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Mountain biking might sound hardcore—and of course, it certainly can be—but there are trails and environments for every skill level. Whether you have years of tackling rough terrain under your belt or you’re just starting out, there’s a mountain bike and an off-road experience for you. Even so, buying the best mountain bike for your needs can be stressful because you need to contend with a slew of terminology and technology. Trends shift seemingly overnight with changes in wheel sizes, tire widths, frame geometries and components. Just one small example: 26-inch wheels were all the rage a few years ago, yet are now nowhere to be found.

So what kind of mountain bike do you need? It’s important to understand the basics of today’s mountain bike design, be honest about your own riding style and ability, and know what kinds of trails you’ll be spending most of your time on. See our tips below for choosing the right type of mountain bike and other things to consider before spending your hard earned cash.

Don’t sweat it, though; save the sweating for the trail. We’re here to take some of the stress out of buying a new mountain bike with our thoroughly researched and informed favorites in each category.

Best Mountain Bike Overall

The Swiss Army Knife Of Mountain Bikes

One of Santa Cruz’s best selling bikes for years, the Tallboy is now on its 4th iteration. Lightweight and nimble with just enough suspension, this mountain bike is your one bike quiver that will allow you to tackle a variety of trails and riding conditions.

Dubbed the “downhiller’s XC bike,” it climbs up steep technical terrain like a chamois while floating over the chunkiest of rock gardens thanks to its mid-level travel (120mm of rear travel and 130mm travel up front) and 29-inch wheels. In addition to upping the travel on this iteration, Santa Cruz mimicked the geometry of its longer travel bikes in order to deliver a more confident and stable ride on those white-knuckle descents or when navigating rough terrain. 

Santa Cruz bikes are designed not only to last a lifetime, but also to be easy to work on—a key consideration when buying any mountain bike. The company ensures that parts, specs and other information are always available so you can fix any issue with your bike. 

Offered in a variety of builds to suit your needs or budget, the Tallboy is the Swiss Army Knife of mountain bikes. You get the same basic design with a variety of frame materials, wheels, and components on offer, all of it resulting in a top quality bike that is fun to ride. As one 5-star reviewer puts it, “If you are looking for a jack of all trades, the Tallboy is the bike for you.”


Best Entry Level Mountain Bike

Don’t Break The Bank On Your First Mountain Bike

For those who want to give off-road riding a try, the Huffy Stone Mountain makes a great entry level mountain bike. The durable steel hardtail frame will handle any abuse you throw at it as you slowly gain confidence on the trails. A twist shifter on the right grip lets you toggle through 21 different speeds to make easy work of hills, while front and rear pull brakes ensure you can stop quickly and safely when needed. 

A slight rise in the handlebars puts you in a more upright riding position to ease the strain on your back and shoulders. A front suspension fork, 1.95-inch tires and a padded saddle lessen the impact of all those bumps and dips in the road or trail to deliver a smoother feeling ride. 

The quick-release seat post can be easily adjusted up or down on the fly to deliver the perfect fit for each rider. The mountain bike is available in both a men’s and women’s version and comes with all the tools you require to put it together—no need to hire a professional bike mechanic to do the job.


Best Mountain Bike Under $500

A Great Value For Basic Off-Road Exploration

For those in search of a good quality, hardtail mountain bike for basic off-road exploration, the Rockrider ST520 fits the bill. Featuring a lightweight aluminum frame and 27.5-inch wheels, the mountain bike quickly shifts through 24 different speeds to get you up and over any terrain. Mechanical disc brakes enable effortless braking on long or steep descents and the relaxed geometry makes for easy handling. A front suspension fork with up to 80mm of travel and 2.0-inch tires work together to smooth out your ride. An ergonomic saddle and a more upright riding style add an extra level of comfort.  The bike comes in four different sizes to fit riders from 4’11” to 6’5” in height.

Global sports retailer Decathlon easily beats most other retailers on price as they sell only their own brands and are vertically integrated, meaning they take 100% capacity if not own most of their factories. With an average review of 4.2 stars out of 5 on the Decathlon website, most reviewers were pleased with the specs of the mountain bike for the price.  “The bike is great value and more than I expected in terms of quality,” writes one reviewer. Decathlon gives a lifetime warranty on the frame, stem, and handlebars so you can feel confident when buying this bike.


Best Mountain Bike Under $1000

A High-Spec Hardtail At An Affordable Price

When creating their own-brand line of mountain bikes, the Co-op Cycles design team at REI took a fresh look at everything from geometry and suspension to wheel and tire size. Not one to simply follow the latest mountain bike trends, REI turned to their members to understand what they were looking for in a mountain bike. The number one answer? Fit.

To accomplish this, the Co-op Cycles team not only designed a wide range of durable-yet-lightweight aluminum frame sizes, from XS up to XL, but also adapted the wheel size accordingly—the XS to M frames got 27.5-inch wheels while the larger frame sizes all got 29-inch wheels. Throw on some 2.4-inch WTB Trail Boss tires and you have an ultra cushy ride.

