Best Trail Mountain Bikes of 2021
|Price||$5,899 List||$7,299 List|
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|$4,300 List||$8,049 at Backcountry||$5,399 List|
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|Pros||Outstanding all around performance, more capable on the descents than its predecessor, great climber, excellent build||Excellent climbing abilities, impressive downhill performance, high fun factor, tremendous build kit||Highly adjustable geometry, adaptable for terrain or riding style, SWAT storage, plush suspension, very stable and confident descender||Very stable at speed, hard charging, amazing build, supportive pedal platform, great deep stroke support||Lightweight, playful, well-rounded, modern geometry, solid component specification|
|Cons||Expensive, still not a full-on enduro bike, a touch on the heavy side||Expensive, pivots came loose a few times during testing||Overkill for tame trails, Fox 36 Rhythm fork, moderate weight||Build tested is expensive, somewhat less maneuverable than previous version, can feel sluggish at lower speeds||Not a brawler, Fox 34 fork can be overwhelmed|
|Bottom Line||The new and improved Ripmo V2 is the best all-around trail bike we've ever tested||A fantastic trail bike that blends superb climbing abilities with fun and well-rounded downhill performance||A heavy-hitting longer travel trail bike with an innovative, highly adjustable geometry||The recently updated Santa Cruz Hightower is longer, slacker, and harder charging than ever||We loved the old version, but believe it or not, the new Ibis Ripley is even better|
|Rating Categories||Ibis Ripmo V2 XT||Yeti SB130 TURQ X01||Specialized Stumpju...||Santa Cruz Hightowe...||Ibis Ripley GX Eagle|
|Fun Factor (25%)|
|Downhill Performance (35%)|
|Climbing Performance (35%)|
|Ease Of Maintenance (5%)|
|Specs||Ibis Ripmo V2 XT||Yeti SB130 TURQ X01||Specialized Stumpju...||Santa Cruz Hightowe...||Ibis Ripley GX Eagle|
|Suspension & Travel||DW-Link - 147mm||Switch Infinity - 130mm||FSR - 150mm||Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) - 140mm||DW-Link - 120mm|
|Measured Weight (w/o pedals)||31 lbs (Large)||29 lbs 9 oz (Large)||31 lbs 14 oz (Large)||29 lbs 13 oz (Large)||28 lbs 14 oz (Large)|
|Fork||Fox Float 36 Grip 2 Factory 160mm||Fox 36 Factory - 150mm 36mm stanchions||Fox 36 Rhythm - 160mm||RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 150mm||Fox Float 34 Performance 130mm 34mm stanchions|
|Shock||Fox Float X2||Fox DPX2 Factory||Fox Float DPX2 Performance||RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate||Fox Float Performance DPS EVOL|
|Frame Material||Carbon Fiber||Carbon Fiber "TURQ"||FACT 11m Carbon Fiber||Carbon Fiber "CC"||Carbon Fiber|
|Frame Size||Large||Large||S4 (Large equivalent)||Large||Large|
|Frame Settings||N/A||N/A||Flip Chip and Headtube angle||Flip Chip||N/A|
|Wheelset||Ibis S35 Aluminum rims with Ibis hubs, 35mm ID||DT Swiss M1700, 30mm ID w/ DT Swiss 350 hub||Roval 29 alloy rims with Shimano Centerlock hubs, 30mm id||Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon Rims w/ DT 350 hubs||Ibis 938 Aluminum Rims 34mm ID w/ Ibis Hubs|
|Front Tire||Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 2.5"||Maxxis Minion DHF WT 29 x 2.5"||Specialized Butcher GRID TRAIL T9, 2.6"||Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO TR 2.4"||Schwable Hans Dampf 2.6"|
