From smooth and flowy post-work rides to rough and rowdy all-day backcountry epics, mountain biking can be an exceptionally fulfilling sport. But rapidly changing technology and the sheer number of available models makes choosing the best ride for your needs a daunting task. Below we break down our top picks for 2019, which include everything from budget-oriented hardtails to fast and fun full-suspension trail bikes and high-end carbon race rigs. For background information to get you started, check out our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. And for those sticking to set budgets, see our articles on the best mountain bikes under $1,000 and under $2,000.
Suspension: 130mm (front), 120mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Great balance of suspension travel, modern geometry, quality materials and components, and a competitive price.
What we don’t: Those tackling rowdy descents will likely want a little more bike.
While we readily admit that the term “quiver killer” is overused, we can’t help but think Ibis made just that with the new Ripley. Released mid-way through 2019 as a 2020 model, the fourth-generation trail bike hits a sweet spot for most riders. Its balanced, fully modern geometry, 29-inch wheels, and suspension travel (130mm front and 120mm rear) are ideal for moderately techy terrain. And 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 NX Eagle model easily undercutting competitors from Specialized and Santa Cruz at just over $4,000.
Where does the Ibis fall short? To start, 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 budget. If you fall into that camp, we recommend looking at Giant’s Stance 29 1 ($1,800) below, which sports similar amounts of suspension travel but comes in considerably less. Additionally, those who prioritize rough and rowdy descents over all-around versatility will likely find the Ripley a little under-gunned. We’d steer you instead to the enduro-focused Megatower below or the Ripley’s big brother, the Ripmo. All that said, Ibis’s latest effort is a fun and capable steed that excels in just about every environment.
See the Ibis Ripley NX Eagle
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike
Tires: 27.5 x 2.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 11
What we like: Strong performer for everything from after-work singletrack rides to remote bikepacking adventures.
What we don’t: We’d prefer a 12-speed drivetrain with this mid-range version.
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 as of late. Their Timberjack SLX hardtail is a great case in point with its well-thought-out spec package and adaptable design. The bike’s 2.8-inch plus tires and highly adjustable 130-millimeter RockShox Recon RL fork provide more than enough cushion for rocky and rooty descents (by hardtail standards). And the slack head tube angle (67 degrees) 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.
At $1,400, the Salsa is a good value for what you get, but there are a number of strong competitors. Take the Trek Roscoe 8 below, for example. Priced at $140 more, you get a significant drivetrain upgrade with SRAM’s latest 12-speed NX Eagle (the Salsa has a Shimano SLX 1 x 11). Should this feature be your main priority, the Trek gets the advantage. However, the Timberjack is more capable in technical terrain with more suspension travel and upgraded fork and brakes. Tack on the aforementioned bikepacking-specific features and a great price, and we think the Timberjack SLX 27.5+ is currently the best hardtail on the market... Read in-depth review
See the Salsa Timberjack SLX 27.5+
Best Budget Mountain Bike
Tires: 27.5 x 2.1 in.
Gears: 3 x 8
What we like: Budget-friendly price but includes nice upgrades like hydraulic disc brakes.
What we don’t: Not as trail-worthy as other hardtails on the list; slightly dated design and looks.
Sub-$500 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 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. If you’re looking for something much more trail-worthy but are hoping to stay under $1,000, check out the Kona Mahuna below. The Kona’s updated geometry, wider tires, and better overall spec package give it a notable boost in performance. That being said, the DRT 1.1 is half the price and a great option for most recreational or first-time riders.
See the Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 See the Women's Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1
Best Enduro Mountain Bike
Suspension: 160mm (front), 160mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.5 in. (front), 2.4 in. (rear)
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: It’s a big-wheeled beast with a fantastic rear suspension that soaks up bumps.
What we don’t: Very expensive and overkill for mellow trails.
How could we not have a Santa Cruz bike towards the top of our rankings? The California-based company is one of the most popular brands on the West Coast and is often seen under the fastest enduro racers in the region. We like the Santa Cruz Megatower Carbon CC X01 Eagle for its lightweight and meticulously built carbon frame, superb rear suspension design, big and grippy Maxxis Minion tires, and flawless SRAM Eagle X01 12-speed drivetrain. Furthermore, the well-regarded 160-millimeter travel Fox 36 fork will easily handle anything you can throw at it, and the newly released RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock provides great small-bump compliance and big-hit reliability. If it’s not already clear, we’re really excited about the new long-travel 29er from Santa Cruz, and highly recommend it for enduro racing and general charging on the downhills.
