Mountain biking can be a very expensive sport: there are hundreds of excellent bikes available for $4,000 to $6,000, and those aren’t even at the highest end of the price spectrum. Fortunately for those of us not ready to spend so much on something without a motor, there are plenty of great bikes for under or around $2,000. And the good news is that much of the technology that has pushed the sport year over year has trickled down into this category. Below are our picks for 2020, which range from lightweight XC hardtails to all-mountain-ready full-suspension rigs. For more background information, check out our comparison table and buying advice found below the picks. And for those sticking to a stricter budget, see our article on the best mountain bikes under $1,000.
Suspension: 130mm (front) 120mm (rear)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.35 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Fantastic price for a well-made, fun, and capable bike.
What we don’t: You may want to upgrade the brakes.
It can be a real mixed bag in quality and performance for full-suspension bikes under $2,000, but Marin has a real winner in the Hawk Hill line. Their mid-range model, the “2,” nails all the right features with a sturdy and high-quality aluminum frame, modern geometry that’s slack enough for capable descending but comfortable on the climbs, and a 12-speed SRAM SX drivetrain with a wide range. Plus, they’ve managed to include a TranzX dropper post and tubeless-ready tires and wheels. At $1,850, the Hawk Hill 2 adds up to a fantastic value.
With 120 millimeters of rear travel and 130 millimeters up front, the Hawk Hill is well-suited for anything from longer cross-country rides and flow trails to moderately technical downhills. It’s true that a hardtail at the same price will be sprightlier and faster on a long climb, but the Hawk Hill doesn’t give up much and is far more planted over rocks and roots. If we are to nitpick, we’d like to see stronger brakes to match the otherwise impressive capabilities of the bike. That’s something to have in mind for a future upgrade, but otherwise the Hawk Hill is ready to roll out of the box and our favorite budget full-suspension rig for 2020.
See the Marin Hawk Hill 2
Suspension: 130mm (front)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: The most capable and well-equipped hardtail on our list.
What we don’t: Pricey and it still can’t match the Marin above in descending prowess.
At just under $2,000, the Salsa Timberjack XT is the most expensive hardtail to make our list, but it packs a serious punch. The Timberjack is the only bike here to feature Shimano’s new XT 12-speed drivetrain, which offers an upgrade in refinement and shifting speed compared to the SRAM SX set-up you typically find for the price. Further, Salsa has packed it with quality parts like a RockShox Sektor air fork and Shimano MT501 brakes—both noticeable improvements from the components on the Marin above—and burly 29 x 2.6-inch tires that are a nice pairing for aggressive riding and technical trails. And as with many Salsa designs, it’s set up to be easily converted for bikepacking.
The Timberjack’s quality components and comfortable riding position are great for trail use and let you get a little rowdy, but all-mountain riders will be left wanting. The 130-millimeter hardtail design just can’t keep up on downhill sections with the Marin above, no matter how hard you try. Should descending rough trails at speed be in your future, we think the Marin above or Ghost below are better long-term investments. But if you want a well-equipped hardtail with no glaring needs for any upgrades in the near future, the Timberjack is a great option... Read in-depth review
See the Salsa Timberjack XT 29
Suspension: 120mm (front)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Great price + quality components = solid value.
What we don’t: Aggressive riders will find the Cujo lacking.
At first glance, you may find yourself wondering how a bike that comes in well under our price threshold managed to nab our #3 spot. But Cannondale’s Cujo impressed us from a value standpoint with smart component choices and just enough cush from its “plus” tires. On the trail, the Cujo is thoroughly modern and pretty quick—2.8-inch tires smooth out small bumps while providing a surprising amount of traction. In addition, you get the same 1 x 12 SRAM SX drivetrain and TransX dropper as our top pick. And as with many Cannondale bikes, the Cujo 2 features a high-quality aluminum frame with a lifetime warranty.
