Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Best Hardtail Bikes

Thursday April 22, 2021
One of the primary ways we test bikes is by riding them, obviously...
One of the primary ways we test bikes is by riding them, obviously. We have a team of dedicated testers who are very good at differentiating between the ride characteristics of various bicycles.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman


It's not easy to navigate the wide, wide world of bike buying. How do you find the right ride for you? We're here to help. First, we scour the web for the most intriguing models from the most well-respected companies. Then, we narrow the field down to some of the very best bikes and buy them. Finally, we test the tread off them, using a switchout process, to deliver the very best information.

On our test rides, we switch between bikes frequently for comparison.
On our test rides, we switch between bikes frequently for comparison.
Photo: Laura Casner

Addressing Component and Adjustment Issues

We buy and test complete bikes, operating under the assumption that manufacturers are building out their frames to showcase their capabilities. At the $1500-$2500 price point for our hardtail test, component quality varies widely. The most significant issues were the presence or absence of dropper seatposts and the stock tires. While the former is an expensive upgrade, the latter is not. We test the bikes in their stock configurations.

We measured all the bikes and refer to these numbers in each review...
We measured all the bikes and refer to these numbers in each review. This helpful diagram shows which measurements are which.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Measuring Bike Geometry

Bike geometry gives you an idea of how a bike will perform and how it will fit. Unfortunately, there is no standardized method for measuring geometry across manufacturers. For that reason, we measure all of our test bikes so that we can compare apples to apples. Our methods may differ from those of the manufacturers; our measurements might differ as well. Our tools for measuring bikes include a Park Tool Digital Scale, an Intercomp Digital Angle Gauge, a grease pen, a six-foot beam level, two straightedges (three and six-foot), a tape measure, a laser beam, and a digital protractor goniometer.

Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Effective Top Tube Length - We locate the center of the seat tube at a level point across from the center of the head tube. We mark the seat tube with a grease pen and confirm it is level with our six-foot beam level. Once we are comfortable the marking is level; we measure the distance with our six-foot straightedge.

Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Reach - Reach is determined by holding our straight edge from the center of the head tube from the mark mentioned above on the seat post. Once we have confirmed the straight edge is level, we use our laser beam to create a vertical line that bisects the bottom bracket shell upwards to the straight edge. The point on the straight edge where the laser intersects perpendicularly is our reach measurement.

Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Head Tube Angle - We find the head tube angle by placing our Intercomp digital angle gauge directly on the front of the fork stanchion. We confirm by measuring the fork lower legs as well, being careful to avoid any bumps or ridges in the leg. We double check our measurements with the digital protractor goniometer.

Seat Tube Angle - Whenever possible we like to use our digital angle finder to measure seat tube angles. The problem is that modern frame design often features a good deal of curves and interference in the seat tube. We do the bulk of our seat tube angle measurements with our digital protractor goniometer.

Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Bottom Bracket Height - We use our three-foot straight edge to measure vertically from the ground to the center of the bottom bracket.

Chainstay Length - Chainstay length is determined by using the six-foot straightedge to measure the distance between the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the rear axle.

Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Wheelbase - To find wheelbase we measure from the center of the front axle to the center of the rear axle with our six-foot straightedge.

Weight - Weight is determined simply by using a hanging Park Tool Digital Scale to weigh the bikes without pedals.

Riding a bike is the only way to get to know its performance...
Riding a bike is the only way to get to know its performance characteristics. Fortunately, it's also a blast.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman


Once the bikes are measured and weighed, we set out on the trail and ride for weeks on end. Our team of testers switches between bikes often, sometimes between laps, to get a feel for each one and most importantly how they compare to each other. We ride these bikes up down and all around on test laps that include the full spectrum of riding to see how each model performs in a wide range of terrain, trail types, and conditions. We don't go easy on them either, we push these bikes to their limits to determine their strengths and weakness and identify their key performance characteristics.

We take our testing seriously and push these bikes to, and sometimes...
We take our testing seriously and push these bikes to, and sometimes beyond, their limits.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More