Mountain bikes have come a long way. The best mountain bikes are such marvels of modern engineering that they are in a class all their own. The days of the simple frame on two wheels for a couple of hundred bucks are over if you're truly into the sport. Whether you're hitting trails or riding long distances over the road, your bike is all you have in that moment. Making sure it's the right equipment is of the utmost importance.
Mountain biking has boomed over the last few years, and due to its prevalence, manufacturers have developed an increased number of specialized designs to appeal to the broad market. There are more options for lovers of the two-wheeled locomotive now than ever. And however obscure your particular niche is, there is now a mountain bike dedicated to it.
How to Choose the Best Mountain Bike
Choosing a new bike is an investment, and just like buying a new car or house, you have to consider its form and function. From cornering ability to basic stand over specifications, you need to consider many important details. While some people might prefer a more advanced suspension system, a new mountain biker might only need a solid budget option for a weekend outing. That said, here are a few things to check when shopping for the best mountain bikes.
Riding style and terrain
When looking to get a new mountain bike, your first consideration needs to be how and where you will ride your bike. Are you looking for something specialized for a particular trail or a versatile bike that can handle a variety of terrains? Most riders are comfortable getting a trail bike. Trail bikes are known to run a wide gamut, from stiff frames without suspension to advanced full suspension options.
The rear suspension of a mountain bike tends to increase the weight and price of a bike, but for hardcore riders, this is an important consideration. Long distance riders have the hardest choice; they need low weight bikes with an innovative suspension. Budget-conscious riders, on the other hand, want affordable hardtails. These kinds of bikes tend to have a relaxed geometry that makes it easy to navigate and turn in most situations.
Suspension and shocks
Discussing the different types of suspension is worth a full article in itself, complete with marketing buzz and jargon, but we won't be getting into that today. The best mountain bikes use a variety of suspension types. However, most buyers will be debating between bikes with a full suspension and hardtails, which typically have front suspension. Most bikes nowadays have a suspension lockout feature that lets the rider selectively disable the suspension while they are riding. This feature is more useful for individuals who might ride on pavements or on challenging ascents where the suspension is prone to absorb energy.
For a long time, the wheel of a mountain bike hasn’t been a choice. Mountain bikes had 26-inch wheels which are standard and not born out of habit. However, engineering and innovation have expanded the range to include 27.5 and 29-inch wheels. These innovations have brought higher speeds and better rolling, although at the cost of agility and durability.
Despite being the middle size, the 27.5-inch wheel has become the de facto standard. Smaller wheels are more durable and even handle better, and many gravity riders prefer 26-inch wheels for those reasons. Riders who are looking for peak speeds are opting for 29-inch wheels that sacrifice durability and handling for the benefit of speed.
Some mountain bikes are designed to handle different sizes, making them a good choice in case you are having a hard time committing to one wheel size. However, riders who are looking to enjoy a mix of downhill and cyclocross riding might want a single bike that can perform both tasks.
Disc brakes come standard for mountain biking. However, there is a lot of variety within this category. Mechanical disc brakes are the most affordable option, but it won’t perform as well as the more expensive fluid or hydraulic operated brakes. Brakes are vital when choosing the best mountain bikes, but they shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Buy Online or from an Independent Dealer
It entirely depends on the buyer’s preference. However, unlike buying a bike online, when buying from an independent mountain bike dealer you have the comfort of trying to negotiate for a lower price. You could also haggle for bonus sweeteners like basic upgrades and accessories.
Dealing with an independent dealer or bike retailer gives you the opportunity to see the bike in person and even take it for a test ride. While any bike could easily appeal to you online, it's better to be sure the bike meets your height and reach requirements before making the purchase.
10 of the Best Mountain Bikes
Mountain bikes are not your ordinary bikes. They are for adventure, off-road, fun, and competition. Their knobby, wide tires characterize them for increased traction on variable terrain. There is also a great variation between models, which makes it even harder to make a choice. We have compiled a list of this year's 10 best mountain bikes to help you make a well-informed decision.
Santa Cruz Hightower Carbon 29 R Complete
The Santa Cruz Hightower is an all-season bike with enough zest to make any novice rider feel the need to get out and hit the dirt road. This mountain bike is impressive on rugged terrain but more suitable for the more experienced and aggressive riders. The Santa Cruz Hightower is best for individuals who are looking for speed, great handling, and a calm climb. This bike takes on burly terrain with ease and still travels comfortably on easier terrain.
The Santa Cruz Hightower Carbon 29 R Complete has a rating of 4 out of 5 stars based on consumer reviews on Backcountry.
Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie
This is a no-nonsense bike with everything a new rider needs to start riding. It has wide 27.5-inch tires that make up for the lack of the rear suspension, tackling obstacles with ease. Its SRAM 11-speed NX drive train is everything a rider needs in this bike caliber, complimented by its extremely light aluminum frame. It also has a relaxed geometry, which means equal parts efficiency and speeds on climbs and descends.
The Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie has a rating of 4 out of 5 stars based on customer reviews on Specialized.
