DECIDING on what’s the best mountain bike for you comes down to a lot more than budget.
Sure, having more money to invest in a bike will open up more possibilities for you – with the likes of carbon fibre components and full suspension coming at a price – but it also comes down to the sort of riding you’re planning on doing.
If technical trails, flowy singletrack and rugged downhill sections are on the agenda, then bikes with more fork suspension travel and even the inclusion of a rear shock absorber are going to be ideal, while if you want to gobble up miles of fire roads, byways and gravel paths, a lightweight cross country bike is probably your best bet.
Although there are a handful of respectable cheap mountain bikes on the market, if you’re starting to get serious about off-road riding or want to skip the entry-level bike, you can expect to spend in excess of £1,000.
At this price point, the majority of bikes are still hardtails (only front suspension) but should be able to withstand anything you throw at them.
Beyond £2,000 is where things get interesting (and full suspension) though, and in some cases, electrified.
Stuck for ideas? Follow our guide below to find the best mountain bike for you.
1. Best cheap mountain bike
- Bizango 29er, £650 from Cycle Republic – buy now
If you’re new to mountain biking, it’s likely that you’ll be on the lookout for a cheap mountain bike. Fortunately for you, we’ve put together a whole guide, but our firm favourite is the Voodoo Bizango 29er.
The hardtail bike has a lightweight 6061 alloy frame, and includes high spec components for the money, including a Suntour fork, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and 1x 11-speed gearing by SRAM.
This translates to a smooth ride on bumps and berms, while the shifting will remain smooth and low-maintenance.
2. Best aluminium trail mountain bike
- Whyte 905 V2, £1,699 from Leisure Lakes Bikes` – buy now
If you want a bike that can go uphill fast while being able to tackle some testing downhill terrain, you’re going to want an all-rounder.
These are generally hardtails that have a fair bit of travel in the forks, while being lightweight-yet-robust builds.
The 905 V2 by British brand Whyte manages to combine trail-focused features such as RockShox’s Pike Select RC fork and its 130mm travel with an aluminium frame and endurance-tailored components like SRAM’s 1x 12-speed Eagle chainset.
The bike is finished off with 35mm wide rims from WTB and Maxxis’s 2.8” High Roller II tyres, boosting grip and comfort without sacrificing speed and fun.
3. Best carbon fibre trail mountain bike
- Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon C R kit, £4,199 from Stif MTB – buy here
For those with slightly deeper pockets, you’re going to want to invest in a carbon fibre-framed steed. The material is not only lighter than aluminium, but will help to dampen the roots and ruts on your ride too.
The Tallboy by the iconic American brand Santa Cruz will leave you the talk of the trails – and for all the right reasons.
A bike with cross country heritage, the fourth iteration’s redesign is made with a day of blasting singletrack, fire roads and trail centres in mind.
The carbon fibre frame packs 120mm of travel courtesy of a Fox Float Performance rear shock, and the brand’s Rhythm 34 fork’s 130mm travel provides stability when you need it most.
SRAM’s NX Eagle 1x 12-speed is the drivetrain of choice on the R kit and its Guide T hydraulic brakes are combined with 180mm Avid Centerline rotors for complete control.
A bombproof 29” SRAM/WTB wheelset helps to keep things light, and 2.3” Maxxis Minion tyres leave you with grip in all conditions.
Finished in ‘Stormbringer Purple’ or ‘Rocksteady Yellow’, there aren’t many better-looking bikes on the market right now.
4. Best hardtail mountain bike
- Marin San Quentin 3, £1,695.00 from Sprockets Cycles – buy now
So far, all of the bikes featured have been hardtails, which means that the bike only has suspension in the fork.
They are generally aimed at cross country (or XC) and trails riding, and are lightweight builds that can handle rough terrain.
The San Quentin 3 by American brand Marin is easily one of the best on the market, thanks to its combination of a robust-yet-light aluminium frame and respectable componentry from the likes of Shimano and Vee.
Designed with hitting the jumps in mind, this bike will be able to handle even the biggest spills.
5. Best enduro mountain bike
- Commencal Meta AM 29 Ride, £2,499.99 from Chain Reaction Cycles – buy now
If you want a bike that can go uphill fast while being able to tackle some testing downhill terrain, you’re going to want an enduro bike.
And while on the face of it £2,500 might seem like a lot to blow on a bike, the Meta AM 29 Ride by Andorran brand Commencal is actually a steal for the price.
The lightweight aluminium frame has been designed with all-day enduro racing in mind, but remains strong enough for the most rugged of terrain.
