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Best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500: Hit the trails on a budget

A rider corners around a berm on one of the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500
(Image credit: Rocky Mountain)

Mountain biking is an expensive hobby. Luckily, bike brands are getting better every year at bringing budget bikes to market. We've searched around for the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500 so you can hit the trails without spending too much. 

If you are looking for the best budget mountain bike, hardtails are an excellent option. Hardtails do not have rear suspension, only a suspension fork. For this reason, they are cheaper to produce and easier to maintain. As the demand for better specification and keener pricing drives product planning, bike brands are delivering some great value hardtails that feature 29-inch wheels and decent drivetrains and disc brakes. 

These are bikes that might not have all the premium components of a fantasy build but definitely make for an engaging rider experience. The good thing about mountain bikes is that they can easily be upgraded. So as your riding progresses, you can seek out the best mountain bike forks or best dropper posts to add to your bike. 

Keep reading for our choice of the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500 or skip to the bottom to find out how to choose the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500.

Best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500

Rocky Mountain Growler 20 2022

(Image credit: Rocky Mountain )

Rocky Mountain Growler 20

Singletrack speed machine from the Canadian MTB legends Rocky Mountain

Price: $1,399.00 / £TBA | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x10 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Great geometry and tough aluminum frame 
Reliable Deore drivetrain
29er wheels
Dropper post included 
Suntour fork is low on tech features 

If hardtails make for more skillful riders, then Rocky Mountain's Growler is about as capable a trail tutor as you are likely to encounter.

The Growler rolls on 29-inch wheels and has 130mm of travel, capable of cushion significant landings and smoothing over the roughest terrain.

Designed for riders who are a lot keener on descending technical singletrack trails, instead of grinding the miles up long fire road climbs, the Growler combines very daring angles to shape its frameset. 

Head angles of 64-degrees are still quite progressive, especially at this price. In combination with its 475mm reach, measured on a size large, it will remain committed to the most adventurous of lines through technical singletrack sections.

Most of the Growler's overbuilt aluminum tubes are shaped for strength and are paired with a Boost spaced 12mm rear thru-axle for extra torsional stiffness. Wheels and tires are ready to go tubeless for enhanced grip and protection against flats. 

Ragley Marley 2.0 2021

(Image credit: Ragley)

Ragley Marley 2.0

A fun bike with serious singletrack-carving capability

Price: $1,399.99 / £1,099.99 | Drivetrain: Shimano 1x10 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Bold colors and brilliant geometry 
Potential for huge singletrack fun
Big brakes at the rear
Only has ten gears 
No dropper seatpost 

Ragley’s product people decided to go with a 130mm RockShox Recon fork to deliver quicker steering on the Marley. The bike balances its trail feedback around a 65.5-degree head angle, which is slack enough to prevent any over-the-bar anxiety when descending steep terrain.

The frame has ample tire clearance and that should mean any mid-winter muddy rides won’t cause tire stalling annoyance. Providing traction for the Marley 2.0 are some of the most trusted mountain bike tires around, Maxxis Minion DHFs, in a generous 2.6in size casing.

Keeping this Ragley’s potentially riotous trail behavior under control are Shimano M4100 hydraulic brakes, actuating 180mm rotors at both ends of the bike. It might only have ten gears, but this Marley is all about keeping it chill on the ascents, and then smoking everyone on the descent.

Vitus Rapide 29

(Image credit: Vitus)

Vitus Rapide 29

Bargain big-wheel bike for those keen XC riders

Price: $1,099.99 / £899.99 | Drivetrain: Shimano 1x10 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL

A balanced front end, with a 120mm fork and forgiving head angle 
Fast-rolling Schwalbe tires 
Neat frame with internal cable routing 
Thru-axle rear 
Only has 10-gears 
Reach could be too short for some

For those riders who prefer the 29er wheel size and want to cover ground as fast as possible, this Vitus makes a convincing case. It might not have a radically slack head angle, with a correspondingly long reach number, but the Rapide 29 sits at the comfortable juncture between progressive and predictable handling geometry.

With a RockShox Recon Silver front fork, the Rapide sits at a 67-degree head angle with a comparatively short 435mm reach number on a size Large. For riders who enjoy an intuitively responsive bike on less steep trails, the Rapide’s combination of a compact reach and stabilizing 29-inch wheels will appeal. Vitus has also installed a 148x12mm thru-axle at the rear, which should keep that 29er wheel tracking with great stability when you are navigating rougher terrain.

The Shimano 1x10 drivetrain might be a few gears short, but Vitus provides a quality wheelset and those larger 29er wheels do compensate for some of the gearing discrepancies when you are trying to harvest some more speed on a flat gravel road.

