These handful of rad machines are the absolute best hardtail mountain bike options out there right now. We thrashed 24 hardtails for this definitive shortlist.
From budget up to mid-range price points, these bikes are the best hardtail mountain bike models we’ve tested. Any of the hardtails listed here could be the first step for many on the amazing journey that is mountain biking. People, places, product and passion, mountain biking has it all, and the best bikes in this test are guaranteed to set you off down the correct trail so you never have to look back.
If you read this test and buy one of the test winners, we can guarantee that you’re on the best mountain bike for your budget. And that’s because we ride these bikes every bit as hard as any we test (you can read more about how we test bikes below). We take this test seriously, because if we can get you on the best possible hardtail you’re more likely to have great time on the trail.
Best hardtail mountain bikes
- Calibre Two Cubed review – under £375/$525 winner
- Vitus Nucleus 27 VR review – under £500/$700 winner
- Voodo Bizango review – under £750/$1000 winner
- Vitus Sentier 27 VR review – under £1000/$1400 winner
- Norco Storm 4 review – under £375/$525 runner-up
- Pinnacle Kapur 2 review – under £500/$700 runner-up
- Saracen Zenith Pro review – under £750/$1000 runner-up
- Nukeproof Scout 275 Sport review – under £1000/$1400 runner-up
A note about the pricing: you may notice that prices of these bikes have crept up a bit. So much so that bikes may now be more expensive than their initial price bracket. This is primarily due to the impact of Covid pandemic and subsequent supply-chain issues. However, the important thing is that the price increase does not change our test verdicts. All bikes have gone up in price, not just our winning hardtails. Right then, on with the tale of the testing…
How we test for the best hardtail mountain bike
We have four testers, with over 70 years of combined experience, putting these bikes though their paces, one tester dedicated to each price point. This way we can maintain the same exacting testing standards that we would for any other bike test.
To find the best hardtail mountain bike we actually really perform four separate tests in one epic test fest of 24 hardtails. This results in us having four individual winners, one for each price point. After all, it just wouldn’t be fair to compare a £400/$550 bike with one costing almost three times as much money.
You’ll notice a distinct lack of high-end expensive hardtails, of which there are plenty. This is deliberate, because once you start spending over £1000/$1400 on a mountain bike, the advantages of full suspension really come into their own, so we switch our focus to finding the best cheap full suspension bike.
Calibre Two Cubed
Best hardtail mountain bike under £400/$550
Price: £399 | Frame: 6061 aluminium | Fork: RockShox XC30 100mm | Weight: 14.0kg (30.9lb)
Pros: Fit and sizing is great. Superlative fork and suspension.
Cons: Front end is a little low. The price keeps creeping up.
At £399 the Two Cubed is unbeatable, it has the best sizing and geometry of pretty much all other bikes at this price, and comes in three usable sizes so most riders should be able to get the right fit. The bike encourages you to push your luck on the trails, ride faster and have more fun, knowing the Two Cubed has the geometry, suspension and components to back you up. This bike looks like a more expensive bike too, and there lies the rub — it actually is. Calibre had discounted it for its launch, and although the price subsequently crept up to £399ish, it’s still as amazing deal.
Vitus Nucleus 27 VR
Best hardtail mountain bike under £500/$700
Price: £499 | Frame: 6061-T6 aluminium | Fork: Suntour XCR LO-R Air 120mm | Weight: 14.03kg (30.93lb)
Pros: Ride quality and build kit belie its price tag.
Cons: Still no clutch mech to help keep the chain on.
As four-time winner of our sub £500/$700 Hardtail of the Year award, the Nucleus 275 VR has singlehandedly changed our expectations of what’s possible at this price point. Nothing needs changing or upgrading straight out of the box, which is exactly how it arrives. But make no mistake, this isn’t just the best value bike here, it’s also by far the best performer. So much so, that in all of our back-to-back testing the Vitus always felt like it was in a class of its own. So to say that it’s simply standout, is something of an understatement. The new 2020 model gets a quick-release thru-axle fork to stiffen up the front end. Although the price has recently risen to £549.99, the Nucleus 27 VR remains an outstanding bike for the price.
Best hardtail mountain bike under £750/$1000
Price: £650 | Frame: Double-butted aluminium | Fork: Suntour Raidon 120mm | Weight: 12.7kg (28lb)
Pros: Next level build, truly amazing price, extra-special ride quality.
Cons: The 720mm riser bar is still too narrow.
Making a really good hardtail is not hard because they’ve been around for ever. Voodoo is essentially a direct sales brand, which means it has a bit more budget to play with. That’s has been spent wisely but it doesn’t cost anything to weld the tubes in a different place and Voodoo nailed that too. The Bizango is the best shape, has the best spec, and the best price. If you’re looking for a sub-£750 hardtail this is it, end of.
Vitus Sentier 27 VR
Best hardtail mountain bike under £1000/$1400
Price: £999.99 | Frame: 6061-T6 alloy | Fork: RockShox Sektor RL 140mm | Weight: 12.94kg (28.5lb)
Pros: Great spec, fast, massively versatile and lightest on test.
Cons: No dropper post, cheap resin pad-only rotors.
