Choosing the best mountain bike is hard. There's loads of them. They all look similar yet different. Our expert panel of reviewers narrow things down.

Mountain bikes come in different designs depending on their intended use. A mountain bike for racing cross-country is not the same as a mountain bike designed for weekend trail riding. As such, our round-up of the best mountain bikes available right now features winning bikes from different disciplines within the broad church that is mountain biking. We’ll go through the differences in disciplines further down this guide.

Our current picks at all price points:

We have tested all of the following bikes. Tested them properly against their peers, backed up with years of experience reviewing thousands of mountain bikes since MBR was launched back in 1997. This isn’t some shortlist pulled together from browsing brochures and brand websites – these bikes are ridden and rated by some of the most experienced testers in the business, all with a shared passion for mountain biking and giving you the best buying advice possible.

Note: this guide only covers non-assisted mountain bikes. If you’re looking for the best electric mountain bikes, we’ve got a special guide for that.

Jump straight to your price point:

Skip ahead to the section that’s right for you, or feel free to browse your way down our selection of top-rated bikes.

Under £600 mountain bikes

Voodoo's Braag is a cracking entry level mountain bike

Voodoo’s Braag is a cracking entry-level mountain bike

Voodoo Braag

Best hardtail mountain bike for under £600

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 14.6kg | Suspension travel: 120mm front | Rating: N/A

Reasons to buy:

  • Amazing price
  • Great geometry and range of sizes
  • Spot-on cockpit and component choices

Reasons to avoid:

  • The fork tops out with a clunk

Using the same frame as the multi award-winning Voodoo Bizango (featured below) the Braag saves money in a few areas to bring the price point under £600. So you get the same confident, fun handling and excellent spread of sizes, along with a wide-range yet simple 9-speed drivetrain and a plush coil-sprung suspension fork. The only fly in the ointment is that the fork can get a bit clunky, but overall this is a killer bike for the money and one you can upgrade as your skills progress.

Read our full review of the Voodoo Braag

Under £750 mountain bikes

Voodoo Bizango

The Voodoo Bizango is a classic hardtail that still delivers the goods

Voodoo Bizango

Best hardtail mountain bike for £750

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 13.1kg | Suspension travel: 120mm front | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • The price
  • Light weight
  • Wide gear range
  • Stable handling

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not always in stock

The alloy Bizango simple has no competition. It is simply unbeatable for the money. In fact, given the choice we’d probably opt for this bike over many decent £1,000 mountain bikes (saving a couple of components upgrades for the ensuing seasons). Good brakes, good gearing, plenty of standover, decent fork. Shames many bikes at twice the price.

Read our full review of the Voodoo Bizango

Polygon Xtrada 5

With a single-ring drivetrain, the Polygon Xtrada 5 would be a 10/10 bike

Polygon Xtrada 5

Best shape and handling under £700

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 14.31kg | Suspension travel: 120mm front | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • A top quality frame with up-to-date geometry
  • Loads of standover clearance

Reasons to avoid:

  • Dated 2×10 drivetrain
  • Fork tops out

The Polygon Xtrada 5 may well sport a dated 2×10 drivetrain, but this 29er has the slackest steering geometry for stability at speed, along with the lowest top tube and shortest seat tube to give you maximum range of motion on black-level trails.

While the drivetrain is frustrating, the handling is first class. It carries speed easily, and we could really throw it around on fun, technical trails and jumps.

Read our full review of the Polygon Xtrada 5

Under £1,000 mountain bikes

Calibre Line T3-27

Calibre’s Line T3-27 is our latest Hardtail of the Year winner

Calibre Line T3-27

Best hardtail mountain bike under £1,000

Wheel size: 27.5in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 14.52kg | Suspension travel: 140mm front | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Modern geometry
  • Dropper seatpost
  • Large-volume tyres are comfortable and confidence-inspiring

Reasons to avoid:

  • Needs a wider gear range
  • tall bottom bracket height

Calibre is back in the game after a two-year hiatus, and it’s newest Line T3-27 is straight into the top of our hardtail charts with a perfect 10/10 rating. Built around progressive trail geometry and oversize tyres on 27.5in wheels, the Line T3-27 comes with a clear advantage on rough trails, with more grip and improved comfort.

Getting a dropper post as standard is another impressive feat on this budget bike, and helps the Calibre show a clean pair of heels to the competition on the descents. It’s also more comfortable on the climbs, as you don’t feel every bump travel through your spine. Given inflation over the last few years, the fast that you can get this level of performance for £1k is remarkable.

Listed retail price for the T3-27 is £12,00. However, if you sign up and buy a Go Outdoors membership card for just £5, the bike’s price drops to a great value £999.

