Rippers with aggro attitudes, built to let you crush the descents with their slack angles and burly forks... hardtails have never been better
What makes a trail hardtail different to any other hardtail? In short, attitude. Traditional hardtails have followed an evolutionary path firmly routed in XC racing, and up until recently, steep head angles and long stems were still commonplace.
The bikes tested here have a very different genetic code, with DNA that’s more closely matched to a typical full-suspension bike; slack head angles, low bottom brackets, long front ends and stubby stems are the norm, rather than the exception.
As the name suggests, these trail bikes have no rear suspension, and it’s your legs that have to work double-time to keep the rear wheel in contact with the ground. Upfront, it’s a very different story. All the bikes come with the latest suspension forks including top offerings from both Fox and RockShox.
With the dust finally starting to settle on the wheel-size debate, the message that’s emerging from the mountain bike industry is that 29in wheels are for speed, whereas 650b, or 27.5in as it’s also known, are for fun.
Can any of these bikes beat our £1,000 Hardtail of the Year – the Vitus Sentier?
At mbr we don’t fully subscribe to that overly simplistic view, as it instantly pigeonholes bikes based on wheel-size, ignoring both their travel and intended use. Here we have 29in, 650b and even 650b+ wheels that all offer different, but equally good, ride experiences.
Price-wise, our four chosen test bikes are around the £1,300 – £1,600 mark. And while you could argue that you’d get a pretty decent full-suspension bike for the same amount of cash, we feel that there’s still plenty of room for quality hardtails.
In fact, looking at the bikes in this test, it’s fair to say that the trusty trail hardtail has never been in a stronger position, with no sign of becoming extinct any time soon. What you really want to know, however, is which one is top dog. Let’s find out…
The best trail hardtails
Great spec but less balanced than before - £1,599
Falls short of the Zaskar legend - £1,299.99
Fails to cash its 150mm travel cheques - £1,299.99
There's already a 29er Clockwork, now Orange has introduced a 650b version - £1,250
Still the best in class - £1,199
A lightweight frame let down by its sizing and shape - £1,199
Lighter and more agile than the original, the aluminium Honzo has a whole new attitude - £1,199
The perfect trail hardtail? - £1,650
Let down by tyre choice in UK conditions - £1,519
Great fun, but a little short - £1,549.99
In the introduction to this test, we made it pretty clear that we were looking for a step up in performance over the £1,000 bikes in our Hardtail of the Year test.
The good news is that the bikes have certainly delivered on that front. Both bikes have better geometry and sizing than the best £1k bikes, and this translated to more control and confidence, allowing us to push harder and have more fun out on the trails. Well worth the additional £200, then.
One ride on the 901 revealed that it possessed stellar performance. In fact, the Whyte 901 is so capable and eager to charge that the only ways we could think of to make it even better would be to add rear suspension, or dare we say it… plus-size tyres.
OK, 2.8in tyres probably wouldn’t fit into the 901 frame, but there’s easily enough clearance for 2.5in tyres, and the BB height is low enough that they wouldn’t mess up the handling either.
There’s no disputing this bike’s pedigree though, and you simply can’t buy a better trail hardtail for the money.
The sad truth is that, more often than not, cheaper bikes don’t get as much love from the manufacturers as the expensive ones. There’s no extra cost associated with better geometry, though, and absolutely no reason why £500 hardtails couldn’t be the exact same shape as our test-winning Whyte 901. If they were, new riders would have more fun riding them, we’d have more fun testing them, and the world would be an altogether better place.
So, if there are any bike manufacturers reading this test who want to know how to make the humble hardtail better, Whyte has already done the hard yards, so just copy the 901.