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The humble hardtail seems to be going through a mini-revival, with a raft of cross-country, downcountry, trail and potentially even radder rigid frames being introduced for 2021.
The advantages are clear. Where uphill speed matters, the direct connection from crank to axle, without some energy-inefficient suspension spoiling the fun, is the quickest way to get up to speed.
Riding rough-and-ready trails on a hardtail might beat you up a little more, but there’s something almost zen-like about being able to pick the smoothest line between the chunder, while pumping through rollers to generate free speed.
Hardtails might also be lighter, easier to maintain and cheaper too, because there are simply fewer moving parts that add weight, a requirement to service, and need building in the first place.
So, we decided to pick out five notable bikes with a rigid rear-end that we’ve seen recently, ready for all of your 2021 mountain bike adventures. We’ve everything from World Cup racers to alloy sleds to make descents as hair-raising as possible.
Harking back to the good old days, when a disc wheel, drop bars and dodgy Lycra was all you needed to become one of the most famous riders in history (we’re talking about John Tomac, of course), the 35th anniversary Yeti ARC is notable for a couple of reasons.
First is the actual anniversary edition itself, a comprehensive throwback to Yeti’s vintage years of racing, with the aforementioned Tomac, along with Juli Furtado and Missy Giove, shredding up race courses around the world to countless victories.
Yeti’s signature turquoise and yellow paintjob is sure to standout from the crowd, should you be one of the lucky 100 people who’ve managed to buy the £8,999 limited edition, anniversary model.
Next is the frame. The ARC has progressed from its XC roots and is now firmly a trail hardtail. The carbon triangles are built around 130mm forks and bump-deleting 29 x 2.6in rubber on broad 30mm rims.
The geometry is contemporary, with a 67-degree head angle, 76-degree seat angle, a low-slung bottom bracket, mid-length 433mm chainstays and reaches from 420 to 490mm across the four sizes.
The six bike range starts at £3,799 for a bike featuring a Performance level Fox 34 and Shimano SLX gearing, and goes up to that whopping £8,999 for the all-singing, all-dancing anniversary model, with Factory level suspension and wireless shifting from SRAM.
Our only issue? For some reason the iconic curved profile of the seat and chainstay junction seems to have been lost, in place of a far more conventional rear triangle. Oh well!
2. Mondraker Podium Carbon
Mondraker’s Podium Carbon is very light with a medium frame weighing a claimed 775g.
The Mondraker Podium Carbon is notable for one very good reason, it’s really, really light.
Will 15g be the difference between top-spot and second, perhaps not, but we think there’ll be plenty of riders out there willing to stop at nothing to make sure they’ve got the lightest bike going, and why not?
Mondraker has managed this light weight despite the frame sill featuring its signature Forward Geometry. This design means the bike’s front end is relatively long compared to the competition – so there’s got to be some extra material making that top tube so long!
Even if those 15g make barely a scratch when pointing the bike up a hill, we still think companies pushing the boundaries of materials and frame construction is a very good thing because that knowledge will eventually make its way to the bikes you and I ride day in, day out.
3. BMC Twostroke
BMC’s Twostroke is a good looking bike for the trails.
When Swiss brand BMC announced a new XC hardtail for 2021 we figured it’d be a super high-end, super-sharp weapon of a race bike, so were surprised when we realised that, while still packed full of flat-out features, it looks like it’ll be an absolute hoot on the trail.
When it comes to looks, it’s got to be one of the best looking bikes launched this year too, with its design engineers quoting the Lockheed Martin X-35 fighter jet as an aesthetic inspiration.
BMC says that it wasn’t chasing grams, either. In fact, it’s almost portly at a claimed 1,037g for a medium frame, and that’s because BMC says it wanted to build a frame that’s got plenty of durability, as well as providing plenty of stiffness to prevent it feeling like a wet noodle.
The geometry is, if you still consider this an XC bike, fairly out there, with a reach of 465mm in a large, a head angle of 67 degrees and super-slammed 425mm chainstays.
There are racy features, though: a D-shaped seatpost is there to improve compliance, and looks distinctly similar to some aero profiles we’ve see on curly-barred bikes in recent years (an adaptor is available to fit a round 27.2mm dropper, should you wish), and it’s still built around 100mm forks.
Prices are distinctly un-Swiss, with alloy bikes starting at €1,199, and the top-carbon model reaching €3,999.
So, could this be one of the first ‘downcountry’ hardtails? We’re certainly looking forward to slinging a leg over one and getting properly rowdy on the trails with it soon.
4. GT Zaskar LT
GT’s Zaskar is an aluminium frame and features the brand’s iconic triple triangle design.
Like the ARC, the Zaskar has been around a long time, and started life as a do-it-all mountain bike – by which, back then, meant it was perfectly placed between the tapes.
However, it too has evolved, and represents the modern day, aluminium hardcore trail hardtail.
The hydroformed aluminium frame features GT’s iconic triple triangle design, with the seatstays extending past the seat tube into the top tube. This floating design not only signifies it as a GT, but is also claimed to boost comfort through the back end, with an increase of 50 per cent in the frame’s compliance, apparently.
The two-bike Zaskar LT range starts at £1,000, and comes with a 130mm travel fork, though they’ll happily take a 140mm fork should you want a little more front-end give.
The range tops out at just £1,300 with the GT Zaskar LT Expert, which we scored four stars out of five when we reviewed it recently. We found the bike oozed confidence on fast, rough and steep trails, thanks to its long, low and slack geometry, and burly tyres that added both grip and a little more comfort.
If you want a modern day take on a classic nineties mountain bike, but can’t quite stretch to a nigh-on £9k Yeti, the Zaskar LT could be right up your street.
5. Giant Talon and Liv Tempt
Hardtails have long been the entry point for mountain bikers, thanks to their lower price and ease of ownership. While it’s easy to get swayed by carbon this and compliant that, the reality is that the majority of people who want to ride a mountain bike will be looking at entry level bikes from some of the biggest brands around.
Giant and Liv have just released updated ranges of their entry-level, ‘proper’ mountain bikes, the Talon and Tempt.
Giant and, by extension, Liv, is one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the world, offering their frame construction services to a broad array of other brands too, so they know a thing or two about building bikes on a massive scale. This leads to competitive pricing and high-spec frames for the cash.
Both brands’ bikes feature 100mm of travel up front, with the Tempt’s women-specific geometry being designed around data gathered on body dimensions.
While mountain biking is at their core, Giant and Liv have realised that these entry level mountain bikes often perform numerous roles, so expect to see rack and fender mounts to boost versatility.
Pricing for both the Talon and Tempt starts at £399 and tops out at £850, for which you get a 12-speed Shimano groupset and air-sprung fork – not bad!
So, that’s our list of the top hardtails for 2021. It’s a broad mix, which we hope will have something to tempt riders from across the discipline. There are loads of hardtails out there, though, so drop a note in the comments if there are any bikes you think we’ve missed out.
Riding since the age of 13, Technical Editor Tom has ridden hundreds of bikes over the past few years, from aero race bikes to EWS-ready enduro rigs, with a fair few others in between. Most likely found in the woods practicing his scandi-flicks.