Best full-suspension mountain bikes 2024 – we put the top XC, downcountry, and trail MTBs to the test

Best full-suspension mountain bikes
(Image credit: @roofowler / Canyon)

With technology and design around suspension linkages and frame design constantly being refined, the best full-suspension mountain bikes have taken over all disciplines of mountain biking.  

No longer reserved for gravity-orientated riders, we're seeing everyone from trail to XC riders adopting the best full-suspension mountain bikes as they offer a wealth of advantages including more traction, added comfort, and confidence when riding rough terrain.

Keep reading to find out our pick of the best full-suspension mountain bikes for three categories – cross-country, downcountry, and trail riding.

While these are the best full-suspension mountain bikes, you don't need to spend loads of money to get a great full-sus bike. If you are looking for great value bikes check out our best budget full-suspension bike guide.

Best full-suspension mountain bikes

Why trust BikePerfect Our cycling experts have decades of testing experience. We'll always share our unbiased opinions on bikes and gear. Find out more about how we test.

Best full-suspension trail bikes

As the way most of us ride and the places we go to get our fix have become increasingly extreme, trail bikes have been getting more confident, controlled and tougher. That inevitably means they've got heavier too, but as most of them pedal so well it doesn't matter. I've tested a ton of properly awesome all-round trail bikes in the past year too, which makes picking a top five hard. I reckon you can't go far wrong with any of these options though.

Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Comp

Specialized stands out thanks to its adjustability, geometry, and storage features (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

1. Best aggro trail all-rounder

Best aggro trail all-rounder

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 150mm/150mm
Frame material : Carbon
Groupset: Shimano XT
Wheel size : 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Impressively light
+
Tons of progressive geometry adjustment
+
Smoothly neutral Fox suspension
+
Big internal storage
+
Great value for performance and spec

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly soft pedalling

If you want to read a more sensible account of why the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Comp is brilliant you should read my full review. But while I'm chained to a desk following an injury, here are some Stumpjumper Evo vibe vectors you might not find elsewhere.

Yes, there is an alloy bike and it's really good for all the same geometry adjust, plush suspension, and 'lovable like a labrador' reasons as the carbon one is. It's a win if you don't trust carbon either. It is a lot heavier though and you get both a hop up from SRAM NX to GX and the carbon frame for not much extra cash on the Comp. There's no storage either.

What makes the carbon Evo stand out though? The fact you can play around with the geometry in several ways just with an Allen key and a few trailside minutes is brilliant. You can produce some properly radical results with it too, rather than just correcting the numbers from outdated to OK like some bikes. 

Specialized started the internal storage revolution and they still do it better than anyone else – I certainly haven't been able to fit three full-size sausage rolls into any other bikes. The whole bike from grips to tires is sorted as well and while they don't officially offer a lifetime warranty, Specialized customer service is ridiculously good. 

While not everyone agrees with me, I reckon the Evo pedals better than the standard shorter travel Stumpjumper too. It's still a bit soggier in feel than the stiffest bikes in the category, but then FSR suspension always has been and you never have to worry about climbing traction on it.

Most of all though it's just a really fun, forgiving, and friendly bike to ride on every ride. Maybe not the sharpest or showiest, but one that'll show you a damn good time every time. It'll generally bring you home less battered afterwards too, so you're fresh to go again the next day. The fact it's still in my workshop as a go-to benchmark months after I posted the review is a big thumbs up too.

Check out our full review of the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Comp.

2. Best for trail riding fun

Canyon Spectral 29

Canyon offers a combo of great trail performance and value  (Image credit: Canyon)
Best for trail riding fun

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 160mm/150mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano XT
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent carbon and alloy frames
+
Very well-sorted suspension
+
Excellent, sensibly adjustable geometry
+
Top value, well curated components throughout
+
Various wheel options available

Reasons to avoid

-
Comes in a box
-
Not the liveliest
-
No internal storage

I've gone for Canyon Spectral 29 CF 8, but to be honest, any of the massive Spectral family could have made the 'best full-suspension bike' cut. That's because the fundamentals of really well-designed and detailed frames, totally sorted progressive geometry, and impeccably neutral four-bar suspension all loaded with killer value specs are the same throughout the range.

