Let’s talk about the best hardtail mountain bikes. But… should you go for a hardtail or a full-squish mountain bike? This seems to be a neverending debate in the MTB world. The truth is that both are excellent choices that come with some advantages and disadvantages.
Hardtails are bikes that have front suspension but no rear suspension. As a result, they are not as comfortable as the best full suspension mountain bikes, but they are lighter, easier to maintain, and oftentimes more fun to ride.
Best hardtail mountain bikes are often also not too expensive.
If you’re thinking about buying a hardtail bike to do backpacking or ride the trails, check out our top picks below to get some ideas. We’ve organized them into four pricing categories (Under $500, $1,000, $1,500, and above) to help you make a choice you’ll be happy with.
Related: Best ELECTRIC Mountain Bikes
- Diamondback Line 27.5
- Norco Storm 5
- Cannondale Habit HT 3
- Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1
- Specialized Chisel
- Salsa Rangefinder Advent X 27.5″
- Diamondback Hatch 3
- Marin San Quentin 2
- Co-op Cycles DRT 1.3
- Cannondale Trail SE 4
- Santa Cruz Chameleon A D
- Who Are Hardtail Mountain Bikes Intended For? – Hardtail vs Full Suspension Mountain Bike –
- Bottom Line
Diamondback Line 27.5
Best Hardtail MTB Under $1000
The Diamondback Line is such a good-looking bike, it’s no wonder it has gained so much popularity in a short time. It is one of the best-equipped hardtail bikes for less than $1000. The Line is ready to hit the dirt, mud, rocks, and roots if you don’t feel bad about ruining this paint job.
- Attractive design
- 120 mm of front suspension travel
- Wide-range 1×9 Shimano drivetrain
- 27.5″ x 2.35″ tires
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- Color isn’t for everyone
The Line is a low-priced unisex trail bike intended to take an average rider and give them the status of an experienced mountain biker. It has a low standover height, progressive geometry, and adventure-ready components that will give you the freedom to choose different trails.
This Line model is the best unisex MTB for under $1000, which is easy to conclude when you check out the overall design and the list of specs.
Firstly there’s the Suntour XCR fork with 120mm of travel, which is good enough for riding on light trails.
The Line also sports a Shimano Alivio derailleur with 9 gears. They’re a choice that we’re used to seeing in this price range. The disc brakes are excellent and will help stop you on a pin safely.
So if you’re a man or a woman looking for a new hardtail bike to learn the ropes of trail riding, Diamondback Line is the best value mountain bike you can find.
Norco Storm 5
Best Hardtail Bike for Bikepacking Adventures
FULL REVIEW: Norco Bikes
If you have adventure in your heart, there’s only one bike that can follow you on your exploits, it’s the Norco Storm 5. It’s a majestic-looking bicycle with versatile 29″ wheels, huge tires, and an enviable set of components. All of the requirements necessary to go on a multi-day tour of your life are there. All requirements to call it the best hardtail bike for around $700 are there as well.
- Versatile 29 x 2.25″ wide tires
- 100 mm of front suspension travel
- Powerful mechanical disc brakes
- Attractive paint job
- Entry-level derailleur
Norco Storm 5 has a slackened aluminum hardtail frame that makes it playful to ride and turns it into a lightweight mountain bike. In combination with the 2.25″ WTB Starflight tires, they make this bike almost as capable as the best full suspension mountain bikes. It comes with multiple eyelets on the frame, so you can easily carry two water bottles and a rear rack.
Norco Storm 5 has the Shimano Tourney groupset that puts 21 speeds at your disposal. This groupset shifts smoothly and precisely, though it’s intended for recreational riding only.
The stem is short and the geometry is relatively upright, so you will experience a responsive and springy ride. Storm 5 brakes with mechanical disc brakes that will give you all the confidence you need no matter the conditions you’re riding in.
All you need to do is pack this bike with some frame bags carrying your bare necessities and head on a memorable trip. You can feel free to take it to a local park or forest and go crazy on the trails as well since Norco Storm 5 is definitely capable of it.
That’s why this bike is on our list of the best hardtail mountain bikes.
Cannondale Habit HT 3
Our TOP Budget Pick!
