Best Overall Mountain Bike Under $2500
YT Jeffsy Base 29 2020
Solid component spec
No climb switch on rear shock
SX Eagle drivetrain
For 2020, YT redesigned their most affordable trial bike model and in the process made it more capable and fun to ride than its predecessor. The Jeffsy Base returns to the test and takes home the title as our Editor's Choice Award winner for the second year in a row. The changes to the new Jeffsy included adding 10mm of front and rear suspension as well as a generous dose of the long and slack treatment. Our 29-inch wheeled test model now has 150mm of travel and is pretty much spot on with today's modern trail bike geometry trends. The result is a bike that is far more capable and confidence-inspiring on the descents than you'd ever expect at this price point, yet it has retained its versatility, well-rounded demeanor, and climbing abilities. Thanks to YT's consumer-direct sales model, the Jeffsy Base also comes with an impressive component specification that enhances its performance and boosts the fun factor on both the climbs and descents.
While we found little not to like about the Jeffsy, it is a bit heavy at 33 lbs 3 oz. That said, that weight is about average for bikes in this price range though it is noticeable on the uphills. While the SX Eagle drivetrain worked well enough and provides a huge range, it doesn't have the crispest shifting and its durability seems questionable. The rear shock also doesn't have a compression damping/climbing switch which would be nice for improving climbing efficiency on long fire road climbs. Otherwise, the Jeffsy really knocked our socks off. This is a great trail bike and a truly amazing one at this price.
Read review: YT Jeffsy Base 29 2020
Best Bang for the Buck
Polygon Siskiu T8
Excellent price to build ratio
Came with wrong length dropper post
When we tested the Siskiu T8 it was the most expensive model in the test. It was a solid value at that price, and since then the price has come down by $300 making it an outstanding value. Polygon is another consumer-direct brand and this bike has a price to build kit ratio that other models just can't touch. Much like the YT Jeffsy, the Siskiu impressed our testers with its especially well-rounded performance and components that take its performance to another level. Its geometry is modern yet moderate, helping to make it comfortable and capable on both the climbs and the descents. This bike rips on the downhills, with an outrageous blend of stability and agility along with composure and balance that performs well at a huge range of speeds and trail conditions. It's no slouch on the climbs either, it rolls fast and has a comfortable seated pedaling position, direct and precise steering, and handles technical and tight uphill sections well.
The Siskiu is great but not perfect. Our test bike came spec'd with the wrong length dropper post, 125mm instead of 150mm. This didn't affect the way the bike performs or how much we enjoyed it, but it's not impressive from a quality control standpoint. We also experienced a very slight knocking sensation in the lower rear shock mount that we had a difficult time getting rid of, though it generally wasn't an issue out on the trail.
Read review: Polygon Siskiu T8
Best for Charging Hard
Kona Process 134 29 2020
Burly aggressive feel
Modern trail bike geometry
Long dropper post
Proper beefy tire specification
The Process 134 29 is a ripping mid-travel trail bike that is capable of charging way harder on descents than our testers expected for a bike in this price range. Kona's bikes typically perform well on the downhills, and even the entry-level version of this bike handles speed and aggressive terrain with the confidence and composure we've come to expect from the brand. The 134mm of rear-wheel travel is paired with a 140mm fork which is ideal for a huge number of riders and locations and will rarely leave you wanting for more. The geometry is modern and progressive, spot on by today's standards and the primary reason this bike rips so hard. Add to that some thoughtful component specs like a dialed cockpit with a proper 170mm dropper post as well as beefy durable tires that enhance this bike's aggressive performance.
The Process 134 29 isn't without fault. At over 34 lbs, it's the heaviest bike in this review and that weight is very noticeable, especially when climbing. While some aspects of its build are dialed, the important job of handling the front end travel is left to a low-end RockShox Recon fork. The fork works fine, but it isn't ideal for handling the hard-charging nature of this bike. That said, the rider who prioritizes downhill performance and isn't that concerned about weight should give the Process 134 a look.
Read review: Kona Process 134 29 2020
Top Pick Short Travel
Giant Trance 29 3 2020
Energetic playful feel
Fork needed immediate service
Limited by modest travel numbers
The Giant Trance 29 3 is a sporty short travel trail bike and a solid all-around performer. This bike's liveliness and playful attitude make it one of the most fun bikes to ride in this review, and its downhill capabilities far exceed its short-travel pay grade. It feels like it has more than 115mm of rear-wheel travel thanks to Giant's excellent Maestro suspension platform that pairs very well with the 130mm Marzocchi Z2 fork. The Z2 is a departure from the typical budget fork specs, and after having it serviced it outperformed the found on most other bikes in this price range. The Trance 29 has a moderate modern geometry that gives it excellent versatility, and it feels highly maneuverable and comfortable at a range of speeds and terrain. It's also one of the most energetic and efficient climbing bikes of the bunch.
