Which model would you buy if you were only allowed to own one bike with which to conquer the diverse trails of this world? Is there one mountain bike that can do it all? We tested 22 mountain bikes priced from €1,699 to € 13,999, challenging entrenched ways of thinking and discovering new perspectives in the mountain biking world.
Over half a million mountain bikers from around the world read our 2020 trail bike group test – wow! We feel honoured and you’ve inspired us to take the 2021 edition to the next level and to think even bigger! Which is exactly what we did. Raise the curtain for our big trail bike… uh… mountain bike group test!
Have we gone mad? A detailed look at our huge test field of 22 mountain bikes of 2021
We tested 22 of the hottest mountain bikes with prices ranging from € 1,699 to € 13,999. From an aluminium hardtail to a 170 mm travel carbon fully and three eMTBs, we’ve included a little bit of everything. Some might think we’re crazy to compare such a diverse range of bikes, but there’s method to the madness. The mountain bike segment has evolved a lot over the past few years, resulting in numerous exciting innovations, technical developments and advancements. Although we’ve seen many supposed mountain bike “innovations” rehashed in different guises, some technologies and developments have radically changed mountain bikes and our beloved sport for good. However, while technological limits have shifted, all too often, our mental borders remain firmly anchored, limiting our view of the big picture. As such, we still find ourselves surrounded by buzzwords, categories and mindsets that no longer do justice to the current state of things. Mountain biking should be a simple pleasure, right?
On top of that, the sport of mountain biking has become tremendously popular in recent years, attracting a new generation of riders to participate in the world’s best hobby. So, it is high time we look at the mountain bike segment from a new perspective, to see the big picture and to provide more clarity, easier orientation and less confusion. Get ready for the most exciting and insightful group test in the history of ENDURO Magazine!
One thing’s for sure, this group test has revealed a multitude of surprising facts and answers to many exciting questions that no group test has before. With this in mind: open your minds, hearts and wallets*. It’ll be fun, promise!
*Warning: reading this group test could have a lasting impact on your bank balance. By turning the page, you consent to being inspired and motivated at your own risk. We’re happy if we can help you find the right bike and accessories for you, avoiding buyer’s remorse and allowing you to have even more fun on the trails!
An overview of all 22 mountain bikes of 2021 on test
|Brand||Model||Price [€]||Weight [kg]||Front travel [mm]||Rear travel [mm]||Wheel size [“]|
|Canyon||Neuron CF SLX 9||€ 5,599||12.58||130||130||29″|
|Canyon||Spectral 29 LTD||€ 6,299||13.28||160||150||29″|
|Canyon||Stoic 4||€ 1,699||13.76||140||0||29″|
|FOCUS||THRON 6.9||€ 2,799||15.8||130||130||29″|
|Ibis||Ripmo V2||€ 8,285||13.78||160||147||29″|
|MERIDA||eONE-SIXTY 10K||€ 9,899||23.1||160||150||Mullet|
|MERIDA||NINETY-SIX 8000||€ 7,049||11.66||120||100||29″|
|Nukeproof||Reactor 290C Factory||€ 6,155||14.7||140||130||29″|
|Orbea||Rise M-Team||€ 9,338||18.46||150||140||29″|
|RAAW||Jibb XTR Build||€ 7,540||14.8||150 (+10)||135||29″|
|Rocky Mountain||Instinct C70||€ 6,500||14.2||150||140||29″|
|Santa Cruz||5010 X01||€ 8,399||13.35||140||130||27,5″|
|Santa Cruz||Tallboy CC X01||€ 8,399||12.94||130||120||29″|
|SCOTT||Ransom 900 Tuned AXS||€ 8,999||13.72||170||170||29″|
|Specialized||S-Works Turbo Levo SL||€ 13,999||16.95||150||150||29″|
|Specialized||S-Works Stumpjumper||€ 9,999||12.48||140||130||29″|
|Specialized||S-Works Stumpjumper EVO||€ 10,499||14.16||160||150||29″|
|Trek||Fuel EX 9.8 GX||€ 5,999||13.48||140||130||29″|
|Trek||Top Fuel 9.9 X01||€ 8,999||11.54||120||115||29″|
|Yeti||SB115 TURQ3||€ 10,990||12.38||130||115||29″|
|YT||IZZO BLAZE 29||€ 3,999||13.9||140||130||29″|
Diversity is the keyword of this group test, the test field of which cannot be explained on the basis of individual parameters. However, it does allow us to answer the following questions:
- How much money do you have to spend to have a lot of fun on the trails?
- Do you necessarily need a bike with the best components?
- Can a hardtail be as much fun as a full-suspension trail rocket?
- Could some eMTBs be the better mountain bikes?
We’ve got good reasons for including several models from the same brands. After our editorial team selected the most exciting and important bikes of 2021, we compared them with the feedback of over 28,500(!) readers in our 2020 survey. Our aim was to keep the test field as relevant as possible. We included three bikes each from Specialized and Canyon. On the one hand, we did this because the bikes in their portfolios are very different and allow for interesting internal comparisons. On the other hand, because they’re the most popular brands amongst our readers. Santa Cruz and MERIDA also sent us two bikes each as benchmarks within their respective categories, such as the MERIDA eONE-SIXTY, which won the 2021 eMTB group test in our sister magazine E-MOUNTAINBIKE.
Full Disclosure: this test field is the biggest and most versatile that we’ve ever tested at ENDURO, though it’s still not complete. For that, we would probably have had to test at least 40 bikes, which would have been impossible. That said, we would have liked to have included some additional relevant brands, such as CUBE, Transition and Pivot. Unfortunately, they couldn’t or didn’t want to send us a bike to compete in this group test.
Extensively testing 22 bikes was a rewarding challenge, but the countless test rides and late-night debates also left their mark on man and machine. It’s likely that we’re treating ourselves to a well-deserved break just as you’re reading these lines – over 120 pages of text in two languages. That’s a wrap! Enjoy!
Big changes and big opportunities – Who wants to join us as we shape the future of mountain biking?
Coronavirus has had a major impact on the bike industry, presenting us with new challenges in the short term, including price hikes, delays and stock shortages. However, it has brought us huge opportunities in the mid-term, and by that we mean a rapidly growing community! Due to the bike boom, we are welcoming many new riders to the trails and readers to ENDURO magazine. What does this mean? We’re remaining true to our values, though we take our responsibility seriously and have thus added exciting new facets to our content.
Nothing would be worse than allowing the newbies amongst us to get lost in the jumble of buzzwords, to buy the wrong bike, get frustrated and ultimately throw in the towel after a year or two. Or letting them get into trouble with the established bike scene due to a lack of respect and understanding or inconsiderate behaviour. As such, it’s critical that we dispel old prejudices, false beliefs and misleading categories right from the start. The aim of this group test is to create a new perspective and a new understanding of the market’s current developments and to redefine the mountain bike segment.
Why we’re not looking for the best trail bike – And why you shouldn’t discriminate against bananas!
This time, we’re starting where other group tests or tech discussions have stopped, because to understand the details and differences, you have to see them in the context of the wider mountain biking world. To ask which is the best 29er or the best 150mm trail bike has always been the wrong question. Unless all you want to do is beat your opponent in a game of Top Trumps with the most powerful motor instead of actually going to the racetrack where you’ll quickly realise that it depends on so much more than the motor’s output or individual specs.
For this reason, we have always made the categories of our group tests broader and never set out to find the best 29er, looking for the best mid-priced trail bike instead. Why have we suddenly decided to go even further, broadening the category even more? Quite simply, because this time we’re not looking for the best apple but for the best fruit. After all, if you want to eat healthier, you’re not going to compare 30,000 varieties of apples. Instead, you will look at which fruit provides the most nutrients and vitamins and which tastes the best. Comparing apples with apples would be fruitless (pun intended). A pear is at least as relevant as an orange, a mango or maybe even a banana.
Anyone looking for the best fruit won’t be satisfied with a comparison of only apples.
If you’re looking to have maximum fun on the trails, you’d be making a mistake to focus on just one type of bike. As such, we weren’t satisfied with testing only the best trail bikes, aka apples, but threw in a wide range of bikes including eMTBs and a hardtail that, in reality, get ridden on the same trails. This is the only way to tease out the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the differences of the individual types of bikes. It is no coincidence that we’ve decided to go this route for 2021. It is thanks to certain developments in the bike industry and a paradigm shift that is taking place within it. To explain this, we have to take a brief look at the history of mountain bikes and see what has happened in recent years.
Time travel – How we lost “THE” mountain bike
Mountain biking’s big bang happened in the 1990s. At the time, the world was a simple place: there was “THE” mountain bike with which riders did everything. The mountain bike stars of the time rode downhill and XC World Cups on the same bike. Inevitably, the sport developed: people wanted more and pushed the limits of what was possible, going faster, further, making bikes stiffer, more durable and lighter. New disciplines emerged and with them new requirements and challenges. During this progression, “THE” mountain bike was lost, with countless innovations leading to increasing specialisation over the last 30 years. From the development process itself to components such as the dropper post to radical new geometries, suspension, and drivetrain concepts, it all contributed to bikes being designed for specific disciplines, in which they improved exponentially, simultaneously drifting further and further away from being a unifying all-rounder.
In recent years and decades, bike categories with enticing names have vied for our attentions and our credit cards: all-round tourers, downcountry, backcountry, long-travel trail bikes, trail twenty-niners, over-mountain, super-all-mountain, somehow always to do with mountains, trails, “all” and large wheels. But only somehow! Particularly in traditional media but also in the marketing machinery of most brands, superlatives and neologisms still seem to be en vogue, aiming to differentiate themselves from the competition and propagate the next (r)evolution. Bike scene veterans are familiar with the game and the ambivalent mixture of “We’ve seen that before,” and “Wow – that’s brilliant and so much better!” The good news is that we’re seeing a shift happening and you don’t have to be a history buff to know that developments are cyclical. We are well on the way back to the beginnings of mountain biking when you had “THE” mountain bike to do it all!
Back to the big bang – The rebirth of the mountain bike!
Paradoxically, bikes designed for specific categories have developed and improved so much in recent years that they’ve become increasingly versatile. In this regard, it was good and important that the mountain bike segment became so differentiated and specialised as the respective subcategories allowed the bike industry to learn what really matters in different situations. With this knowledge and new technologies in hand, they’ve been able to realign their focus on the big picture. All the detours and highly specialised developments have brought us to the point where we are today, able to state that formerly specialised categories have grown closer than ever before, allowing the re-emergence of “THE” mountain bike that can do (almost) anything. The ultimate all-rounder. To put it differently, after all the upheavals of the past years, we now have bikes that are more than just the best apple or best orange, but actually the best fruit. It’s allowing us to get back to what biking should be about.
Who defines what a mountain bike is and how it should be?
Who or what actually determines where one category ends and another begins? Is it the travel? The wheel size? The geometry? The weight or the components? Does short-travel suspension automatically mean efficient climbing characteristics? Do heavy bikes necessarily climb badly? Does a FOX 36 suspension fork automatically turn a bike into a brawler?
Click your way through brands’ websites and model ranges and you will find huge differences: each brand defines its own categories. Some do it on the basis of intended use, others on the basis of individual parameters such as travel or wheel size. Each brand decides for itself what is useful or pointless. However, we can say this: in the real world, it’s not a matter of categories or individual bike specs but of how the individual bits of a concept work as a whole. A 115 mm travel bike can be significantly more capable than a longer travel model. And long travel doesn’t necessarily make a bike bad at climbing. On the contrary, some of the longer travel bikes in this group test climb better than certain XC bikes. Therefore, individual technical parameters should never be a decisive criterion for a bike and its category. But what does it come down to then?
Standards have changed so often until they disappeared altogether.
Anyone who knows us knows, our approach is holistic. What counts for us is what you can actually feel and perceive as added value on the trail. Everything else may empty your bank account or satisfy your ego, though it does little for the intended use or purpose of a mountain bike. Speaking of purpose, can you remember why you started riding in the first place and what it is you love about mountain bikes?
How does it make you feel? The mountain bike as a means to an end
The bike industry’s most recent technical developments have reached new heights, but things have also become so convoluted that you often can’t see the forest for the trees. Standards have changed so often until they disappeared altogether. The focus was on trying to include as many technical features as possible, during which we lost sight of what mountain biking should really be about: the way it makes you feel.
At its core, a bike is a means to an end. A tool that…
- takes us to places we would otherwise never have seen.
- allows us to see our surroundings from a new perspective.
- allows us to quickly escape everyday life and get into nature.
- introduces us to new people, helping us forge new friendships and become part of a cool community!
- takes our fitness and endurance to the next level.
- is hip, cool and stylish!
- provides excitement, a feeling of adventure and variety after work or on the weekend!
- has changed the way we commute to work and calmed our ecological conscience.
- challenges us to try new lines, jump bigger jumps and push our boundaries.
- improves our technical understanding, fascinates us and turns some of us into tech nerds.
- ensures that we feel more alive and experience life more intensely.
- is like meditation – our thoughts calm down with every revolution of the cranks.
- might help us win races.
- is brilliant in every way.
We ride because mountain bikes allow us to experience all of the above: to feel fast, proud, clever, crazy, adventurous, lively, fit, like we’re part of a community. It just makes us feel good! Once you realise this, you’ll begin to understand how far-reaching the effects of mountain bikes can be, what it can mean for our lives and what we should bring our focus back to!
Mountain bikes and eMTBs – Why does our test field include eMTBs?
By now, you probably have a good understanding why, after careful consideration, we decided on such a diverse test field. We live in a time in which, after years of high-level specialisation, the industry is finding its way back to its roots and developing all-rounders. The trend for “THE” one bike is back. The one that can do (almost) everything and whose focus is on what it was originally all about: having as much fun as possible in all terrain. To be ready for every adventure you encounter. Why should we ignore this development and keep looking for the best model of a certain category, like trail bikes? Why should we keep comparing apples when we can just as easily find the best fruit?
It is for this reason that we’ve included such a diverse range of bikes, from a hardtail to eMTBs. We simply took a look at what fruit the market currently has to offer, whether organic or not. Now, there will surely be a lot of readers out there thinking to themselves or even guffawing that comparing eMTBs with analogue mountain bikes just isn’t fair. They would be right – but only if, like other magazines, we were to rate the bikes according to a rigid points system, tallying the score at the end for the final grade or giving ratings such as “great” or “very good”, according to the total number of points achieved. However, that’s not how we work or how we rate bikes. We have always been convinced that such an assessment can’t do justice to the individual strengths and weaknesses of a bike’s character.
