These handful of rad machines are the absolute best hardtail mountain bike options out there right now, whether you're looking for a top beginner bike or a back-to-basics thrill machine.
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 job seriously, because if we can get you on the best possible hardtail you’re more likely to have great time on the trail and become a lifelong mountain bike addict, just like us!
Best hardtail mountain bikes
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 the 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. You’ll notice a distinct lack of high-end expensive hardtails here, of which there are plenty. This is deliberate, because once you start spending over £1,000/$1,400 on a mountain bike, the advantages of full-suspension really start to come into there own. So while there are some great hardtails for over this price, we start to switch our focus to finding the best cheap full suspension bike.
Quality alloy frame with modern geometry that makes a great platform for future upgrades
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 14.6kg | Suspension travel: 120mm front | Rating: N/A
Pros: Amazing price, great geometry and range of sizes, spot-on cockpit and component choices, and an active fork. Cons: 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.
Simply astounding spec and performance for the price
Wheel size: 27.5in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 14.38kg | Suspension travel: 120mm front | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Ride quality and build kit belie its price tag Cons: Demand always outstrips supply, so be quick!
By bestowing the same level of detail on the Nucleus VR that most other brands reserve for their flagship models, Vitus has had amazing success with its entry-level hardtail. Every year without fail, Vitus has tweaked the Nucleus VR to ensure that it stays ahead of the competition. And by a couple of steps, it’s often superior to most of the bikes in the sub-£750 class of our Hardtail of the Year test. Sadly, as is the case with so many bikes recently, the price has gone up and availability is scarce. However, if you see the Nucleus come into stock, don’t hesitate to snap it up, even at £599, as it’s still a bargain and by far the best hardtail mountain bike at this price.
The bike that rewrote the definition of entry-level hardtail performance
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 13.1kg | Suspension travel: 120mm front | Rating: 10/10
Pros: The price, updated geometry, light weight, lower range gears, wider handlebar and improved handling. And did we say the price? Cons: You’ll probably struggle to get hold of one.
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.
A proper hardcore hardtail that won’t break the bank
Wheel size: 27.5in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 12.94kg | Suspension travel: 140mm front | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Great spec, fast, massively versatile and impressively light. Cons: Needs better frame protection. Resin-only rotors make upgrading to sintered brake pads more expensive than it should be.
Vitus as a brand has quickly established itself as the smart choice for anyone looking for affordable mountain bikes that shred hard and don’t cut corners. The Sentier is classic Vitus: light, versatile and fast with a spec choice that clearly shows a company run by genuine mountain bike enthusiasts. We gave the 2019 VR version our coveted Editor’s Choice award, and as the frame hasn’t really changed, we’re confident that it’s just as good now as it ever was. Vitus also makes a 29in wheel version that would be better for taller riders and covering longer distances.
The hardtail that flatters experts and beginners alike
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: M, L, XL | Weight: 14.41kg | Suspension travel: 120mm f | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Amazingly composed and stable handling. Cons: Low-profile rear tyre may not suit all conditions. No size small – for that you need the 27.5in wheel 901 or 905.
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…
Light weight with sharp handling
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: M, L, XL | Weight: 13.95kg | Suspension travel: 130mm f | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Stellar specification. Compliant ride. Cons: Care needed with sizing. Tall seat tube. Only three frame sizes.
Although it doesn’t boast the most up-to-date sizing and fit, we can’t fault the ride quality of Nukeproof’s Scout. When we last reviewed the Scout it was the smaller wheeled 270 and we praised the compliance of its frame. It’s no different with this 290 Comp either – smooth, comfortable and quiet, allowing your mind to stay focused on the trail ahead. Yes, the XL Scout would certainly benefit from a shorter seat tube and a longer head tube, or at the very least and adjustable stroke dropper to get the best from the frame and as it’s very much at home on the descents.
High tech hardtail masterwork
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 14.12kg | Suspension travel: 130mm f | Rating: 8/10
Pros: High-tech frame design Cons: Front end is too low
The Fuse 29 is a fast, fun and efficient alloy hardtail, but best of all it doesn’t shake the life out of you on rougher trails. But rather than simply making up the numbers in the trail hardtail category, Specialized could tweak them and lead the way. With a slacker head angle, lower BB height and extra length in the front end, the Fuse would have the attitude to match the ride quality of its superbly engineered frame. Maybe Specialized needs to roll out a Fuse Evo, just like it did with the Stumpy.
Impressively balanced handling
Wheel size: 29in | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL | Weight: 13.98kg | Suspension travel: 140mm travel f | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Superb balanced handling. Cons: BB could be lower
We’ve been asking for a trail hardtail from Canyon for years, and had almost given up hope of ever seeing one when the Stoic arrived. Yes, the geometry on the Stoic isn’t as progressive or as hardcore as some, but the bike is all the more versatile for it. The alloy frame makes it light, agile and ultra-fast to accelerate, while the competitive build kit leaves nothing wanting. Would it be even better in a mullet configuration with a 2.6in rear tyre? Probably, but it’s still a great trail hardtail that can also hang with the hardcore crew.