There was little not to like about the Trance 29 3. Testers did find, however, that it could be overwhelmed in aggressive terrain due mostly to the fact that it has less travel. You can ride just about anything on this bike, it just requires a little finesse and good line choices when the trails get rough and rowdy. Otherwise, testers were quite impressed with the playful, versatile, and affordable performance of this short travel ride.
Read review: Giant Trance 29 3 2020
Riding some of the mountain bikes under $2500 with the test crew.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our testers are full-time, year-round, bike fanatics.
Jeremy Benson is the Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor for OutdoorGearLab. Benson is known for putting in an obscene amount of time in the saddle while testing, training, and riding just for the fun of it. Jeremy has racked up some impressive results at well-known races such as the Downieville Classic and Lost and Found Gravel Grinder. He is also the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe , a mountain bike guidebook for the Tahoe region. This New England native is passionate about connecting people with the perfect bicycle to meet their needs.
Kyle Smaine was born and raised in beautiful South Lake Tahoe. He grew up right at the base of a couple of Tahoe's most famous mountain bike trails. Kyle is a professional skier and has a healthy collection of gold medals in the halfpipe. While he may be known for his skiing, he's no slouch on a mountain bike. Kyle has his fair share of KOMs and is a very passionate rider. Off the bike, he works as a mechanic in a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe.
Our team is rounded out with Joshua Hutchens. Joshua is a long-time bike industry veteran who has worked in nearly every capacity you can think of. Shop mechanic, racer, guide, shop owner, he's done it all and still maintains a boundless enthusiasm for exploring the mountain on two wheels. He's a talented rider and can even do no-handed wheelies.
Our team stays on top of new bike releases throughout the year and is always looking for the best new bikes that cost less than $2,500. When we see new models that look compelling, we purchase them and take them to task on the vast and varied trails of the northern Sierra in the greater Lake Tahoe area. After weighing and measuring all of the bikes for consistency, each tester takes each model for several test rides to see how much fun they are to ride and how they perform out on the trail.
Related: How We Tested Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500s
Analysis and Test Results
There's no question that mountain bikes are expensive, and these days many complete full suspension bikes can cost about as much, or more, than your first car. Fortunately for consumers, many brands are making affordable models that are actually trail-worthy and you won't need to sell a kidney or take out a second mortgage to purchase. Yes, you can spend upwards of $10K on a fancy new mountain bike, but we're finding that some of these budget-friendly models are just as much fun to ride and won't break the bank.
Over the course of several months, our Tahoe-based mountain bike testers rode the trails throughout 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 three rating metrics that are discussed in greater detail below.
We ride these bikes as if they are our own, pushing them to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and ride characteristics.
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 YT Jeffsy Base was the clear winner of our Editor's Choice Award, offering an outstanding versatile performance and a very high component specification to price ratio. Other bikes excelled for different reasons, like our Best Buy Award winner the Polygon Siskiu T8 for its confidence-inspiring trail manners, solid component specification, and well-rounded versatile performance. The Giant Trance 29 3 earned our Top Pick Short-Travel bike award with a lively and playful character, solid climbing performance, and downhill chops that exceeded our short-travel expectations. Kona's new Process 134 29 also earned itself an award by setting itself apart from the competition with its hard-charging downhill capabilities.
Related: How to Select the Right Mountain Bike
If you're reading this review, chances are you're interested in finding the best budget-friendly mountain bike under $2,500 for your riding style. The bikes in this review all fall within a few hundred dollars of each other and the differences in price really aren't very extreme. On the other hand, the differences in performance and component specifications are quite apparent, although pretty much every bike we tested qualifies as being a pretty good value. While the Polygon Siskiu T8 may not be the least expensive model we tested, it does have a very impressive component specification for the price, making it the best value in the test.
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 are 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.
Our Best Mountain Bike Under $2500 Editor's Choice Award winner, the YT Jeffsy Base, was the clear winner in this rating metric, with a geometry and component specification that is especially keen to party on the trail. The Jeffsy is impressively 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. We find that having confidence in the bike you're riding helps boost the fun factor significantly.
The Jeffsy is the most fun bike to ride in this price range. Confidence-inspiring and super capable is a solid recipe.
The Best Buy Award-winning Polygon Siskiu T8 is another bike that is shockingly capable with a well-rounded performance that simply performs well everywhere. Bikes like this are fun to ride since they have such balanced trail manners that can handle a huge range of speeds, trail types, and conditions. The Giant Trance 29 3 also proved to be a blast to ride and it earned our Top Pick Short Travel Award. The Trance brings a high degree of liveliness and a playful demeanor to the table in a short-travel package that really impressed us with its versatility and well-rounded performance.
The Process 134 rips on the descents. This bike is almost too much fun when it's pointed downhill.
The new Kona Process 134 29 is a mid-travel downhill slayer that comes to life when pointed down the hill and speeds increase. This bike is far more capable and confidence-inspiring on the descents than most bikes in this price range, and an absolute blast when riding fast or tackling more aggressive terrain.
If you like to ride fast you might enjoy the Habit 6.
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.