It always depends on the system as a whole. A harmonious entry-level bike can make an inconsistent flagship bike eat dust!
We always look at bikes as complete systems. This is another reason why we care so little about categories such as 29ers or 150 mm full-sussers, because it all depends on how well-suited a bike is for a certain application and type of rider. A harmonious bike with budget components can make an incoherent high-end model eat dust on the trail. The best components are worthless if they don’t harmonise with one another or if the kinematics and geometry of the frame aren’t right. Every bike has its own character and even models with very similar specs can ride like night and day. A perfect example of this are the Canyon Neuron and Nukeproof Reactor. In most cases, it isn’t possible to judge whether one is good and the other is bad. It always depends on what suits you. The best option for one mountain biker may not be all that good for another.
The same applies to eMTBs. They are great for some people and purposes but not for others. So why not compare an eMTB with a mountain bike to work out the differences in specific scenarios? In the article “eMTB vs. MTB – Should my next bike be an eMTB?” we take a deep dive into the topic and discuss why it pays to overcome your mental barriers and understand your individual needs instead. It is only by comparing different concepts and technologies that we can place them in a larger context and see the big picture. EMTBs widen the horizon and open new possibilities for our beloved sport. Besides, according to our 2020 reader survey, the majority of its 28,500 participants are interested in eMTBs and over 50% of our readers have ridden one already! As such, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include them in our search for the best mountain bike.
Trail ≠ trail, mountain ≠ mountain, biker ≠ biker
We’re convinced that we’ll finally rediscover “THE” mountain bike, one that will never let us down, whatever gets thrown our way. But we also know that not all of you need an all-rounder or want to own one bike to do it all. How much bike park gnar, how much singletrack flow or touring comfort different riders want doesn’t only depend on their individual preferences, it also depends on the terrain in your area. A trail in Stuttgart is completely different to a trail in Munich, Whistler or Los Angeles. We owe it to you, our readers from all over the world, and to ourselves to keep those differences in mind.
Naturally, we don’t all live in the same place and everyone rides trails differently. This means that we have different priorities, needs and requirements. For some riders, sliding out the rear wheel is the ultimate challenge, for others it’s technical root trails or jumps with steep lips. No matter how you look at it, a category never does justice to the product, least of all when considering your individual interpretation of it! Besides, some buy a hard-hitting bike purely for their annual holiday trip, suitable for the kind of terrain there, while others buy a bike that performs best on their local trails in the low mountain ranges.
We have a clear goal: we want to help you find the right bike for you and your needs.
We’re all the more pleased to announce that we did find the best mountain bike of 2021 in this group test. Not only that, but we did so with our tried and trusted system – we’ve written an in-depth review of each bike that clearly identifies the purposes for which and types of riders to whom they are and aren’t best suited. With this, you can find the best bike for you and your needs and thereby avoid investing your hard-earned money in the wrong bike, which is what we’re ultimately all about. We want to help you find a bike that is just as versatile as you, so that you aren’t limited by your bike. In short, the right bike for you!
What does the best mountain bike of 2021 have to be capable of?
The revolutionary concept of this mountain bike group test replaces our previous trail bike group test and goes beyond its limits. Since we recently tested the hottest enduro bikes in the same region and on some of the same trails, we picked out two exciting reference bikes, the Specialized Stumpjumper EVO and Ibis Ripmo V2 to serve as benchmarks for this genre. Together with big hitters like the 170 mm travel SCOTT Ransom, we took them to Massa Marittima to place this group test in a wider context.
Our autumn enduro bike group test placed much more emphasis on speed, downhill performance, jumps and gaps. We asked ourselves which bike allows you to have fun on your home trails and, assuming you’ve got the skills and fitness required, could also be used to take part in an EWS race. The best enduro bike shouldn’t shy away from long shuttle days in Finale Ligure or laps in the bike park while also pedalling comfortably uphill. If that is the kind of bike you’re looking for, we’d recommend checking out our 2021 enduro bike group test.
However, this time our test team set out to answer a completely different question, asking ourselves, “Which bike would you buy if you were allowed to explore all the trails of this world but only own one bike?” The bike that manages to strike the best balance, delivering the most versatile, fun and high-performance package for the 2021 season deserves to be crowned the best mountain bike of 2021.
We were looking for the best all-rounder that can climb efficiently and descend in a fun, fast and safe manner. To do so, it has to combine seemingly opposing characteristics and be suitable for beginners and experts alike, for active as well as passive riders, offering a complete and carefree package of performance, fun and usability. A bike that is as suitable for relaxed tours as it is for jump lines and the occasional race. Sound impossible? It isn’t, as we found out in this groundbreaking group test. Even if the majority of the 22 bikes couldn’t fulfil these requirements, some did!
The group test in numbers – The most exciting facts about our 2021 mountain bike group test and test field
Although numbers don’t have feelings, they can give you a good idea of tendencies and trends. As such, we’ve gathered all the most surprising, sad, entertaining and enlightening facts and figures from the test. They offer us exciting insights into mountain bike development and trends regarding technical details and brands.
The average price of the bikes in this group test is € 7,661.
Eight bikes for the price of one? The most expensive bike on test (€ 13,999) costs eight times as much as the most affordable bike (€ 1,699).
In total, the bikes in this group test cost € 168,546, with which you could easily afford a Ferrari Testarossa and have money left over for a Jeep Wrangler or van for road trips and off-road adventures. You could also invest in 4,815 bottles of 2015 Avvoltore from Morisfarms, which should make for a good start to your wine collection. Unfortunately, the small winery doesn’t even have that many bottles!
Though our current fork group test encompasses seven brands, it came down to a duel between just two here. In this group test, 5 manufacturers chose to rely on RockShox forks while 17 preferred to spec FOX suspension. There was not a single bike on test with a fork from a different brand. The shocks are divided along the same lines, excepting the hardtail of course.
- The average bike weight comes in at 14.33 kg.
- The average test rider weight was 80.6 kg.
- The heaviest test rider weighed 98 kg.
- The lightest test rider weighed 58 kg.
- 4.54% of the bikes come with 27.5″ wheels.
- 4.54% of the bikes resort to an MX setup (29″ front, 27.5″ rear).
- 90.92% of the bikes roll on 29” wheels.
- The tires ranged in width from 2.3″ to 2.6″.
- Giving an average tire width of 2.41″.
- The average reach of our size L test bikes was 470 mm.
- The longest reach was 485 mm and the shortest reach measured 451 mm.
- At 480 mm, the longest seat tube was 55 mm longer than the shortest, which is much too long in our opinion!
- 13.63% of the bikes rely on a motor, offering an average torque output of 60 Nm.
- 5 broken carbon rims
- 1 broken aluminium rim
- 14 flat tires
- 25 used tire plugs
- 2 broken forks
- 2 defective shocks
- 1 bent brake lever
- 1 torn off rear derailleur
- 4 crashes
- Countless dents and scratches on the bikes and our bodies
Our shuttle rig: Jeep Gladiator Overland
The new Jeep Gladiator was our shuttle rig of choice for the test sessions in Massa Marittima. It’s perfectly suited for off-road use and offers plenty of room for five riders and up to six bikes. Above all, it’s a blast to drive! Thanks to the removable hardtop roof, you can give your shuttle that open-air feeling while the wireless Uconnect infotainment system allows you to play beats from your smartphone! Our favourite shuttling song? “Big Pimpin'” by Jay-Z of course!
- 112 runs on 7 different trails per test rider
- 6 rainy test days in Tuscany
- 8 sunny test days in Tuscany
- 1 snowy test day in Tuscany
- 36 bottles of red wine emptied
- 73 espressos
- Countless croissants and pizzas
Bella Italia: ENDURO pop-up office in Tuscany – The perfect MTB accommodation in Massa Marittima
Naturally, the search for the best mountain bike of 2021 required suitable testing grounds. That’s exactly what the popular Tuscan mountain bike region of Massa Marittima offers. It has long since ceased to be an insider tip. Not only do some of the best mountain bikers in the world live and train there, but the local bike scene is also booming and trail construction is flourishing thanks to the commitment of the Trail Brothers and the visionary hotelier of Massa Vecchia, Ernesto Hutmacher, and his two daughters Ari and Alice.
We’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you to the Agriturismo-Resort Tenuta il Cicalino, located right at the foot of the legendary trails of Monte Arsenti in Massa Marittima who were kind enough to put up with us and our pop-up office for over two weeks.
Thanks to open restaurants, we were occasionally able to dine in the beautiful old town of Massa Marittima, though we mostly relied on the Italian/German fusion cuisine of Mutti Schmitt! As befits a true family business, the parents of the founding brothers of ENDURO, Robin and Max, were there to support the test crew. Manne Schmitt, frequently found exploring the EWS race pits, and Mutti Schmitt, who prepared the finest meals for our team – we have never eaten so well during a group test! Of course, office and trail dog Henry also joined the party!
Our test team
For our big mountain bike group test, we relied on the expertise of our most experienced test riders, as well as impressions from beginners and roadies. This diversity makes for differentiated opinions and enables a holistic evaluation of the bikes, not to mention heated debates!
The tops, flops and most exciting insights from our search for the best mountain bike of 2021
The versatile test field brought to light numerous tops and flops, not to mention an existential crisis. The differences between the bikes are both striking and surprising. Using specific examples from the test field, we will show you what insights we were able to gain, what was good, what was bad and what you should pay attention to.
Which is the best mountain bike of 2021? The winners and losers as well as further recommendations.
Laurel wreath or rotten tomatoes? Champagne or tears? Champion or good-for-nothing? Not all bikes came back from the search for the best mountain bike of 2021 with their heads held high. The good news is that we found a clear winner, a Best Buy and recommended bikes for specific disciplines. Still, it’s not all good: there were a few flops and losers.
Our large test field gave us exciting insights and allowed us to answer key questions that almost every rider asks. How much money do you have to spend to have a good time? Do you really need the flagship model? Can a cheap hardtail be as much fun as a full-suspension trail rocket? Could some eMTBs be the better mountain bikes? Which bike is a bad investment and which should be in your garage? We found the answers to these and other questions in our search for the best mountain bike of 2021. Let’s look at the tops and flops of the group test.
A brief overview of the test field
Bikes like the Trek Fuel EX lay claim to the best mix of uphill and downhill performance. Even if it’s components look cheap compared to the high-end test field, the € 5,999 Fuel EX 9.8 GX doesn’t have to hide from the competition. It offers plenty of comfort as well as balanced and intuitive handling, though the spec limits the bike’s potential. With its versatility, the Trek Fuel EX questions the Trek Top Fuel’s raison d’être. The spritely Top Fuel is just slightly ahead of the pack on the uphills but it has to admit defeat to its brother on the trails due to its lack of composure and lagging suspension performance.
The Yeti SB115 offers a lot of bling-bling. Despite having only 115 mm travel at the rear, it punches above its weight and leaves all analogue bikes in its wake on the climbs with its lively and efficient character. Surprisingly, it’s a faster climber than bikes like the Trek Top Fuel (barely) and MERIDA NINETY-SIXX 8000 (significantly). This shows that efficient climbing and short travel can be combined with good downhill capabilities. That said, this concept didn’t work out with the MERIDA NINETY-SIXX 8000. It’s limiting factors are the bobbing rear end on the climbs and the aggressive riding position, which isn’t suitable for longer tours. It takes an experienced rider to go fast on the descents as it doesn’t have the reserves or stability to instil novices with the confidence they need.
The YT IZZO trumps with its climbing prowess, following closely behind the Yeti. It’s very efficient and masters technical climbs with ease. However, it prefers flowing terrain on the descents with handling that’s likely to overwhelm less experienced riders. The Propain Hugene feels similar, though its extreme stiffness pinballs you around on the trail when trying to ride fast. That said, its handling is very precise on fast flow trails and through compressions. Thanks to the online configurator, it can be adapted to your own preferences.
Anyone looking for a stylish bike, intuitive handling and excellent touring qualities will do well with the Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper. However, if you like to let it rip downhill, want a lot of traction and added composure, we recommend going for its bigger brother, the Specialized Stumpjumper EVO. The € 13,999 Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo SL also belongs to the family. It is the most expensive bike on test and has a lot to offer in terms of connectivity, intuitive handling and touring performance. The 35 Nm Specialized SL 1.1 motor was developed in cooperation with MAHLE, offering a very natural riding experience while using power from the 320 Wh battery sparingly. However, it can’t keep up with the new Orbea Rise on the climbs with its modular battery concept and torque-limited Shimano EP8 RS motor. The Orbea Rise can easily keep up with the top of the analogue test field on the descents thanks to its balanced handling, plush suspension and excellent composure. Its outstanding performance and versatility make it one of the most fun and sought-after bikes in the test field!
Also featuring a Shimano EP8 motor, though making use of its full 85 Nm torque, the MERIDA eONE-SIXTY 10K smokes the competition. It’s no wonder considering it won this year’s E-MOUNTAINBIKE group test. With its large 630 Wh battery, it’s one of the best all-round eMTBs currently available. However, in direct comparison with analogue bikes, its hefty 23.1 kg weight comes at the cost of manoeuvrability and that natural mountain bike feeling. It weighs almost 4.5 kg more than the Orbea and around 10 kg more than your average analogue mountain bike. In return, it offers outstanding composure and plenty of reserves. If you embrace the concept of a full-on eMTB, the MERIDA is a lot of fun, though it offers a wholly different riding experience.
Inner child, watch out! The most fun bike on test is the Santa Cruz 5010 with its agile handling and excellent suspension. Additionally, it is the only bike of the bunch that relies on smaller 27.5″ wheels. They hold it back on technical trails but the agile and intuitive handling of the 5010 really thrives on flow trails and jumps. The 5010 is in the midfield on the climbs, though it’s a better climber than its little brother, the Santa Cruz Tallboy. This shows that short travel isn’t synonymous with good climbing characteristics. On the descents, the Tallboy offers precise and agile handling. However, it needs to be piloted by an experienced rider with an active riding style as the combination of stiff wheels, stiff cockpit and stiff frame is harsh and unforgiving, offering beginners minimal margin for error. Likewise, it takes an experienced rider to benefit from the impressive performance of the Ibis Ripmo V2. It’s capable of blistering speed, though the handling is likely too challenging for beginners. Besides that, some of the frame details offer room for improvement and don’t do justice to the € 8,285 price point.
