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Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes

Jeff Balton

Best hardtail mountain bikes of 2020

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 their FS cousins, 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

Ride away!

 

Batch The Mountain 29

Best Hardtail MTB Under $500

Batch The Mountain 29

MRSP: $500

Batch The Mountain 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 $500. The Mountain 29 is ready to hit the dirt, mud, rocks, and roots if you don’t feel bad about ruining this paint job.

Pros:

  • Attractive design
  • 100 mm of front suspension travel
  • Wide-range 3×7 Shimano drivetrain
  • 29″ x 2.1″ tires

Cons:

  • No disc brakes

 

Batch The Mountain is a low-priced unisex trail bike intended to take an average rider and give him 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 Batch model is the best unisex hardtail MTB for under $500, which is easy to conclude when you check out the overall design and the list of specs.

First of all, there’s the shinny and modern-looking orange paint job that leaves everyone out of breath. Then there’s the Suntour XCE28 fork with 100mm of travel, which is good enough for riding on light trails.

Batch The Mountain also sports Shimano Tourney derailleurs with 21 gears. They’re a choice that we’re used to seeing in this price range. The alloy linear-pull brakes are a bit out of the place, but they’re a tried and true choice for beginner riders.

So if you’re a man or a woman looking for a new hardtail bike to learn the ropes of trail riding, Batch The Mountain is one of the best options.

Get From JesnonUSA

 

Santa Cruz Chameleon 27.5+ D

Best Hardtail for Bikepacking Adventures


MRSP: $2,149

FULL REVIEW: Santa Cruz Chameleon series

If you have an adventure in your heart, there’s only one bike that can follow you on your exploits, it’s the Santa Cruz Chameleon 27.5+ D. It’s a majestic-looking bicycle with versatile 27.5+ 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 for around $2,000 are there as well.

Pros:

  • Extra-large 27.5+ x 2.8″ wide tires
  • 130 mm of front suspension travel
  • Powerful SRAM Level brakes
  • Attractive paint job

Cons:

  • Partial internal cable routing

 

Santa Cruz Chameleon has a slackened aluminum frame that’s lightweight and playful to ride. In combination with the 2.8″ Maxxis Rekon tires, they make this bike almost as capable as a full-suspension bike. It comes with a set of double and triple eyelets on the down tube, so you can easily pack water bottles or gas canisters.

Santa Cruz Chameleon has the SRAM SX Eagle groupset that puts 12 speeds at your disposal. This rear derailleur shifts smoothly and precisely and requires minimal maintenance.

The stem is short and the geometry is relatively upright, so you will experience a responsive and springy ride. Chameleon brakes with SRAM Level brakes 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 Santa Cruz Chameleon is definitely capable of it.

That’s why this bike is on our list of the best hardtail mountain bikes.

Get From Competitive Cyclist

 

Cannondale Trail 8 (2021)

Our TOP Budget Pick!

Cannondale Trail 8

 

MRSP: $600

Cannondale Trail 8 is the best hardtail mountain bike for beginners. If you are still a mountain biking virgin, Trail 8 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.

Pros:

  • Very attractive pricing
  • Both 27.5″ and 29″ wheels
  • Fantastic design
  • Mechanical disc brakes

Cons:

  • A bit heavy due to entry-level components

 

Cannondale Trail 8 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 variable wheel sizing. The Small frame comes with 27.5″ wheels, whereas larger versions are 29ers. That guarantees a much better fit and better real-world performance.

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 Trail 8.

First of all, there’s the stiff and responsive aluminum frame with internal routing and a great cross-country geometry. The SR Suntour M3030 fork has 75 mm of travel which will make the ride more comfortable and give you decent off-road capabilities.

This bike also sports Shimano components all around, including the front and rear derailleurs. In total, there are 14 speeds on a 2×7 drivetrain, which is more than enough gears to attack local hills and storm the flats.

The Tektro mechanical disc brakes work with 160 mm rotors, so you can expect plenty of stopping power as long as you adjust the brakes correctly.