Read our full review of the Calibre Line T3-27

Voodoo Bizango Pro

Voodoo’s Bizango Pro is an absolute flyer

Voodoo Bizango Pro

Best budget mountain bike for racing and long rides

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 13.2kg (29.2lb) | Suspension travel: 130mm front | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Good geometry and superlative spec choices
  • Low weight and comfy ride feel

Reasons to avoid:

  • BB could be a finger’s width lower
  • Fatter tyres and more standover clearance would be welcome

The Voodoo Bizango has smashed pretty much any test it’s ever entered, winning our Hardtail of the Year award multiple times, earning regular podium places on our list of the best hardtail mountain bikes, and impressing everyone who rode it. It must have been very tempting for Halfords to stick with the old frame, add a modern colour, fettle the spec and keep mixing up that winning mix.

We’re extremely glad they didn’t then. For Halfords’ sake, standing still in the ultra competitive hardtail market is suicide. And for our sake, the new Bizango Pro is much the superior bike to anything Voodoo has made before, and ultimately more fun to ride. Great brakes mean you can go faster in the happy knowledge you can stop when you need to, while the 12-speed shifting means you can cruise the hills faster than plenty of full-sus bikes out there. And then there’s the fork, it’s hugely superior to anything we’ve tried before on a £1k hardtail: air-sprung so you can set the sag to your weight, effective rebound dial for control, and a really smooth feel.

Read the full Voodoo Bizango Pro review

Under £2,000 mountain bikes


Cannondale Habit 4

The Cannondale Habit 4 boasts direct-sales value, but you can buy it from a physical store.

Cannondale Habit

Most fun trail bike for under £2k

Wheel size: 29in (XS frame gets 27.5in wheels) | Frame sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL | Weight: 15.2kg | Suspension travel: 140mm f/130mm r | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Agile and easy to ride, the Habit 4 handles like a much more expensive machine
  • Shock tune feels perfect
  • Fun and flicky ride that keeps rider weight well-balanced on all trail gradients
  • SRAM DB8 brakes feel solid and have a smooth action for a budget brake

Reasons to avoid:

  • RockShox’s Recon RL fork lacks finesse and precise tuning
  • Deore drivetrain shifts can be slightly clunky, especially with the KMC chain
  • Maxxis Rekon tyres use harder compound with less wet weather grip

Kudos to Cannondale for nailing the fundamentals on the latest Habit trail bike. The price is right, with the cheapest model coming in at under £2k, despite being sold through physical dealers. And the quality alloy frame and solid parts specification show no obvious cost-cutting. There’s even a dropper post on the entry-level Habit 4.

Better still, it rides great. Sharp, flickable handling rewards your every input, so it dances, rather than drags, on the trail. To quote our review, “as a pure trail bike, it nails the fundamentals of geometry, suspension and efficiency and has an engaging, responsive ride quality that feels anything but budget”.

Read the full review of the Cannondale Habit 4

Polygon Siskiu T8

Polygon Siskiu T8 is a slick full-sus trail bike

Polygon Siskiu T8

Runs the Vitus Mythique a close second

Wheel size: 27.5in or 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 15.6kg | Suspension travel: 150mm f/140mm r 27.5in, 140mm f/135mm r 29in | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Progressive sizing and geometry
  • Great value for money

Reasons to avoid:

  • Needs a Shimano chain
  • Tyres are hard and a bit sketchy

Calibre Bikes, sold exclusively through outdoor giant, Go Outdoors, blew the entry-level full-suspension bike market to smithereens when it launched the original Bossnut back in 2016. And it continued to be the benchmark full-suspension bike until the pandemic hit. The Bossnut has disappeared from showroom floors recently, but while we wait for Calibre to launch a new model, there is another option. Calibre’s frames were made by Polygon, and the Indonesian manufacturer has adopted the geometry and suspension tuning (that made the Bossnut head and shoulders above the competition), and applied it to the Siskiu. Also sold through Go Outdoors, the Siskiu is available with 29in or 27.5in wheels depending on the frame size, with the larger frames using 29in wheels and the smaller ones getting 27.5in hoops.

With short chainstays and a stubby stem, the Siskiu T8 29 is a really playful, engaging bike to ride. While the front ends are not that long, the short seat tubes mean you can upsize without getting tangled up in the saddle. And the suspension provides loads of support, so you can push hard on both the climbs and the descents, even if it doesn’t quite have the grip of the Vitus Mythique.

Read the full review of the Polygon Siskiu T8

Whyte 629 V4

The Whyte 629 V4 comes from a long lineage of award-winning hardtails

Whyte 629 V4

Best trail hardtail under £2k

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: M, L, XL | Weight: 14.41kg | Suspension travel: 120mm f | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Amazingly composed and stable handling

Reasons to avoid:

  • Low-profile rear tyre may not suit all conditions.
  • No size small – for that you need the 27.5in wheel 901 or 905

Whyte has been on path to build the perfect trail hardtail for many years now, and the 629 V4 is really honing in on that goal. When we tested it we had this to say about it: ‘The Whyte 629 V4 really impressed us, and in many ways it mirrors its stablemate, the 905, in setting new hardtail standards, this time for 29ers. Ultimately it is balanced, composed, stable and precise, and whether you’re a relative beginner, or an experienced trail rider, you’ll instantly become addicted to its ways’.

