Picking the best mountain bikes in a given year is difficult — kind of like having to choose the best drill or the best hammer. Luckily, there are quite a few manufacturers out there producing quality mountain bikes. As with many personal purchase deliberations, the same kinds of questions come up when you’re shopping for a mountain bike. Where will you be using it? What’s your budget? How often will you be using it? Maybe you want to splurge a little bit and get an electric-assist bike, or you may want to try out a fat tire bike? Check out our beginner’s guide to mountain biking, which gives an overview of the sport and provides a brief rundown of the types of bikes to consider. After you’ve explored the options a bit and decided what type of riding you’re most likely to do, it’s time to really start the bike buying process. We’re here to help. Here are some of our favorite mountain bike picks for 2021:
Best Beginner’s: Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1
The DRT 1.1 is a great entry point into the world of mountain biking. 27.5″ wheels and an SR Suntour suspension fork with 100mm of travel give it the ability to roll over obstacles easily and provide you with some comfort. The basic Shimano groupset is efficient and durable. Tektro hydraulic disc brakes give adequate stopping power. The aluminum frame provides riders with a nice combination of suppleness and rigidity. For the price, it’d be hard to find a bike that’s better suited for brand-new riders.
Best Budget Hardtail: Cannondale Trail SE 3
Cannondale’s Trail SE makes it easier to get into mountain biking without breaking the bank. A RockShox Judy fork, 29″ wheels, and WTB tires will keep you moving smoothly down the trail. The Shimano 1×11 drivetrain gives you the gear range you need for undulating terrain. The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes will help you moderate your speed nicely. Cannondale has been in the mountain bike game pretty much for as long as there have been mountain bikes, so you know that the Trail SE will both fit and perform well.
Best Hardtail: Mondraker Chrono Carbon
Have a few years of mountain biking experience under your belt and want to get more into XC racing? The Mondraker CHRONO Carbon might be great for your podium aspirations. Featuring race-spec 2-piston SRAM Level hydraulic brakes and a SRAM NX Eagle groupset, the CHRONO is ready to help you surmount any singletrack obstacle. The carbon frame ensures that your power is efficiently transferred to the rear wheel.
Best Budget Full-Suspension: Polygon Siskiu D6
We get it. Modern mountain bikes can tend to be pretty spendy. However, what if you’re just buying one for occasional use and don’t need all the bells and whistles? The Polygon Siskiu D6 would be a good option. It’s got a basic, but functional set of components, including a Shimano Deore drivetrain, SR Suntour fork, X-Fusion shock, and Shimano hydraulic brakes. With an aluminum frame and 120mm of suspension travel, it’ll provide a comfortable ride on mild to medium terrain.
Best Trail Bike: Niner RKT RDO
Trail bikes are a bit of a Goldilocks item — just the right combination of suspension travel, gear range, and geometry to handle about any type of mountain biking. The Niner RKT RDO is a poster child for trail bikes. With 120mm of front and 90mm of rear suspension travel, it can handle rougher terrain if you need it to, though it’s happiest on XC-oriented trails. A carbon fiber frame and tighter geometry make it maneuverable and fast, perfect for high-speed cross-country sprints. A full SRAM SX Eagle groupset and SRAM brakes round out this package.
Read more: Best Mountain Bike Destinations
Best Trail/Enduro Bike: Evil Bikes The Calling
Offering 131mm of rear suspension travel and 141mm at the front, the Calling does everything a trail bike should do, but it also allows you to start taking on bigger jumps and drops. A full complement of Rockshox suspension components and a SRAM GX Eagle groupset gives this bike durable high performance. The Crank Bros dropper seat post adds to downhill versatility. If you’re getting a bit bored with flat ground riding and want to start getting into the gnarlier stuff, this is your noble steed.
Best Enduro/All-Mountain Bike: Yeti SB140
140mm of rear suspension and 160mm of front suspension give the SB140 the ability to handle almost any terrain. It’s more specialized for downhill performance vs. uphill efficiency, but then again, riding fast downhill is a lot more fun than riding slowly uphill, anyway. SRAM G2 R 4-piston hydraulic brakes give fantastic stopping power, and a massive 52t “granny gear” on the rear chainring gives you a super wide range to maximize pedaling efficiency. The 27.5″ wheels strike a great balance between low rolling resistance and high responsiveness.
Best Downhill Bike: Santa Cruz V10
We bet you never thought you’d utter the phrase “I’d like to go downhill, fast” in reference to anything, did you? Santa Cruz must’ve heard you loud and clear though because the V10 is meant to do exactly that. Suspension travel of over 200mm in the front and 215mm in the rear give this bike the huckability of a dirtbike, but without the motor. Massive 4-piston disc brakes help you bring this beast to a stop if you ever decided to do so. For zooming downhill, through the woods, over rocks, off of cliffs, and much more — the V10 should be high on your list.
Best for Kids: Strider 14x Sport Balance Bike
All right, so, the 14x Sport balance bike from Strider isn’t a true mountain bike, per se. However, you weren’t planning on taking your kids on gnarly trails yet either, right? Help them build the balance and handling skills they’ll need to excel at mountain biking when they’re a little older. The 14x has an adjustable seat and adjustable handlebars to accommodate kids as they grow. Additionally, you can buy a pedal kit (sold separately) to convert this into a true bike.
Best E-MTB: Marin Nail Trail E2
The Nail Trail E2 from Marin is a front-suspension mountain bike with a twist — a 500wh battery and electric motor to help extend your range and lessen your pedaling effort. 140mm of travel in the fork helps soak up bumps on the trail. A combination of quality Shimano and SRAM components helps get the power to the ground — whether from your legs or from the motor. 27.5″ wheels and tubeless tires give you great grip in all offroad conditions.
Best for Dirt Jumps: Haro Thread One
Sometimes, all you want to do is spend a day at your local pump track or dirt jump park. You don’t need lots of gears or big, plushy suspension setups. You need something simple, lightweight, nimble, and durable. You need the Haro Thread One. It’s got a 100mm-travel Manitou Circus fork, a Tektro hydraulic disc brake, and a single-speed drivetrain — all perfect for getting airborne at a nice price point.
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