We bring you the rundown of the very best mountain bikes under £3,000/$4,000. Trail bikes with 27.5in, 29in and MX-style mixed wheel sizes.
The absolute best mountain bikes for under £3,000/$4,000 are serious bits of kit. It’s at this level that you start to see carbon frames enter the fray, and sophisticated suspension with adjustable compression damping. There will be wheel size options, including 29in and 27.5in front and rear as well as mixed wheel ‘mullet’ bikes.
Choose from direct-sales models for the best value, or shop sold brands for the personal service and expertise of a good bike shop. Options at this price point include XC or down-country bikes that are lightweight and fast-rolling, heavy-hitting enduro bikes for racking up bike park laps and the multi-talented all-rounder that is a trail bike. At this price point we’d recommend most riders should look at full-suspension options, but if you don’t need rear suspension then look at our buyer’s guide to the best hardtail mountain bikes.
High performance trail bike at an unbeatable price
Wheel size: 27.5in or 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 15.54kg | Suspension travel: 150mm f/140mm r 27.5in, 140mm f/135mm r 29in | Rating: 10/10
Reasons to buy: Brilliant frame quality and handing
Reasons to avoid: Honestly can’t think of any!
There are four different models in the newly refreshed Vitus Mythique range for 2023, with prices starting at £1,599.99 and topping out at £2,399.99. All models use the same alloy frame with four-bar linkage suspension, but wear different components depending on the price point. Like Polygon, Vitus uses both 27.5in and 29in wheels for the Mythique range, but in this case all four frame sizes and three spec levels are available with either wheel, so you don’t have to compromise on your ultimate combo. Cheaper bikes get X-Fusion suspension and a 1×10 drivetrain, but there’s still grippy Maxxis tyres and an indispensable dropper post on the entry-level model. Further up the range you’ll find 1×12 drivetrains and better suspension, with Marzocchi forks and RockShox shocks, so you’ll find yourself going faster with greater control. New for 2023 is also a AMP model with a RockShox Pike Select fork and other choice upgrades.
Speed, smiles, and style; the new Vitus Mythique VRX has all in equal measure. It’s a trail bike that covers a huge remit without the hefty price tag to match. And while every price-point bike is a compromise, Vitus has emphasised the things that matter most to ride quality, without leaving any glaring holes in the specification. The fact that the frame looks every bit as polished as high-end bikes, just adds to the overall appeal. So whether you’re starting out in mountain biking or are a seasoned rider looking for a trail bike that offers unbeatable value, we simply can not recommend the Mythique highly enough.
Affordable mixed wheel fun factory
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, lack of official product info is frustrating
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 invokes 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. For 2022 there are two models on offer, one with 140mm travel and the original version with 160mm travel. Whichever one you pick, you’re in for a great time.
High performance trail bike at an unbeatable price
Wheel size: 27.5in or 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 15.54kg | Suspension travel: 150mm f/140mm r 27.5in, 140mm f/135mm r 29in | Rating: N/A
Reasons to buy: Exploitable handling, whatever your level. A bike that can grow with your skills. Fun to ride. No gimmicks.
Reasons to avoid: Overweight. You’ll find better spec from a direct-sales brand. No dropper post.
Marin’s new Rift Zone captures the essence of agile handling and an engaging ride and slaps on a price tag that doesn’t just appeal to hedge fund managers. Consumers get to choose between three wheel sizes; 27.5in and 29in obviously, but there’s also a 26in JR model for the groms. Build kits start at £1,695 and go up to £2,995 for the XR model.
In a world of sagging scales, bottomless travel and stratospheric price tags, the Rift Zone is as refreshing as plunging your face into a glacier-fed stream. It reminds you that it’s fun, rather than frills, that’s important in a mountain bike. if you prefer to let your riding do the talking rather than strut about preening your feathers on something that cost the equivalent of a house deposit, then the Rift Zone won’t disappoint.
The original down-country bike is now a real head turner
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.
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. Redesigned recently with a sleek new frame and more modern geometry, the Scott Spark has lost none of its potency, but it has 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.
Explosive trail weapon
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, M/L, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 14.89kg | Suspension travel: 130mm f/120mm r | Rating: 9
Reasons to buy: Poppy, playful and efficient. Available in six frame sizes. Internal down tube storage. Mino Link flip chip allows geometry tweaks.
Reasons to avoid: Needs a 180mm rear rotor. Accurate rear shock set up is crucial. A solid build so not the lightest in its class.
At 14.89kg (32.83lb), the Trek Top Fuel 8 isn’t that much lighter than a 150mm bike. So if you want one bike to conquer all trails, it wouldn’t be our first choice. It’s still a great 29er trail bike though, and if bike park laps and enduro racing don’t fall under your trail bike remit, the Trek Top Fuel 8 offers a fast, fun and engaging ride. Its poppy playful nature, combined with generous sizing means you never feel limited by the travel for regular trail riding. Yet, it still feels more energetic and efficient under pedalling than than most 150mm bikes. It’s a heady combination that manages to keep both the tempo and fun factor high, without any apparent lows.