Read our full review of the Whyte 629 V4

Merida Big Trail 600

The Merida Big Trail 600 is a low-slung trail weapon

Merida Big Trail

Light weight with sharp handling

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 13.86kg | Suspension travel: 140mm f | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Lighter than most rivals
  • Handy tool stashed under the saddle
  • Wide size range

Reasons to avoid:

  • Poor wet weather brake performance, but you’ll need new discs and pads to improve it

Merida is a brand that’s easily overlooked, but it has made great strides in the design of its hardtails in recent years, listening to feedback from UK dealers and press to dial-in its geometry and spec. As such, the latest Big Trail is a well-honed option that impressed us when we tested it.

Indeed, our review was glowing, exclaiming that ‘with its low weight and sweet handling the Big Trail 600 ripped, especially in drier conditions’. Merida has also managed to keep the prices keen, and there’s a comprehensive size range that should suit riders of every height.

Read our full review of the Merida Big Trail 600

Under £3,000 mountain bikes

Specialized Status 160

Specialized’s classic four-bar suspension delivers on its promise of 160mm travel

Specialized Status

Best budget mullet bike

Wheel size: 29in f/27.5in r | Frame sizes: S1, S2, S3, S4, S5 | Weight: 15.75kg | Suspension travel: 160mm f/160mm r | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Killer value for money
  • Inspiring handling

Reasons to avoid:

  • Sluggish NX shifting
  • You’ll need to sharpen your jibbing skills to pull it off

If you’re starting to see a few grey hairs appear then you may well remember the iconic Specialized Big Hit. Although not the original mullet bike, it was perhaps the most successful mixed wheeler before the trend’s recent resurgence. Why was it such a big hit, if you’ll excuse the pun? Well, it wasn’t designed for long distances or going racing, it was built to put a smile on riders’ faces. And it succeeded in spades. The Status captures the spirit of that classic Big Hit, with a mixed wheel set-up, an affordable price and the ability to generate fun at every turn. There are two models on offer, one with 140mm travel and the original version with 160mm travel, but whichever one you pick, you’re in for a blast!

Read our full review of the Specialized Status 160

Over £3000 mountain bikes

Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Elite Alloy

The Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Elite Alloy never lets the dust settle when there’s fresh loam about

Specialized Stumpjumper Evo

Best aggressive trail bike with adjustable geometry

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, S6 | Weight: 14.6kg | Suspension travel: 160mm f/150mm r | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Alloy frame affords a build kit that is performance focused
  • Fox Factory suspension is first rate
  • Attitude and geometry adjustment make for a seriously versatile trail bike

Reasons to avoid:

  • Shock tune offers stacks of support, so not as comfort focused as some trail bikes
  • SRAM Code RS brakes feel a tad wooden

Fresh from winning our recent battle of the adjustable trail bikes, the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo comes with a rich pedigree as it was also our Trail Bike of the Year in 2022. One of its greatest selling points is the amount of adjustability on offer, with flip chips and headset cups letting you play with the geometry and the weight balance.

The Stumpy Evo is equally adept shredding rough and rowdy natural trails as it is throwing shapes on groomed bike park jump tracks, and that versatility is a huge part of what makes it such an appealing package. Internal frame storage and a comprehensive size range are the icing on the cake.

Read our full review of the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Elite Alloy

Yeti SB120 T-Series T1 MY 23 mountain bike pack shot

The Yeti SB120 is a down-country bike you can buy with your head as well as your heart

Yeti SB120

Best boutique down-country bike

Wheel size: 29in | Frame: Turq carbon, 120mm | Weight: 13.3kg (29.3lb) | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • All round overachiever with superlative suspension
  • Wide size range

Reasons to avoid:

  • Agile rather than ultra aggressive
  • Not actually that light
  • No internal storage

From one of the most aspirational brands in the business comes the impeccable SB120. Yeti shrinks and shoehorns its unique Switch Infinity suspension design into the SB120 chassis. Where the swingarm moves up and down on dual Fox shafts just above the bottom bracket. And the new design has improved seals, bearings, hardware, and pivots, so it should stay in tip-top condition for longer.

And this clever suspension design really works. As we explained in our review, “the supple suspension is stable under power gives a really positive pedalling feel”. Then, when you really hit a something hard and the rear wheel sticks to the ground, giving superb traction and control. It needs a lighter set of wheels to do the flickable geometry and sublime suspension justice, but even out of the box the Yeti SB120 had us smitten.

