Cannondale’s Trail SL 3 would have won the test, hands down, if it had 29in wheels. As it is, 26in wheels are still preferable to some riders and on tighter terrain, and this bike is at the top of its class. The frame’s stiff rear end hampered comfort on bumpy terrain, despite use of Cannondale’s SAVE technology – basically, the chain- and seatstays have a degree of vertical flex built in to help soak up bumps.
The tyres were also a bit of a letdown for beginner riders: Kenda Small Block 8s roll fast but lack grip. However, the Trail is the second lightest bike in this group and it really has the best overall component package, from a fork that offers working adjustments and a 1.5in alloy steerer, to category-leading Tektro hydraulic disc brakes and a flawless drivetrain with a Shimano Octalink bottom bracket spindle.
Stand out feature: Best complete 26in-wheeled package
Pros: Runner-up fork to the Trek’s RockShox Tora; great handlebar and stem; flawless drivetrain (SRAM X5); Tektro Draco brakes
Cons: Slightly flexy front end; stiff rear end hampered comfort; sketchy tires for beginners
Weight: 12.89kg/28.43lb. Wheelset: 4.69kg/10.36lb