Best Trail Mountain Bikes of 2020
Best Overall Trail Bike
Ibis Ripmo V2 XT 2020
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 slacked 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 big 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 2020
Best Mid-Travel Trail Bike
Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 2019
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 2019
Best Aggressive Trail Bike
Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
For 2020, the Santa Cruz Hightower has been completely redesigned. The updated version has a very modern long and slack geometry, flip-chip adjustability, and a low-mount VPP suspension design. The result of these changes is a very hard-charging 29er trail bike that is super stable at speed and is capable of getting as rowdy as you want. With 140mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork, the Hightower falls at the upper end of the mid-travel category, though it rides and feels like it has more travel than it does. Thanks to the supportive VPP platform, steep seat tube angle, and a roomy cockpit, the Hightower is an efficient and comfortable climber as well. While the Hightower has undoubtedly become more capable when things get gnarly, its maneuverability at low speeds and in tighter technical terrain suffers a bit due mostly to the long wheelbase and slacker front end. That said, we still feel this burly downhill crusher is deserving of our Best Aggressive Trail Bike Award. The high-end model we tested is quite expensive, but this bike is offered in a number of builds and prices to meet a range of budgets.
Read Review: Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
Best Short Travel Trail Bike
Ibis Ripley GX Eagle 2019
The Ibis Ripley has undergone a complete overhaul for the 2019-2020 model year. Other than keeping the same travel as the previous version, 120mm in the rear and 130mm in the front, the new Ripley is 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 have been extended significantly, the head tube slackened, and the seat tube steepened to bring the Ripley's geometry up to date. The result is a much more 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 new and improved Ripley.
Read Review: Ibis Ripley GX 2019
Great Value Short-Travel Trail Bike
Giant Trance 29 2 2019
Giant's Trance 29 2 is an affordable short travel trail bike that is practical for a broad range of riders and terrain. This bike is playful and agile and boasts a high fun-factor. It feels efficient with excellent climbing abilities despite its 31-pound weight and is plenty capable for any length of ride. Downhill performance is composed and impressive, especially considering its short 115mm of rear-wheel travel. Handling is quick and precise and it excels in technical terrain and rips corners with the best of them. This is a great bike for the rider who appreciates solid climbing abilities, wants a moderately aggressive geometry, and prefers the liveliness of a shorter travel bike. Our test model is also an impressive value with a rip-able build, although there are several other builds available for anyone looking to go a little lower or higher-end.
Read Review: Giant Trance 29 2 2019
Another Excellent Short Travel Trail Bike
Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon C S
The Santa Cruz Tallboy recently underwent a complete redesign turning this short-travel 29er into a super capable and versatile trail shredder. The new Tallboy bears little resemblance to the previous version and it sports a modern progressive geometry, 130/120mm of front/rear-wheel travel, the low-link VPP suspension layout, and flip-chip adjustable geometry. The long-ish wheelbase and generous reach combine with the slack head tube angle to create a super stable and planted feel at speed and unflinching confidence in steep and rough terrain. The VPP suspension design isn't our favorite over high-frequency chop, but it is stellar on mid-sized and big hits giving it a "more travel than it actually has" feel. The modern geometry also translates into a comfortable climbing position and the VPP platform is plenty supportive for efficient uphill performance. Our biggest gripes with the Tallboy are that it's a bit heavy for a carbon bike at this price point, and it didn't strike us as especially playful. That said, if you're looking for a composed and capable short travel trail bike, the Tallboy is worth serious consideration.
Best User-Friendly All-Around Trail Bike
Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 29 2019
The Specialized Stumpjumper is a 140mm travel 29er that is fun for everyone. There are some high-end bikes that require a very aggressive rider to come alive. The Stumpjumper is a more user-friendly option and is a great choice that riders of all skill levels can appreciate. Its downhill performance is confident, reliable, and predictable while climbing is efficient and comfortable. Handling is reasonably sharp and this bike reacts with minimal rider input. This well-rounded bike has no fatal flaw and makes sense for a tremendous amount of riders due to its huge bandwidth. Pricing is competitive with affordable aluminum builds and high-end carbon models offered.