If you’re considering a Santa Cruz bike, there are two important things to know. First, they are among the most expensive in the industry. Second, you absolutely get what you pay for: they make some of the more well-thought-out and beautifully crafted frames around (plus they come with a great warranty). Another concern specific to the Megatower is that it's overkill on mellow terrain. Riders wanting an all-mountain rig that’s a little more versatile should check out the Ibis Ripmo. At $4,199, it undercuts the least expensive Megatower by $300 and its 145 millimeters of rear suspension travel (compared to the Megatower’s 160mm) will be more efficient on smooth trails or long days on the bike.
See the Santa Cruz Megatower Carbon
Best Fat Bike
Category: Fat bike
Tires: 26 x 4.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 10
What we like: Great flotation in snow; quality components at an excellent value.
What we don’t: Pricier alternatives like the Salsa Beargrease are much lighter and faster.
Kona may not get quite as much attention as Salsa or Surly in the world of fat bikes, but we think their Wo is a standout. Here’s why: its updated frame (for 2019) has modern geometry and features, it sports a smart spec build with top-quality parts from Shimano and Race Face, and we think Kona nailed the styling. To top it off, the $1,599 Wo easily undercuts popular alternatives like the Salsa Mukluk Deore 1x ($1,899) and Surly Ice Cream Truck ($2,000) while giving up little—if anything at all—in ride performance and components. All told, for an everyday fat bike, the Wo delivers a near-ideal balance of capabilities and price.
Where the Kona Wo falls short is for riders looking to toe the snowy race line or simply drop some weight. Models like the Salsa Beargrease or Borealis Crestone utilize full carbon frames and forks, which shave a significant 5 to 7 pounds compared with the Kona. And the 27.5 x 4-inch tires on the Beargrease (the Wo has 26 x 4.8-in. tires) provide similar amounts of floatation on soft snow yet roll faster on dirt. But unless you’re in the minority that needs a high-performance fat bike (most serve as winter-time cruisers), the Kona is our top choice as a fun, value-packed addition to the bike quiver.
See the Kona Wo
Best Electric Mountain Bike
Suspension: 150mm (front), 150mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in.
Gears: 1 x 11
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 has been updated for 2019 with a host of improvements that set it apart: its platform is based on the excellent Stumpjumper full-suspension bike, its motor has been slimmed down in both size and weight, and the new 500Wh lithium-ion battery sees a substantial 40-percent increase in capacity. 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 should be at the top of your list.
Currently, the biggest barrier to an e-mountain bike of any kind is price. Even packing an aluminum frame, the Turbo Levo Comp here is nearly $6,000 (carbon models start at $6,950). 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. Finally, land managers and law makers are still trying to figure out where e-bikes fit into outdoor recreation. Regulations vary by state and riding area, but oftentimes they are technically not legal to ride on singletrack trails.
See the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp See the Women's Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
Best of the Rest
Suspension: 160mm (front), 150mm (rear)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.6 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Proven all-mountain design with enough travel to take on all but the gnarliest downhill trails.
What we don’t: At about 32 pounds, it’s a bit on the heavy side.
The Remedy name has been a staple in Trek’s mountain bike lineup for over a decade. From the current offerings, which reach as high as $7,350 for the carbon-everything “9.9,” we can’t help but prefer the price-conscious “7.” It’s a real bruiser packing a durable aluminum frame and all-mountain-ready suspension (160mm front and 150mm rear travel). Moreover, we give kudos to Trek for equipping it with the reliable and proven RockShox Yari RC fork. The budget-friendly Yari shares the same chassis as one of our favorite models—the high-end Lyrik—and is about as stout and consistent as they come. So, while the Remedy certainty isn’t light at 32 pounds, it’s one of the more capable mountain bikes at its $3,450 price point.
The Remedy was in the running for our top overall spot above, but it fell a little short of the Ibis in a few key performance areas. The Ripley’s shorter travel frame and fork (130mm front and 120mm rear) is more efficient on the climbs yet its larger-diameter 29-inch wheels can still tackle all but the most technical descents. And the Ibis comes with a lighter and more responsive carbon frame without a major price hit. Having said that, if your riding leans more towards the all-mountain/enduro end of the spectrum and you need a little more travel, the Remedy makes a great one-bike quiver. And should you be looking to shed a little weight, the carbon Remedy 9.7 trims away 2 pounds but comes in a bit more at $4,199.
