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

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Hardtail of the Year 2016: £500-£1,000 (VIDEO)
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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.

>>> Five tips for setting up your new hardtail (video)

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 NUCLEUS VR

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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.

Read the full review of the Vitus Nucleus 275 VR

BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £750

VOODOO BIZANGO 29ER

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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.

Read the full review of the Voodoo Bizango 29er

BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £1,000

RAGLEY MARLEY

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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.

>>> The best cheap road bikes: ridden and rated

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.

Read the full review of the Ragley Marley

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.

UNDER £500

Cube AIM SL
Ghost Kato 2
Marin Bobcat Trail 9.3
Norco Storm 7.1
Saracen Mantra
Vitus Nucleus 275 VR (WINNER)

UNDER £750

B’Twin Rafal 700
Canyon Grand Canyon AL 5.9
Scott Scale 970
Trek X-Caliber 8
Voodoo Bizango 29ER (WINNER)
Whyte 801

UNDER £1,000

Boardman MTB Pro 29
GT Zaskar 27.5 Comp
Kona Cinder Cone
Norco Torrent 7.2
Pinnacle Iroko 2
Ragley Marley (WINNER)

>>> Winter hardtails: what you need to know

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.

Read the full of review of the £500 and under winner – Trek Marlin 7

2nd Place – Specialized Pitch Sport 650b

3rd Place – 13 Incline Alpha

£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.

Read the full review of the £750 and under winner – Canyon Grand Canyon AL 5.9

2nd Place – B’Twin Rockrider Big 8

3rd Place – Scott Scale 770

£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.

Read the full review of the £1,000 and under winner – Vitus Sentier VRS

2nd Place – Bird Zero.3

3rd Place – Ghost Kato 7

This article appeared in the June 2016 issue of MBR.

  • Georgie Whelan

    I ve owned one for about 8months now and I have hammered it I own the sl29and it rolls over anything no match for the price and looks great

  • Lewis

    I’m looking for a bike for a leisurely commute to work on the week days, and something to point downhill on the weekends. I have up to £1000 budget (cycle2work).

    Which bike of the ones reviewed do you think will match my needs the most? I was thinking the voodoo as the 29s will probably be better on the road. Thoughts?

  • Chris Mason

    @Charles, go for the nucleus preferably the vr, air fork better spec 9 speed etc I’ve got the 2015 vr and nothing can touch it especially at the price I paid!
    I researched for months before I got mine and its a brilliant bike!
    The 2016 model has just won hardtail of the year £500 category and I’m surprised it hasn’t won before although they didn’t include it last year.
    The other bike you mentioned won it instead but the vitus is the one to go for.

  • Charles

    Vitus nucleus 275 or the Marlin 7? I can get them both for the same price. Any thoughts? I’m new to mountain biking and I want to start hitting green level single track and the occasional paved bike paths.

  • Seamus Fitzpatrick

    What is the sizing like on the Ghost Kato? Can get a straight swap with my vitus sentier 290 for a new Kato but in XL and im a large. Seems like an ace deal. Want a bit more play in my hardtail and my 29er doesnt really give. Cheers

  • http://www.petesasqwax.co.uk Pete Sasqwax

    The Cube SL29 link points to the review of the Cube SL27.5 – is there a review of the SL29 somewhere on the site as I can’t find one? I’m 6’3″ and was looking at a 23″ Cube SL29 as what is effectively my entry point into mountain biking. Would that be a good call?

  • Gareth

    I’m a newcomer to the mountain bike club, I’m actually confused for choice. I’m 6ft2 knocking on 3 and would like a bike that is responsive yet comfortable to ride. I keep hearing the hype over rockshox forks but wouldn’t have a clue about the differentiation. Could anyone give me sound advice for a more than average purchase? I’m looking ideally under 1k!

    Thanks,

    Gareth

  • TJ Hudson

    I own the cube Att SL – I rode everything Arround that price range to test and nothing came close – As a first jump into Mountain Biking its a great bike, far better than the Voodoo Bizango in my eyes.

  • Andrew Turner

    Just thought I’d let you know I went with the Vitus and really happy with the fit, I find it a very comfortable riding position. What were your concerns over the size, was it saddle height or reach?

  • James Woodhouse

    I’ve searched all over for a review on the Cube Attention SL 27.5 [2015] , it looks like great value in the £700 category. Does anyone have any experience with this?

  • Shuriken Beats

    To be honest, I didn’t expect that Trek Marlin 7 would take the crown in £500 category. That was a huge surprise. I would probably bet on 13 Incline Alpha or Saracen Mantra, which shares the excellent geometry with the rest of the bikes from the Mantra line. It’s at the bottom of the ladder, specification wise, so it just keeps me thinking. You’ve mentioned that the frame is excellent, but is that enough to forget about the low-end parts? Also, you said that at this price range, the fork makes or breaks a bike. In my perspective, the Suntour XCT is pretty substandard fork, even in this category, unless they’ve changed something for 2015. I was wondering is there anything else beside the geometry that makes the Trek superior to the rest of the bikes in this category?

  • Danny Milner

    I’d say you were borderline Andrew. Perhaps worth looking at the Bird Zero as there is an XL size.

  • Andrew Turner

    I’m interested in the Vitus Sentier, i’m 6ft’1 with 32.5/33″ inseam would the large be big enough for me?