The rims and tires come tubeless ready—REI wanted to make sure it was easy for you to set them up tubeless yourself by just buying a valve stem and some sealant. The front suspension fork features 120mm of travel to help you roll over the rough stuff.

A Shimano 2 x 9 drivetrain provides 18 gears to help you conquer a variety of terrain, and the hydraulic disc brakes quickly engage with just one finger. All reviewers agree this is a great mountain bike for the price. “If you are looking for a hardtail that overshoots its price, then I would recommend this one,” remarks one happy REI customer. 

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Best Mountain Bike For XC Or Race

A Full Suspension Mountain Bike Engineered For Speed

If your main objective is to be fast uphill and on the flats, then a cross-country bike is right for you. Ridden by World Cup level athletes, the Mach 4 SL from Pivot is light, fast, and highly capable on technical terrain. 

For the Mach 4 SL, Pivot optimized the frame, shock, and component design in order to shave off almost 3/4 of a pound compared to its predecessor the 429 SL. The weight loss—coupled with a progressive XC geometry and the rolling momentum of the 29-inch wheels—makes for faster acceleration and speed up steep climbs. 

This shorter-travel mountain bike features 120mm of travel in the front and 100mm in the rear to tackle moderately technical terrain. The mountain bike integrates with Fox’s electronically controlled Live Valve system. That automatically adjusts the fork and shock independently as the terrain changes beneath you.

I appreciate other features on this bike, including room for 2.5-inch wide tires, internal cable routing, space in the triangle for a water bottle (two on the XL size), a lower top tube for better stand over clearance and room for a longer travel dropper post.


Best Enduro Mountain Bike

For Tackling The Most Challenging Trails

Want to crush the most challenging trails around? Then an enduro bike might be for you, with its plush rear suspension that dampens rough descents and nimble front handling for navigating tricky trails sections.

The Specialized Stumpjumper EVO features 160mm of travel in the front and 150mm in the rear to absorb everything from small bumps to big drops. One 5-star reviewer from Mike’s Bikes claims his bike feels super stable and “flies over the rough stuff.”

Even with this plush suspension, the mountain bike still pedals and climbs responsively thanks to Specialized’s Rx Tune. With that feature, the sag value—the amount that your suspension settles under your own weight when you’re in the riding position—is set specifically for each bike. 

Lots of room in the cockpit means you can keep centered on the bike for better traction and control on sketchy terrain, while the low bottom bracket and slack headtube angle add a level of stability. A shorter chainstay helps to keep things nimble for a long travel mountain bike.     

The Stumpjumper EVO comes in six style-specific sizes (S1-S6), meaning that you can choose your frame size based on your own personal riding style instead of being limited by your inseam length. In addition, the head tube angle, bottom bracket height, and even wheel sizes are all adjustable—you can even go for a mullet setup with 27.5-inch wheel in the rear and an 29-inch wheel up front.


Best Hardtail Mountain Bike

This Bike Helps You Get In The Flow

If you are riding long miles on mixed terrain or happen to prefer flowy, smoother trails, you may want to ditch the rear suspension altogether and buy a hardtail. A staple in Yeti’s lineup for years until it was abruptly dropped in 2016, the ARC hardtail mountain bike is now back and better than ever. 

The ARC features a new geometry in its ultralight carbon frame—it’s long, low, and slack without being too stretched out, enabling you to confidently maneuver and respond to trail feedback when both climbing and descending. This mountain bike loves twisty singletrack and the wide 29-inch wheels coupled with a 130mm fork let you fly downhill as if you were on a full-suspension

Mounts on each side of the downtube enable you to carry more water for those long days on the trail. The bike comes in a variety of builds where you can choose from top-of-the-line SRAM or Shimano components and carbon or aluminum frames. The ARC includes a 175mm or 180mm dropper post depending on build but provides enough room in the seat tube for a 200mm dropper post if that’s your thing.


Best Electric Mountain Bike

A Little Assistance On Climbs And Long Rides

Electric mountain bikes have started to sell like hotcakes. Not only can they help balance out the competency among different riders, but they enable anyone to go further and faster than they could with a traditional bike. Even so, you don’t want an ebike that looks like a sci-fi prop. Thankfully, the Levo Comp Alloy is an electric bike that both looks and feels like a mountain bike; there’s no question it’s equipped for dirt trails and varying terrain. Perhaps one of the nicest compliments one can pay a bike like this is that it feels like an ordinary bike on the trail—you don’t sense the extra weight or the technology within. The fairly modest 250-watt motor assists the pedals smoothly, allowing you to pedal up to 20mph with assistance. If you hit the speed limit, the motor disengages smoothly, so you can keep pedaling without any abrupt shifts in power.

Specialized includes a cool feature it calls Smart Control. You can use smart control to regulate the motor so it reserves the desired battery capacity throughout the ride. Or there’s Shuttle Mode, which delivers max power to minimize the effort you have to put into pedaling. The battery can be removed for easy charging, and the top tube has a small display that indicates battery remaining. You can also use a mobile app that connects to the bike via Bluetooth and integrates with apps like Strava.


