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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 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.
Our TOP Budget Pick!
Cannondale Trail 5 is the best hardtail mountain bike for beginners. If you are still a mountain biking virgin, Trail 5 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 5 is a unisex bike, which means it fits men and women equally well. The sleek, black and white 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 5.
First of all, there’s the stiff and responsive aluminum frame with internal routing and a great cross-country geometry. The SR Suntour XCM fork has 100 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 18 speeds on a 2×9 drivetrain, which is more than enough gears to attack local hills and storm the flats.
The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes work on 160 mm rotors, so you can expect plenty of stopping power as long as you adjust the brakes correctly.
All in all, Trail 6 is a fun and fuss-free entry-level bike that’s easy to maintain and really exciting to ride.
Best Unisex Budget MTB
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 riders.
Even though DRT 1.1 costs just $550, 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 unisex MTB for $550 as it offers the most bang for the buck.
Best 29er Hardtail Bike
Getting a Trek bike usually means you’re getting some kind of a bargain. That’s the case with Trek Marlin 6 as well. It is a premium entry-level cross country bike that does not come with a premium price tag. Lively front suspension, wide tires, lightweight aluminum frame, nimble geometry… it’s all there.
Did you know that Trek hand-builds their frames? In this case, it is an Alpha Silver Aluminum frame, with internal routing, chainstay disc brake mounts, and rack and kickstand mount. Its only downside is that it is a bit on the heavier side.
Marlin 6 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 SR Suntour XCT 30 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 16 gears, so you will definitely not run out of granny gears when you hit a steep hill. Shimano Altus is a low-level groupset, but it is still reliable and durable if taken proper care of. Just don’t shift under too much tension.
Trek Marlin 6 is a springy trail bike that you’ll enjoy breaking a sweat on without breaking the bank.
Best Value 1x Hardtail Mountain Bike
Orbea Laufey is an aggressive hardtail 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 do not need rear suspension thanks to its 2.6″ tires and dependable components.
Orbea has put a lot of thought into their Laufey line. The result is an all-mountain hardtail that’s good on trails, challenging singletracks, and in freeride parks.
Orbea Laufey H30 is made to climb efficiently and then descend quickly and aggressively. This is possible due to a slack 65-degree head tube angle and a 75-degree seat tube angle. It can also do jumps and drops, thanks to plenty of travel in the fork.
Orbea Laufey is a 27.5+ bike, so it’s quite nippy in corners. It has 2.6″ tires, meaning you can ride it anywhere. It does not have a dropper post, but it’s upgradeable. If you want, you can also put 29″ wheels on it.
The 11 speeds that its Shimano SLX drivetrain offers is more than enough for average riders. Considering it’s a 1x drivetrain, the weight is reduced as well.
Lastly, this Orbea has Shimano hydraulic disc brakes which are going to give you maximum control during downhills and other stunts.
All of these features make it the best hardtail mountain bike from Orbea.
Best Women’s Hardtail MTB for Under $1,000
Cannondale Tango 3 is such an elegant-looking bike, it’s no wonder it is called Tango. It is the best-looking women’s bike out there in our opinion. It is also the best-equipped women’s hardtail for less than $1,000. Tango 3 is ready to hit the dirt, mud, rocks, and roots if you don’t feel bad about ruining this paint job.
Cannondale Tango 3 is an affordable women’s trail bike intended to take an average beginner 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 superpowers on the trails.
Tango 3 is the best women’s hardtail MTB for under $1,000, 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 Emerald paint job that leaves everyone out of breath. Then there’s the SR Suntour XCM fork with 100 mm of travel with a hydraulic cable-actuated lockout that guarantees a squishy and confident ride.
This Cannondale model also sports front and rear Shimano Altus/Acera derailleurs with 18 gears. They’re an entry-level choice that we like seeing in this price range. Shimano’s MT200 hydraulic discs are actually a nice surprise in terms of quality, precision, and braking power.
So if you’re a woman looking for a new hardtail bike to take your trail skills to the next level, Cannondale Tango 3 is one of the best options.
Best Value 29er Hardtail Mountain Bike
We chose to include Salsa Rangefinder as the best 29″ hardtail mountain bike for budget-conscious riders. We think it’s your right to enjoy the outdoors and explore nature around you even if you don’t have thousands to spend on a new bike. The rangefinder comes with a tempting teal blue color and with some dirt-ready components.
Salsa Rangefinder 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 moderate trails and descents as well thanks to the front suspension.
Salsa Rangefinder is one of the best hardtail mountain bikes in this price range due to the parts that it sports. It rides on the 29″ WTB ST i29 TCS 2.0 wheelset with WTB Trail Boss G2 Comp tires that are 2.6″ wide. That’s the best combo of speed and traction you can get.
The 1×10 drivetrain also makes Rangefinder fast by shredding some unnecessary weight. Ten gears are more than enough for all off-road rides. The rear derailleur is Shimano Deore, which is a decent mid-range groupset.
What we like the most is the hydraulic disc brakes which transform the ride completely and stop on a dime whenever you need it to.
