Looking for a new full-suspension mountain bike but don't want to break the bank? In an effort to help, we bought and tested several of the best budget conscious full suspension mountain bikes on the market. We know mountain bikes are expensive, but here we focus on complete bikes that retail for less than $2500. In recent years, technology has been trickling down from the higher end models, and most bikes in this price range now come with 1x drivetrains, dropper seat posts, and shred-worthy geometry. Our team of professional mountain bike testers took these bikes to their limits over hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of trail while scrutinizing every aspect of their performance. We present our findings here in the form of comprehensive comparative reviews to help find the best mountain bike under $2500 for you. Of course, if you're willing to spend a little more cash on a trail bike there are lots of great options out there, check out our best trail mountain bikes of 2018 review for some higher end options.
The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2500
Test Results and Ratings
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Mountain Bike Under $2500
Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 2018
The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 is a capable aggressive trail bike and an outstanding value, earning it our Editor's Choice Award. This bike was made to attack the downhills, with a beefy build and progressive geometry that can take whatever you or the trail can dish out. It is equally at home tackling steeps and rocky tech as it is riding smooth and flowy sections of trail. The Spectral AL 6.0 isn't just good at descending, it's reasonably lightweight and proved itself to be a reliable and efficient climber. The component specification is one of the most impressive aspects of this bike, with a build kit to price ratio that is remarkable. The Spectral's shred-ability is thanks largely to this impressive build, with a stout Rock Shox Pike fork and Super Deluxe RT rear shock handling the suspension, a SRAM GX Eagle 1x12 speed drivetrain, powerful SRAM Guide R brakes, and meaty 2.6" Maxxis tires. Out of the box, this bike is as good as it gets in this price range.
To be honest, testers found little they didn't like about this bike, especially for the price. Testers weren't wild about the tall front end of the Spectral AL 6.0, claiming it occasionally felt awkward both while descending and climbing. The rear hub spec'd on the Spectral also wasn't a favorite, with an especially noticeable lag in engagement. That said, the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 is by far the most capable aggressive trail bike we've ever tested at this price point and an excellent choice for the aggressive rider on a budget.
Read review: Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 2018
Best Bang for the Buck
Marin Hawk Hill 2 2018
Boasting a retail price under $2,000, the Marin Hawk Hill 2 is a versatile and fun to ride trail bike that is the winner of our Best Buy Award. Testers found the Hawk Hill 2 to be a great all-around full suspension mountain bike that performed equally well on the uphill and the descents. It was surprisingly capable on the descents and proved to be both responsive and playful while still maintaining composure at speed. On the climbs the bike provided a comfortable rider position, quick handling, and plenty of traction. The component specification of the Hawk Hill 2 isn't anything special, but it is well thought out and gets the job done. If you're on a budget and you're looking for a full suspension mountain bike that can do it all relatively well, then we suggest checking out the Marin Hawk Hill 2.
The Hawk Hill 2 is a great option for the price, but we feel that it has some limitations. Aggressive riders may want to consider looking elsewhere as some of the budget conscious components, especially the Rock Shox Recon fork, may not stand up well to serious downhill abuse. That said, those who aren't especially aggressive downhill riders will find a very well rounded ride at a great price in the Marin Hawk Hill 2.
Read review: Marin Hawk Hill 2 2018
Top Pick for Climbing
Giant Stance 1 2018
Weighing in at a svelte 28.7 pounds in the size large we tested, the Giant Stance 1 is an impressively lightweight full suspension mountain bike at this price. Giant also did an excellent job with the component specification of the Stance 1, with an impressive build to value ratio. This bike's light weight and great build combine with its responsive handling and efficient power transfer to make it the best climber in our test selection and the winner of our Top Pick for Climbing Award. It isn't just a capable climber though, as its nimble nature and playful trail manners create a versatile trail bike that excels in most situations, only faltering at the highest of speeds. If you're the type who appreciates uphill efficiency, seeks the playful line, and doesn't push the limits of downhill speed, the the Giant Stance 1 could the bike for you.
There was little not to like about the Giant Stance 1, but our tester's primary complaint about its performance was lack of stability at speed. The Stance 1's short wheelbase and reach, that help to make it so nimble and responsive in all other situations, tend to give the bike a twitchy and less confidence inspiring feel as speeds increase on descents. Read the full review to find out more about the Giant Stance 1.
Read review: Giant Stance 1 2018
Analysis and Test Results
There's no question that mountain bikes are expensive, with many complete full suspension bikes costing about as much or more than your first car. Fortunately, many brands are making affordable full suspension mountain bikes that are trail worthy that you won't need to sell a kidney to purchase. Yes, you can spend upwards of $10,000 on a fancy new mountain bike, but you certainly don't have to to have a great time out on the trail.
