These are the best downhill mountain bikes in 2021, as rated by our expert testers over several months on a variety of terrain; from the well-worn runs of BikePark Wales to some hidden, steeper and fresher tracks away from the crowds.
- The most anticipated enduro bikes of 2020
- Best mountain bike pedals — 16 of our favourites tried and tested
With some brands’ ‘halo’ downhill bikes now topping out at £10,000, we’d wager that most riders with a hankering for some gravity-fuelled action are more likely to buy an enduro rig, which they can pedal to the top of descents instead of always having to rely on uplift services.
But, if you’re committed to spending your weekends in the back of a smelly uplift van in the quest for pure gravity-fed action, dedicated DH bikes are still within grasp for those with less cash or a more divided-up budget. And the bottom line is that nothing quite beats the speed and outright wildness a DH bike provides, despite it being possible to ride an enduro bike on the same terrain.
The best downhill mountain bikes in 2021, in score order
- Canyon Sender CF 7.0: £2,999 / $N/A / AU$4,799 / €3,299 / ROW$3,349
- Nukeproof Dissent 290 Comp: £3,499 / $3,499 / AU$4,999.99 / €3,499.99
- Saracen Myst AL: £2,599.99 / $N/A / AU$N/A / €2,910
- Scott Gambler 900 Tuned: £7,199 / $N/A / AU$N/A / €7,999
- Vitus Dominer: £2,499.99 / $2,999.99 / AU$4,149.99 / €2,799.99
Canyon Sender CF 7.0
- £2,999 / AU$4,799 / €3,299 / ROW$3,349
- Full carbon-fibre frame
- Air-sprung RockShox Boxxer and Vivid R2C shock
- SRAM GX DH 7-speed drivetrain
As one of the few carbon-framed and air-sprung bikes at this price range, the Sender is fantastic value. With downhill-specific kit such as a SRAM GX DH 7-speed groupset, Code R brakes and BoXXer RC fork with Charger damper, it’s snapping at the heels of the top-spec model ridden by Troy Brosnan.
The figures look good, including a slightly longer wheelbase (1,273mm, large) than the Vitus and Saracen, also in this list. Where’s the compromise? Well, it’s direct-buy, so you’ll have to set it up.
The Sender’s overriding characteristic is the uncanny way it calms the roughest and gnarliest tracks, saving the rider energy making speed easily won.
Nukeproof Dissent 290 Comp
- £3,499 / $3,499 / AU$4,999.99 / €3,499.99
- 29in wheels with Maxxis Assegai tyres
- RockShox Boxxer with Charger damper
- SRAM GX DH 7-speed drivetrain
Nukeproof returns to DH bikes with the Dissent. In silhouette it looks like its old Pulse, but the similarities end there.
On the bottom-spec Comp model you get a RockShox BoXXer fork with Charger damper and a Super Deluxe shock, Maxxis Assegai tyres, SRAM Guide RE brakes and a GX DH drivetrain.
The geometry is bang-on, and it has a particularly long wheelbase (1,284mm, large). It’s available with 29in or 650b wheels, but we tested the wagon-wheeler. The Dissent in 29er form is a proper monster truck of bike that consumes bumps with elegance and should suit the budding DH racer to a tee.
Saracen Myst AL
- £2,599.99 / €2,910
- X-Fusion coil-sprung front and rear suspension
- Geometry and design cues from World Cup winning sibling
- Shop-floor aftersales support
Based on the bike raced to World Cup success by Danny Hart and Matt Walker, the Myst AL comes kitted out with Shimano Zee gearing and Maxxis High Roller II Super Tacky DH-casing tyres.
The X-Fusion fork and shock are less obvious picks, but our test bike came with a Fox Van coil shock at the rear, although Saracen assured us that it should perform identically to the X-Fusion it should have had.
Geometry is racer-influenced and very similar to that of the Vitus Dominer. While the frame is aluminium, it uses the same carbon rocker plate as the top-end models. We found the Myst to be a great value bike that’s performance comes from its World Cup winning bloodline.
Scott Gambler 900 Tuned
- £7,199 / €7,999
- Carbon frame construction
- Fox Factory suspension
- SRAM X01 DH 7-speed drivetrain
- Hixon iC DH bar and stem and custom chain device
With an impressive host of top-spec parts, including SRAM’s X01 DH drivetrain, Fox Factory suspension both front and rear and the bonkers all in one carbon fibre Hixon iC DH bar and stem, it comes as no surprise the 29in wheeled 900 Tuned Gambler is its range-topping halo model.