Read our full review of the Yeti SB120

Santa Cruz Tallboy X01 AXS RSV 2023

Santa Cruz’s Tallboy is a terrier that thinks it’s a rottweiler

Santa Cruz Tallboy

Best down-country bike for sending it

Wheel size: 29in | Frame: Carbon CC, 120mm | Weight: 13.08kg (28.84lb) | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Outstandingly fast and focused full-send aggression
  • Does things normally reserved for burlier bikes
  • Superb size range
  • Internal storage compartment

Reasons to avoid:

  • Needs a pretty skilled rider to avoid pratfalls
  • Uncomfortably uncooperative on technical off-piste trails
  • Can be tiring to ride

Although often overlooked in the comprehensive, verging on confusing, Santa Cruz range, we think the Tallboy is an undiscovered gem. You’ve heard of small man syndrome, or small dog syndrome, well the Tallboy has small bike syndrome, where it steadfastly believes it’s actually an enduro bike, and deserves to be ridden as such. The stiff frame and aggressive angles beg to be wrung out on every descent, yet the efficient suspension and lightweight mean it’s always the first bike back up to the top of the hill.

For some riders, all that straining at the leash might be too much. But if you love wringing the neck of a short travel whip, and seeing your buddies slack-jawed in amazement as you undermine and overtake their big-travel enduro bikes, the Tallboy is the ultimate sleeper bike.

Read our full review of the Santa Cruz Tallboy

Transition’s Spur is still one of the finest down-country bikes we’ve ever tested

Transition Spur X01

Best lightweight down-country bike

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 11.25kg | Suspension travel: 120mm f/120mm r | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Perfect blend of speed and control
  • Lightweight

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not the most robust build if you’re carrying some timber
  • Narrow size range

The Transition Spur is arguably the bike that spawned the down-country category, and also the bike that perhaps best defines it. At under 11.5kg, the Spur flies out of the gate, haring up climbs and tearing along high-speed singletrack. That lack of inertia encouraged us to sprint every rise, pop every jump, and schralp every turn, helped by the stable geometry and supple suspension.

With lightweight RockShox Sid forks up front, the temptation is to add travel and girth, but to do so is to dilute the Spur’s potency and add unnecessary grams. So while there’s a bit of flex when pushed hard, we’d treat that as part of the charm, and lap up the whirlwind of action that accompanies every descent. As we said in our review, the Transition Spur is “the best-realised ‘down-country’ bike we’ve ever tested and the one we all covet if we were spending our own cash”.

Read our full review of the Transition Spur

Photo of the Mondraker Raze Carbon RR mountain bike

Did the Mondraker Raze RR impress us? Yes, it did.

Mondraker Raze

Best trail bike for suspension set-up nerds

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 13.65kg (30.09lb) | Suspension travel: 150mm f/130mm r | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Fast and capable
  • Built-in suspension data acquisition
  • Excellent on-trail performance

Reasons to avoid:

  • You need a 4G connection to keep the MIND engaged

Mondraker has never been afraid to push ahead with innovation. It was the first brand to really give us modern sizing, with its Forward Geometry concept. And now it’s getting creative with suspension set-up, incorporating built-in data logging, to make set-up and analysis easily available to a trail bike audience.

But it hasn’t forgot about the basics, and the Raze is a right little ripper, that – as we explained in our review – has ‘nailed the balance of speed, compliance and capability to perfectly capture the essence of the short-travel trail category’.

Read our full review of the Mondraker Raze Carbon RR

Best lightweight XC mountain bike

Scott Spark RC WC

Integrated suspension system conceals the RockShox NUDE 5 shock inside the full carbon frame

Scott Spark RC WC AXS

Best high end XC race bike

Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 11.12kg | Suspension travel: 120mm f/120mm r | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Ruthless in its efficiency
  • Hidden shock should need less maintenance
  • Remote suspension adjust

Reasons to avoid:

  • Suspension could be more supple in Descend mode.

Scott’s Spark has won more trophies than any other race bike, with double Olympic gold back in 2016. This latest version gets a sleek new frame and more modern geometry, meaning that while the Scott Spark has lost none of its potency, it has now become even more versatile. It also gets a hidden shock for reduced maintenance, and remote suspension control for uphill efficiency without compromising on downhill confidence.

Read our full review of the Scott Spark RC WC AXS

Best enduro mountain bike

Nukeproof Giga

The Nukeproof Giga offers a right rollicking ride

Nukeproof Giga

Best enduro bike

Wheel size: 27.5, 29in or mullet | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 15.4kg | Suspension travel: 180mm f/170mm r | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • All of the travel, none of the drawbacks

Reasons to avoid:

  • Michelin tyres are temperature sensitive

The Giga is testament to the adage that you can have your pudding and eat it. You can enjoy all of the all-ness, all of the time. Loads of travel. Slack AF head angle. The biggest of wheel sizes. And the most remarkable thing? It rides just like a normal mountain bike when the gradient tips up. The Giga really is a race-worthy enduro bike that doesn’t feel like a chore to pedal around on your Sunday Social rides. Poppy and playful, the Giga is no passive plough.

Read our full review of the Nukeproof Giga 290 Carbon Factory

YT Industries Capra Core 2 GX

YT Industries’ Capra Core 2 GX just had the edge on the Canyon Torque when we tested them back-to-back.