See the Trek Remedy 7
Suspension: 130mm (front), 120mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.35 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Awesome feature set for under $2,000.
What we don’t: Serious riders will want a more refined suspension and fewer house-brand parts.
There’s a lot to like about the recently announced Stance 29 1 from Giant. To start, it features a freshly redesigned aluminum frame with up-to-date geometry. Plus, its 130-millimeter front and 120-millimeter rear suspension and trail-oriented build line up well with progressing intermediate riders (the kind of person that’s often shopping in this price range). And as we’ve come to expect from Giant, there’s big-time value in the Stance: you get SRAM’s latest SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, wide Maxxis Forekaster rubber, and a dropper seat post. All told, for the price of a solid mid-range hardtail, Giant has managed to piece together a trail-worthy and capable full-suspension steed.
While the 2020 Stance 29 1 sets a new standard for sub-$2,000 full-suspension mountain bikes, it still comes with its fair share of compromises. The simple, single-pivot suspension and RockShox front fork and rear shock fall on the entry-level end of the spectrum, which means the bike can get out of sorts when ridden aggressively. Further, cheap parts add weight, so the bike doesn’t have as snappy of a feel as you’d expect considering the moderate level of suspension travel. And finally, the widespread use of in-house parts, including the Giant Contact dropper post, has us concerned about long-term performance. But if you’re on a strict budget and want a current, full-suspension ride, we recommend checking out the Stance.
See the Giant Stance 29 1 See the Women's Liv Embolden 1
Suspension: 130mm (front), 120mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.3 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Great-performing and highly versatile trail bike.
What we don’t: Pricier than competitors like the Ibis Ripley above.
Easily one of the most recognizable names in mountain biking, Specialized updated their legendary Stumpjumper for 2019. Our current favorite variation is the Comp Carbon 29 ST: its 29-inch wheels and progressive-yet-not-too-extreme geometry makes it a competent and fully capable handler. We also like the sleek carbon frame, which features a neat storage area (dubbed SWAT) in the downtube for carrying a spare tube, tools, and trailside snacks. In terms of components, it’s hard to argue with the SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and Fox-brand suspension. The wide 12-speed gear range will let you happily spin to the top of climbs and the reliable Fox 34 fork (130mm travel) is more than enough to tackle most descents.
With a staggering total of 27 models available at the time of publishing, one of the best parts of the Specialized Stumpjumper lineup is the wide range of choices. The “ST” (short travel) version here is great for those riding slightly less technical terrain, but Specialized also offers their standard model that bumps the travel up to 150 millimeters in front and 140 millimeters in the rear. Additionally, the “EVO” is a super long and slack version that’s built to comfortably tackle the steeps. And if smaller wheels are more your thing, they also have 27.5-inch-wheeled variations. Starting at $1,870 and reaching nearly $10,000, there’s a Stumpjumper for just about every budget or skill level.
See the Specialized Stumpjumper ST See the Women's Specialized Stumpjumper ST
Tires: 27.5 x 2.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: One of the least expensive plus hardtails to feature a 12-speed drivetrain.
What we don’t: Heavy and isn’t as versatile as the Timberjack SLX above.
If your must-have list includes a quality hardtail, modern drivetrain, and reasonable price, we recommend the Trek Roscoe 8. As the top option in the Roscoe collection, the “8” comes with SRAM’s prized NX Eagle—and its all-important 50-tooth “granny gear” for saving energy on long climbs—at a price that undercuts most competitors by hundreds of dollars. The rest of the Roscoe 8 is what you’d expect on a mid-range hardtail: middle-tier RockShox suspension fork with 120 millimeters of travel, 27.5+ tires, and fairly modern geometry. You also get a dropper post, and the MT200 Shimano stoppers have proven to be quite reliable.
Why do we have the Roscoe ranked below Salsa’s Timerjack? Simply put, it lacks the Salsa’s versatility. The Timberjack includes a bit of an upgrade to the fork and brakes, three water bottle mounts to the Trek’s one, and Salsa’s unique Alternator Dropouts that allow for an internally geared hub or single-speed set-ups. Moreover, the Timberjack is about a pound lighter and costs $140 less. While the Roscoe 8 has the edge when it comes to gear range—the comparable Timberjack comes with an 11-speed drivetrain—it falls short of the Salsa in most other ways.