Over the course of several weeks this spring, our Tahoe based mountain bike testers retreated below the snow line to warmer temps and excellent trails located a short distance away on both sides of the Sierra. All the bikes in our test selection were put through their paces on a wide range of trail types, with test laps that aimed to hit the full spectrum of mountain bike riding. Every aspect of each bike's performance was scrutinized and scored on four ratings metrics that are discussed in greater detail below.
All of the bikes reviewed here are different, with varying geometry numbers, component specifications, and strengths and weaknesses that define the way they perform out on the trail. When our testing concluded and the dust settled, the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 was the clear winner of our Editor's Choice Award, offering performance and a build kit to price ratio that simply couldn't be touched by the competition. Other bikes excelled for different reasons, like our Best Buy Award winner the Marin Hawk Hill 2 which offered a fun and versatile ride at a great price. Our Top Pick for Climbing Award went to the Giant Stance 1 for its light weight, climbing efficiency, and quick handling. Read on to find out more about how all of the bikes reviewed here compared to each other.
We ride mountain bikes because it's fun, and we assume that you do too. We rated each bike in this review on our tester's impression of how much fun they had while riding each model. Some bikes are more fun to ride than others, with a playful demeanor and versatility that makes them perform well at all times. When the rider and bike become one unit and you can forget about the bike to focus on the trail, you're probably having lots of fun. Other bikes are less fun to ride, inspiring less confidence, a less well-rounded performance, or components that hold you back from having a great time. It's easy to differentiate between bikes that are a blast to ride, and those that keep you on edge the whole time.
The Marin Hawk Hill 2, our Best Buy Award winner, surprised our testers with its versatility and playful demeanor on the trail. With only 120mm of front and rear wheel travel and a much less impressive build than the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0, the Hawk Hill 2 isn't for the most aggressive riders out there, but it is a great value and an absolute blast to ride in most situations.
Our Top Pick for Climbing award winner, the Giant Stance 1 was also well liked among our testers. A lightweight and efficient climber, the Stance 1 has responsive handling, a playful attitude, and a great build for the price. It lost a little ground to the competition in this metric due to its less stable feel as downhill speeds increased. The Kona Process 134 SE has more of an enduro bike feel that really comes alive on the descents and at speed, and it was really fun to ride downhill. That said, it was pretty one-dimensional and struggled to match the all-around performance or versatility of some of the other bikes in our test selection.
Without a doubt the least fun bike to ride in our test was the GT Verb Expert. The GT's outdated geometry, clunky feel, and poor component specification made this the least trail worthy and confidence inspiring bike we tested. It felt unbalanced, twitchy, and really just wasn't all that much fun to ride.
Arguably the most important element of a mountain bike's performance for most riders is how it performs on the downhill. There are a number of factors that dictate the way a bike descends, most notably geometry and component specification. When everything comes together a good downhill performer is versatile, responsive, and inspires confidence in the rider.
The hands down winner in the downhill performance rating metric was the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0. The Spectral's progressive geometry; with a long wheelbase, longer reach, and a slack head tube angle of 66.1 degrees, combine with its beefy build to create a stable descender that is well suited to an aggressive riding style. It's no one trick pony though, the Spectral is just as fun to ride at lower speeds or on smoother trails as it is tackling steep and rocky trails at speed.
The Kona Process 134 SE was our next highest scorer in downhill performance. Again, the bike's more modern long geometry, with a long wheelbase and long reach, put the rider between the wheels in an especially balanced and stable position. The Process really came alive on descents, begging to be manualed or pop small airs whenever possible. Unfortunately, the Kona's component spec held it back a bit, especially the Rock Shox Recon fork, otherwise this bike is a blast to ride downhill.
It may be our Best Buy Award winner, but that didn't stop the Marin Hawk Hill 2 from being a top performer in our downhill performance rating. This bike's moderate geometry give it quick handling and playful attitude, yet it still holds its own as speeds increase. It lacks the beefier components of the top rated Canyon Spectral to get really aggressive on the descents, but for the less hard charging people out there the Hawk Hill 2 is plenty capable.
The Giant Stance 1 was undoubtedly a fun bike to ride downhill, it's nimble and precise and it performs well at low to medium speeds. Testers found it falter a bit as speeds increased and didn't feel as confident in high speed situations as they did on other bikes in this test.