Up front is RockShox Lyrik Select fork and 170mm of travel, while the brand’s Deluxe Select+ rear shock should keep things smooth over the roughest terrain at the back.
The gravity-specific (read: downhill) rig continues with super strong 29” rims courtesy of E13, while SRAM’s 12-speed NX Eagle gearset will help you make your way back up to the top of the trails in no time at all.
The bike is finished off with Schwalbe’s Magic Mary 2.35” on the front wheel and Hans Dampf 2.35” on the rear, while a dropper post from Kindshock will help you adjust your positioning on the go.
6. Best women-specific mountain bike
- Liv Pique 2 ladies full suspension mountain bike, £2,698.99 from Rutland Cycling – buy here
While a lot of bikes are listed as ‘unisex’, there are a number of brands that include women-specific versions of bikes that tend to have a slightly modified geometry and components aimed solely at female riders.
Liv is a great example. The sister company of Taiwanese brand Giant, it only makes women-specific bikes – from road and hybrids through to all-mountain machines.
The Pique 2 certainly falls in the latter camp and is made with traversing trails at speed in mind.
An aluminium frame is paired with 100mm travel both front and back and a cross-country dropper post for all-day comfort whatever the terrain.
Shimano is the groupset manufacturer of choice (a 1x 11-speed SLX set-up for the drivetrain and Deore hydraulic disc brakes) and a smattering of Giant and Liv components make up the finishing kit.
7. Best XC racing MTB
- Specialized Epic Comp Carbon EVO XC mountain bike, £4,000 at Evans Cycles – buy here
For those looking to get between the tapes and try their hands at XC (cross country) racing, you're going to want a lightweight mountain bike that can also take a bit of pounding from the roots, ruts and rock gardens that line most courses.
The Epic range from US brand Specialized has got some real race-winning credentials and all of its models benefit from a drip down of technology from its £9,000 top-of-the-range S-Works Epic EVO.
A bit further down the pecking order lies the Epic Comp Carbon EVO. At a £1 under £4,000, it's still a sizeable investment, but you get an awful lot of bike for your money.
As can be expected in this price range, the frame is carbon fibre, while Rockshox is in charge of suspension front and rear. The 12-speed drivetrain is taken care of by SRAM's mid-range, performance-focused NX Eagle, and components from Specialized and its sister brand Roval finish off the rest of the bike.
The main feature though (and one that justifies it being £300 more expensive than the standard Epic Carbon Comp) is the inclusion of a X-Fusion Manic dropper post, which allows you to get into the perfect position for powering your way to victory in XC races, regardless of distance or terrain.
8. Best e-MTB
- Cannondale Moterra NEO SE, £6,199.99 from Tredz – buy now
The rise of electric bikes is a growing trend across cycling, but it has been adopted and championed most in mountain biking.
An electrically assisted motor helps take the slog out of riding (or pushing) your bike uphill to get to the downhill sections, leaving you with more time having fun.
What’s not to like? Well, first and foremost, the price might put some off. Most electric mountain bikes cost a fair bit more than their non-electric alternatives, but some are happy to absorb the additional fees, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be having more fun when out on the bike.
Although there is a broad range of e-MTBs available depending on the type of riding you’re going to be doing, the Moterra Neo SE by American brand Cannondale is one of the best pound-for-pound all-rounders out there.
At more than £6,000, it’s certainly not cheap, but it can be considered good value-for-money in a market that features bikes more than twice that.
Suspension front and back is provided by RockShox, that 1x 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle appears again, and it’s all built around a lightweight carbon fibre frame.
But it’s the electric motor that’s the most impressive feature. The battery is kept out of the way and concealed within the frame, while the motor predicts the level of input from the rider, leaving you with smooth-yet-boosted support.
9. Best bikepacking mountain bike
- Trek 1120 bikepacking mountain bike, £2,400 from Evans Cycles – buy here
For those looking to combine off-road adventure with a night under the stars, you’re going to want a bikepacking bike. Built for travelling long distances while loaded up with kit, they will generally feature more mounting points than you’ll ever need and a design that is comfortable to ride for hours on end.
The 1120 by American brand Trek is perfect for carrying a heavy load thanks to those eye-catching orange racks front and back.
Although it looks quite a robust rig, it’s no slouch, and will be able to fly on even the toughest trails thanks to a lightweight aluminium frame and carbon fork.
That combination of carbon fork and Bontrager Chupacabra 29×3” tyres negates the need for suspension and will be able to absorb even the roughest terrain just as well as mountain bikes that include suspension.