You can only buy this bike direct from Chain Reaction Cycles or Wiggle. This means a massive cost saving for the suppliers and it’s evident in build kit. The only downside is you can’t try before you buy at your local bike shop — so you’ll just have to trust us when we say that you’ll love it. It’s a playful bike that really wants to rip; it makes you want to stoppie into turns and pull wheelies on the way out. It’s a whole load of fun. Just upgrade those rotors for the winter and you’ve got a do-it-all bike that will do it all year long. For 2021 the Sentier gets some major upgrades, including a Marzocchi Bomber Z2 fork, SRAM Eagle drivetrain with wide-range cassette for winching up steep climbs, and a dropper post as standard for bombing down them again. Considering that only adds an extra £100 to the price, we reckon it’s a steal.
Full list of hardtails we tested
Vitus Sentier 27 VR review – winner
Nukeproof Scout 275 Sport review – runner up
Merida Big Trail 400 review
Decathlon Rockrider AM 100 HT review
Sonder Transmitter NX1 Recon review
Ragley Marley 2.0 review
What to look for in the best hardtail mountain bike:
What is a hardtail?
A hardtail is a mountain bike that has suspension at the front (a suspension fork) but has a rigid un-suspended main frame and rear wheel. The term hardtail differentiates it from full suspension bikes – with suspension at both wheels – as well as fully rigid bikes – which have rigid forks as well as rigid main frames.
Get the right size
Bike manufacturers use seat tube length to denote frame sizes. These can be in inches, or use descriptive terms like Small, Medium and Large. The problem is, there’s no standardised sizing tool, so one brand’s medium can be the same as another’s large. Mountain biking is a dynamic sport, and you’ll be moving around the bike a lot when you’re riding. It follows, then, that you want plenty of clearance over the top tube when you’re standing astride the bike (called ‘standover’ height, and around three inches is a good starting point) but enough length between the seat and the handlebars that you don’t feel too cramped when sitting down and climbing. Be careful with online size calculators. They’re not always that accurate. If in doubt, we’d recommend you go for the largest size you can get away with that still provides adequate standover clearance. Read our guide: What mountain bike frame size should I ride?
There are two main sizes of wheel on the market. They are 29in and 27.5in. So what are the pros and cons of each?
27.5in – The more common wheel size in this test. Doesn’t roll as fast as 29in, but easy to turn and accelerate. Generally stronger and lighter than big wheels too. Paired with big volume tyres (2.5in and upwards) you get a more comfortable ride and improved grip.
29in – Rolls fast, more stable at speed and less interrupted by bumps, which makes them great on a hardtail, so long as the geometry is right. Wheels can be weaker and heavier though.
Forks, brakes and tyres
Better suspension forks, disc brakes and tyres are the three key components that really improve the ride quality of any bike.
Good geometry costs nothing
Good geometry (which goes hand-in-hand with frame-sizing) doesn’t increase the bottom line. Therefore quick-thinking smaller bike brands that aren’t asleep at the wheel can get ahead of their big-name rivals, or at the very least get a running start, by designing a frame with capable modern geometry. Read our guide: Mountain bike geometry explained.
What to do when you get your hardtail:
Inflate your tyres
Ignore the recommended tyre pressures printed on the sidewalls and aim for around 28psi front and 30psi rear – adjusting either way by a few psi if you weigh more or less than 75kg. Wide tyres can be run slightly softer than narrower ones, too – as low as 15psi for a 2.8in model. Either way, too hard and they’ll be harsh and offer little grip; too soft and you’ll be more prone to pinch flats and you may even roll the tyre clean off the rim.
Adjust your controls
Disc brakes are so powerful you should only need to use one finger to slow down. Loosen the clamps and slide the levers away from the grips until your index finger rests right at the end of the lever blade. This gives you the most leverage and the most secure grip on the bars. Now slide your shifters against the brake clamps to make them accessible. Your brake levers should be angled in line with your arms – don’t rotate them to point straight down.
Optimise your position
Firstly, it’s critical you get the saddle height sorted for seated pedalling. As a rule of thumb, your leg should be straight, with your heel on the pedal and the crankarm in line with your extended leg. This allows for a slight bend in the knee when you place the ball of your foot on the pedal at your maximum saddle height. For technical singletrack climbs, drop your saddle by 1-2cm to make balancing on the bike much easier. Slam the saddle all the way down for descending, and for the next step; setting your suspension…
Set-up your fork
Don’t get distracted by handlebar lockouts as they aren’t much use off-road. Instead, focus on setting your sag correctly. With an air-sprung fork start by using the recommendations printed on the leg. RockShox and Manitou have them, but not Suntour. You’ll need a shock pump to do this. If it has a lock out, check it’s in the open position first. Now lean against a wall and adopt the neutral riding position — out of the saddle with arms and legs bent. Bounce up and down on the fork and let it settle to the sagged position. The sag is how much the suspension compresses under your weight. Start with 20 to 25 per cent of the fork’s travel — so, if you fork has 100mm of travel, it should compress by 20-25mm. Use the rubber O-ring or a zip tie on the leg to measure this. Be sure to set the sag in your full riding kit, with backpack and water included.
Set your bar height
Finally, adjust your stem height. Raising your stem will give you more confidence on the descents, by making it much easier to shift your weight rearward. Too high, however, and you won’t have enough weight on the front tyre for grip on flat corners. It’s worth noting that stem height is closely related to fork set-up, as a combination of both will determine the height of the handlebar.