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10 Best Mountain Bikes of 2023

We've tested trail bikes, e-MTBS, hardtails, fat bikes, mountain bikes under $3000, and these are the best of the best
10 Best Mountain Bikes of 2023
Credit: Laura Casner

Our Top Picks

Thursday November 3, 2022
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We are constantly on the hunt for the latest and greatest mountain bike gear. When we see compelling new MTB models, we get our hands on them and ride them to their limits. Our testers eat, sleep, and breathe mountain biking and work as hard as possible to scrutinize every minute detail of each model we test. Bike park laps, all-day epics, 5000-foot climbs, and descents, we put these bikes through the wringer. Whether you're looking for a trail bike, e-MTB, hardtail, or budget-friendly model, we have compiled this list of the best options in each category. In other words, these are the best of the best.

We've tested other gear, like bike helmets and mountain bike shoes, and you can learn more about our favorite bike components in our best bike gear review.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on November 3, 2022, with the removal of an outdated product and the addition of the Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 electric mountain bike to our list of the 10 Best Mountain Bikes.

Best Overall Trail Bike

Ibis Ripmo V2 XT

Wheel Size: 29-inch | Rear Travel: 147mm
Well-balanced all-around performance
Confident descender
Efficient climber
Not the lightest weight
Somewhat expensive

The Ripmo V2 impressed our testers and is the best all-around trail bike we've ever tested. The Ripmo's geometry was updated to make it slacker and longer, and the suspension kinematics were adjusted to make it more progressive at the end of the stroke. This long-legged 29er was already a confident and capable descender, but now it feels even more composed in gnarly terrain and stable at speed with improved big-hit performance. Short chainstays keep the rear end sporty, and it's just as lively and energetic with responsive and precise handling. The V2 maintains its incredible climbing abilities with its efficient DW-Link suspension platform, steep seat tube angle, and direct power transfer. Superlatives like "quiver killer" come to mind with the Ripmo, as this is one bike that can do it and do it all well.

The Ripmo V2 is an excellent aggressive trail bike with an amazing combination of uphill and downhill performance. This bike makes a lot of sense for the rider who wants a bike that climbs well without sacrificing performance on the way back down. This bike is supremely versatile, and we'd recommend it to just about anyone.

Read more: Ibis Ripmo V2 XT review

mountain bike - best overall trail bike
The Ripmo V2 is a scrambler. It tackles technical climbs with the best of 'em.
Credit: Laura Casner

Best Aggressive Trail Bike

Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Comp

Wheel Size: 29-inch | Rear Travel: 150mm
Stable and confident descender
Highly adjustable geometry
Adaptable for terrain or riding style
Plush FSR suspension
Increased SWAT storage
It may be too much bike for mellow trails
Moderate weight
Fox 36 Rhythm fork

Specialized knocked it out of the park with the new Stumpjumper EVO. This 150mm travel 29er comes with a 160mm fork and is one of the hardest charging trail bikes we've tested. This bike descends with authority, the revised FSR suspension platform is near perfection, and this bike eats everything in its path. Point it uphill, and it climbs pretty darn well with a relatively supportive pedaling platform and a nice steep seat tube angle. One of the most interesting aspects of this redesigned bike is its uniquely adjustable geometry. The head tube angle can quickly and easily be adjusted between 63.5 and 65.5-degrees in 1-degree increments, and the bottom bracket can be raised or lowered by 7mm. This gives the rider six distinct geometry settings to suit their preferences, riding style, or terrain. Set it up steep and high for everyday trail riding, switch it to low and slack for running laps at the bike park; the choice is yours. Specialized also continues to impress with their attention to detail and on-bike storage. The SWAT storage compartment now features a 20oz water bladder and the zippered tool sleeve that fits inside the frame, so you can avoid wearing a pack and not go thirsty.

Given this bike's longer travel numbers and aggressive intentions, it can feel a bit bulky and bland on mellower trails. The Comp build we tested is nicely equipped, but it's moderately heavy compared to the more expensive build options and competition. That said, we feel this bike is a fantastic option for the aggressive rider seeking the versatility that this highly adjustable bike provides.