YT Capra

Best direct-sales enduro race bike

Wheel size: 29/27.5in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 16.6kg | Suspension travel: 170mm f/170mm r | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Calm and quiet
  • Rocketship fast
  • Five frame sizes

Reasons to avoid:

  • Needs sturdier casing tyres

YT’s Capra narrowly clinched victory against its arch nemesis, the Canyon Torque, when we pitted them head-to-head recently. But it was a points victory, and which one is best depends largely on your priorities. The Capra feel at home going flat-out, racing for those fractions of a second that are crucial in enduro racing. Yes, it’s also tons of fun to ride, but its true calling is against the clock.

Choose from carbon or alloy frames, a multitude of sizes, and a range of superb specs, whatever your budget. A classic bike that has just got better with age.

Read our full review of the YT Capra Core 2 GX

Canyon Torque Mullet AL 6

The Canyon Torque Mullet AL 6 loves to party.

Canyon Torque

Best direct-sales bike park shredder

Wheel size: 29/27.5in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 16.6kg | Suspension travel: 170mm f/175mm r | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Supportive
  • Playful and bombproof ride
  • Excellent tyre spec

Reasons to avoid:

  • Fork needs more support or overinflating
  • No proportional chainstay lengths

So if the YT Capra is the head-down racer, the Canyon Torque is the joker in the pack, goofing around on side hits and rarely seen with both wheels on the ground at one time. It’s a bike that revels in being twisted into crazy shapes at the bike park or surfing loamy turns in the hills.

Of course Canyon also offers a huge array of options, with alloy and carbon frames, coil shocks and air shocks, and mullet wheels or full 29ers. All of the Torque models come with exemplary specs, so however big your budget, you won’t be disappointed.

Read our full review of the Canyon Torque Mullet AL 6

Merida One-Sixty FR 600

The Merida One-Sixty FR 600 offers plenty of bang for not too many bucks.

Merida One-Sixty FR 600

Best value long-travel enduro bike

Wheel size: Mullet | Frame sizes: XShort, Short, Mid, Long, XLong | Weight: 17.2kg | Suspension travel: 180mm f/171mm r | Rating: N/A

Reasons to buy:

  • Robust build kit
  • Well matched DVO suspension
  • Modern sizing system
  • Keenly priced
  • Bike park-ready straight from the box

Reasons to avoid:

  • Internal headset cable routing
  • Noisy in rough terrain
  • Heavy

The competitively-priced Merida One-Sixty FR 600 really impressed us when we tested it. With a 180mm fork, and 171mm of coil-sprung travel out back, the One-Sixty packs enough travel to take on pretty much anything, and the flex-stay rear suspension design is innovative while reducing complexity, so you have fewer bearings to worry about in the long run.

Given that the One-Sixty is sold through a dealer network, the price is very reasonable, with quality suspension, wheels, and brakes. It also boasts modern geometry, so there’s loads of standover height on all frames, and you can choose your size according to length, and handling characteristics. The burly aluminium frame, is built tough, so it’s no lightweight, but it actually pedals and climbs surprisingly well. And on the descents, we found the Merida One-Sixty was easy to ride, confidence-inspiring, and impressively capable.

Read our first ride review of the Merida One-Sixty FR 600

Vitus Mythique 29 VRX

The Vitus Mythique 29 VRX is one of the best budget full-suspension bikes on the market

How we tested the best mountain bikes, and why you can trust our opinion

Our list is drawn up by a test panel of mountain bike journalists, most of whom have over 20 years experience reviewing bikes (read more about our bike testers and writers them here). In recommending the best mountain bikes to you, we draw on that experience and our expansive knowledge and comprehensive overview of the market. In 2022 alone we tested over 80 different mountain bikes and we’ve been testing bikes since MBR was launched in 1997. In 25 years that’s over 2,000 bikes reviewed – that’s why you can trust our advice.

We never take a product at face value and manufacturer’s claims are always probed. That’s why we measure the weight, travel and geometry on all our test bikes (the numbers we publish are our own figures unless specified). In group tests we always try to fit control tyres to create a more level playing field and help isolate critical differences in handling and suspension performance.

A good starter mountain bike costs from £400 upwards, but an extra couple of hundred quid really counts at this level.

What’s your budget?

£400+ is a good start for a bike that will stand up to off-road abuse without falling apart in five minutes, but… hold your horses. We’re going to go into what you get (and don’t get) for your money in a moment. You can get a perfectly decent mountain bike for under £600. You can also max out your credit card and drop over £10k on a mountain bike.

Are those bikes 10x better? No, they aren’t. The law of diminishing returns definitely applies to mountain bikes, particularly as you spend over £4,000. They are better, sometimes significantly so depending on the rider and terrain, but essentially you get less drastic improvements in bike quality the higher you go up the price scale.

Commencal Meta V5 Race

Most of us are trail riders, looking for a bike that’s fun and efficient on a wide variety of terrain.

What sort of riding are you going to do?