The RAAW Jibb XTR excels in its relatively narrow field of expertise. If you have an active riding style and are willing to put in the effort, the Jibb is a super agile and manoeuvrable bike that is a lot of fun to ride. However, it is not suitable for high-speed blasts and rough terrain. The € 6,500 Rocky Mountain Instinct is comfortable, versatile and a lot of fun, but its downhill capabilities are limited by its components, holding back the hard-hitting potential of the frame. Too bad! It’s likely that the components ultimately cost the Instinct the test victory.
The SCOTT Ransom can’t deliver at high speeds and on demanding trails despite its long, 170 mm travel suspension. You wouldn’t expect this if you were to look at the specs in isolation, proving once again that classification based on individual parameters can be very misleading. The stylish Ransom with its TwinLoc system is super comfortable and most at home on long tours. With just 130 mm travel at the rear, the Nukeproof Reactor is much more capable when things get rough and, with its balanced handling, also feels more composed at high speed. Leisurely on the climbs, full throttle on the descents: we wouldn’t hesitate for a second to enter the occasional enduro race with the Reactor, as the suspension of the flying Englishman is brilliant and feels like it has significantly more travel!
There are a total of three bikes representing Canyon in our group test and the Stoic 4 is also the most affordable option on test. The € 1,699 hardtail offers 140 mm travel up front and is fun to ride on moderate climbs and flow trails. Nevertheless, its braking performance is the weakest on test and the wheelset isn’t up to scratch either, both of which are vital and safety relevant components. In combination with the rudimentary finish of the frame, it offers limited value for money. On the other hand, the Canyon Spectral questions the use of its little brother, the lightweight Canyon Neuron CF SLX 9, which is trimmed towards touring performance and climbing efficiency. Despite weighing more, having more travel and more robust, heavier components, the Spectral still performs better on climbs and tours. A direct comparison shows that lightweight construction or short travel suspension aren’t the most important thing. Instead, the riding position, geometry, suspension kinematics and weight distribution are the decisive factors for climbing performance! In comparing classic touring bikes such as the Neuron or the new FOCUS THRON, which even offers mounting points for mudguards and a kick-stand, this group test has revealed the harsh truth: they can no longer keep up with the latest generation of efficient yet capable mountain bikes, robbing them of their raison d’etre. They’re designed for a specific purpose, but there are much more versatile bikes that beat them in their own discipline, both for beginners as well as competitive riders!
What is the current benchmark, which bikes are the best at specific disciplines and which deserve rotten tomatoes? We were looking for the best all-rounder: the best bike that is quick and efficient uphill and even faster back down. It must serve both beginners and experts, active as well as passive riders, offering a complete and carefree package of performance, fun and usability. A bike that is as suitable for relaxed tours as it is for jumps and the occasional race. Here come the best bikes and our alternative recommendations!
The best mountain bike of 2021: Canyon Spectral 29 LTD
The Canyon Spectral 29 LTD is the perfect all-rounder for every type of rider. It combines climbing efficiency suitable for touring with the capability to take big hits, delivering a convincing performance on every trail that is both fast and fun. The choice of tires is the only thing that limits the Spectral on the descents, but apart from that, it offers excellent workmanship and value for money. No other bike on test could master such diverse situations and cover such a huge range of applications. As such, the Canyon Spectral 29 LTD deserves to be crowned Best in Test in our search for the best mountain bike of 2021. Chapeau!
- intuitive and confidence-inspiring handling
- very capable yet comfortable on long rides
- excellent value for money
- high-quality build & finish
- tires are too weak and puncture-prone for costly carbon rims
- long seat tube limits the choice of size
Click here for a detailed review of the Canyon Spectral 29 CF
Our 2021 mountain bike Best Buy: Orbea Rise M-Team
The best mountain bikes under £2,000 in 2021 | Top-rated hardtail and full-suspension MTBs
There’s a staggering array of great mountain bikes available under £2,000. Luckily, the good ship BikeRadar has done the heavy lifting for you and put together the very best mountain bikes under £2,000 in 2021.
Between £1,000 and £2,000 is the point that full-suspension mountain bikes begin to make more sense, with decent builds that have few compromises.
If you’re looking to buy a hardtail in this price range, you’ll also have a hard time buying a bad one. This price bracket is a popular one for enthusiast cyclists, which has made for an incredibly competitive market, forcing brands to spec bikes with increasingly high-quality builds, including more expensive mountain bike groupsets.
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, be sure to check out our guides to the best mountain bikes under £1,000, £750 and £500.
If you’re feeling a little more flush, our guides to the best mountain bikes under £3,000 and the best trail bike should do the trick.
Lastly, for a more overall guide, check out our guide on how to choose the right mountain bike for you.
The best mountain bikes under £2,000, as rated by our expert testers
- Calibre Triple B: £1,499
- Calibre Bossnut: £1,100
- Canyon Stoic 4: £1,639 / $1,799 / AU$2,649 / €1,699
- Merida Big. Trail 500: £1,350 / AU$1,849
- Vitus Mythique 29 VRS: £1,450 / $1,800 / AU$2,500 / €1,700
- YT Jeffsy Base 29: £1,999 / $2,299 / €2,299
- Boardman MTR 9.0: £2,000
- Marin Hawk Hill 1: £1,445 / $1,600 / AU$2,399 / €1,599
- Radon Cragger 8.0: £1,847 / €1,950
- Saracen Zenith Elite LSL: £1,750 / $2,296 / AU$3,350
- Sonder Signal ST NX: £1,599/ $2,297 / AU$2,914 / €1,799
- Specialized Fuse 27.5 (2021): £1,149/ $1,500 / AU$2,000
- Vitus Sentier 29 VRX: £1,600 / $2,000 / AU$3,000 / €1,800
Calibre Triple B
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
- £1,499 as tested
- Amazing value for money
- Cracking performance, even when pitted against bikes worth double
- Grippy tyres are good on descents but a bit of a drag on long climbs
The Triple B is the Bossnut’s better-specced sibling, kitted out with SRAM’s Guide RE brakes, NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain and a RockShox Sektor RL fork and Monarch RS rear shock.
This top-tier spec – for the cash – is backed up by modern trail bike geometry that boasts a 65.5-degree head angle, 74-degree seat-tube angle and a lengthy 460mm reach on the size large, which combines to provide a superb ride.
Our testers loved how the Triple B tackled fast and flowy terrain and supported them through turns and compressions without wincing over trickier ground.
It is a bit on the hefty side, so if you’re really worried about headline weight figures you might want to consider another bike, although we challenge you to find one that performs as well as the Triple B at this price.
- £1,100 as tested
- Great geometry
- Kitted out with decent parts considering the price
- Great on the trail
- Non-Boost axles could limit upgrade potential
Because the Triple B and Bossnut share the same frame, you get the same fantastic geometry as the more expensive model.
So it’s in the spec where Calibre has saved the money. There’s a RockShox Recon RL fork and Monarch R shock, a cheaper SX Eagle drivetrain and SRAM Level T brakes.
For the cash, our expert testers really struggled to fault the Bossnut out on the trails, but because it lacks Boost axle spacing, you might struggle to find compatible wheels when it’s time to upgrade.
Canyon Stoic 4
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
- £1,639 / $1,799 / AU$2,649 / €1,699 as tested
- Gravity suitable all-rounder
- Well considered spec
- Modern geometry
Canyon says the Stoic 4 is “the best Enduro hardtail”, and it is true that the bike can fly down descents like a full-suspension bike – as long as things don’t get too rough – while retaining that hardtail simplicity.
It achieves this thanks to the solid rear end that can gain speed from every rise and fall in the trail as well as the modern, slack geometry.
The long wheelbase helps spit you out of turns perfectly and you can maintain control over rocks and roots. The dropper post also opens up plenty of room for you to move around.
This aluminium bike might be aimed at descending, but it won’t make getting to the top of a trail a drag because it ascends surprisingly fast considering its burly 14.86kg weight and gnarly tyres.
With a 140mm travel RockShox fork and SRAM groupset, the Stoic has a great spec for the price, but there are also two less pricey versions of the Stoic in Canyon’s lineup starting from £799.
Merida Big. Trail 500
Ian Linton / Immediate Media
- £1,350 / AU$1,849 as tested
- Impressive going downhill and calm handling
- Balance of Merida parts and branded parts
- Make sure you pick the right size
Compared to bikes at the leading edge of the sport, the Merida Big. Trail 500’s geometry is relatively short. This means on paper it doesn’t have the stability of bikes with a longer wheelbase.
But, the Merida has a shorter seat tube than many other bikes allowing riders to size up without worrying about standover height, unlocking a longer reach and a more stable wheelbase.
With this in mind, the Big. Trail 500 is a comfortable climber. The longer reach in testing meant there was plenty of room to move around and the steep seat tube improved comfort, made pedalling easier and reduced front wheel lift.
When it comes to descents, the Recon fork has plenty of mid-stroke and low-speed compression helping you go fast and amplify the aluminium frame’s calm feel.
The mix of Merida’s own-brand kit, including a dropper post, and branded kit from Shimano keeps the bike’s price down but this doesn’t stop it from being one of the most capable bikes for under £2,000.
Vitus Mythique 29 VRS
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
- £1,450 / $1,800 / AU$2,500 / €1,700 as tested
- Great, grippy Schwalbe rubber
- SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain impressed
- Some geometry updates would be nice to see
If you’ve got your heart set on Vitus’s Mythique, it’s well worth spending the extra cash to upgrade to the VRS model from the VR, which we also reviewed.
It’s decked out in impressive kit, headlined by Schwalbe’s ADDIX Soft compound Magic Mary and Hans Dampf combination. Complementing the tyres is SRAM’s 12-speed SX Eagle drivetrain and Shimano’s top-performing MT-401 brakes.
While we thought the X-Fusion Sweep RC fork could have performed better, it was a marked improvement over the RC32 fitted to the VR version.
YT Jeffsy Base 29
- £1,999 / $2,299 / €2,299 as tested
- Impressive downhill demeanour and exceptionally fun to ride
- East to get the suspension dialled
- Great performance for the price
- Some upgrades would drastically improve it
YT’s bikes always strike a great balance between performance and cost, and the Jeffsy’s no exception.
With a RockShox Yari RC fork and Deluxe rear shock, its 150mm of travel tackles tricky terrain with impressive competence.
That confidence is backed up by Maxxis Minion DHF and DHRII tyres that are impressively grippy.
We did struggle to get the gear and dropper levers set up in the correct position, and if we are being really picky, it needs to go on a bit of diet to help improve its climbing performance.
Boardman MTR 9.0
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
- £2,000 as tested
- Shimano SLX drivetrain and brakes
- Full suspension with RockShox fork and rear shock
- Rides with confidence and one to consider for gravity riding
The MTR 9.0 is the flagship bike in Boardman’s MTR series, with a 6066 alloy frame that has smoothed welds, RockShox suspension front and back and a groupset that is mostly Shimano SLX.
The full-suspension bike has four-pot brakes that help its overall feeling of stability on descents, and the tyres provide plenty of grip.
Despite its emphasis on descending it climbs reasonably well, aided by the 10-51t cassette and steep seat-tube angle.
The bike has a dropper seat post which is welcome on a bike like this, but one small thing is that the lever isn’t particularly good.
Overall, the bike rides with more confidence than you would expect from the price. There are small niggles – like the dropper lever – but none that would cost much to change.
Marin Hawk Hill 1
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
- £1,445 / $1,600 / AU$2,399 / €1,599 as tested
- Exceptionally fun bike to ride
- Well-tuned suspension
- Front-to-back balance is sorted
- It needs a dropper post
The 27.5in-wheeled Hawk Hill 1 is most at home riding berm- and jump-filled riding spots, living up to Marin’s claim that it’s the brand’s most fun bike to ride.
It’s got a RockShox Recon fork up front and an X-Fusion 02 Pro shock at the back that’s been custom-tuned for the bike’s suspension design.
Impressively, considering its price, it handles small bumps and hard compressions with ease. Unfortunately, it lacks a dropper post and only has ten gears when most bikes at this price point now have 12.
Radon Cragger 8.0
Ian Linton / Immediate Media
- £1,847 / €1,950 as tested
- Fast uphill and downhill
- Excellent spec throughout
- Long seat tube reduces the standover height
Radon’s direct-to-consumer model has enabled it to spec the Cragger with components that exceed the bike’s price, including the 12x SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain.
The Cragger has relatively progressive geometry and is a charging descender. It’s not the smoothest downhill, but it’s capable and confident with the 29in wheels rolling quickly over harsh terrain and the DVO Sapphire front fork doing a fantastic job.
The long top and seat tubes give the bike a stretched-out feel that’s great for hard efforts uphill but doesn’t lend itself to more genteel climbing.
The slender aluminium tubing and smoothed welds give the impression the Cragger might be carbon fibre, and cables can be routed internally for maximum neatness.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL
- £1,750/ $2,296 / AU$3,350 as tested
- Good on rough terrain
- Climbs well
- Low centre of gravity
- RockShox front fork
The Saracen Zenith Elite LSL is well suited to any rider that’s looking for a hardtail for easy trail smashing and some more demanding and gnarlier days on rougher terrain.
The bike might feel large thanks to its 29in wheels and long geometry, but this lends itself to riding through harsh chunder and makes up for not having rear suspension.
Some of the kit is fairly budget, but the Zenith does punch above its weight and a few tweaks, such as swapping out Saracen’s own-brand finishing kit, would put this bike up there as one of the best hardtails.
Sonder Signal ST NX
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
- £1,599/ $2,297 / AU$2,914 / €1,799 as tested
- Great geometry
- Short travel dropper
- SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain
- Small rotors hold it back
The Sonder Signal ST NX sticks to the British brand’s goal of delivering good value for money, high performing steel bikes.
The steel frame gives the bike a weighty feel but once you’re riding, the Signal has a comfy climbing position, spinning up fire trails and over steep, technical sections. It’s not the fastest up climbs, but a bike like this is never really intended to be.