Read more: Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Comp review

mountain bike - best aggressive trail bike
The Stumpjumper EVO is an aggressive longer travel trail bike with a uniquely adjustable geometry.
Credit: Laura Casner

Best Mid-Travel Trail Bike

Yeti SB130 TURQ X01

Wheel Size: 29-inch | Rear Travel: 130mm
Excellent climbing performance
Fun on nearly any trail
Incredibly versatile
Despite aggressive geometry and burly fork, it needs to be finessed in gnar

The Yeti SB130 is a mid-travel trail slayer that is a fantastic daily driver or one bike quiver. This 130mm 29er makes a lot of sense for a huge percentage of riders in many regions. Whether you frequent fast, rolling, flow trails or head out for all-day backcountry missions, the Yeti has you covered. This bicycle sets you up in an excellent climbing position and delivers top-notch efficiency. Climbing traction is excellent, and the rear wheel tracks very well through technical and rough climbs. Its downhill performance is impressive, and its handling is sharp. With aggressive angles and a mean front end, the SB130 shreds almost any downhill save for true enduro-grade trails. There is no doubt that it's expensive, but if you're looking for the best of the best, it might be worth considering.

Buy it if you want a balanced trail bike that climbs very effectively and gets radical on the way down the mountain. The SB130 feels right at home on the vast majority of singletrack. It's a perfect do-it-all bike.

Read more: Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 review

mountain bike - best mid-travel trail bike
The mid-travel SB130 is impressively versatile and well-rounded.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best Short-Travel Trail Bike

Ibis Ripley GX Eagle

Wheel Size: 29-inch | Rear Travel: 120mm
Modern geometry
Not a brawler
Fox 34 fork can be overwhelmed

Ibis recently did a complete overhaul of their flagship 29-inch wheeled trail bike, the Ripley. The previous version was our favorite short travel model for its energetic ride and unrivaled playfulness. The newest Ripley maintains most of that playful demeanor but is now a much more well-rounded ride with enhanced downhill capabilities and far greater stability at speed. Thank the Ripmo-inspired frame design with increased reach and wheelbase measurements, a slacker 66.5-degree head tube angle, and a steeper 76.2-degree seat tube angle. The Ripley still encourages pops and trailside hits but no longer has a speed limit. It's also far more confidence-inspiring in steep and rough terrain, though it remains limited by its modest travel numbers.

The Ripley is a very sensible trail bike for most of the riding population. This lightweight ride is equally talented on the climbs as on the descents. It has unmatched versatility and is the best all-around short-travel bike we've tested. It is a top choice for long-distance bike rides, where you need just the right balance of comfort and efficiency.

Read more: Ibis Ripley GX review

mountain bike - best short-travel trail bike
The extended wheelbase and reach along with the slacker head tube angle make the new Ripley more comfortable at speed and capable on the descents.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best Trail Bike Under $3000

Polygon Siskiu T8

Wheel Size: 29-inch | Rear Travel: 135mm
Well-rounded performance
Great build for the price
Firm grips
Weird saddle shape

The Polygon Siskiu T8 is the best bike we've tested, costing less than $3000. This affordable mid-travel trail bike rolls on 29-inch wheels and has 135mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 140mm fork. The Siskiu's geometry ticks all modern boxes giving this bike a nicely well-rounded and versatile performance. It's a relatively easy-going ride that's easy to get along with and suitable for a wide range of ability levels. Novice riders and seasoned experts alike can jump on this bike and have a great time. It's agile with responsive handling, yet stable at speed and confidence-inspiring on the descents. We found the Siskiu to be a comfortable and efficient climber, and suitable for any length of ride. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Siskiu is the unique build that it comes with. This bike is very well equipped for the price, enhancing its performance on both the climbs and descents.

Considering the reasonable asking price, our complaints about the Siskiu T8 are few. Our biggest gripes with this bike are the touchpoints, the grips, and the saddle. The grips are thin and quite firm, and we'd likely replace them for something a bit more comfortable right away. Likewise, the saddle has a funky shape with a pointed tail that could catch on shorts or poke you in the pelvis on a steep descent. Beyond that, there's little not to like about this impressively well-rounded and affordable mid-travel trail bike.