With a Horst-line rear suspension system that drives a coil-sprung shock, the kinematic is user adjustable. Thanks to a carbon frame construction, Scott claims it’s managed to tune the bike to have a uniquely supple and stiff — in all the right places — ride characteristic. We’d be inclined to agree.
For the price, we’re pleased to say the Gambler’s a seriously capable machines. It does require some careful setting up, but there’s no doubt this is a bike with a penchant for speed.
- £2,499.99 / $2,999.99 / AU$4,149.99 / €2,799.99
- RockShox Boxxer with Charger damper
- Shimano Zee drivetrain
- Maxxis Minion DHF tyres
The Dominer represents exceptional value for money, even from a brand known to offer impressive specs for less. With a Shimano Zee drivetrain, Nukeproof finishing kit and a RockShox BoXXer fork (with Charger damper) and Super Deluxe shock, it’s strange we don’t see more Dominers.
A slack 63-degree head angle and decent reach and wheelbase (460mm /1,264mm on the large, measured) make this bike race-ready out of the box. Overall, the Dominer’s fantastic geometry and great components make it a superb choice for privateer racers.
Finding the right downhill bike for you
When looking for a downhill bike, a good starting point is to ask the question ‘what do I want from a DH bike?’ Is it top-performing suspension? Or do you want high-end components or even more sophisticated frame technologies such as carbon fibre constructions or hydroformed tubes?
Choosing a DH bike that concentrates your cash into one area over another, especially if you’re on a budget, will always create compromises though.
How do you prioritise performance, then? It’s quite a balancing act and requires a bit of careful consideration. You need to be able to rank, in order, the parts of the bike you think are the most important.
Is it the frame’s construction? Its geometry? The way the suspension works? The bike’s components or its fork and shock dampers? The wheels and tyres or something else such as its looks? Prioritising any one element should help guide your purchase.
Setting a budget
In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of the fancy tech that makes top downhill bikes so expensive trickle down to their more affordable siblings, so you can get quite a lot of bike for your buck nowadays.
Most DH rigs now have adjustable geometry, metric trunnion shocks and downhill-specific parts. Even if you’re considering a model that’s much cheaper than the brands’ range-topper, its suspension may not be as sophisticated and the parts may feel clunkier, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun on the hill.
It is possible to pick up a bottom spec DH bike for around £2,000 / $2,000 / €2,000, although some can be found cheaper in sales and at the end of their model year. Equally, the second-hand market is truly vibrant, so you can still get your kicks on a shoestring.
Top-end bikes — that can reach lofty purchase prices of around £10,000 / $10,000 / €10,000 — will be dripping in top DH-specific kit and have cutting-edge technology such as the latest suspension designs and dampers.
Direct to consumer
Generally speaking, direct to consumer brands — such as YT Industries, Canyon, Cube and others — offer the most top-end parts and frame technologies for the least amount of coin.
On the flip side, because you’re buying a bike from the internet, there’s no bike shop to help out when things go wrong and you could be left bikeless for longer than you’d like. So you’ll need to decide how important that initial purchase price is compared to after-sales support.
A carbon fibre frame will generally cost more than an alloy one. For that extra money, it will normally be lighter and should have a more tuned construction compared to an alloy counterpart.
Carbon is an easier material to work with to generate different characteristics over an alloy bike.
Spending more money won’t necessarily get you better geometry, so study the geo charts carefully when you’re looking to buy.
A bike with great geometry at a reasonable price is a good place to start, meaning you can upgrade the parts over time to improve the way it rides. For more information, check out our guide on all things bike geometry and handling.
The way the suspension works is really important, but don’t get too bogged down on whether it’s a single pivot, Horst-link, four-bar or virtual pivot point style suspension.
Each one of those suspension designs can be tuned in a certain way so study up on what you think you’d like from the bike’s suspension by reading our ultimate suspension guide.
Because they’re a high-value upgrade, getting the right suspension dampers fitted to your bike’s fork and shock from the factory is important. Carefully read the bike’s specs, making sure that its suspension is damped correctly. It would be worth considering sacrificing some of the bike’s spec — such as elements of the drivetrain or the wheels — to get better dampers.
Components and spec
Although these make up a large portion of the bike, they don’t necessarily change its fundamental ride characteristics. Given the choice between outstanding suspension and geometry or a platter of top-spec parts, we think it would be wise to go for the better sus and geo.
The bike’s parts can be upgraded over time as they break or your budget permits. That said, if this is a finite spend, one-off purchase, then carefully consider what tyres, brakes and gears are bolted to the bike. Poor performance in these areas is the most detrimental to overall ride feel, especially if the frame’s geometry and suspension is sorted.