All in all, Trail 8 is a fun and fuss-free entry-level bike that’s easy to maintain and really exciting to ride.

Get From REI

 

Co-op Cycles DRT 1.0

Best Budget MTB for Short Riders

Co-op Cycles DRT 1.0

 

MSRP: $600

If you’re in the market for your first hardtail mountain bike, Co-op Cycles DRT 1.0 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 riders. Keep in mind that it’s most suitable for short riders due to having 26″ wheels.

Pros:

  • Comfortable upright geometry
  • SR Suntour fork with 100 mm of travel
  • Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Fits riders as short as 4’9″.

Cons:

  • Slightly on the heavier side

 

Even though DRT 1.0 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 1.0 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.

Full DRT series overview

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 1.0. It is the best unisex MTB for $600 as it offers the most bang for the buck.

Get From REI

 

Marin Palisades Trail 2

Best Budget 27.5er Hardtail Bike

Marin Palisades Trail 2

MSRP: $799

Getting a Marin bike usually means you’re getting some kind of a bargain. That’s the case with Marin Palisades Trail 2 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 aluminum frame, nimble geometry… it’s all there.

Pros:

  • 100 mm of travel with the RockShox fork
  • Grippy and fast 27.5 x2.25 tires
  • 18 wide-range gears
  • Hydraulic disc brakes

Cons:

  • No internal cable routing

 

Did you know that Marin hand-builds their frames? In this case, it is a Series 2 6061 aluminum 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.

Marin Palisades Trail 2 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 27.5″ wheels, you’ll be gliding over rocks and tackling long cross-country rides with ease.

In total, there are 18 gears, so you will definitely not run out of granny gears when you hit a steep hill. Shimano Altus and Acera are low-level groupsets, but they are still reliable and durable if taken proper care of. Just don’t shift under too much tension.

Marin Palisades Trail 2 is a springy trail bike that you’ll enjoy breaking a sweat on without breaking the bank.

Get From JensonUSA

 

Niner AIR 9 RDO 4-Star

Best Value 1x Carbon Hardtail Bike

Niner AIR 9 RDO 4-Star

MSRP: $4,700

Niner AIR 9 RDO 4-Star is an aggressive 29er 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.

Pros:

  • Wide and grippy 2.35″ tires
  • Fox 32 SC Float Factory EVOL FIT4, 100mm Travel Fork
  • Hydraulic disc brakes
  • RDO Carbon frame

Cons:

  • Partial internal cable routing

 

Niner 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.

Niner Air 9 RDO is made to climb efficiently and then pedal to the finish efficiently. This is possible due to a steep 70-degree head tube angle and a 73-degree seat tube angle. It can also do jumps and drops, thanks to plenty of travel in the fork and bombproof wheels.

AIR 9 RDO is a 29″ bike, so it can deal with rough trails where rocks and roots abound. It has 2.35″ Schwalbe Racing Ray/Ralph tires, meaning you can ride it anywhere. It even comes with two bottle cage mounts, so you can ride all day long.

The 12 speeds that its Shimano XT drivetrain offers is all you need to climb any hill that pops up in front of you. This is a high-end groupset, meaning it will take a lot of abuse on a regular basis.

Lastly, this Niner has Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes which are going to give you maximum control during downhills and other stunts.

All of these features make it the best 29er hardtail mountain bike from Niner.

Get From JensonUSA

 

Pivot LES SL Carbon

Best Hardtail Carbon Race Bike

MSRP: $4,199

We chose to include Pivot LES SL as the best 29″ hardtail race mountain bike for riders with high demands. It’s equipped with a light and stiff carbon frame, top-tier components, and aggressive geometry that will allow you to put your skills to good use.

Pros:

  • Wide-range 1×11 drivetrain
  • 100 mm of travel
  • Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Quality and grippy Maxxis Ikon tires

Cons:

  • Long stem

 

Pivot LESS 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.

