The best trail mountain bikes are designed to be all-around MTBs that can take on any trail, all day long. As trail mountain biking fills the middle ground between enduro and XC, it's, without a doubt, the most popular riding style and virtually every brand has at least one trail bike in its range.
Trail bikes are designed to combine uphill and downhill performance. For this reason, they often have a relatively efficient pedaling platform, yet the best trail bikes shine on the downhills too. Usually sitting somewhere between 130 and 150mm of front and rear travel, these machines can tackle everything from gnarly rock gardens to steep, root-strewn chutes.
With so many quality trail bikes here, it's very tough to pick any overall winner and the one that's best for you will depend on where and how you want to ride. Our five star rated trail MTBs are the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Comp and Forbidden Druid V2. The Canyon Spectral 29 CF8 and YT Jeffsy Uncaged 6 are also excellent bikes that give maximum bangs per buck, so are our best value choices.
If you're unsure if trail MTBs are you right for you, our guides to the best mountain bikes and best mountain bike brands which should help you make your decision. We've also got a buying advice section on what to look for in a trail bike at the bottom of this article.
The best trail bikes
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Specialized offers the Stumpjumper in a huge range of spec, travel options, and in two wheel sizes, however, the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Comp version is a happy medium between cost and components and is the Goldilocks model for us.
The Evo Comp model is made from the brand's Fact 11 carbon and features 160mm up front and 150mm at the back. The geometry is great, with a really well-centered feel descending and easy poise when climbing. Don't get us wrong, there are bikes out there that climb or descend better, but there aren't many that do both quite so well and it's finding the balance that makes the Stumpjumper such a great bike.
Not only does the Stumpjumper have impeccable ride manners, but Specialized has also packed the Stumpjumper Evo with practical features including a SWAT storage (with hydration reservoir included) and tuneable geometry. It also comes with a full SRAM GX drivetrain, complementary tire combo, and high-control brakes
Reviewer Guy Kesteven said. "It’s light and agile enough to be a joy on less techy, pedaling trails or just big days out in the hills but controlled and calm enough to really push the potential of its radical geometry options. The fact you can play around with big changes to those settings in just a few minutes between runs is a unique and invaluable gift for riders who really like to dig into their dynamics too." Read more in-depth thoughts in our review of the Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Comp.
While high-pivot bikes using idlers are becoming increasingly popular on downhill bikes and enduro bikes, they haven't really filtered down to the best trail bike market that much yet. Idler-equipped bikes have the advantage that the suspension and drivetrain are more disconnected giving better suspension performance, however, this can come at the cost of pedaling efficiency.
The Forbidden Druid V2's drivetrain creates less drag than it's predecessor and gives better chain security. Forbidden have also enhanced the Druid's riding character and the new incarnation combines short travel, agility and responsiveness with long travel control and confidence for a best of both worlds feel.
In testing, our tech editor, Guy, reported that the Druid V2 "charges, pops and hustles like a hard pedaling short travel bike but carries speed through jank and jolt sections like some kind of catapult. When that generates more speed than you’re expecting (which will happen a lot at first) it’ll save your stupid ass/arse and throw you straight back into the ring on your toes and ready to go. It does it without any of the old stretchy weirdness either, so not only is the overall performance better it’s easier to go harder on sooner.
Reviewer Guy Kesteven summed up the Druid V2. "With up to date, suspension flattering geometry, less drag, internal storage, smarter servicing touches and a killer spec right down to the correct tire carcasses at each end mean the Druid is truly something special. In fact, when I’m increasingly saying test bikes are sorted, capable and forgiving but in many ways increasingly similar, the Forbidden has got just enough freak to make it one of the bikes I’ve enjoyed riding most and been gutted to hand back in years."
For more, see our full Forbidden Druid V2 XO review.
The Specialized Status 140 proves you don’t need to spend a fortune and have more than six inches of travel to have an absolute blast.
The attack-focused geometry is designed to come in super hard. With the front wheel way out front and the back end tucked as far underneath you as possible, the basic handling dynamic is as close to one of those kids' skid steer chopper trikes as you’ll get. While there’s no shortage of stability or ‘stick it into turns way harder than seems sane’ confidence at the front, the super-short back end also helps you get the nose off the deck surprisingly easily.
The squat back end, with chunky double-sided pivots is properly stiff too, so it’s really easy to exaggerate the natural difference in turning circles and scrub rates of the front and rear wheels and kick or hip it off line like a hero. Even the RX Trail Tune on the shock is pretty tight, so you’re getting more mid-travel support to shove through berms on than typically comfort-focused Specialized FSR bikes. The short stroke fork does really well most of the time too, although more aggressive riders or slam landers will probably want to clip a couple more volume spacers under the air spring top cap to create a more progressive stroke.