Unsurprisingly, the Cujo 2’s affordable price tag comes with a few compromises. When held up against the competition, the RockShox Judy Silver fork doesn’t feel as plush, the entry-level Shimano hydraulic disc brakes don’t offer as much bite, and the WTB Ranger tires prioritize fast rolling over all-out grip. If you’re looking for a hardtail to ride aggressively downhill, this isn’t the one. Upgrading to the premium Salsa Timberjack above addresses most of these issues, but you’ll face a hefty $649 increase in price. For the budget shopper willing to put up with a few small shortcomings, we think Cannondale’s Cujo 2 makes for a great first mountain bike that will last.
See the Cannondale Cujo 2 27.5+
Suspension: 130mm (front) 130mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.5 in. (front) 2.4 (rear)
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: One of the more capable full-suspension bikes for its price.
What we don’t: 29er wheels and burly tires increase weight.
Based in Germany, Ghost made the move over the U.S. market a few years ago and is sold exclusively through REI. Overall, we’ve found the brand doesn’t stand out among high-end options, but it excels in the mid-range with bikes like the Slamr 2.9. This full-suspension build offers 130 millimeters of squish all around, SRAM’s now-ubiquitous SX shifters, crank, and derailleur, and balanced geometry. And as an indication of its more serious intentions, you get Maxxis’s all-mountain-ready and very desirable tire combo of a Minion DHF (front) and DHR II (rear). Like the Marin above, the Ghost is perfectly ready to hit some pretty rough trails straight away.
What keeps the Slamr from taking our top spot? At the $2,000 price point, you are dealing with heavier materials, and its 29-inch wheels add weight and take away a little of its fun factor (the 27.5s on the Marin above are lighter and more flickable). In addition, the aforementioned Maxxis rubber is on the wide end at 2.5 in the front and 2.4 in the rear, which impacts climbing efficiency. In the end, the Slamr is a bit more capable than the Hawk Hill but less playful, which is why we drop it slightly down our list.
See the Ghost Slamr 2.9 29"
Suspension: 120mm (front)
Tires: 29 x 2.3 in. (front) 2.35 in. (rear)
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Fun on the descents (for a hardtail).
What we don’t: Not a great value.
Santa Cruz’s entry-level bike, the Chameleon, is as fast and capable of a hardtail as you will find on this list. And the componentry isn’t half bad either—you get a user-friendly RockShox Recon front fork that’s a strong performer in the trail/all-mountain field, and SRAM’s proven 1 x 12 drivetrain that’s equally adept at long climbs or rolling XC trails. There’s nothing breakthrough in the design of the Chameleon—and the derailleur and shifter are a slight step down for what you’d expect for the price—but it’s a proven build that’s good, honest fun.
Who should opt for the Santa Cruz Chameleon? Its strong performance and simple set-up and maintenance make it a great choice for serious riders needing a winter steed (hardtails are easier to clean and keep functioning in wet environments). Furthermore, the comfortable feel and 28-pound weight make it a fine choice for covering serious miles. Uber-aggressive riders will want to stick with a full-suspension bike like the Ghost Slamr above, but hardtail fans will love the capabilities of the Chameleon. If you’re pinching pennies, the Cujo 2 is a better value, but there’s no denying the overall design and solid performance of the Santa Cruz.
See the Santa Cruz Chameleon D
Suspension: 150mm (front), 130mm (rear)
Tires: 29 x 2.35 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Great price for a very capable descender.
What we don’t: Heavy and no dropper seat post included.
The majority of bikes under $2,000 fall on the cross-country and light trail end of the spectrum, but Commencal’s Meta TR is a seriously capable descender. With a slack 66.5-degree head angle, 150-millimeter fork up front, and 130 millimeters of rear cushioning, the bike plows through moderately rocky and steep terrain. And it’s not half bad on the uphill either with a wide gear range (the same SX drivetrain as the Hawk Hill above) and a fairly steep seat tube that puts you in a good climbing position. Tack on quality suspension components from RockShox, and you have a bike that’s ready to rip straight out of the box.