|Rear Tire||Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 2.5"||Maxxis Aggressor 29 x 2.3||Specialized Eliminator GRID TRAIL T7, 2.3"||Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO TR 2.4"||Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.6"|
|Shifters||Shimano XT M8100 12-speed||SRAM XO Eagle||Shimano SLX 12-speed||SRAM XO1 Eagle||SRAM GX Eagle|
|Rear Derailleur||Shimano XT M8100 Shadow Plus 12-speed||SRAM X0 Eagle||Shimano SLX 12-speed||SRAM XO1 Eagle||SRAM GX Eagle|
|Crankset||Shimano XT M8100 32T||SRAM X0 Eagle Carbon 30T||Shimano SLX 170mm||SRAM X1 Eagle DUB 170mm(size Large) 30T||SRAM Descendant Alloy 32T|
|Saddle||WTB Silverado Pro 142mm||WTB Volt||Specialized Bridge Comp||WTB Silverado Team||WTB Silverado 142mm|
|Seatpost||Bike Yoke Revive (185mm size large)||Fox Transfer 150mm||X-Fusion Manic 170mm (S4/S5), 34.9 diameter||RockShox Reverb Stealth||Bike Yoke Revive 160mm|
|Handlebar||Ibis Adjustable Carbon 800mm (30mm rise)||Yeti Carbon - 780mm||Specialized 6061 alloy, 30mm rise, 800mm width||Santa Cruz AM Carbon - 800mm||Ibis 780mm Alloy|
|Stem||Thomson Elite X4||RaceFace Aeffect R 35||Specialized Alloy Trail stem, 35mm bore||Race Face Aeffect R 50mm||Ibis 31.8mm 50mm|
|Brakes||Shimano XT M8120 4-piston||Shimano XT M8000||Shimano SLX 4-piston||SRAM Code RSC||Shimano Deore 2 Piston|
|Measured Effective Top Tube (mm)||632||628||625||619||625|
|Measured Reach (mm)||475||477||475||470||475|
|Measured Head Tube Angle||64.9-degrees||65.1-degrees||63-65.5 (adjustable)||65.55-degrees H / 65.25-degrees L||66.5-degrees|
|Measured Seat Tube Angle||76-degrees||76.8-degrees||76.9-degrees||76.8-degrees H / 76.3-degrees L||76.2-degrees|
|Measured Bottom Bracket Height (mm)||341||335||340 (adjustable with flip chips)||340||338|
|Measured Wheelbase (mm)||1238||1231||1247||1230||1210|
|Measured Chain Stay Length (mm)||435||438||438 (S1-S4)||435||434|
|Warranty||Seven Years||Lifetime||Lifetime||Lifetime||Seven Years|
Best Overall Trail Bike
Ibis Ripmo V2 XT
The popular Ibis Ripmo was redesigned for the 2020 model year and the V2 is even more impressive than the original. The head tube angle has been slackened to 64.9-degrees, the wheelbase lengthened, and the suspension curve tweaked for more progression at the end of the stroke. While those changes may sound minor, the new Ripmo is notably more confident and capable in aggressive terrain and at speed. Despite the geometry changes, this bike maintains its mythical climbing abilities, excellent low-speed handling, and maneuverability in tight, technical terrain. The DW-Link suspension provides a calm and stable pedal platform, excellent small bump compliance, great mid-stroke support, and the increased progressiveness is noticeable on bigger hits. We think that Ibis really hit the nail on the head with the V2 as there was seemingly nowhere this bike didn't perform well for our testers. Whether scrambling up a steep climb or charging down a descent, this bike was comfortable, composed, and intuitive. Our testers aren't always on the same page, but it was easy for them to agree that the Ripmo V2 is one of the best bikes they've ever ridden.
