When it comes to the competitive sub-£1,000 price bracket, mountain bikers are spoiled for choice. While decent full-suspension bikes are few and far between following recent price increases – although we have found a couple of sterling examples – there's a huge selection of hardtails (bikes with front suspension only) capable of taking on everything from cross-country racing to technical trail riding.
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Best mountain bikes for under £1,000
The standard Boardman bike range is sold by Halfords in the UK (there’s also an Elite range sold by independent dealers). There’s no getting away from the fact that Halfords’ buying and selling power keeps the prices very competitive.
The Team’s drivetrain and a smattering of own-brand componentry just about gives away the fact that it’s a sub-£1,000 bike. But everything else, including a superbly finished frame, classy wheelset and excellent 120mm (4.7in) travel fork, conspires to create a machine that’s far lighter than most of its price rivals as well as being capable of a whole lot more on the trail.
B’Twin Rockrider 9.1
B’Twin bikes from French sports superstore Decathlon are always good value, despite the fact that the sterling-euro exchange rate is in the doldrums. The Rockrider 9.1 is the cheapest of their performance range full-suspension bikes.
While most budget full-suss bikes trade rear end travel for weight and singletrack wallow, the Rockrider 9.1 doesn’t. It’s light and sprightly, given its price, and it’s great fun on pedally trails. With a shock lockout lever, it’d be a five-star bike. As it is, it's a proper full-suspension bike for the price of a decent hardtail.
Trek X-Caliber 7
The name X-Caliber isn't new to Trek, but for 2014, it will refer to an entire range of entry level 29er hardtails. The frame of this new X-Caliber range has been entirely redesigned, borrowing much design inspiration from Trek’s World Cup winning Superfly line-up.
The X-Calibre is a true class act, with an amazingly well executed frame with exceptional geometry, well behaved fork and quality finishing kit. Ride the guts out of it and upgrade the derailleurs once they break or wear – the X-Calibre is a top pick.
Saracen Mantra Pro (2014)
The Mantra Pro is the second cheapest of Saracen’s Mantra line, and sits alongside the Zen and Kili ranges as part of the company’s trail hardtail line-up. At a penny under £600, is it all the hardtail you need?
VooDoo Bizango (2013)
VooDoo’s outstanding new 29er trail hardtail proves that great design and smart spec choice doesn’t have to cost a fortune if you do it right.
VooDoo bikes are normally great value, but the Bizango is pretty much faultless for its price. While most 29er hardtails under £1,000 get a 100mm (3.9in) travel quick-release fork that wanders into ditches or washes out on roots, the Bizango has a 120mm (4.7in) travel fork with a screw-through 15mm axle. An air spring and hydraulic rebound damping make it fully adjustable, and it’s surprisingly controlled over the full hit range too.
Carerra Fury (2012)
Carrera’s Fury has been the entry-level hardtail to beat in the
Is this Fury still the bike it was before? Not quite. The introduction of 10-speed gearing doesn’t compensate for the downgraded suspension fork. But it’s a measure of how good the Carrera was before that you can subtract something from it and still be left with a bike that eclipses most of its rivals. If you’re after a do-it-all entry-level hardtail, for everything from bridleways to black routes, the Fury should still be on your shortlist.
B'Twin Rockrider 700 S
Sub-£1,000 full-suspension bikes – or at least ones that are worth taking off-road – have become a rare breed. Many manufacturers choose to stay away, but B'Twin, French sports megastore Decathlon's house brand, has bucked the trend with its new-for-2014 Rockrider 700 S.
Some of the hardtail competition is more up to date in design and spec, but the Rockrider 700 S is likely to put a bigger grin on most rider’s faces without sacrificing much on the spec front. Unless you need a hardtail with rack mounts to do double duty on weekdays, it’s hard to think of a reason not to buy what has to be one of the best budget full-suspension bikes we’ve ever ridden.
Giant Talon 27.5 4
The Talon 4 was our first experience with a 650B wheeled bike at this price point, and we liked the outcome. 650B makes a lot of sense at the budget price point – it provides a lighter feeling and more playful ride compared to a 29er, while still providing greater control to 26in wheeled bikes.
Like many larger brands, Giant are heavy users of house-branded components. Luckily, the Giant branded parts are reliable, well-designed and offer great features given the price point. From the comfortable saddle to the durable wheels, it’s all good gear.
A solid frame, inspiring brakes and components up to the task, the Talon 27.5 4 is a worthy starter for hitting the dirt, just watch out for suspension fork quirks.
Calibre bikes come courtesy of outdoor retail giants Go Outdoors. They may not be renowned in the cycling world, but they could be soon, thanks to their well specced, competively priced entry level hardtails. Their range comprises two models, the most expensive of which, the Point.50, comes in at just under £600. We took it for a blast to see just what it could handle.
Our 18in size sample bike weighed in at 13.6kg, which isn’t too bad at all considering the price. The RockShox XC32 120mm (4.7in) travel coil fork is a solid performer, as are the Avid Elixir 1 brakes and SRAM X5 transmission. It’s also nice to see the use of an external bearing bottom bracket, lock-on grips and a decent saddle for this sort of money. Not everyone will be keen on the Truvativ Stylo’s shape, though.
With a reputation for no-nonsense ruggedness and a background in the always progressive and punishing riding of Canada, Kona has been building hardcore hardtails for longer than almost anyone else. The Shred might be more expensive than many of its peers, but it’s a proper trail tank.
The hefty weight of the Shred and the less direct drive from the rear is noticeable when you’re trying to get things moving and when stoking it back up to speed after slow-speed corners or sudden steep climbs, meaning it’s definitely sturdy rather than sparky in feel. You’ll be less beaten up and knackered after long rides though, making the Kona a properly versatile all-rounder.
Rose Count Solo Entry
With the bike industry's rush to reinvent the wheel – or at least the size that works best for mountain biking – bikes like Rose's Count Solo Entry are an increasingly rare sight.
With a 10-speed transmission, remote lock-out fork and wearing the same 26in wheels that have powered mountain bikes for over two decades, the question is this: is there still a place for a hardtail with 'old' sized wheels?
This is a timely reminder that, for all the rush to big wheels, 26in can be at least as fast – and arguably even more fun.