Read more: Polygon Siskiu T8 review

mountain bike - best trail bike under $3000
The Polgon Siskiu T8 costs less than $2500, but it looks and rides like a bike that costs more than that.
Credit: Laura Casner

Best Budget Mountain Bike

Giant Stance 29 2

Wheels: 29-inch | Rear Travel: 120mm
Excellent climber
Balanced suspension
12-speed drivetrain
Doesn't come with a dropper post
Non-aggressive tires

Giant is known for making excellent bikes at very competitive prices, and the Stance 29 2 is an excellent example. This complete bike costs roughly half the price of many carbon frames on its own, yet it performs impressively well out on the trail. This affordable trail bike rolls on 29-inch wheels with 120mm rear-wheel suspension and a 130mm travel fork. It climbs with liveliness and efficiency and our testers even put down some of their fastest uphill times ever while riding it. The suspension feels balanced, and the Stance proved comfortable and capable on the descents. The component specification is quality for the price, and we feel this bike is an outrageous value.

Our biggest gripes with the Stance are relatively minor. This bike does not come with a dropper seatpost which we feel would take its downhill performance to another level. The stock tires are fast-rolling and non-aggressive, and we feel a beefier set would do wonders for all-around performance. Beyond that, we feel this is a great entry-level full suspension bike for all-around riding. It's also offered in 27.5-inch wheels, depending on your preference.

Read more: Giant Stance 29 2 review

best budget mountain bike
The Stance 29 2 truly impressed us for a "budget" mountain bike.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best Hardtail Trail Bike

Specialized Fuse Expert 29

Wheel Size: 29-inch | Fork Travel: 130mm
Excellent all-around performance
Confident descender
Dialed geometry
Mediocre fork specification
No chainstay protector

The Specialized Fuse has enjoyed a long run as our favorite hardtail, which continues after the 2020 update, the Fuse Expert 29. The Fuse just got a total redesign and has an updated geometry and is now offered with 29-inch wheels. Its incredibly well-rounded performance impressed every tester. It has a modern and progressive geometry that isn't over the top. It's stable at speed and confidence-inspiring in corners, in the air, and while charging down moderately chunky rock gardens. It's far from an XC race bike on the climbs, but it's got a comfortable seated pedaling position, a 12-speed drivetrain, and a grippy 2.6" rear tire that provides excellent traction.

The new Fuse 29 is no lightweight at nearly 30 lbs for the size large we tested. There are certainly lighter weight, more efficient, and even harder charging options. However, none of the other bikes we tested can match the well-rounded, versatile, and outrageously fun performance of the new Fuse Expert 29.

Read more: Specialized Fuse Expert 29 review

mountain bike - best hardtail trail bike
The Fuse is an impressively well-rounded trail hardtail.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best Electric Mountain Bike

Specialized Turbo Levo Comp

Wheel Size: MX (29" front, 27.5" rear) | Rear Travel: 150mm
Powerful motor
Versatile, highly adjustable geometry
700Wh battery-great range
No longer winning the battery wars
No digital display on lower-end models
Should come with tougher casing tires

Following the updates to the Stumpjumper EVO, the Turbo Levo Comp Alloy received an overhaul for the 2022 model year. Much like the unpowered Stumpjumper, Specialized gave the Levo a highly adjustable geometry that allows the rider to significantly alter its character to suit their riding style, terrain, and preferences. With six distinct geometry settings to choose from, you can set it up as a more nimble trail bike, an aggressive gravity-oriented slayer, and everything in-between. This unprecedented level of adjustability truly expands this bike's versatility and puts it in a class of its own. It boasts 150mm of rear wheel travel with a 160mm fork and mixed wheel sizes for a confident front end and maneuverability out back. Specialized's Turbo Full Power 2.2 motor is quite powerful with 90Nm of torque and up to 565 peak watts of output, with three customizable levels of pedaling support. 700Wh of battery is housed in the frame's downtube, providing an excellent distance range, and the whole package has been refined and well-integrated with balanced weight distribution for a natural ride feel.

