The humble hardtail mountain bike seems to be going through a mini-revival, with a raft of cross-country, downcountry, trail and even radder rigid frames being introduced.
What are the advantages of a hardtail? Where uphill speed matters, the direct connection from crank to axle, without 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 are often also lighter, easier to maintain and cheaper than full-suspension mountain bikes, because there are fewer moving parts to add weight, service or build in the first place.
Here, we’ve put together our pick of the best hardtail mountain bikes as ridden, rated and reviewed by the BikeRadar team.
Hardtail vs full-suspension mountain bike
Stuck between whether a hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike best suits your requirements?
It all depends on the type of mountain biking you would like to take part in. Hardtails are more capable than you might initially think, but full-suspension mountain bikes come into their own on more technical terrain, especially when the gradients point downwards.
Budget is the biggest factor and (with few exceptions), the entry point to a full-suspension bike is much higher than that for a hardtail. The best mountain bikes under £1,500 see full-suspension start to become available and as you start to spend more, you’ll find updates in frame materials, as well as better components and suspension specced.
What’s your budget?
Buying a hardtail is one of the most affordable ways into mountain biking.
If you’re looking to buy a hardtail mountain bike, we’ve collated our reviews of the best bikes here, organised by price, as well as our reviews of hardtail frames.
Use the links below to skip to the relevant section:
- Best hardtails over £2,000/$2,300
- Best hardtails under £2,000/$2,300
- Best hardtails under £1,500/$1,700
- Best hardtails under £1,000/$1,200
- Best hardtail frames
We’ve also got a list of the best cross-country bikes, covering both hardtail and full-suspension designs for XC racing. You may also be interested in our round-up of the best electric mountain bikes.
Still unsure? Head to our guide on how to choose the best mountain bike for you, with the pros and cons of each category.
Best hardtail mountain bikes in 2023, as rated by our expert testers
Right, let’s get onto our pick of the best hardtail mountain bikes.
Every bike we’ve recommended here has been rated and reviewed by BikeRadar’s expert test team.
Best hardtail mountain bikes over £2,000/$2,300
Lapierre Prorace CF 9.9
- Good value for the money
- Great all-round capability
- £5,999/€6,799 as tested
The Lapierre Prorace CF 9.9 is the French brand’s top-end hardtail designed for cross-country racing.
A compliant carbon fibre frame, which uses a triple-triangle design to give lateral flex to the bike’s rear end, aids vibration damping over chattery trails, while adding traction on technical climbs.
The geometry makes the bike agile and engaging on the trail, with the Prorace inspiring confidence on descents where others feel twitchy.
While it’s not cheap, the addition of SRAM’s X01 AXS groupset, RockShox SID SL Ultimate fork and Lapierre’s own XC SL carbon wheelset make this a good value proposition.
Cannondale Scalpel HT Carbon 4
- Good value for money
- Great all-round capability
- £2,600/$2,300/€2,699 as tested
The Scalpel HT Carbon 4 takes a break from traditional XC race bike design, with the slack head angle making the bike feel incredibly capable when pointed down a trail.
Cannondale has given the bike a top spec for the money, with a RockShox SID SL fork supporting the front end and a Shimano Deore 12-speed groupset used for shifting.
The flex zone suspension in the rear triangle gives a controlled feel, with the bike remaining composed and grip plentiful on ascents and descents.
Pivot LES SL 29 Pro XT/XTR
- Confidence-inspiring geometry
- Acres of grip without sacrificing speed
- £6,750/$6,199 as tested
Pivot’s LES SL 29 Pro XT/XTR is the brand’s carbon fibre cross-country race hardtail, which is hinted at in the pun-based name of the bike.
The lateral compliance in the frame enables you to maintain a high speed over chattery terrain, while the geometry makes the bike nimble through the trees and efficient on hills.
While it’s expensive, the bike comes well specced with a combination of Shimano XT and XTR parts used in the groupset, alongside a 100mm Fox 32 Factory StepCast fork, though we’d have liked to have seen carbon wheels featuring at this price point.
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £2,000/$2,300
Merida Big.Trail 600
- A joy to ride
- £1,650/€2,040/AU$2,499 as tested
The Merida Big.Trail 600 shares the same frameset as the Big.Trail 500, but sees a few upgrades to its spec.