Targeted at riders who are going to ride significant mileages, the Rapide rolls WTB’s i25 rims with Racing Ralph Evo 2.25in tires. Schwalbe’s rubber is a proven favorite amongst XC riders, delivering a fair compromise between grip and low rolling resistance.

Giant Fathom 2

(Image credit: Giant)

Giant Fathom 2

Small-wheeled but big tire trail shredder

Price: $1,420.00 / £1,322.00 | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x12 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Dropper post gets the seat out the way 
Reliable Shimano gearing
Boost spaced through axles front and rear
Neat internal cable routing
The giant fork is relatively unproven
2wo-piston brakes

The Fathom 2 is a 27.5in hardtail from the behemoth bicycle manufacturer, Giant. The huge bike brand is still committed to the 650b wheel size and the benefits it brings to bike handling on tight and technical singletrack. If you aren't sold on small wheels, Giant does offer the Fathom in a 29er version, too. For us, the standout feature is the dropper post, which will pair well with the 27.5in wheels for jumpy and twisty flow trails or tight singletrack through the woods. 

To offer the most feature-rich spec for the money possible, Giant produces almost all the components in the house. The Fathom's ALUXX SL-Grade Aluminum frame is combined with a Crest 34 suspension fork with 130mm of travel, as well as Giant cockpit components and wheels. The only none giant parts are the drivetrain from Shimano, a Praxis crankset, Tektro brakes (with 180mm rotors) and finished with Maxxis Ardent 2.6in tires. 

Trek X-Caliber 8

(Image credit: Trek)

Trek X-Caliber 8

Entry-level hardtail race bike

Price: $1,499.99 / £1,200.00 | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore/XT 12sp | Sizes: XXS, XS, S, M, ML, L , XL

Huge range of sizes
27.5 wheels for the smallest bike sizes
Quality Shimano shifting
Non-standard quick-release boost axle
No dropper post 
Smallest bike only has 80mm of travel

The X-Caliber is Trek's entry-level cross-country mountain bike. It shares a lot in common with the similarly specced Trek Marlin range but for those looking for performance, there are some key differences. A Maxle 15mm axle upfront ensures precise steering accuracy on descents and the geometry is slightly longer and more purposeful for efficient climbing.

As with all of Treks bikes, the X-Caliber is offered in a huge range of sizes that can fit any rider. The two smallest use 27.5in wheels with the rest of the bikes rolling on 29in wheels. Trek also tailors stem length, handlebar width and crank length for a better fit across the range of bike sizes.

The frame is designed to be an ideal entry-level cross-country race bike. It features a 100mm RockShox Judy SL fork (XS size only has 80mm) with lockout, 1x Shimano Deore drivetrain with an XT derailleur, Bontrager Kovee wheels, and Maxxis tires. The bike comes shipped with tubes but both the wheels and tires are tubeless-ready, you just need to add valves, sealant and air. 

Boardman MHT 8.9

(Image credit: Boardman)

Boardman MHT 8.9

Good to look at - even better to ride

Price: $TBA / £1,100.00 | Drivetrain: SRAM SX 1x12 | Sizes: S, M, L

Smooth weld aluminum frame finish 
Great graphics and colors 
Has a thru-axle rear to keep lateral stiffness in check
Only three sizes 
No internal cable routing 

If you like an XC hardtail to be a touch more playful on the singletrack, with a stylish colorway, Boardman’s MHT 8.9 is the answer.

The 6061-grade aluminum has a slick finish and a wonderfully elegant black and bronze colorway. Vittoria Barzo tan wall tires accentuate the overall graphic design and color coordination, making this Boardman hardtail look a lot more expensive than its list price.

Beyond the considered appearance, Boardman’s MTH 8.9 offers a great component spec for both high-mileage weekend rides and after-work forest singletrack sessions. There’s a RockShox Reba RL 120mm fork upfront, which makes for a touch more terrain absorption than the standard-issue 100mm travel front suspension, which is de rigueur on most XC bikes.

Providing cornering grip and traction, are Vittoria’s Barzo TLR Graphene 2.0 tires which have a relatively aggressive tread patter and descent casing size, at 2.25in. 

Unlike many other bikes in the $1,500 or less price class, the Boardman MHT 8.9 has a 148x12 thru-axle rear, significantly boosting overall frame stiffness and stability in rocky terrain.

Salsa Rangefinder

(Image credit: Salsa Cycles)

Salsa Rangefinder SX Eagle 27.5+

Small-wheeled trail shredder

Price: $1,299.00 / £TBA | Drivetrain: SRAM SX 1x12 | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL

Dropper post adds control on descents
SRAM Eagle drivetrain has a huge gear range
Comfortable WTB Ranger tires
Plenty of accessory mounts on the frame
Compatible with 29er wheels
Low tech SR Suntour fork 
Plus-size tires aren't well suited to radical riding

Plus-size tires might have fallen out of favor but they can still be plenty of fun. They even have their benefits on the trail, adding grip and extra ride comfort, which could be a good thing for new riders. Salsa knows this and says the Rangefinder is an 'approachable' bike. 