Read review: Ibis Ripmo V2 XT
Best Mid-Travel Trail Bike
Yeti SB130 TURQ X01
The Yeti SB130 is a ripping trail bike that may just be the ultimate daily driver. This mid-travel trail slayer makes a ton of sense for a huge number of riders on a wide range of terrain. The Yeti sets you up in an excellent climbing position and delivers a lively and efficient uphill experience. The Switch Infinity suspension beautifully balances excellent traction with a calm and supportive pedaling platform. On the descent, this bike is a blast on a very diverse range of terrain. On fast and buff flow trails this bike delivers excellent stability, sharp handling, and berm-railing cornering skills. On rougher trails, the SB130 charges hard down anything but true enduro-grade terrain. The Yeti is impressively versatile. It is burly enough to hang on some gnar and tight and efficient enough to still be a blast on mellow and tame trails. This is a very high compliment. All of this performance is going to cost you, however, Yeti bikes are not known for their affordability.
Read review: Yeti SB130 TURQ X01
Best Aggressive Trail Bike
Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Comp
The newest version of the Specialized Stumpjumper EVO stands out for its unprecedented adjustability and confidence-inspiring downhill performance. This carbon-framed 150mm travel 29er is a ripping longer travel trail bike with an innovative design that allows the user to adjust the head angle between 63.5 and 65.5-degrees and raise or lower the bottom bracket by 7mm. This allows the rider to choose between the geometry that best suits their riding style or terrain, and quickly and easily switch it back and forth. In its steepest and highest settings, it's an aggressive yet highly versatile trail bike, and when dropped into low and slack it changes character entirely and becomes a very downhill-oriented machine. You can take it on a long trail ride today and crush bike park laps the next, the Stumpjumper EVO has you covered. This bike is very stable and confident on the descents, and the updated FSR suspension platform delivers a refined ride that is both supple and supportive. Considering its downhill prowess, it also climbs comfortably and efficiently, although its length makes it a bit of a handful in tight spots, and its slacker geometry settings can seriously alter its uphill handling. Specialized continues their on-bike storage dominance, and now you can store water as well as tools in the SWAT compartment. The Comp build we tested is the least expensive in the range, yet it comes ready to rip at a very competitive price.
Read review: Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Comp
Best Short Travel Trail Bike
Ibis Ripley GX Eagle
The Ibis Ripley underwent a complete overhaul for the '19/'20 model year. Other than keeping the same travel as the previous version, 120mm in the rear and 130mm in the front, the Ripley was fully redesigned. Building on the success of the longer travel Ripmo, Ibis took many of the design features of that bike and applied them in this shorter travel package. The reach and wheelbase were extended significantly, the head tube slackened, and the seat tube steepened to bring the Ripley's geometry up to date. The result is an impressively well-rounded bike that climbs even better and descends with far more confidence than the previous version. It still maintains much of its lively and playful trail manners, though that is no longer its defining characteristic. This versatile short travel ride scampers uphill and charges back down, it's only limited by its travel length. If you're looking for a short travel trail bike that can do it all, check out the Ibis Ripley.
Read review: Ibis Ripley GX
Best Aggressive Short-Travel Trail Bike
Norco Optic C2 SRAM
The Norco Optic joins a growing list of aggressive short-travel trail bikes, and we feel it is at the head of its class. This 29er has 125mm of rear-wheel travel and a 140mm fork paired with a modern long and slack geometry that you'd normally find on a bike with more travel. Despite its modest travel numbers, the Optic has a serious preference for steep and rough trails and it comes to life as speeds increase. The Horst-Link rear suspension design feels dialed and this bike feels like it has more travel than the numbers suggest. On the climbs, it can't quite match the liveliness or efficiency of some of the more XC-oriented bikes out there, although it is comfortable and capable in most uphill situations. Whatever ground it loses to other bikes on the climbs, it makes up for with its supernatural descending capabilities. The C2 SRAM build we tested is competitively priced, and it comes with a shred-ready component specification that won't force you to shell out any extra cash on immediate upgrades. If you're looking for a shorter travel trail bike and you prioritize downhill performance above all else, we think the Norco Optic is worthy of serious consideration.
