The results are in!
We’ve rounded up the best hardtail mountain bikes at £500, £750 and £1,000, read on to find out who came out on top in the definitive test.
Boom! It’s the test we’ve all been waiting for. With 18 bikes and three distinct price points, mbr’s Hardtail of the Year is by far the biggest and most comprehensive test of sub £1,000 hardtails you’ll find anywhere.
The format is simple. Three target price points at £500, £750 and £1,000, with six bikes in each category.
And what a line-up we have for you. We’ve got classics like the Vitus Nucleus VR at £499.99 looking to make it three wins in a row. We also have the Voodoo Bizango 29 returning after a short hiatus and boy does this bike look better than ever. Previous winner of the £1,000 category, the Norco Fluid 2 HT is also back to defend its title against an increasing number of Plus hardtails.
And while the format remains unchanged, this test is by no means a forgone conclusion as we also have a raft of new faces in the line up. Brands like Polygon, Pinnacle, Calibre and Sonder all putting together incredibly competitive bikes and all vying for a bigger slice of the hardtail pie.
HOTY is not simply the biggest test we do however; it’s also the most important. Because for many, the bikes you see over the next 14 pages represent the first step on what we hope to be a long, fun-filled journey into the world of mountain biking. It’s why we take our Hardtail of the Year test every bit as seriously as testing £6k enduro race bikes.
To ensure we retain the same exacting test standards that we apply to every other bike test, we allocate a specific tester to each category. Not only does this break it down into three bite size chunks, it’s also why we have three winners, one for each price point. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to put a £1,000 bike up against one costing half the price.
By splitting the test into three price points it also means we have a clear winner for every budget. Not all of the bikes hit the exact target price though, but providing they don’t exceed it we considered them for review.
But enough about the how and why of the test, what you really want to know is which bikes are deserving of your head earned cash. So with out further delay let’s dive in to our Hardtail of the Year test. Hold on to your hats though, because down here in the trenches there’s a war going on and the difference in ride quality between the best and worst bikes in each category is stark, something that’s you see reflected in the wide spread of ratings… Enjoy.
Best hardtail mountain bikes: winners
Best hardtail mountain bike under £500
VITUS NUCLEUS VR, £499.99
With this bike it’s clear that Vitus haven’t sat back and rested on their laurels. Even though they don’t really have much genuine competition at this price point, they’ve still sweated the details and tweaked the Nucleus to be just as progressive and cutting edge as ever. The whole frame is new, this is not just a change of finishing kit. As well as being clearly lighter the Nucleus is easy to ride fast and, most importantly, it’s the most fun bike for under £500. It’s in a league of its own. More than that, it’s actualyl improving the general field of quality £500 hardtails. There mey be more contenders in future seasons but for now, this is the clear winner.
Best hardtail mountain bike under £750
VOODOO BIZANGO, £650.00
The most impressive thing about the Bizango is that Voodoo could quite easily add £100 to the price tag and not only would we not really quibble, we’d still give it the £750 category winning medal anyway! The frame is seriously well made and has the geometry numbers to back up its good looks. There’s plenty of room for proper chunky tyres and it’s already setup with a single-ring drivetrain. And let’s not forget that it has the best fork in its category which really helps it be a hoot on the trails. Even better than this? It’s often available with further discount deals which really give the £500 budget bike buyer pause to think.
Best hardtail mountain bike under £1,000: winner
VITUS SENTIER VR+, £999.99
This is a magnificent beast of a bike. Utterly modern with its long and rangy geometry. Couple this progressive mindset with an impeccably chosen build kit and you have a bike that is jaw-dropping for a hardtail that costs £1,000. Some folk may raise their eyebrow at the lack of dropper post and other super-slackers may dismiss the bike as not slack enough in the head angle but you just need to ride the bike to know that it works. Rocking diet-Plus 2.6in size tyres from Maxxis, the Sentier can handle anything you throw it at. A real high performance hardtail that sets new levels of expectation for its floundering rivals.