Pivot LES is one of the best hardtail mountain bikes in this price range due to the parts that it sports. It rides on the 29″ SUNringle Charger Comp wheelset with Maxxis Ikon tires that are 2.2″ wide. That’s the best combo of speed and traction you can get.

The 1×12 drivetrain also makes Pivot LES fast by shredding some unnecessary weight. The rear derailleur is Shimano XT, which reflects the quality you expect to get in this price range.

What we like the most are the Shimano SLX hydraulic disc brakes which transform the ride completely and stop on a dime whenever you need it to.

Pivot LES is proof that good-looking bikes with reliable and quality components don’t necessarily come with an unattainable price tag.

Get From Competitive Cyclist

 

Salsa Timberjack SS

Best Single-Speed Hardtail 

Salsa Timberjack SS

MSRP: $1,699

Salsa Timberjack SS is a very popular and versatile hardtail trail bike that offer excellent value for money. This is one of the best hardtail MTB models that helped this USA-based company enter the bikepacking market and stay there. TImberjack SS has some stellar components that will make this bike your best outdoors friend for years to come.

Pros:

  • Quality RockShox front suspension
  • Maintenance-free single-speed drivetrain
  • Shimano hydraulic disc brakes

Cons:

  • No rack mounts

 

Salsa Timberjack is a reasonably-priced bike that will allow you to put a foot in the trail riding and bikepacking world more seriously. In this case, $1,699 get 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, FSA, Shimano, Maxxis, and others.

A single-speed drivetrain is the best type of setup you can get on a mountain bike if you love simplicity. The maintenance is super-easy when you have no gears, you save some weight, and you don’t need to worry about shifting. Of course, thanks to Salsa’s alternator dropouts, you can add gears later on if you want to.

Salsa Timberjack SS has a set of Shimano’s hydraulic disc brakes that work beautifully when you’re descending or trying to break your trail lap record.

WTB ST i40 wheels are woven around Shimano MT400-B hubs, so they can handle plenty of abuse, including some jumps and drops. They are paired with the massive, tubeless-ready 2.8″ wide Maxxis Minion/Rekon tires.

The star of the show is the RockShox 35 Gold RL Air suspension with 130 mm of travel — the best option money can buy in this range.

Salsa Timberjack SS is a foolproof mid-range option for trail enthusiasts who want to climb, descend, jump, and ride more aggressively without worrying about gears.

Get From Aventuron

 

Salsa Beargrease Carbon SX

Best Carbon Fat Bike

Salsa Beargrease Carbon SX

 

MSRP: $2,500

Salsa Beargrease is at the very top of the $2,500 price range, which means it offers the best list of components in this category. It is a fantastic fat bike that talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s a seriously capable carbon machine with 27.5″ tires and other specs worthy of your money and attention.

Pros:

  • Extra-wide 27.5″ tires
  • Carbon frame and fork
  • Lightweight 1×12 drivetrain
  • Hydraulic disc brakes

Cons:

  • No dropper post

 

Salsa Beargrease is built around a lightweight Carbon frame with high-modulus fibers for improved stiffness and a tapered head tube. It’s redundant to say that it will last you a lifetime. This frameset is extremely lightweight and features a great strength-to-weight ratio.

This Salsa fatty 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.

Salsa Beargrease is not a hardtail bike as it comes with a rigid fork. However, the combination of carbon and ultra-wide fat tires will provide you with a comfortable ride in most off-road situations.

The SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed rear derailleur shifts smoothly and precisely even under tension, so you can feel free to give it all you’ve got.

The best thing about the Beargrease is its 3.8” wide 45NRTH Dillinger 4 tires. They are tubeless-ready, so you can say goodbye to pinch flats!

Salsa Beargrease is an efficient fat bike with a set of components that clearly mean business.

Get From REI

 

Diamondback Sync’R

Jack of All Trades

MSRP: $3,650

Diamondback Sync’R is a seriously versatile trail bike that allows for a lot of adjustability. Diamondback 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 machine good for trails, long XC rides, and other adventures.