Whilst your budget is probably going to be main thing you’re thinking about at first, it shouldn’t be. First, you need to decide on the type of mountain bike is going to suit you best. Then you can look at what your budget will get you.

Mountain bikes are now very capable and versatile machines. They can turn their hand to all sorts of riding. More so than ever these days in fact. You can go for a trail ride on an enduro bike. You can ride enduro trails on a down-country/XC bike. So you aren’t closing off all avenues of riding by going for a certain sort of bike. But you’ll have a more fun and rewarding experience if you get a bike that best suits your main type of riding.

Canyon Lux World Cup CFR XC mountain bike ridden uphill on forest trail

An XC bike, like the Canyon Lux, is fast and efficient, but you’ll need good skills to make the most of it

Conversely, don’t be tempted to get a bike for the extreme 1% of the riding that you’ll do on it. A burly gravity-fuelled bike is fine and dandy for an annual uplift day, but you’ll have to pedal that thing around for the other 51 weekends of the year.

For the purposes of this guide let’s ignore the extreme ends of the spectrum. Chances are you aren’t looking for an Olympic XC race bike. Nor are you looking for a World Cup level Downhill bike. This buyers guide is about ‘normal’ mountain bikes. But even within the realm of ‘normal’ mountain bikes there are various sub-genres. Some are gimmicks, some are irrelevant, some are seemingly entirely fabricated by marketing departments.

In a nutshell: the best mountain bike for most people

In our opinion, if you’re in doubt, get a Trail bike. These will be capable enough on more extreme terrain but won’t feel like a burden on calmer, flatter terrain.

YT Izzo Uncaged 7

Modern trail bikes are versatile beasts and come in many different flavours

Choosing the best mountain bike for: Trail riding

Trail riding is arguably best defined by what it’s not. It’s not cross-country. It’s not Enduro. It’s riding around regular tracks and trail centres with the occasional 50km epic thrown in and the odd uplift day or two. Trail bikes sport between 120mm and 150mm of travel and are designed to be strong enough to withstand all sorts of abuse without being too portly.

Recommended mountain bike: hardtail or full-suspension with 120-140mm suspension. 29in, 27.5in, or mixed (mullet) wheels (29in front and 27.5in rear).

How does the Santa Cruz Blur ride?

Some of the latest XC bikes have progressive geometry that lets you blast the descents just as hard as you can scorch the climbs

Choosing the best mountain bike for: Cross-country (XC) riding

This is less about jumps and slamming berms and more about pedalling miles and crossing fells. But hold on, don’t write it off thinking it’s for doddery older riders on dull, wide fire-roads. XC riding and racers are still about off-road speed. But with cross country there’s more of an emphasis on climbing. So the bikes are as light as possible. They also don’t pack much in the way of suspension travel (sub-120mm) as more suspension travel results in heavier bikes. They are also often less overbuilt in terms of fork/frame/wheel stiffness. Again, stiffer stuff means more weight. They also aren’t able to install a dropper seatpost due to having narrow (sub-30.9mm) seat tubes. Crucially, XC bikes can also still have rather old-fashioned geometry that often ignores descending prowess and is still heavily modelled on road bikes. This is all well and good if you’re Nino Schurter, but for most people the end result is fairly terrifying on any technical terrain. As a result, even if you want to ride cross-country you’re probably better off on a (light as possible) trail bike than a sketchy XC bike.

Recommended mountain bike: light-as-you-can-afford hardtail or light full suspension with 100-120mm suspension and 29in wheels.

Photo of Sam Hill riding a Nukeproof bike in the mountains

Enduro bikes have to survive the equivalent of racing multiple World Cup DH tracks in a single day, without breaking, and being pedalled back up to the top again

Choosing the best mountain bike for: Enduro riding

Enduro riding intentionally and unashamedly prioritises descending capability and speed. The terrain can resemble Downhill race tracks but there’s no uplift here. You have to pedal your way around. Enduro bikes are essentially longer travel (160+mm) Trail bikes with stronger parts. As a result they’re heavier than Trail bikes. Or the same weight and significantly more expensive. Enduro bikes are very much in vogue but you should be careful before you automatically head down this route. A couple of kilos may not sound much but it’s always there no matter what trail you’re on. If most of your riding is trail centres then an Enduro bike is going to be OTT and very probably slower than a Trail bike. One area where Enduro bikes are leading the way for all kinds of riding however is geometry. A cutting edge Enduro bike will have a riding position that bests both XC and Trail bikes for climbing, descending and contouring. Enduro bikes are at the forefront of mountain biking. A lightweight Enduro bike is an amazing thing. And amazingly expensive.

Recommended mountain bike: full suspension with 150-170mm suspension. 29in, 27.5in or mullet (29in front, 27.5in rear) wheels

Hardtail of the Year 2022

The best hardtails under £1,000 make a great starting point

Hardtail or full-suspension?

It’s easy to assume that everyone would be riding full suspension bikes instead of hardtails if there was no price difference. This isn’t really true. Hardtails do have some advantages over full-suspension bikes regardless of price tag.

