Choosing the best mountain bike for you isn't always as easy as you'd expect. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to buy next season's razor-sharp, race-ready scalpel or a beginner looking to invest in a bike to hone your skills on the local trails, deciding which bike is best for your ride style and local terrain can often be a daunting decision.
Buying a new mountain bike isn’t as simple as it once was, either. As technologies, trails and rider abilities have progressed, some bikes have become gradually more tailored to certain disciplines, whereas others are designed to be ridden anywhere. Downhill bikes allow riders to demolish three-minute top-to-bottom runs at face-warping speed with pure composure while the best modern trail bikes let you do anything from local XC loops to uplift-assisted alpine holidays. Then there’s the new generation of e-MTBs. E-bikes put the uplift into your hands, let you cram more riding than ever into a short window, while also levelling out the fitness playing field – they’re great, but still not for everyone.
What’s best of all is the number of good bikes on the market nowadays but the choice can be overwhelming. To help you choose, Bike Perfect has put together a comprehensive guide on what you should be looking for when purchasing your new mountain bike, along with a list of our most recommended bikes for a host of different riding disciplines. Keep scrolling to see our favorites or jump ahead for our guide to choosing the best mountain bike for your needs.
Best mountain bikes: cross-country bikes
With the aim of the game being flat-out speed, cross-country mountain bikes are the fastest when the trail goes up or down. They’re super-light, usually feature 80-100mm travel and prioritize speed over everything else.
What’s astonishing about the S-Works Epic HT is its staggeringly low, road-bike shaming frameset weight. At just 820g (size medium with rear axle and seat collar), the Epic HT is currently the lightest mass-production frameset you can buy. On the trail, this translates to new levels of uphill dominating acceleration, which if you’re looking at this bike, is probably a priority.
Under high-power efforts, it’s stiff enough to feel there’s no wasted power, and to prove this, Specialized even installs a Quarq power meter to the crankset so riders and racers alike can track those all-important watts. The frame isn’t so rigid it rattles you to pieces either; in fact, Specialized has given each frame size a slightly different ‘rider first’ carbon layup to make sure all riders get the same frame feel. With the aid of skinny seat stays and a controlled 30.9mm seatpost, it’s forgiving to ride. Thanks to the widely used seat tube diameter, it also leaves dropper post options aplenty for those really wanting to attack the gnar.
Helping to keep the cockpit clean and lockout lever free is the Brain-equipped RockShox Sid Ultimate fork, which self-adjusts to the trail – firming up for smooth sections and freeing up when the going gets rough. The fork itself also sports a shorter offset crown, which when paired with the slack 68.5-degree head angle and relatively short bar and stem combo, provides controlled stability.
This is a pure XC bike with an every-box-ticked specification list that will leave the racers feeling more eager than ever on the start line.
NS is best known for its longer travel gravity bikes and its legendry dirt-jump heritage, so when it released the XC-focused Synonym it took many by surprise. But this isn’t any ordinary XC bike; radical frame angles make it an entirely new kind of beast on the trail.
The slack 66-degree head angle and steep 76.5-degree seat angle are connected by a huge 490mm reach (size large), a combination that defies the 100mm travel and gives the Synonym trail-bike-like prowess with outstanding levels of stability and control. The rear end uses an inverted, bearing-mounted Fox shock, which paired with the slim flex stays makes for a hyper-responsive suspension action. The 100mm travel fork is also taken care of by Fox with its 32 Step Cast fork. Both suspension units also feature a remote lockout for when pure acceleration is required.
If you’re really wanting to make the most of the Synonym, you may want to swap to a wider bar and shorter stem than the standard 750mm/60mm combo to help tame the aggressive attitude. The being said for those wanting a more rad but similarly light package, NS also offers a TR version of the Synonym which sees a bump up to 120mm travel and a slightly burlier fork.
Best mountain bikes: trail bikes
The jack of all trades, the ultimate Swiss army knives: modern-day trail bikes offer the ultimate versatility and confidence to ride any trail on the globe.
