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The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2500

By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday September 20, 2018
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We researched the best mountain bikes under $2500 and we bought and tested the best 8 models on the market. Of course, you can buy a mountain bike that costs as much as a nice used car, but these days there are quite a few complete mountain bikes that don't require you to mortgage your house to afford them. Recently, higher-end technology has been trickling down and nowadays it's not uncommon to find bikes in this price range that are as shred-worthy as their higher priced competitors. You can expect to find modern geometry, 1x drivetrains, dropper seatposts, and tubeless tires on virtually all of these bikes. Over the course of hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of riding, our team of testers took these bikes to their limits while analyzing every aspect of their design, build, and performance. Our findings are presented here in the form of comprehensive comparative reviews to help you find the best mountain bike under $2500. Of course, if you're willing to spend a little more on a mountain bike there are lots of great options out there, check out our best trail mountain bikes of 2018 review for some higher-end options.


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September 2018
This summer we added three new contenders to the mix in our ongoing effort to find the Best Mountain Bikes Under $2500. We found a new Best Buy Award winner in the Giant Trance 3 2019, a capable and aggressive trail bike that retails for less than $2,000. We also discovered the Kona Hei Hei Trail, a fun and playful all-arounder that won our Top Pick for XC Trail Riding Award. The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 remains as our Editor's Choice Award winner and is seemingly in a class of its own.

Best Overall Mountain Bike Under $2500


Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 2018


The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 has easily got the best build to value ration we've ever seen.
Editors' Choice Award

$2,399 List
List Price
See It

confident descending skills
responsive handling
excellent price to performance ratio
great all-around performance
poor rear hub specification
tall head tube creates high front end

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 truly remarkable. The Spectral's shred-ability is thanks largely to this impressive build, with a stout RockShox 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. If we have to find fault with it, 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 a 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


Giant Trance 3 2019


Best Buy Award

$1,950 List
List Price
See It

Maestro suspension
Affordable
Beefy tire specification
Stable at speed
feels heavy
10-speed drivetrain
Suntour fork is trick to tune

With a retail price of only $1,950, the Giant Trance 3 2019 is a versatile and aggressive trail bike that is the winner of our Best Buy Award. Testers found this affordable bike to be a surprisingly capable and confidence inspiring descender on a variety of terrain and at a range of speeds. With a slack head tube angle, a stout feeling front end, and roomy comfortable cockpit, this bike can keep it mellow or get as aggressive as you want. Its moderate wheelbase and reach make for a relatively short turning radius and quick handling both while climbing and descending. On the climbs, the Trance provides a comfortable climbing position and its Maestro suspension design creates an efficient pedaling platform especially when seated. The component specification of the Trance 3 won't turn too many heads, but this bike is trail worthy straight out of the box, especially for the price.

The Trance 3 is undoubtedly a great option for the price, but it is far from perfect. At 31.8 lbs, this bike feels a little bit heavy and has a somewhat lethargic feeling at times on the trail. Some of the components, most notably the 1x10 speed drivetrain and the long throw brake levers, are also a little bit of a let down from a performance standpoint. The Suntour fork, while beefy and stout, was also difficult to dial into each rider's preferences. That said, testers found little else to complain about in this versatile, aggressive, and very reasonably priced trail bike.

Read review: Giant Trance 3 2019

Top Pick for Climbing


Giant Stance 1 2018


Giant Stance 2
Top Pick Award

$2,145 List
List Price
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nice component spec
nimble
factory tubeless
great climber
less stable at speed
steeper head tube

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 higher speeds. If you're the type who appreciates uphill efficiency, seeks the playful line, and doesn't push the limits of downhill speed, then 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

Top Pick for XC Trail Riding


Kona Hei Hei Trail 2019


Top Pick Award

$2,399 List
List Price
See It

Balanced suspension feel
Good front tire spec
Playful XC attitude
Steeper head tube angle
1x10 drivetrain
Recon fork

The Kona Hei Hei Trail surprised our testers and they grew fonder of this bike with each ride. Its calm and easygoing demeanor on the trail almost hid the fact this was a playful and lively bike that excels in moderate terrain. Testers grew more comfortable and confident on this bike with each test lap and found themselves staying on the gas and pushing the bike harder each time. It has a bit of a split personality on the descents, both smooth and planted, yet quick and lively when you want it to be. The 140mm of front and rear travel felt plush and balanced, especially through small and mid-sized chop. On the uphills, the Hei Hei has a comfortable climbing position, with the rear suspension remaining active while still feeling quite efficient. It's not an especially aggressive trail bike, but it excels in more moderate terrain with more of an XC feel earning it our Top Pick for XC Trail Riding Award.

We really like this bike in moderately pitched terrain, but when the trails get steep or especially rough the Hei Hei's steeper head tube angle becomes quite noticeable. Of course, this bike can tackle just about anything, but it is clearly less aggressive in steep and super rough terrain than some of the competition. Overall, the component specification works out on the trail, but the 1x10 speed drivetrain and wimpy Maxxis Tomahawk rear tire were low points for our testers. Overall, we enjoyed our time aboard the Hei Hei, so much that it earned our Top Pick Award.