The Shimano 1×12 Deore drivetrain shifts sharply, while the 10-54t cassette and 32t chainring afford plenty of range.
Value could be better, however. The Shimano M410 brakes are feeble in the wet, and lead to hesitancy downhill.
Sonder Signal ST NX
- Great geometry
- Short-travel dropper
The Sonder Signal ST NX is a steel hardtail that’s made to the British company’s principles of value for money and hard-charging, descent-focused bikes.
The Signal ticks all the modern aggressive trail bike boxes with a large reach, 66-degree head tube and 74-degree seat tube. Heading downhill, the bike pulls at the leash and rides across roots with ease.
This bike was never intended to be a fast climber, but it does spin comfortably uphill and is confident over technical inclines.
WTB tyres help the Signal find grip wherever possible and the 130mm RockShox Revelation RC fork is good in most circumstances. It would be nice to have a slightly longer dropper to create enough space to move your weight around in the sketchiest of situations.
Overall, the Signal has a great chassis that wouldn’t look out of place on a much pricier bike, and there is a good level of kit for the money without too much compromise.
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £1,500/$1,700
- Superb ride quality
- Well-specced Shimano groupset and brakes
- £1,199 as tested
Kona’s endearing Kahuna offers a commendable ride quality in its latest guise. With a curvy shape and low-slung top tube, the cross-country frame offers a lively ride with instantaneous acceleration when you crank up the power on the pedals.
The Kahuna features a Shimano Deore 12-speed groupset, which is the best you can get for the asking price, as well as reliable Shimano MT410 hydraulic disc brakes.
What holds the bike back from a full 5-star rating is its more traditional geometry and its quick-release rear axle, which limits wheel-upgrade potential. The Kahuna also lacks a dropper seatpost, although the frame has the possible routing for one, should you wish to upgrade.
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £1,000/$1,200
- Great value for money
- Front fork holds the bike back
- £600 as tested
With a dropper post, Shimano Deore drivetrain, WTB Trail Boss tyres and £600 price tag, the Carrera Fury is probably one of the best value-for-money mountain bikes out there.
The Fury can also lay claim to having a more progressive geometry than many of its competitors at this price point. This helps make it comfortable on climbs, and when paired with its 650b wheels it has a solid, stable feel and great descending composure.
We weren’t without quibbles when testing this bike, though. The air-sprung front fork doesn’t offer great small-bump sensitivity, and a fork upgrade isn’t viable at this price. It would be nice to see Boost spacing too.
Despite these points, you do get a lot of performance for the money and the Fury trumps its competitors in multiple ways. A better fork would just elevate this steal of a bike even further.
Vitus Sentier 29
- Up-to-date geometry
- Decent spec
- £950/$1,200/€1,300/AU$1,800 as tested
The Vitus Sentier 29 combines quality parts with impressive value, with the bike featuring a 130mm RockShox Recon Silver RL fork, Clarks M2 hydraulic brakes and a Shimano Deore M5100 derailleur.
The Sentier frame, which remains the same throughout the range, provides a good foundation to the spec, with a refined geometry that feels just as fast downhill as it does on the climbs.
One negative is the exposed inner gear cable that runs down the top tube, which after a couple of muddy rides lead to stiff gear shifting.
Voodoo Bizango Pro
- High-quality spec for the price
- Upgrade potential
- £950/$1,258 as tested
The Voodoo Bizango Pro offers top performance at a bargain price. The quality spec includes a RockShox FS-35 Gold 130mm fork, Shimano Deore 12-speed and Maxxis tyres helping to get the most out of the frame.
The Bizango Pro inspires plenty of confidence, with the bike feeling stable downhill and especially when railing berms thanks to it’s progressive geometry and decent tyres. We even felt comfortable to push the it further than trail centre blues and reds, with it continuing to shine on more technical trails.
The 35mm stanchioned fork was easy to set up and performed well, giving the bike a solid feeling at the front end and allowing for open line choice through rockier sections.
Tolerances between the seat tube and seatpost are quite large, which leads to the saddle dropping on occasion, though this was solved with application of some carbon assembly paste.
