10 Best Mountain Bikes of 2021
Best Overall Trail Bike
Ibis Ripmo V2 XT 2020
Fresh off a 2020 redesign, the Ripmo V2 impressed our testers and is the best overall trail bike we've ever tested. The V2's geometry has been tweaked to make it slacker and longer, and the suspension kinematics 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. It still has short chainstays and a sporty rear end, and it's just as lively and energetic with responsive and precise handling. The V2 maintains its incredible climbing abilities, with a steep seat tube angle, very direct power transfer, and a steady pedaling platform. 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 any performance on the way back down. This bike is supremely versatile and we'd recommend it to just about anyone.
Read review: Ibis Ripmo V2 XT 2020
Best Aggressive Trail Bike
Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
Santa Cruz recently replaced both the Hightower and the Hightower LT models with the new 2020 Hightower. The updated model has 140mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 150mm travel fork and has been given a longer and slacker makeover, a low-mount VPP suspension design, and a flip-chip that allows the rider to adjust the geometry slightly to match their trails or riding style. These updates have made the new Hightower an absolute downhill crusher. This bike is impressively stable at speed and inspires the confidence to charge hard down steep and rowdy sections of trail. The VPP suspension platform provides a very supportive pedal platform and great deep stroke support. Considering this bike's aggressive downhill capabilities, it climbs quite well thanks to the calm pedal platform, steep seat tube angle, and comfortable roomy cockpit. The new Hightower feels a bit less like a pure trail bike than the previous versions, a tradeoff for its more aggressive downhill performance.
This bike is an excellent choice for the aggressive trail rider who prioritizes downhill performance. This mid-travel 29er is a solid climber and has a mini enduro bike feel that will help you tame the rowdiest trails.
Read review: Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
Best Mid-Travel Trail Bike
Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 2019
The Yeti SB130 is a mid-travel trail slayer that is a fantastic daily driver. This 130mm 29er makes a lot of sense for a huge percentage of riders in a considerable number of regions. Whether you frequent fast, rolling, flow trails or all-day big mountain 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 handling is sharp. With aggressive angles and a mean front end, the SB130 shreds almost any downhill save for true enduro-grade trails. Yes, this bicycle is expensive. That said, 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 review: Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 2019
Best Short-Travel Trail Bike
Ibis Ripley GX Eagle 2019
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 unrivaled playfulness. The new and improved version holds on to most of that playful demeanor but is now a much more well-rounded ride with enhanced downhill capabilities and far greater stability at speed. This is thanks to the Ripmo inspired frame design with increased reach and wheelbase measurements, a slack 66.5-degree head tube angle, and a steep 76.2-degree seat tube. 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 a considerable portion of the riding population. This lightweight ride is equally talented on the climbs as it is on the descents. It has unmatched versatility and is the best all-around short travel bike we've ever tested.
Read review: Ibis Ripley GX 2019
Best 27.5-inch Trail Bike
Santa Cruz 5010 CC XO1 RSV 2021
They may be a bit less common than they used to be, but the Santa Cruz 5010 is a great reminder that 27.5-inch wheels are here to stay. This recently redesigned mid-travel trail bike rolls on "fun-sized" wheels and has 130mm of rear travel paired with a 140mm travel fork. Its updated geometry brings it in line with modern trends and makes it a confident and well-rounded descender with a distinctly lively and playful demeanor. The smaller wheels and short rear center make it feel eager to get the front wheel off the ground, while the supportive VPP suspension design provides a nice platform to push off of. Deep stroke performance is also excellent and gives it a more-travel-than-it-actually-has feel. The pedaling platform is steady and the steep seat tube angle lines the rider up in a comfortable and efficient seated climbing position. Flip-chips in the lower shock mount also allow you to adjust the geometry slightly for your preferences. The XO1 RSV build we tested is outstanding, albeit quite expensive.
We found little not to like about the new 5010. It is worth noting, however, that compared to 29-inch wheels, the smaller hoops don't carry momentum quite as well and can hang up a little more easily in rock gardens and technical terrain. The flip-chips are also quite challenging to access, though that isn't something most riders will be adjusting very often. That said, if you like smaller wheels or simply turning every trail into a playground, the 5010 is an excellent option to consider.
