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Are you searching for the best mountain bike under $3000? We researched virtually every model on the market in the $1900-$3000 price range and bought seven bikes for side-by-side testing. Our team of professional mountain bike testers rode these bikes for months while analyzing their performance, design, and build kit. You can easily spend a small fortune on a new mountain bike these days, but after testing these affordable models, it's clear that you don't have to. Bikes in this price range are improving dramatically and there are lots of great options to suit any riding style and budget.
For the 2021 model year, the Polygon Siskiu T8 received a complete redesign. It looks quite similar to the previous version, but the frame has an updated geometry and some minor tweaks to the suspension platform. This mid-travel trail bike now offers 135mm of rear suspension paired with a 140mm fork, and it is offered in different wheel sizes depending on rider/frame size. In line with recent trends, Polygon lengthened the reach and wheelbase, slackened the head tube, and steepened the seat tube, bringing the Siskiu's geometry up-to-date. These tweaks make it more stable at speed and confident on the descents, yet it still retains its maneuverability, responsive handling, and impressive level of versatility. The steep seat tube angle lines the rider up in an efficient and comfortable seated position and it is an effective and well-rounded climber. Thanks to Polygon's consumer-direct sales model, this affordable bike comes with a build kit you'd normally find on bikes that cost significantly more. We feel the quality component spec and well-rounded performance make the Siskiu T8 an above-average value.
We found little not to like about this versatile and well-rounded ride. Our biggest complaint was the touchpoints of the bike, the grips, and the saddle. The grips felt thin and firm, and they didn't do much to dampen vibration or enhance comfort. The saddle also felt short, and the unique shape of its tail wasn't our favorite on steep descents. The Tektro brake levers have a somewhat cheap look and feel, though they get the job done. Otherwise, we were very impressed by the new Siskiu T8, it's an affordable mid-travel ripper that looks and performs well above its asking price.
The Marin Rift Zone 29 2 is a versatile shorter travel trail bike with a relatively well-rounded performance. With 125mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork and an up-to-date geometry, this bike rips harder than you'd expect on the descents. It's quite stable at speed and capable of tackling some aggressive terrain, yet it remains easily maneuverable and playful when you want it to be. The suspension platform is fairly calm, and the Rift Zone is a comfortable and relatively efficient climber given its slightly heavier weight. It also comes equipped with modern touches like nice wide handlebars, a dropper post, and beefy tires to match its downhill capabilities. We feel this is a great do-it-all trail bike option for the rider on a budget, or those just getting into the sport and looking to progress their skills.
The Marin Rift Zone 29 2 isn't without fault. At over 34 lbs, it's one of the heaviest bikes in this review and that weight is noticeable, especially when climbing. While most aspects of its build are dialed, the important job of slowing and stopping this bike is left to a set of 2-piston Shimano MT200 brakes. While these brakes work, they feel a tad underpowered considering how hard you can ride this bike, and the long levers take a little getting used to. Beyond that, we were impressed by this affordable and versatile trail bike.
Downhill performance is 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 forks 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 leans more towards the cross-country side of the spectrum and it could be overwhelmed in aggressive terrain simply due 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.
XC-oriented - can be overwhelmed on steep/rough trails
In our neverending search for the best value, we stumbled upon the Polygon Siskiu D7. Sold direct to the consumer by Bikesonline.com, Polygon bikes continue to impress us with their affordability and ratio of price to performance. The bike gets shipped to your doorstep with only a few simple assembly steps remaining, and the necessary tools, to get out on the trail. Built around a sleek-looking ALX Alloy frame, the Siskiu D7 has 120mm of front and rear wheel travel and a moderate modern geometry. This short-travel bike has a lively and playful demeanor, responsive handling, and it excels on smooth, flowy trails and moderately rough intermediate-level trails alike. With a comfortable seated pedaling position and a calm, stable suspension platform, we found it to be a surprisingly efficient and capable climber. It also comes with a budget-minded but perfectly functional and reliable component specification that's ready to ride straight out of the box. Thoughtful features like a modern-width handlebar and a dropper seatpost do wonders for this bike's handling, rider comfort, and control.
It's worth mentioning that the Siskiu D7 is a shorter travel bike that is best suited for less aggressive riders and cross-country-style terrain. While you certainly can ride just about anything on it, we wouldn't recommend it for steep and rough trails or riders looking to "get gnarly". That said, when kept in its element, we found it to perform much better than we expected for the price. Whether you're just getting into the sport or upgrading to a full-suspension bike, we think the Siskiu D7 is one of the best values you can find.
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.
Kyle Smaine was born and raised in beautiful South Lake Tahoe. He grew up right at the base of some of Tahoe's most famous mountain bike trails. Kyle is a professional ski athlete 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.
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, really.
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 $3000. When we see new models that look compelling, we get our hands on 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. Our test rides feature the full spectrum of riding, from smooth mellow cross-country trails to rough and rowdy descents, we push these bikes to—and often past—their limits to get a feel for how they perform on the climbs and descents. Our testers take detailed notes of their impressions, which we use to formulate our opinions on each bike's performance.
