The results are in! Read on to find out who came out on top in the definitive test of the best hardtail mountain bikes at £500, £750 and £1,000, and pick up the new issue of MBR to find out more
Eighteen of the best hardtail bikes, three key price points and the most experienced team of test riders in the business. We’ve got six bikes under £500, six bikes under £750, and six under £1,000 — just like last year’s test we have something for every budget. And by allocating each category a dedicated test rider, we can still guarantee that every bike goes through mbr’s exacting test procedure.
Once again we’ve tweaked the format to our round-up of the best-performing and best-value hardtails on the market. We’re still covering all the key price points under a grand.
Obviously there are plenty of other bikes available at each of our chosen price points, but we’ve cherry-picked the very best options, while ensuring that all of the key players are represented. So, if you’re in the market for a new hardtail, this really is the one test NOT to miss.
The June issue of MBR, including full reviews of all the hardtails in this year’s test, is on sale from Wednesday, May 4.
THIS YEAR’S WINNERS
BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £500
Vitus totally nailed the numbers on the Nucleus VR, its profile more closely matching the best hardtail £1,000 bikes than its peers. The sizing and fit were also spot-on, with each of the components falling effortlessly to hand.
It was the only sub-£500 bike to sport an air-sprung fork. It was the attention to detail, however, like the lock-on grips and dedicated front and rear-specific tyres, that really helped raise the bar. From the very first ride, Vitus established itself as top dog, and no other brand came close to challenging its position. The Vitus Nucleus VR is the new benchmark best mountain bike for under £500.
BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £750
With the best geometry and the stiffest fork of the group, the VooDoo was instantly ahead of the game. It helped too that is was the only bike in this category with a short stem.
It was the combination of the bigger wheels and the low bottom bracket, however, that meant we could charge harder and with more confidence on the VooDoo Bizango 29er. We were instantly reminded how easily the Bizango cast its spell on us when it launched three years ago, and with subtle tweaks to the tubing profiles and specification, the ride quality of the latest version is still every bit as captivating today.
BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £1,000
From the very first time we jumped on board the Marley we were jamming. It just felt so right. Fork travel is ideal for a hardtail at 130mm, and the slack head angle means it never gets too twitchy on steep trails or under hard braking. The low bottom bracket allowed us to carve corners like no other bike on test, helped by the meaty front tyre and composed fork. Despite carrying a bit of extra weight, the seat angle was steep enough to let us tackle climbs without fuss, and the low-profile rear tyre helped cover ground efficiently.
Whether you’ve never ridden a mountain bike before, or the scars on your shins and callused palms tell of a life in the saddle, the Ragley Marley will let you find your limits and push them further. It quickly becomes an extension of your body, not only physically — allowing you to ride intuitively — but mentally, as a voice in your ear telling you to pedal harder, brake later and jump further.
THIS YEAR’S TEST BIKES
Don’t forget to pick up the new issue of MBR – on-sale Wednesday May 4 – to read reviews of all the Hardtail of the Year bike tests.
Cube AIM SL
Ghost Kato 2
Marin Bobcat Trail 9.3
Norco Storm 7.1
Vitus Nucleus 275 VR (WINNER)
B’Twin Rafal 700
Canyon Grand Canyon AL 5.9
Scott Scale 970
Trek X-Caliber 8
Voodoo Bizango 29ER (WINNER)
Boardman MTB Pro 29
GT Zaskar 27.5 Comp
Kona Cinder Cone
Norco Torrent 7.2
Pinnacle Iroko 2
Ragley Marley (WINNER)
LAST YEAR’S WINNERS
£500 CATEGORY: TREK MARLIN 7
For a first step into the world of mountain biking, the Trek Marlin 7 is an impressive option that allows the rider to take on most challenges with confidence. It’ll be there to rescue you when you run out of talent, and it’ll treat you right if you’re planning a full day in the saddle. In fact, as your new best friend on the trail, it’s hard to beat. And best of all, the frame is so good you can happily use it is a solid base to start upgrading and enhancing your bike as you improve your skills.
£750 CATEGORY: CANYON GRAND CANYON AL 5.9
With so much competition on offer, it wasn’t easy picking a winner in this test. In the end, the Canyon pips it because it’s the most capable bike here. It’s also a great package; a smart and light aluminium frame, an air-sprung fork, Shimano’s superb brakes and stiff wheels, all of which combine to provide bags of confidence, stability, and a lively, fun-fuelled ride.
With a couple of modest changes, namely a clutch rear mech and a shorter stem, the AL 5.9 would be basically perfect.
£1,000 CATEGORY: VITUS SENTIER VRS
Last year’s winner returns to successfully defend its crown. We’re not totally sold on the new Manitou fork, which adds extra travel at the cost of some knock-on effects to the geometry, but even so, the Vitus Sentier VRS is a bike with lots to love. The frame is light and responsive, with a soft edge that takes the sting out of the tail. The Sentier is hugely capable, impressively confidence-inspiring, and a hell of a lot of fun to ride.