See the Trek Roscoe 8 See the Women's Trek Roscoe 8
Suspension: 150mm (front), 130mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.3 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Premium construction, aggressive geometry, and top-end performance.
What we don’t: Not a great value compared to most others on the list.
The fact that Yeti’s SB130 flagship trail bike is this far down the list goes to show how competitive the market has become. We love the SB130’s sleek and lightweight carbon frame, and its geometry is one of the more progressive options out there. Sporting 150-millimeters front and 130-millimeters rear travel with a relatively steep seat tube (77 degrees) and slack head tube (65.5 degrees), the new bike from Yeti is extremely composed both up and down technical trails. It’s also impeccably built and easily one of the best-looking bikes around, sporting Yeti’s famous turquoise-colored frame.
What pushes the Yeti to a mid-pack finish is value. The low end of the SB130 line starts at $5,199 and quickly goes up from there. For comparison’s sake, an Ibis Ripley with the same drivetrain costs $300 less and gives up only a little in the suspension department. Another very similar bike to have on your radar is Evil’s The Offering, which shares the Yeti’s aggressive geometry, 29-inch wheels, and do-everything suspension. The Evil is just as spendy, however, starting at $5,799.
See the Yeti SB130
Tires: 29 x 2.25 in.
Gears: 1 x 10
What we like: One of the few singletrack-worthy hardtails at this price point.
What we don’t: Inexperienced riders may wish for more gears; not as capable as the Cannondale Cujo 2 below on rough trails.
Kona’s Mahuna hardtail is proof that inexpensive bikes don’t have to be boring. It’s the current top-rated model in our article on mountain bikes under $1,000 thanks to a proven 1 x 10 Shimano drivetrain, relatively wide and aggressive (for this segment) 29 x 2.25-inch WTB tires, and balanced yet fun geometry. While it won’t be able to match any of the full-suspension bikes in terms of descending ability, the 68-degree head tube angle and 100-millimeter RockShox fork will safely see you down moderate singletrack. The Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 listed above may take the cake when it comes to price, but the Mahuna will walk all over it once the trail gets bumpy and rough.
As mentioned above, hardtails simply can’t keep up with full-suspension rigs over rooty and rocky terrain, and the Mahuna is no different. The Giant Stance 29 1 above gets you a big bump in performance, but the added complexity of the rear linkage brings the cost up to $1,800 (or $1,550 for the entry-level model). Among hardtails, you can find more capable rigs by opting for a mid-fat design like the $1,300 Cannondale Cujo 2 below. Its 2.8-inch tires and additional 20 millimeters of suspension are a big plus for cushioning hard impacts. What those alternatives have in common is a higher price tag, and among bikes below $1,000, the Mahuna stands alone as our favorite.
See the Kona Mahuna
Suspension: 160mm (front), 150mm (rear)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.5 in. (front), 2.4 in. (rear)
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Fun-loving bike that enjoys being pointed down rough and steep trails.
What we don’t: As with the Megatower above, you pay a premium for the brand.
Don’t let the location of the Bronson Carbon S on the list fool you—the new bike from Santa Cruz is an absolute treat. We spent the better part of four months thrashing it around the Pacific Northwest and came away thoroughly impressed by its updated rear suspension design and attention to details. The Bronson gobbled up technical trails, and it sports thoughtful frame features like a built-in shuttle guard protector on the downtube and a little mud guard on the rear shock. While the Remedy 7 above is probably the better all-around choice due to its less aggressive geometry and cheaper price, the Bronson gets the clear nod when it’s time to go downhill.
For a women-specific alternative, we recommend taking a look at Santa Cruz’s sister brand, Juliana Bikes. While their lineup is more condensed (four bikes total), Juliana takes everything we love about Santa Cruz and orients them towards lady riders (the Bronson equivalent is the Juliana Roubion). Expect to find softer suspension tunes for lighter riders, narrower bars, and other women’s-specific components. For downsides, as with the Megatower above, Santa Cruz and Juliana both fall short in value. Pitting it against a bike like the Ibis Ripley NX at the top of our list, you’re looking at over a $1,000 difference when similarly equipped. Having said that, the Bronson and Roubion are superior performers on the downhill, and their high-quality builds and phenomenal suspension performance are hard to fault... Read in-depth review
See the Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon S See the Women's Juliana Roubion Carbon S
Suspension: 150mm (front), 150mm (rear)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.5 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Awesome price considering the spec package and capabilities.
What we don’t: Consumer-direct customer support can be lacking.
