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Best MTB under £1000: how to choose the best budget mountain bike

Canyon Grand Canyon AL SL 7.0
(Image credit: Canyon)

The humble hardtail has always been an honest version of mountain biking. Cheap to buy and easy to maintain with a happy-go-lucky riding attitude. Whether it’s laps of trail centres, cross-country epics or just messing around in the local woods, a hardtail is ready to give it a go - a raw and uncomplicated riding experience. 

As bikes have advanced, technology has trickled down which is only a good thing for those on the lower end of the budget scale. The £1000 hardtail market has become awash with options that suit all types of rider. 

Hardtails at the £1000 price point are not only more capable than ever before but now offer unbeatable money-to-fun ratio when compared to any other bike. Considering there are £1000 hardtails that now feature modern progressive geometry, dropper posts and 12-speed drivetrains, it is becoming hard to justify spending much more on a bike.

While there are some notable exceptions, a £1000 budget is too limiting to produce a functional full-suspension bike. For the money, hardtails are still king. Without the complications of rear suspension, a hardtail can offer a superior ride quality that is not compromised by frame design or poor quality components.

What makes a good hardtail mountain bike?

1. Geometry

With geometry becoming more and more progressive, the trend for longer, lower and slacker has now reached the budget market. This has produced bikes with a wider range of handling characteristics to suit different riders requirements. Longer slacker bikes give better stability over rough and fast terrain, however, they will feel sluggish and hard work at slower speeds. Steeper head angles and shorter chainstays give a bike a lively ride. Suited to tight and twisty trails they will begin feeling overly twitchy and overwhelmed when ridden at pace. Chainstay length plays a big part in how a bike feels. Longer chainstays increase stability while shorter chainstays give the bike a playful quality and allow a rider to get their weight over the back easier.

Beginner riders should look for something conservative that balances wheelbase length for confidence-inspiring stability and a head angle around 67-degrees for nimble handling at lower speeds. These bikes will ride well on a range of trails allowing new riders to try new routes and test themselves.

Mountain bike geometry

(Image credit: National Museum of American history)

Mountain bike geometry: what is long, slack and low?

Long. Slack. Low. These are the keywords accompanying each new bike release. With the enthusiasm amongst marketing people for long-slack-low (LSL) characteristics, we could all in future (possibly) be riding a frame size smaller. Check out our overview of progressive geometry as we separate fact from fashion.

2. Components

These days, the level of equipment that you can get for £1000 is incredible. 1x drivetrains now feature prominently and anything with less than 10-speed should be ignored. In fact, many companies spec 12-speed in the form of SRAM’s SX and NX groupsets. However, it is important to consider what has been sacrificed to afford 12-speed. A bike with fewer gears and a smoother fork, grippier tyres or better brakes will serve you better than an extra one or two gears. 

Bikes will vary in travel with most settling around the 130mm mark as a good balance for trail riding. Suspension experts RockShox are now commonplace and models featuring motion control dampening and compression give options to customise suspension feel.

3. Tyres and wheel size

With the choice between 27.5- and 29-inch further diluted with the introduction of plus-sized tyres, it can be tricky to settle on what's best suited to you and your riding. A 29er wheel suits hardtails as their larger diameter will smooth out bumps on the trail and increase stability. However smaller 27.5-inch wheels allow shorter chainstays and have less rotational forces for a nimble and playful ride. Tyre sizes usually range between 2.35 and 2.6 inches. 

The third option is for 27.5+, this uses a 27.5-inch rim size with a much larger tyre between 2.8- and 3 inches. The chunkier tyre increases the effective wheel size to almost the same circumference as a 29-inch wheel. Plus-size tyres roll very well over obstacles with enhanced traction and vibration absorption thanks to the high volume tyres ability to deform to the trail surface making them popular with beginner riders. There are disadvantages, all that extra tyre comes at a weight penalty, higher risk of punctures and poor performance in muddy conditions.

Most 27.5+ frames allow interchangeability between 27.5+ and 29er should you wish the versatility. It is worth checking before you buy as not all frames can swap and 29er tyre clearance can be limited.

Best mountain bike tyres

(Image credit: Vittoria)

Best mountain bike tyres 2019

Providing the vital contact patch with the trail, these are the best mountain bike tyres to get the most from your riding, whatever your style or budget.

10 best mountain bikes under £1000 you can buy today 

Ragley Marley 2.0

(Image credit: Ragley )

Ragley Marley 2.0

The Marley’s playful character embodies the hardcore hardtail ethos of messing around in the woods with your friends

Wheel size: 27.5-inch | Travel: 130mm | Weight: 14.4kg | Sizes: 15”, 16.5”, 18”, 19”

Playful descender
Poorly behaved on steep or technical climbs

British designed Ragley haven’t forgotten what makes hardcore hardtails popular in the UK. Short chainstays, snappy steering and 27.5 wheels give the Marley an agile and lively ride. Because of the short rear end, steep climbs will require more finesse to keep the front wheel in check but the Marley was designed for attacking trails not conquering technical climbs. The Marley will reward riders who enjoy getting over the front to throw the bike through corners or playing on the back wheel.

