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.
Hot on the heels of our Trail Bike of the Year test, this time we seamlessly switch focus from the best full-suspension rigs to the best hardtails. With a whopping 18 bikes and three distinct price points, it’s by far the biggest event in the MBR test calendar.
We cover everything from sub £500 entry-level bikes all of the way up to £1,000 hardtails sporting the latest geometry and mod-cons. So if you’re in the market for a new hardtail, this is the one-stop-shop test that will help ensure you get the best possible bang for your buck.
To make the test as fair as possible we stuck to our guns on the upper price for each category, even if that meant some contenders fell by the wayside in the initial selection process. We also tried to keep all of the bikes in each category within £50 of each other. This was most critical with the sub £500 category, as £50 represents 10% of the total price of the bike, giving the more expensive models a distinct advantage.
And it’s this price sensitivity that forced us to suspend our normal practice of fitting the same tyres to each of the bikes. As such, all of the bikes were test exactly as sold, with no allowances being made for overly long stems, narrow handlebars or uncomfortable saddles. After all, any changes to the specification, no matter how small, ultimately increase the bottom line.
As you can imagine, testing 18 bikes in one issue is a massive undertaking, especially if you want to put them through their paces. To make it more manageable, and allow us to retain the same exacting test standard that we apply to every other bike test, we allocate a specific tester to each category. In effect, it’s three separate tests all under the umbrella of Hardtail of the Year. It’s why we have three winners, as it would be impossible to compare the performance or value of one of the £500 bikes, with bike costing twice the price.
But this isn’t simply the biggest test of the year… in many ways it’s the best test of the year. It’s always full of surprises, both good and bad, and that’s really what makes it the most important test for us. With upwards of £2k burning a hole in you’re pocket you’re pretty much guaranteed a bike that that will deliver in every situation. Most of the brands don’t bestow anything like as much love or development time to the humble hardtail however, so those that do, really shine. So weather you’re dipping your toe into mountain biking for the first time, or just fancy the raw simplicity of a hardtail, this test will guide straight to the source of the best hardtails of 2017. Enjoy…
THIS YEAR’S WINNERS
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike Under £500
After only the few pedal strokes on the 2017 Vitus Nucleus, it was obvious that all of the other bikes in the sub £500 category would be competing for second place.
The superior geometry of the Vitus frame, combined with the air sprung suspension fork and the best tyres in test, means that the only limiting factors here are your skill level and fitness. It really is in a class of its own and its easily deserving of its second mbr Hardtail of the Year award. Can anyone step into the ring and break its winning streak or even get beyond the first round? We very much doubt it.
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike Under £750
The Whyte 605 is our Hardtail of the Year in the £750 category, but it isn’t perfect. There are a couple of iffy component choices, like the square-taper crankset, none-branded hubs and summer only WTB tyres, but what stops the 605 getting a perfect 10 is the fact that Whyte’s award-winning 800 and 900 bikes are totally dialled. If Whyte could trickle down the geometry and handling, and fit a proper front tyre and a wider bar, the 605 would be on a completely different level to any other bike in the category.
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike Under £1,000
The Norco Fluid 7.2 HT+ rewrites the book on what can be produced for a penny shy of £1,000. With a modern trail-focused frame design, choice components, Plus size tyres and a dropper seat post, Norco has produce a standout package that will flatter any rider.
Yes, it’s one of the heavier bikes in this category, but it certainly doesn’t ride heavy and a quick tubeless conversion would instantly save 0.5kg of rotational weight.
Best of all, the Plus size tyres make everything easier. They are a lot easier on the joints too making it a great choice for long days in the saddle.
THIS YEAR’S TEST BIKES
Don’t forget to pick up the new issue of MBR – on-sale Wednesday May 3 – to read reviews of all the Hardtail of the Year bike tests.
Diamondback Sync 4.0 £495
Marin Bolinas Ridge 2 £450
Merida Big Seven 40 £475
Ridgeback X1 £499.99
Specialized Pitch Sport £495
Vitus Nucleus 275 VR £489.99 (WINNER)
Cannondale Trail 4 £699
Canyon Grand Canyon AL 4.9 £747.99
Kona Shred £699
KTM Ultra Fire 29 £745
Nukeproof Scout Sport £750
Whyte 605 £699 (WINNER)
Cannondale Cujo 2 + £949.99
Forme Ripley 2 £900
Genesis Core 30 £999.99
Norco Fluid 7.2 £999.99 (WINNER)
Ragley Marley 1.0 £999.99
Scott Scale 760 £949
LAST YEAR’S WINNERS
£500 CATEGORY: VITUS NUCLEUS 275 VR
“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.”
£750 CATEGORY: VOODOO BIZANGO 29ER
“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.”
£1,000 CATEGORY: RAGLEY MARLEY
“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 article appears in the June 2017 issue of MBR.