Those plus size 27.5in tires are produced by WTB so you have quality rubber connecting your bike to the trail. The 1x12 drivetrain is a SRAM SX model, and you get a TranzX dropper post, which is a great deal at this price. The fork isn't the most high-tech but it does offer 120mm of travel, which should smooth things out.

Salsa is best known for its bikepacking bike and the Rangefinder has plenty of cargo capacity should you want to mount a third bottle under the downtube or a top tube bag to carry some extra snacks.

Kona Kahuna

(Image credit: Kona)

Kona Kahuna

All-around trail rider

Price: $1,499.00 / £1,049.00 | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x12 | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL

Lots of size options
Solid geometry 
Internal cable routing keeps the bike near
Older 135mm quick-release rear axle

The Kahuna is Kona's all-around hardtail meant to hook riders on singletrack riding. The brand says once people ride the Kahuna, they will be hooked on the sport of mountain biking. 

It features a solid spec sheet to make sure that new riders are equipped with quality components on their bike. The Kona Race Light 6061 Aluminum Butted frame uses Shimano Deore gearing and braking along with a RockShox Recon Silver fork to keep things smooth. A neat feature is internal cable routing that's meant for a dropper post upgrade if the rider chooses.  That said, the old 135mm rear spacing standard combined with the new 110mm Boost front axle will add complications if you want to upgrade the wheels in the future. 

How to choose the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500

Are hardtail mountain bikes good for trails?

While full-suspension now dominates mountain bike racing, hardtails will always remain popular thanks to the simple nature of their design. Geometry has gone a long way to improving how hardtails ride off-road, with slacker angles and longer wheel bases making them more stable and faster over rough terrain.

In the past budget hardtails had quite dated geometry although these days we see a lot of hardtails with 67-degree head angles, 75-degree seat tubes and other tweaks which should translate to a smile on your face out on the trail. 

What components should I look for? 

The best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,500 are great deals. But how do brands get the price so low? It's all about what the bike is made out of. To start, the frame will almost certainly be made out of aluminum. Carbon bikes can be made pretty cheap these days, but you won't be able to find one worth buying at this price. 

One component that may be on the bike is a dropper seatpost. Dropper posts move the seat out the way for descents helping add confidence and increase rider enjoyment. At the sub-$1,500 price, dropper posts are great additions to a spec sheet, but some brands can't manage to get them into this price bracket. 

A hardtail's only suspension is a fork. Forks at this price won't have as much tech adjustment and tech as more expensive bikes although basic units from major brands are better than they have ever been. A suspension fork will have a huge influence on how a bike rides so it's worth making it a key factor, alongside geometry, in your decision-making process.

What gearing should a hardtail have? 

Drivetrain diversity is significant in the sub-$1500 hardtail segment. There are bikes on our list with 1x10 gearing, 1x12 and everything in between. How much should that matter to you? That question is relative to the steepness of terrain you usually ride.

If challenging fire road or singletrack climbs are part of your riding routine, there is no questioning the benefit of 1x12 gearing. It reduces riding fatigue, sees you walking less and delivers the possibility of greater enjoyment, on long rides. That said, the new generation of wide-range cassettes allows 10-speed drivetrains to be competitive in terms of steep gradient climbing.

Don’t allow the number of gears to override geometry considerations. Frame angles are more crucial to the overall ride comfort and descending confidence than your total number of shift points.

What tires should a hardtail bike have? 

The bikes on our list roll on a mix of 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheels and very large-volume tires. The benefit of a bigger casing tire is inarguable, allowing you to run lower tire pressures and create a larger and more stable contact patch.

In mountain biking everything is relative and the diminishing return curve is real, regarding tire size. The best tire and wheel size will very much depend on your riding style. Those seeking comfort should look for larger volume tires of 2.6-inches and up. The added size provides more cushioning although if you are riding fast or technical terrain they aren't as supportive. For committed singletrack trail riding a 2.4in width 29er will be best although a 27.5-inch wheel will work well too especially if the trail features tight sections or a lot of jumps. Finally, if you are riding a lot of faster terrain, or fire roads, then a 2.25- or 2.35-inch volume tire is entirely adequate and will have lower rolling resistance and less rotating mass.

Lance Branquinho
Lance Branquinho is a Namibian-born media professional who graduated to mountain biking after injuries curtailed his fascination with trail running. He has a weakness for British steel hardtails, especially those which only run a single gear. Rides: Morewood Kwela Cotic Simple 26 Pyga 160mm aluminium prototype