Having ridden the standard carbon frame in two different spec formats the significantly lower weight (lower than a lot of so-called 'downcountry' bikes) makes it worth stretching your wallet for. From what I've heard, the alloy bikes are still really well sorted though and at the price they start they're pretty much unbeatable in terms of ride and features.

As well as a huge range of price points – from Shimano entry-level to SRAM Flight Attendant auto suspension – there are different wheel, frame and travel options under the broader Spectral umbrella too. The mullet wheel, coil-shock bike is perfect if you've got hero corners to slash. The shorter travel Spectral 125 is great for those who want more pop than plush too. You're not gaining any advantages in terms of weight though so the fancy frame CFR option is the win if you've got the cash for a proper, premium trail racer. 

Even that's a comparative super bargain though, but don't forget a lot of that money is saved by skipping the expensive shop bit and sending you your Spectral in a box. Just like everything else Canyon, it's a nicely designed box though. 

For more, see our full Canyon Spectral 29 CF 8 review.

3. Best for suspension performance

santa cruz hightower portrait

Santa Cruz Hightower V3 stands out thanks to its beautiful suspension performance (Image credit: GuyKesTV)
Best for suspension performance

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 150mm/145mm
Frame material: Carbon CC
Groupset: SRAM X01 Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Superlative, positive suspension
+
Excellent hard and fast handling
+
Fantastic surefooted yet lively ride
+
Lifetime frame, bearing and rim warranty
+
Beautifully engineered internal storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Significantly heavier and more expensive than V2
-
Questionable tire choice

Santa Cruz's latest Hightower is longer, slacker in the head, steeper in the seat and comes with internal storage where you can keep the massive sense of totally predictable progression.

Yes, as a cynical old sod, I wasn't expecting to be that blown away by the new version of Santa Cruz's 29er all-rounder. Mainly because the old one was already my benchmark of how good a mid-travel (150mm front/145mm rear) 29er could feel. And like most other evolution models from most other brands, I didn't think a door to a secret store was really worth more weight and a £1000 price hike.

"Ha," said Santa Cruz and immediately set about making me look like one of those reviewers who doesn't bother to weigh things or think of the consequences and realities of paying nearly 10k for a "push bike". The fractionally shifted, smaller pivot kinematic of the VPP suspension whispered sweet nothings in my ear. I'm not going to go into how the new RockShox Super Deluxe shock produced an ecstatic "oh yes" from me, but I can tell you every click of that spring-detented, low-speed compression dial does something really special.  

The slightly altered handling told me how incredible I was every time I held off the brakes a little bit longer or tipped the bars into corners a bit deeper. The boxier carbon frame, perfectly shaped Santa Cruz bars and bulge-reinforced Reserve carbon rims told me their no-quibble lifetime warranty didn't matter because the way they rode made me feel invincible anyway.

And when I clicked the sweetly over-engineered catch on that internal storage it wasn't just like opening the door on a top-spec German whip. It was like I was important enough for someone to be opening my car door for me.

So, whether you get it from these utterings or you still need to read the full Santa Cruz Hightower V3 review, if you've got a pile of cash or a robust lack of financial responsibility, the Hightower is the 'super trail' all-rounder to beat right now.

4. Best for trail agility

Mondraker Raze Carbon RR review

Light and agile ride feel is makes the Raze Carbon RR very reactive out on the trail (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Best for trail agility

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 150mm/130mm
Frame material: Carbon
Group: SRAM X01 Eagle
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight, lively frame 
+
Perfectly imbalanced Fox Factory suspension
+
Forward Geometry agility 
+
MIND data mining

Reasons to avoid

-
MIND could do more
-
Not as light as claimed

Mondraker brought the super short stem, long reach stability geometry revolution to the mainstream with their Forward Geometry bikes. The Raze is their latest expression of that rebellious responsiveness with a super lively lightweight carbon frame and 150mm front, 130mm suspension split.