The GT Verb Expert has geometry that is stuck in the '90's, with a steep head tube angle of 69.2 degrees. This outdated geometry coupled with a poor component specification and a generally clunky feel made this bike downright scary to ride on anything but mellow and smooth hardpacked trails.
You gotta get up to get down, and as mountain bikers we typically spend the majority of our time riding while going uphill. A bike's weight, geometry, and components all play a role in how well a bike performs while climbing, and some are better suited to it than others.
The Giant Stance 1 impressed our testers with its climbing performance so much that it is the winner of our Top Pick for Climbing award. It is impressively lightweight with efficient power transfer, a comfortable climbing position, quick handling, and a great build. The Stance 1 was the easiest, most comfortable, and efficient bike while riding uphill.
Considering their downhill performance scores, both the Marin Hawk Hill 2 and the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 scored well in this rating metric with a respectable 7 out of 10. Both bikes offered comfortable and efficient climbing with excellent traction and control, but neither could match the ease with which the Giant Stance 1 scampered uphill.
The Kona Process 134 SE was a fun and confident descender, but its long wheelbase and reach didn't help its downhill performance. When climbing in a seated position the front end was super light and was prone to wandering and a long turning radius made it suffer in technical sections and uphill switchbacks. The GT Verb Expert and its outdated geometry felt unbalanced and unpredictable while climbing and the rear shock was prone to topping out harshly after every bump in the trail making it our least favorite bike for riding uphill.
Ease of Maintenance
We rated the ease of maintenance for each bike by using a formula that we created to come up with a numerical representation of how easy, or expensive, it potentially is to maintain each model. Much less weight was put on the ease of maintenance scores, only 10 percent of our overall rating for each bike. That said, the cost of maintaining a mountain bike is one that we think you should consider when picking out the bike that is right for you. The higher the ease of maintenance score, the easier, and therefore less costly, it is to maintain the moving parts that are essential to the performance of the bike.
The Giant Stance 1 scored the highest in this metric with an 8 out of 10. It was followed closely by the Marin Hawk Hill 2 with a 7, and the Kona Process 134 SE which scored a 6. The lowest scoring bikes were the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 and the GT Verb Expert, both of which scored a middle of the road 5 out of 10.
Every bike we tested comes with a different component specification, or build, that is determined by the manufacturer. The components of a mountain bike are one of the primary factors that influences not only performance, but also the retail price. In the sub $2500 price range a few hundred dollars goes a long way in the quality of components attached to a frame, and generally speaking you're better off spending a little bit more for a better build. It took awhile, but in recent years higher end technology has finally begun to trickle down to less expensive mountain bikes and sometimes the differences between the high and low end versions of components is negligible. One thing is certain, most of the budget conscious bikes in our test selection are trail worthy and shred ready.
The most impressive build by far in our test selection is that of the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0. This bike is ready to rumble with beefy suspension, powerful brakes, a 1x12 speed drivetrain, meaty Maxxis tires, a dropper seat post, and a comfortable cockpit set up. The component spec to price ratio and performance that this bike delivers is incredible. This bike is ready to go straight out of the box.
The next most impressive build is the Giant Stance 1. Not only is this bike very lightweight for this price point at 28.7 pounds, but it comes stock with a Fox suspension package that outperforms all the other bikes in this test selection other than the Canyon Spectral, a Shimano SLX 1x 11 speed drivetrain, and Giant XC-1 tubeless wheels with Maxxis Ardent tires set up tubeless from the factory.
Both the Kona Process 134 SE and the Marin Hawk Hill 2 had reasonable builds considering the price. While there really wasn't anything to write home about for either bike, they both featured 1x drivetrains, dropper seat posts, nice wide handlebars and grippy trail worthy tires. Unfortunately, both bikes were held back by their suspension, most notably the Rock Shox Recon fork spec'd on both. The Recon didn't do either bike any favors, with limited tune-ability, a pogo stick feel and the least smooth travel of all the forks we tested. Better forks would have done wonders for the overall performance of both of these bikes.
The GT Verb Expert was the least expensive bike in our test selection and consequently had the least impressive build. That said, it still had a 1x11 speed drivetrain, a dropper seat post, and a wide handlebar in an attempt to make it a trail worthy bike.
There's a lot to consider when you're looking into buying a new full suspension mountain bike. The good news is you don't have to take out a second mortgage to afford one. There are several mountain bikes under $2500 that are capable and versatile rides that'll get you out on the trail with a smile on your face. Our professional mountain bike testers took these bikes to their limits and our findings are presented here for you in this in-depth comparative review. We hope the information we've gathered helps you decide which is the best bike for you based on your riding style and budget.