Marin Bobcat Trail 5
- Well-considered spec
- Progressive geometry
- £985/$999/€1,149 as tested
The Bobcat Trail 5 is an excellent hardtail mountain bike that uses the Bobcat Trail frameset, and is built up with a 120mm Suntour XCR 32 fork and 1×11 Shimano Deore drivetrain.
The fork is coil-sprung, which made it difficult initially to set up the suspension. We found it to be less effective than air-sprung forks found on similarly priced bikes.
We were impressed by the bike’s handling and the high levels of stability that the long-reach frame provided with its 67.5-degree head angle.
The aggressive geometry provides good confidence beyond the bike’s intended use.
Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29
- Fast-rolling and quick up the hills
- Lightweight and well specced
- £949/$1,150/€975/AU$1,300 as tested
The Rockhopper Elite 29 rolls fast and descends well thanks to 29in wheels and a solid spec choice.
A RockShox Judy Solo Air fork provides good support on the descents, with the short travel, which ranges from 80mm to 100mm depending on size, making for engaging an ride. However, there is more work to be done by the rider compared to other bikes with more suspension.
The 29in wheels help with line choice, and enable the bike to monster over the type technical sections that feature in trail centres.
Calibre Rake 29
- Impressive value for money
- Playful handling
- £700 (£550 with GO Outdoors membership card) as tested
The Calibre Rake 29 is incredibly well specced for the money, featuring components found on bikes twice its price.
A 100mm RockShox FS-Judy TK helps isolate you from rough trails, although there’s some flex in the fork on hard compressions.
The Clarks M2 hydraulic disc brakes give the bike a controlled feel that enables you to tackle trail-centre descents with confidence.
A 66-degree head angle also helps in keeping the bike under control at high speed.
While the frame was quite stiff, the WTB Trail Boss tyres provided plenty of comfort and gave enough grip to comfortably push the bike.
Best hardtail mountain bike frames
- Contemporary geometry and excellent ride
- Value for money full builds
- £2,900 custom build in testing
- £695/$952/€962 (frame only) as tested
The Bird Forge is a steel hardtail designed around 29in wheels and 140 to 160mm travel forks, and has an excellent ride quality across terrains.
Bird is known for its modern geometry, and the Forge is no exception. The frame has a 64-degree head tube angle and 77-degree seat tube angle with a long reach and low bottom bracket. We found this slack geometry inspired confidence when the trail got rough, and the short chainstays didn’t make it hard to lift the front wheel over obstacles.
The only niggle we had was with the Deathgrips, which made accessing the AXS upshift paddle tricky, but Bird does offer other grip options.
Pipedream Moxie Mx3
- Versatile ride that suits long days out and blasts in the woods
- Frameset only
- £3,300 custom build in testing
- £649 (frameset) as tested
The Pipedream Moxie Mx3 is made from chromoly steel tubes and adaptability is put front and centre. The bike can take 140 to 170mm travel forks and has sliding dropouts, so it can fit 650b, 650b+ or 29in wheels.
The sliding dropouts change the geometry of the bike, but in its ‘long’ setup we found the Moxie had a lovely balance between high-speed stability and agility, carving through corners. When climbing, the 77.5-degree seat tube centres your weight nicely.
The difference between the long and short settings is subtle, but we found the short setting preferable because it gives the bike a fun-loving personality.
At the time of testing, Pipedream only offered the Moxie as a frameset with no off-the-shelf builds. This means you can customise your build however you want, but we would say be prepared to play around with stem length to get the right handling.
- Steadfast over sketchy trails
- The high bottom bracket has pros and cons
- £3,538 custom build in testing
- £549 (frameset) as tested
The steel BFe has long been a feature of the hardtail scene, with 26in, 650b and 29in wheel versions offered since 2005.
The custom 29er BFeMax we rode in testing has Cotic’s aggressively shaped ‘longshot’ geometry and a spec sheet that’s built around technical capability. In short, it’s a bike with gnarly intentions.
Built with meaty WTB tyres and a top-end RockShox Pike Ultimate 150mm-travel fork, the bike flies down sketchy, loose trails at speed, with the slack geometry bringing stability and the Reynolds steel smoothing out the ride.