Cannondale Habit HT 3 is the best hardtail mountain bike for beginners. If you are still a mountain biking virgin, the Habit HT 3 has the ability to take you from your first off-road ride to being absolutely in love with mud, dirt, and sweat. It’s a straightforward and fuss-free bicycle with front suspension, that costs ridiculously little for the high amount of fun it offers.
- Very attractive pricing
- 29″ wheels
- Fantastic design
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- A bit heavy due to entry-level components
Cannondale Habit HT 3 is a unisex bike, which means it fits men and women equally well. The sleek, all-black paint job is also suitable for both genders. A big advantage this Cannondale model offers is 29″ tubeless-ready wheels with WTB Breakout 29 x 2.3 in. tires.
A mountain biking rookie who is just learning the ropes and intends to ride on the weekends doesn’t really have to spend a lot of money. For this amount of cash, you’re getting all you need with Cannondale Habit HT 3.
First of all, there’s the stiff and responsive aluminum hardtail frame with internal routing and a great cross-country geometry. The SR Suntour XCR LO Boost fork has 130 mm of travel which will make the ride more comfortable and give you decent off-road capabilities.
This bike also sports microShift components all around, including the Advent X rear derailleur. In total, there are 10 speeds, which is more than enough gears to attack local hills and storm the flats.
The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes come with 180 mm rotors, so you can expect plenty of stopping power as long as you adjust the brakes correctly.
All in all, the Habit HT 3 is a fun and fuss-free entry-level bike that’s easy to maintain and really exciting to ride.
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike Under $1000
If you’re in the market for your first hardtail mountain bike, Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 is the best cheap unisex model you can choose. It’s incredibly simple to maintain, comfortable to ride, and tailored to fit both men and women.
- Comfortable upright geometry
- SR Suntour fork with 100 mm of travel
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- Fits riders as short as 4’9″
- Slightly on the heavier side
Even though DRT 1.1 costs just $600, it does not come with the cheapest possible components. Instead, it has some pretty neat surprises to offer in terms of specs. It’s not a bike that you can abuse too much or enter races with, but it will do a good job on daily rides and off-road explorations.
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 has an SR Suntour fork with 100 mm of travel, which makes it great for day-long cross-country rides and some moderate trails. This is the most basic fork from Suntour’s line, but it’s excellent for beginners.
Other than that, you’ll have 21 gears at your disposal and Shimano Tourney derailleurs. That’s the cheapest Shimano’s groupset, but it works well unless abused.
The biggest highlight is Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, which are usually seen on $700+ mountain bikes. Most choices in this price range sport mechanical discs. Combine that with the 2.1″ knobby tires and you get a bicycle that will make you confident when tackling bumps and descents.
We have no doubts regarding DRT 1.1. It is the best value mountain bike for beginners as it offers the most bang for the buck.
Best Budget Race-Ready Hardtail Bike
Getting a Specialized bike usually means you’re getting some kind of a bargain. That’s the case with the Chisel as well. It is a quality entry-level cross-country bike that does not come with a high price tag. Lively front suspension, wide tires, lightweight mountain bike aluminum frame, nimble geometry… it’s all there.
- 100 mm of travel with the RockShox Judy Silver fork
- Grippy and fast 29 x2.35 tires
- 12 wide-range gears
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- No dropper post
This bike comes with a Specialized D’Aluisio Smartweld M5 Alloy aluminum hardtail frame, with a relaxed geometry, chainstay disc brake mounts, and fender and water bottle mounts. Its only downside is that it is a bit on the heavier side.
The Specialized Chisel is one of the best hardtail mountain bikes because it comes with a set of components that saves money but leaves more than enough in terms of performance for the average entry-level rider.
The RockShox Judy Silver TK fork is affordable, but it sends 100 mm of travel your way. Combined with the capable 29″ wheels, you’ll be gliding over rocks and tackling long cross-country rides with ease.
In total, there are 12 gears, so you will definitely not run out of granny gears when you hit a steep hill. SRAM SX Eagle is a mid-range groupset, but it is still reliable and durable if taken proper care of. Just don’t shift under too much tension.
Specialized Chisel is a springy trail bike that you’ll enjoy breaking a sweat on without breaking the bank.
Related: Road Bikes vs. Mountain Bikes
Salsa Rangefinder Advent X 27.5″
Best for Singletracks and Bikepacking
Salsa Rangefinder Advent X is a 27.5″ mountain bike that’s spec’d high enough to take a beating but not too high to take the last penny out of your pocket. It’s a bike that will prove to you that you can conquer singletracks without rear suspension.
- Wide and grippy 2.8″ tires
- SR Suntour XCM32 Boost, Air, 120mm Travel Fork
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- Aluminum frame
- Heavy wheels
Salsa has put a lot of thought into this bike. The result is an all-mountain grinder that’s good on trails, challenging singletracks, and in parks.
The Rangefinder is made to climb efficiently and then pedal to the finish even better. This is possible due to a balanced 68-degree head tube angle and a 74-degree seat tube angle. It can also do jumps and drops, thanks to plenty of travel in the fork and wide tires.
This is a 27.5″ bike, so it can deal with rough trails where rocks and roots abound. It has 2.8″ Maxxis Rekon tires, meaning you can ride it anywhere. It even comes with three bottle cage mounts, so you can ride all day long.
The 10 speeds that its Microshift drivetrain offers is all you need to climb any hill that pops up in front of you. This is a mid-range groupset, meaning it will take a lot of abuse on a regular basis.
Lastly, this Salsa bike has hydraulic disc brakes which are going to give you maximum control during downhills and other stunts.
All of these features make it the best 27.5″ hardtail mountain bike from Salsa.
Diamondback Hatch 3
Best Hardtail Bike for Beginners
We chose to include Diamondback Hatch 3 as the best 27.5″/29″ hardtail beginner mountain bike for riders who are still learning the ropes. It’s equipped with a good-looking aluminum hardtail frame, dependable components, and versatile geometry that will allow you to put your skills to good use.
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- 100 mm of travel
- Size-specific wheels
- Grippy 2.25″ tires
- Shimano Tourney groupset
Diamondback Hatch 3 does not have an aggressive geometry. It has a slightly slack front end with an upright rear end that will make the bike comfortable and eliminate pains and aches. That makes it great for long cross-country rides on fire roads, gravel, and dirt roads. But, it can tackle some challenging trails and descents as well thanks to the front suspension.
This is one of the best hardtail mountain bikes in this price range due to the parts that it sports. It rides on 27.5″ or 29″ double-wall wheels with tires that are 2.25″ wide. That’s the best combo of speed and traction you can get.
The 3×7 Shimano Tourney drivetrain is not the best choice out there, but it’s going to get the job done for beginner riders. The Tourney derailleurs reflects the quality you expect to get in this price range.
What we like the best about this hardtail bike is hydraulic disc brakes, which are always a treat to see on cheap mountain bikes.
All in all, Diamondback Hatch 3 is proof that good-looking bikes with reliable and durable components don’t necessarily come with an unattainable price tag.
Marin San Quentin 2
Best Entry-Level Hardtail w/ Modern Geometry
Marin San Quentin 2 is a very popular and versatile hardtail trail bike that offers excellent value for the money. This is one of the best hardtail MTB models that helped this USA-based company enter the entry-level mountain biking market and stay there. San Quentin 2 has some stellar components that will make this bike your best outdoors friend for years to come.
- Quality RockShox FS35 Silver front suspension
- Shimano Deore 1×11 drivetrain
- Shimano hydraulic disc brakes
- 27.5″ wheels
Marin San Quentin 2 is an affordable bike that will allow you to put your foot in the trail riding and bikepacking world more seriously. In this case, $1,399 gets you a trail-ready bike with 27.5″ wheels that do not negotiate with stubborn obstacles. It comes packed with all of the best names in the industry, including RockShox, Shimano, TranzX, and others.
The Shimano Deore rear derailleur is a mid-range component, so it shifts smoothly and precisely. Just make sure to readjust it occasionally and keep it clean. In total, there are 11 gears to shift through on your rides.
Marin San Quentin 2 has a set of Shimano hydraulic disc brakes that work beautifully when you’re descending or trying to break your trail lap record.
Marin aluminum double-wall wheels are woven around forged alloy QR hubs, so they can handle plenty of abuse, including some jumps and drops. They are paired with 2.6″ tires that are neither too wide nor too narrow.
The star of the show is the RockShox front suspension with 140 mm of travel — the best option money can buy in this range.