It certainly doesn’t smooth out or roll through jank as well as a twin 29er like the Stumpjumper Evo. And, while the steep 76-degree seat angle helps get weight forward over the bars on climbs, the front still wanders all over the place on steep sections and the short back end doesn’t grip as well either. But overall our tester, Guy Kesteven, reported that it is, "one of the most naturally playful, anarchically agile and responsive trail/park bikes I’ve ridden at any price point. If the trails are tight and/or steep with gaps and pops rather than relentless root and rock mess, it’s seriously fast too. Everything from parts pick to stealth aesthetics feels spot on for purpose."
Find out more in our full Specialized Status 140 review.
The Norco Optic C2 is well established as a great setup for good time riding so it’s no surprise that this bike feels sorted as soon as you grab hold of the grips. What stood out when we test-rode it is the way the Optic feels absolutely spot-on from geometry to shock tune.
As soon as we started riding, the Optic began offering rich communication between bike and rider. Norco has bumped up the high-speed compression and given the bike plenty of low-speed compression progression which gobbles up stutter bumps, roots rocks, and debris whilst race inspired shock tune will reward warp speed.
Beyond the excellent geometry and chassis dynamics, the component spec is superbly pitched to flatter the feel and capability. It’s practical, well priced and even the cheaper bike still packs all the play essentials into the package if your working with a tighter budget.
Mick Kirkman summed up the latest Optic C2 in his review. "With sublime rear suspension, the Optic is still one of the best downcountry bikes around. Less carbon parts for more dosh and a swap from sorted Schwalbe to vague Vittoria tires mean 2023’s kit list isn’t as good value as previously, but the Optic C2’s spirit still shines through."
Get full details of the Norco Optic C2 in our review.
Canyon's Spectral is a trail bike doing its best enduro impersonation and can continually step up to the job in hand the harder you push. This is down to the properly radical geometry which can teach any trail that normally terrified us a lesson in Canyon domination.
The offset of the bulky trail build means climbing isn't as easily earned as other trail bikes. That said if you're faced with a steep and technical crux section, the Spectral has superb traction and control that will leave sharper-feeling bikes struggling.
Once pointed down the Spectral can transition from a smooth, calm, and collected cruiser to a controlled and precise technical downhill weapon. With a characteristic that becomes more alive the harder you ride, it encourages you to seek out as much fun on the trail as possible.
Guy noted in his review that "the core of the bike is an impeccably balanced, firmly supportive, and accurate tracking technical trail and DH weapon. One that increasingly comes to life, popping, drifting, sending, and playing the harder you push it" and was so impressed he awarded the Canyon Spectral 29 CF8.0 a five-star review.
Direct sales brand, YT Industries, is much better known for its gravity bikes, specifically the YT Capra which is a common sight at enduro trail spots. The Jeffsy is one step below the Capra in the lineup with 10mm less suspension.
With 150mm of travel, the Jeffsy still ripped on the downhills during our testing and is more than capable of dabbling with everything from flowing singletracks to enduro trails. The geometry isn't as radical as you would expect from a brand like YT but we found that further helped with the Jeffsy's versatility.
Unsurprisingly, bikes this good are hard to get a hold of and with YT's stock getting snapped up quickly, bikes are frequently changing spec and out of stock.
When Rich Owen reviewed the Jeffsy he found "the ultra-responsive nature of the Uncaged 6 is hard to ignore. Everywhere I rode, the bike felt as if it was champing at the bit to go faster and hit the trails harder." For more info, check out our full review of the YT Jeffsy Uncaged 6 model.
Our techical editor, Guy, seriously rates this shorter travel 140mm travel trail bike that's already picked up a bunch of awards from other testers in the industry too. He's also rave reviewed Merida’s longer travel, higher cost One-Sixty 8000 and reckons it's one of the best enduro mountain bikes available.
Whatever size you opt for (XShort, Short, Mid, Long or XLong), they're all extremely roomy for their size with our Mid test bike measuring 480mm. That gives you plenty of room to maneuver and helps give a planted feel on the trail.
The 150mm Marzocchi Bomber Z1 fork gives a supple up front end, but in its default trim, it ramps up at the end of the stroke in a very similar way to the 143mm travel RockShox Deluxe Select+ at the rear, so any ugly landings are tidied up neatly once the shock's damper is dialed in. Flex seat stays, rather than pivots, add rear end extra flex too.