Hardtails are lighter. Hardtails have less to go wrong or require servicing. Hardtails are easier to clean. Hardtails can be faster and more fun on smoother trails. Adding to this the fact that hardtails are cheaper than their full-sus counterparts means that hardtails aren’t going to be extinct anytime soon.

What are the benefits of going full-suspension? First and foremost, control. Full suspension bikes track the ground better and as such offer greater traction. Full-suspension bikes are more composed and not as sketchy to ride as hardtails. The fatigue and comfort benefits are also important, particularly over longer distances. Being less beaten up and less tired on longer rides is an added bonus of bounce.

What are the drawbacks of full-suspension? They’re heavier than hardtails. They usually have a lower component spec (compared to hardtail of the same price). They have bearings and pivots that will eventually wear out and cost money to replace/service. They can be mud traps. They can be difficult to clean properly. And if you don’t understand the basics of how to setup suspension, then a full-suspension bike can ride really badly, inefficiently and sketchily.

MBR Whyte E-160 RSX First Ride

Modern e-bikes, like the Whyte E-160, can open up new off-road horizons

What about the best electric mountain bikes?

Riders have switched on to e-bikes in huge numbers over the last few years for one simple reason: they let you pack a lot more trails into your usual ride. In fact you can often enjoy double the distance and metres climbed/descended in a typical three hour Sunday ride than you can on an analogue bike, and with people’s lives busier than ever, that’s a big incentive. E-bikes have also improved massively since the early versions came out in 2013/2014, with plenty of power, impressive range and handling that can be as fun as any non-assisted model.

E-bikes are governed by a number of legal restrictions, so they can only assist while you’re pedalling and only up to 15.5mph, but that doesn’t hold them back off-road, and the best models will slap a bigger grin on your face than any other bike you’ve ridden. So what’s the catch? Well, e-bikes are generally more expensive than analogue models, there’s a lot more to go wrong, they are more expensive to maintain and they are very different to ride. Some might say they are less pure, and they are for the lazy. It’s true, you can be lazy on them, but you can also get a really good workout (including your upper body) if you put your mind to it.

If all that sounds enticing, check out our buyer’s guide to the best electric mountain bikes and the best budget electric mountain bikes.

Even straight out of the mould, the HB frames are a thing of beauty

Carbon or aluminium?

At the mid to high end level there’s something of a crossover point where you can sometimes choose between a carbon framed bike (with lower end parts) or an aluminium framed bike (with better bits) at around the same price point. We’d always recommend going for the better specced aluminium model.

Is carbon worth the extra money? For most riders, no it isn’t. Just how much extra does it cost anyway? To go carbon will cost you approximately an extra £1,000 (for the similarly equipped bike).

What does this £1,000 get you? A lighter frame for sure. But not that much lighter, maybe 700g or so at the absolute most. The more convincing argument for going carbon is not weight, it’s ride feel. Carbon bikes ride differently to aluminium bikes. Stiffer. Sometimes with a damped (dead) sort of feeling. And these days carbon bikes are often stronger than their aluminium counterparts.

The carbon feel and strength is what it’s all about. This is not to say that this racy, rally-car ‘carbon feel’ is going to suit everyone. Some riders prefer the feel of aluminium bikes over carbon.

Cotic Rocketmax 150 Gold XT

Cotic uses steel in its full-suspension frames to great effect

Some people are even making big hype about steel again. This time steel full-suspension, with brands like Cotic and Starling leading the charge. Maybe things can get too stiff on a mountain bike? When this occurs, fatigue increases. Line choice becomes harder. Maybe some chassis flex results in a faster ride? But then, steel full-sussers are going to be even heavier than aluminium.

At the end of the day, the frame material isn’t going to affect most people’s bike riding. Tyres, wheels and suspension setup is far, far more significant. So we would actually say that frame material isn’t worth worrying about overly.

best mountain bike

Which wheel size is best?

This old chestnut. Again, we’re going to be mildly controversial and say that the difference between 27.5in bikes and 29er bikes isn’t as pronounced as it was back in the mid ’00s.

Nowadays you can get 29ers with decent amount of suspension travel (up to 170mm – more for DH) and with decent geometry, so the wheel size debate has fizzled out. Some brands even offer two versions of each model, one with 27.5in wheels and one with 29in wheels, so you can just choose the option that suits you.

29ers are more stable and have better grip. But they have unavoidably higher front ends and the rear tyre can hit your bum on steep stuff if you’re under 6ft tall. The higher wheel axles can make the bike feel taller in tight switchbacks and thus require more leaning over. 27.5in bikes can be stiffer, can have lower front ends and the rear tyre won’t boot you up the behind on steep drops and chutes. The lower wheel axles require less body English in tight hairpins so the bikes can feel more nimble for a given rider input.