A wide-ranging 11-speed Shimano SLX drivetrain will help you tackle the toughest hills without leaving you looking for a higher gear on the flat, while SRAM’s Level T hydraulic disc brakes are sharp even when carrying a full load.
It even includes a dropper post that makes getting on and off a fully-laden bike a doddle.
10. Best dirt jump bike
- NS Bikes Soda Slope Dirt Jump mountain bike, £2,399 from Wiggle – buy here
While most mountain bikes can handle the odd jump, it’s worth looking into a dirt jump bike if you’re planning on hitting doubles, tabletops and bike parks where the aim is maximum air time.
The Soda Slope by NS Bikes is one of the best dirt jump mountain bikes currently available. At its core is a durable freeride-specific frame that can withstand the heavy knocks that come with riding trails.
This is boosted (literally) with a Manitou Circus Expert fork and a RockShox Monarch RL rear shock, offering up extra stability when you don’t land as smoothly as hoped.
A single-speed gearset offers up quick bursts of speed when required, while SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes help you stay in control.
11. Best fat bike
- Kona Wozo fat bike, £2,599 from Tredz – buy here
A fat bike is the cycling equivalent of a monster truck. Its huge tyres can tackle anything in its path, and the design is favoured by bikepackers who want even more comfort when heading off-road.
The Kona Wozo is a classic of the style thanks to the huge amount of tyre clearance packed into its aluminium frame – but it’s no slouch and will hold its own on singletrack trails too.
The main talking point is obviously the wheels. The Wozo’s 27.5” wheels are laced with 3.8”-wide Maxxis Minion tubeless-ready tyres, which when combined with 100mm of fork travel and a Trans-X dropper post makes for one comfortable ride.
A 12-speed SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain will help you make it up the steepest of off-road ascents.
Finished in gloss green, it’s the green giant for anyone who sees the untravelled path as an exciting detour.
12. Best downhill racing mountain bike
- Mondraker Summum 27.5" downhill mountain bike, £3,699 from Tredz – buy here
One of the two most well-known types of mountain bike racing (alongside cross country), downhill mountain biking is about getting to the bottom of a mountain as quickly as you possibly can. That means downhill bikes have to be lightweight-yet-rugged, agile-yet-stable and, ultimately, fast.
The Summum by Spanish brand Mondraker has some serious race-winning pedigree. While its pro-level rig will set you back close to £8,000, the entry-level channels some of that DNA for a fraction of the cost.
The alloy frame utilises the same geometry as the bike used by British pro Laurie Greenland but the materials help to keep the cost down.
A RockShox Boxxer Select RC fork with 200mm of travel will help to navigate the roughest of rides, and a Fox Van RC rear shock minimises vibrations at the back.
A 9-speed SRAM drivetrain helps you get upto speed after rolling down the drop in and race your way to the line. Huge 200mm SRAM Code R rotors and hydraulic brakes keep you in control too.
MDK is in charge of the wheels and 2.4” Maxxis Minion DHR II Super Tacky tyres will leave you fully gripped when you need it most.
What is the best mountain bike brand?
Deciding on the best all-out mountain bike brand is no easy task – there are numerous companies, both small and large, who all manufacture brilliant mountain bikes across a wide spectrum of discipline, style and price.
For overall range, the American brand Cannondale is arguably one of the best in the business though, thanks to its collection of trail, cross country, downhill and e-MTBs – including the Moterra NEO SE above.
What is the best mountain bike for the money?
Finding the best pound-for-pound mountain bike for you also comes down to your budget. If you’re after an entry-level one, then the Voodoo Bizangoer 29, which is also featured in our cheap mountain bikes round-up, is tough to beat. But for those looking for an all-rounder that is the basis of a great bike for years to come, the 905 V2 by Whyte is the one for you.
How can I improve my mountain bike?
If you're happy with your bike's frame, it's possible to make improvements to every other component that's attached to it.
Cost-effective tweaks that will leave you with notable improvements include putting some new tyres on the bike or switching to a tubeless set-up if you haven't already, changing the grips and getting your suspension serviced and tuned.
From here, the possibilities are endless and depend on your budget. Branded finishing kit such as new handlebars, stem and saddle will improve any stock components on your bike, while clipless pedals provide a more efficient pedalling for most mountain biking disciplines.
Big-ticket items such as a new groupset, wheels and forks will all improve your mountain bike, but aren't as cost-effective so you might be better off looking for a completely new mountain bike rather than splashing the cash on expensive components.
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