Read review: Norco Optic C2 SRAM
Best 27.5-inch Trail Bike
Santa Cruz 5010 CC XO1 RSV
The recently redesigned, mid-travel, 27.5-inch wheeled Santa Cruz 5010 is a playful trail bike for fun-loving riders. With 130mm of rear-wheel travel, a 140mm fork, and modern but not extreme geometry, this quick-witted ride had our testers seeking the fun line, riding the back wheel, and popping off every bump in the trail. The smaller wheels and short chainstays make it easy to get the front wheel off the ground, yet its moderate length wheelbase, reach, and slack-ish headtube angle keeps it stable at speed and confident on rougher, steeper descents. The VPP suspension design provides great mid-stroke support and big-hit performance, and a super steady pedaling platform. A properly steep seat tube angle provides a comfortable upright seated climbing position and direct, efficient transfer of power to the pedals. Our only real complaints are that it doesn't have the best small bump compliance and that 27.5-inch wheels don't roll over obstacles or carry momentum quite as well as bigger hoops. Yes, the XO1 Reserve build we tested is expensive, but there are three more affordable options to choose from. If the trail is your playground and you're more concerned with having fun than going fast, then the 5010 was made for you.
Read review: Santa Cruz 5010 CC XO1 RSV
Best Consumer-Direct Bike
Fezzari Delano Peak Elite
In recent years, several consumer-direct brands have made waves in the mountain bike industry by selling quality bikes for less than their mainstream counterparts. Fezzari is among those brands, and the Delano Peak is their mid-travel trail bike that sports 135mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork. This carbon fiber 29er's geometry is perfectly up to date, and our testers were thoroughly impressed with this do it all machine. On the descents, it likes to go fast and is super stable at speed and confident and composed in hard-hitting terrain. At the same time, it maintains responsive handling and isn't so long and slack that it's a handful in tighter spots or at lower speeds. Its got a nice steep seat tube that provides a comfortable seated position for those long climbs and scrambling through techy sections. Power transfer feels quite direct down into the pedals, although we found ourselves using the compression damping switch on the rear shock to maximize efficiency on the ups and in rolling terrain. The Elite build we tested is also absolutely spectacular for the price. If you're looking to save a little money without sacrificing performance, we think this dialed mid-travel ride is one of the best values you can find.
Read review: Fezzari Delano Peak Elite
Best Trail Bike Under $2500
Polygon Siskiu T8
Polygon is a consumer-direct brand that has been steadily gaining market share by producing quality mountain bikes at reasonable prices. The versatile and well-rounded Siskiu T8 is a perfect example. This mid-travel trail bike rolls on 29-inch wheels with 135mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 140mm fork and an up-to-date geometry at a very competitive price. Its aluminum frame has clean lines, an eye-catching paint job, and wears a build kit you'd expect to find on bikes that cost significantly more. The Siskiu is user-friendly, easy to get along with, and is a blast to ride on the descents. It's agile with responsive handling and confidence-inspiring at speed and in rough terrain. Likewise, the climbs are a straightforward and comfortable affair, and this bike is a great companion for any length of ride. For the price, the build kit is totally dialed and only helps to enhance its performance on both the climbs and descents. Whether you're on a budget or searching for your first full-suspension mountain bike, we feel the Siskiu T8 is the best you'll find for less than $2500.
Read review: Polygon Siskiu T8
Best Hardtail Trail Bike
Specialized Fuse Expert 29
The Specialized Fuse Expert 29 is a new model for 2020 and features an updated frame design and 29-inch wheels. Previous Fuse models have been tester favorites and the new version easily took the top spot as our favorite hardtail. The new Fuse 29 has a more progressive modern geometry that is longer and slacker than the old model but remains conservative enough that it performs well in virtually every situation. This bike charges downhill, devours flow trails, and had our testers grinning from ear to ear after every test ride. It might not be an XC race bike, but it still climbs very efficiently and effectively given its nearly 30 lb weight. Not to mention the fact that it looks pretty slick with its brushed aluminum finish and subtle purple lettering. We think it's also a solid value with a component specification that is ready for anything you are. If you're looking for a do-it-all trail hardtail, look no further.