In sharp contrast to the Santa Cruz above, YT Industries has built its popularity around offering serious value. The German-based company is the best-known direct-to-consumer brand that forgoes the middleman (local bikes shops) and allows shoppers to purchase directly from their website. We like their entry-level Jeffsy 27.5 AL Base model listed here: the parts used are more than adequate for most riders and it comes in hundreds (if not thousands) less than competitors. You get SRAM’s NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, quality Fox Suspension components front and rear, a DT Swiss wheelset, and top-performing Maxxis Minion tires. While it can’t match the carbon-framed Bronson above in terms of craftsmanship or descending abilities, the Jeffsy AL Base costs less than half of the Santa Cruz at $2,399.
Why has the Jeffsy AL Base landed towards the bottom of the list? To start, buying from a consumer-direct company can come with its own set of challenges. Inventory is hit-or-miss, we’ve heard 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 over the above inconveniences, the YT is an enticing proposition.
See the YT Industries Jeffsy 27.5 AL Base
Tires: 27.5 x 2.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 11
What we like: Quality components at a reasonable cost.
What we don’t: Not as strong of an all-around performer as the Roscoe or Timberjack above.
Cannondale may be better known for their top-of-the-line road and mountain bikes, but their entry-level Cujo 2 27.5+ hardtail is worth a serious look. We like the Cujo for its quality components—the RockShox Judy fork and Shimano SLX drivetrain are highlights—and its low price tag. As with the Salsa Timberjack and Trek Roscoe above, its 2.8-inch plus tires create a supple ride over chattery singletrack and provide almost endless amounts of traction on off-camber roots and through sandy corners. And the Cujo 2 is the cheapest of the bunch at $1,300.
To continue the Timberjack and Roscoe comparison, the Cujo hits a nice middle ground. You get the same Shimano SLX drivetrain as the Timberjack at a $100 savings, a comfortable riding position, and the kind of top-notch aluminum frame you expect from the Connecticut brand. But where the Cujo starts losing ground is in some of the finer details. It has worse brakes and less suspension travel compared with the Timberjack (equal to the Roscoe), a smaller gear range than the Roscoe, and you don’t get the same clean internal cable routing of either competitor. Among mid-fat hardtails, it’s undeniably a great value, but the Salsa and Trek have higher performance thresholds.
See the Cannondale Cujo 2
Suspension: 150mm (front), 140mm (rear)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.5 in. (front), 2.4 in. (rear)
Gears: 1 x 10
What we like: One of the least expensive full-suspension bikes that we feel good about recommending.
What we don’t: Fairly small gear range by modern standards.
All-mountain full-suspension bikes typically come with big price tags, but Giant’s Trance 3 is a notable exception. This bike serves as a great canvas for future upgrades with a sturdy aluminum frame, plenty of suspension travel (150mm front and 140mm rear), and starter-worthy but still reliable Shimano brakes and drivetrain components (we would like to see more than 10 speeds for undulating trails, however). At $2,000, the Trance 3 costs $200 more than the Stance 29 1 above but is the superior Giant model for bigger hits thanks to its extra 20 millimeters of cushioning.
Similar to the Santa Cruz and Juliana connection mentioned above, Giant also has a dedicated women’s brand: Liv Cycling. The Intrigue 3 is their Trance equivalent, featuring similar components and price. If there was one thing to complain about regarding both Giant and Liv bikes, it would be the reliance on heavy, in-house parts for cost cutting. Like the Stance above, the overall performance and reliability of components like the wheels and dropper post can’t compete with name-brand items that come on pricier alternatives.
See the Giant Trance 3 See the Women's Liv Intrigue 3
Suspension: 130mm (front), 130mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.5 in. (front), 2.3 in. (rear)
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Burly frame and slack head tube angle encourage aggressive riding.
What we don’t: Very heavy at 33.5 pounds and the rear shock is disappointing.
Cannondale has lost some ground lately among discerning riders, but they’re making a serious push with the new Habit. For 2019, the bike sees a host of updates that make it virtually unrecognizable from the old model. It now rolls on 29-inch wheels, features a relatively aggressive head tube angle (66 degrees), and gains some serious confidence on the descents. We spent a number of months riding the Habit on our local trails and liked its burly build and ability to carry speed–we had no issues throwing the bike around on rough and rowdy trails.