Fast yet frugal option for racers on a budget
Wheel size: 26in (XXS), 27.5in (XS, S), 29in (M, L, XL, XXL) | Frame sizes: XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 13.2kg | Suspension travel: 100mm front | Rating: N/A
Pros: Bargain entry-level race bike. Massive size range. Quality alloy frame. Cons: Old school XC geometry with steep head angle and short reach means it’s a handful on technical terrain.
Trek has been building XC race bikes for over 30 years, and it currently boasts the Olympic XCO women’s champion and world champion on its books, so it knows a thing or two about building a great race bike. The Marlin 8 is very traditional in its ethos, with a light, efficient alloy frame at its heart and a 100mm suspension fork up front to take the sting out of the trail. There’s a fantastic range of frame sizes, with appropriate diameter wheels throughout, so you won’t have a problem getting the perfect fit. With conservative geometry, it’s not a bike for tackling the steepest, most technical trails or hitting big jumps, but it will be in its element covering long distances and ripping along fast, flowing singletrack.
21st century soft-tail with amazing acceleration
Frame: OCLV Mountain Carbon | Weight: 11.01kg (24.23lb) | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Comfortable as well as speedy Cons: Lacks a dropper post for modern XC courses
We tested the Trek Procaliber 9.7 a couple of years ago and it blew the competition away to take the top step of the podium in our grouptest, and the current model uses the same OCLV carbon frame with effective, trail-smoothing IsoSpeed decoupler. When we tested it we were blown away, writing: ‘From the first pedal stroke the Procaliber took the lead in this test and never faltered. We were instantly won over by its effortless turn of speed, in part thanks to the carbon wheels, but it’s also about the more forgiving ride quality of the frame. Bumps just didn’t chip away at our speed as much as they did on the other bikes on test. And even when we were out of the saddle, the Procaliber was still the smoothest bike here.’
Not many bikes can boast a stronger World Cup XC heritage
Frame: Scale 3 Carbon | Weight: 11.47kg (25,29lb) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: A rapid all-rounder without any weak links Cons: Redundant front mech apparatus spoils the aesthetic
Some brands use race teams for marketing, others focus on product development; Scott clearly does both. As such, the Scale is a finely tuned XC race machine with a huge trophy cabinet to prove it. When efficiency matters, the Scale transforms every watt of available energy directly into speed. Whether that’s grinding up a climb with your nose glued to the stem, exiting a corner, or simply changing gear. And direct power delivery isn’t the Scale’s only trump card, it’s equally adept at turning its hand to even the most technical trails.
For the uncompromising XC racer with deep (Lycra) pockets
Frame: S-Works FACT 12m Carbon | Weight: N/A | Rating: N/A
Pros: Power delivery that doesn’t beat you death Cons: Cutting edge costs money
Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the new Epic HT wasn’t some nervy, neurotic race bike that you need all you wits about you just to navigate a straightforward trail. Sure it’s crazy light; the frame alone weighing 790g. And let’s pause to think about that for a minute. That makes the S-Works Epic frame lighter than the average thin-walled trail tyre. More impressive still, the frame used for the Expert, Pro and regular Epic is only 140g heavier. The fact it is also incredibly light, supremely capable and surprisingly comfortable make it a truly amazing XC hardtail.
Channels the spirit of ’90s XC legends like Furtado and Tomac
Frame: Yeti TURQ Series Carbon | Weight: 11.38kg (25,11lb) | Rating: N/A
Pros: It’s hard not to feel special when you sling a leg over the iconic ARC Cons: Not really a pure cross-country race rig with its 130mm fork
Bear with us here. We know this isn’t really a XC race hardtail, but for some riders (of a certain age maybe) the Yeti ARC will be the bike that gets them around the XC race course the quickest. This is purely an emotional attribute. You can feel John Tomac and Julie Furtado watching you as you pilot this blue baby along the trails. What exactly is this bike for? Truth be told, it has no logical place. Which is why we love it. If push came to shove we’d call it a dreamy Down Country hardtail.
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.
What size frame should I buy?
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?
What’s the best wheel size for a hardtail?
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 – Doesn’t roll as fast as 29in, but easier 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.
What are the best components – like forks, brakes and tyres – for a hardtail?
At the cheaper end of the market, try and choose a bike with an air-sprung fork. This will let you set adjust it to suit your body weight. Also try and get a fork with adjustable rebound damping at the minimum. Disc brakes should be hydraulic, with replaceable brake pads. Some disc rotors only work with organic pad compounds, which wear quickly in the wet. A better option is to get a system that accepts sintered metal pads, as these are more durable. While most new bikes come with inner tubes inside the tyres, a simple upgrade is to go tubeless, using liquid sealant inside the tyre to seal the air and even fix minor punctures without getting your hands dirty. So look for tubeless-ready tyres and wheels, to make the switch easier. Don’t worry too much about things like grips and saddles, as these can be changed relatively cheaply at a later date to suit your personal preference.
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. For a deep dive on why geometry is so important, read our guide.
How do I get my new hardtail mountain bike set-up?
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.