Santa Cruz refers to its current Hightower trail bike as ‘your most cherished mixtape compilation,' meaning it’s the firm's ‘best of’ all-rounder in the range. Having spent a good amount of time on this bike ourselves, it’s a statement we can fully get behind, too. It’s one of the few bikes we’d do everything on, from our local XC loop to annual gravity-fuelled alpine trip and everything in-between.
With a 470mm reach (size large), a 65.2-degree head angle and a steep-enough 76-degree seat angle, geometry is bang on the money. There’s also a flip-chip in the lower shock link which allows for some geometry adjustment. The frame can also take a 27.5+ wheel and tire setup if that’s your jam.
The lower link-driven VPP suspension platform provides 145mm of class-leading suspension travel. Its efficient climbing manner provides grin-worthy amounts of traction during techy ascents without ever feeling mushy when you stomp on the pedals. When you begin to descend, it continues to track the ground to maximize grip, and the ample amounts of progressiveness mean you forget you’re riding a trail bike when the going gets super rough and gnarly.
The 150mm travel fork hits the sweet spot to keep the ride feel balanced. Matching this with the superbly damped Santa Cruz carbon bar and solid Burgtec stem makes for a dialed-in cockpit, which injects positivity when slamming berm pockets or wrenching up steep climbs. The refined X01 groupset keeps shifting smooth while the high-power SRAM Code brakes reliably keep speed modulated.
What makes Santa Cruz stand out further is the no-quibbles lifetime frame and frame-bearing guarantee, which is backed by a ‘no lost ride time’ policy. All in all, if you can afford it, the Hightower is one of the best options currently available.
Looking at suspension travel alone, it’s easy to regard the Optic as a traditional trail bike - however, look a little deeper and you’ll see rad geometry figures which project control magnificently on the trail. A lengthy 480mm reach holds together the enduro-worthy 65-degree head angle and climb-efficient 76-degree seat angle. The BB sits slammed at 37mm below the axles (337mm above the floor) and each size benefits from a different length rear end, which ensures all riders, regardless of their height get the same handling feel.
At the heart of the Optic sits a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock unit, which when matched with the perfectly dialed in suspension kinematics makes for one of the best feeling short-travel bikes we’ve ever ridden. It’s a combination that truly rivals the performance of some $1,000+ custom-tuned coil shocks fitted to top-shelf enduro bikes.
The overall suspension feeling is taut rather than forgiving, which translates to a ride feel that effortlessly generates speed from every trail feature with perfect underfoot and tire communication. The flawless suspension package is addictive on the trail and makes you search for those hidden speed-generating compressions with a constant cheek-burning grin.
At the expense of some weight, the componentry package is designed to be ridden hard, too. The Stans Flow S1 rims built onto DT Swiss 350 hubs are reliable and enduro-bike sturdy. They’re shod with Schwalbe’s legendary Magic Mary and Hans Dampf tire combo, which favors pure traction over rolling speed. The SRAM GX Eagle groupset finishes off the everything-you-want-and-nothing-you-don’t package.
If you’re wanting a genre-bending short-travel bike that prioritizes out-and-out fun over climbing KOM/QOMs, the Optic is a truly stellar option. Best of all, the complete package comes through at a highly competitive price.
Best mountain bikes: enduro bikes
Enduro bikes need to be able to conquer big climbs that lead to gnarly descents. This means they need to be pedal efficient to preserve energy but have DH-like descending abilities to conquer the toughest, longest trails. In an Enduro race format, they need to remain composed on some of the toughest and varied terrain over multiple stages. Enduro bikes usually have between 160 and 180mm travel front and rear.
Buried at the heart of the EWS-dominating SB150 suspension system is Yeti’s unique Switch Infinity link. It’s a design that uses two small Kashima stanchions that let the main pivot point move slightly through the suspension stroke in order to provide energetic climbing efficiency without sacrificing any descending capability. In the real world, this results in a tight, efficient pedaling manner in the early parts of the 150mm travel before switching to reduce pedal kickback for impressive big-hit performance. Matched with a 170mm Fox 36 Factory fork makes for an incredibly natural and balanced ride, too.
