The best trail bikes are designed to be all-rounder style mountain bikes that can tackle any trail, all day long. No, you probably won't set a record time down an EWS 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.
It's because of this versatility that trail bikes are so popular, so we've put together a list of our favorites.
The best trail bikes
With 140mm of front and rear travel, Trek's Fuel EX is the brand's most popular line of trail bikes. The Fuel EX range includes models at all price points, but the aluminum Deore version is a great deal at just over $2,000. This model features a 66-degree head angle and 75-degree seat angle. Both the head tube angle and bottom bracket height are adjustable as well. This translates into a bike that is stable over burly terrain but can still scamper up steep and techy climbs.
Trek does not offer a women's specific Fuel EX as it did in previous years, but the XS and S size frames will roll on 27.5-inch wheels and feature a curved top tube to maximize standover height.
This model comes with an alloy frame, 1x12 drivetrain, RockShox Recon fork, X-Fusion Pro shock, and a TranzX dropper seat post.
Specialized offers the Stumpjumper in a huge range of spec, travel options, and in both wheel sizes, however, the 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 the climb or descend better, but there aren't many that do both quite so well. If you live in the US, the Expert version of the Stumpy comes with a SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain among other quality components, which comes out to $4,700.
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 your looking for something more capable it offers a Trance X version that has more front and 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.
With a 160mm fork and 147mm of travel at the rear, the Ripmo is a bike that allows for point and pray descending while maintaining agile and playful handling characteristics. When the trail points up, the 76-degree effective seat angle and the DW-link rear suspension combine for velcro-like traction.
While one could argue the Ripmo falls more into the category of an enduro bike (even the Ibis EWS team chooses this bike), we still class it as a long-travel trail bike because the suspension doesn't quite offer the pillowy bottomless feel, as it's a bit tighter and firmer.
The Ripmo GX is anything but cheap. Ibis has never been shy about its boutique status, and we think it’s well worth the cash. If you're on a budget, Ibis offers an aluminum version (the Ripmo AF) at a cheaper price.
The geometry numbers of the Norco are well established as a great setup for good time riding so it’s no surprise that the Optic 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.
As soon as we had our hands on the grips 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.
Marin is known for creating bikes at a great price point, and the Rift Zone is no different. With 130mm of travel in the front and rear, this is a shorter travel trail bike that's still perfectly capable in technical terrain thanks to its progressive geometry numbers.
The Rift Zone Carbon 2 is Marin's top of the range model featuring a carbon frame, Fox suspension and Shimano drivetrain. Marin also offers a cheaper carbon build and 3 aluminum options for lower budgets.
On Santa Cruz Bicycle's latest Hightower 29er, riders get more travel and a bigger fun factor compared to previous generations.
In addition, the VPP lower link suspension mount is said to create a near-linear leverage curve, meaning it gobbles chunder and Santa Cruz goes as far as saying it still maintains the progressiveness normally reserved for its V10 DH bike.
With 145mm of rear travel and a 150mm fork, the new Hightower sees a 65.5-degree head angle, 77-degree seat angle, and 433mm chainstays. This is a long-travel trail bike that's worthy of big terrain.
The term "all-mountain" is a bit dated, but that's what Devinci calls their 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.
The Jeffsy Comp sees 150mm front and rear, that's longer than what would be seen on a typical trail bike yet the Jeffsy makes the cut thanks to its excellent versatility. YT has kept the seat tube low cut, not only allowing for a longer dropper but also enabling riders to choose frames based on length, not saddle height. With a flip-chip adjustable geometry, the head angle is now 66/66.5-degrees, the seat angle 77/77.5-degrees. In a shrewd move, YT designed the frame to cover the pivots on the seat stays to keep the elements out so there are no issues riding year-round.
For the price of admission, you get a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, Fox 36 Float Rhythm and Float DPX2 Performance suspension, SRAM Guide R brakes, E*Thirteen wheels, Maxxis tires, and a Renthal Cockpit. YT also do a 27.5-inch version with the same spec but a more playful character and a little extra suspension travel. Unsurprisingly, bikes this good are hard to get a hold and with YT's stock getting snapped up quickly bikes are frequently out of stock.
Falling squarely between the Canyon's cross-country and enduro models is the Neuron. The Neuron CF SLX 9 is the latest top-tier trail bike model from the direct-to-consumer brand, so you'll get a shiny build kit and great performance.
Riding like an over-suspended XC bike with a short wheelbase and reach, the geometry is on the conservative side - combining with a firm suspension tune to keep handling and pedaling inputs crisp.
Not everyone is after a rowdy bike and if your home trails aren't rough and tumble, it's easy to over bike. It's here where the Neuron will shine.
Hardy hardtails aren't for everyone, but if you're looking to ditch the rear suspension, the Kona Big Honzo is the bike for you. Credit where credit is due, Kona is the brand that shifted hardtails from just being for beginners and XC whippets, to do-everything-trail-munching machines.
The Honzo has come a long way since the original and now there plenty of model options between the Honzo and Big Honzo. The Big Honzo is built around an alloy frame, a relatively slack geometry and is compatible with both 29-inch or 27.5+ wheels and tires — we prefer the latter for the added damping and grip.
There's a 130mm SR Suntour XCR34 fork out front, a Shimano Deore 1x11 drivetrain and a Tranz-X dropper post.
How to choose the best trail bike for you
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.
2. Suspension Travel
Only a few years ago, travel was a bike-defining characteristic, but that's no longer the case. We're seeing XC 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 without making it feel like you're steering a boat, while a shorter stroke at the rear makes it easier for designers to keep the chainstays compact.
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.
3. Wheel Size
Over the years, the wheel size debate has become as hotly contested as whether you heard Yanny or Laurel (it’s totally Laurel by the way). 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.
4. Frame Material
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.
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 will make a bike livelier on the descents and more eager on the ups.