What sounds like a wonky amount of travel works well to encourage you to attack with the front wheel as much as possible. That's because it's when the Raze geometry is at its best and Mondraker even fits a reinforced front tire but not a rear one to reinforce the point.

The stunningly looking slimline frame not only looks fast standing still. It feeds into the 'grab the trail by the throat' vibe with a sinewy, feel that snakes and swerves through trouble while laying down awesome traction. The race-honed Zero suspension gets extra setup assistance via the wireless MIND travel tracking sensors front and rear too. That makes the Raze RR a live wire both technically and in terms of ride character. And while not everyone will need that level of tech or want that much in your face, synapse reactive responsiveness deserves a shout-out as something special.

Guy had this to say about the Raze's handling when he reviewed it, "despite so many bikes following much of Mondraker's pioneering geometry lead, it has managed to keep its signature ride character deliciously distinctive. The light, lithe, perfectly imbalanced suspension of the Raze RR makes it a proper ‘chef’s special’ in terms of accentuating that agility and inherent ‘skill gifting’ to the maximum." 

For more, check out our full Mondraker Raze Carbon RR review.

5. Best steel full-suspension trail bike

Cotic Jeht 2 portrait shot

Signature slim steel tubes pick up some pleasingly parallel reinforcing tubes on the tougher second-generation Jeht frame (Image credit: GuyKesTV)
Best steel full-suspension trail bike

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 150mm/140mm
Frame material: Reynolds 853 steel
Group set: Shimano XT
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Seriously muscularly yet lively ride vibe
+
Excellent aggressive riding geometry
+
Really well-sorted suspension with multiple shock and fork choices
+
Great value considering the quality and primarily UK build

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively heavy
-
No UDH hanger option for the latest T-Type SRAM
-
Awkward bottle positions

You're probably not surprised to see carbon bikes from a string of mega brands filling this best-of-guide. Steel from a small outfit near Sheffield UK though? Really?

And yes, the ferrous alloy is heavier than fiber composites by an average of a kilo for same-category bikes. You won't get the same stiffness as a big box frame and it doesn't scream 'Look how much I've spent on all this tech' either. The carefully curated steel tubes of Cotic's mid-travel trail machine add a subtle spring and flow that's almost impossible to weave into a composite, shape into an alloy tube, or dial into a damper though. Ovalisation and oversizing where it matters still means the Jeht 2 can place its front wheel perfectly and drive its rear wheel powerfully too. The latest Longshot geometry is confidence-boosting without killing the visceral, responsive vibe of the frame. 

A whole range of build specs and rolling chassis options offer surprisingly good value for a small company and Cy and his team will work with you to create any custom of partial build solutions you want too.

Guy has spent a load of time on the previous Jeht and was even more impressed by the latest Jeht 2. "Its notably quiet and damped vibe underlines how hard you can push the latest Jeht on the most challenging trails and it’s certainly got the chops to go head-to-head with the most hardcore bikes in any material now."

For more, see our full Cotic Jeht 2 review.

Best full-suspension XC bikes

The top racers in the world used to all ride hardtails for minimum weight, but tougher courses mean the fastest riders are now choosing the best full-suspension bikes instead. 

The great news is that it’s creating some really versatile high-velocity, short-travel machines that are as happy raving on your favorite singletrack as they are ripping up the race track. But which are the winning machines and what do you need to know to work out which is the best bike for you?

6. Best for racing

Santa Cruz Blur 4

The Blur 4 is Santa Cruz's return to XC racing (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Best for racing

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 100mm / 100mm
Frame material: CC Carbon
Group: SRAM X01 Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Superlight frame
+
Excellent, speed-happy handling
+
Totally sorted suspension
+
Lifetime frame and wheel warranties
+
Superb race spec

Reasons to avoid

-
Rowdiest racers might want the Blur TR’s bigger fork and grippier tires
-
Affordability

Santa Cruz hasn't had a proper podium-focused full suspension XC race bike in their lineup for years but the fourth-generation Santa Cruz Blur impressed me so much that I awarded it five stars in my full review. 

