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
- Our Trail Mountain Bike Picks
- Trail Mountain Bike Comparison Table
- Trail Mountain Bike Buying Advice
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
|Yeti Cycles SB130 C2 GX||$5,500||Carbon||150mm (front) 130mm (rear)||29 x 2.5/2.3 in.||SRAM GX|
|Ibis Ripmo V2 SLX||$5,199||Carbon||160mm (front) 147mm (rear)||29 x 2.5 in.||Shimano SLX|
|Specialized Turbo Levo||$7,500||Aluminum||160mm (front) 150mm (rear)||29 x 2.6/2.3 in.||Shimano SLX|
|Salsa Timberjack XT 29||$2,099||Aluminum||130mm (front)||29 x 2.6 in.||Shimano XT|
|YT Jeffsy Core 2||$2,799||Aluminum||150mm (front) 150mm (rear)||29 x 2.4 in.||SRAM NX|
|Ibis Ripley Deore||$4,199||Carbon||130mm (front) 120mm (rear)||29 x 2.6 in.||Shimano Deore|
|REI Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1||$599||Aluminum||100mm (front)||27.5 x 2.1 in.||Shimano Tourney|
- Frame Material: Carbon Fiber vs. Aluminum
- Full-Suspension vs. Hardtail
- Wheel Size: 27.5 vs. 29er
- Drivetrain and Gearing
- Electric Mountain Bikes (E-MTB)
- Unisex vs. Women's-Specific Models
- Trail Bike Price Guide
- Buying a Mountain Bike Online
- Consumer-Direct Bikes
- Should I Buy a Used Bike?
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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