Once you point the bike downhill, the geometry and tyres come together to form a highly competent trail machine that gets over rough terrain with ease and urges you to go faster.
Sonder has clearly prioritised certain aspects of the bike to give the optimal ride for the money with a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and has a RockShox fork.
It would be good if it had larger rotors to really unlock the bike’s descending prowess.
Specialized Fuse 27.5 (2021)
Ian Linton / Immediate Media
- £1,149/ $1,500 / AU$2,000 as tested
- Comfortable contact points
- Impressive RockShox fork
- Low front end limits descending capability
- Comes with 27.5in wheels but can be used with 29in
The Specialized Fuse 27.5 combines plus-size tyres, a 1 x11 drivetrain, a dropper post and an aluminium frame with modern geometry.
The generous top tube length gives the Fuse a comfy seated climbing position and the oversize tyres provide plenty of grip. Out of the saddle on steep inclines, the low front end makes climbing difficult, but the large range of gears does compensate for this.
The low front also impacts descending, pitching your weight forward on steeper sections and making it harder to balance. On the other hand, the Fuse feels particularly calm on flowing bike park descents.
The dropper post does help with descending, as does the RockShox fork, which is supple.
Different wheel sizes suit different styles of riding, and on the Fuse you can switch the 27.5in wheels out for larger 29er wheels, which might make sense because this bike is most at home cruising on less technical trails.
Vitus Sentier 29 VRX
Ian Linton / Immediate Media
- £1,600 / $2,000 / AU$3,000 / €1,800 as tested
- XC-orientated hardtail
- Fluid descender
- Top-spec parts for the price
Vitus is owned by retail giants, Chain Reaction Cycles/Wiggle, and thanks to its massive buying power, the Sentier is kitted out with some top-end components.
The aluminium frame is covered in Shimano XT and SLX parts that work faultlessly. Upfront there is a Fox Rhythm 34 fork and the 29in wheels are WTB rims on Vitus hubs that come set up tubeless.
The relatively short top tube gives the Sentier a comfortable climbing position and over rougher terrain it works well to smooth out bumps.
Occasionally, sharp edges kicked the rear wheel up but this compliance doesn’t translate to a feeling of vagueness when hurtling along.
On descents, the Sentier is forgiving but a longer reach and a slacker head angle would bring some extra stability and help with steeper drops.
Overall, the geometry could be tweaked but the ride and the bargain price make it hard to fault this bike.
The following bikes scored fewer than four out of five stars but are also solid performers and worthy of consideration.
- When choosing a bike, pick one that fits your body size. The distance from the saddle to the bars (reach) and the distance from the mid-head tube to the center of the crank shouldn’t be too long.
- Keep some money aside for accessories. Many riders upgrade the pedals to clipless or sticky pedals. In addition, you may also need good sunglasses and a backpack.
- As with any machine, mountain bikes need maintenance and repairs, and you should at least have some essentials, such as a spare tube, pump, multi-tool, chain lube, and a patch kit.
Q: Why is a 29-inch mountain bike better than smaller options?
A: Bikes with 29-inch wheels have taken the market by storm over the last few years. The main benefit of the larger wheels is that they can get over rocks and bumps more easily and can cover more distance per pedal revolution.
Q: What types of mountain bikes are available?
A: There are different bikes for different purposes, and while it’s possible to use one good bike for a number of uses, it’s best to get the one that suits your activities. The common types are enduro, trail, downhill, and cross country bikes.
Q: What are the differences between the different types of mountain bikes?
A: The main differences are the angles of the tubes as well as long and short wheelbases. Other differences include shock absorption, with some having front shock absorbers only and others having both front and rear shock absorbers. Some bikes have forks and no shock absorbers at all.
If you’re looking for a durable 29-inch mountain bike that’s at home on the road or the trail, you won’t go wrong with our top pick, the Diamondback Overdrive 29-Inch Hardtail.
The Schwinn Bonafide Men's Mountain Bike is a great budget-friendly alternative with many great features.
From smooth and flowy post-work rides to rough and rowdy all-day backcountry epics, the trail mountain biking category covers a wide range. And with rapidly changing technology and an ever-growing number of options, it can be hard to nail down the best ride for your needs. Below we detail our top seven picks for 2021, which are broken down by type and best use and include everything from a beginner-oriented hardtail to fast and fun full-suspension rigs.
Table of Contents
Best Overall Trail Mountain Bike
1. Yeti Cycles SB130 C2 GX Eagle ($5,500)
Frame: Carbon fiber
Suspension: 150mm (front) 130mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.5 in. (front) 2.3 in. (rear)
What we like: Premium construction, aggressive geometry, and superb up- and downhill performance.
What we don’t: Expensive.
While we readily admit that the term “quiver killer” is overused, we can’t help but think Yeti made just that with the extremely versatile SB130. Sporting 150-millimeters front and 130-millimeters rear travel, it falls nicely in the heart of the trail category, and its progressive geometry and plush suspension mean it’s planted and composed when tackling technical trails. Just as importantly, it’s an efficient climber and has a very light and playful personality that’s a ton of fun on flowy and smooth sections (unlike some burly bikes, it’s not overkill on easier terrain). Finally, the SB130 is impeccably built and easily one of the best-looking bikes around, sporting Yeti’s famous, turquoise-colored frame.
The main knock against Yeti bikes is that they’re not great values, and this mostly holds true for the SB130. Their “entry-level” model rings in at $5,200, and the lightly upgraded GX Eagle variation here comes in at a steep $5,500. That said, Yeti sticks to high-end parts, and when spec’d the same, its pricing actually is quite close to competitors like the Specialized Stumpjumper and Ibis Ripmo. And with the premium price, you’re getting some nice extras, including a lifetime guarantee against defects on the frame and a crash replacement warranty where they’ll offer you discounted replacement parts. All told, the Yeti’s do-it-all nature earns it our top spot for 2021.
See the Yeti SB130 C2 GX Eagle
A Close Second (For Rougher Terrain)
2. Ibis Ripmo V2 SLX ($5,199)
Frame: Carbon fiber
Suspension: 160mm (front) 147mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.5 in.
What we like: Enduro-ready downhill performance with surprisingly good climbing chops.
What we don’t: Overkill for tame trails.
If you live in an area like the Pacific Northwest and your local trails are filled with rough and steep terrain, or you simply want a cushier ride for absorbing big hits, it’s hard to beat Ibis’s latest Ripmo. Stepping up in aggressiveness from the Yeti above, you get an extra 10 millimeters of travel at the front and 14 millimeters at the rear, along with a slacker head angle and burly Maxxis Assegai tires. There’s even an option to select a coil shock if you plan to dabble in the enduro world. What makes the Ripmo a favorite among trail riders, however, is its do-everything performance. The steep seat tube and DW-Link suspension make it out-climb expectations, and the carbon frame and quality Shimano SLX groupset help keep weight in check.
Combining 29-inch wheels and a lot of travel does mean the Ripmo is overkill for flatter and less technical trails. And while it’s energetic and happy to fly through a flowy section, it’s realistically more bike than a good number of trail riders truly need. As such, it comes up a little short of the slightly more versatile and better-climbing SB130 above. Plus, we think the Yeti is a bit more refined, and the styling and color options on the Ripmo do leave a little to be desired (although that’s subjective). Of note, Ibis covers both ends of the trail category really well, and their lighter and snappier Ripley is our top choice among short-travel options (below).
See the Ibis Ripmo V2 SLX
Best E-Mountain Trail Bike
3. Specialized Turbo Levo Comp ($7,500)
Suspension: 160mm (front) 150mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in. (front) 2.3 in. (rear)
What we like: Well-rounded e-bike with a strong, long-lasting battery and refined downhill performance.
What we don’t: Heavy, expensive, and many trail systems don’t allow e-bikes (yet).
Specialized has been at the forefront of electric mountain bikes in North America, and their Turbo Levo is a leading all-mountain design. The bike was updated last year with a host of improvements that set it apart: its platform still is based on the excellent Stumpjumper full-suspension bike, but its electronics have seen a nice upgrade with a more powerful battery and motor. Further, their Mission Control App provides quick access to the battery’s status and allows for easy customization of performance. Overall, among a fast-growing and competitive field of e-mountain bikes, we think the latest Turbo Levo Comp is at the top of the list.
Currently, the biggest barrier to an e-mountain bike of any kind is price. Despite packing an aluminum frame, the Turbo Levo Comp here is $7,500, and carbon models start at a whopping $10,000. Additionally, the extra drive system adds a significant amount of weight–it’s not uncommon for e-bikes to weigh upwards of 45 pounds or more. This added heft also has performance drawbacks, and the Turbo Levo is quite a bit less flickable compared with the non-motorized Stumpjumper (or the less-powerful Levo SL). Finally, land managers and lawmakers still are trying to figure out where e-bikes fit into outdoor recreation. Regulations vary by state and riding area, but oftentimes they technically are not legal to ride on singletrack trails.
See the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
Best Hardtail for Trail Riding
4. Salsa Timberjack XT 29 ($2,099)
Suspension: 130mm (front)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in.
What we like: Strong performer for everything from after-work singletrack rides to remote bikepacking adventures.
What we don’t: Beefed-up construction adds weight.
Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles is best known for their bikepacking, touring, and gravel-oriented designs, but they’ve been making some serious headway in mountain biking of late. Their Timberjack XT 29 hardtail is case in point with its well-thought-out spec package and adaptable design. The bike’s burly 2.6-inch tires and highly adjustable 130-millimeter RockShox 35 Gold RL fork provide more than enough cushion for rocky and rooty descents (by hardtail standards). And the relatively slack geometry and fast-rolling tires encourage shenanigans like popping off trailside lips and manualing down the trail. What we really like about the Salsa, however, is its nod to bikepacking. You simply won’t find too many other hardtails that offer as many mounting locations for gear as the Timberjack.
Salsa updated Timberjack for 2021, and key changes include a slacker head tube (66.4° on all sizes) and an impressively expansive number of build kits (including 27.5+ wheel sizes). The 29er XT model here features premium components like Shimano’s XT drivetrain at a reasonable price point. The design offers fast and reliable shifting—it even smooths out shifts that would otherwise clunk into place while on an incline—and its 12 speeds have a very wide range. This gives the Timberjack excellent versatility for hauling you up extended climbs and over variable terrain. That said, the burly construction and wide tires mean the bike isn’t as flickable and fast as a more cross country-focused design. But for a capable and well-rounded hardtail that’s built to last, the Timberjack is an excellent choice.
See the Salsa Timberjack XT 29
Best Budget Full-Suspension Trail Bike
5. YT Jeffsy Core 2 ($2,799)
Suspension: 150mm (front) 150mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.4 in.
What we like: Awesome price considering the spec package and capabilities.
What we don’t: Consumer-direct customer support can be lacking.
In contrast to premium brands like Santa Cruz or Yeti, YT Industries has built its popularity around offering big-time value. The German-based manufacturer is the best-known direct-to-consumer company that forgoes the middleman (bike shops) and allows shoppers to purchase directly from their website. They’ve recently reworked their popular Jeffsy lineup, and the Core 2 29 base model is a screaming deal: you get quality Fox suspension components front and rear, a DT Swiss wheelset, dropper post, and top-performing Maxxis Minion tires for hundreds less than its competitors. And jumping up to their top-flight Core 4 model ($4,999) will get you components typically found on bikes that cost thousands of dollars more.
What are you giving up by shopping from a consumer-direct company? For one, inventory is hit-or-miss, and at the time of publishing, many sizes and colors are multiple months out. In addition, there are reports of poor customer service and it can be difficult to get replacement frame parts as bike shops generally don’t stock them. Moreover, buying online means you don’t get a chance to test ride the bike before throwing down some serious cash. But for those who prioritize saving money and are willing to take on a little extra risk, the YT is an enticing option and a solid value. Finally, if you prefer the more traditional approach, Giant’s Trance and Trance X lines offer a number of options under $3,500.
See the YT Jeffsy Core 2
Best Short-Travel Trail Bike
6. Ibis Ripley Deore ($4,199)
Frame: Carbon fiber
Suspension: 130mm (front) 120mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in.
What we like: Fast and responsive on the trail, modern geometry, and a competitive price.
What we don’t: Those tackling rowdy descents likely prefer the Ripmo above.
Short-travel full-suspension bikes hit a sweet spot for many riders, and the light and fast Ibis Ripley currently is our favorite of the bunch. Released mid-way through 2019 as a 2020 model, the bike’s well-balanced riding position, 29-inch wheels, and suspension travel (130mm front and 120mm rear) are ideal for moderately techy terrain. Plus, its high-end, stiff carbon frame delivers plenty of power on the climbs. You also get a lot of bang for your buck with the well-equipped Shimano Deore model, which easily undercuts competitors like Yeti and Santa Cruz at just over $4,000.
Where does the Ibis fall short? To start, like the SB130 above, we’d love to see a true entry-level version offered with an aluminum frame for those just starting out or wanting to stick to a lower price point. If you fall into that camp, we recommend looking at YT’s Jeffsy Core 2 ($2,799) above or Giant’s Trance 29 3 ($2,350). Additionally, riders that prioritize rough and rowdy descents likely will find the Ripley a little under-gunned—both the Yeti SB130 and Ibis’s own Ripmo get the advantage for this type of terrain. That said, the Ripley is a faster, nimbler, and more efficient climber than those alternatives, which makes it a better choice for big days.
See the Ibis Ripley Doere
Top Entry-Level Trail Bike for Beginners
7. REI Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 ($599)
Suspension: 100mm (front)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.1 in.
What we like: Budget-friendly price but includes nice upgrades like hydraulic disc brakes.
What we don’t: Far less trail-worthy as the other options on the list.
Sub-$600 mountain bikes may conjure up images of cut-rate big-box-store specials, but REI’s Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 packs a surprisingly good punch. To start, it checks the right boxes for a budget build with a lightweight aluminum frame, 100 millimeters of front suspension travel, and proven Shimano drivetrain. Arguably its biggest selling point is the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, which have superior stopping power compared with the cable-actuated brakes that you typically find at this price point. And it’s all backed up by REI’s excellent warranty—something you definitely don’t get from the Targets and Walmarts of the world.
