The bike you ride is a big purchase. It might be a top-shelf version with all the latest tech and a price to match, or it might be something more modest but it's still a serious commitment. There are a seemingly endless array of options and new ones coming on the market all the time.
There are some brands though that stand out. The bikes they make are some of the best available and they keep making knockout hits. If you are looking for a great mountain bike, starting with a great brand isn't a guarantee but reputation still counts for a lot. With that in mind, we put together some of the brands we think are the best mountain bike brands out there. Keep reading to see our list of the best mountain bike brands and some of the products that put them there.
Specialized bikes is one of the biggest and most well-known names in the industry. Getting there has been a 47-year journey with some industry-defining bikes, some missteps and a lot of innovation. The first few years were focused on road cycling and led to the first Specialized product, a tire. From there, the next major move was recognizing the importance of an emerging scene.
The company became synonymous with the American mountain bike scene with the release of the first Stumpjumper in 1981. It brought mass production and economies of scale to a fledgling niche and it maybe changed the world. The Specialized Stumpjumper lineage continues to this day although the modern-day equivalent is unrecognizable when compared to the original model. Specialized's is arguably one of the most influential brands on the market who are constantly developing new technology by utilizing its own Innovation Center R&D test lab and wind tunnel - which they call the Win Tunnel.
Specialized now produce bikes for all disciplines from downhill mountain biking to aero time-trial bikes. What they all share in common is that they are consistently some of the best bikes that are available on the market.
The model was the first in a long line of mountain bikes bearing the name of Specialized. It remains in the lineup 41 years later but the innovation never stopped. This year the Stumpjumper Evo parted ways with a totally different chassis. The change allowed the standard Stumpjumper to cut its own, somewhat old-school, path.
The new design starts with 29-inch wheels and throws in a pair of flexing seat stays along with 130mm of travel in the rear. The revised geometry brings the new school with a slacker, longer reach, design. You'll still find the SWAT storage system though which allows the storage of tubes, pumps, tools, and nutrition/hydration, right in the downtube of the frame. Upfront is a 140mm fork and a SRAM Eagle drivetrain and brakes. Specialized also makes a huge range of componentry as well and the Stumpjumper's cockpit, wheelset and tires are all quality own brand parts.
For all the details and to find out what over four decades of evolution rides like, check out our full review of the Specialized Stumpjumper Expert.
Like a lot of mountain bike companies, Trek is a brand born from a lack of offerings. The dream was to start a nationwide chain of stores in America in the early 1970s but things didn't turn out like that and a lack of available bikes required a pivot. Before an era of globalization, good American bikes weren't available so Trek set out to change that. They envisioned high-quality options from the middle price points all the way to the top shelf offerings but the focus was on road bikes.
Although that early focus was road bikes, Trek recognized talent and made business moves to bolster its mountain bike expertise too. While Trek was growing on the eastern side of the US, mountain biking was reaching critical mass on the west coast. In 1993 Trek made the Gary Fisher name part of its company and brought a brand associated with the first commercially produced full-suspension bicycles into its fold. Then in 1995, the company purchased Bontrager cycles. A move that brought Keith Bontrager, responsible for design and patent of a composite fork crown that later showed up on the first suspension fork, into the organization.
Since then Trek, like Specialized, has been one of the pivotal brands when it comes to introducing new tech into mountain biking. Under the Gary Fisher name, it was the first brand to make a commercial push with the 29er wheel. While that took some development and weathered much criticism, Trek has certainly come out on the right side of history with 29er's becoming the most common wheel size in almost every discipline. Trek was also one of the brands that made huge inroads introducing carbon fiber to mountain biking with its OCLV development.
While Trek has seen racing success in all disciplines, arguably its biggest impact is in downhill mountain biking. The Trek Session format has been around since 2006, although it didn't start looking like a Session until 2009. Since then it has become the most successful downhill bike with Sessions being piloted to more World Cup wins than any other bike.
Trek uses its OCLV carbon to form its best enduro mountain bike, the Trek Slash. Newly revamped for 2021 it got a geometry make-over as well as some new features and RockShox's take on Trek's proprietary Thru Shaft shock technology.
Enduro is first and foremost a race format and while all brands tout their bikes as race-ready machines, very few achieve the level of the second counting performance on the trail as the Slash. Clarity is brought to tumultuous trails by the Slash's stability-boosting geometry, superbly sorted suspension baseline with dialed on-the-fly fine tweaking and excellent pedaling response.
While we think the spec could benefit from a few tweaks, the base performance, capability and practicality that the Slash offers is typical of a bike from Trek no matter what price range you are looking at.
Check out our review if you want to know more about the Trek Slash 9.9 X01.
Giant is widely recognized as one of the largest bicycle manufacturers in the world. Not only do they produce a huge range of bikes across all disciplines and price points under the Giant branding, but it's also a manufacturer for many other well-known brands. Giant's rooted background in manufacturing has made it one of the leading brands when it comes to producing high-quality bikes in both aluminum and carbon fiber.
