The best trail bikes are designed to be all-around mountain bikes that can tackle any trail, all day long. No, you probably won't set a record time down an enduro course, nor will you be stealing any KOMs or QOMs from the XC whippets on the best lightweight mountain bikes up a techy climb, but you'll be able to navigate both without being pushed to the ragged edge.
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 rock gardens to jumps.
As trail mountain biking fills the middle ground between enduro and XC, it's perhaps the most popular riding style so virtually every brand has at least one trail bike in its range.
There is a lot to choose from, but here's a list of our favorites. Unsure what to look for? We break down how to choose the best trail bike for you.
The best trail bikes
The geometry numbers of the Norco Optic C2 are 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 stands out is the way the whole resonance of the bike feels absolutely spot on through those same grips which makes it one of the best trail bikes around.
As soon as we started riding, the Optic just felt totally right and, over two months of riding from mellow-loam matinees to out-there mountain epics, it’s never put a wheel or shock stroke wrong.
The geometry and chassis dynamics are excellent, the component spec is superbly pitched to flatter feel and capability, and the suspension is pretty much a perfect balance of ingredients to cook up a flat-out banquet on every trail. It’s practical, well priced and even the cheaper bike still packs all the play essentials into the package.
Find out the full details of the Norco Optic C2 in our full review and what makes it an outrageously entertaining experience on every trail
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 smooth, calm and collected cruiser to balanced, supportive and accurate tracking technical DH weapon. With a characteristic that becomes more alive the harder you ride, it encourages trail play popping drifting and sending features.
We were so impressed we awarded the Canyon Spectral 29 CF8.0 a five-star review. Click the link to read more.
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 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. That said, other than a gentle purr we were very impressed with how little drag there was from the Druid. The shock is well behaved when spinning the pedals, and when technical climbs are encountered, the obstacle rollover is very impressive giving rock crawler levels of scrambling.
Dropping into a descent and the Druid shows its keenness to attack the downhills. The ‘High Pivot Witchcraft’ means the wheelbase gets longer as the suspension compresses, increasing stability and reducing the rear wheel hanging up over square-edged impacts. That means the rear end feels glued to the trail leading to loads of traction when accelerating or dropping the anchors at the last minute.
To read more about what makes it arguably one of the fastest trail bikes available, check out our Forbidden Druid XT review.
Specialized offers the Stumpjumper in a huge range of spec, travel options, and in both wheel sizes, however, the Stumpjumper Expert version finds a happy medium between cost and components.
The Expert model is made from the brand's Fact 11 carbon and has dropped down in travel this model year. The geometry is great, with a really well-centered feel descending and easy poise when climbing
With 130mm of rear travel matched to 140mm at the front, the new Stumpjumper does everything well. 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.
Read our in-depth thoughts in our review for the Specialized Stumpjumper Expert.
If you are looking for the ultimate fun-loving trail bike, it's hard to look past the Santa Cruz 5010. It's the odd-ball in the list due to the fact it's still running 27.5-inch wheels, rather than 29er, which gives it a naturally 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.
Check out our full review of the Santa Cruz 5010 CC X01 RSV to find out more about the small-wheeled shredder.
YT Industries is much better known for its gravity bikes, specifically the YT Capra which is a common sight at enduro trail spots. The Izzo is the shortest travel bike in its lineup, though. While you might expect it to be on the overbuilt end of the trail spectrum, the low-slung Izzo is actually quite lightweight with a cockpit setup that's directed at making it an efficient climber.
It still rips on the downhills too. The relatively taught front and rear suspension tune and low weight mean it's superb on flowy, pumpy trails. The bike lets you work the undulations for every bit of extra speed and pop of lips. Get on the pedals and the Izzo's low mass takes off too.
Unsurprisingly, bikes this good are hard to get a hold of and with YT's stock getting snapped up quickly, bikes are frequently out of stock.
We tested the previous YT Izzo Pro Race build. YT regularly alters model specs although the spec of the model we reviewed is much the same as the current Core 4 model.
Focus's Jam is another trail bike aimed at having fun rather than being the quickest up and down the hill. That doesn't mean it's slow though, but it doesn't have the pop and fizz of some of the other best trail bikes that have a lighter build.
It might take a few extra watts to get to the top but the burly frame and spec mean the Jam is a bike that's looking to get rowdy on the downhills. Long reach keeps the bike stable as well, allowing you to make the most of the accuracy offered by the robust build. The linear suspension hugs the ground too, allowing you to stay off the brakes on the straights. Aggressive riders looking to push hard through corners will find that the Jam can blow deep into its travel and start to become flustered through repetitive impacts.
While we liked the bike there are a few things we think would be worth changing to get even more performance. Check out our review of the Focus Jam 6.9 for more details.
Hailing from Golden, Colorado, Yeti is known for making aggressive bikes that love going downhill. That may seem like an odd statement for the SB115, which sits with only 115mm of rear travel, but Yeti has paired that with a 130mm fork. Plus, the brand uses the Switch Infinity system, which makes the bike ride like it has more travel.
The SB115 loves speed, whether you're going up or down. This bike is ideally suited for a rider that doesn't mind a long climb and always takes the chunkiest descent back down.
With a head angle of 67.6-degrees, a 74-degree seat angle, the SB115 is not as progressive as the longer travel bikes on this list, but it sure blurs the line between XC and trail riding.
Giant's Trance trail bike range hasn't followed the trend for progressive trail bikes, however, if you're looking for something more capable, it offers a Trance X version that has more front and rear wheel travel plus tougher components. The latest iteration of the Trance X 29er is precisely what you'd hope for from an entry-level trail bike. From burly downhill runs to extended techy climbs designed to test you, the Trance X will glide through it all.
Packing 135mm of rear travel, Giant has employed its quality, not quantity suspension ethos. The Maestro suspension setup doesn't leave you missing the extra squish while making mincemeat of small bumps and big drops alike, with enough left over to help you stay out of trouble. Giant has combined this with a 150mm Fox 36 Float Rhythm fork to keep things slack and under control out front. The build kit is mostly in-house and the drivetrain and brakes are from Shimano.
The term "all-mountain" is a bit dated, but that's what Devinci calls its Troy trail bike. It's one bike to do it all and have a blast on. The suspension travel and geometry numbers confirm this, so riders will be flying down all their favorite trails.
Devinci has size-specific chainstays so that all riders have the same optimized handling and stability and there is a split pivot at the rear to help isolate brake forces from the suspension for better sensitivity and control. The bike features a good spec list as well, with a SRAM drivetrain and brakes, Fox suspension, and Maxxis tires. A size medium weighs in at 14.9kg, Devinci also offers an alloy version with exactly the same spec which saves $900 but adds on 500g.
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 65- and 68-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 120mm 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 downhill, 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 holdouts. 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 a rigid trail experience, check out our best hardtail mountain bikes guide.
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.
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 your main whip is a downhill bike or you are looking to try out the odd bit of enduro lite, there is no harm beefing up components like wheels, tires or brakes to handle the extra stresses. However, if your trails are tamer or if cruising and flow is more your style, choosing lighter weight parts and faster rolling tires will make a bike livelier on the descents and more eager on the ups.