For the new Blur, Santa Cruz strived to combine XCO-race-worthy speed with the brand's signature handling that can be found on its range of popular trail bikes. New to the frame is a flex in the seat stay as well as a new suspension design that diverges from the brand's usual VPP setup. The suspension features 100mm front and rear, and there is a 120mm TR version of the bike available too. 

RockShox SID suspension front and rear are combined with SRAM's X01 Eagle AXS wireless drivetrain along with SRAM Level RSC brakes. Lightweight carbon rims are specced from Santa Cruz's in-house wheel brand Reserve and a 100mm Fox Transfer SL dropper post is also specced. Despite being seriously light you still get a full lifetime warranty on the frame, rims, bearings, and handlebars and no weight restriction either.

It's the effortless acceleration, effervescent flow and fun of the Blur that made it a favorite of our testers though, both on the race track and off.

7. Best for rowdy cross-country courses

Scott Spark Team Issue AXS 2021

Scott's Spark stands out thanks to its integrated shock design (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Best for rowdy cross-country courses

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/120mm
Frame construction: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM GX Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Totally sorted high-speed suspension
+
Sweetly balanced, adjustable handling
+
Tight tracking frame and fork
+
Big volume tires and rims
+
Excellent spec value

Reasons to avoid

-
Most riders will want a dropper
-
Press-fit bottom bracket needs regular checks
-
Not the lightest Spark frame

The Scott Spark is by far the most successful cross-country race bike of the last decade, and the latest model is faster, more controlled, and uniquely sleek looking too. 

The most obvious change is that Scott has hidden the rear shock inside the frame so that it's not exposed to the elements. The brand has also bumped up the rear suspension travel to 120mm on all Spark models, not just the downcountry/trail ones. The already progressive, control-boosting geometry can also be made a degree slacker in just a couple of minutes on the trailside which boosted my confidence when I was testing it.

The Team Issue AXS is a real sweet spot in terms of value for racers too. The excellent RockShox SID fork and Deluxe rear shock suspension feature bar lever controlled open, traction, and lock settings for maximum efficiency. The SRAM GX Eagle AXS electronic drivetrain is flawlessly fast and you get the superlight Syncros Hixon all in one carbon cockpit. The Syncros Silverton wheels are light too and Maxxis Rekon 2.4in tires roll super fast while staying rocky section safe. 

Guy spent most of his testing time on the Scott Spark hustling trails at e-MTB speeds and had this to say about Scott's XC bike. "A narrow flat bar, downturned stem, and fixed seat post confirm that the RC is a racer at heart, but it’s a brilliant example of just how far race bikes have come in terms of capability, confidence, and big-grin speed. 

Read more about the Spark in our full Scott Spark Team Issue AXS review. 

8. Best for cutting edge XC tech

BMC Fourstroke 01 TWO review

BMC's Fourstroke has a new geo, new kinematics, and a new intigrated dropper (Image credit: Maxime Schmid)
Best for cutting edge XC tech

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 100mm/100mm
Frame construction: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM GX Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Agile yet predictable handling
+
Confident straight-line speed
+
Extremely quiet over rough terrain
+
Autodrop dropper post just works
+
Excellent electronic shifting

Reasons to avoid

-
SID SL fork is easily outridden by the frame
-
Messy peddlers could struggle with the low bottom bracket

If you're looking for a cutting-edge XC bike then few come close to the BMC Fourstroke 01. BMC's latest race bike features aggressive and progressive geometry, triple mode shock control, and most significantly BMC's Airdrop seatpost. 

The geometry is pretty radical and wouldn't look all that out of place amongst the best trail bikes. The slack 66.5-degree head angle, short 432mm, and low 53mm bottom bracket mean the Fourstroke feels simultaneously planted and maneuverable. When it got updated, BMC completely changed the Fourstroke's frame layout too, squeezing in two inline water bottles alongside a new horizontal-orientated APS suspension system.

The big talking point around the Fourstroke 01 frame is BMC's Airdrop technology. Previously BMC used a RAD-integrated dropper post, they have now gone one step further by integrating an air chamber in the downtube which compresses the dropper post without the rider sitting down. It seems like a small detail however it potentially saves a lot of rider energy throughout a race and makes it easier to get the saddle out of the way on technical undulating segments.