Tipping the scales at over 35 pounds, the Meta TR is most likely the heaviest design on this list (not all manufacturers report weight). And combined with its large 29-inch wheels, the bike prefers a slow and steady clip while climbing and doesn’t spring forward as eagerly as a lighter and nimbler alternative when you put the power down. You also don’t get a dropper post with this entry-level model (the upgraded $2,599 “Ride” version has one). As such, you’ll likely go over the $2,000 threshold before you hit the trail. But for those that prioritize downhill performance, the Meta TR should be on your short list.
See the Commencal Meta TR 29 Origin
Suspension: 100mm (front)
Tires: 29 x 2.2 in. (27.5 in. on smaller frames)
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Fast and efficient for long pedals; IsoSpeed functions as a minimalist rear suspension.
What we don’t: It’s most comfortable on pretty tame terrain.
The bikes above trend towards the more capable, trail riding end of the spectrum, but if you’re more inclined for long cross-country epics, we recommend Trek’s Procaliber. This bike has a strong racing lineage and packs fun tech like the brand’s IsoSpeed rear decoupler. This unique feature is shared with their gravel bike line, functioning like a minimalist rear suspension to take some of the sting out of harsh impacts. In addition, the Procaliber is one of the lightest on this list, which helps with pedaling efficiency and all-around speed on flat or uphill terrain. Sneaking just under $2,000, it’s a great starter XC race bike or a nice option for longer, less demanding trail days.
When the going gets rough, however, the Procaliber comes up short. Its more limited suspension travel (100mm front), narrower tires (2.2 in. wide), and upright riding position give it a sketchy personality on steeper trails filled with rocks and roots. As a result, we consider the Procaliber less versatile than the picks above and harder to justify in a one-bike quiver. But if you’re craving a lightweight build for covering serious miles and are willing to give up a little in downhill capabilities, the Procaliber is a proven choice.
See the Trek Procaliber 6
Suspension: 130mm (front)
Tires: 29 x 2.6 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Good looks and confidence-inspiring on the trail.
What we don’t: Not a standout value.
Specialized’s Fuse is the popular brand’s answer to the growing category of capable hardtails. Made in both 27.5+ and 29er wheel sizes, we like the Comp 29 model best. It offers great rollover with the big tires and wheels, has a strong frame and isn’t noodly in the rough stuff with front and rear thru-axles, and is backed by Specialized’s excellent lifetime frame warranty. It doesn’t hurt that the Comp has great looks with its aggressive stance, clean lines, and premium-quality welds.
How does the Fuse Comp 29 stack up with the Salsa Timberjack above? Both have 29 x 2.6-inch tires with pretty aggressive treads and sturdy frames, although the Fuse has a bit of a slacker head tube angle. This translates to a little more comfort in the steeps, although neither can match the capabilities of a full-suspension rig. On the other hand, the Timberjack is more versatile and can pull double-duty for bikepacking. But the clincher is value: you’ll need to spend $150 more on the premium Fuse Expert ($2,150) to match the quality of the components that come with the Timberjack XT.
See the Specialized Fuse Comp 29
Suspension: 120mm or 140mm (front)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: REI’s excellent warranty and upgraded components like the NX drivetrain.
What we don’t: Fun factor can’t match the top picks.
REI’s in-house brand of bikes isn’t always at the forefront of modern design, but they consistently offer a lot of bang for your buck. Their hardtail DRT line is wide-ranging, including everything from the budget-oriented $549 DRT 1.1 to the $1,799 DRT 2.2 here. What you get with their top-end version is a nice collection of reliable components: the NX drivetrain is a step up from the SX builds that are common at this price, the brakes are mid-range hydraulic units from Shimano, and thru-axles are included for increased stiffness. With 120 millimeters on tap (140mm with size medium frames and up) and fast-rolling tires, the DRT is well-suited for mixed cross-country and light all-mountain riding.
As mentioned above, Co-op Cycles typically takes a conservative approach to design, and the DRT 2.2 is no different. It’s not particularly slack and won’t be the most fun on a techy descent, but the bike is comfortable and pedals pretty darn well. The DRT’s average all-around performance pushes it down our list a little, but we still think this bike will make a lot of folks happy. And with nationwide access to REI stores and bike shops, it also comes with an extra degree of security in case of any issues.