Three bikes battled for supremacy in the downhill performance rating metric. The Editor's Choice Award-winning YT Jeffsy Base, the Best Buy winning Polygon Siskiu T8, and Kona Process 134 29 are pretty evenly matched on the descents. Both YT and Polygon sell direct to the consumer and both have the most impressive build kits of all the models in this test. It's not all about the components, but there is absolutely no question that their beefier suspension, wheels, and tires do a lot to enhance their capabilities on the descents. The 2020 redesign of the Jeffsy, however, took its downhill slaying capabilities to another level with increased suspension travel and a modern geometry that begs to be ridden hard downhill. The Polygon has a modern, but reserved, geometry that helps to give it well-rounded trail manners, though it's not as confidence-inspiring as the Jeffsy.
The Polygon Siskiu is a very capable bike on the descents thanks to its geometry and impressive component specification.
Earning out Top Pick Award for its hard-charging downhill performance, the Kona Process 134 29 impressed our testers with its impressively capable and confidence-inspiring performance on the descents. This bike is ready for anything and really comes to life when you let it run or get into steeper, rougher terrain. It may lack the higher-end suspension components of the YT or the Polygon, but it feels plenty capable regardless.
The short-travel Giant Trance 29 3 may not be the hardest-charging bike on the descents, but it brings a playful attitude and more capability than its short-travel numbers might suggest. If you're more interested in popping side hits than plowing through the gnar at speed, then the Trance 29 might be right up your alley. The Trek Fuel EX 5 is a very comfortable and competent bike on the descents. This mid-travel ride has supple suspension and a smooth ground-hugging feel. It may not have a lot of pop or pizzazz, but it certainly was capable and fun to ride on a huge range of terrain and speeds.
Most mountain bikers spend the majority of their time riding bikes uphill. Fortunately, the Trance 29 3 is as good going up as it is fun to ride back down.
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, suspension design, and components all play a role in how well a bike performs while climbing, and some are better suited to it than others.
Considering their downhill performance scores, both the YT Jeffsy and the Polygon Siskiu perform very well on the climbs. Both bikes feel fast-rolling and have similar seated pedaling positions and geometries that perform well in a range of uphill riding situations. They've got predictable and consistent traction that combines with precise and direct steering to make earning those descents more pleasurable than most.
It may be one of the hardest charging descenders, but the Jeffsy is also a comfortable and competent climber.
One of the fastest and most comfortable climbers, the Giant Trance 29 3 is a short travel ripper that performs almost as well on the ups as the downs. The Trance 29 feels quick and energetic when pointed up the hill, with comfortable geometry and reasonable weight compared to many of the other models in this test. The Giant Trance 3 2019, wasn't a standout on the climbs, but its geometry and Maestro suspension made for a comfortable and reasonably efficient uphill performance.
Neither the Kona Process 134 29 or the Trek Fuel EX 5 are the fastest climbers, but both bikes get the job done.
Both the Kona Process 134 29 and the Trek Fuel EX 5 were plenty competent but relatively unimpressive on the climbs. Both bikes work just fine, but their heavier weights definitely contribute to lethargic and unexciting climbing performance. The Cannondale Habit 6 is more of a descent oriented bike, and it had somewhat awkward uphill handling due to its long wheelbase and reach plus a slack head tube angle that results in a vague and sluggish feel uphill.
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 a while, 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's 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 component specification or build of each bike varies significantly and is a huge factor that affects each model's overall performance. The Polygon Siskiu T8 has a great build.
One of the most impressive builds in our test selection is that of the YT Jeffsy Base. This bike is ready to rip with beefier 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 seriously ready to go straight out of the box with a build you'd normally find on much more expensive bikes. The Polygon Siskiu T8 is similarly well-equipped to the Jeffsy. It also boasts a stout suspension package, powerful brakes, quality wheels and tires, a dropper post, and a Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain.
The Giant Trance 29 3, has a good component specification for the price. It can't match the build on the YT Jeffsy, but it gets the job done for less. It has a comfortable cockpit, plush suspension, a 12-speed drivetrain, and an especially shred-ready set of wheels and tires. The 27.5-inch wheeled Trance 3 also came quite well equipped for the price with a stout fork and burly wheels and tires.
The builds of bikes in this price range have improved dramatically in the past couple of years. Most now come with quality tires and dropper seatposts helping to make them more shred-able than ever before.
The Kona Process 134 and the Salsa Horsethief came with relatively similar builds. Both bikes have the same front suspension in the form of a RockShox Recon fork. They also both sport similar wheels and tires that are tubeless-ready and beefy enough to stand up to hard trail riding. Their cockpits are generally dialed too, with short stems, wide handlebars, and dropper posts to enhance their handling. The Cannondale Habit 6 has an okay build and it performs relatively well on the trail. The lack of a dropper post is the most egregious aspect of the build, especially for a bike that is so good on the descents.
You don't have to spend a fortune to get a bike that performs well on the trail. There are several worthy options in this review that'll put a smile on your face.
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.