Graham was lucky enough to test the BMC Fourstroke 01 on the challenging French Tokyo Olympic test track and was impressed by the Fourstroke 01's performance. In his first look, he says "Riders who want a super capable, confidence-inspiring XC bike are going to love the Fourstroke. It's agile and punchy with no loss of composure when the trails get rough assuming you stay within the remit of the fork. 

You can read more about the unique Airdrop technology in Graham's BMC Fourstroke 01 TWO first ride review.

9. Best for marathon racing

Cervelo ZFS custom build portrait

Low weight, long travel, and slack geometry is ready to race over any terrain (Image credit: GuyKesTV)
Best for marathon racing

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/120mm
Frame construction: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM XX Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Superlight yet lifetime warrantied frame
+
Trail slack steering with compact agility
+
Proven, fluid yet efficient, light yet durable suspension
+
Sweetly balanced frame feel
+
100 or 120mm travel versatility

Reasons to avoid

-
Short for downcountry bombing
-
Weight-saving control routing is a servicing/silencing pain

In the past road brands that have made the jump to off-road haven't always been all that successful. However, Cervelo has done an excellent job with their ZFS-5, producing a lightweight, fast, and capable XC bike.

The ZFS-5 packages a lot of our favorite features from the other XC bikes on this list. It features suspension characteristics from the Santa Cruz Blur (which is under the same Pon group corporate umbrella), similar geo and low weight as the Specialized Epic Evo, and the same 120mm travel and triple mode shock control as the Scott Spark.

Whether that was a culmination of extensive testing or a paint-by-numbers exercise doesn't matter, the Cervelo is a hyper-competitive XC bike. 

Guy Kesteven spent a few months testing the bikes and had this to say about it. "The ZFS-5 is superlight with a beautifully balanced frameset feel and pedaling/control suspension character for effortless climbing and race reaper/distance shrinker speed. Slack head angles are combined with compact reach to create an aggressive but agile ride that rewards dynamic riders brilliantly and can be pushed surprisingly hard in savage situations too. It won’t autopilot you out of every mistake though so it’s still XC rather than DC at heart, even in the longer travel format."

It was good enough for him to award it full marks too, to find out more check out the full Cervelo ZFS-5 frame review

Best full-suspension downcountry bikes

With trail bikes getting heavier and longer travel all the time, a new breed of agile, responsive but still impressively controlled and fun to rally 'downcountry' bikes have appeared. There are lots of bikes that claim to be in this category but are too heavy or slow though, so we've picked our favorites carefully.

10. Best value downcountry bike

YT Izzo Pro Race

Balanced ride and great value makes the Izzo an excellent downcountry option (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Best value short travel / downcountry bike

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 130mm/130mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM XO1 Eagle
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Light
+
Balanced handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Fork flex
-
Limited shock adjustments
-
Climbing oriented cockpit

The Izzo is YT's debut into the lightweight full-suspension bike category is a seriously fun yet surprisingly fast machine. At 130mm of travel front and rear and 12.5kg in weight, this may not be a pure-bred race bike. However, it can still handle those marathon days and keep up with the fast guys on climbs before shredding them on the descents. 

The suspension is Kashima-coated, Fox Factory specs both the front and rear and the shock has a remote lockout for long, smooth transfer climbs. The bike is outfitted with a SRAM X01 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain and SRAM G2 brakes but the real win is the DT Swiss XMC 1200 Spline wheels. Just like the Izzo the carbon-rimmed favourites are very light yet properly trail tough and they've been wrapped in Maxxis tires for low drag, all conditions traction. 

Like most YT bikes, the value for money is excellent too, although I reckon more radical riders might want to swap to a shorter stem than the climb-optimized one supplied.

Most of the Bike Perfect team have been lucky enough to test the Izzo and Editor Rich Owen sums up its ride feel, "the YT Izzo is a serious blast to ride. A short-travel bike that gives a superbly planted feel and hunger for out-of-the-saddle sprints and pumps overflowing, undulating, yes, ok, 'everyday' trails. YT's sorted geometry means it's more capable than 130mm travel might suggest and the Izzo can take tough trails in its stride."