See the Co-op Cycles DRT 2.2
Suspension: 120mm (front) 120mm (rear)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.35 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Great price for a full-suspension bike.
What we don’t: Harder to trust on rough trails; no dropper post included.
We rarely recommend a full-suspension bike at such a low price-point—they’re typically too compromised in design and components—but the Stance 2 earns a spot on this list as a decently capable rig. Outfitted with a 120-millimeter entry-level Suntour fork and shock along with Maxxis tires, the Stance is smooth on the trail. And while its geometry could be seen by some as a bit dated and won’t feel super confident on steep descents, the cushioned ride is a nice consolation on more mellow terrain.
As expected, the Stance’s components are a step down from the more expensive full-suspension models here, but there are some nice touches like the SRAM SX drivetrain. We’re less excited about the lack of a dropper post, which is a worthy upgrade that will tack on about $200 to your investment. Further, the quick-release axles are a notable compromise and negatively impact rigidity and all-around capabilities in the rough stuff. In the end, we think you’re better off with a hardtail at this price or spending up to the Marin above. That said, the Stance will do the trick as an entry-level full-suspension ride.
See the Giant Stance 2
11. Kona Wo ($1,599)
Category: Fat bike
Tires: 26 x 4.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 12
What we like: Good mix of components and price.
What we don't: Slow and heavy for regular singletrack use.
Kona may be better known for their lineup of mountain bikes, but the Wo is a serious contender in the world of fat bikes. We really like the Kona for its well-rounded spec package and competitive pricing. The proven and reliable 1 x 12 SRAM drivetrain provides plenty of gear choices for most undulating rides and the 4.8-inch-wide Vee-brand tires easily float on top of soft terrain. But where it sets itself apart is value: similarly equipped models like the Salsa Mukluk ($1,999) and Trek Farley 5 ($1,780) come in well over the Kona’s price tag. For $1,599, you get a trail-worthy fat bike that’s ready to tackle snow, sand, or mud.
Where does the Kona fall short? If you want a lightweight bike to ride year-round, then the Wo probably isn’t for you. We think the aluminum frame is more than sufficient for most recreational riders, but those looking for a racing machine should check out Salsa’s carbon fiber Beargrease models. And while the 4.8-inch-wide tires are great for covering ground during the middle of winter, once the singletrack trails turn to dirt, they will be undoubtedly slow and cumbersome given their weight. But these are inherent issues with fat bikes, and we think the Wo is currently one of the best all-around options on the market.
See the Kona Wo Fat Bike
Suspension: 120mm (front)
Tires: 27.5 x 2.8 in.
Gears: 1 x 10
What we like: Great price.
What we don’t: Not as versatile as the Cannondale Cujo 2 above.
Coming in at $1,020, the Trek Roscoe is the most affordable bike here and has almost everything an aspiring rider needs. While the Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain can’t match the gear range of the Cujo 2’s 12-speed above, it’s perfectly reasonable for all but the steepest of trails. And when it’s time to come back down, Tektro’s hydraulic stoppers provide predictable and solid braking power. The SR Suntour 120-millimeter coil sprung fork will have expert riders wishing for more adjustments, but it is more than adequate for the majority of first-time mountain bike buyers.
As with any budget model, there are bound to be shortcomings, and the Roscoe 6 is no exception. In comparison, Cannondale’s Cujo 2 above boasts an upgraded drivetrain and a dropper seat post, both adding significant amounts of versatility. Additionally, the Cujo’s RockShox Recon air fork offers much greater customization than the Roscoe’s SR Suntour. You’ll pay an extra $330 for the Cannondale, but the upgrades make it much more trail-worthy in our opinion. With that said, if you’re on a strict budget and the Cujo 2 is out of reach, we would happily recommend Trek’s Roscoe 6.
See the Trek Roscoe 6
|Marin Hawk Hill 2||$1,850||Trail/all-mountain||130mm (front) 120mm (rear)||27.5 x 2.35 in.||1 x 12|
|Salsa Timberjack XT 29||$1,999||Trail||130mm (front)||29 x 2.6 in.||1 x 12|
|Cannondale Cujo 2 27.5+||$1,350||Trail/XC||120mm (front)||27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 12|
|Ghost Slamr 2.9 29"||$2,000||Trail/all-mountain||130mm (front) 130mm (rear)||29 x 2.5 in.||1 x 12|
|Santa Cruz Chameleon D||$1,799||Trail/XC||120mm (front)||29 x 2.3 in.||1 x 12|
|Commencal Meta TR 29||$1,999||All-mountain/trail||150mm (front) 130mm (rear)||29 x 2.35 in.||1 x 12|
|Trek Procaliber 6||$2,000||XC||100mm (front)||29 x 2.2 in.||1 x 12|
|Specialized Fuse Comp 29||$1,675||Trail||130mm (front)||29 x 2.6 in.||1 x 12|
|Co-op Cycles DRT 2.2||$1,799||Trail/XC||120 or 140mm (front)||27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 12|
|Giant Stance 2||$1,550||Trail||120mm (front) 120m (rear)||27.5 x 2.35 in.||1 x 12|
|Kona Wo||$1,599||Fat bike||None||26 x 4.8 in.||1 x 12|
|Trek Roscoe 6||$1,020||XC/trail||120mm (front)||27.5 x 2.8 in.||1 x 10|
- Mountain Bike Categories
- Full Suspension vs. Hardtail
- Wheel Size: 29er vs. 27.5-inch
- Drivetrain and Gears
- Carbon Fiber Frames: Are They Worth It?
- Buying a Mountain Bike Online
- Consumer-Direct Bikes
- Should I Buy a Used Bike?
As the name indicates, cross-country (XC) mountain bikes are typically made to be ridden on mellow terrain where the chances of encountering technical descents and jumps are unlikely. These rigs are designed to be as light and efficient as possible for long days and uphill travel, and excel most on buff singletrack and fireroads. XC bikes will often lack rear suspension, have skinny and fast rolling tires, feature short travel forks (ranging from 80-100mm of travel), and have steep head tube angles, all in the name of efficiency and saving weight. A bike like the Trek Procaliber 6 is great for XC racing and long days of riding, but can’t match an all-mountain or downhill bike on steep, techy trails.
Trail bikes are a relatively new phenomenon in the world of mountain biking, and attempt to bridge the gap between the XC bikes above and the all-mountain shredders below. With their relatively low weight and 120-140 millimeters of suspension travel front and rear—just enough cushion to make root-filled trails fun and enjoyable, yet not so much that climbing up the mountain has you longing for a hardtail—they make a lot of sense for those desiring a one-bike quiver. It’s our opinion that trail bikes are perfectly suited for about 80 percent of mountain bikers and would be our go-to choice if we were forced to ride one style of bike.
All-mountain bikes up the ante and are designed to tackle steep descents and technical trails. These rigs typically feature 140-160 millimeters of suspension travel (front and rear), large grippy tires, and slack geometry—a nod to their descending intentions. Bikes in this category will be heavier than the trail bikes described above and as a result, won’t climb hills quite as well—but they’re a whole different beast when the trail points down. They’re also commonly very expensive, and no true all-mountain design made our list for 2020. Some cross over like Ghost’s Slamr, but you’ll need to stretch the budget slightly to the $2,100 Giant’s Trance 3 (140mm rear and 150mm front) to get a proper build. Taking the all-mountain design one step further is the enduro bike, which includes slightly more travel and slacker angles to increase downhill prowess.