Best Mountain Bike For Bikepacking Adventures

This Bike Can Handle Heavy Loads

A lightweight, efficient hardtail with an aggressive trail bike geometry, the Diamondback Sync’r 29 makes a great mountain bike for any bikepacking adventure. When you are riding fully loaded, you aren’t going to be hucking shelves or railing berms so a hardtail is a great bet.

The wide clearance in the fork and frame enables you to run 29×2.5-inch or 27.5×2.8-inch tires—the added rubber makes up for the lack of rear suspension. Pair the wider tires with the 140mm-travel fork that eats up rowdier terrain and a 66-degree head angle that keeps you centered when things get steep and this mountain bike can tackle more technical terrain.

Being a carbon hardtail means it’s going to climb like a rocket—every bit of energy you put into the pedals translates into power on the ground, important when you are carrying gear up long or steep climbs. The SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain will also help your legs will stay fresh during multi-day adventures on the bike.

The lightweight carbon fiber frame not only soaks up impact to help reduce fatigue on really long days but also comes with a large frame triangle to house frame bags overstuffed with gear. The frame also features a variety of mounts—you get a three-pack mount in the main triangle and a bottle mount on the seat tube.

The Sync’r gets rave reviews on the Diamondback website with every one giving it five stars. One happy customer claims the bike “rips on descents, climbs like a goat, and is built like a tank.” He goes on to say that “Diamondback hit a home run with this jack of all trades.”


Best Women’s Mountain Bike

Great Components, An Affordable Frame Made With Women in Mind

Make no mistake: Women don’t need to buy a women’s bike. Any bike that fits well and rides well is all you need, regardless of whom it’s designed for. But the Cannondale Trail 8 is a superb bike especially well-suited to women thanks to a great frame geometry, lightweight aluminum alloy frame and comfortable seat.

Not only does this bike look great—with a slight bend in the frame to make this something of a step-through model—but it has a great assortment of high-quality components despite a very modest price. You get Shimano derailleurs in front and rear, for example—not the highest end varieties, but more than sufficient for most riders. The shifter delivers 14 gears and there’s some solid stopping power in the 160mm mechanical disc brakes. And the hardtail bike features a front suspension that offers 75mm of travel.

If you are a serious rider and want to tackle some aggressive trails, this bike probably isn’t for you. But if you are looking for an affordable all-around bike that leans into trail skills, this is a superb choice.


What Are The Types Of Mountain Bikes?

When you are ready to buy a mountain bike, the first decision you need to make is what type of mountain bike you need. Cross country (XC), trail, enduro, downhill—what does it all mean? Generally, mountain bikes are classified by the amount of suspension as well as frame geometry. When choosing the type of mountain bike, you need to consider the terrain you plan to ride the most.

An XC bike is generally lightweight with 120mm or less of travel up front. Designed to go fast and crush climbs, many XC bikes are hardtails (they have front suspension only) or come with very minimal suspension in the rear. These bikes are perfect for those that race, ride long distances or normally ride fast, flowy, not-too-technical trails.

More popular: so-called trail bikes, which are known for their ability to climb and descend equally well and are capable on a wide variety of terrain. Trail bikes add more suspension than XC bikes—somewhere between 120mm to 150mm of travel in the front and back—and feature a more relaxed geometry. This is the type of bike you want to buy if you are looking for a do-it-all one bike quiver.

Enduro bikes were originally built for races where riders have to pedal uphill under their own power but only the downhill sections of the course are timed. These bikes add a bit more suspension than a trail bike, generally from 140mm to 180mm in front and back. They’re meant for those willing to earn their ride but are really in it for the technical downhill and airtime on trail candy.

Downhill bikes are designed for those who want to skip the pedaling and ride only chairlift-accessed laps at the bike park or take on shuttle-accessed terrain. With anywhere from 170mm to 250mm of travel in the rear and 180mm to 200mm up front, these bikes are for highly skilled riders looking to bomb down steep, gnarly terrain.

What To Consider When Buying A Mountain Bike

Now that you’ve chosen the type of mountain bike you need, there are a few more things to consider such as budget, frame size, wheel size, and components.

The single most important consideration is frame size. Sizing and proper fit is critical not just for comfort, but also to maximize your body’s output. Manufacturer websites or your local bike shop can help you figure out what size bike fits you best. If you are between sizes, sizing up will give you more stability, while going with the smaller size will give you a more maneuverable bike.

When it comes to wheel size, you can choose whether you want the playful maneuverability of a 27.5-inch wheel mountain bike or the speed and rollover ability of a 29er. If you are tall, you might prefer a 29-inch wheel mountain bike; for those on the shorter end of the scale, opt for a 27.5-inch wheel mountain bike. Many manufacturers spec their wheels differently according to frame size to help with the decision.

Once you have chosen a frame and wheels, it’s generally the components that determine the overall end price of a mountain bike. This is where your budget comes into play and the sky’s the limit in terms of possibilities. But in general, make sure your bike has good brakes and appropriate gearing for the terrain you plan to ride.

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