Check out our full review of the YT Izzo Pro Raceand we've also reviewed the YT Izzo Core 3 model.

11. Best for downcountry racing

Specialized Epic Evo Expert

Specialized's Epic Evo Expert blurs the line between XC racer and downcountry shredder (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Best for racey downcountry riding

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/120mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano XO1 Eagle
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
RockShox SID suspension combo
+
Confident handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Tall seat tube
-
Slow freehub engagement
-
No SWAT storage

The radical 'Brain suspension' Epic has been Specialized's flagship XC bike for nearly twenty years, but the latest generation of the Epic Evo is a lot more than just a trail version of that bike. As well as removing the 'Brain' from the suspension (which makes it the lightest full suspension frame option from Specialized) travel is also bumped up to 120mm front and rear and geometry is a lot more progressive too.

The RockShox SID forks and shock combination still keep it superlight and some of Specialized's pro XC racers are picking this bike over the normal Epic. The Roval rims are wrapped in Specialized's excellent downcountry tires too, complementing the beautifully lively and agile ride. 

Slacker angles and a 150mm dropper post from X-Fusion to keep the seat out of the way mean it still loves dancing down properly technical trails. It can get twangy if you push properly hard though, but to be honest, playing with that edge of control is a big part of the thrill of riding it.  

If you're looking for a bargain, the Comp version of this bike has all the trail-shredding capability and is still impressively light even with a lower-tier parts spec. Plus it has skin wall tires so we reckon it looks better as well. 

When Guy reviewed the Specialized Epic Evo Expert he found it to be "extremely light for its powerfully, aggressive performance and a lot more confident in dealing with the speed it so easily generates, the Epic Evo is a standout bike at the racier end of the ever-growing ‘downcountry’ category."

Light enough to race but rowdy enough to rally, check out our full thoughts in our Specialized Epic Evo Expert review.

12. Best for aggressive downcountry riding

A Norco mountain bike on a trail

Norco's Optic C2 is a short travel trail ripper with enduro geometry (Image credit: Mick Kirkman)
Best for aggressive downcountry riding

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 140mm/125mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM GX Eagle
Wheel size: 29in

Reasons to buy

+
The rear shock tune is outstanding
+
Pedals as well as it descends
+
Fast across even rough terrain
+
Geometry and rider position is excellent

Reasons to avoid

-
Vittoria tires are poor performers in some conditions
-
RockShox Fork is lower tier for this much cash
-
Not as light as some other downcountry rigs

There is still some debate about whether a downcountry bike should be a slackened and sturdy cross-country bike or a short-travel lightweight trail bike. Norco's C2 falls into the latter with its 65-degree head angle and downhill spec suspension making it feel like the proper downhillers’ trail bike.  

The combination of 140mm RockShox Pike and 125mm SuperDeluxe Ultimate, backed up with burly spec items like Stan’s enduro-level Flow S1 wheels means you can confidently attack technical trails with precision and feedback that can be lost with the best enduro bikes.

Mick Kirkman didn't feel like the Norco's short travel held it back at all, stating in his review that the "bike straddles the tightrope of travel and technical capability just about right. For sure, the absolute limit of hard-charging and still expecting to grip/get away with it is slightly lower than with a 170mm bike’s worth of get-out clauses, but that adds extra excitement, pump, and pop, and while the Optic is constantly stimulating senses through palms and soles, it rarely gets so edgy you can’t hammer along and push your limit."

For a full review of this short travel shredder, check out our Norco Optic C2 SRAM review.

Best full-suspension mountain bikes: how to choose

What are the benefits of a full-suspension mountain bike?

Hardtails will always be the cheaper, lighter option and if you’ve got the skills you can skip and skim them through some pretty technical terrain, too. 

When the surface gets relentlessly rough or there are big drops and rocks involved, full-suspension is a massive advantage though. It sucks up bike-stopping impacts to help you sustain speed, keep you on line and ultimately keep you on the bike. The rear wheel is more consistently connected for better technical climbing traction and cornering speed too. The days of power-wasting bob and bounce, rapidly wearing pivots and unreliable rear shocks are mostly long gone too. That means you can carry more speed with less fatigue and risk wherever you ride. 