What do you give up with the entry-level Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1? For starters, this bike is aimed more at gravel bike paths and mellow singletrack than anything technical. Additionally, the budget-oriented SR Suntour fork will certainly be out of its element during rough and bumpy descents (the quick-release axles don’t help either). If you’re looking for something much more trail-worthy, check out the brand’s DRT 1.2 (our top pick in our article on mountain bikes under $1,000). The upgraded model is more aggressive in just about all ways, including more suspension travel, wider tires, and a better overall spec package. However, at nearly half the price, the DRT 1.1 is a great option for most recreational or first-time riders.
See the REI Co-op DRT 1.1
Trail Mountain Bike Comparison Table
Trail Mountain Bike Buying Advice
Frame Material: Carbon Fiber vs. Aluminum
As a whole, aluminum-framed bikes still dominate the trail category, but carbon fiber is becoming increasingly common. What’s driving its growing popularity? The main advantages are less weight—approximately 1 pound depending on the frame—and increased stiffness. The additional rigidity of the material compared with aluminum leads to better power transfer and higher efficiency. For committed cyclists, those are pretty convincing performance advantages.
Carbon does come with its fair share of downsides, however. Right off the bat, you can expect to pay about a $1,000 premium for upgrading from an aluminum to carbon frame. Additionally, aluminum does a better job absorbing impacts from trail debris and surviving a high-speed crash (carbon can crack from hard hits). Finally, aluminum is easier to be recycled once a bike has reached the end of its life, although that’s still a hotly debated topic. In the end, it often comes down to budget: carbon has plenty of advantages, but it’s a hard sell if you’re only dabbling in the sport. And we can’t help but think that the extra cash may be better spent on a visit to Whistler instead.
Full-Suspension vs. Hardtail
When buying a new trail bike, one of the most commonly asked questions is: should I buy a hardtail (suspension fork only at the front) or full-suspension (includes both a front suspension fork and rear shock) model? There are a number of factors to consider when making this choice. Are you on a tight budget? Are you just starting out? Are your local trails smooth and with few obstacles? If so, a hardtail is probably the best choice for you. However, should your local terrain be rooty and rocky, or maybe you just like going downhill fast, then a full-suspension rig probably is the better option. This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, and we break down the additional considerations below.
In terms of overall riding performance, hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes each come with their fair share of pros and cons. Starting with hardtails, their lower weight and lack of suspension travel makes them fast and easy to pedal quickly. As a result, they excel on long rides and climbs. But should the going get rough—especially on the downhill—a full-suspension bike quickly takes the lead. The added rear suspension helps soak up bumps and offers a much more comfortable ride in general. FS bikes are the weapon of choice for most intermediate to advanced riders. Having said that, full-suspension designs like our top-rated Yeti SB130 typically weigh more, are significantly more expensive, and will not be as efficient at climbing or on non-technical trails.
If you’re looking for a simple and low-maintenance bike, then hardtails take the cake. Their lack of rear suspension means they forgo any bushing, bearing, or pivots that generally require extra care and attention. This becomes especially true should you live in a wet and muddy climate, which can wreak havoc on full-suspension bikes if they go unmaintained. Because of these characteristics, it’s not uncommon for dedicated mountain bikers to own a full-suspension bike for summer use and a hardtail for when the trails turn to slop. Bikes like the Salsa Timberjack are able to hold their own against short-travel full-suspension rigs yet are much simpler to keep fresh should you often ride in the rain.
Once again, if a low price is your top priority, then hardtails are the clear choice. Quality full-suspension trail bikes, with their added rear shock and linkage, are simply too complex to design and build on the cheap. From the list above, the $2,799 YT Jeffsy Core 2 is about as low as we’d advise going with a full-suspension design (there are a few just below $2,000 that are suitable as well). Sure, you could certainly spend less than that on a bike from a big-box store, but in reality, it’s going to ride terribly. The parts won’t last, the suspension will be overwhelmed, and you’ll be quickly wishing you bought a lighter and more comfortable hardtail instead.
Wheel Size: 27.5 vs. 29er
For 2021, the old 26-inch wheel standard is essentially gone, and most trail mountain bikes are equipped with either 27.5- or 29-inch wheels (occasionally you'll come across “plus” variations of the two sizes, which indicate wider tires). In general, riders focused on a lighter and nimbler style will prefer 27.5, while 29ers are more popular among speed-focused cyclists tackling rougher trails. And there are other considerations—including your height and local terrain—which we cover below.
Those looking for a playful ride that is easy to maneuver on tight and twisty trails will likely want to choose a 27.5-inch-wheeled bike. This smaller wheel size is lighter, quicker to accelerate, and more responsive to rider inputs—something you’ll especially notice when starting from a slow speed or coming out of corners. Downsides of 27.5-inch trail bikes are that they’re a little more fidgety when you’re riding hard and can get hung up easier than a 29er in particularly rough terrain, but the differences aren’t too drastic. Finally, compared to 29ers, 27.5s are typically a better choice for smaller riders (especially those 5’2” and under): they’re less cumbersome, provide a better overall fit, and offer greater control.
29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes, often referred to as “29ers”, are known for their ability to carry momentum down the trail and roll over obstacles with relative ease. While these favorable characteristics were previously sought after primarily by XC riders, this wheel size has slowly made its way into all disciplines of the sport. 29ers are also known to be more stable than 27.5-inch-wheeled bikes at speed and have a larger tire contact patch with the ground, which translates to an increase in traction. And it's worth noting that in the past, 29-inch-wheeled bikes were marketed to taller riders. However, in recent years, bike companies have made significant progress in trail bike designs, and it’s not uncommon to find riders in the 5’3” range sporting this wheel size. And, of course, if you happen to be over 6 feet tall, we can’t help but think you’ll be best-served by a 29er in most cases. For a more detailed breakdown, see our article: 27.5 vs. 29er Mountain Bikes.
Drivetrain and Gearing
There are a number of drivetrain and gearing options currently on the market, and the quality of a given set-up often directly correlates with the cost of the bike. On budget-oriented rides like the $599 Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1, you’ll find 3 x 7 or 3 x 8 gearing (for a total of 21 or 24 speeds). The “3” indicates the gearing at the front (where you’re pedaling), while the “7” is for the rear cassette. The upside to the design is that you have a wide range of gears at your disposal for anything from steep uphills to fast-paced gravel paths. But it comes with a very significant weight penalty, and it can be a real pain trying to quickly swap between gears at either end of the ratio. As such, every year we see more and more 1X drivetrains that ditch the front derailleur.
For 2021, the vast majority of hardtail bikes over $1,000 and full-suspension designs over $1,500 utilize a 1X set-up. What you get by only having the gearing at the back is improved ergonomics and efficiency—there’s only one shifter to manage—and less weight. In addition, with budget-friendly designs like the 1 x 12 Shimano Deore, you can still get a very wide gear range without breaking the bank. For riders committing to the sport and planning to tackle steeper terrain, we consider a 1X set-up to be a worthy upgrade (in fact, all but the cheap Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 on our list use this style). And a final note here: SRAM and Shimano dominate the 1X market, and in general, as price goes up, weight goes down and shifting smoothness and reliability improve.
Mountain bike weight is one of the more sought-after numbers for potential buyers, but it can be difficult to nail down (not all manufactures advertise it). The good news is that weight doesn't vary too widely within the trail category, plus it’s typically easy to get a good estimate based on the design. In general, pounds drop as the quality of the materials and price go up. For the most part, the weight decreases are due to nicer components like the drivetrain, suspension fork, and wheels. You’ll also see a drop in weight on high-end bikes when manufacturers utilize carbon fiber frames rather than aluminum. Serious riders will often be willing to spend up for the lighter model, while casual riders or those not planning to cover significant ground can save with a heavier build. Finally, e-mountain bikes are on extreme heavy end of the spectrum—their batteries and complex motors can push them to around 50 pounds.
Electric Mountain Bikes (E-MTB)
Electric mountain bikes (also known as e-mountain bikes) are a fairly new and rapidly growing category. As the name would suggest, they feature an electric motor to help propel the bicycle along. Currently, there are three popular classifications of e-bikes: Class 1 is known as pedal assist (AKA pedelec) and requires rider input to engage the motor. This is the most popular form of e-mountain bikes. Class 2 features a throttle and does not require rider input to engage the motor. Class 3 is considered a speed pedelec (it still needs rider input) but features a higher assisted top speed of 28 miles per hour (Class 1 bikes stop assisting at 20 mph).
While electric mountain bikes are certainly fun to ride, they do have a number of downsides. They are typically very heavy (averaging around 50 lbs.) and can be cumbersome to transport. And although e-bikes have been very popular in Europe for quite some time, they continue to receive pushback in the United States. There are a number of laws and trail restrictions regarding the use of E-MTBs, so it’s important to check your local rules before heading out on a ride.
Unisex vs. Women’s-Specific Models
Many trail bikes are made in a unisex style and a range of sizes (typically from “S” to “XL”). This can work well for both men and women, although riders on the shorter end of the spectrum can run into some challenges getting an ideal fit. Some brands like Trek address this by offering a wider range of sizes within the unisex line. Taking Trek’s Fuel EX as an example, the bike is made in “XS and “S” frame sizes with top tubes that dip down more aggressively right in front of the seat and smaller wheels (27.5 rather than 29). This makes it easier for shorter riders to comfortably stand over and control the bike. For many women, simply having an array of size options is all they need to get a great fit.
In addition, a number of brands make dedicated women’s mountain bikes. In the past, these mostly have been shrunken-down versions of the unisex models in different colorways. And while that’s still true in some cases—especially on the budget end of the spectrum—many quality brands make women’s-specific trail designs with retuned suspensions, handlebars that are narrower with smaller-diameter grips, and reshaped frames. There also are women’s-only bike brands, including Juliana (Santa Cruz’s sister brand) and Liv (Giant). Liv Cycling in particular really stands out as a leader with a growing collection of XC, trail, and e-mountain bikes for women. In the end, a unisex design like the aforementioned Fuel EX can be a great pairing for many lady riders, but there are a number of potential benefits in opting for a women’s-specific model.
Trail Bike Price Guide
One of the first questions you should ask yourself when purchasing a trail bike is how much you’re willing to spend. Having an approximate number in mind helps narrow the search and will put you into one of the general categories below. It’s a fairly complex topic overall—and we take a deeper dive in our article on how much you should spend on a mountain bike—but here is where things stand for 2021.
This price range will be the sweet spot for beginner mountain bike buyers. It balances affordability with reliable components and should more than satisfy those who are just starting to hit singletrack. Among the design options, we wholeheartedly recommend sticking with a quality hardtail over a full-suspension bike. A hardtail will have much better components and weigh significantly less—both important characteristics to having fun. On these bikes, you should expect to see name-brand drivetrains from Shimano and SRAM, as well as a suspension fork with about 80 to 100 millimeters of travel. One of the more important parts on the bike is your brakes, and at this price point you should expect them to be disc brakes. Our best entry-level bike listed above, the Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1, ticks all these boxes and comes in at a reasonable $599.
Stepping up into this price range gets you a significantly more singletrack-worthy design. Overall, expect to see three main areas of improvement: drivetrains will become much more modern, suspension components will offer greater refinement and more adjustments, and overall weight of the bike will greatly decrease. At the lower end of this price spectrum, we still advise a hardtail. However, as you start to creep closer to $2,000, making the switch to a full-suspension bike like the Giant Trance ($2,350) is certainly worthwhile. Overall, we consider this a great price point for finding quality and trail-worthy bikes.
Now we’re into the holy grail of price categories among trail bikes. At the lower end, you’ll find full-suspension aluminum bikes with fully modern parts and geometry. Smooth-operating 1 x 12 drivetrains, quality suspension components from Fox or RockShox, and mostly name-brand parts should be the norm. Close to $5,000, you’ll start to find aluminum bikes with top-of-the-line components as well as the introduction of carbon fiber-framed bikes. Although $5,000 is unquestionably a lot of money to spend, if you’re set on carbon, be aware that you’ll still be only getting mid-range components in most cases.
$5,000 and Above
Breaking the $5k barrier puts you in the “fully committed” category. Your bike might cost more than your car (we’ve been there), but it’s a dream machine. There’s carbon everywhere—frame, wheels, cranks, handlebars—all in the name of shaving weight. And if money really is no object, there are bikes like Yeti's SB130 T3 Turq. Their top-of-the-line version has carbon everything, and then adds in wireless shifting for good measure. The price: $9,900. While certainly outlandish, we can’t help but appreciate the crème de la crème of trail bikes. And the final piece of good news is that the technology that goes into these high-end beasts eventually trickles down into the lower price points.
Buying a Mountain Bike Online
The majority of us do a significant amount of shopping online, so why not do the same when purchasing a mountain bike? They’re certainly more complicated to figure out than a set of dish towels, but there’s a lot of recent movement towards online sales from consumer-direct brands (more on this below), major retailers like REI Co-op and Competitive Cyclist, and even manufacturers themselves like Diamondback. If you’re considering going this route, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before clicking that buy button. Are you comfortable doing basic assembly and mechanical projects? Will someone be at home to take delivery and sign for your new ride? And, perhaps most importantly, are you comfortable choosing the right size and style of bike without taking a test spin?
One of the most important pieces of the new bike puzzle is getting the correct size, which can be the difference between riding your bike down the hill or wanting to throw it down the hill. Luckily for us, most reputable online retailers and brands provide a significant amount of fit-related information. Size charts are often tailored to specific models, and you’ll then get size recommendation based on your height or inseam length. Taking this a step further, Competitive Cyclist offers one of the most comprehensive fit guides we’ve seen, compiling measurements for your inseam, forearm, lower leg, and more. Taking this detailed approach is one way of ensuring you wind up on a bike that fits you properly.
Once you decide on a trail bike, you need to be prepared for a very large box to arrive on your front porch. From experience, it’s good to know that not all manufacturers will require a signature on delivery, so you’ll want to closely follow the tracking information. The next important piece is the bike’s assembly. The majority of bicycles come mostly put together with instruction on how to finish the build, and it’s not overly complicated for those who have done basic work on bikes in the past or are mechanically inclined. To help, you can find a range of online tutorials, including Diamondback’s Ready Ride program. And if all else fails, most bike shops will happily assemble your bike for a fee of around $50 (this can vary).