That said, a number of downsides with the Habit also emerged. At 33.5 pounds, the bike is very heavy considering its relatively small amount of suspension travel (130mm front and rear). We also found it to be out of its comfort zone on very steep trails, as we continually felt like we were being bucked forward. Finally, we had issues with the rebound tune on the rear shock and came close to maxing out the adjustment range in the end. Overall, we think it’s a very positive step in the right direction for Cannondale, but it doesn’t quite stack up to the Specialized Stumpjumper ST in ride experience or the Jeffsy AL Base in value... Read in-depth review
See the Cannondale Habit 4
Suspension: 140mm (front), 140mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.5 in. (front), 27.5 x 2.8 in. (rear)
Gears: 1 x 11
What we like: Proven and reliable Shimano STEPS motor.
What we don’t: Not as polished of a design as the Specialized above.
A second e-mountain bike to make our list is Ghost’s Hybride SLAMR S1.7+. While it’s certainly not a looker—Specialized has done a far better job integrating their battery and motor into the frame—the Ghost has a number of redeeming qualities. For starters, it features Shimano’s class-leading STEPS motor, which is one of the most reliable in the business and provides a nearly seamless ride experience. We also like the mixed-wheel-size concept: it includes a 27.5 x 2.8-inch tire in the rear (for added traction) and a 29 x 2.5-inch tire in the front (for increased rollover capabilities). Finally, the majority of the components on the bike are of high quality and well-regarded in the mountain bike world.
Another thing to consider with the Ghost bike is that it’s sold exclusively at REI, which comes with a number of benefits. For one, if you’re a member and buy it at full price, you’re looking at a substantial dividend (10 percent back on full-priced items). Plus, you get the security of REI’s warranty, and the outdoor giant has recently invested heavily into their e-bike mechanic training. It’s true that the Ghost can’t match the value of the recently released YT Industries Decoy or the long-standing history of the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp above, but the Hybride SLAMR’s powerful motor and the reassurance of a brick-and-mortar shop for support (provided you live near an REI) make it a strong option.
See the GHOST Hybride SLAMR S1.7+
Tires: 27.5 x 2.3 in.
Gears: 1 x 8
What we like: Relatively inexpensive hardtail that focuses on having fun.
What we don’t: Small gear range is limiting for pedaling up steep terrain.
People no longer associate Diamondback with high-end mountain bikes, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Hook is one of their many designs that prioritizes inexpensive fun above all else—others include the full-suspension Release and mid-fat Mason hardtail. The Hook has surprisingly slack geometry that excels in most types of terrain, and its 120 millimeters of suspension travel beats out most competitors in its price range (100mm is the norm). While most intermediate- and expert-level mountain bikers will definitely find the components lacking, we think it’s a solid build for those looking to get into the sport.
As with any budget-oriented product, there’s a laundry list of potential nitpicks with the Hook. First off, those seeking name-brand, high-performing suspension components and tires should look elsewhere, as the SR Suntour fork and Vee Rubber tires will disappoint. Another issue we have with the bike is the lack of gear options. While the 1x drivetrain certainly simplifies shifting and helps keep weight down, the limited 8-speed range will likely leave you pushing the bike up steep hills. Our top budget pick above, the Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1, sees an improvement in most component choices yet manages to undercut the Hook by $200. It’s true the Diamondback has more progressive geometry, but we’d rather put our money into reliable parts at this price point.