The Comp Alloy is one of the least expensive builds of the Turbo Levo offered, and it comes with a functional build, but there are a couple of weak points. The SRAM Code R brakes are far from our favorite, and the GRID TRAIL casing tires aren't as tough as we'd like for the weight of this hard-charging bike. Additionally, the top tube integrated TCU display is quite basic, although the higher-end models now come with a more advanced system. Finally, 700Wh is a lot of battery capacity, but other brands recently surpassed Specialized in the range wars. Regardless, we feel the Turbo Levo is one of the best and most well-rounded electric mountain bikes you can buy. Its adjustable geometry takes its versatility to another level.

Read more: Specialized Turbo Levo Comp review

best electric mountain bike
The Turbo Levo has been refined over the years, and its new adjustable geometry makes it more versatile than ever.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Electric Mountain Bike for Range

Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8

Wheel Size: MX (29" front, 27.5" rear) | Rear Travel: 155mm
Comparatively reasonable price
Great build for the price
900 Wh battery - excellent range
Well-rounded trail riding performance
Motor/battery bulge reduces clearance
Non e-bike specific fork
Rear tire could be beefier

Canyon recently updated their Spectral:ON models and the Spectral:ON CF 8 is a well-rounded trail e-MTB that also happens to be one of the best values on the market. This carbon-framed bike rolls on mixed wheels (29-inch front and 27.5-inch rear), has 150/155mm of front/rear travel, and a modern geometry that perfectly suits its trail-oriented intentions. Despite its 50+ pound weight, we found it handles well at varying speeds and terrain, with an excellent blend of agility, stability, and composure, in all situations. The ever-popular Shimano EP8 motor provides up to 85Nm of torque with three customizable support settings to dial it in to your needs. It also comes with a massive 900 Wh battery that provides the longest range of any electric mountain bike we've tested. Canyon's consumer-direct sales model also allows means this bike comes with a great build for the price (though it's still triple the cost of a top-rated electric bike for commuting. It's still no drop in the bucket, but we feel you get a lot for your money with the Spectral:ON CF 8.

Read more: Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 review

best electric mountain bike for range
The Spectral:ON CF 8 offers a well-rounded on-trail performance, a quality build, and a whopping 900 Wh battery at a comparatively reasonable price.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Fat Bike

Fezzari Kings Peak Comp

Tire Size: 27.5x4.5-inch | Fork Travel: N/A
Reasonably priced
Modern geometry
Loads of frame and fork mounts
SRAM SX shifter ergonomics
Slip-on grips

Fezzari may not be a household name in the mountain bike market, but the consumer-direct brand is hoping to change that by producing quality bikes of all kinds, including the Kings Peak Comp fat bike. With a geometry that is reminiscent of a regular trail bike, the longer and slacker Kings Peak has a very familiar feel when the rubber hits the snow and/or dirt. Fezzari's 23-point custom setup ensures a comfortable fit, and the angles are spot on for typical fat bike riding while still being surprisingly capable when taken out of the normal fat bike comfort zone. With a sleek carbon frame and a weight of only 31 pounds, this bike not only looks good, but it pedals efficiently across virtually any surface. The frame and fork feature a wealth of mounting points for water bottles and other accessories, making it easy to gear up for bike packing or far-flung adventure rides. While not exactly flashy, the build is perfectly functional, and Fezzari also offers a more expensive build and a number of component upgrades to choose from.

There was little we didn't like about the Kings Peak Comp, but we do have a couple of nit-picky gripes. We are not big fans of SRAM's SX drivetrain. It works well enough, but the shifter in particular is a low-point of the build and we consistently find it hard to position it in an ergonomically friendly location on the handlebar. The non-lock-on grips are also not ideal, and one of ours started slipping around during testing. The Clarks M2 brakes work well enough to control typical fat bike speeds, but we are unsure of their long-term performance and durability. Otherwise, we

Read more: Fezzari Kings Peak Comp review

mountain bike - the fezzari kings peak proved to be the best all-around fat bike...
The Fezzari Kings Peak proved to be the best all-around fat bike we've tested.
Credit: Jeremy Benson

Why You Should Trust Us

Our team has been testing mountain bikes since 2017. You name it: trail bikes, enduro bikes, hardtails, fat bikes, electric mountain bikes, and mountain bikes under $3000, and we've tested them. Over the past five years, we've spent over $100,000 purchasing the mountain bikes we review to remain as objective and unbiased as possible. Recent bike availability challenges brought on by mountain biking's recent explosion in popularity coupled with global supply chain issues have made it more challenging to buy bikes for testing. In 2020 and 2021, it occasionally became necessary for us to rent demo bikes from local shops or to acquire media demo bikes direct from manufacturers to continue to test and review the latest mountain bikes. In the case of media demo bikes, we insisted on paying for the use of the bikes or making an in-kind donation to a trail advocacy organization to compensate for its use and maintain our objectivity.