Consumer-direct brands like YT Industries, Canyon, and Commencal are popular in other parts of the world but are still gaining a footing in the U.S. The appeal is obvious: by selling straight to you from an online shop, they cut out the middle man (bike shops) and save you a bunch of money. For instance, YT Industries' Jeffsy Core 2 ($2,799) comes in $700 less than a similarly equipped Santa Cruz Hightower R ($3,499). What’s the catch? There are plenty of horror stories out there of poor customer service, long lead times for receiving bikes due to stock issues, and the pain of having to ship items back for warranty (instead of being able to just bring it into a shop). That said, we also know of plenty happy buyers who are riding their dream bikes at a significant discount.
Should I Buy a Used Bike?
The trail bikes listed above are the latest and greatest in their respective categories, but purchasing a used model is a great way to save and cut down on waste. To start, keep in mind that mountain bike technology has been rapidly evolving even in the past few years, so we recommend picking up a pretty new design. Further, it’s a good idea to closely inspect the bike in person to make sure you’re not buying an unmaintained money pit. With the drivetrain, verify that the chainring teeth are shaped like triangles and less like shark fins. If they look like the latter, it’ll likely need to be replaced. The frame, brake pads, and chain should also be inspected for undue or heavy wear. Finally, see if the rubber seals around the suspension components are cracking or if oil is running on the outside of the fork—both are signs that service is required.
If you’re not comfortable with checking a bike’s mechanical soundness, it’s often worth having a local shop take a look (or you could purchase a former demo bike from a shop, so you can ensure it was properly maintained). Even a modest hardtail can set you back a few hundred dollars, and higher-end models hold their value well enough to justify getting a professional opinion. We recommend calling ahead to make sure they offer the service and that they can fit you in. In the end, used bikes have their place—especially for those just getting into the sport—but it’s a good idea to make an informed, smart decision.
Back to Our Top Mountain Bike PicksBack to Our Mountain Bike Comparison Table
Mountain reviews 29 bike
Choosing the best mountain bike is hard. There's loads of them. They all look similar yet different. Our expert panel of reviewers narrow things down.
Mountain bikes come in different designs depending on what their intention may be. A mountain bike for racing cross-country is not the same as a mountain bike intended for weekend trail riding. As such, the round-up of the best mountain bikes available in 2021 features winning bikes from different disciplines within the broad church that is mountain biking. We’ll go through the differences in disciplines further down this guide. It’s also worth looking slightly under your budget and then factoring in what are the best mountain bike upgrades you can easily and affordably add to any of the great bikes to make them even better for you and your riding.
Current best mountain bikes as tested by mbr
What’s your budget?
£400+ is a good start but… hold your horses. We’re going to go into what you get (and don’t get) for your money in a moment. You can get a perfectly decent mountain bike for under £500. You can also max out you Mastercard and drop over £5k on a mountain bike. Are those bikes 10x better? No, they aren’t. They are better, sometimes significantly so depending on the rider and terrain, but essentially you get less drastic improvements in bike quality the higher you go up the money scale.
Our current picks at all price points:
We have tested all of the following bikes. Tested them properly. This isn’t some shortlist pulled together from browsing brochures and brand websites.
mbr testers’ pick: Pinnacle Kapur 2
Under £500 mountain bikes
What to look out for on the best mountain bikes under £500: Avoid full-suspension at all cost. Avoid supermarket bikes. They’ll be heavy and/or flexy with poor damping and there’ll be no after-sales backup or spares when they go wrong. Go for aluminium frames rather than steel/chromoly. Choose hydraulic disc brakes if possible. Aim for modern trail bike geometry more than steep, twitchy XC angles. Air-sprung suspension forks make it easier to set the bike up to your body weight. Shimano or SRAM drivetrain, preferably with a single chainring up front and wide-range cassette at the rear.
mbr testers’ pick:
- Pinnacle Kapur 2 review – A classic affordable hardtail that has a really nice feeling ride thanks to its impressively sophisticated frame. The finishing kit is perfectly fine but it’s the bike’s overall geometry and stance that marks it out as a great choice in the sub-£500 bracket.
Also worth considering:
Voodoo Bizango 2022
Under £750 mountain bikes
What to look out for on the best mountain bikes under £750: Honestly, at this little nudge up from the £500 bikes detailed above, you’re simply looking for slightly better components. Things like better quality tyres (folding kevlar bead, decently treaded), definitely an air-sprung fork, gears with a wider range. Read our buyer’s guide for more information on choosing the best hardtail mountain bike.
mbr testers’ pick:
- Voodoo Bizango review – The alloy Bizango simple has no competition. It is imply unbeatable for the money. In fact, given the choice we’d probably opt for this bike over many decent £1000 mountain bikes (saving a couple of components upgrades for the ensuing seasons). Good brakes, good gearing, plenty of standover, decent fork. Shames many bikes at twice the price.
Also worth considering:
mbr testers’ pick: Vitus Sentier 275 VR
Under £1000 mountain bikes
What to look out for on the best mountain bikes under £1000: an overall weight lower than 14kg (although it can be hard to find listed weights for bikes these days unfortunately). As with the £750 bike must-haves above, it’s more about looking for improvements in the bike’s spec overall. Perhaps to two features that may start to appear at this price point are dropper seatposts and bolt-thru axles.
mbr testers’ pick:
- Vitus Sentier 275 VR review – Vitus as a brand have quickly established themselves of something of a ubiquitous choice when it comes money-minded direct sales mountain bikes that shred hard and don’t cut corners. The Sentier is classic Vitus: light, versatile and fast with a spec choice that clearly shows a company run by genuine mountain bike enthusiasts.
Also worth considering:
mbr testers’ pick: Marin Rift Zone 29 1
Under £2000 mountain bikes
What to look out for on the best mountain bikes under £2000: Should have all of the stuff mentioned for the £1000 bikes above, plus… A select handful of full-suspension bikes are decent options at this price point. BUT, a hardtail is going to be lighter and significantly better specced. Fat tyre hardtails (with 2.6in + tyres) should be considered and test ridden if you’re after a trail bike. Look for a single chainring drivetrain, ideally 11-speed or higher. A suspension fork with more damping adjustment and tuning potential (volume spacers etc). Dropper seatposts are nice. Hardtails will be split by riding disciplines (XC, Trail, Enduro) so choose your weapon wisely. SRAM NX or Shimano SLX drivetrain (or better). Short stem. Wide handlebars.
mbr testers’ pick:
- Marin Rift Zone 29 1 review – Like any good bike at any price point The Rift Zone is a winning choice because of good angles and attitude. This isn’t an overgunned tank that can’t deliver on its promise. Nor is it a skittish or sketchy experience it gets pressed into service on some proper terrain. The only thing lacking is a dropper seatpost so try to wangle a deal with the bike shop when purchasing, or get saving your pennies to slap a dropper in a few months’ time.
Also worth considering:
mbr testers’ pick: Nukeproof Reactor 290 Comp Alloy
Under £3000 mountain bikes
What to look out foron the best mountain bikes under £3000: Should have at least all of the stuff mentioned in the ‘£1000 to £2000’ bikes range, plus… More full-suspension options appear, especially over £2,000. Weight conscious cross-country riders are arguably still better served with a hardtail, but everyone else is probably better off on full-suspension. Carbon enters the arena here, mainly with direct-sales brands. Dropper seatpost should be present. Suspension fork and rear shock with compression damping adjustment. Full-suspension bikes will be categorised into riding disciplines (XC, Trail, Enduro) so choose accordingly. Some drivetrain parts from SRAM GX or Shimano XT (or better).
mbr testers’ pick:
- Nukeproof Reactor 290 Comp Alloy review – After a good few yeas (decades?) of arguing amongst ourselves, the MTB world has pretty much settled on what constitutes a modern trail bike: a mid-travel 29er. With 140/130mm travel the 29er Reactor ticks the basic boxes but it’s much more than that. For a first generation model the designers at Nukeproof have knocked it out of the park. It’s ready to rip staright away. If you’ve not got the leg length to handle 29in wheels, there’s the 27.5in Reactor option.
Also worth considering:
mbr testers’ pick: Transition Spur X01
What to look out for: Lucky you. Just make sure you get a bike that suits your principle riding discipline (XC, Trail or Enduro) and you’ll not go wrong with anything at this price! Regardless, look for at least all of the stuff mentioned above, plus… Carbon frames are worth considering, especially above £3,000. Tubeless set-up wheels and tyres. Complete SRAM GX or Shimano XT drivetrains or better. (Psst… surely you must also be contemplating the best electric mountain bikes at this price..?)
mbr testers’ pick:
- Transition Spur X01 review– Did someone say down-country? The Spur is so 2021 it hurts. Transition as a brand are typically leaders rather than followers and this short travel, progressive geometry little until is right at the forefront of modern MTB. The Spur is not designed for hitting chucky enduro track blind at warp speed; the Spur is all about maxing out the fun on trails that are more familiar and/or calmer. It’s not cheap but the price for being ahead the curve is well worth paying a premium.
Also worth considering:
mbr testers’ pick: Trek Procaliber 8.7
Best lightweight mountain bike
What to look out for on the best XC race bikes: This is the point where hardtails come back into the mix. No matter how light full-suspension bikes get, the equivalent hardtail will always be lighter. And not by an insignificant amount (well, in weight weenie terms anyway). Having said that, the Trek ProCaliber does have an essence of rear suspension to it: the IsoSpeed ‘decoupler’ enables the seat tube to move independently from the rest of the front triangle. Only by a few millimeters but it’s enough to calm things down and remove some skittishness under heavy torque moments.
mbr tester’s pick:
- Trek Procaliber 8.7 review – We’re nailing our colours to the mast here. If lightweight is the be all and end all of what you want – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, weight weenies have always been a key part of MTB’s onward march – a hardtail is the clear choice. If you want creature comforts and burly terrain capability, you don’t get a lightweight mountain bike. If you want a stamp and go rocketship for making yourself cough up a lung at on each and every Strava climb. get a hardtail. No one makes hardtails as well as the Big Bike Brands and the current KOM/QOM crown goes to Trek with their thrilling Procaliber.
Also worth considering:
Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory
Best enduro mountain bike
What to look out for on the best enduro mountain bikes: yadda
mbr tester’s pick:
- Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory review – The Giga is testament to the adage that you can have your pudding and eat it. You can all of the all-ness all of the time. Loads of travel. Slack AF head angle. The biggest of wheel sizes. And the most remarkable thing? It rides just like a normal mountain bike (whatever one of those is in 2021!) The Giga really is a race-worthy enduro bike that doesn’t feel like a chore to pedal around on your Sunday Social rides. It will quickly dispel any lust you have for a faddish down country bike. More moreness is simply better. Everywhere.
Also worth considering:
What sort of riding are you going to do?
This is a very hard question to answer. But it’s vital to making the correct bike choice.
Now then, mountain bikes are capable machines. They can turn their hand to all sorts of riding. More so than ever these days in fact. You can go for a XC ride on an Enduro bike. You can do a XC race on a Trail bike. So you aren’t closing off all avenues of riding by going for a certain sort of bike. But you’ll have a more fun and rewarding experience if you get a bike that suits your main type of riding best.
Conversely, don’t be tempted to get a bike for the extreme 1% of the riding that you’ll do on it. A burly gravity-fuelled bike is fine and dandy for the annual uplift day but you’ll have to pedal that thing around for the other 51 weekends of the year.
Whilst your budget is probably going to be main thing you’re thinking about at first, it shouldn’t be. First, you need to decide on the type of mountain bike is going to suit you best. Then you can look at what your budget will get you.
Whilst it’s increasingly rare to find a bad bike these days, it is all too easy to end up with a bike that simply isn’t suited to where you ride.
For the purposes of this guide let’s ignore the extreme ends of the spectrum. Chances are you aren’t looking for an Olympic XC race bike. Nor are you looking for a World Cup level Downhill bike. This buyers guide is about ‘normal’ mountain bikes.
Even within the realm of ‘normal’ mountain bikes there are various sub-genres. Some are gimmicks, some are irrelevant, some are seemingly entirely fabricated by marketing departments.
The remit of normal mountain biking has ‘Cross-Country’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘Enduro’ at the end other end. Enduro used to be (and sometimes still is) called ‘All Mountain’ by some bike brands. In the broad middle of this spectrum is where ‘Trail’ bikes live.
In a nutshell: the best mountain bike for most people
In our opinion, if you’re in doubt, get a Trail bike. These will be capable enough on more extreme terrain but won’t feel like a burden on calmer, flatter terrain.
Choosing the best mountain bike for: Trail riding
Trail riding is arguably best defined by what it’s not. It’s not cross-country. It’s not Enduro. It’s riding around regular tracks and trail centres with the occasional 50km moorland epic thrown in and the odd uplift day or two. Trail bikes sport between 120 and 150mm of travel and are designed strong enough to withstand all sorts without ending up being portly. The geometry on Trail bikes should be able to handle all sorts of terrain. But often it doesn’t. We’re still finding Trail bikes with overly steep head angles, short reaches and slack seat angles. If you want to be Trail rider, pay extra attention to the geometry.
Recommended mountain bike: hardtail or full suspension with 120-140mm suspension.
Read the mbr review of the Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite
Choosing the best mountain bike for: Cross-country riding
This is less about jumps and slamming berms and more about pedalling miles and crossing fells. But hold on, don’t write it off thinking it’s for doddery older riders on dull, wide fireroads. XC riding and racers are still about off-road speed. But with cross country there’s more of an emphasis on climbing. So the bikes are as light as possible. They also don’t pack much in the way of suspension travel (sub-120mm) as more suspension travel results in heavier bikes. They are also often less overbuilt in terms of fork/frame/wheel stiffness. Again, stiffer stuff means more weight. They also aren’t able to install a dropper seatpost due to having narrow (sub-30.9mm) seat tubes. Crucially, XC bikes also still have rather old-fashioned geometry that often ignores descending prowess and is still heavily modelled on road bikes. This is all well and good if you’re Nino Schurter but for most people the end result is fairly terrifying on any technical terrain. As a result, even if you want to ride cross-country you’re probably better off on a (light as possible) trail bike than a sketchy XC bike.
Recommended mountain bike: light-as-you-can-afford hardtail or light full suspension with 100-120mm suspension and 29in wheels.