Marin San Quentin 2 is the best-value mountain bike for trail enthusiasts who want to climb, descend, jump, and ride more aggressively without worrying about expensive repairs.
Related: Best Mountain Bikes under $2000
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.3
Best Budget Mountain Bike
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.3 comes in at an affordable price, offering great components for being in this category. It is a fantastic beginner hardtail bike that talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s a seriously capable aluminum machine with 27.5″ or 29″ tires and other specs worthy of your money and attention.
- Aluminum frame
- Shimano Deore 12-speed groupset
- Shimano hydraulic disc brakes
- Slightly heavy
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.3 is built around a mountain bike aluminum frame with two water bottle mounts and a rear rack mount. This is not the lightest alloy frame around, as you can’t expect it to be in this price range, but it offers a great strength-to-weight ratio.
This MTB has everything you need to go for a solo ride on a local trail or go for a multi-day backpacking adventure if you fit it with frame bags.
DRT 1.3 also boasts a RockShox Judy Silver TK Solo Air fork with 120mm of travel that will allow it to enjoy light trails, gravel routes, dirt roads, and fire roads more.
The Shimano Deore groupset shifts smoothly and precisely even though they are still considered entry-level components.
The 2.4″ tires are great for different types of off-road surfaces, but they are not too wide for paved roads either. Depending on the frame size, this bike comes with either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels.
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.3 is an efficient entry-level hardtail bike with a set of components that clearly mean business.
Cannondale Trail SE 4
Jack of All Trades
Cannondale Trail SE 4 is a seriously versatile trail bike that allows for a lot of adjustability. Cannondale did a fantastic job on this bike by splurging in the right spaces and saving some money in others, which is how you make the best hardtail mountain bike have a competitive price. It’s a confidence-inducing hardtail bike good for trails, long XC rides, and other adventures.
- Excellent XC frame geometry
- Future-proofed aluminum hardtail frame
- Massive 29 x 2.25″ wheels and tires
- 120 mm of front suspension travel
- None really
Apart from all of the aforementioned shenanigans, Cannondale Trail SE 4 is well equipped for the price.
The frameset is made from Cannondale’s Smart Form C2 Alloy. As a result, it is light, responsive, durable, and has the right trail feel. The frame shape is inspired by high preforming XC bikes, which explains the low top tube, whereas the geometry is modern and progressive.
Other notable features include Shimano Deore 10 Speed components, Tektro superior hydraulic disc brakes, and 120 mm of front suspension. The frame has eyelets for two water bottle holders, so you can easily take your Sync’R on a day-long adventure.
Cannondale Trail SE 4 is a ridiculously fun and springy bike that can be adjusted to fit the preferences of any mountain biker who knows what they want.
Santa Cruz Chameleon A D
Best with Dropper Post
MSRP: starting from $2,599
Owning a Santa Cruz bike is the dream of many cyclists out there. This brand has a long tradition of making splendid hardtail frames so it makes sense to showcase the Chameleon A D as the representative of this category. This is a versatile trail smasher that can sport both 27.5″ and 29″ wheels and has some of the best components on the market.
- Compliant and durable aluminum frame
- Quality SRAM components
- RockShox Recon RL 130mm fork
- Mullet wheels
- Heavy wheels
Don’t get us wrong, we are well aware that Chameleon cannot be called the best hardtail mountain bike under $2,000. Because it costs a bit more! However, an overview of the best hardtail mountain bikes cannot be imagined without a Santa Cruz bike. That’s why this model has made it on our list. You’ll see why we believe it is worth this crazy price if you keep reading below.
For a price tag of around $2,400 you can get a 1×12 SRAM SX Eagle groupset with SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes that will stop you on a dime.
You can also expect the RockShox Recon RL suspension fork with 130 mm of plush travel to finally attack that challenging line you’ve been avoiding for so long.
Chameleon rolls on WTB ST i30 TCS 2.0 mullet rims, meaning the front rim is 29″ in diameter, whereas the rear is 27.5″. Both have Maxxis 2.5″ tires, though.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more than $2,000 for a fantastic aluminum frame bejeweled with quality specs, then Santa Cruz Chameleon should be all yours.
Who Are Hardtail Mountain Bikes Intended For?