Best hardtail mountain bike test bikes
Best hardtail mountain bike under £500: runners-up
Pinnacle Kapur 2, £475
The Kapur takes notes from its higher end bigger sibling, the Iroko. It features progressive geometry, and a great cockpit layout with 45mm stem and 760mm handlebars. The seat post is a slender 27.2in, providing plenty of comfort, and a dropper post upgrade is possible too. The Kapur comes with an externally adjustable rebound damping suspension fork and combined with the stiffer 32mm upper tubes, the improved steering precision and tracking that the coil-sprung Suntour XCR32 fork add shouldn’t be underestimated. We did think the front tyre – a low-profile WTB Ranger 2.25in – could do with an improvement, but other than that we reckon Pinnacle is on to a winner.
Read more: Pinnacle Kapur 2 review
Voodoo Wazoo 27+ – £500
The Wazoo brings couple of significant things into the £500 mix: a bolt-thru suspension fork for steering stiffness and fat 2.8in Plus tyres. Despite the hype around Plus tyres dying off significantly of late there’s simply no doubting the advantages the larger tyres bring to a bike like this. More control, more traction, more comfort, more fun. All the extra rubber adds to overall heft but for a lot of riders will be fine with that. A couple of component quibbles (the fork’s damping is on the crude side and the rims could be wider for their allocated rubbers).
Read more: Voodoo Wazoo 27+ review
Claud Butler Alpina 650 £499.99, Rating: 6/10
Diamondback Sync 3.0 £460, Rating: 6/10
Specialized Pitch Sport £475, Rating: 6/10
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £750: runners up
Calibre Line 10, £749.00
The new Calibre Line 10 hardtail comes with an aggressive geometry, and a dropper post with 120mm to play with. The bike is specced with a RockShox Recon suspension fork, and a Shimano SLX clutch rear mech to keep chain slap at bay. The stoppers are Shimano M506 disc brakes. The whole package is good – but the Calibre missed out on a perfect 10 as a result of the less lively ride quality which we found a little harsh.
Read more: Calibre Line review here
Polygon Xtrada 6, £750
All four options rock the same frame, which is nicely finished and has some sleek manipulation and tube profiling to save weight and add stiffness. On the trail it’s really reactive to rider inputs and is one of the quickest bikes uphill, encouraging you to get out of the saddle and go for it.
Read more: Polygon Xtrada 6 review here
Norco Charger 2, £725
The Charger 2 has the best attributes of the 29er wheels and is great for longer distance rides, but for anything more challenging you’ll need to splash out for some new tyres.
Read more: Norco Charger 2 review
Kona Shred £699.99, Rating: 6/10
Specialized Rockhopper Expert 29 £750, Rating: 5/10
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £1,000: runners up
Norco Fluid 2 HT, £1,000
Its smooth welded frame gives ample stand over clearance allowing you to move around above the bike with ease, and its bang up to date in the aesthetics department too. The build kit is also on point, with 1x drivetrain, dropper post, short stem and wide handlebar, all of which help making for a super playful and enjoyable ride.
Read more: Norco Fluid 2 HT review
Sonder Transmitter NX1 Recon, £999
Within the first few pedal strokes we knew that the Sonder Transmitter NX Revelation was the bike to beat. It instantly felt faster and more agile than its rivals. Maybe it’s the slacker head angle putting the fork in a better position to absorb the hits, or it could simply be that the Sonder’s riding position meant we instinctively knew that any effort would be returned with interest. Either way, it just felt right. And over the course of the test nothing presented itself to make us think otherwise. Even the taller BB height and lack of a dropper post weren’t enough to detract from the Sonder’s standout ride.
Read more: Sonder Transmitter NX1 Recon review
Trek Roscoe 8, £1,000
Needless to say, the Roscoe carries with it a wealth of knowledge in high-end mountain biking, and this shines through in its design and ride, but as more of an all-round trail bike it doesn’t quite hit top marks.
Read more: Trek Roscoe 8 review
Cannondale Trail 3 £999.99, Rating: 6/10
Whyte 805 £999, Rating: 7/10