See the Diamondback Hook
|Ibis Ripley NX Eagle||$4,099||Trail||130mm (front) 120mm (rear)||29 x 2.6 in.||1 x 12|
|Salsa Timberjack SLX 27.5+||$1,400||Trail/XC||130mm (front)||27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 11|
|Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1||$499||XC||100mm (front)||27.5 x 2.1 in.||3 x 8|
|Santa Cruz Megatower Carbon||$7,199||Enduro||160mm (front) 160mm (rear)||29 x 2.5/2.4 in.||1 x 12|
|Kona Wo||$1,599||Fat bike||None||26 x 4.8 in.||1 x 10|
|Specialized Turbo Levo Comp||$5,950||E-bike/AM||150mm (front) 150mm (rear)||29 x 2.6 in.||1 x 11|
|Trek Remedy 7||$3,450||All-mountain||160mm (front) 160mm (rear)||27.5 x 2.6 in.||1 x 12|
|Giant Stance 29 1||$1,800||Trail||130mm (front) 120mm (rear)||29 x 2.35 in.||1 x 12|
|Specialized Stumpjumper ST||$4,520||Trail||130mm (front) 120mm (rear)||29 x 2.3 in.||1 x 12|
|Trek Roscoe 8||$1,540||XC/trail||120mm (front)||27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 12|
|Yeti SB130||$5,199||Trail/AM||150mm (front) 130mm (rear)||29 x 2.3 in.||1 x 12|
|Kona Mahuna||$999||XC||100mm (front)||29 x 2.25 in.||1 x 10|
|Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon S||$5,199||AM/enduro||160mm (front) 150mm (rear)||27.5 x 2.5/2.4 in.||1 x 12|
|YT Industries Jeffsy 27.5||$2,399||All-mountain||150mm (front) 150mm (rear)||27.5 x 2.5 in.||1 x 12|
|Cannondale Cujo 2||$1,300||XC/trail||120mm (front)||27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 11|
|Giant Trance 3||$2,000||All-mountain||150mm (front) 140mm (rear)||27.5 x 2.5/2.4 in.||1 x 10|
|Cannondale Habit 4||$3,150||Trail||130mm (front) 130mm (rear)||29 x 2.5/2.3 in.||1 x 12|
|GHOST Hybride SLAMR S1.7+||$5,000||E-bike/trail||140mm (front) 140mm (rear)||29 x 2.5, 27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 11|
|Diamondback Hook||$700||XC/trail||120mm (front)||27.5 x 2.3 in.||1 x 8|
*Editor's Note: "AM" refers to all-mountain bikes.
- Mountain Bike Categories
- Full-Suspension vs. Hardtail
- Wheel Size: 27.5 vs. 29er
- Drivetrain and Gearing
- Mountain Bike Price Guide
- Carbon Fiber vs. Aluminum Frames
- Buying a Mountain Bike Online
- Consumer-Direct Bikes
- Women's-Specific Models
- Should I Buy a Used Bike?
Cross-country bikes, with their limited amount of suspension travel and skinny tires, are made to be ridden on relatively mellow terrain. These types of bikes are light, often lack a rear shock, and prioritize covering ground and uphill performance over tackling technical obstacles or jumps. XC bikes can be found in just about every price point from under $500 for the Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 to premium carbon racing designs costing $5,000+. But all share some basic features: around 80 to 100 millimeters of suspension travel and tires that hover between 2.1 to 2.25 inches in width. A bike like the wallet-friendly Kona Mahuna ($999) is a great example of a modern XC build.
Trail models are a fairly new segment in the world of mountain biking. They bridge the gap between the efficient and lightweight XC bikes above and the more downhill-oriented all-mountain and enduro designs below. Bikes like the Ibis Ripley feature 120 to 140 millimeters of travel and 2.3-inch tires, which are a great match for most modern mountain bike trails. The efficient yet root- and rock-absorbing front and rear suspension is just enough to take the edge off rough trails but it’s not so much that it sucks your energy on the climbs. If we were forced to own just one style of bike, this would most likely be it.
All-Mountain and Enduro
All-mountain and enduro bikes put a strong emphasis on descending, much more so than the trail category above. These high-end full-suspension bikes typically have anywhere from 150 to 170 millimeters of suspension travel and 2.4- to 2.6-inch tires. Their aggressive builds help to smooth out very rough trails and enable the rider to carry more speed down technical sections (a plus for enduro racing). Bikes in this category typically cost $3,000 and up, weigh in around 30 pounds, and are not as comfortable or fast for all-day rides as the XC and trail bikes mentioned above. All in all, if your riding style is heavily focused on descending but you still need to pedal to the top, this type of bike is what we recommend.
Downhill and Park
Downhill and park models have one priority: going downhill. As such, they’re typically quite heavy, come with anywhere from 180 to 200 millimeters of travel (front and rear), include large and grippy 2.5-inch-wide tires, and have very slack head tube angles. This makes them truly excel at places like the Whistler Bike Park where the terrain is extremely rough, steep, and gnarly. Because of their priorities, these types of bikes are all but impossible to pedal comfortably uphill and usually require a car ride or lift to get you to the top of the trail. Those with lift-assisted terrain close by may have a downhiller as their primary ride, but the limited versatility makes it a common secondary bike.
Fat bikes, which are easily identified by their very large and voluminous tires, can effortlessly float over soft trail conditions like sand and snow. This makes them a popular choice for riders looking to extend their season into the winter or adventurous types that want to cover ground in remote areas. It’s also not too uncommon to see fat bikes ridden on standard dirt trails. That being said, fat bikes are quite a bit slower and heavier than the traditional styles above. Some of our favorite fat bikes include the Kona Wo for year-round cruising and Salsa’s carbon Beargrease for more aggressive riding and winter-time racing.
