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 leveling 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 80-120mm 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 one of the best lightweight mountain bikes under 10kg. 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 seat post, 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.
Scott's latest Spark is innovative in a number of departments. The bike has bucked the trend of full-suspension XCO bikes using 100mm of suspension, bumping both the front and rear up to 120mm, something that's more in line with the downcountry trend. The most noticeable change is the suspension platform itself, with the shock hidden inside of the frame. The bike is race-tested and proved itself majorly when Nino Schurter won the 2021 World Championships in Italy.
Scott offers the futuristic-looking Spark in a number of build options, and this version using SRAM's 'budget' GX AXS electronic shifting is superb value for money. You also get Shimano brakes, Syncros wheels, and Maxxis rubber.
The cockpit setup and a rigid seat post are elements from the traditional XCO race bike school of thought but we found that the geometry, suspension, and overall performance are truly progressive.
Read about why we rated the Scott Spark Team Issue AXS so highly in our full review.
Best mountain bikes: trail bikes
The jack of all trades, the ultimate Swiss army knives: the best trail bikes offer the ultimate versatility and confidence to ride any trail on the globe.
The Norco Optic C2 is perfectly placed right in between a cross-country bike and a trail bike in terms of travel. The 125mm of rear travel makes it look like a downcountry bike, but the 140mm fork along with sorted geometry and handling characteristics mean that it is a deadly trail bike for everything from smooth singletrack to big-mountain epics.
The spec list is also a solid proposition. SRAM's GX Eagle groupset offers 12 speeds while Shimano brakes include 180mm rotors for optimal downhill stopping power. Schwalbe tires and an X-Fusion dropper post further contribute to the Optic being ready to shred right out of the box.
For more details, check out the full Norco Optic C2 review.
Another one of the best performing trails bikes we've tested in the Canyon Spectral. Sitting at 150 and 160mm of travel, the Spectral is a classic example of a longer-travel trail bike that can tackle nearly any trail with speed and confidence.
The suspension is provided by Fox, with the black stanchions of the brand's Performance Elite model level. Shimano's XT group does all the shifting while Shimano provides the brakes too. The front rotor sits at 203mm with 180mm in the rear for extra downhill stopping power. The spec list is rounded out with Maxxis tires and of course a dropper post with 150mm of stroke.
Check out our review of the Canyon Spectral 29 CF8 to see why it's one of the best we've ever ridden.
Best mountain bikes: enduro bikes
The best enduro mountain 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.
Yeti Cycles has always invested in making technology that suits the world's best racers, starting with riders like John Tomac and Juli Furtado back in the day. That legacy exists to this day with Richie Rude taking tons of wins on the Enduro World Series.
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 64.5-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.
The only thing we think this year's model is missing though is carbon wheels, considering the top-dollar price tag.
Trek designed the Slash enduro bike with fast riding and harsh hits in mind. That's why its 160 and 170mm of suspension travel uses the brands RE:aktiv and Thru Shaft technology for better suspension control and well-balanced ride characteristics that will allow aggressive riders to thrive all day long.
The geometry is decidedly modern too and there is a Mino Link chipset for adjustability. The head angle can be set to 64.1-degrees or 64.6-degrees and the effective seat angle is 75.6-degrees or 76.1-degrees. A size large features a 486 or 491mm reach with a 450mm seat tube.
A RockShox ZEB Ultimate and Super Deluxe Ultimate are at home on enduro tracks, while the bike's shifting and braking are down by SRAM. The rest of the spec list, including wheels, tires, and the dropper post are provided by Bontrager.
For more on how the Trek Slash 9.9 rides, read our full review.
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, the best downhill mountain bikes feature lots of suspension travel, a range of tough components and super sticky rubber.
There's perhaps no better name for a downhill bike. The Sender 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.
Commencal is another brand that's driven by racing, and all the proof you need to see that the Supreme is a top downhill bike is to look at the World Cup results sheet. 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 that 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 62.2-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: 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. The following are some of the best we've tested, or you can check out our full list of the best electric mountain bikes.
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.
Read about why we rated the YT Decoy Elite electric mountain bike four out of five stars in our comprehensive review.
What does it take for an e-MTB to score five stars after being ridden by our expert testers? With so much competition in the e-MTB space these days, that's no easy feat. A top e-MTB needs to have a solid, durable and well-performing specs list, the motor and battery need to have a good range and performance, and the bike itself needs to ride well. The Whyte E150 S combines all of this into a near-perfect package.
We were impressed with its outstanding handling, a well-performing Bosch drive system, and a great build kit of Shimano components. The E-150's handling really stands out because of its low center of gravity and balance of stability and agility which really shone when railing turns.
For suspension, you get a 140mm RockShox Deluxe Select + RT shock paired with a 150mm RockShox Yari RC upfront. Shimano's dependable Deore groupset handles the drivetrain and braking.
Find out more about the bike in our in-depth Whyte E-150 S review.
Best mountain bikes: everything you should know
What are the different riding disciplines?
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.
29 vs 27.5
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 26-inch wheels rather than 27.5 or 29-inch.
Carbon vs alloy
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 in the landfill when you're done with it.
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 techniques. For trail riding, we prefer full suspension bikes. These open more doors for riding locations while also instantly increasing on-trail confidence.
Which size should I get?
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.
How much do the best mountain bikes cost?
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.