Read the mbr review of the Specialized Epic Evo
Choosing the best mountain bike for: Enduro riding
Enduro riding intentionally and unashamedly prioritises descending capability and speed. The terrain can resemble Downhill race tracks but there’s no uplift here. You have to pedal your way around. Enduro bikes are essentially longer travel (160+mm) Trail bikes with stronger parts. As a result they’re heavier than Trail bikes. Or the same weight and significantly more expensive. Enduro bikes are very much in vogue but you should be careful before you automatically head down this route. A couple of kilos may not sound much but it’s always there no matter what trail you’re on. If most of your riding is trail centres then an Enduro bike is going to be OTT and very probably slower than a Trail bike. One area where Enduro bikes are leading the way for all kinds of riding however is geometry. A cutting edge Enduro bike will have a riding position that bests both XC and Trail bikes for climbing, descending and contouring. Enduro bikes are at the forefront of mountain biking. A lightweight Enduro bike is an amazing thing. And amazingly expensive.
Recommended mountain bike: full suspension with 150-170mm suspension.
Read the mbr review of the Specialized Enduro Elite
Hardtail or full suspension?
It’s easy to assume that everyone would be riding full suspension bikes instead of hardtails if there was no price difference. This isn’t really true. Hardtails do have some advantages over full suspension bikes regardless of price tag.
Hardtails are lighter. Hardtails have less to go wrong or require servicing. Hardtails are easier to clean. Hardtails can be faster and more fun on smoother trails. Adding to this the fact that hardtails are cheaper than their full sus counterparts means that hardtails aren’t going to be extinct anytime soon.
Full suspension is still what most riders lust after, rightly or wrongly. What are the benefits of going full suspension? First and foremost, control. The comfort factor is much less important – which may surprise you but it’s true. Full suspension bikes track the ground better and as such offer greater traction. Full sussers are less skittish and sketchy to ride compared to hardtails. The fatigue and comfort benefits do exist but it’s the extra performance capability of full suspension that’s the main thing. Being less beaten up and less tired on longer rides is an added bonus of bounce.
What are the drawbacks of full suspension? They’re heavier than hardtails. They’re poorer specced (compared to hardtail of the same price). They have bearings and pivots that wear out and cost money. They can be mud traps. They can be difficult to clean properly. And if you don’t understand the basics of how to setup suspension then a full susser can ride really badly, inefficiently and sketchily.
Carbon or aluminium?
At the mid to high end level there’s something of a crossover point where you can sometimes choose between a carbon framed bike (with lower end parts) or an aluminium framed bike (with better bits) at around the same price point. We’d always recommend going for the better specced aluminium model.
Is carbon worth the extra money? For most riders, no it isn’t. Just how much extra does it cost anyway? To go carbon will cost you approximately an extra £1,000 (for the similarly equipped bike).
What does this £1,000 get you? A lighter frame for sure. But not that much lighter, maybe 700g or so. The more convincing argument for going carbon is not weight, it’s ride feel. Carbon bikes ride differently to aluminium bikes. Stiffer. Sometimes with a damped (dead) sort of feeling. And these days carbon bikes are often stronger than their aluminium counterparts.
The carbon feel and strength is what it’s all about. This is not to say that this racy, rally-car ‘carbon feel’ is going to suit everyone. Some riders prefer the feel of aluminium bikes over carbon.
Some people are even making big hype about steel again. This time steel full suspension. Maybe things can get too stiff on a mountain bike? Fatigue suffers. Line choice gets less forgiving. Maybe some chassis flex results in a faster ride? But then, steel full sussers are going to be even heavier than aluminium.
At the end of the day, the frame material isn’t going to affect most people’s bike riding. Tyres, wheels and suspension setup is far, far more significant. So we would actually say that frame material isn’t worth worrying about overly.
Which wheel size is best?
This old chestnut. Again, we’re going to be mildly controversial and say that the difference between 650b bikes and 29er bikes isn’t as pronounced as you may have been lead to believe.
Unlike a few years ago, nowadays you can get 29ers with decent amount of suspension travel (up to 160mm) and with decent geometry, so the wheel size debate has become less black and white than it used to be. You can get loads of ‘rad’ 29ers now.
29ers are more stable and have better grip. But they have unavoidably higher front ends and the rear tyre can hit your bum on steep stuff if you’re under 6ft tall. The higher wheel axles can make the bike feel taller in tight switchbacks and thus require more leaning over.
One things for sure, more people should try a 29er than currently do. The stigma of the awful early 29ers has lingered. A modern 29er is a totally different animal.
650b bikes are stiffer, can have lower front ends and the rear tyre won’t boot you up the behind on steeps. The lower wheel axles require less body english in tight hairpins so the bikes can feel more nimble for a given rider input.
If you’re 6ft tall or over, you’re probably going to better served by a 29er. If you’re under 5ft 6″ then a 29er is likely going to feel too big.
If you’re of average height, you need to try each wheel size for yourself. Ignore trends. Ignore haters. See for yourself.
Which suspension design is best?
A bonus debate for you. Sorry! Although there’s less hype and grand claims made about different suspension frame designs these days (compared to the slanging matches and OTT marketing of yore anyway) there is still a valid interest in how the designs differ from each other.
The mountain biking market is now mature and experienced enough to know that their is no single Best Suspension Design. The four-bar (or Horst Link) used to be the Holy Grail. Single pivots used to get ragged on for being crude. Neither of these stances are correct in 2017/18.
To be frank, pretty much all suspension designs are good. But they are not all the same. They do differ in how they feel and respond (to both the trail and to the rider onboard). Some are fussy in how precisely they’re set up, some are more forgiving. Some also require more maintenance than others.
The rear shock – and how you can tune it – is arguably more important than frame suspension design these days. It is now possible to do an awful to with a rear shock to alleviate any frame design niggles you may encounter. Bike too bob-prone, or wallowy, or harsh bottom out? Chances are something can be done with the rear shock to address this.
Basically, bike companies have got all the kooky and plain bad designs out of their system now. The differences between them are now extremely subtle. Learning about suspension theory and setup is more important.
Geometry, geometry, geometry
The angles and lengths of the frame tubes governs almost everything in how a bike will ride. The best suspension in the world counts for nought if the geometry is poor. Similarly, a bike with great geometry can often overcome any suspension shortcomings and ride just fine.
What’s the best geometry for a mountain bike? This is a tricky area and one which is still full of old myths and prejudices. But here’s our take on it…
Long reach (the distance between saddle and handlebars, in layman’s terms) is good. Steep seat angles are good. Slack head angles are good. And we’re not talking just ‘good for descending’. This geometry is good everywhere. Slack head angles don’t cause front end wandering on climbs (that’s caused by slack seat angles and/or short top tubes).
Low bottom bracket heights are generally good (for stability and for cornering) but riders who ride in rutted/tufty/stumpy terrain may get naffed off with frequent pedal strikes and so prefer a higher bottom bracket height and accept the compromise in handling.
Chainstay length is another area full of cliché. Short chainstays are seen as highly desirable. Long chainstays are seen as bad. Why is short good? We’re not sure it is particularly. It makes bikes easier to manual but that’s about it. They also can make bikes climb worse (wheelie prone). Long chainstays offer greater stability and climbing prowess.
Another aspect these days is the return of standover as being high on the important list. The advent of dropper posts with 150mm+ of travel has meant that bike designers are factoring shorter seat tube lengths in their bikes now so that they can fit in long drop dropper posts.
Truth be told though, you still can’t judge how a bike will ride by looking at its geometry chart. Geometry is a combination of multiple factors that all interact with each other. One isolated measurement doesn’t govern everything.
We’ve ridden plenty of ‘poor geometry on paper’ bikes that turn out to ride exceptionally well in the real world.
Having said that, don’t buy a bike with a short reach. Just don’t. Almost everything else in bike geometry can be changed (by saddle positioning, angleset headset, offset shock bushings, different length cranks, thinner pedals etc etc) but a short bike will always be a short bike no matter what you do.
How much should you spend?
If you have less than £1,000 to spend then we still think a hardtail is the way to go. Sub-£1k full sussers are going to be overly hefty and sport low-end kit that will impair your ride experience.
These days you can get capable and fun full suspension bikes from the £1,000 mark. They aren’t especially light but they aren’t restrictively heavy either. And the parts package on a good £1k susser will feature perfectly good stuff from recognised brands. Sure there’ll be some cost-cutting here and there, and some no-name finishing kit, but it won’t overly affect the bike’s ride.
What size bike should you get?
A lot of people are riding around the wrong size bike.
The first myth to bust is that smaller bikes are more nimble/playful/manoeuvrable. Nope. Smaller bikes are less stable, more sketchy and uncomfortable. Don’t buy a bike that’s too small thinking it’ll be alright. Don’t get suckered into buying an undersize bike because it’s at a bargain price.
A cheap bike that’s big enough for you and has good geometry will be infinitely better than a half-price bling bike that’s too small for you.
Don’t buy a too-small bike. Even if that’s what all your mates have done. Even if that’s what the bike shop staffer says. They’re wrong.
The best way to do it is consult with what the bike manufacturer’s height advice says. You should also check out our guide to choosing your mountain bike frame size. Once you’ve found what size the manufacturer (and us) advise, have a nosey at the next size up. Have a look at the seat tube length and standover. If you’d still be alright on the larger size, you should try both the recommended size and the next size up when you go to try the bike for size. Long top tubes can be addressed (improved in fact!) by fitting a shorter stem and moving the saddle forward on its rails.
In the past year, we’ve ridden and evaluated more than 100 of the top mountain bikes—everything from budget hardtails to do-it-all trail models to bomber downhill race bikes. We found entry-level hardtails that are truly capable for less than $900. And excellent full-suspension bikes for less than $1,500, which was unheard of just a few years ago. And of course we discovered near-magical options that cost three and four times that.
Check out five of our top picks below, or scroll deeper for longer reviews of these bikes and other high-ranking options, plus buying advice.
Best Women’s Trail 29er
Maverick X01 RSV
Best Value Trail Bike
Marin Hawk Hill 1
An affordable full-suspension bike you can ride anywhere.
Pivot Switchblade Pro XT/XTR
A balanced 29er for all parts of the trail
Best Budget Hardtail
Rocky Mountain Growler 20
The best sub-$1,000 mountain bike we’ve ever tested.
Best Trail Bike Makeover
Fuel EX 9.9 XO1
Bigger and badder than its predecessor.
What’s New in Mountain Bike Design
With the widespread adoption of dropper posts, better suspension, and geometry that favors longer front ends and tighter rear ends, it’s now possible to shred pretty hard on bikes with less travel. Bikes like the Santa Cruz Tallboy, Evil Following MB, and more recently, Giant Trance 29 have 120mm of rear travel (or less) but the slack angles (and stability) of enduro bikes. And bikes like the Pivot Firebird give you DH travel with crisper pedaling, to create one of the most versatile long-travel bikes we’ve tried. As you’re looking for your next ride, pay as much attention to geometry as you do travel and wheel size.
Key Geometry Considerations
If you’ve been following the trends in mountain bikes, no doubt you’ve noticed that “longer” is the most popular word going. Reaches are getting longer, which—along with increasingly slack head tube angles—also lengthens the bike’s front center and wheelbase. This additional length centers the rider between the wheels more, and makes bikes feel more stable, more secure in steep terrain, and smoother overall. Longer isn’t always better, though, and can make a bike feel less stable at slower speeds and harder to maneuver in tight terrain.
Seat tubes are also much steeper than they’ve been—as steep as 76 degrees or more. This puts most riders in a more favorable seated climbing position. But steeper seat angles also allow frame engineers to move the seat tube out of the way as they try to increase travel, decrease chainstay length, and fit bigger wheels and tires into their frames.
Types of Mountain Bikes
These are short-travel bikes made for racing on XC and marathon courses where you need sharp handling and efficient suspension. Many have head-tube angles near 70 degrees, 29-inch wheels and, if they have rear suspension, 90 to 120mm of travel.
These are the most popular bikes for good reason, designed to handle almost everything from casual XC trails to rowdy downhills. Expect to see head angles between 65 and 68 degrees, slightly longer wheel bases, and travel between 120 and 150mm.
These are mini-downhill models that are good at climbing. They excel on steep descents, bike parks, and anytime you’re going fast. Head angles range from 62 to 66 degrees and reaches are longer to keep your weight farther behind the front wheel.
Made for downhill races and bike parks, these have ultra-long wheel bases, lots of travel (usually 200mm or more), and dual-crown forks that slow handling but help the bike rip downhill in a straight line and hit massive jumps better than anything else.
How We Tested
Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles using these bikes for their intended purpose, as well as pushing the bikes’ limits outside of their primary intent. We raced them, rode them on our local trails, and hit the bike park. Often we swapped tires and other components to get a better understanding of each bike. After a lot of sweaty, dirty miles, we considered the full picture weighing not just performance and handling, but also, price, comfort, value, and reliability.
[Related: The Best Women's Mountain Bikes Right Now]
Looking for an e-mountain bike? Check out our top picks here.
—BEST WOMEN’S TRAIL 29—
- Slower than an XC bike on the climbs
The Maverick—the Santa Cruz Hightower is the same bike with a few parts differences—is a 140/150mm (rear/front) 29er that provides a stable ride with plenty of travel for comfort and control, with a decent turn of uphill performance too. This is an all-purpose mountain bike for riders who prefer the confidence that comes with longer travel but don’t want to resort to an enduro bike. Maverick builds start at $4,299, but if you want to spend less Hightower models start at $2,899.
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—MOST-BALANCED TRAIL BIKE—
Pro XT/XTR Reynolds Carbon 29
- Excellent pedaling properties
- Balanced manners: it climbs and descends well
- Fits riders down to 5-feet
- Live Valve Ready
Pro XT/XTR Reynolds Carbon 29
- Excellent pedaling properties
- Balanced manners: it climbs and descends well
- Fits riders down to 5-feet
- Live Valve Ready
The new Pivot Switchblade—142mm rear, 160mm front—is longer and slacker than its previous generation, but it’s also a bit taller and steeper than much of its competition. That gives this bike impressive balance. Stable at speed, but also agile and lively, and it offers top-of-its-class climbing performance too. It’s gravity friendly, but not gravity focused; a big bike that climbs really well, but still descends like a big bike. This is the bike for a rider who loves the climb as much as the shred.