Read review: Specialized Fuse Expert 29
Why You Should Trust Us
Our professional mountain bike test team spends a lot of time riding, researching, tinkering, and thinking about mountain bikes. Our experienced testers are industry veterans, competitive racers, salty shop guys, and local hardcores who have spent years of their lives putting test bikes through their paces in the vast and varied terrain of the northern Sierra in the greater Lake Tahoe area. Big backcountry epics, shuttle laps, flow trails, and chunky raw downhills are all out the backdoor of our bike testing home base. We don't simply ride these bikes for a week or two and then move on. No, these bikes are passed around between riders for months on end and are tested for hundreds of miles each.
Our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson is an east coast native who has been riding mountain bikes since the early 1990s. He moved to North Lake Tahoe in 2001 and has been obsessively riding the area trails ever since. A competitive gravel and mountain bike racer, Benson spends more time in the saddle than most while testing, training, and riding just for the fun of it. He is also especially tough on and critical of gear and has spent over a decade working as a product tester and reviewer in both the ski and mountain bike industry. Benson is a local trail expert and the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, a comprehensive guide to the trails of the Lake Tahoe region.
Pat Donahue is our former Senior Mountain Bike Editor turned bike shop owner and has been riding a revolving door of bicycles for a decade and a half. He has ridden well over 100 bikes in that time and is passionate about connecting people with the right bicycles. He has ridden and tested bikes in a huge range of locations and trails ranging from burly bike park laps to heinous all-day epic rides. He has an affinity for super steep and chunky trails and is especially adept at testing the durability of wheels and tires.
Joshua Hutchens is an industry veteran who has been working with bicycles since the age of 12. This California native has spent an enormous amount of time rolling around on two wheels. Joshua has owned a bike shop and is a meticulous mechanic. He has traveled the world as a bicycle guide leading clients on massive rides in some of the most beautiful locations imaginable. Joshua has put in his time as a cross country racer and rides with a tremendous level of finesse and is extremely in-touch with his bicycle during testing. He is also our only tester who can ride a no-handed wheelie, seriously.
Analysis and Test Results
Our team is continuously scouring the market for the latest and greatest mountain bikes. When we see a great new bike released, we buy it and put it through our rigorous testing process. Each of our testers spends at least a week riding each bike before passing it on to the next. When testing is completed, we compare notes and cross-examine the lot of them to bring you this all-encompassing trail mountain bike review. Each bike is ranked in terms of fun factor (worth 25%), downhill performance (35%), uphill performance (35%), and ease of maintenance (5%). We compare the best of the best below. The bikes' intended applications, build qualities, and prices range widely. We've found that our favorite bikes shine even with less than ideal components and the best are appropriate for a wide range of terrain.
With such an enormous variety of bikes to chose from, pinpointing which one will offer the best value for your needs can be a big task. We assess both overall performance as well as how the bikes performed relative to price. Sure you can buy a bike that may require you to take out a second mortgage on your house, but you certainly don't have to. We're finding that many of the reasonably priced bikes we test are just as much fun to ride as the high-priced competition.
Thomas Aquinas once said, "Fun factor is critical when evaluating a trail mountain bike." We ride bikes for fun, and we assume you do too. That's why fun factor is worth a hefty 25% of the final score.
The Ibis Ripley is the epitome of a modern, zippy, and fun-loving trail bike. Everything about piloting this carbon-framed 120mm travel 29er is a blast. The 2019/2020 redesign made the Ripley far more well-rounded, though it's still happy seeking out boosts and trail-side shenanigans. There are plenty of overused, cringe-inducing, terms used to describe trail bikes these days. Phrases like poppy, snappy, and flickable are hurled around all willy-nilly. That said, the Ripley is a poppy, snappy and flickable bike and the recent overhaul has also made it far more competent on the climbs and in steeper and rougher terrain on descents. It also comes in aluminum, and the Ripley AF shares the same playful demeanor, albeit at a slightly heavier weight.