How much mountain bike suspension travel is best?

150mm is the average real-wheel movement for most trail bikes. It’s enough to make a big difference in control off drops and through rock gardens but not so much that it disturbs pedalling or geometry even at full travel. Most shock and suspension setups are sorted enough that there’s no saggy middle stroke section or lost power either. 

There are some trail bikes with 125-130mm travel feel for a tauter, tighter feel and some of them exploit that with a lighter-weight overall build too. Meanwhile, 120mm 'downcountry' bikes pack a surprising amount of control into a significantly lighter package while pure XC bikes run 100mm of travel to achieve sub 10kg weights.

What's the best mountain bike frame geometry?

Geometry has been the fastest-changing part of mountain bike performance recently. The slackest trail bikes are now running 63-degree head angles that would have been on DH bikes only a few years ago. Even the most progressive XC bikes can be adjusted to 66 degrees now when 70 degrees was the average not long ago. To stop them feeling like DH bikes though the latest thing is for seat angles to steepen to triathlon bike numbers. That all works to put you in the center of the action for the best turning and handling balance while the suspension does its job at either end.

What are the best mountain bike components?

Most bikes run Fox or RockShox suspension with Shimano or SRAM stop-and-go equipment and you can't go far wrong with either. SRAM AXS is our favourite top-end spec though, while Shimano Deore and SLX are awesome at the affordable end. Other brands like Cane Creek, Ohlins and Hope get a look in occasionally too and that's generally fine by us. 

Wheels vary from brand name to own brand and while few are rubbish, the best thing is that most bikes come with decent tires. A lot of them are set up tubeless from the shop too which is a definite win. Bars, stems and dropper posts are generally the right shape/length and reliable too, which is a big change from 5-10 years ago. 

In short, it's pretty hard to go wrong with most bikes now, although the price of entry to decent full-suspension is more like £1500 than £1000 like it was a few years back.


How much should the best full-suspension mountain bikes weigh?

The lightest full-suspension race bikes still sneak in under 10kg and premium downcountry bikes are in the 11 to 12.5kg bracket. Cheaper XC and DC bikes are in the 13 to 14kg range, but by that point, they're short-travel trail bikes. Most trail bikes are now in the 14 to 15kg range with some big hit or low price options sneaking significantly over that.

The good news is that while most bikes have got heavier, they mostly pedal better which offsets the weight on climbs or when accelerating out of corners. More control and confidence mean you can carry more speed through turns and technical sections as well, so there's less accelerating to do afterwards.

That won't help you lift your bike over a gate or into a car though and when it comes to long, not technical climbs, less weight is always an advantage.

The top racers in the world used to all ride hardtails for minimum weight but tougher courses mean the fastest riders all use the best full-suspension XC bikes. 

The great news is that it’s creating some versatile high-velocity, short-travel machines that are as happy raving on your favorite singletrack as they are ripping up the race track. But which are the winning machines and what do you need to know to work out which is the best bike for you?

Meet the testers

Our testers have ridden all the full-suspension bikes in this guide on a wide range of terrain, from groomed trail center to technical and challenging singletrack, in a variety of weather conditions, from bone dry to properly sodden. We test bikes over several months so we can assess how they fare over time. 

A man washing himself in a muddy puddle
Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect's contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire, he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear

Graham Cottingham
Graham Cottingham

Graham is all about riding bikes off-road. Based in Edinburgh he has some of the best mountain biking and gravel riding in the UK right on his doorstep. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro, and gravel racing

Mick Kirkman
Mick Kirkman

An ex-elite downhill racer, Mick's been mucking about and occasionally racing mountain bikes for over twenty years. Racing led to photo modeling and testing kit for magazines back in the day, and, nowadays, he's mostly riding enduro-style terrain on conventional and electric bikes.

Guy Kesteven
Technical-Editor-at-Large

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since we launched in 2019. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Forbidden Druid V2, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg

With contributions from