Downhill and park bikes have one thing in mind: descending. They are typically the heaviest bikes in the group and prioritize traction and control over pedaling efficiency. Downhill bikes feature heavy and grippy tires, 180-200 millimeters of travel, and are the slackest of the bunch. While downhill rigs are an absolute riot to ride, their lack of gearing and heavy weight render them useless when the trail points any direction but down. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere like Whistler (where lifts can take you to the top), then a downhill bike makes sense. But for the rest of us sad souls, we’d be better served by the increasingly more capable all-mountain/enduro bikes described above.
If the idea of riding on sand or snow sounds like the best way to explore on two wheels, then fat bikes should be at the top of your list. These bikes, highlighted by their bulbous and almost cartoonish looking tires, are able to float on top of terrain that would otherwise halt a standard mountain bike in its tracks. Fat bikes typically have tires ranging from 3.5 to 5 inches in width, which when combined with their ability to run very low pressures (5-15 psi), allow riders to stay atop soft terrain like snow and sand. Fat bikes can also be ridden on dirt trails, but because of their large and heavy tires, they will feel slow and quite sluggish when compared to standard mountain bikes. While fat bikes typically aren’t the most versatile rigs out there, they are undoubtedly fun on the right type of terrain.
In the $1,000 to $2,000 range, you’ll find yourself weighing a number of options, the most significant of which may be rear suspension. Is the extra cushion worth the added weight and complexity? At this price point, would a hardtail be a higher-quality, more reliable choice? One major factor to consider is where you typically ride: when the trails aren’t particularly rough, rear suspension isn’t necessary and a lightweight hardtail can actually be more fun and flickable. But on rugged terrain—like the rock- and root-filled Pacific Northwest—a full-suspension bike can be the difference between a fun ride and never wanting to touch your bike again.
Features and Components
Designing and building a rear suspension is a very complex, lengthy, and expensive process—not to mention the cost of the shock itself. As a result, you’ll see notable component upgrades on hardtails—particularly shifters, brakes, and the front suspension fork. For example, our top full-suspension pick, the Marin Hawk Hill 2 ($1,850), comes with the same 1 x 12 drivetrain that you get on the $500-cheaper Cannondale Cujo 2. Choosing a hardtail in the same price range as the Marin, like Co-op Cycles’ DRT 2.2 ($1,799), gets you upgraded shifters as well as nicer brakes. These higher-end components are typically smoother-operating and longer-lasting. In sum, if you can do without a rear shock, you’ll be getting more bike for your money.
Another factor to consider is long-term maintenance. Many folks will pick up a hardtail as a wet-weather or winter rig, as the rear linkage of a full-suspension bike is just one more thing to take care of. The additional pivots, bearings, and bushings require cleaning, re-greasing, and general love to keep from seizing up or rusting out, and when you come off the trail with bike and body completely covered in mud, it’s sometimes nice to simplify the cleanup. Here, bikes like the Cannondale Cujo or the Santa Cruz Chameleon really come in handy—these capable hardtails are able to keep a similar pace with full-suspension models on many smoother trails, are a riot to ride, and a breeze to maintain. All that being said, for folks that want a single bike to get them through the toughest terrain, it's hard to beat a quality full-suspension design.
You’ll hear the term “rollover” used a lot in describing a 29er, and it’s a fair point. The larger wheels have a more favorable angle of attack and aren’t as affected by rocks and roots as a smaller wheel, which in turn lends to a more solid platform. This comes at the sacrifice of some quickness and playfulness on tight and twisty trails. Furthermore, wheelsets are heavier in this entry/mid-level category, and a 29er’s greater "wheel" estate translates to extra heft to drag up a long climb. A $2,000 29er is less of a grin-maker than a comparable 27.5 bike (or the old 26-inch), but it is a stable companion that allows a hardtail like the Santa Cruz Chameleon or a full-suspension XC design to outperform expectations when the going gets rough.
27.5 (or 650b)
Riders looking for a playful bike that is easy to maneuver and responds eagerly to quick inputs will likely prefer the 27.5-inch wheel design. Also known as 650b, this wheel size is less cumbersome on tight trails than a comparable 29er, and smaller riders will find it often provides a better overall fit and feel. You will give up a bit in terms of pedaling efficiency and grip, and nothing can match the confidence-inspiring rollover of a 29er. But for uphill or endurance-oriented riders, a bike like the Giant Stance is lighter on climbs and delivers better acceleration too (for more, see our article on 27.5 vs. 29er mountain bikes).