29-inch wheels have slowly but surely taken over the trail bike market, but 27.5-inch wheels still certainly have their place. The Santa Cruz 5010 is a mid-travel trail bike that rolls on "fun-sized" wheels, and it has a distinctly playful and fun demeanor. Coming off a complete redesign in 2020, the 5010 has been brought up to speed with modern geometry trends, although Santa Cruz didn't take it to extremes. The updated geometry makes it impressively versatile and capable on the climbs and descents, yet it retains a high level of agility and spunkiness that'll have you popping off every obstacle in the trail and grinning from ear to ear.
The Yeti SB130 also has a very high fun factor. This mid-travel 29er climbs extremely well, shreds downhill, and operates with razor-sharp handling. This bicycle is fun on a huge range of trails and you'll never feel like it's overkill. A bike that is fun on any trail you put in front of it is somewhat of a rarity. Likewise, the mid-travel Revel Rascal is a blast to ride. The Rascal's moderate geometry gives it a very well-rounded performance while its unique CBF suspension design provides a damp and refined ride feel. The YT Jeffsy Core 3 is another very well-rounded and versatile ride. It may not be a total downhill crusher, but the Jeffsy's moderate geometry feels great and works well in virtually all situations. Versatility is a key ingredient in the recipe for fun.
The Polygon Siskiu T8 is an impressively versatile bike given its extremely affordable price. Here at OutdoorGearLab, we find versatility to be very fun. The Siskiu performs well above its asking price and we feel it is one of the best values for a trail bike that you can find. This rig is a reasonably efficient climber with a calm pedal platform. Once at the top of the hill, downhill performance is incredibly fun, composed, and confidence-inspiring. This bike is more fun to ride than many that cost twice as much.
Some of the longer travel and harder charging options are quite fun in their own right. The Santa Cruz Hightower, Ibis Ripmo V2, Canyon Spectral 29, and Specialized Stumpjumper EVO are a blast for those who ride aggressively on steep or rough trails. These long-legged 29ers climb nearly as well as their shorter travel siblings and really shine when the pitch steepens and the gnar factor gets turned up. They are extremely fun in that they are not limited to certain trail types, you can jump aboard one of these bikes and ride as aggressively as you want.
Ripping the descents is undoubtedly the lynchpin of a fun mountain bike experience. While all of the bikes in this review are categorized as trail bikes, some are more fun to ride downhill than others. A bike's geometry, suspension platform, and component specification are the primary factors that influence its downhill performance. This metric is worth 35% of the final score.
The Ibis Ripmo V2 is an impressive descender, especially considering how well it climbs. The Ibis has a modern geometry and instills confidence when rolling into some sketchy terrain. A 160mm fork is paired with a 2.5-inch Maxxis Assegai and creates a supremely confident front end. Rolling into a steep chute or nasty rock garden is confidence-inspiring. The Ripmo is great over small bumps and has a calm yet sporty rear end while the long-and-low geometry delivers an extremely stable ride at high speeds. Similarly, the Specialized Stumpjumper EVO is capable of tackling super aggressive terrain. This 150mm travel 29er charges hard and its FSR suspension design devours bumps, chunk, and drops as if they weren't even there. Add to that the fact that you can dramatically alter this bike's geometry with simple adjustments, and you can set it up how you like for your riding style and terrain.
