£1,500 marks the point where full-sussers get serious and technical choices proliferate; we test four bikes that promise different ways to boss the trail on a budget
ith the rapid rise of the online retailer, there’s never been a better time to buy a new mountain bike. Not only are the likes of Canyon and YT offering amazing bikes at ultra-competitive prices, they have now gained enough market-share for the traditional high street brands to sit up and take notice.
No longer is it enough for bricks and mortar stores to rely on service alone. Price-savvy shoppers want value for money too. For £1,500 it might be worth visiting a high street near you to buy a bike you can touch, sit on, eyeball for size, squidge the suspension and even ride straight out of the door, all on the very same day.
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Given that full-suspension bikes start at around £1,000, but can go all the way up to £10,000 for Gucci custom-builds, it’s fair to say that the four £1,500 bikes in this test still represent entry-level models.
The benefits of spending a little more than the bare minimum, however, are many. Not only do you get properly damped shocks and forks, £1,500 bikes are considerably lighter too. So our quartet of best value trail bikes should open the doors into the full-suspension domain, something you’ll doubtless have noticed the majority of experienced riders choose for ultimate performance.
Adding rear suspension obviously provides a massive leap in terms of comfort, but it also brings the security and confidence to take on bigger terrain and ride harder, more technical, trails. Yes, some purists will argue that it’s cheating, but for most of us mountain biking is a hobby to be enjoyed, not a test of your mettle, so who cares?
The added complexity of a full-suspension bike is a genuine concern though, where the learning curve with set-up can be dauntingly steep. Which is why these bikes all need to be ‘plug and play’. In line with this idea of instilling confidence and making the ride easier and more fun, one of the key aspects we’ll be looking for is ease of set-up and rideability straight out of the box.
We’ve stated it often enough, but it’s worth mentioning again: we’re indifferent to wheel size and enjoy both. That’s because a great bike is simply a great bike, regardless of the dimensions printed on the sidewall of the tyres. With that in mind, we tested all four bikes on the same mix of trails.
It will be interesting to see how the amount of travel and choice of wheel size plays out, but given that all four bikes on test blur the line between trail riding and more traditional XC, we’ll be looking to find a bike that’s fast, fun and capable on everyday singletrack.
And just because most of these bikes can be bought on the high street, that doesn’t mean you’ll want to be constantly going back there, so we’ll also award extra brownie points for reliability.
The best mountain bikes under £1,500
Way more fun than expected but needs a few specification tweaks - £1,499
Get the front end dialled and the Giant Trance 3 is instantly transformed into a weapon. The suspension response is…
Ploughs a different furrow to the majority of trail bikes - £1,499.99
Aa modern attitude but felt sluggish - £1,500
Bike Of The Year 2017! The sheer pace of the Trek Fuel EX 29 throws petrol on the heated wheel…
doesn't do anything wrong, but it feels lifeless and dated - £1,499.99
A bike that offers glimpses of greatness but is let down by reliability issues - £1,449
Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to guess what every rider looks for when buying a new bike. With so many different styles of riding and types of terrain, there’s simply no telling what they’ll use them for either. But that doesn’t stop the speculation.
One of our testers has a theory that these £1,500 short-travel rigs are perfect for the ‘7-11 gang’ — people with busy lives who only get to ride between these hours on a Sunday morning or weekday evening.
It’s a scenario that will ring true for many, and requires us getting our singletrack fix with minimal fuss
A key takeaway message from this test is that components are always just the icing on the cake of any bike. And while we all want to get the best possible value for our hard-earned, no one remembers whether they had more gears or an XT rear mech when reminiscing about their favourite rides. If, however, the suspension, geometry or balance of a bike is bugging you, the experience is never going to be great.
he Giant Anthem, with its old-school geometry and frame layout, caught us off guard. It clocks up the miles at a blistering pace, and the effective Maestro suspension offers a comfortable, capable ride that belies its meagre 100mm travel.
The bike also has a durable, well thought-out spec that offers decent value for money considering that you can still buy it from a bricks and mortar store. Just don’t expect to pick one up at the local 7-11.
With the rest of the field playing catch-up, the Specialized Camber had everything its own way. By nailing the frame and ride quality, it is surprising how much fun you can have on this short-travel 29er.
We certainly weren’t worrying too much about the 2×9-speed drivetrain while tearing up the singletrack, where its easy-to-ride attitude totally belies the price tag. Sure, most testers would prefer the slacker, longer-travel EVO model, and we’d recommend that upgrade if you can stretch to it, but for £1,500 the Camber is guaranteed to put a smile on your face every single ride.