27.5 Plus (Mid-Fat)
First there was the 29er, then came the 27.5, and now we have the 27.5 Plus. The first two refer simply to wheel diameter, while the final one tacks on an indicator of tire width. These tires are referred to as mid-fat or “plus,” and fall in between the standard 2 to 2.5-inch mountain bike tires and the true 5 inchers that you find on a fat bike. The benefits of a wider tire include increased stability, greater trail comfort, and traction. Obviously with more rubber comes more weight, and mid-range bikes that are already a little heavy can feel even more ponderous with plus tires. But done right, as is the case with the hardtail Cannondale Cujo 2 and Co-op Cycles DRT 2.2, the 2.8-inch wide tires do wonders for grip with few negatives.
At first glance, it may appear that having more gears is a good thing—20 is better than 12, right? But that 20-gear (2x10 crankset) ride can actually be more cumbersome to use. On the trail, you need crisp changes to react to rapid ascents and descents, and swapping from the big to small chain ring in the front is a real time killer—not to mention it means excess weight and complexity. As manufacturers have found, a 1 x 12 drivetrain is the current sweet spot at this price with a wide enough but manageable range to handle the ups and downs of mountain biking. There are a few bikes under $2,000 still made with a front derailleur, but it’s notable than none made our list for 2020. Instead, the vast majority feature SRAM’s entry-level but still good quality 1 x 12 SX drivetrain, while some upgraded models include SRAM’s NX or Shimano’s SLX or XT 12 speeds.
Weight is an unfortunate area of sacrifice at the under $2,000 price point. All of the fancy technology and materials that drive mountain bike weights lower and lower have a significantly higher cost of entry. For most casual riders, it’s less of an issue, but if your trails involve extended climbs up fire roads or single track, the excess weight can be a factor. If shaving weight is one of your top priorities and you’re trying to stick to a budget, a hardtail is your best choice. In term of components, these bikes consistently do better at managing their heft, simply because there’s more leftover cash in the design budget when you don’t have to include a pricey rear shock and linkage.
Another way to trim weight from your bike is transitioning to a tubeless set-up. Removing the tubes cuts away that all-important rotational weight, and can be done quite inexpensively. Further, you can run at a lower PSI, which increases traction and comfort without the fear of flatting. Many of the bikes on this list have tubeless-ready tires, but you’ll need to verify that the rims are compatible. It’s also possible to set up a standard rim tubeless, but the process can be a little arduous the first few times.
Carbon fiber bikes are not new to the world of cycling, but they are certainly popular and often the center of attention on group rides. So what’s all the hoopla about? Carbon bikes are almost always lighter than their aluminum frame counterparts, sometimes shaving up to two pounds. While most beginner riders probably won’t notice much of a difference, those racing the clock will certainly enjoy the decrease in weight. And carbon fiber is actually known to be stiffer than aluminum, which is a boon for efficiently transferring power. Finally, their lack of welds and smooth shapes give these bikes a premium, sleek look.
This boutique material is not without its downsides, however, and often costs hundreds, if not thousands, more than an equivalently spec’d aluminum counterpart. Prepare to get a lot less bike for your money should you go this route. Carbon frames are also said to be more susceptible to impending rock strikes and hits, something that aluminum can shrug off in most cases. And one of the biggest downsides of carbon fiber is that it is not easy to recycle, which is a positive upside for old aluminum bikes. Some brands, like Pole Bicycle Company, have actually decided to only produce aluminum bikes, stating that it is a more eco-friendly material (this argument is debatable, however). All in all, if you prioritize quality components over a light frame and want to keep your price point under $2000, then we think aluminum is the way to go. It’s no coincidence that all eleven bikes to make our list have an alloy frame.