Despite the seat tube not being that steep, the long rear-end helps keeps your weight centred and makes climbing easier.
The high bottom bracket helps prevent the pedals from hitting obstacles, but we found this also means the bike is less willing to chop and change direction than some.
Buyer’s guide to hardtail mountain bikes
What is a hardtail mountain bike bike best for?
It is possible to ride any discipline on a hardtail, with cross-country, trail and enduro all catered for by manufacturers.
Hardtail mountain bikes have long been a favourite of cross-country riders for their direct pedalling efficiency and lighter weight when compared to full-suspension bikes.
Hardtails also cover the trail and enduro categories, with some featuring super-slack geometry to accommodate 170mm forks.
Many riders choose to ride hardtails for their mechanical simplicity, which can require a more involved and skilful riding experience
Hardtail mountain bikes usually dominate the lower end of the market and can be a great way of getting onto the trails if you don’t want to splash out for a full-suspension model.
Hardtail mountain bikes vs full-suspension mountain bikes
Hardtail mountain bikes are much simpler than full-suspension bikes, with only a suspension fork and tyres providing any damping from the trail below.
Full-suspension bikes feel more isolated from the trail, which can reduce rider fatigue and enable a more brazen riding style because the suspension will help save you from poor line choices.
While full-suspension bikes are more capable on rough technical descents, they require more moving parts, such as a linkage and rear shock. These cost more and need regular servicing.
This also makes them heavier than hardtails, which can mean they’re less fun to pedal. Full-suspenion bikes will give you better traction on rough terrain though.
Some hardtail mountain bikes feature flexible zones in the frame that allow for vertical compliance to reduce vibrations and provide more grip.
What components should I look for on a hardtail mountain bike?
Tyres and wheels
Because hardtails have less mechanical suspension, tyre and wheel choice is even more important.
The best mountain bike wheels will feature wide internal rims. These provide tyres with a confidence-boosting wide stance and increased volume.
The fork is also important because it provides your only damped suspension.
Wider stanchions add weight but provide increased rigidity, improving control for trail riding. Lightweight cross-country forks will often feature narrower stanchions that feel more flexible in high-compression corners.
Check out our buyer’s guide to mountain bike forks for more information.
A dropper post is always a good addition, especially on a hardtail because it enables you to move your weight more freely over the back wheel to find a grip.
What is the best wheel size for a hardtail mountain bike?
Because hardtail mountain bikes have less suspension than full-suspension bikes, they’re affected more by rocks and bumps in the trail.
29in wheels roll over objects easier than 27.5in wheels due to their increased size. This makes them a popular choice for all hardtail riders, from cross-country to enduro.
A smaller wheel size may be desired if you are looking for a more playful bike, but there will be trade-offs in speed and damping.
Hardtail mountain bike geometry
Hardtail mountain bike geometry varies depending on discipline, with bikes designed for more gravity-fed riding featuring long, low and slack geometry just like their full-suspension counterparts.
Hardtails usually feature a sloping top tube, which keeps the weight of the bike lower which helps to keep it more stable.
It also makes it easier to move around the bike, because there’s no horizontal head tube in your way, and improves seated comfort because more seatpost is exposed, which adds compliance.
Without the room needed for a linkage, chainstay lengths can be made much smaller than full-suspension bikes, giving hardtails a more playful and responsive ride.
Cross-country hardtails will usually feature steep seat tube angles to centre your weight over the pedals for uphill efforts, and a long front centre for a more stretched-out riding style.
How much should I spend on a hardtail mountain bike?
Hardtails are known for their affordable price tags – most entry-level mountain bikes worth consideration are hardtails.
However, as our best list shows, there are hardtails in every price range – how much you spend is really determined by how much you’re willing to pay, and what you are looking for.
Hardtail mountain bikes aren’t necessarily cheaper than full-suspension bikes, with high-end cross-country hardtails being priced very similarly to their full-suspension counterparts.
At this end of the market, you can expect to see drool-worthy components on ridiculously light frames.
Decent hardtails start from £500, with bikes at this price point usually featuring trail-ready geometry and components.