Adding to the hyper-composed nature is the DH-like 63.5-degree head angle, progressive 480mm reach (large) and sensibly low 347mm bottom bracket. Compact seat tube lengths leave scope for upsizing too. A steep 77-degree seat tube angle also aids the SB150’s impressive climbing manner; in fact, it’s one of the best and most efficient pedaling bikes around.
We do feel that some of the component choices don’t quite match the top-dollar price tag though. Things like the mid-range GX cassette should really be X01, and there are plenty of bikes out there that get carbon wheels for less money. That said, neither of which takes away from the premium warp-speed ride quality.
Stemming from Sheffield, England, Cotic is highly regarded in the steel-framed MTB world. The RocketMAX is the radical enduro track-attacking vessel in its range.
Those who favor the traction-enhancing ride, shock-shrugging and sprightly springy feel that quality steel frames provide will be delighted to hear that Cotic has got it dialed with the RocketMAX. The tune of the frame tubing strikes the balance of steel compliance without ever feeling too vague or mushy under power or in high g-force descending situations. There is some additional weight due to the material choice, but the Cotic does a superb job of masking the additional mass - it pedals well and remains fun on milder terrain.
If you’re not used to the progressive geometry, there will be an adjustment phase as the RocketMAX is seriously long and slack. The huge 490mm reach (size large), DH bike-like 63.5-degree head angle and relatively long 448mm chainstays can initially feel like you’re trying to navigate a wheelbarrow through a dog agility course, but once used to it the handling is unshakable and highly confidence-inspiring.
Reliable Hunt Trail Wide wheels wear hyper-grippy WTB tires, and the complete build package has been carefully selected to offer top-drawer performance. There are also several different build options available to suit budgets or specific component wants. Cotic also prides itself on regular demos meaning a thorough real-world test ride can be carried out before purchasing.
Best mountain bikes: downhill bikes
The most extreme bikes for the most extreme terrain. Downhill bikes are designed to demolish the toughest gravity-fed trails. Since there’s very little pedaling involved, downhill bikes feature lots of suspension, a range of tough components and super sticky rubber.
The Sender 6 from German brand Canyon features 27.5-inch wheels and more compact geometry numbers, meaning it remains playful - a characteristic that’s especially appealing if you enjoy styling it up on gravity-fed jump lines. We chose this model due to its well-performing specification list, which takes the ‘everything you want and nothing you don’t’ line of thought. However, choose any of the bikes in the range and you’ll be assured to get brilliant value for money.
With 200mm of well-controlled rear suspension travel, there’s performance on offer for everything from slimy roots to brave hucks to flat. The suspension and frame design also work well with both air and coil shocks, meaning it’ll suit all preferences, too. We’re also big fans of the well-thought-out finishing touches - things like the rear fender and cable routing system finish off the package superbly.
Due to the wheel size and geometry numbers the Sender suits riders who want to style in on the freeride as well as demolish serious downhill tracks.
This is a bike that needs absolutely no introduction, especially if you follow the UCI Downhill World Cup series. Piloted by World Cup hotshot Amaury Pierron, the Commencal Supreme has been a frequent podium visitor on the race circuit. In fact, when watching the racing, it’s physically possible to see how well the bike is working when ridden in the most demanding circumstances. This is partly down to the high-pivot suspension design - a system which gives the rear wheel a very straight and uninterrupted axle path when the suspension is compressed. The idler design may look strange, but it’s a system that prioritizes function over form. In short, this suspension system means it’s very efficient at searching for grip and moving out of the way of obstacles.
A raked-out 63.8-degree head angle flattens steep terrain and long reach measurements throughout the size range keep the eye-watering high speeds stable.
In fact, the Supreme 29 works so well and is so controlled that it almost has a slow-motion effect when processing features on the trail. It allows you to remain that bit calmer, always maintaining a firm grasp of control regardless of what’s passing under the wheels. It positively injects confidence, and it’s not until you look at the stopwatch to see that previous records have been demolished. This is a bike for the racer, an incredibly fast one at that.
Best Mountain bikes: hardtails
Hardtails are mountain bikes that pair a rigid frame with a suspension fork. Due to their simple design, hardtails are easier to maintain and usually cheaper than full-suspension bikes, which makes them perfect for new riders or those on a budget. The unforgiving rear end also helps to teach correct line choice. Hardtails are usually lighter too, which makes them popular amongst weight-savvy XC bandits.
Factoring in the price, the performance and the component selection, we think the Vitus Sentier is an unbeatable package. If you’re looking to hone your skills, rip up the trail centers or beast your local loop it ticks pretty much every box.
The simple-but-well-controlled 130mm travel Fox 34 fork takes the no-nonsense approach to absorbing hits and providing grip. Its air-sprung damper is also a cinch to set up. A mix of SLX and XT 12-speed drivetrain componentry propels the Vitus forwards whilst also offering a wide gear range to conquer the steepest ascents. A set of Shimano SLX brakes provide plenty of stopping power along with good reliability.
Beneath the modern and confidence-inspiring geometry is a pair of hyper grippy Schwalbe tires, which provide predictable grip in everything from ankle-deep dust to sloppy winter ruts. This is an area where several cheaper bikes fall short so having proper rubber from the get-go is a bonus. If 29-inch wheels aren’t your thing Vitus also offers a 27.5-inch version of the Sentier.
Best mountain bikes: e-bikes
The e-MTB has changed the game. They're an absolute hoot to ride and the pedal-assist motor allows all riders, regardless of experience or fitness, to ride faster for longer. They're also great for gravity addicts as they act as a personal shuttle to the trailhead.
During the design of the Decoy, YT set out with the aim of designing a total gravity focused e-bike but, thanks to the motor and well-executed design, it feels dialed both up and down. The mixed wheel size and aggressive low, long and slack design provide a total 'in the bike' feeling. On the trail, it makes the bike and rider feel at one, rendering it easy to ride fast while also doing a great job of masking the added weight.
Top-end Fox Factory suspension components offer a highly supple and magnificently controlled ride and, with huge amounts of adjustability, there’s scope for the ideal set-up as long as you don’t mind experimenting. With 165mm travel at the rear and 170mm upfront, the Decoy feels balanced and the slight increase in fork travel gives the confidence to huck deeper and push harder.
The power assistance comes from a Shimano motor. With three modes, there’s the ability to choose the desired assistance - there’s even a walk-assist mode for those wanting to get into the wild.
While we love the agile feeling of the smaller 27.5-inch rear wheel, YT also offers an all-mountain version of the Decoy which comes equipped with 29in wheels both front and rear and less suspension travel – something to check out if you’re a rider who's looking for more of a gravity slayer.
Giant has opted to collaborate with Yamaha to uniquely design and tune the brand's own SyncDrive motor system. With 80Nm of torque and a claimed 360 per cent pedal-assistance, there’s tons of power on offer, too. While there’s predictable power throughout the rev range, it’s during those low-cadence efforts it impressed us the most. When grinding up almost vertical faces it continues to deliver smooth and powerful assistance.
Integrated neatly into the downtube is a 500wh battery and, while this gives good range, there's an option to purchase the bike with a 625wh battery, something worth considering if you plan on seeking longer adventures.
With a competitive price tag, the Trance E+1 Pro sees a stout and well-controlled Fox 36 fork, a Fox DPX2 shock, Shimano XT gearing, four-piston Shimano brakes and 203mm rotors keeping speed predictably under control. Wide 2.6-inch Maxxis Minion tires generate good grip both climbing and descending.
The geometry and sizing make for a composed ride but the lengthy 470mm chainstays won’t be to everyone’s tastes. While it gives the bike good balance and easy climbing characteristics, riders who enjoy tight and janky terrain may find the rear end hard to navigate.
Best mountain bikes: everything you should know
If you're still struggling to choose the right mountain bike for your needs - whether it's the local trail surfaces, your technical skills or simply value for money - we've listed all the considerations you need to take into account to make that decision.
1. Riding discipline
Pinpointing your riding style can be a great starting point when looking at new bikes. There are modern mountain bikes that can nearly do everything thanks to good geometry and dialed suspension kinematics, but if you’re looking to go fast on XC courses or bomb down gravity-fed bike parks, choosing something more specific to those riding styles will provide better results on the trail.