There’s a good chance that you do a lot of your shopping online, so why not do the same when you’re ready to pull the trigger on a new bike? With more and more companies offering online checkout options, and the emergence of consumer-direct brands like YT and Canyon (more on this below), there’s never been a better time. But before you skip the in-store experience, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. Are you comfortable with minor bicycle assembly and adjustments? Do you know which size you need or geometry that feels most comfortable? Will someone be home to receive the delivery of your expensive new ride?
A properly fitting bike is imperative for two-wheel enjoyment, and the thought of buying a rig without being able to throw a leg over it first may seem daunting for some. Luckily, almost all brands and online retailers provide an easy-to-follow size guide for their bikes. Simply locate your height on the chart and see which size it corresponds to. If you’d like to take it one step further, dive into the geometry chart, which shows frame dimensions for each size and can help you fine-tune your search. And if that isn’t enough for you, Competitive Cyclist has a comprehensive fit calculator which should more than satisfy the most discerning riders. While nothing beats seeing a bike in person, there are many sizing tools available online to meet most riders’ needs.
The majority of shipped bikes require some sort of assembly, so it’s important to have a working knowledge of how they are put together. In the most basic situation, you’ll need to install the front wheel and pedals of a shipped bike. This sounds easy in theory—and it often is—but wheels can sometimes be tricky to line up correctly and pedals have reverse threads, which can be confusing for first-timers. At the other end of the spectrum, you may be required to cut the fork’s steerer tube, install the bottom bracket, and route cables through the frame—all of which require special tools and mechanical know-how. Online programs like Diamondback’s Ready Ride provide great bike-building tutorials, and if all else fails, your local bike shop will happily assemble your bike and fix any, or all, of your mistakes. This in-person service does not come cheap, ranging from $75-$150, but knowing your bike was properly and professionally assembled will ease your mind when bombing down sketchy singletrack.
Consumer-direct brands like Canyon, YT, and Commencal have been gaining a lot of momentum in the U.S. market over the past few years. The reason: compared with traditional brands that work through brick-and-mortar bike shops, these online-only companies offer better bang for your buck. As an example, Commencal’s Meta TR Ride ($2,599) and Santa Cruz’s Hightower R ($3,499) go toe-to-toe with their aluminum frames, 29-inch wheels, and mid-tier drivetrain and suspension components. But with a $900 difference in price and fairly similar on-trail performance (the Hightower is slightly more capable and refined), the Commencal makes a very strong case for itself. And similar comparisons can be drawn with YT’s full-suspension bikes and Canyon’s array of gravel, road, and MTB offerings.
There’s no denying the fact that consumer-direct companies sell their bikes at enticing prices, but is it too good to be true? You’ve likely heard some horror stories about poor customer support, long wait times, and lack of inventory altogether. Plus, there’s a good chance you won’t be able give the bike a test ride prior to purchasing. And finally, there’s something to be said for supporting your local bike shop. However, if you’re simply looking for the best value bike on the market—and aren’t too risk-averse to the potential downsides—it’s hard to ignore consumer-direct companies.
Buying a used bike is a great way to cut down on waste and extend the life of a product, but there are a number of things you should consider before going down that path. The main appeal to buying used is saving money, but unmaintained bikes may end up costing you a lot in future repairs (and you won’t be able to utilize the manufacturer warranty in most cases). It’s important to check the drivetrain for wear: specifically, are the chainring teeth shaped like shark fins (as opposed to triangles), or missing altogether? If so, then those need to be replaced. How many miles does the chain have on it? Use a chain checker tool to see if it’s worn out. It’s also important to closely inspect the bike frame for cracks or major dents—if either are present, we recommend moving on.
Similar to buying a pre-owned car, the best way to ensure you're purchasing a quality used bike is to have a shop check it out. We recommend calling ahead of time and asking if a bike technician can take a few minutes to go over the bike. When you’re spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, we think it’s worth the time and hassle for a professional opinion. All in all, buying used can be a great way to get a quality bike at half the original price, but just be aware of the possible risks that are involved.
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