Canyon Torque CF8 Mullet

Canyon’s Torque CF8 Mullet is an example of a modern mullet bike that blurs the lines between enduro and freeride

If you’re 6ft tall or over, you’re probably going to better served by a 29er. If you’re under 5ft 6in then a 29er is likely going to feel too big. Which is where the mullet bike, or MX, fits in. These models use a 29in wheel up front (for maximum stability, speed and rollover) paired with a 27.5in wheel at the back (to improve agility and bum clearance). They’re a great option for riders who want a fun, playful bike or have shorter legs.

Orange Switch 7 SE

The Orange Switch 7 SE is a single-pivot design with a linkage to drive the shock, which lets Orange tune the leverage curve

Which suspension design is best?

A bonus debate for you. Sorry! Although there’s less hype and grand claims made about different suspension frame designs these days (compared to the slanging matches and OTT marketing of yore, anyway) there is still a valid interest in how the designs differ from each other. The mountain biking market is now mature and experienced enough to admit that there is no single Best Suspension Design. The four-bar (or Horst Link) used to be the Holy Grail. Single pivots used to get ragged on for being crude. Neither of these stances are correct.

To be frank, pretty much all suspension designs are good. But they are not all the same. They do differ in how they feel and respond (to both the trail and to the rider onboard). Some are fussy in how precisely they’re set up, some are more forgiving. Some also require more maintenance than others. The rear shock – and how you can tune it – is arguably more important than frame suspension design these days. It is now possible to do an awful to with a rear shock to alleviate any frame design niggles you may encounter. Bike too bob-prone, or wallowy, or harsh bottom out? Chances are something can be done with the rear shock to address this.

Basically, bike companies have got most of the kooky, bad designs out of their system now. The differences between them are now extremely subtle. Learning about suspension theory and setup is more important.

Geometry, geometry, geometry

The angles and lengths of the frame tubes governs almost everything in how a bike will ride. The best suspension in the world counts for nought if the geometry is poor. Similarly, a bike with great geometry can often overcome any suspension shortcomings and ride just fine.

What’s the best geometry for a mountain bike? This is a tricky area and one which is still full of old myths and prejudices. But here’s our take on it…

Long reach (the distance between saddle and handlebars, in layman’s terms) is good. Steep seat angles are good. Slack head angles are good. And we’re not talking just ‘good for descending’. This geometry is good everywhere. Slack head angles don’t cause front end wandering on climbs (that’s caused by slack seat angles and/or short top tubes).

Low bottom bracket heights are generally good (for stability and for cornering), but riders who pedal in rutted/tufty/stumpy terrain, or like to be challenged by rocky, trials-style terrain, may get bored with frequent pedal strikes and so prefer a higher bottom bracket height and accept the compromise in handling.

Chainstay length is another area full of cliché. Short chainstays are seen as highly desirable. Long chainstays are seen as bad. Why is short good? We’re not sure it is particularly. It makes bikes easier to manual but that’s about it. They can be problematic on climbs if the seat tube is too slack, making it difficult to keep the front wheel weighted. Long chainstays offer greater stability and climbing prowess, but there is a trade-off in agility.

Another aspect these days is the return of standover as being high on the important list. The advent of dropper posts with 150mm+ of travel has meant that bike designers are factoring shorter seat tube lengths in their bikes now so that they can fit in long drop dropper posts. Truth be told though, you still can’t judge how a bike will ride by looking at its geometry chart. Geometry is a combination of multiple factors that all interact with each other. One isolated measurement doesn’t govern everything.

Local bike shop

Have a budget in mind before heading to your local dealer

How much should you spend?

If you have less than £1,000 to spend then we still think a hardtail is the way to go. Sub-£1k full-sussers are going to be overly hefty and sport low-end kit that will impair your ride experience.

These days you can get capable and fun full-suspension bikes for between £1,000 and £2,000. They aren’t especially light but they aren’t restrictively heavy either. And the parts package on a good £1k susser will feature perfectly good stuff from recognised brands. Sure there’ll be some cost-cutting here and there, and some no-name finishing kit, but it won’t overly affect the bike’s ride.

best mountain bike

Don’t end up on the wrong size bike

What size bike should you get?

A lot of people are riding around the wrong size bike.

The first myth to bust is that smaller bikes are more nimble/playful/manoeuvrable. Nope. Smaller bikes are less stable, more sketchy and uncomfortable. Don’t buy a bike that’s too small thinking it’ll be alright. Don’t get suckered into buying the wrong size bike because it’s at a bargain price. A cheap bike that’s big enough for you and has good geometry will be infinitely better than a half-price bling bike that’s too small for you.

The best way to do it is consult a size calculator (most bike brands have them), confer with other owners, and (if you’re in the 5ft10in-5ft11in height range) check out our reviews. We always add the rider height and size tested information in the specification table and we will usually comment on the sizing within with review. You should also check out our guide to choosing your mountain bike frame size. Remember that there is a degree of adjustability when it comes to fit with any frame size – you can slide saddles fore and aft on the rails, you can run longer or shorter stems, high-rise or low-rise bars – but you can never change the length of the seat tube.