The mix and match combo of 10sp Shimano Deore and Sram Level brakes offers plenty of functional performance, as does the Rockshox Recon RL fork. Wheels are WTP STp i29 and the 2.6 WTB Vigilante/Trail Boss tyre combo are plenty grippy without sacrificing too much rolling speed.

Nukeproof Scout 290

(Image credit: Nukeproof)

Nukeproof Scout 290

A capable mile muncher on the hunt for rowdy descents to tear down

Wheel size: 29-inch | Travel: 130mm | Weight: 13.5kg | Sizes: 16.5”, 18”, 20”

Comfortable on long days, stable on rough terrain
BB will be too low for some
Brakes' reliability

Nukeproof know a thing or two about making fast gravity orientated bikes and although the Scout is designed as a versatile trail bike its descending ability is still up there with the best. This can be attributed to the long-wheelbase which keeps the Scout 290 stable on fast rough sections and a low bottom bracket that improves agility in the corners.

The components don’t let the Scout down either. A 130mm travel RockShox Recon RL with Motion Control manages front wheel impacts well. Gears are handled by Shimano’s 10sp Deore drivetrain and stopping uses non-tier Shimano brakes. Boost wheels are Nukeproof’s own Neutron wheelset as is much of the finishing kit.

Cube Reaction TM

(Image credit: Cube)

Cube Reaction TM

A trail bike for those who aren’t interested in full gas and big hucks

Wheel size: 27.5-inch | Travel: 130mm | Weight: 13.9kg | Sizes: 16”, 18’, 20”, 22”

Well mannered ride
Dropper post
Flexy fork

When looking at the geometry numbers you would be excused of thinking the Reaction is a little dated or conservative. Where bikes like the Nukeproof Scout or Sonder Transmitter encourage you to seek the steepest and roughest trails, the Reaction TM isn’t so interested. 

However, point it down some swoopy trails and the steeper head angle and shorter wheelbase start making sense. Combined with the 130mm fork and chunky 2.6 tyres, the Reaction TM becomes a calm and collected trail centre machine.

The Reaction TM comes with an NX Eagle 12sp drivetrain and Magura MT Thirty brakes. Cube have specced their own dropper post which is a welcome luxury for a bike in this price bracket.

Vitus Sentier 29

(Image credit: Vitus)

Vitus Sentier 29

With confidence-inspiring geometry and great spec Vitus shows just what is possible at the £1000 price point

Wheel size: 29-inch | Travel: 130mm | Weight: Unpublished | Sizes: 17”, 19”, 20”

Fantastic spec
Do-it-all handling
Brakes suffer reliability issues

The Sentier range has been the top of the budget hardtail pile for the last few years. Geometry numbers aren’t pushing the boundaries of progression rather favouring a balance between sharp trail etiquette and stability which encourages boisterous riding on gnarly trails.   

The array of kit wouldn’t look out of place on a much more expensive bike. Upfront is a very capable 130mm XFusion RC32 Boost fork. Shimano’s workhorse 10sp Deore groupset assures many miles of reliable gear changes. WTB i30 wheels are fitted with Schwalbe tyres, a front Magic Mary with a rear Nobby Nic. In fact, other than a dropper post the Sentier 29 wants for nothing.

Sonder Transmitter

(Image credit: Sonder)

Sonder Transmitter SX Eagle Recon

The Sonder Transmitter’s modern aggressive geometry encourages wild riding with a sensible price tag

Wheel size: 27.5-inch | Travel: 150mm | Weight: 13.8kg | Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Aggressive geometry 
Heavy wheels

The Sonder Transmitter shows you don’t have to pay top dollar if you're looking to get rowdy on the trail. With 150mm of travel and a modern long and slack approach to geometry, the Transmitter will have you pushing your limits. Once the trail has finished, a steep seat angle puts you in a good position to winch back up to the top for another run.

The transmitter is boost spaced, dropper ready, has through-axles and internal cable routing resulting in a frame that will be worth future upgrades. Sonder offers a decent spec with a RockShox Recon RL fork, SRAM SX 12sp drivetrain with SRAM Level brakes. Wheels and finishing kit are supplied by Sonder's in-house brand Love Mud.