Pros:

  • BMX inspired frame geometry
  • Future-proofed carbon hardtail frame
  • Massive 29 x 2.5″/2.4″ wheels and tires
  • 140 mm of front suspension travel

Cons:

  • None really

 

Apart from all of the aforementioned shenanigans, Diamondback Sync’R has a dropper post as well. You can easily drop or lift your seat post and use the full potential of those extra-large tires and the extra-long front suspension travel when descending.

Sync’R’s frameset is made from carbon fiber with an optimal head angle of 66°. As a result, it is light, responsive, durable, and has the right trail feel. The frame shape is inspired by BMX bikes, which explains the low top tube, whereas the geometry is modern and progressive.

Other notable features include SRAM GX Eagle components, Shimano’s superior MT501 hydraulic disc brakes, and 140 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.

Diamondback Sync’R is a ridiculously fun and springy bike that can be adjusted to fit the preferences of any mountain biker who knows what they want.

Get From Competitive Cyclist

 

Alchemy Arkti

Best Titanium Handmade Frame

Sage Flow Motion

 

MSRP: starting from $8,300

Owning a titanium bike is the dream of many cyclists out there. Sage has a long tradition of making splendid titanium frames so it makes sense to showcase the Flow Motion 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.

Pros:

  • Compliant and durable titanium frame
  • High-end Shimano components
  • Fox 36 Factory Kashima 150mm fork
  • Completely customizable build

Cons:

  • Not very cheap

 

Don’t get us wrong, we are well aware that Flow Motion cannot be called the best hardtail mountain bike under $2,000. Because it costs a lot more! However, an overview of the best hardtail mountain bikes cannot be imagined without a titanium bike. That’s why this bike has made it on our list. You’ll see why we believe it is worth this crazy price if you keep reading below.

Sage has really tried to provide its customers with a premium experience when buying and riding the Flow Motion. You can have a unique bicycle by choosing the build, the geometry, and the color scheme you like. Of course, the more requests you have, the more you will have to pay.

For a price tag of around $8,300 you can get a 1×12 Shimano XT groupset, or pay around $9.500 for XTR which represents the creme de la creme of the cycling world. That’s the price without going fancy in other areas.

You can also expect the FOX Factory 36 Kashima suspension fork with 150 mm of plush travel to finally attack that challenging line you’ve been avoiding for long.

Flow Motion rolls on Stan’s Flow MK3 27.5 rims, but you can also go for Industry Nine Backcountry or Enve M640 wheels if you want to pay a bit more.

If you’re willing to spend much more than $2,000 for a fantastic titanium frame bejeweled with the best specs, then Sage Flow Motion can be yours.

Choose your build on Sagetitanium.com

 

Who Are Hardtail Mountain Bikes Intended For?

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.HT mountain bike

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 a full-suspension bike, they’ll be ready to use its full potential.

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.

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.

 

Bottom Line

suggestedTo 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.

8 Comments

  • Emer says:

    Hello Jeff, I have a very old GT mountain bike.I am wanting to update. I want to go intermediate as I have been biking for 20 years and always done road in Ireland.I am not getting into the trails. I was told to get the giant Tempt,what level is this bike for? I have no problem paying out 700-750 on a bike,but I do not want to get a beginners bike. I feel the stores here in Ireland will sell you anything if you don’t know what you want.Please, what do you suggest.

    • Jeff Balton says:

      Hi Emer,
      I’ve read a couple of reviews about this bike. All I can say is that these reviews are really positive. The Tempt series is for those who love the outdoors but are not hardcore trail riders. The components are decent and are good for singletrack. If you are in doubt go look for YouTube reviews of this bike. All I can say is that this is a good bike for its price range. Slainte!

  • Edgar says:

    Hey jeff do you have instagram ?

  • David Unger says:

    This was an extremely useful article. THANK YOU!
    My only regret is that none of the bikes you reviewed are available…. anywhere! I had my heart set on the Ghost Kato 5.9, but it appears that REI doesn’t even carry Ghost anymore.
    Any advice?

  • Sherry says:

    Thank you for this review—very helpful!

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