Read review: Santa Cruz 5010 CC XO1 RSV 2021
Best Trail Bike Under $2500
YT Jeffsy Base 29 2020
YT redesigned the Jeffsy Base for the 2020 model year making it even better than its predecessor. This bike handily took our Editor's Choice Award in our Mountain Bikes under $2500 review for the second year running. The addition of 10mm more front and rear suspension bump this 29er up to 150mm of travel. They also tweaked the geometry a bit, making it longer, slacker, and pretty much spot on by today's modern trail bike geometry standards. The Jeffsy is still impressively versatile and well-rounded, but now it charges downhill with more confidence and authority than ever before. You don't have to ride this bike aggressively to enjoy it, however, it performs well at all speeds and a huge range of terrain. YT's consumer-direct sales model also ensures that you get a very nice component specification for the price, further enhancing this bike's performance and backing up its hard-charging nature.
Our biggest gripe with the Jeffsy Base is it's moderately heavy weight. That said, at 33 lbs 3 oz, it weighs about average for bikes in this price range. We also would have enjoyed a compression damping/climbing switch on the rear shock for longer fire road grinds. Beyond that, we feel confident saying this is one of the best values you can find, especially considering the impressive performance and component specification. We think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more capable trail bike for less than $2500.
Read review: YT Jeffsy Base 29 2020
Best Budget Mountain Bike
Giant Stance 29 2 2020
Giant is known for making excellent bikes at very competitive prices, and the Stance 29 2 is an excellent example of that. This complete bike costs roughly half the price of many carbon frames on their own, yet it performs impressively well out on the trail. This affordable trail bike rolls on 29-inch wheels with 120mm of rear-wheel suspension paired with 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 to be 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. Its also offered in 27.5-inch wheels depending on your preference.
Read review: Giant Stance 29 2 2020
Best Hardtail Trail Bike
Specialized Fuse Expert 29 2020
The Specialized Fuse has enjoyed a long run as our favorite hardtail and that continues with the new 2020 version, the Fuse Expert 29. The Fuse just got a total redesign and has an updated geometry and is now offered with 29-inch wheels. Every tester that got on this bike was truly impressed by its incredibly well-rounded performance. 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 out there. None of the other bikes we tested, however, can match the well-rounded, versatile, and outrageously fun performance of the new Fuse Expert 29.
Read review: Specialized Fuse Expert 29 2020
Best Fat Bike
Trek Farley 7 2021
The Trek Farley 7 is a quality fat bike with a well-rounded performance enhanced by a suspension fork and dropper seatpost. It's got middle of the road geometry that performs well on both the climbs and descents, and this versatile bike is at home grinding out the miles on groomed trails, packed singletracks, and even some dirt trails. Girthy 4.5-inch Bontrager Gnarwahl tires provide heaps of traction on snow, sand, and dirt whether climbing or descending. The Farley 7 really sets itself apart from the competition on the descents, however, where it feels more like a mountain bike than the competition. The 80mm of front suspension really helps take the edge off rough snow or chunky rocks, and the dropper post gets the saddle down and out of the way so you can move around the bike. It is far more capable and fun to ride on dirt trails and mixed conditions than any of the other fat bikes we tested.
The Farley 7 isn't lightweight at 36 lbs and 11 oz. That weight may be noticeable on the climbs or over the course of a long ride, and doesn't make it the best choice for racing. That said, we didn't mind the weight much given the amount of fun we were having while riding this bike. If you're in the market for a fat bike, we think the Farley 7 is worth a look.
Read review: Trek Farley 7 2021
Best Electric Mountain Bike
Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
The Turbo Levo Comp is a dialed electric bike that offers sharp handling, great battery life, and sleek styling. For the 2020 model year, Specialized has boosted the battery storage up to 700Wh and given this bike a more impressive build compared to the previous version we tested. It still boasts all of the 2019 model year updates, including a new frame design, modern trail geometry, and a revised LED charge and output setting display. The Specialized was the most nimble and "regular feeling" among our selection of electric bikes with a versatility and solid all-around performance the competition can't match. The battery and motor are cleanly integrated into the frame and keep a low center of gravity for confident and stable downhill performance, with great handling at a range of speeds both up and down the mountain. The upgraded battery capacity also gives it an outstanding distance range and the Levo is now in a league of its own.
The Turbo Levo Comp is our Editor's Choice electric mountain bike for the third year in a row. This bike has consistently impressed our testers with its versatility and well-rounded performance, and now it's even better with a larger battery and a quality component specification.
Read review: Specialized Turbo Levo CompHow to Select the Right Mountain Bike
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 thrown around all the time. 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.
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.
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.
Short-Travel Trail Bikes
Short travel bikes are excellent if you value variety, 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.
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.
Enduro is an often over-used buzzword, and enduro bikes love to bomb technical descents and climb just enough 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.
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.
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 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. 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.
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 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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 siders.
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 middle man 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.
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.
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