Mountain biking has boomed in recent years and as a result, manufacturers developed an increased number of specialized designs to appeal to this broad and nuanced market. With so many models to choose from, selecting your first mountain bike — or upgrading to a more sophisticated model — can be quite the inundating task.
From cornering ability to basic standover specifications, there are a slew of details to consider. While some downhill juggernauts may prefer a more advanced suspension system, the casual mountain biker or those new to the sport may only need a solid budget option for a weekend outing. That said, here are five of our favorite mountain bikes.
Kona Precept 15o
Why should you buy this? The Precept 150 is a well-rounded mountain bike with one of the most sophisticated full-suspension systems we’ve seen in this pricing bracket.
Who it’s for? Individuals who want a versatile, comfortable mountain bike.
How much will it cost? $2,200
Why we chose the Kona Precept 150:
Kona is well known for their reactive, lightweight suspension systems and the Swinger Independent Suspension system on the Precept 150 is one of its best. Like its other suspension configurations, the Swinger arrangement uses a single-pivot design for maximum absorption and minimal weight. Rugged, wide pivots and large bearings withstand flexing better than daintier systems.
The Precept 150 comes with 27.5-inch wheels and a pair of not quite “fat” tapered head tubes. This unique tube design slightly flattens as the tire meets the trail for better contouring and traction. While longer chainstays increase stability at higher speeds, many riders — especially descent daredevils — often prefer shorter chainstays for their handling along corners. Fortunately, the Precept 150 has chainstays under 17-inches and with a bottom bracket height just over 13-inches, the Precept 150 looks and feels compact and low-profile.
The best hardtail
Norco Fluid 6.2HT+
Why should you buy this? It’s a classic, low-maintenance hardtail model.
Who it’s for? Individuals who like a smooth climb.
How much will it cost? $1,400
Why we chose the Norco Fluid 6.2HT+:
The “hardtail versus full-suspension” debate is one of the more polarizing arguments in mountain biking. Needless to say, you can’t have an extensive list of the cross-spectrum preferences without mentioning both models, and the Norco Fluid 6.2HT+ is one of our favorite hardtails.
While the real GoPro moments are almost always reserved for the descent, the critical ascent is just as important. With this in mind, the Norco Fluid 6.2HT+ uses a short stem and low rear-end, allowing you to virtually pounce uphill. But don’t worry, this baby plunges with the best of them. Short chainstays (17 inches), a rather sharp head angle (67.5 degrees), and super-wide — burgeoning on “fat” — 2.8-inch tires grip the trail, ramp up the cornering, and complement control on descents. If you’re a diehard-tailer, look no further.
The best power-assistance
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6 Fattie
Why should you buy this? Because you should.
Who it’s for? The early adopters who like their mountain bikes like their Ferraris.
How much will it cost? $4,500
Why we chose the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6 Fattie:
What’s not to love — excerpt for the mouthful of a name — about the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6 Fattie? It’s part classic fat boy, part full-suspension, with intuitive motorized assistance. The Turbo Levo line of bikes all include a beast of a motor with up to 530 watts of power.
But this isn’t some push-button accelerator. Simply applying torque to the process (regardless of terrain) could easily result in a skid. On ascents or reckless, white-knuckled descents, a haphazard jolt of acceleration could quite literally steer you in the wrong direction. Fortunately, the Turbo Levo system uses a backend algorithm to sense your torque, speed, and cadence, then amplifies this sequence for maximum efficiency.
The bike uses a circular series of 10 lights along the frame to illustrate the battery life — each represents 10 percent of the total charge. In the center of this readout is a basic two-button interface allowing you to increase or decrease power. The Bluetooth-enabled system also connects to your smartphone via the Mission Control app. This allows you to finagle a range of motor dynamics from acceleration response to increasing turbo. Mission Control also tracks the metrics of your ride for those so inclined.
The Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6 Fattie isn’t a one-trick-pony, and the bike itself is a beefy (albeit lightweight) aluminum fat boy. The 18-inch chainstays keep your rear wheel close for the casual wheelie, while the 3-inch front and rear wheel tires add unparalleled traction. These tires increase the total surface friction but with the added Turbo Boost, the increased workload is easily accounted for and then some. Do you need a robo-bike? Absolutely not. Is it nice to the have the option to be partially chauffeured to the top of the trail? Yes. Yes, it is.
The best full-suspension
Kona Process 134DL
Why should you buy this? The Process 134DL has one of the most advanced full-suspension systems on the market.
Who it’s for? Individuals looking to upgrade from their first full-suspension model to a higher-end cornering and pure descent monster.
How much will it cost? $3,600
Why we chose the Kona Process 134DL:
The patented Kona Rocker Independent Suspension is one of the best systems on the market. The actuated shock along the top tube uses a single-pivot design for superior absorption and durability. This minimal motion, designed with wide pivots and oversized bearings, holds up against inevitable bowing, adding a hefty dose of durability. The Process 134DL climbs efficiently enough to please the cross-country enthusiast, while the overall suspension and short chainstays (just under 17-inches on all models) keep the earth firmly and evenly beneath your feet — even on full-throttle descents.
Kona played it safe with 27.5-inch wheels but this, too, simply adds to the overall versatility. The Process 134DL achieves greater balance and control thanks to the incorporated tapered head tubes. The tube is wider at the head to more evenly absorb shock and more aptly grab the trail. Not just a safe bet, the Process 134DL is a jack-of-all-trades, more than capable of conquering the full gamut of terrains.
The best budget
Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29
Why should you buy this? Someone looking for more than a basic mountain bike without breaking the bank.
Who it’s for? The casual or beginner mountain biker.
How much will it cost? $850
Why we chose the Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29:
For those keeping count at home, that’s not one but two hardtails on the list. If you’re in the market for your first mountain bike, or you’re a casual rider in need of a more than a nuts-and-bolts model, the Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29 is a solid bet. The Rockhopper utilizes a classic minimalist hardtail design without coming across as wholly utilitarian. It is steady and firm on climbs, as are most hardtail designs.
While full-suspension packages keep you grounded and own the descent to a better degree, the bonus mechanical elements increase the price and propensity for extra wear and part replacement. Rather than perpetually upgrading components, this bike, priced under $900, should give you years of performance, so feel free to ride this baby quite literally into the ground.
On rougher trails, you’ll certainly feel every inch of the descent, and depending on your preference, that may or may not be a good thing. If you live for cornering or simply the love of the downhill grind, you’ll prefer one of the other full-suspension models on this list, however, the Rockhopper is certainly more than just a grocery-getter.
Other things to consider
Is now a good time to buy?
Now is definitely a great time to buy. Bike sales increase as the mountain biking season approaches. This often leaves consumers at the wrong end of the supply-and-demand spectrum.
Should I buy online or from a retailer/independent dealer?
This is a matter of preference. However, unlike online purchases, going with an independent dealer allows you to try and negotiate a lower price and/or haggle for bonus deal sweeteners such as accessories or basic upgrades.
Also, dealing with a retailer or an independent dealer allows you to see the bike in person and take it for a test-ride. While a bike may appear ideal on a website, it’s better to make sure the bike meets your height and reach requirements before making a purchase.