Our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor leads our test team, Jeremy Benson. Benson has been mountain biking since the early '90s and has seen and experienced the evolution of mountain bikes firsthand. The 20-year Lake Tahoe resident is an obsessive rider and competitive mountain bike and gravel racer who spends an excessive amount of time training, testing, and simply riding bikes just for fun. Benson is also a local trail expert and the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, published by Mountaineers Books.

For several years, Benson has received testing input from a diverse group of professional bike testers. Former GearLab Mountain Bike Editor turned bike shop owner, Pat Donahue, is a talented rider with a preference for steep and chunky descents. He is particularly tough on and critical of the gear he uses and has a keen eye for the performance characteristics that make a great bike. Joshua Hutchens is a life-long mountain biker, former racer, guide, and shop owner who rides with finesse and style. He's ridden hundreds of different mountain bikes over the years and can identify the most subtle and nuanced differences between the bikes he tests. South Lake Tahoe native, Kyle Smaine, was raised at the bottom of some of the area's most iconic trails. Kyle is a talented professional skier with a healthy collection of medals in the halfpipe. In the warmer months, he spends his days putting impressive times both up and down the mountains and is among the most talented multi-sport athletes in the greater Tahoe area.

Related: How to Select the Right Mountain Bike

mountain bike - the ripmo v2 is one of our favorite bikes for a reason. there's...
The Ripmo V2 is one of our favorite bikes for a reason. There's nothing this bike doesn't do well.
Credit: Laura Casner

How to Buy a Mountain Bike

Purchasing a mountain bike is an expensive endeavor and can be downright scary. Slapping down the credit card for a large purchase requires serious research. All of this research can bring to light loads of jargon and terms. Terms like mid-travel, short-travel, and enduro are always thrown around. OutdoorGearLab is here to make sense of it all.

We will explain the different types of mountain bikes and what they are designed for. Once you settle on a category of bike, you will need to consider wheel and tire size. 29-inch, 27.5-inch, plus-sized, they all have strengths and weaknesses. Female riders have to decide if they need a women's bike or if they can tweak a unisex bike to fit them better. We will walk you through all of these decisions.

Where do you want to ride?

It is essential to be realistic about what kind of terrain you want to ride. Determining what sort of trails you have in your hometown is important. Also, it can be worth considering if you will be regularly traveling to bike parks or trail centers often.

mountain bike - xc bikes are efficient rides for covering long distances and moving...
XC bikes are efficient rides for covering long distances and moving quickly.
Credit: Laura Casner

Cross-Country Bikes

Cross-country bikes are very much a niche category. If you are reading this, chances are most of these bikes probably aren't for you. Folks interested in a true cross-country bike are likely thinking about racing and value weight and efficiency over fun, comfort, and practicality. XC bikes are fun on a more limited range of trails. Stiff and brutally efficient, cross-country bikes are either hardtails, meaning they have no rear suspension, or they have about 100mm of rear suspension. Steeper geometry, a low stem, and firm and unforgiving performance are features of these bikes.

Riders who gravitate to very smooth trails might enjoy the outright efficiency of these bikes. If you want a playful ride or live where the trails have roots and rocks, these probably aren't the best choice unless you're planning to race on the XC circuit. A short-travel trail bike is almost as efficient while offering a far more fun and capable ride.

mountain bike - 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.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Trail Hardtails

Hardtail mountain bikes are a great option if you'd rather get out and ride than attack steep or rough terrain regularly. Simple, low maintenance, and speedy — these no-frills bikes do not have a rear suspension but feature more aggressive trail bike geometry. As a result, they are very efficient pedallers and are perfectly capable of getting a little rad. Less experienced riders will gain valuable skills on these less forgiving bikes, which benefit from excellent line choices and proper form. Hardtail trail bikes are relatively versatile but require some caution on the descents as they tend to be somewhat harsh. Riders who prefer to attack steeper and rougher terrain with any regularity should look into a full-suspension bike.