Giant has been in the mountain bike scene for a long time and has often been at the cutting edge of design and performance. With developments such as the Meastro suspension system, which was introduced in 2005, and its advancements frame manufacturing, especially with its own Aluxx aluminium.
Giant use its economies of scale and manufacturing expertise to produce bikes that are extremely competitively priced. While most brands will spec OEM or own-brand kit, no one does it to the extent as Giant who produce everything from grips to suspension forks. In fact, its not uncommon for Giant to kit out a bike with all but the drivetrain being Giant branded. The Giant components are usually good quality too and it means Giant is often able to undercut most other brands offering features at a price point that you might not see on other bikes.
The Giant Trance is a perfect example of how Giant can leverage its economies of scale to offer a great bike at a great price. Giant has used its Aluxx aluminium tubing to produce a lightweight yet capable short travel trail bike. Giants Meastro suspension system uses a virtual pivot point to create a system that is active, grippy and controlled, this is further backed up with by the 29er wheels decently progressive geometry. Giant's kitted the bike out with the cockpit, dropper and peripherals, leaving suspension and drivetrain to be handled by Marzocchi, Fox and Shimano.
Cannondale has always been at the forefront of innovation in the American bike landscape. The company actually didn't start with bikes though. Founder Joe Montgomery began at a loft above a pickle factory across from the old Cannon railroad line in Connecticut. Early offerings included backpacks and trailers to transport bikes for camping. The first Cannondale bike came in 1983 along with a revolutionary approach to working with aluminum. A year later, in 1984, Cannondale came to market with the SM500 mountain bike. It featured BMX styling and European spring saddle.
Despite all the early success, the company experienced a bit of a rough patch declaring bankruptcy in 2003. It was later purchased by Dorel Industries, who owned the brand until this year brought another change of hands to Pon Industries. Today Cannondale sits with strong backing among the new world's largest bike manufacturers, including Focus, Lapierre, Santa Cruz and GT among others.
Cannondale is a brand that's not scared of producing bikes that are unique and unusual, something which is most obvious with the brand's Lefty fork. While the brand has had success in the gravity markets, its F-Si and Scalpel cross-country bikes are its most notable successes. That could change though with the redesign of the Jekyll enduro bike as well as sightings of a prototype downhill bike with two shocks.
2021 and the new Jekyll comes in as a statement that Cannondale is back in the big enduro bike game. The new Jekyll combines many firsts for Cannondale, in a single-crown mountain bike platform. Engineers have constructed a four-bar suspension system that sits low in the main triangle, with chain influence on the kinematics reduced by a high-pivot.
Cannondale uses much of its existing design ethos in the Jekyll too with its Proportional Response design, which has size-specific geometry and suspension, and Ai offset to increase rear-end stiffness and clearance.
Designers wanted to lower the Jekyll’s center of gravity, and its frame features a twin-spar downtube. With the shock sitting so low it's effectively in the downtube. This is a bike targeted at committed enduro riders, who never shy away from any black-rated descent.
Santa Cruz is a relatively young company. The history of American bike brands starts later than those in Europe but even among its peers, 1993 is late to the game. Late isn't always a negative though. Living in Santa Cruz as modern mountain biking came into the world allowed the founders to be fluent in the needs of the riders. At a time when hardtails were the norm and full suspension do-it-all bikes were far from cool a few guys in a garage recognized a need.
The Tazmon was the first Santa Cruz bike and it featured a single-pivot dual-suspension design. Manufacturing of that first bike started in a small garage and grew from there with rider-centric bikes always being the norm. This rider-centric approach has meant that whenever Santa Cruz enters a bike discipline, it often becomes the defining bike in that category.
We can't talk about Santa Cruz without mentioning its sister company Julianna Bicycles. In partnership with ex-pro and six-time US champ Juli Furtado, Santa Cruz developed its first Julianna bike in 1999, credited as the first women's specific mountain bike, which in turn has led to today's catalog which covers all riding disciplines.
Today, Santa Cruz and Julianna continue to hand-assemble all models in its California factory and they stand behind that process. They are so sure of the quality they put out that all Santa Cruz bikes come with a lifetime warranty covering the frame and fork.
Santa Cruz has always drawn a certain level of allure based on its high-quality bikes but the brand's race endeavors have been a big part of that story, too. The Santa Cruz Syndicate race team has not only been one of the most successful race teams on the circuit but also a hotbed for testing. Santa Cruz has benefitted massively from leveraging the experience and knowledge of current and past riders such as Greg Minnaar, Steve Peat, Josh Bryceland and Luca Shaw.