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—FASTEST TRAIL BIKE—
Spot Ryve 115
Ryve 115 4-Star Build
The Ryve 115 fills the space between a pure XC race bike, and a trail bike. It is light (our sample weighed 24.5 pounds), shorter travel (115mm rear and 120mm front), and quick handling; Spot’s Living Link suspension offers efficient pedaling performance and a super-lively feel. It’s a super zippy bike that’s a bit more planted on the downhill than a pure race bike. It’s for the rider who wants the efficiency of an XC bike with a bit more capability.
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—1x10 & HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES FOR UNDER $1K—
- 100mm fork
- 1x10-speed drivetrain
- Slow handling makes it tough to navigate technical trails
The Aguila offers up-to-date geometry, an aluminum frame, and great parts for less than a grand. A 1x10 drivetrain is simple and secure: no front derailleur to deal with, and little chance of a dropped chain when bouncing through rough terrain. It also has Shimano hydraulic disc brakes which offer great power and a smooth feel, and a suspension fork to absorb bumps. It’s a capable off-road bike with stability first handling. This is the bike for someone looking for a capable mountain bike for less than a grand, or a durable commuter.
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—BEST TRAIL HARDTAIL—
Salsa Timberjack NX Eagle 29
Timberjack NX Eagle 29
- Copious mounts and adjustable dropouts
- 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain climbs like a goat
Timberjack NX Eagle 29
- Copious mounts and adjustable dropouts
- 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain climbs like a goat
Full suspension bikes are great, but they’re heavier, more expensive, and more maintenance intensive than a bike without rear suspension. Salsa’s Timberjack is a trail bike for riders who prefer the simplicity and durability of a hardtail. With a 130mm fork, dropper post, and 67-degree head angle, the Timberjack is stable and capable,—this bike is ready to get rowdy. It’s also very versatile, with swinger dropouts (420–437mm chainstay length) that let you tune the Timberjack’s handling, or set it up as a singlespeed. It also has clearance plus-size tires up to 3 inches wide (up to 2.6 in 29er) if you prefer traction and float. And if you want to get away, it has mounts for three bottles and a rear rack. This is the bike for the rider who wants trail manners with the low fuss ownership of a hardtail.
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Niner RIP 9 RDO
Courtesy of Niner
Niner Rip 9 RDO 4-Star 29" Bike 2019
- Great suspension
- Balanced, well-rounded ride
- Shock’s air valve is hard to access
Niner’s RIP 9 RDO gets a ground-up overhaul for 2019. The biggest surprise is the 27.5-inch-wheel frame alongside the expected 29er—each version is dedicated to one wheel size. The new RIP has 140mm of rear travel with a 150mm Fox 36 fork on the front and a 10mm reduction in travel at both ends from the outgoing RIP, which helps the new version pedal more efficiently. The result is one of the finest and most well-rounded trail bikes we’ve tested. It’s responsive, yet stable, and it can handle big sends while remaining playful on the smaller stuff. We’ve seen lots of new trail bikes recently. They’re all great in their own way, but this Niner is one of the best we’ve ridden.
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Santa Cruz Tallboy CC
Courtesy of Santa Cruz
- Rides bigger than a 120mm bike
- A flip chip adjusts head angle -/+ 0.2 degrees, seat angle -/+ 0.3 degrees
- Longer reach and wheelbase than previous generation
The all-new Tallboy—and its Juliana sibling—gets many of the features that rolled out in the Megatower and Hightower 29ers earlier this year. The new generation four Tallboy adds still more travel—120mm rear, 130mm front—with even longer and slacker geometry, but it still fills the same role in Santa Cruz’s line. As the definition of lightweight trail 29er has evolved, so has the Tallboy. Visually, the biggest change to the Tallboy 4 is the switch to a lower link-driven shock—previous Tallboy models drove the shock off the upper link. This design began with Santa Cruz’s gravity bikes and has trickled down to shorter-travel models ever since. It also lowers the Tallboy’s center of gravity, and makes it look compact with a low-slung stance. The Tallboy has two geometry adjustments. A flip chip in the lower suspension link adjusts head angle +/- 0.2 degrees, seat angle +/- 0.3 degrees, and BB height +/- 3mm. It also has a small effect on shock rate: In the low setting it is a bit more progressive, in the high setting more linear. Put it all together and you get a bike that helps redefine what can be done with just 120mm of travel.
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―BEST FULL-SUSPENSION PLUS-TIRE BIKE―
Cannondale Bad Habit 2
Bad Habit 2
- Long front center and slack head angle
- 27.5-inch wheels and 2.8-inch tires
- Aluminum frame
- Low bottom bracket means more pedal strikes
The Bad Habit is the plus-tire version of Cannondale's best-ever suspension bike, the Habit. Instead of the Habit’s 29er wheels, the Bad Habit gets 27.5 wheels wrapped with 2.8-inch-wide tires for more traction and better flotation, and a more sure-footed and stable feel. The Bad Habit’s geometry is modern, though not as crazy long as some of its competitors, which helps it handle better in slower terrain. The rear suspension offers well-rounded performance, and with an aluminum frame and great parts of the money, this is a plus bike well worth the money.
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―BEST NEW XC BIKE―
Trek Supercaliber 9.9
Supercaliber 9.9 XX1
- IsoStrut suspension pedals extremely well
- XC-focused details: Two bottles and dual remote lockout
- Lightweight and responsive
Trek's new Supercaliber is the latest attempt to create the ultimate XC race bike by merging the best attributes of a hardtail (stiffness, low weight) and full suspension (traction, comfort, control) frame into one. And based on our rides, it's the closest yet to that best-of-both-worlds machine with 60mm of rear travel. Trek's IsoStrut design places a Fox Float shock into a tube—both ends of that tube are bolted to the underside of the SuperCal's top tube. At the top of the seat stays is a sleeve (Trek calls it a carriage) that slides over the bolted-in tube. Cutouts in the tube allow a cross bolt to pass through the sleeve, the tube, and the rear shock eyelet. Trek says this design eliminates rotation around the shock shaft, and side-loading the shaft so the bike has the stiffness and feel of a hardtail, but with real full suspension for better comfort and control. And based on back to back testing with a hardail, the Supercaliber is everything it was designed to be.
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―TONS OF TECH AND IN-FRAME STORAGE―
Trek Fuel EX 9.9
Fuel EX 9.9 XO1
- 140mm Fox 36 GRIP2 fork with 4-way external damping adjustment
- Mino-Link flip chip adjusts head and seat angles by 0.5 degrees
- Generous in-frame storage
Trek’s Fuel EX was an excellent lightweight trail bike, with notes of XC race in its bouquet. For 2020 the EX effectively underwent a training montage worthy of an ’80s movie and emerged bigger and badder. It is up to 140mm travel in the front (still 130mm in the rear), longer, slacker, stiffer, and comes with bigger tires. The new EX is a trail bike with hints of enduro. Yep, it’s heavier: The top-of-the-line model weighs about 29 pounds on our scale. But it also has a trap door and hidden storage in the down tube. The longer and slacker geometry provides a more centered feel when you’re working the trail with the saddle dropped. The bike’s steering is light, and the bike climbs technical singletrack very well—a nice suspension platform and crisp pedaling manners help. On downhills, it’s very sure-footed and even rides a little bigger than its travel and geometry might suggest. There are a lot of great trail bikes you can buy right now. This EX makes a strong case that it’s one of the very best.
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―BEST FOR NAILING THE JUMP LINE―
Kona Process 153 CR/DL 29
Courtesy of Kona
Process 153 CR/DL 29
- 160mm fork, 153mm frame
- Equally capable for technical descending and boosting airs
- Weighs 31 pounds (size Large)
It’s tough not to have fun on a 160/153mm trail bike, but if your idea of fun involves jibbing, popping off, and generally challenging the trail’s obstacles with other unnecessary maneuvers, you’ll want this Kona Process. Its RockShox suspension feels buttery from the box, and at 31 pounds, the bike is pleasingly flickable around tight corners. The Process never feels too aggressive; more rip than race, its playful handling encourages you to try that jump line you’ve been too scared to attempt. (There’s plenty of travel for when you case a landing, as we did repeatedly during testing.) I’s also an impressive pedaling platform, and climbing technical cross-country trails is made easier by the suspension’s slow-speed sensitivity to rocks and roots. Our tester says he’s definitely ridden faster-feeling bikes on local trails, but none more versatile and consistently amusing.
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—BEST BUDGET HARDTAIL—
Rocky Mountain Growler 20
Courtesy of Rocky Mountain
- Capable on almost any trail
- 3-inch tires are more forgiving
Not long ago, you had to pay considerably for a mountain bike you could trust on anything but the smoothest trails. And there were almost zero bikes that cost less than a grand you’d want to take on a big, out-there-adventure ride. But the price of entry is falling and this bike is leading the way. The $899 Growler outperforms bikes twice its price. You get an aluminum frame with trail geometry, a 120mm coil-spring fork, 27.5x2.8-inch WTB Ranger tires, hydraulic brakes, and a Shimano 1x9 drivetrain. It’s everything you need at a price you’ll love.
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—BEST BUDGET FULL SUSPENSION—
Marin Hawk Hill
Hawk Hill 1 Bike
- The best value full suspension bike you can buy.
We loved the Hawk Hill 2 so much we gave it an Editors’ Choice Award in 2018. We couldn’t find a better, more versatile full-suspension bike for the price. This newer (and slightly more expensive) version is even more capable. It gets a one-degree slacker head angle, longer reach, and a dropper post, which is worth every penny of the additional cost. Marin packed this newest model with quality suspension, good parts, and a lively ride. Hit drops, climb mountains, rip downhill; there are few places you can’t go on this bike.
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—BEST WOMEN’S TRAIL 27.5—
Norco Fluid FS2
Fluid FS 2 Women's
- Predictable handling
- Grippy Maxxis 2.6 tires
The Norco Fluid FS 2 is an exciting, responsive, and springy ride that, for the price, is one of the best women’s mountain bikes we’ve tried. It has 120mm of good suspension and feels stable and predictable in the rough stuff. The wide, super-knobby, 2.6-inch wide Maxxis Forekaster tires help here. The aluminum frame has a RockShox Deluxe R shock, and the 130mm-travel RockShox Sektor RL fork gives you a bit more give and bounce in the front to pop up and over bigger rocks and logs. You also get a a nice SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain, dropper post, and SRAM Level T hydraulic brakes—capable parts that help you build skills or get rowdy.
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Santa Cruz V10 29
V10 Carbon 29 X01
- 29er wheels roll over everything
- A flip chip lets you change chainstay length
The V10 is Santa Cruz’s race-proven gravity machine, and this latest version is built around 29-inch wheels. It features 215mm of the brand’s VPP suspension technology. A flip chip allows riders to increase chainstay length (and wheelbase) by 10mm, and the new bike gets an updated suspension tune with a lower leverage rate. The carbon XO build comes with Fox’s 49 Factory fork, with a DHX2 Factory SLS coil shock, Maxxis Assegai 29x2.5-inch tires, and a 7-speed SRAM X01 DH drivetrain. It’s long, low, and with those big wheels and refined suspension, pretty damn unstoppable.
—BEST ALL-AROUND FATBIKE—
Beargrease Carbon GX Eagle
$3,119.83 (20% off)
- Lightweight frame
- Easy handling
- Dropper post not included
The updated and redesigned Beargrease is a stable, dependable snow-riding machine that comes with rack, pannier, and bag mounts for bikepacking and long-haul racing. The Beargrease is equipped with 4-inch tires but can handle 4.6-, 4.8-, and 5-inch models depending on which fork you choose. Internal sleeved cable routing keeps cables away from the weather and makes maintenance easier. And dropper-post routing lets you set this bike up for technical trails. The drivetrain is 1x specific, which will be familiar to many mountain bikers.
—BEST BUDGET ENDURO—
Sentinel NX Alloy
- Great geometry
- Solid value
- Aluminum version is heavy
Transition’s Sentinel 29er is something special: a mid-travel 29er that rips like an enduro bike. The magic comes from Transition’s Speed Balanced geometry, which pairs a slacker head-tube angle with a reduced offset fork to better balance the rider’s weight between the wheels. There’s also the very capable FSR-style four-bar-link suspension mated to a RockShox Deluxe RT shock that delivers 140mm of trail-hugging, jump-boosting performance. The160mm-travel RockShox Yari RC fork gives this bike a decidedly gravity-friendly stance. While carbon-frame versions are available, this budget-friendly aluminum model gives you nearly all the performance at an excellent price.
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How to Choose and Buy the Best Mountain Bike
by Owen Jesse – updated May 2nd, 2021
Where Do I Start?
Maybe you are buying your first mountain bike, or perhaps you’re in the market for the first time in a long time. Either way, there’s no doubt that the field can be overwhelming and confusing. There are all kinds of technical terms and jargon that may be unfamiliar. Not only that, but cycling is a sport where technology and equipment evolve quickly.
Once you talk to friends or peruse the internet, it’s not uncommon for armchair experts to advise you to spend more, spend less or to aim for simplicity, reliability, longevity. Worry not. The easiest way to approach the purchase of a new mountain bike is to take it step by step.
With the following information, you’ll be better equipped to know how to set a budget, define the style of riding you plan to do – and where you’re going to be doing it.
What Is a Mountain Bike Used For?
Mountain bikes feature knobbly tires and beefy frames, for increased traction and strength in off-road conditions. If you’re looking for a mountain bike, it’s probably because you’ll be riding on unpaved roads, dirt-tracks or trails.
Mountain bikes are too heavy to be practical or efficient for commuting or road-cycling. For a bike that can perform both on and off-road, you might want to look at a ‘hybrid’ bike, or any of the newer ‘do-everything’ bikes, that feature racing-style drop-bars and tires with increased tread.
Maybe you enjoy weekend trails or journeys over mountainous terrain. Perhaps you have your eye on high-speed, fast-paced domination of cross-country trails. It could even be that your sights are set on bombing gnarly descents or conquering dirt jumps. For all these reasons, you’ll need a mountain bike.
Where Will I Ride My Bike?
This is an important question to ask yourself. Are you riding close to home – and if so, what is the terrain like in your local area? If you’ll be restricted to a flatter area, you may be satisfied with less suspension and a narrower range of gears. If your hometown is mountainous, a rugged bike may be a necessity.