Read Review: Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 29
Best Trail Bike Under $2500
YT Jeffsy Base 29 2020
The new Jeffsy Base 29 returns to the top step of the podium in our Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500 review. YT updated the Jeffsy for 2020, adding 10mm of travel and giving it the standard long and slack treatment. In doing so, they took our favorite bike in this price range and made it even better. It maintains its versatility and well-rounded performance, but now it feels far more composed and confidence-inspiring on the descents. This bike absolutely rips and easily outperforms some models that cost twice as much. Thanks to YT's consumer-direct sales model, the Jeffsy Base boasts a build kit to price ratio that most other brands can't compete with. Our biggest concern with the Jeffsy is the fact that it's moderately heavy, weighing just over 33lbs, but for the price, it's hard to complain too much. Testers also would've enjoyed a compression damping switch on the rear shock for longer climbs. Beyond those minor gripes, our testers had a blast riding the Jeffsy Base. This is the best bike that retails for less than $2,500 that we've ever ridden. It is also available with either 29-inch (tested) or 27.5-inch wheels.
Read Review: YT Jeffsy Base 29 2020
Best Hardtail Trail Bike
Specialized Fuse Expert 29 2020
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 2020
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 120mm travel 29er is a blast. The 2019/2020 redesign has 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. Versatile short-travel bikes are fun.
The Giant Trance 29 2 is another playful trail bike that will have you seeking the fun line at every opportunity. Riding the Trance 29 is a hootin' and hollerin' good time. This is another short-travel 29er that has the ability to alter the opinion of the 29er naysayers whose criticisms get quieter every year. Fine-tuned geometry encourages playfulness on the trail in the form of boosts and manuals. While the Trance doesn't possess the pure playful manners and supreme cornering abilities of the Ripley, it's an incredibly capable descender. This bike can and will comfortably tackle more aggressive trails that may seem to be above its short-travel pay grade. A bonus for those of us who don't live for the climb, the Trance climbs comfortably and painlessly.
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.
The YT Jeffsy Base 29 is an impressively versatile bike given its extremely affordable price. Here at OutdoorGearLab, we find versatility to be very fun. The Jeffsy performs well above its asking price and we feel it is one of the best values for a trail bike that you find. This rig is an 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 way. The Santa Cruz Hightower and Ibis Ripmo V2 are a blast for those who ride aggressively on steep or rough trails. No, these longer-legged 29ers can't match the climbing abilities of some of the short-travel options, but they 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 pretty much anything.
The Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon is another well-rounded bike. Riders who don't typically encounter truly gnarly terrain will have a blast on this 29er. It climbs well enough to be great all-day bike, and on the descent, it can tackle just about anything. The Stumpjumper is a particularly interesting option for newer riders. Anyone can hop on this bike and start having fun, from seasoned riders to those just starting out in the sport. That is a very high compliment in our books. Specialized also makes it in both men's and women's versions, and both are among our favorite trail bikes.
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. The long-and-low geometry delivers an extremely stable ride at high speeds.
The redesigned Santa Cruz Hightower is an extremely 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 more difficult to find the Hightower's speed limit compared to the Specialized Stumpjumper. The 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.
The Santa Cruz Bronson slides nicely into that not-quite-enduro and not-quite-trail category. This 27.5-inch bike possesses similar downhill manners to the Kona Process 153 CR 27.5 but requires a more aggressive rider to tap into its full potential. The Bronson is also a bit harder to rattle on black-diamond terrain.
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 Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2 is a blast on the descents with an aggressive geometry and quality component spec that is keen to party downhill. The mid-travel Cannondale Habit Carbon 3 took us by surprise with its downhill prowess. This bike has 130mm of rear travel, a 140mm fork, and a relatively modern geometry that begs to ride downhill fast and can handle chunky and steep better than most. This bike is more capable than any of our testers expected and truly impressed us on the descents.
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 and remains fairly active. 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 Pivot Trail 429 has an extremely energetic climbing feel and efficient approach. This short-travel trail mountain bike leans towards the cross-country side of the riding spectrum. Sitting and spinning uphill is comfortable and efficient. Riders sit directly over the crankset allowing for maximum power transfer. The DW-Link suspension platform is calm with almost no pedal bob whether standing or seated. Every pedal stroke is productive and is effectively transmitted to the wheels. The Trail 429 is more of an efficient climber than the Giant Trance 29, but it is less comfortable charging through the rocks on the uphills and downhills. Cayon's Neuron CF 8.0 also impressed us on the climbs with a feathery light feel and impressive efficiency.
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 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 — The dropper post is a relatively new component. Just like any suspension product, it 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). These bikes scored a little lower.
- 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 a chain 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 manufacturers 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 Santa Cruz Tallboy 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 Santa Cruz Hightower 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 a well-rounded performance and capabilities beyond its travel class. Specialized continues to deliver crowd-pleasing bikes and the Stumpjumper impressed both our men and women testers with solid all-around performance and easy-going demeanor. The new Specialized Fuse 29 was easily the best trail riding hardtail we've tested, and those seeking the best value should be sure to check out the YT Jeffsy Base 29.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens