Link as a option so you probably haven’t heard of it so to give you a bit of info about this design take a look at this site
      BTW DW stands for Dave Weagle who is the mastermind behind this revolutionary suspension system. Have you heard of e13components or Evil? If so than those things are also his creations.

    4. Dan says:

      Another possible, and probably more likely reason you are breaking the frame at the seat tube is running your seat post too high. If there isn’t enough seat post in the frame you will crack the frame.

    5. Sylvestre says:

      Thanks guys.

      After the first seat post incident, I made sure I had more seat post than I needed in the frame… I think Lee is right in mentionning that I need to be out of the saddle more…

      For the Versus Cycles, as much as I’d like to, I don’t think they’re available in Canada, at least not by any distributors that I’m aware of. For the Knolly, it seems that the geometry is more oriented to freeride, whereas I really want something more oriented to pedalling given that about 70% of my time is spent grinding the gears…. For the Iron Horse, the only distributor here is Sport Check (owned by Sports Experts). I had resolved to check them out, but I’m pretty sure that what I’m looking for is a Horst Link bike, with a frame design that doesn’t have an interrupted seat mast….

      Thanks for the feedback,

      Can’t wait for the new season,


    6. Fred says:

      I have to disagree with you about how VPP’s pedal in the rough. The ones that I have ridden (Blur, BLT, Nomad, VPfree, 5.5, Uzzi, M3.) feel like they hold their momentum better then single pivots and FSR’s and climb through rough just as good as FSR.
      Sylvestre, don’t rule out the nomad and 6.6 just yet. At least get on one and give it a good test ride. (Do this with any bike you’re thinking of buying.) The biggest issue I have with VPP systems, and the like, is bearing mantinince. Being a big guy like me, you’ll go through them about once a year.

    7. Steve C. says:

      I agree with Fred – the VPPs pedal great thru the rough. The FSR is superior when you stand up and mash on the pedals though. I’m 220 lbs riding a ’06 Nomad, great bike, desends like a DH bike and climbs the technical stuff like you can’t believe. The Nomad probably won’t come in at 30lbs though, plan on around 32-34 lbs w/XT components and a 6″ fork. Check out Richard Cunningham’s review of the Nomad in Mountain Bike Action a few months back, it’s spot on.

    8. Jason says:

      I am a big guy (6’3″, 220) and love to do burly rides. I love my ’05 enduro with the Fox 36. The only complaint I initially had was the 5th Element air shock, which I switched to a Fox DHX, and absolutely love now. Happy biking, Jason

    9. Headshot says:

      Lee, it looks as if you have also been fooled into thinking a MTB needs a second pivot before the wheel (Horst Link) . Even MBA has retreated and found the new Turner Flux as good as the HL bike from last year. Other side by side comparisons on have shown exactly that as well. MBA also rated the Commencal trail bike in the same edition very highly. How do guys like Cannondale manage to make great bikes like the Rush and Prophet withou a HL and a host of extra linkages?. Simple, you don’t need them. From an engineering perspective, the simplest solution that gets the job done is always the best. I suppose we can debate what the “job” is and you’ll argue that its done better by a HL bike than a mono-pivot. I may even agree, however I’d counter by saying that its not done better enough to justify the extra cost, compexity and maintenace issues. I’m sure you’ve read Ken Sasaki’s Path Analyis article. He debunks many of the myths spread by magazines and bike manufactueres to justify their patents and royalty charges to other makers. Keep it straight and simple…

    10. Sly says:

      Wow… this debate is getting rather heated!

      I just wanted to say I just picked up a 2005 Enduro Expert. There was a warehouse clearance sale here, so I got it for a price I just couldn’t refuse! My riding season likely won’t start till July caus’ I’m getting knee surgery in a month, so if there’s any mods or issues with the bike, let me know as I’ll have a fair amount of time to work on them.

      For instance: I’ve had a tendency to bend derailleur hangers in the past. A lot. Would it be worth selling the XTR rear derailleur and rear hub to throw some Hone components on there?

      Thanks again for all the info,

      and happy trails,


    11. leelikesbikes says:

      Nice! I say run the bike stock and replace broken parts as needed.

      If you ride with your feet and let that Enduro do its thing, you won’t be dropping the bike so much.

    Comments are closed.