– Hardtail vs Full Suspension Mountain Bike –
When it comes to mountain biking, more is not always better, even though many new and aspiring mountain bikers might be inclined to disagree with this statement.
For example, I believe that MTB newbies should always start riding on a hardtail bike.
The lack of rear suspension will force them to learn many valuable skills the right way, such as bunny hopping, choosing the best line, using your legs as suspension, and controlling the bike better. Once a beginner rider switches to the best full suspension mountain bike, they’ll be ready to use its full potential.
Related: Best Full Suspension Bikes
Even though hardtail bikes lack the rear suspension and are thus a bit less capable on the trails, they still have a lot of benefits.
Moreover, hardtail bikes are also cheaper, easier to maintain, and often more fun to ride if you only ride on easy-to-moderate and hardpacked trails. For many riders, a full-suspension bike is an overkill that takes the challenge out of the sport and makes things boringly easy and simple.
So, if you are on a tight budget and/or you’ll mostly be riding smooth trails, don’t hesitate to get a hardtail bike. You can still use it for fast descents, jumps, drops, and to absolutely smash berms at high speed. Even the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1000 are pretty capable.
Learn more: Mountain Bike Suspension Explained
Plus, you have the bragging rights to say you cleared a technical section on a hardtail when your friends start bragging about doing it on an FS.
There are numerous brands that make excellent hardtails. However, the companies that we believe make the best hardtail mountain bikes include Cannondale, Santa Cruz, Marin, Niner, and Salsa, to begin with. You can’t go wrong by buying a model from one of these brands.
Hardtail mountain bikes can be fun, nimble, and capable machines. They might not be as capable as full-suspension mountain bikes, but they are ideal for beginners and those who prefer a playful riding experience. Hardtail bikes are also the best choice for riders on a budget.
Hardtail mountain bikes are the best choice for beginners because they are easier to ride, set up, and maintain. Full suspension bicycles are more expensive and beginner riders would struggle to use the full potential of a double suspension. A hardtail is perfect to learn the ropes.
In our opinion, the best mountain bike of 2022 is Cannondale Trail 8. It has been one of the best-selling entry-level hardtails for a few years because of its exceptional looks and great value in components. When it comes to better-equipped models, Santa Cruz Chameleon takes the reign.
If you’re looking for the best 29er hardtail mountain bike, then you need to consider a model made by Niner. We recommend the Niner AIR 9 RDO, which is a high-performance carbon hardtail with massive tires and heavy-duty suspension. When it comes to 29ers, Niner is the expert.
Hardtail mountain bikes can be used for jumping obstacles and riding in a playful manner. However, they are not the best choice for doing big jumps. If that’s the type of riding you want to do, you should consider getting a more capable full-suspension mountain bicycle.
Neither a full-suspension nor a hardtail bike is better than the other. Both types are good for a specific type of riding. If you like descents and enduro trails, you should get a full-suspension bike. If you want a playful feel and responsive steering, you need to get a hardtail.
If you’re a beginner rider, the best way to start learning the ropes of mountain biking is on a hardtail bike. Compared to full-suspension MTBs, hardtails are easier to master, they are less forgiving of mistakes, simpler to maintain and set up, as well as cheaper.
If you’re falling in love with mountain biking and want to ride regularly and challenge yourself, we recommend spending between $1,000 and $1,500 on your first MTB. However, if you want to ride recreationally and only on weekends, choose one of the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,000.
The best type of bicycle for XC riding is an XC full-suspension bike. However, a hardtail can be an excellent choice as well. The ride might be bumpy, but a hardtail will give you better pedaling performance and you’ll lose less power to suspension bobbing compared to an FS bike.
You can use a hardtail bike to ride downhill sections. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to do it as fast as on a full-suspension mountain bike. Some riders even prefer using hardtails for these types of routes because it makes riding more challenging and more exciting.
To sum up, hardtail mountain bikes are not necessarily inferior to full-suspension bikes. Riding a hardtail does not automatically make you a “noob”. On the contrary, hardtail mountain biking requires better skills and more technical knowledge.
Therefore, you should consider getting one of the bikes we’ve shown you above if you’re on a tight budget, if you’re a beginner who’s just getting into the MTB world, or if you’re an experienced rider who wants a simpler and more challenging approach to the sport.