Electric Mountain Bikes
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.
When buying a new mountain bike, one of the most commonly asked questions is: should I buy a hardtail or full-suspension model? There are a number of factors to consider when making this big purchase. Are you on a tight budget? Are you just starting out? Are your local trails smooth and with few obstacles? Then 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 is probably 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 and are a popular choice among XC racers. 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 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 should 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 bikes, with their added rear shock and linkage, are simply too complex to design and build on the cheap. From the list above, the $1,800 Giant Stance 29 1 is about as low as we’d advise going with a full-suspension design. 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.
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 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 are 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. In the past, 29-inch-wheeled bikes were marketed to taller riders. However, in recent years bike companies have made significant progress in 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 Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 above, you’ll find 3 x 7 or 3 x 8 gearing (for a total of 21 or 24 speeds). This gives riders a very wide range of gears and is appropriate for all types of terrain, whether that be steep uphill singletrack or fast-paced gravel paths. The primary downside to all those gears, however, is that they typically weigh quite a lot, especially compared to the components found on higher-end models.
On more expensive bikes like the Santa Cruz Megatower or Ibis Ripley, you should expect to see 1 x 12 drivetrains. This provides a similar gear range as the 3 x 7 systems noted above, but significantly reduces weight. We also find 1x drivetrains much simpler to operate, as there’s only one shifter to manage. Expect to see 1x drivetrains on hardtails over $1,000 and full-suspension bikes over $1,800. It’s also worth noting that some 1x drivetrains offer limited range, which can be a problem for steep climbs. An entry-level bike like the $700 Diamondback Hook comes with a 1 x 8 that makes pedaling uphill quite difficult.
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 it’s typically easy to get a good gauge. To start, weight corresponds with the categories above. XC bikes are typically the lightest, ranging from around 30 pounds for a mid-range design to the low 20s for a race-ready steed. Trail bikes are a bit heavier than XC styles, but their moderate suspension travel makes them lighter than all-mountain and downhill rides (downhill and park are the heaviest among this trio). Finally, e-mountain bikes are on extreme heavy end of the spectrum—their batteries and complex motors push them near 50 pounds.
Taking this a step further, weight does vary a fair amount within the bike categories listed above. And in general, pounds drop as the quality of the materials and price go up. As an example, Co-op Cycles offers three aluminum hardtails: the $499 DRT 1.1 is 32 pounds 12.5 ounces, the $899 DRT 1.2 is 31 pounds 12.6 ounces, and the $1,149 DRT 1.3 is 29 pounds 2.7 ounces. 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. Taking a look at Trek’s full-suspension Remedy line, the aluminum Remedy 7 ($3,450) weighs 2 pounds more than the similarly equipped carbon fiber Remedy 9.7 ($4,199). 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.
One of the first questions you should ask yourself when purchasing a 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 should you spend on a mountain bike—but here is where things stand for 2019.
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 budget bike listed above, the Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1, ticks all these boxes and comes in at a reasonable $499.
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 3 ($2,000) 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 mountain bikes. At the lower end, you’ll find full-suspension aluminum bikes with fully modern parts and geometry. 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 Santa Cruz’s new Megatower. Their top-of-the-line version has carbon everything, and then adds in wireless shifting for good measure. The price: $10,499. While certainly outlandish, we can’t help but appreciate the crème de la crème of mountain 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.
While the majority of mountain bikes out on the trail today are still made out of aluminum, carbon fiber is becoming increasingly common. What’s driving its growing popularity? The main advantages are less weight—anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds 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, that’s a pretty convincing list of 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 extra cash may be better spent on a visit to Whistler instead.
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 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 in-seam 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 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 29 AL Base ($2,399) comes in about $1,000 less than a similarly equipped Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Alloy 29 ($3,320). 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.
For years, many women’s-specific mountain bikes were simply shrunken-down versions of men’s (or unisex) models in different colorways. And while that’s still true in some cases, many quality brands have moved beyond this lazy “shrink it and pink it” methodology. You’ll see women’s-specific designs with retuned suspensions, handlebars that are narrower with smaller-diameter grips, and reshaped frames (not just shrunken down). There are also dedicated women’s 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.
The 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. 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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