Read review: Kona Hei Hei Trail 2019


Bikes all lined up and ready to roll for a day of testing.
Bikes all lined up and ready to roll for a day of testing.

Analysis and Test Results


There's no question that mountain bikes are expensive, and these days many complete full suspension bikes cost about as much, or more, than your first car. Fortunately, many brands are making affordable full suspension mountain bikes that are actually trail-worthy and 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 and summer, our Tahoe based mountain bike testers rode all around the Tahoe Basin and surrounding areas. 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 rating 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 can't be touched by the competition. Other bikes excelled for different reasons, like our Best Buy Award winner the Giant Trance 3 2019 which offers a versatile and surprising capable 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. The Kona Hei Hei Trail 2019 also impressed our testers with its great all-around performance with an XC oriented feel earning it our Top Pick for XC Trail Riding Award. Read on to find out more about how all of the bikes reviewed here compared to each other.

Value


If you're reading this review, chances are you're interested in finding the most budget-friendly mountain bike for your riding style. To help illustrate how each bike in our review stands up to the competition in terms of value, we made the interactive chart below. With an axis representing Price and one representing Overall Performance, bikes that land lower and further right are a better deal.


Fun Factor


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, have a less well-rounded performance, or built with components that hold you back from having a great time. We find it's easy to differentiate between bikes that are simply a blast to ride, and those that keep you on edge the entire time.

The most fun wins  and the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 had our fun meters pinned at 11.
The most fun wins, and the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 had our fun meters pinned at 11.

Our Best Mountain Bike Under $2500 Editor's Choice Award winner, the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0, was the clear winner in this rating metric, with a geometry and component specification that is especially keen to party on the trail. The Canyon is also well-rounded, a capable climber that has the ability to keep it mellow or get as aggressive as you want on the descents, and a build that inspires the confidence to do so.

The Giant Trance 3 2019, our Best Buy Award winner, surprised our testers with its versatility and confidence inspiring descending capabilities. With only 150mm of front and 140mm of rear wheel travel and a slack head tube angle, the Trance 3 has the cushion and angles to tackle just about anything. At $1,950, it's also an impressive value and the only bike under $2,000 that our testers felt confident charging into steep and rough sections of trail at speed while riding.

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.

Kona's Hei Hei Trail 2019 also proved to be a blast to ride and it earned our Top Pick for XC Trail Riding Award. This bike excelled in moderate terrain and over small to mid-sized chop. It's not an aggressive trail bike, but it comes to life on fast and flowy trails where it brings the fun factor up with its playful attitude and balanced suspension feel.

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.


Downhill Performance


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 Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 was the most confident and capable downhill performer in our test.
The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 was the most confident and capable downhill performer in our test.

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.

It may be our Best Buy Award winner, but that didn't stop the Giant Stance 3 2019 from being a top performer in our downhill performance rating. This bike's moderate reach and wheelbase give it quick handling and a short turning radius, yet it still holds its own as speeds increase due to its slacker head tube angle. It lacks the beefier components of the top-rated Canyon Spectral, but for the price, the Trance 3 is still plenty capable.

The Kona Process 134 SE was another high 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.

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 same goes for the Intense Spider Foundation which preferred low to medium speeds but became twitchy and nervous as speeds increased.

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.


Uphill Performance


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 was the clear winner in the uphill performance rating metric.
The Giant Stance 1 was the clear winner in the uphill performance rating metric.

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.

Our Best Buy Award winner, the Giant Trance 3 2019, wasn't a standout on the climbs, but its geometry and Maestro suspension make for a comfortable and reasonably efficient uphill performance. The Intense Spider was no slouch in the climbing department. Its steep seat tube puts the rider right over the cranks and its VPP suspension design provides a great pedaling platform that makes it an energetic and spirited climber.

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.


Build


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 influence 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. It is important to note that all of the moving parts on mountain bikes eventually require maintenance. Brakes, drivetrains, suspension, dropper posts, if they move they will eventually wear out, and the more you ride the faster it will happen.

The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 has easily got the best build to value ration we've ever seen.
The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 has easily got the best build to value ration we've ever seen.

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.

Our Best Buy Award winner, the Giant Trance 3, has a good component specification for the price. It can't match the build on the Canyon Spectral, but it gets the job done for $450 less. It has a comfortable cockpit, beefy suspension, and an especially shred ready set of wheels and tires.

The Kona Process 134 SE, the Marin Hawk Hill 2, and have reasonable builds considering the price. While there really isn't anything to write home about on the builds of these bikes, they both have 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 Silver 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.

Hard at work testing and finding the best mountain bikes under $2500.
Hard at work testing and finding the best mountain bikes under $2500.

Conclusion


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.


Jeremy Benson