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6 Fattie
This is one of the best mountain bikes on the market for power assistance. It is most suitable for those who love their mountain bikes like they love their Ferraris. This bike is part old school and part full suspension. What’s best is that it has in-built motorized assistance capabilities. The turbo Levoe FSR line of bikes all include a motor that packs up to 530 watts of power. Its Turbo Levo system uses a smart back-end algorithm that senses the rider’s torque, cadence, and speed then amplifies it for maximum efficiency.
The Turbo Levo FSR 6 has a 4 out of 5 stars rating on Specialized due to consumer reviews.
Kona Process 153 Al/DL
The Kona Process 153 Al/DL is one of the best mountain bikes with a full suspension. This mountain bike offers state of the art patented Beamer Independent Suspension, which is currently one of the best and most advanced suspension systems in the bike market. This mountain bike is best for riders who are looking to upgrade their full suspension models for high-end cornering.
This bike is also part of Kona’s new process G2 line that uses Beamer Independent Suspension. It has an actuated shock along the top tube that uses a single-pivot design for superior durability and absorption. This bike is available in either 27.5 or 29-inch wheels.
The Kona Process 153 Al/DL has a 3.9 out 5 stars rating based on customer reviews on Jenson USA.
Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29
The Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29 is perhaps the most affordable budget mountain bike on the market. It is one of the best mountain bikes to buy for someone looking for more than a basic bike without breaking the bank. The Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29 is best suited for a beginner or a casual mountain biker. This bike has a traditional minimalist hardtail design without being wholly utilitarian. It is firm and steady on climbs just like any other hardtail design.
While its full suspension package keeps you grounded, its bonus mechanical elements increase the price and prosperity for extra wear and part replacement. Therefore, other than constantly upgrading components, the Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29 gives you years of performance.
The Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29's has a 4 out of 5 stars rating based on consumer reviews on Specialized.
Diamondback 2018 Release 5C Carbon
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This bike has a reputation as one of the best mountain bikes for one reason. It features a blend of agility and precise, swift climbing that is backed by its comfy suspension and shock absorption system. It is suitable for hardcore chargers who are looking for fast, efficient climbs combined with unruly and wild descents.
The Diamondback 5C Carbon is the high-end carbon version of its popular aluminum series that was meant to bridge the gap between downhill and uphill performance. The Diamond 5C Carbon is a full suspension bike that has a patent-pending design. It features a short tail, and long front merged with a low bottom bracket.
The Diamondback 5C Carbon has a 3.9 out of 5 stars rating based on Amazon customer reviews.
Evil the Following MB
The Evil the Following MB is tight and close to the ground and built for better descending. It also has wide bars and a short stem that offers great handling. This new bike has additional room for a linked shock (Rockshox Super Deluxe RCT DebonAir). The trimmed carbon at the bike’s rear triangle allows its suspension to deliver an open, supported feel in this lighter and more rigid bike.
The Evil the Following MB has a shortish-travel rear end 130-millimeter pike fork, which suggests a middle off-road trail bike. It shreds like a baby downhill and weighs just 29 pounds. It is definitely one of the best mountain bikes for downhill riding.
The Evil the Following MB has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating based on consumers reviews on Competitive Cyclist.
The Strega is one of the best mountain bikes for women. Every woman who had the chance to test it loved it. This carbon 27.5-inch wheel bike is a slack, burly, enduro ride that was manufactured to handle a sketchy, high-speed descent and monster drops. The Juliana Strega has a narrow bar and a wider saddle. The most important thing about this bike is that it aims to give women a more comfortable and natural-feeling ride, and it's not just marketing buzz.
While some female reviewers felt it was a bit sluggish on climbs, both the girls and the guys were panting to keep up. The Juliana Strega has a 4.1 out of 5 stars rating on Juliana Bicycles.
Scott Genius 900 Tuned
The Scott Genius 900 Tuned has 2.6-inch tires and bridges the gap between standard and size bikes. This bike provides stability and trail taming traction of oversized rubber but in a shockingly light, 26.9 pounds mountain bike package.
This new version is a complete overhaul that has a single pivot design that gives way to a four-bar linkage for a much more forgiving and pliable feel. Its big hoops combined with 150-millimeters of travel is ideal for a machine with zero limitation to the rocks and steeps around Tucson, Arizona.
The Scott Genius 900 Tuned has a 4.1 out 5 stars rating on Bike sale.
Specialized S-Work Epic
The Specialized S-Work Epic is one of the best mountain bikes for cross-country racers. With the breed of cross-country racers heading for obsolescence, Specialized has created the S-Work Epic with relevant features like a winder head angle and a tighter rear end.
With the new location of the rear hub (that turns the suspension on and off), it feels much quicker than its previous versions. Its refurbished wheels (Roval Control SL) are stiffer and lighter than most road hoops. It is extremely light weighing 21.4 pounds, making climbing and peddling to feel like a revelation.
The Specialized S-Work Epic has a 4 out of 5 stars rating based on consumer reviews on Specialized.
What are the Best Mountain Bikes in 2019?
At this level, there is nothing easy about your decision. This list of the best mountain bikes isn't for the typical hobbyist rider. These are serious pieces of equipment meant to last years and deliver performance unmatched by anything you can buy at a box store. Do you have a mountain bike like one on our list? Do you have a suggestion for a bike we should add to our next review? Let us know in the comments!