The mid-travel, mid-sized wheel 5010 has always been the rowdy rider's bike in the Santa Cruz range. The big change for version four of the 5010 is that the shock is now driven via the lower linkage like other Santa Cruz trail, enduro and downhill bikes. It drops the center of gravity and it also makes it easier for Santa Cruz to work on the kinematic and leverage ratios. The result is more capable than ever but detail changes and dynamic ride feel mean it’s still as much of a hell-raiser as ever, even at higher speeds in bigger terrain.
Wondering what makes the Santa Cruz 5010 CC XO1 RSV so good, read our full review.
Canyon didn't invent the direct-to-consumer sales model, but the German brand is arguably the first brand that really made it work in the bike industry. The combination of superbly designed bikes and often unbelievable price-to-performance ratios means that Canyon has been a massive hit in an industry which has historically been bricks and mortar.
It hasn't been always been smooth sailing: in 2016 Canyon suffered some growing pains which caused significant delays in shipping. However since then Canyon has gone from strength to strength, producing industry benchmark bikes from some of the best budget mountain bikes all the way up to dedicated race specific platforms.
If you are confident that you know what you want and are happy with a little out-the-box wrenching (Canyon has gone to a lot of effort to make this as streamlined and easy as possible) then it's really hard to go wrong buying a bike from Canyon. In fact your biggest problem will be availability, as high demand often means bikes are out of stock.
The bike industry is pretty bad when it comes to declaring that a bike is a true all-rounder, do-everything or, the super cliched and meaningless phrase, 'quiver killer'. That said, if you are looking for a modern trail/enduro mountain bike then the Spectral is one of the best bikes on the market.
The recently redesigned Spectral frame is a demonstration of Canyon's design ethos. Utterly sorted that on first impression you feel so comfortable that it actually takes a while to realize how good it actually is. Considering the Spectral has figures that are easily Enduro shreddable it climbs confidently with crux crushing traction. Point it downhill and the Spectral beautifully blends calmness and control with a playful character that keeps rewarding you the faster you go.
Even better is Canyons range of options for the Spectral. While we loved the Canyon Spectral 29 CF8.0, Canyon also do a premium Spectral CFR and a budget alloy range which both share the same geo and design features. What's more, if you aren't a fan of 29er wheels, Canyon also offers the Spectral in a 27.5 and mullet format.
In 1985 a welder from California named John Parker turned his passion into a business and founded Yeti. His background in Hollywood special effects and welding prowess helped him chase his interest in mountain bike racing and from the very beginning Yeti was synonymous with racing. Thanks to the success of legendary racers like John Tomac, Juli Furtado, Missy Giove, and Myles Rockwell Yeti was quickly on the map in a big way.
In 1995, as mountain bike racing hit a fevered pitch, the larger, and well-funded, Schwinn purchased the brand. Yeti needed capital to expand and Schwinn needed the expertise of a proven winner. In early 2001, as the fortunes of Schwinn changed, two Yeti employees purchased the company and led it through a new period of innovation. Racing is still an important part of the company culture and the trademark Yeti turquoise continues to be a mainstay on podiums.
The Yeti SB 150 starts out simply by saying "the SB150 has won more race stages it has started than any other EWS race bike in history." Being able to make that statement rests on the unique Switch Infinity link. It’s a design that promises to do it all with both pedaling efficiency and room to take big hits. Early in the suspension travel the high anti-squat delivers efficient pedaling. Keep pushing into the travel and that anti-squat drops off to reduce pedal kickback for impressive big-hit performance. It’s one of the best and most efficient pedaling bikes around but it does require some maintenance of the system.
Chris Cocalis started Pivot in 2007 in Phoenix, Arizona when he recognized a revolutionary suspension technology and licensed it. The Mach 4 was the first bike from the company and it used the DW-link suspension design. One of only three brands who licensed the technology at the time, it's a system that isolates the rider from movement in the suspension as they pedal and brake. From that start, Pivot bikes has established itself in only a few short years into one of the most premium brands available.
Although Pivot is a young brand, it comes from a founder with a deep well of experience in the industry. Before Pivot Chris started building bikes, and components, in the mid 80s. He was a BMX racer and bike shop manager who built what he couldn't find and eventually founded Titus bikes in 1991 which he sold in 2006.
Starting Pivot was an opportunity to do things differently. Although the technology helped define the brand it was the culture of giving back that kept it sustainable. The focus is on making the best and that's what you can expect.
Every trail bike promises a dual natured personality. The allure of both downhill prowess and pedaling and climbing efficiency. When it comes to Pivot and the Trail 429 they deliver on that promise through the technology that started the company, the DW-Link suspension.
DW-Link is a system designed by Dave Weagle that keeps pedaling and braking from affecting the suspension. In the case of the Trail 429, it's paired with a 29er wheel size and comes together for a design that lets you race if you want but more importantly, brings versatility to the table. The addition of a flip-chip allows even more versatility by letting the rider fine tune the geometry for the ride at hand.