A super steep 80 degree seat angle and high level of traction from a naturally ground tracking rear end combines with a mid length stem and 65 degree head angle combo stops the bike from feeling too floppy when you’re winching the bike upwards. Add an efficient, seated pedaling feel, and you can climb up ridiculously steep, technical upslopes when you’d be walking or wanting an uplift on a lot of bikes. The only big drawback is the One-Forty's weight, which comes in at around 500g more than comparative rivals.
In his full Merida One-Forty 6000 review, Guy summed up the bike as one that "packages radical, hard riding geometry, smooth suspension plus wheel and travel change potential and a lot of neat features with super solid, good value kit. It’s on the hefty side though and the seat angle might not agree with everyone".
Mondraker’s Raze is a lightweight mid-travel trail steed with a 150mm travel fork, 130mm shock, and Mondraker’s sleek aesthetic. The RR version gets full Fox Factory suspension monitored by its unique MIND telemetry system.
With a lightweight frame, a slightly compliant, conforming – rather than rigidly harsh – feel and the Raze Carbon RR feels inspiringly alive and responsive on the trail, never rabid or rowdy.
The MIND system gathers suspension and ride data and sends it to a smartphone app. This allows you to study how your suspension performed over a ride and tune it accordingly. You also get detailed telemetry on your performance which you can properly geek out on – if that's your thing.
In his review, Guy remarked, "Despite so many bikes following much of Mondraker's pioneering geometry lead, it has managed to keep its signature ride character deliciously distinctive. The light, lithe, perfectly imbalanced suspension of the Raze RR makes it a proper ‘chef’s special’ in terms of accentuating that agility and inherent ‘skill gifting’ to the maximum." For more info on this tech-packed bike, check out our full Mondraker Raze Carbon RR review.
A hardtail in best trail bike? Surely some mistake, but no. The Santa Cruz Chameleon is here very much on merit, as this eighth edition of Santa Cruz's trail-friendly hardtail is the most versatile, confident and flat-out-fun incarnation yet. It's also the most engaging and easiest-on-the-wallet entry into owning one of this premium brand's bikes.
Despite the finishing kit being a tad below par to that found on comparably priced bikes, the forgiving yet massively capable ride is so much fun that it won't ever cross your mind.
It can run both MX (mullet) or full 29er configurations which we found gave it a delightful double personality. "In MX format it’s got proper pop, precision, and powerful responsiveness for attacking the most fun trails flat out or you can choose the 29er option for the smoothest ride and tap out the tempo as far into the hills as your curiosity takes you." For our full verdict, check out our Santa Cruz Chameleon review.
If you are looking for the ultimate fun-loving trail bike, it's hard to look past the Santa Cruz 5010. It's now running a mixed wheel combo (29 up front and 27.5 rear), rather than a straight 29er, which gives it a more playful and agile ride quality. If Strava segments are the goal of a trail ride then this is probably not the bike for you, however, if slashing corners and throwing shapes over jumps for insta-bangers is your thing then no other bike is going to come close.
However, it would be a disservice to say that the 5010 is slow. The Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) is dialed to efficiently deal with chaotic trails and on twisty tight tracks, the 5010 carries excellent speed due to its explosive cornering speed. You might need to work it a little harder on the way up, however, it's all worth it when gravity is on your side.
Mixed wheels might not suit everyone but as Guy points out, "if you’re the kind of rider who hunts for every turn to hook, loamy corner to explode sideways out of or slight lip to hip then the 5010 is an absolute riot. The fact it’s more stable and sucks up way more trouble fires you along the trail with more flow than before. It hasn't lost its killer kick and precision agility meaning you’ve got even more speed to play with, too." Check out our full review of the Santa Cruz 5010 CC X01 RSV to find out more about this mixed-wheeled shredder.
The Atherton's have evolved from a successful trio of siblings dominating World Cup downhill racing to a factory race team and innovative frame manufacturer. Atherton Bikes started with AM.200 downhill bike before extending the range with the AM.150 enduro bike and AM.130 trail bike.
All the bikes share the same carbon tubing and titanium lug manufacturing process and Dave Weagal designed DW6 suspension system that's used on the downhill bikes. Not only does that mean supple suspension performance but also a chassis strong enough to tackle Bike Park use and downhill riding, plus the AM.130 is sold with a lifetime warranty.
One of the big advantages of Atherton Bikes' manufacturing is that they are able to offer the AM.130 in 22 different sizes – which is far more than we see from any other brand. These sizes feature reach numbers between 410mm and 530mm in increments of 10mm. On top of that, all but the four smallest frame sizes are available with two different stack heights.
