The results are in!
Read on to find out who came out on top in the definitive test of the best hardtail mountain bikes at £500, £750 and £1,000.
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 2018. 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. Last year’s 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 2018 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.
THIS YEAR’S WINNERS
Best hardtail mountain bike under £500
VITUS NUCLEUS VR, £499.99
In mountain bike development standing still is akin to going backwards, so it’s great to see Vitus swimming against a tide of average hardtails and progressing. With a brand new frame and some subtle tweaks to the build kit, the 2018 Nucleus VR is better than ever and it’s still the £500 bike to beat. Lighter, faster and more fun than anything else in its class, nothing comes close to matching its performance. In fact, mountain bikers have never had to so good and the Vitus Nucleus VR is the tide that’s lifting all boats in the sub £500 harbour.
Best hardtail mountain bike under £750
VOODOO BIZANGO, £650.00
In a blind test with the other bikes here the Voodoo Bizango would easily come out top because it has a superb frame with good geometry, lots of tyre clearance and it’s configured for modern 1x drivetrains. It also has the best performing fork on test, weighs the least and is a total blast to ride. That’d easily be enough to win this test but the Bizango 29 is also a £100 cheaper than the competition and just recently we’ve noticed that it is discounted to £530, making it one of the best value hardtails we’ve ever tested.
Best hardtail mountain bike under £1,000
VITUS SENTIER VR+, £999.99
If you couple the Sentier’s impressive sizing and weight to its aggressive geometry, then add in the perfect selection of components, you’ve got a cocktail that delivers a mind-blowing hardtail for £1,000. Yes, it lacks a dropper post and isn’t the slackest bike on test, but the ride is still standout and the 2.6in Maxxis tyres proved the most versatile so the Vitus can smash any trail in any season. In every respect the Sentier VR + is a true performance hardtail and Vitus has raised the bar once again.
BEST HARDTAIL MOUNTAIN BIKE 2018 TEST BIKES
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
In a blind test with the other bikes here the Voodoo Bizango would easily come out top because it has a superb frame with good geometry, lots of tyre clearance and it’s configured for modern 1x drivetrains.It also has the best performing fork on test, weighs the least and is a total blast to ride. That’d easily be enough to win this test but the Bizango 29 is also a £100 cheaper than the competition and just recently we’ve noticed that it is discounted to £530, making it one of the best value hardtails we’ve ever tested
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
UNDER £750 runners-up
Calibre Line 10, £749.00
The new Calibre Line 10 hardtail comes with an agressive 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
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
LAST YEAR’S BEST HARDTAIL WINNERS
£500 CATEGORY: VITUS NUCLEUS 275 VR
“After only the few pedal strokes on the 2017 Vitus Nucleus, it was obvious that all of the other bikes in the sub £500 category would be competing for second place.
“The superior geometry of the Vitus frame, combined with the air sprung suspension fork and the best tyres in test, means that the only limiting factors here are your skill level and fitness. It really is in a class of its own and its easily deserving of its second mbr Hardtail of the Year award. Can anyone step into the ring and break its winning streak or even get beyond the first round? We very much doubt it.”
£750 CATEGORY: WHYTE 605
“The Whyte 605 is our Hardtail of the Year in the £750 category, but it isn’t perfect. There are a couple of iffy component choices, like the square-taper crankset, none-branded hubs and summer only WTB tyres, but what stops the 605 getting a perfect 10 is the fact that Whyte’s award-winning 800 and 900 bikes are totally dialled. If Whyte could trickle down the geometry and handling, and fit a proper front tyre and a wider bar, the 605 would be on a completely different level to any other bike in the category.”
£1,000 CATEGORY: NORCO FLUID 7.2 HT+
“The Norco Fluid 7.2 HT+ rewrites the book on what can be produced for a penny shy of £1,000. With a modern trail-focused frame design, choice components, Plus size tyres and a dropper seat post, Norco has produce a standout package that will flatter any rider.
“Yes, it’s one of the heavier bikes in this category, but it certainly doesn’t ride heavy and a quick tubeless conversion would instantly save 0.5kg of rotational weight.
“Best of all, the Plus size tyres make everything easier. They are a lot easier on the joints too making it a great choice for long days in the saddle.”