The redesigned Santa Cruz Hightower is a highly capable and confidence-inspiring descender amongst mid-travel trail mountain bikes. It places riders in a confident position to work down a steep section of trail and provides excellent stability at speed. It is difficult to find the Hightower's speed limit and the VPP suspension keeps the rear end calm and feels excellent on bigger impacts. This bike is capable of tackling seriously rough and steep descents, there is no question this bike rides more aggressively than 140mm of travel suggests. Similarly, the new Canyon Spectral 29 is a downhill-oriented trail bike that really shines when speeds increase and the trails get rough and rowdy. This 150mm travel bike has a long and slack geometry that begs to be ridden fast and in aggressive terrain. The Fezzari Delano Peak also impressed us on the descents. This mid-travel ride fooled us into thinking it has more travel than it actually does, with impressive stability at speed and a geometry that doesn't flinch when the trail gets steep and rough. While testing, we found ourselves pushing our limits of speed and terrain and exceeding our expectations of what this bike was capable of.
We would be remiss to not give kudos to some of the shorter travel trail bikes for their impressive downhill performances. Modern geometry trends are taking the capability of bikes with less travel to new heights, and bikes with a little less travel may be more appropriate for a lot of riders and riding locations. The Santa Cruz Tallboy may be short on travel with just 120mm in the rear and a 130mm fork, yet this bike is capable of tackling just about anything you are. This bike is a blast to ride on all types of terrain and is only limited in more aggressive terrain by its modest travel numbers. The Ibis Ripley is another shorter travel rig that rips on the descents. It has a touch steeper head tube angle than the Tallboy with identical amounts of travel and strikingly similar geometry. This lively and quick-witted bike will have you riding most things faster than ever while seeking the fun line down the hill.
The Norco Optic C2 is a short travel bike with an aggressive geometry that is an absolute blast on the descents. The Optic is keen to party, assuming high speeds and steep, rough trails are your kind of party. This bike punches well above its short travel pay grade and will inspire the confidence to charge harder than you'd expect for a 125mm trail bike. With 27.5-inch wheels, the mid-travel Santa Cruz 5010 brings a really playful approach to the decent. This bike begs to hit the fun line down the hill, and it encourages trailside antics, riding the back wheel, and slapping corners more than its wagon-wheeled brethren.
While grinding uphill may not be as adrenaline-inducing as charging a descent, it is equally important in a trail mountain bike. Being able to comfortably ascend a long climb is critical in choosing a bike. It is no surprise the short travel bikes dominate this category. It is worth noting that some of the longer travel options provide exceptional uphill skills especially when you consider how aggressively they attack the descent. Generally speaking, the geometry of a bike is the primary element dictating rider comfort and handling, while the suspension platform plays a major role in efficiency. Climbing performance is worth 35% of the final score.
The Ibis Ripley is a fantastic option thanks to its modern geometry, light weight, and great traction. The 2.6-inch tires provide a nice wide footprint that allows for exceptional performance over loose or technical terrain. The DW-Link suspension is calm but remains active to provide excellent traction. Climbing positioning is upright with riders being positioned directly on top of the bottom bracket. While this bike doesn't offer the most outright pedaling efficiency, it is a clear favorite on technical terrain.
The Yeti SB130 is an excellent climber. It is especially impressive when you consider how capable this bike is on the downhill. The Switch Infinity suspension is active enough to deliver fantastic rear wheel traction while still offering a firm pedal platform. Pair this dialed suspension design with impressive components and a 29.5-pound weight and you have a formidable uphill weapon. The SB130 is a bike that you can climb on all day long while still being able to shred down the hill.
The Ibis Ripmo V2 is a surprisingly effective climber. Thanks to the steep seat tube angle, riders are placed in a comfortable and upright position right on top of the cranks. Seated climbing efficiency is impressive and standing climbing loads are calm with a very minimal amount of pedal bob. There is little need to use the climb switch on this 147mm bike. It rides fairly high in its travel to help keep your pedals from smashing rocks or obstacles. There's no doubt that this is one of our most confident descenders, with uphill abilities far better than you'd expect from this ripping 29er.
The Specialized Fuse Expert 29 is also a sure-footed climber. While the pure efficiency isn't outstanding for a hardtail, traction really sets it apart as does the simple nature of the rigid rear-end.