Since hardtails require less technology, they are usually less expensive than full-suspension bikes. A lower price point makes hardtails an excellent option for passionate riders on a budget. If you think these are the bikes for you, check out our review selection of hardtail mountain bikes.

mountain bike - modern short-travel bikes can do it all, only limited by their...
Modern short-travel bikes can do it all, only limited by their modest travel numbers.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Short-Travel Trail Bikes

Short travel bikes are excellent if you value variety and efficient climbing, and aren't hell-bent on slaying descents. Short-travel trail bikes feature about 110-130mm of rear-wheel travel. They are practical for those looking for full-suspension confidence and comfort without sacrificing efficiency. Riders who like to pound out serious miles will feel comfortable aboard these short-legged steeds. Bicycles in this category would be an excellent option for those who ride flatter terrain or live in mountainous areas but don't want to push the envelope to get aggressive on the descents. Riders seeking a more well-rounded climbing/descending experience might be interested in pulling some more heft with a mid-travel bike. If this seems like the balance of bike skills you've been looking for, check out the 110 to 130mm options in our constantly updated Trail Bike Review. Travel numbers appear in Suspension & Travel row of our Test Results and Rating Table.

mountain bike

Mid-Travel Trail Bikes

Mid-travel bikes are an MTB sweet spot perfect for anyone who destroys descents but still values climbing skills. These bikes are very versatile and provide strong performance in all areas. They balance climbing skills and descending capabilities beautifully and are comfortable on the overwhelming majority of trails. Mid-travel bikes are just as comfortable making the occasional trip to the bike park as they are doing a 30-mile trail ride. This suspension range, 130-150mm, works for a large portion of riders. If you live in a primarily flat or smooth region, these bikes could prove to be overkill. If the highlight of each of your rides is flying down the super-gnar, you should look into an enduro/long-travel rig. If you're interested in this multi-faceted and fun category, head our ever-evolving Trail Bike Review to read about fantastic daily drivers in the 130 to 150mm range. Find travel numbers near the bottom of the Test Results and Rating Table.

mountain bike - enduro bikes are for riders who focus more on the descent than...
Enduro bikes are for riders who focus more on the descent than anything else.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Enduro Bikes

Enduro is an often over-used buzzword, and enduro bikes love to bomb technical descents and climb just enough to get to the top. Long-travel, or enduro, bikes are awesome for those who don't mind carrying some extra bike around in the name of getting rowdy. With 150 to 170mm of travel, they pedal reasonably well, but efficiency is far from their defining trait. These bikes are not the best for long-distance rides, and will not set any climbing records. Enduro bikes focus on high speeds and rough downhills. Those looking for freeride lines or park laps will be more than comfortable aboard these shred sleds.

mountain bike - 26-inch wheels are a thing of the past, nearly all bikes have...
26-inch wheels are a thing of the past, nearly all bikes have 27.5-inch or 29-inch wheels these days.
Credit: Laura Casner

Now What?

Once you know what kind of mountain bike suits your riding style and terrain best, a few component decisions will help you narrow down the field considerably.