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 a nice used 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 plenty of 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.
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 Polygon Siskiu T8 was the top performer, offering an outstanding, versatile performance and a killer price-to-build specification ratio. The Giant Trance 29 3 was our favorite short-travel bike, with a lively and playful character, solid climbing performance, and downhill chops that exceeded our short-travel expectations. Marin's Rift Zone 29 2 also earned itself an award for being a versatile trail bike that proved to be a top all-around performer on the trail.
If you're reading this review, chances are you're interested in finding the best budget-friendly mountain bike under $3000 for your riding style. The bikes in this review range in price from roughly $1900 to $3000. Mountain biking is an expensive sport, and in a market where top-of-the-line bikes can cost upwards of $10,000, all of the bikes tested and reviewed here qualify as being reasonably priced in comparison. That said, there are differences in performance and component specifications among them that are quite apparent. In this price range, the consumer-direct brands tend to give you the most for your money. Polygon sells directly to the consumer, allowing them to provide a nicer build for the price that helps to enhance their on-trail performance.
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.
The Polygon Siskiu T8 is a 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. The Trance 29 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 quickness.
The new Kona Process 134 29 is a mid-travel trail 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. Similarly, the Marin Rift Zone 29 2 impressed us with its downhill capabilities, especially given its modest travel numbers. This versatile bike can charge hard, and pop and play its way down the mountain. Even the least expensive model in this review, the Polygon Siskiu D7, proved to be plenty of fun to ride when kept within its short travel limits. With playful liveliness and responsive handling, the Siskiu D7 proved to be an enjoyable ride on less aggressive terrain.
Arguably the most important element of a mountain bike's performance, for most riders, is how it performs 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 Polygon Siskiu T8, Marin Rift Zone 29 2, and Kona Process 134 29 are pretty evenly matched on the descents. Polygon sells direct to the consumer and has the most impressive build kit of all the models in this test. It's not all about the components, but there is absolutely no question that the beefier suspension, wheels, and tires do a lot to enhance the Siskiu T8's capabilities on the descents. The Polygon's updated longer and slacker geometry pairs with its 135/140mm of rear/front travel to make it more stable and confidence-inspiring on the downhills without sacrificing the maneuverability and versatility of its predecessor.
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's not quite as well-rounded and it doesn't have the higher-end suspension components of the Polygon, but it feels plenty capable regardless. Likewise, the shorter travel Marin Rift Zone 29 has a modern geometry that lends itself to pushing the envelope of speed and terrain. This bike is limited somewhat by its travel length but is more capable than you might expect when the going gets steep and rough.
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 rock gardens 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.
The affordable short travel Polygon Siskiu D7 isn't exactly a downhill crusher, but we found it performs well when kept within its limits. On smooth, flowy trails, and even some moderately rough ones, this bike comes to life with a lively and playful character and quick handling.
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 its downhill performance scores, the Polygon Siskiu T8 performs very well on the climbs. This bike feels fast-rolling and has a comfortable seated pedaling position and geometry that performs well in a range of uphill riding situations. Predictable and consistent traction combines with precise and direct steering to make earning those descents more pleasurable than most.
One of the fastest and most comfortable climbers, the Giant Trance 29 3 is a short travel ripper that performs very well on climbs. 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. Similarly, the Polygon Siskiu D7 proved to be a solid uphill performer. Its comfortable geometry and clam pedaling platform made for an impressively efficient feel despite its moderate 33 lb weight.
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, mind you, but their heavier weights definitely contribute to lethargic and unexciting climbing performance.
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 $3000 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 are 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.
One of the most impressive builds in our test selection is that of the Polygon Siskiu T8. It boasts a stout suspension package that controls the front and rear wheel travel better than the lower-end components on other models in this price range. It also comes equipped with powerful brakes, quality wheels and tires, a dropper post, and an excellent Shimano 12-speed SLX drivetrain that is ready to ride without the need for any immediate upgrades.
The Giant Trance 29 3, has a good component specification for the price. It can't match the build on the Polygon, but it gets the job done for less. It has a comfortable cockpit, plush suspension, a 12-speed drivetrain, and a particularly shred-ready set of wheels and tires.
The build of the Kona Process 134 isn't particularly eye-catching, but they did nail many important components that help to make it so capable on the trail. A dropper seatpost, modern cockpit, and a burly tire combo all combine to enhance this bike's downhill confidence and control. Likewise, the Marin Rift Zone 29 has a build that doesn't hold it back on the trail. Aggressive tires, a long dropper, and a wide handlebar help to enhance handling and control.
Considering its impressively low price, the Polygon Siskiu D7 has a relatively nice build that gets the job done. While budget-minded, Polygon did a fine job of outfitting this bike with reliable components that enhance its on-trail performance and nothing needs to be upgraded to get out and have a good time.
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 $3000 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.
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