Whyte 805 V2

(Image credit: Whyte)

Whyte 805 V2

With such stable geometry, Whyte encourage harder faster riding to get the best from the 805 V2

Wheel size: 27.5-inch | Travel: 120mm | Weight: 12.9kg | Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Quality fork and front tyre keep the front end planted
Aggressive geometry may expose limits of the components

The Whyte 805 V2 is by far the slackest and longest bike on this list. With numbers that make some enduro race bikes look conservative, it’s clear that the 805 V2 was concocted with some serious descending in mind. This stable ride characteristic may feel a bit sedated on slower trails but if your riding involves letting off the brakes and cannonballing descents then the 805 V2 is going to come into its own.

To handle all this aggressive riding Whyte have specced a RockShox Recon RL with 120mm travel and a custom 37mm offset for greater stability. Gearing comes in the form of Shimano’s dependable 10sp Deore groupset and a Sunrace cassette. Wheels are WTB ST i27 wheels with a notable addition of a Maxxis High Roller II 3C Max Terra to maximise front wheel grip. The rear tyre is a dual-compound Maxxis Forekaster for durability and lower rolling resistance. 

Canyon Grand Canyon AL SL 7.0

(Image credit: Canyon)

Canyon Grand Canyon AL SL 7.0

A sporty cross country bike hungry for miles with a spec that punches well above its £1000 price tag

Wheel size: 29-inch | Travel: 120mm | Weight: 12.7kg | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL

Outstanding value for money
Slack seat tube angle

While many other hardtails are projecting a hardcore riding image of looser and wilder, the Grand Canyon AL SL 7.0 is sticking to its cross country roots. With geometry that places it firmly in the classic cross country category, this is a bike that is most at home covering miles quickly and efficiently.

This makes the Grand Canyon AL SL 7.0 a perfect bike for riding local singletrack, trail centre laps or even as an entry-level XC race bike.

The component list is almost unmatchable thanks to Canyon’s direct to consumer selling model. A 120mm RockShox Judy with adjustable compression has plenty of travel to keep you out of trouble. The 12sp drivetrain is a well thought out assortment of SRAM NX and GX. A fast-rolling combo of Mavic wheels and Schwalbe tyres work well in most conditions and keeps the bike feeling spritely up punchy climbs.

Specialized Fuse 27.5

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized Fuse 27.5

Specialized’s geometry updates to the Fuse means it rides better than ever

Wheel size: 27.5+ | Travel: 130mm | Weight: Unpublished | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL

Smooth descender, dropper post
Heavy wheels, square taper BB 

Specialized has made some big changes to the Fuse for 2020. Geometry has been tightened up with Specialized making everything slacker, longer, lower and steeper where needed without going crazy. Although the basic Fuse comes with 27.5+, it will fit 29x2.6 should you wish to upgrade in the future.

The old Fuse was a keen descender and 2020’s updates further reinforce this. Slender tubes and plump 2.8 Specialized tyres make for a smooth ride. Combine this forgiving nature with a long trail number and heaps of traction results in a bike that feels in control on technical downhills. Heavy wheels don’t promote speedy climbs but a 74º seat angle and 30t chainring will get you there.

The RockShox Judy fork is a mainstay at this price point and performs well. The drivetrain is 10sp Shimano Deore except for the Specialized crankset and SunRace cassette. The Fuse is finished with Tektro brakes, Specialized finishing kit and a TranzX dropper post.

Kona Unit

(Image credit: Kona)

Kona Unit

Less is more, the Kona Unit may seem restrictive but that doesn’t stop it being lots of fun

Wheel size: 27.5+ | Travel: Rigid | Weight: 13.5 | Sizes: 15.6”, 16.5” 18.5”, 20.9”

Feature-packed frame
Quick release is old news
Rigid steel single speed is niche at best

There is a lot of reasons for people to not like the Kona Unit. Rigid forks are bumpy, single speed is hard work and bikepacking is just a recipe for a miserable night's sleep. But for others, the Kona Unit will seem like the perfect bike.

The Kona Unit might appear niche but the frame is a master of versatility. Out the box, it comes with 27.5+ wheels but will happily accommodate 29ers. Should you want gears all you need is a 1x groupset and a gear hanger, simple. You could even fit an 80mm suspension fork to add a little more squish if needed. Internal routing gives the option for a dropper if you like getting the saddle out the way. The Unit frame is ready for adventures and features many bottle cage bosses for plenty of water or luggage carrying options.

An FSA Comet crankset turns a 32t x 18t gear ratio which is mounted on a full-length freehub body. 27.5 x 2.8 WTB Rangers offer a large floaty footprint for the WTB ST i35 TCS wheels. Brakes are mechanical Tektro HDM275s and the rest of the bike is finished with Kona's own brand parts.

Graham Cottingham has mountain biking at his core. He can mostly be found bikepacking around Scotland or exploring the steep trails around the Tweed Valley. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has gained a reputation for riding fixed gear bikes both too far and often in inappropriate places. Rides: Canyon Strive, Surly Karate Monkey, Surly Steamroller, Dolan Seta