Wheel Size

Not all that long ago, all-mountain bike wheels were all 26 inches in diameter. Now, 27.5-inch and 29-inch versions are far more common on the trail. The 26-inch wheel size is all but forgotten. The benefit of bigger wheels is that they make trail features smaller by comparison. As a result, you can roll over obstacles in the trail more efficiently and with less effort. Bigger wheels are also faster and carry speed and momentum well through chunky terrain. The argument for smaller wheels is that they are easier to maneuver and therefore, more fun. For a few short years, many riders thought 27.5-inch wheels were the sweet spot between the rollover benefits of 29ers and the agility of 26-inch bikes. Modern frame geometry has drastically improved the performance of 29ers, and they are allowing for more precise and playful handling than ever before. Mixed-wheel sizes have recently grown in popularity. A 29-inch front wheel paired with a 27.5-inch rear is commonly referred to as a "mullet" or MX setup, with business in the front and party in the back. The idea is that it combines the best traits of both wheel sizes. The larger front wheel rolls over obstacles more easily and provides stability and confident handling, while the smaller rear wheel offers agility and maneuverability for the rear end of the bike. One may want to consider their body size in their wheel size decision, as smaller wheels may feel more comfortable for smaller riders, and larger wheels might work better for larger riders on larger frames. Many frames now offer a few wheel and tire size options. It's still valuable to think through which one you want to commit to. We don't know anyone who regularly switches between wheelsets.

mountain bike - the right tires can make a huge difference in the performance of...
The right tires can make a huge difference in the performance of your bike. The Maxxis Minion DHF is a tester favorite.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Tire Size and Rim Width

Normal tire widths have slowly been getting wider over time. It used to be that 2.35-inch tires were considered relatively standard, but at the moment they tend to run in the 2.4-2.5-inch range on most trail bikes, or even 2.6-inch versions on wider rims. Wider tires have more air volume and a larger contact patch that offers tons of traction and a little softer ride, although they may provide more resistance when heading uphill. Then, there are your plus-sized, or mid-fat, tires. These run from 2.8-inches to 3-inches. We like the 2.8-inch versions as they offer traction and often give you defined cornering knobs to dig into turns. Three-inch tires provide you with plenty of grip but often a more vague cornering feel due to smaller, more uniform knobs. To get geeky about tires, check out our MTB tire review.

Tires are easy to switch out and are among the most cost-effective ways to upgrade the performance of your bike. Rims are a much pricier and more time-consuming fix. Anything less than a 25mm rim is now considered narrow for an aggressive trail or enduro bike. We recommend trying to find something in the range of 28mm to 35mm with the sweet spot right around 30mm. For less aggressive bikes it's less critical, but traction is traction. We like it on all of our bikes. It's a good idea to ask manufacturers or dealers what range of tires you can run on their rims.

mountain bike - most bikes are offered in a range of build kits and prices.
Most bikes are offered in a range of build kits and prices.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Choosing a Complete Bike Build

  • Frame. Aluminum vs. Carbon is your first big decision point. Choosing an aluminum frame typically involves substantial cost savings. It's typically slightly heavier, flexes more easily, and is somewhat weaker than carbon. If you're just trying to get out on your bike, aluminum is great. Carbon fiber is more expensive, lighter-weight, and stiffer than aluminum as a frame material. Consider carbon fiber if investing in your bike is a priority, and you plan on having it for an extended period. Carbon fiber ages better than aluminum.
  • Fork and Rear Shock. Suspension components come in a huge range of price points. The differences between low-end and high-end suspension componentry is significant, though it may not be apparent to riders who are just starting out. A higher-end fork and rear shock will be more adjustable to your weight, riding style, and personal preference.

mountain bike - most bikes come with 1x drivetrains that have a huge gear range.
Most bikes come with 1x drivetrains that have a huge gear range.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman
  • Drivetrain. It's important to note if the drivetrain has one (1x) or two (2x) chainrings. Two chainrings require a front derailleur, meaning you have shifters on both sides of your handlebars. We like 1x better. It's simpler, easier to shift, leaves more room for a dropper seat post control, and is less to destroy. Most modern mountain bikes come with 1x drivetrains which typically have 11 or 12 total gears.
  • Wheelset. Higher quality is better, but pay attention to the rim width, which can drastically alter how effective your tires are. Rims are getting wider along with tires, making traction plentiful and bikes more comfortable. Like bike frames, rims come in aluminum or carbon fiber and the latter are typically much more expensive.
  • Seatpost. We highly recommend a dropper seat post. Here's a review of some of the best. If you're not a convert already, it will change your game more than any other single shift. Sometimes it's worth jumping up to a higher quality complete build to get one and sometimes it makes more sense to get one separately.

mountain bike - women's specific bikes come with women's saddles, grips, bars and...
Women's specific bikes come with women's saddles, grips, bars and cranks. They also usually have lighter shock tunes than unisex models.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Women's Bikes

The majority of mountain bikes are considered unisex models. What makes any bike a woman's bike, is whether or not a woman is riding it. The problem with only providing unisex models for both men and women is that these bikes are set up for the average rider. The average rider still skews male and is around 30 pounds heavier than a woman of approximately the same height (according to women's MTB company Juliana and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Men are also taller than women on average. This means that frames can be too big and standard shock tunes can be too stiff for smaller, lighter riders.

