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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
Best Hardtail MTB Under $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.
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 the best value mountain bike you can find.
Related: Best Mountain Bikes Under $500
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.
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.
Our TOP Budget Pick!
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.
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 hardtail 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.
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike Under $1000
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.
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.
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 value mountain bike for beginners as it offers the most bang for the buck.
Best Budget 27.5er Hardtail Bike
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 mountain bike aluminum frame, nimble geometry… it’s all there.
Did you know that Marin hand-builds their frames? In this case, it is a Series 2 6061 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.
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.
Best Value Mountain Bike w/ Carbon Frame
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.
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.
Best Hardtail Bike for Beginners
We chose to include Diamondback Line as the best 27.5″ 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.
Diamondback Line 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″ double-wall wheels with tires that are 2.35″ wide. That’s the best combo of speed and traction you can get.
The 1×9 drivetrain also makes DB Line fast by shredding some unnecessary weight. The rear derailleur is Shimano Acera, which reflects the quality you expect to get in this price range.
What we like the most are the Shimano Mt-200 hydraulic disc brakes which transform the ride completely and stop on a dime whenever you need it to.
Diamondback Line is proof that good-looking bikes with reliable and high-quality components don’t necessarily come with an unattainable price tag.
Best Entry-Level Hardtail w/ Modern Geometry
Marin Bobcat Trail 3 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 bikepacking market and stay there. Bobcat Trail 3 has some stellar components that will make this bike your best outdoors friend for years to come.
Marin Bobcat Trail 3 is an affordable bike that will allow you to put your foot in the trail riding and bikepacking world more seriously. In this case, $819 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 SR Suntour, FSA, Shimano, Tektro, and others.
The Shimano Altus rear derailleur is an entry-level component, but it shifts smoothly and precisely nonetheless. Just make sure to readjust it occasionally and keep it clean. In total, there are 16 gears to shift through on your rides.
Marin Bobcat Trail 3 has a set of Tektro 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 2.25″tires that are neither too wide nor toonarrow.
The star of the show is the SR Suntour XCM HLO DS suspension with 120 mm of travel — the best option money can buy in this range.
Marin Bobcat Trail 3 is the best value mountain bike for trail enthusiasts who want to climb, descend, jump, and ride more aggressively without worrying about gears.
Related: Best Mountain Bikes under $2000
Best Carbon Fat Bike
Marin Bolinas Ridge 2 is at the very top of the $799 price range, which means it offers the best list of components 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″ tires and other specs worthy of your money and attention.
Marin Bolinas Ridge 2 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 Marin 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.
Bolinas Ridge 2 also boasts an SR Suntour XCM DS fork with 100mm of travel that will allow it to enjoy light trails, gravel routes, dirt roads, and fire roads more.
The Shimano Altus/Tourney derailleurs shift smoothly and precisely even though they are entry-level components. Just make sure not to shift under tension and to keep them clean and maintained.
The best thing about the Bolinas Ridge 2 is its versatile 27.5 x 2.25″ tires. They are great for different types of off-road surfaces, but they are not too wide for paved roads either.
Marin Bolinas Ridge 2 is an efficient entry-level hardtail bike with a set of components that clearly mean business.
Jack of All Trades
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 bike good for trails, long XC rides, and other adventures.
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.
Best Titanium Handmade Frame
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 hardtail 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.
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.
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.
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 2021 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.