Fluid suspension feel and agile handling
Wheel size: 27.5in or 29in | Frame sizes: S (27.5in only), M, L, XL | Weight: 15kg | Suspension travel: 160mm f/140mm r 27.5in, 150mm f/130mm r 29in | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Previous winner of our Trail Bike of the Year. Superb suspension and versatile handling.
Reasons to avoid: Seat tubes could be shorter for improved standover clearance.
After a good few years (decades?) of arguing amongst ourselves, the MTB world has pretty much settled on what constitutes a modern trail bike: a mid-travel 29er. With 140/130mm travel the 29er Reactor ticks the basic boxes, but it’s so much more than that. Incredibly supple suspension allied to a frame shape that’s not too radically slack or low, so cuts across flat singletrack with scalpel-sharpness, yet still has the composure to feel at home on rougher enduro tracks. Also available with a carbon frame and 27.5in wheels, the Reactor range has something for everyone. Which is why it was our Trail Bike of the Year in 2020 and the more expensive Pro version secured a 9/10 rating in our latest 2022 test.
Capable all-rounder that’s sure to make you smile
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 14.03kg | Suspension travel: 140mm front | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Stellar specification. Compliant ride. Size specify geometry
Reasons to avoid: Fork lacks support
The Nukeproof Scout started life as a burly, dirt jump/4-cross bike. But over the years the Scout has broadened its horizons, maturing into a capable trail bike, without ever losing sight of its more playful past. And with the latest round of frame revisions in 2022, the Scout is more capable than ever before. It’s also bang up-to-date.
With the latest round of revisions, the Nukeproof Scout 290 Elite is a seriously accomplished trail bike. And even though it was the cheapest bike in our group test by quite some margin, it still managed to hold its own on the descents while nudging ahead on the climbs. So in that respect it makes for a seriously good allrounder, especially if you’re looking to cover some serious ground with minimum effort.
A UK designed hardtail with a sublime ride quality and dialled handling
Wheel size: 27.5in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 13.61kg | Suspension travel: 130mm front | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Superb ride quality, dialled geometry, neat details
Reasons to avoid: It’s expensive for a hardtail
Who said Plus size tyres were dead? Clearly Whyte doesn’t think so and after testing the 909 X we wholeheartedly agree that they still have a seat at the wheel size table. Combine the high quality frame with the high volume 2.8in Plus size Maxxis tyres, and the Whyte 909 X offers unparalleled levels of comfort, grip and control. Now, we’re not talking full suspension levels here, as it’s only the difference between a 2.4in tyre and a 2.8in, but it is a noticeable improvement and it’s really appreciable in rougher trails.
And taken with the dialled geometry and finely tuned flex in Whyte’s alloy frame, the 909 X is the closest thing here to riding a soft-tail.
Sweet suspension without the sour price
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 16.4kg | Suspension travel: 150mm f/150mm r | Rating: 8/10
Reasons to buy: Supple suspension. Good shape. Safe handling. Good value.
Reasons to avoid: Heavy. Internal cable routing through the stem is a pain. Suspension lacks support.
Props to Focus for doing something different with the Jam. Despite the suspension not feeling particularly balanced, the bike does have a neutral riding position and a long reach, so we felt pretty confident hammering the rough chop. It’s not as manoeuvrable as the Nukeproof Reactor, but it does feel reasonably agile changing lines through twisty singletrack. Gravity is your real friend though. At least on the way down.
Should I buy a full-suspension bike or a hardtail for under £3,000?
Weight conscious cross-country riders are arguably still better served with a hardtail, but everyone else is probably better off on full-suspension as it brings much more comfort and control, especially on rough terrain. Modern full-suspension bikes pedal very efficiently now, so you won’t waste much energy through the suspension ‘bobbing’ either.
Should I get a carbon or alloy frame for under £3,000?
Carbon enters the arena here, mainly with direct-sales brands, but choice is still limited and we wouldn’t say that carbon is a deal breaker. In fact we’d usually recommend sticking with an alloy frame, as the weight disadvantage is often only around 500g, but it will mean you can enjoy much better components, such as better damping in the fork and shock, and lighter wheels, which can make more of a difference to the way the bike rides than a lighter frame. Either way, most platforms use the same frame on all models, so the top bike will have an identical frame as the cheapest model. The advantage with this system from a consumer’s perspective, is that you know the heart of the bike is the same quality, whatever the price, and that any upgrades will be worthwhile investments.
What components should I look out for under £3,000?
Make sure the bike has a dropper seatpost, as this will really help your descending. The suspension fork and rear shock should have compression damping adjustment as well as rebound adjustment. Look for easily serviceable parts, such as threaded bottom brackets and bearing kits for all the suspension pivots. In terms of drivetrain, SRAM GX or Shimano XT (or better) are preferable, but SLX and NX Eagle may well be used in places. Try to avoid SRAM’s NX Eagle cassette (designated PG-1230) as it is very heavy and uses a different freehub body that isn’t compatible with the lighter cassettes used further up the range.