Several bike manufacturers address this issue by making women's specific models. Some take a step further and branch off into separate, women's specific companies. Examples of the latter include Santa Cruz's Juliana and Giant's Liv. It used to be more common to build women's bikes from the ground up with unique geometry. Now most companies provide unisex frames with lighter shock tunes, different colors, and women's specific touchpoints. These touchpoints include women's saddles, smaller grips, and sometimes shorter cranks and narrower handlebars.

mountain bike - making bikes smaller with lighter shock tunes for smaller riders...
Making bikes smaller with lighter shock tunes for smaller riders makes a lot of sense. Most mountain bikes are considered unisex and can also work well for females assuming you can get the right fit.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Setting frame design aside, we find sizing and shock tunes to be the most essential elements of a women's mountain bike. First, a bike has to fit. Second, its fork and shock need to respond to small impacts and use their full travel range on larger hits. At that point, you have a functioning mountain bike. These days, many manufacturers are using lighter shock tunes on their smaller sized bikes to work better for smaller riders.

mountain bike - minimal assembly required. slap on the wheels and the handlebars...
Minimal assembly required. Slap on the wheels and the handlebars, maybe run it past a mechanic if you're new to wrenching, and start rolling.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Consumer Direct vs. Local Bike Shop

Consumer direct is a major buzzword in the mountain bike industry. More and more brands are now selling their bikes directly to the consumer. This cuts out the middle man, which is the local bike shop. With the middleman cut out of the sales chain, companies can sell their bikes at extremely attractive prices. Brands like YT, Commencal, and Canyon are the biggest consumer-direct brands in the USA.

Convenience and savings often come at a cost, and buying consumer-direct is no different. Purchasing a mountain bike at a bike shop buys you a relationship with a shop and maybe some small complimentary services. Quick repairs and warranty services may often be conducted for free.

mountain bike - more bikes mean more specific talents and more to maintain.
More bikes mean more specific talents and more to maintain.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Multiple Bikes?

Having a quiver of mountain bikes is the definition of luxury. A multi-bike quiver can be the best solution to get the most out of this fantastic sport. That said, it certainly isn't cheap. Having a short travel and an enduro bike will have you covered on the bulk of trails. Since this is somewhat unrealistic, we place a lot of emphasis on mid-travel trail bikes. These are often the best solution as they are comfortable on a huge variety of terrain. Long rides, some shuttle laps, after-work hot laps, these bikes can do-it-all. You can always rent a longer travel bike for an occasional trip to the bike park.

Trainers, Exercise Bikes and the Off-Season

Some people are lucky enough to have year-round trails in their backyards. For the rest of us, the off-season and time constraints are real. Luckily, there have never been more options for training at home if you can't get on the trails. Many of the best exercise bikes have evolved into interactive machines you can ride solo or with groups. These bikes now allow you to join a live group ride or follow some of the most scenic road rides around the globe. Perhaps even more intriguing are the latest bike trainer options, which allow you to train on your favorite bike with most of the features of high-end stationary bikes. And for those that want to use the off-season as an excuse to specifically take a break from riding, a model from our best treadmill review might be the call.

mountain bike - there are loads of great mountain bikes to choose from. get a bike...
There are loads of great mountain bikes to choose from. Get a bike and get out and ride.
Credit: Laura Casner


This guide should help make your big mountain bike decision a little bit easier. Be sure to think through the process in its entirety. The most important thing about deciding which mountain bike to buy is to be realistic about your skills, goals, and where you ride. The above-mentioned list of bikes is the best of the best. Rest assured, OutdoorGearLab will keep buying, riding, and reviewing the best bikes in the industry to keep this list current.

Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue

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