Speaking with your riding buddies or local bike shop can be a good way of figuring out which bike category you need to be looking at too. If you’re still in doubt, get a trail bike. Today’s trail bikes offer the best do-it-all capabilities. They may not excel in certain disciplines, but if you’re not wanting to rock up at an XC start line or podium at a DH race it’s hard to go wrong.
2. Wheel size
The ongoing wheel size debate is ultimately unanswerable and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. As a rule, 27.5-inch wheels are more flicky and playful and accelerate that bit faster, and bigger 29-inch wheels roll faster and help to smooth out rough sections of trail. Some bikes even come with mixed wheel sizes. Often called a ‘mullet’ setup, these bikes use a big 29-inch wheel up front and a smaller 27.5-inch wheel at the rear, which is said to offer the best of both worlds.
In some cases, if you’re exceptionally tall it may be wise to stick to 29-inch wheels. It’s likely that the combination of bigger wheels and a more generous overall fit will be more suitable. The same goes for riders at the other end of the spectrum, too. If you’re small then the added clearance of 27.5-inch wheels may be appreciated when descending steeper terrain. These aren’t set rules though. If you’re unsure try to arrange a demo ride.
What’s key to remember here is to ignore incorrect wheel size fashion haters. Try both and decide for yourself.
The old norm of 26-inch wheels is now reserved for youth bikes and compact dirt jump rigs, though if you pick up a second-hand mountain bike you may well find yourself with a set of these instead.
3. Frame material
Aluminum and carbon fiber are currently the most widely used frame materials, with steel reserved for some hardtails and various niche full-suspension framesets. Aluminum is cheaper to manufacture, whereas carbon fiber comes at a premium. The weight difference isn’t always as much as you think but the best carbon frames feel sublime on the trail. On the other hand, aluminum is a more sustainable frame material as it can be readily recycled, whereas carbon fiber ends up on the landfill when you're done with it.
4. Hardtail or full-suspension?
Again, there is no right or wrong here, just a different experience to be had. For riders looking to hunt out big gnarly terrain, a full-suspension bike is going to provide more composure, grip and comfort. For those who value climbing efficiency over prolonged high-elevation rides, a hardtail is ultimately going to be lighter and more pedal efficient. That said, with the way modern XC courses are progressing, a number of riders are choosing to make the switch to full-sus. For longer marathon-style courses, full-suspension XC bikes will also minimize fatigue during long sessions in the saddle.
Hardtails can also be good for teaching beginner riders correct line choice and riding technique. For trail riding, we prefer full suspension bikes. These open more doors for riding locations while also instantly increasing on-trail confidence.
You could have the best bike in the world but if it doesn’t fit the whole riding experience will be compromised. Making sure you’re on a bike that fits is a totally essential part of the buying process. Most manufacturers offer accurate online size guides, but it’s hard to beat physically swinging a leg over a few options in a proper bike shop. Some shops and brands even offer demo bikes which allow for bikes to be properly tested ahead of purchasing, this is especially valuable if you’re in between sizes or undecided on models.
What we highly advise against is getting a bike that is too small, regardless of what other riders or the bike shop say. If in doubt or you’re between sizes, we recommend upsizing if the figures allow. Riding a bike that is too small will feel twitchy and restrictive when moving your weight around on descents, whereas a larger bike will be more stable at speed or on technical terrain.
Fun isn’t measured by how much you spend but we always recommend buying the best bike you can afford. It can often be hard to decide between a cheaper frame with higher-spec components or a premium frame with more basic components. It’s hard to say for sure but if you plan on upgrading down the line, then it’s best to start off with the best frame you can afford. However, if you plan on riding it ragged then more refined components can keep things running smoother for longer.
If you're looking for the best mountain bike under £1000/$1000, we recommend sticking with hardtails in order to get the best specification and performance. There are full-suspension bikes available at this price point but they’re likely to be heavy with basic componentry. At this budget, looking for previous season bikes that have been discounted is a great way to get some upgrades.
Don’t forget to budget for all the required accessories either – most bikes don’t come with pedals and you’ll want to be properly kitted out to make the most of the trails.