Salsa Rangefinder is proof that good-looking bikes with reliable and quality components don’t necessarily come with an unattainable price tag.
Best Aggressive Hardtail
Ghost Kato is a line of very popular and versatile hardtail trail bikes that offer excellent value for money. This is one of the best hardtail MTB models that helped this German company enter the US market and stay there. Ghost Kato 5.9 has some stellar components that will make this bike your best outdoors friend for years to come.
Ghost Kato 5.9 is an affordable way to put a foot in the trail riding world more seriously. In this case, $1,100 get you a trail-ready bike with 29″ wheels that do not negotiate with stubborn obstacles. It comes packed with all of the best names in the industry, including RockShox, SRAM, Shimano, Maxxis, and more
A 1×12 drivetrain is the best type of setup you can get on a mountain bike nowadays. All high-end MTBs that professional riders abuse sport 1×12 drivetrains. They are lightweight and offer the highest range of gears.
Kato 5.9 has a SRAM SX Eagle groupset which is the most budget-friendly 1×12 drivetrain you can get. It’s juxtaposed to a set of Shimano’s hydraulic disc brakes, but they work beautifully in unison when you’re descending or trying to break your trail lap record.
Alex TD 29″ wheels have 32 holes and double walls, so they can handle plenty of abuse, including some jumps and drops. They are paired with 2.35″ wide Maxxis Ikon tires with an impressive 120 tpi.
The star of the show is the RockShox FS 30 Silver suspension with 100 mm of travel — the best option money can buy in this range.
Ghost Kato 5.9 is a foolproof mid-range option for trail enthusiasts who want to climb, descend, jump, and ride more aggressively.
Best Mid-Range 29er Hardtail
Giant Fathom 29 2 is at the very top of the $1,200 price range, which means it offers the best list of components in this category. It is a fantastic trail gobbler that talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s a seriously capable trail machine with 29″ tires and other specs worthy of your money and attention.
Ghost Fathom 29 2 is built around a lightweight ALUXX SL Aluminum frame with double-butted tubes 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 Giant has everything you need to go for a solo ride on a local trail or enter a competition and blow past anyone that comes in your way.
If that is your mission, one of your best friends will be the Suntour Raidon XC LO-R fork that travels 100 mm. This is an air fork, which means it’s lightweight. Other useful features include lockout, rebound adjust, and magnesium lowers. Plenty of adjustability there!
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 Fathom 2 are its 2.35″ wide Maxxis Forekaster 2 EXO TR front tire and Maxxis Rekon Race EXO TR rear tire. They are tubeless, so you can say goodbye to pinch flats!
Giant Fathom 29 2 is an efficient 29er trail bike with a set of components that clearly means business.
Most Versatile Frame
Salsa Timberjack is a seriously versatile trail bike that allows for a lot of adjustability. Salsa 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.
Apart from all of the aforementioned shenanigans, Salsa Timberjack 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.
Salsa Timberjack’s frame is built from a combination of double/triple-butted 6066-T6 aluminum main triangle and a 6061-T6 chain/seatstays. As a result, it is light, responsive, durable, and has the right trail feel. It sports alternator dropouts which allow you to change the length of the chainstay for a different riding experience and even ride Timberjack as a single-speed.
Other notable features include Shimano SLX 1×12 components, Shimano’s superior MT401 hydraulic disc brakes, and 130 mm of front suspension. The frame has eyelets for three water bottle holders, so you can easily take your Timberjack on a day-long adventure.
Salsa Timberjack 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 Hardtail for Bikepacking Adventures
If you have adventure in your heart, there’s only one bike that can follow you on your exploits, it’s the Santa Cruz Chameleon A D+. It’s a majestic-looking bicycle with fast-rolling 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 under $2,000 are there as well.
Santa Cruz Chameleon A D+ has a slackened aluminum frame that’s lightweight and playful to ride. In combination with the 2.8″ Maxxis Rekon EXO TR 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 pack easily pack water bottles or gas canisters.
Santa Cruz Chameleon has the SRAM SX Eagle groupset that puts 11 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 a SRAM Level brakeset which 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.
Best Titanium Handmade Frame
Owning a titanium bike is the dream of many cyclists out there. Alchemy has a long tradition of making splendid titanium frames so it makes sense to showcase the Alchemy Arkti 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 Alchemy Arkti cannot be called the best hardtail mountain bike under $2,000. 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.
Alchemy has really tried to provide its customers with a premium experience when buying and riding the Arkti. 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 $6,799, you can get a 1×12 SRAM X01 groupset which represents the creme de la creme of the cycling world.
You can also expect the FOX Factory suspension fork with 130 mm of plush travel to finally attack that challenging line you’ve been avoiding for long.
Arkti rolls on DT Swiss M 1700 SPLINE 29 rims and Maxxis Minion 29×2.3 tires which eat rocks and roots in front of the bike.
If you’re willing to spend much more than $2,000 for a fantastic titanium frame bejeweled with the best specs, then Alchemy Arkti can be yours.