The unique construction method is sure to turn heads as well so if you're looking for a boutique trail bike that will stand out on the trails, then the Atherton Bikes AM.130 is an excellent choice.
For riders needing a little more capability, Atherton Bikes also offers an AM.130.X which gets a 150mm fork and a 0.5 degree slacker head angle. For more details, see our news article on the Atherton AM.130.
How to choose the best trail bike for you
What's the best trail bike geometry?
Mountain bikes have been getting longer and lower as time has progressed. With wheel and suspension technology continually improving and brands embracing new fork offsets, trail bikes are becoming ever more capable.
Expect to see head angles between 64- and 66-degrees and seat angles between 74- and 75-degrees. With such a range of geometry figures, one trail bike could ride very differently from another, so if you are unsure what would suit you, many shops or retailers offer test rides or demo days so that you can try before you buy.
How much suspension travel should a trail bike have?
Only a few years ago, travel was a bike-defining characteristic, but that's no longer the case. We're seeing cross-country bikes with over 100mm of travel, trail bikes pushing up against 160mm of squish, and enduro bikes that bottom out at 150mm.
Trail bikes can range from 130mm of travel all the way up to about 160mm, and quite often we see forks that are about 10mm longer than rear shocks. Added travel at the front gives a bike a bit more composure on the downhills, while a shorter stroke at the rear makes it easier for designers to keep the chainstays compact leading to a lively feel on the trail.
While hardtail trail bikes are becoming less common, there are still a few around. The simplicity of the frame keeps the price down, and expect to find a 130-150mm fork and 29-inch or 27.5+ wheels and tires. If you are interested in that option, check out our best hardtail mountain bike guide.
Should I got for 29 or 27.5-inch wheels?
Over the years, the wheel size debate has been hotly contested. Trail bikes take advantage of both wheel sizes, and historically if you wanted an agile and maneuverable ride, 27.5 was your ticket, while if you were looking for rollover and speed, you'd want a 29er. However, as things have progressed, brands seem to be embracing the larger wheel size.
Because a 27.5-inch wheel with a 2.8-inch tire is roughly the same diameter as a 29er with 2.3-inch rubber, quite a lot of frames designed for bigger wheels will be compatible with both.
And if you want the best of both worlds, lots of bikes are available as a mixed-wheel mullet option, with a 29in upfront and a 27.5in wheel on the rear.
Should a trail mountain bike have an alloy or carbon frame?
Alloy frames are cheaper to produce, so it's no surprise to find them at the lower end of the pricing spectrum, while carbon dominates the upper end. There are great bikes in both materials, and ultimately your budget will determine what your new bike is made from. Some brands offer an alloy version of a frame specced with top-end components for a fraction of the cost of the carbon frame with the same build. If you are planning on upgrading parts over time go for the carbon version, if you are looking for the best performance-to-cost ratio then an alloy frame is probably the way to go.
What components should I look for?
For the most part, if you are choosing an XC bike, you will choose lightweight XC parts, and if you are going enduro, you will go full enduro. Trail bikes are a little different and really blur the lines between disciplines. Much of the component choice will be dependent on your local trails and riding style.
If you're looking to try out the odd bit of enduro riding, there is no harm in beefing up components like wheels, tires, or brakes to handle the extra stresses. However, if your trails are tamer or if cruising and flow are more your style, choosing lighter-weight parts would be a good way to go.
How we test trail bikes
Given that most trail bikes are designed for a fairly wide range of conditions that is exactly what we test them in – everything from fun trail center loops to gnarly, natural off-piste descents and everything in between. We also like to push the bikes beyond their designed use to see how they perform – as that is what you may end up doing out in the real world.
While this is somewhat dependant on the season, we also aim to ride the bikes as many different riding conditions as possible to see how they perform in sucky mud and over slippery roots as well as on dusty, fast running hardpack. This also helps to give us an understanding of how the bikes will stand up to hard use and if it will still function if parts of it are clogged up with mud or affected by other trail debris.
Meet the testers
Guy's been testing and writing about mountain bikes since the 90s, he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. We are willing to bet that there aren't many trail bikes Guy hasn't ridden over the last couple of decades.
Rich has been riding mountain bikes since the early nineties and professionally testing bikes and kit for over a decade. While he has ridden mountain bikes of every kind, Rich is definitely a trail bike rider at heart and loves finding flow on more technical lines.
An ex-elite downhill racer, Mick's been mucking about and occasionally racing mountain bikes for over twenty years. Nowadays, he's mostly riding enduro-style terrain on conventional and electric bikes.