Mountain bikes are expensive toys. They require a fair bit of maintenance to keep them running in top shape. It is best to refer to component product manuals for service schedules. That said, you should expect to service your bike regularly.
Full Suspension vs. Hardtail
There is no doubt that a full suspension trail mountain bike possesses performance advantages in every ride category. The one area where hardtail bikes have an advantage is that they don't require pivot/linkage maintenance. You should clean/regrease/torque your suspension pivots multiple times a year to prolong the life of your bearings. In addition, this will keep your bike running far more quietly.
Just like keeping up with regular car services, smaller, more frequent services can save you big bucks in the long term. Here's a quick and dirty primer:
- Before Ever Ride — Check tire pressure, brake function, axle torque levels
- After Every Ride — Clean and lube chain, wipe down stanchions
- Weekly — Clean off mud and debris, check spoke tension
- Bi-Weekly — Check for and tighten any loose bolts, check headset for proper tightness, clean pivots, check fork and shock pressure
- Monthly — Check chain wear and brake pads. Replace as necessary
- Annually — Complete professional overhaul
Ease of Maintenance Ratings
Some bikes are more challenging to maintain than others. We ranked the ease of maintenance for the bikes in our test based on the following criteria:
- Suspension Pivots — How often they need to be serviced, how complicated that service is, and how expensive the bearings are.
- Fork and Shock — These are the most expensive components on your bike and also the most complicated. Suspension products should be serviced at least once a year. Manufacturers will tell you to replace wiper seals far more frequently. This all depends on trail conditions and how frequently you ride. We rate the forks and shocks based on how often the oil and seals need to be changed, how often it requires a complete rebuild, and how costly and accessible that service is.
- Dropper Post — Just like any suspension product, a dropper post needs to be serviced periodically. Certain designs require far more attention than others. Mechanical droppers are often preferred as opposed to hydraulic units which have a high number of seals that wear and require replacement. Having a dropper post means more maintenance (and fun), and most quality mountain bikes come with one.
- Brakes — Brake pads wear and the hydraulic fluid needs to be bled to have air pockets removed from the lines. This should be done annually. We score Shimano brakes a little better than SRAM. Shimano has a long service interval and uses mineral oil and a simpler bleed process. SRAM brakes require corrosive DOT 5.1 fluid and a tricker bleed process.
- Drivetrain — Chain, cassette, and chainrings all wear together. If you ride 2-3 times a week, expect to replace your chain and chainring a couple times a year and other drivetrain components annually. We don't account for drivetrain wear and tear in the rankings.
- Tires — Different rubber compounds burn at different speeds. Expect to purchase one or two sets of tires per season for your trail mountain bike. We don't consider tires in the rankings.
- Wheels — It is important to have proper spoke tension on your wheels. It is a good idea to have them trued and tensioned a couple times a year to avoid serious issues. We don't include wheels in the score either.
Our fork and shock ease of maintenance rankings reflect the manufacturer's recommended service intervals. According to owner manuals, Fox suspension items require less attention than RockShox. Local mechanics we spoke with stated they have to service Fox products more often than their intervals suggest.
There are lots of amazing bikes on the market these days and our list of favorites keeps growing every year. Currently, the Ibis Ripley and Norco Optic C2 are standouts in the short-travel category. These trail mountain bikes are ideal for the rider who doesn't feel the need to ride a longer travel bike but still wants an impressively capable ride. The Specialized Stumpjumper EVO and Ibis Ripmo V2 are outstanding longer travel options. These bikes are perfect for folks who want to ride a wide range of terrain and charge hard when given the opportunity. The Yeti SB130 is the best mid-travel bike in our test, with well-rounded performance and capabilities beyond its travel class. Those who prefer smaller wheels or who like to play their way down the trail will love the mid-travel, 27.5-inch wheeled Santa Cruz 5010. The new Specialized Fuse 29 was easily the best all-around trail riding hardtail we've tested, and those seeking a great value should be sure to check out the affordable Polygon Siskiu T8.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens