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 to a hardtail? 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 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
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 is much higher than that of 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.
However, if you’re set on buying a hardtail mountain bike, we’ve collated all of our reviews here, organised by price, as well as our reviews of hardtail frames.
Use the links below to skip to the relevant section:
- Best hardtail over £2,000 / $2,300
- Best hardtail under £2,000 / $2,300
- Best hardtail under £1,500 / $1,700
- Best hardtail under £1,000 / $1,200
- Best hardtail frames
Still unsure? Head to our guide on how to choose the best mountain bike for you, if you’re still deciding what type of mountain bike to pick, 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
Marin El Roy
- Very competent downhill
- Excellent modern geometry
- £2,295 / $2,799 / €2,799 as tested
With a chromoly frame that has been electronically coated on the inside to prevent it from corrosion, the El Roy is one of the best aggressive hardtails we’ve tested.
It pushes the long, low and slack mantra to the limit and features 140mm of suspension travel with a 44mm offset.
It features a burly build kit with a Marzochi fork and Shimano Deore 1×12 drivetrain. Shimano also supply the brakes and the finishing kit is largely Marin-branded.
While it’s expectedly not a particularly capable climber, it comes into its own when the going gets technical with its comically steep seat tube angle of 78 degrees. The bike gets better and better as you head downhill and the gradient steepens and it’ll move as fast as you dare around corners.
Canyon Exceed CFR Team
- Classic XC feel
- Traditional geometry
- £6,229 / AU$9,099 / €5,799 as tested
The Exceed CFR Team is Canyon’s thoroughbred XC race bike, with a stiff and uncompromising carbon frame.
The relatively short and steep geometry puts you in an aggressive position and forces you to push all your effort through the backend. The frame is slightly longer than the previous Exceed, and feels a touch more composed as a result.
As you might expect from the price, the spec is top. It has a Shimano XTR drivetrain, wide and light DT Swiss carbon wheels, and a 100mm Fox StepCast fork.
Canyon provides its own one-piece bar and stem, which is aero but lacks adjustment, and its carbon seatpost can be a bit of a hassle to set up.
While some XC bikes might have more progressive shapes, there’s no denying the Canyon Exceed is lightweight, well-specced and dedicated to efficiency.
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £2,000 / $2,300
Canyon Stoic 4
- Modern geometry and well-considered spec
- The aluminium frame can be harsh
- £1,639 / $1,799 / AU$2,649 / €1,699 as tested
The Canyon Stoic 4 is designed for everything from technical trails to bike park sessions.
The low and long geometry gave even the best full-suss trails bikes a run for their money when descending – even if the burly aluminium frame did feel a little harsh at times. The trade-off here is that it doesn’t feel as playful as some other bikes.
Despite the gravity focus, the 75-degree seat tube angle positions your weight nicely, so winding up steep climbs never feels arduous.
Canyon has opted to spec the smaller frames with 27.5in wheels and the larger frames with 29in wheels.
This top-specced bike has a 140mm RockShox front fork, SRAM 12-speed NX Eagle drivetrain and Iridium 170mm dropper. Value for money is pretty impressive, which we’ve come to expect from direct-to-consumer brands such as Canyon.
The Stoic 4 should be high on your list if you’re seeking hardtail simplicity with downhill performance.
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.
Radon Cragger 8
- Excellent spec
- Fast but not the smoothest
- £1,847 / €1,950 as tested
Radon uses a direct-to-consumer business model and, as a result, the Cragger 8 has a spec sheet that offers excellent value for money. The 130mm DVO Sapphire fork is a boutique offering, SRAM’s GX Eagle drivetrain is a notable step up from its lower models, and the dropper post feels premium.
Things are pretty good when it comes to the frame too, with the smooth aluminium looking like carbon and the option to route cables internally or externally.
The geometry is fairly progressive with a 65-degree head angle and 74-degree seat tube. However, that seat tube is long, and with a relatively short reach, makes the bike feel a little confused, mixing elements from hardcore trail bikes with XC features.
Out on the trail, this translates to a fairly unrelaxed climbing position but a confident and capable feel for descents.
It might not be the smoothest ride, but the Cragger is a hard-charging bike and there’s no getting away from its value for money.
Sonder Signal ST NX
- Great geometry
- Short-travel dropper
- £1,599 / $2,297 / AU$2,914 / €1,799
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.
Vitus Sentier 29 VRX
- Top spec for a great price
- Fluid descender
- £1,600 / $2,000 / AU$3,000 / €1,800
The aluminium Sentier 29 VRX shows off Vitus’s buying power as Chain Reaction’s in-house brand, with its top spec for a bargain price.
The bike has a 12-speed Shimano XT and SLX drivetrain and brakes combination, Fox 34 Rhythm fork, WTB rims on own-brand hubs and Schwalbe tyres, which were set up tubeless on our test bike.
Out riding, the Shimano components are faultless, but the shock is a bit lacklustre.
This is a shame because, although there are some XC-style features to the frame’s geometry, the bike has a real appetite for gravity. Going downhill, it is forgiving and fun, only feeling out of its depth when the trails get really steep or technical.
The climbing position is comfortable and the bike smoothed out bumps and lumps both in and out of the saddle.
Overall, the Vitus Sentier 29 VRX does make compromises, but its ride feel, spec and cost make it stand out. However, make sure you pay close attention to the geometry chart because the long seat tube could cause problems for shorter riders.
Best hardtail mountain bikes under £1,500 / $1,700
Merida Big.Trail 500
- Impressive downhill and a comfortable climber
- Fairly noisy on rough terrain
- £1,350 / €1,680 / AU$1,999 as tested
It might not be the first brand that comes to mind, but Merida’s Big.Trail 500 is a strong contender in the trail hardtail category.
While the geometry might not be as long and low as some other bikes, the short seat tube means you can go up a size and effectively unlock a very progressive bike.
When it comes to performance, the Big.Trail is impressive downhill with the Recon fork aiding the aluminium frame’s calm handling. The bike is also a competent climber, with the Shimano Deore 11-52t cassette providing a low enough gear to get you up steep inclines.
There are plenty of nifty features too, such as internal cabling and mounts for mudguards, and the bike will take a tapered steerer tube if you ever want to upgrade the fork.
Pick the right size, and the Big.Trail promises to be a fun and impressive bike for the money.
- 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.
GT Zaskar LT Elite
- A comfortable, smooth ride feel
- Contemporary and stable geometry
- £1,350 / $1,700 as tested
With a long-standing heritage, this latest incarnation of the Zaskar sees an updated geometry with a longer wheelbase and relaxed head tube angle.
Sporting its iconic ‘triple triangle’ design, where the seatstays are decoupled from the seat tube, the Zaskar offers a bump-taming ride.
This LT version of the Zaskar sports 130mm of suspension travel and is specced with a SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, which is functional if rather plasticky in its shift quality. We were less enamoured with the Tektro Gemini brakes, which lacked power.
The chink in the Zaskar’s armour comes in the form of its rattly internal cable routing. Combined with the omission of rubber protection on the driveside chainstay, the chain slap and cable rattle make for a noisy ride.
Specialized Fuse 27.5 (2021)
- Comfortable contact points and impressive fork
- Limited descending performance
- £1,149 / $1,500 / AU$2,000
The Fuse 27.5 is Specialized’s most affordable hardcore hardtail, with large tyres, 1×11 gearing and a sleek aluminium frame.
The geometry is relatively up to date, but it does have a pretty short stack which, when paired with the small 650b wheels, led to it struggling on descents with its weight pitched forward. However, on mellower trails it was calm and proved a fun bike to ride.
It was a mixed bag when climbing too. In the saddle, it was comfy but standing up it felt a little cramped. It’s not too hard to get up steep climbs thanks to the 30t front chainring and 51t cog at the rear, though.
The finishing kit makes for a comfortable ride and the RockShox fork is nice and supple.
Ultimately, this bike makes for a good companion at a cruising pace. It’s held back by its stack height, but there is the 29in-wheel version that would help get around this problem – if you can stretch to a bike that size.
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.
Voodoo Bizango Carbon
- XC performance but can still shred on trails
- Good choice of components for the price
- £1,000 as tested
Voodoo’s Bizango mountain bike costs £1,000 but looks like it should have a much higher price tag, thanks to internal cabling, a sleek carbon frame and modern geometry.
Primarily a cross-country bike, the Bizango is fast and can compete with more expensive XC bikes, with its slack head tube angle and relatively long wheelbase making it far more capable on descents and trails than many XC-specific rides.
The bike has a SRAM 12-speed SX drivetrain, Shimano MT400 brakes and a 120mm Rockshock Judy fork, which is a spec worthy of a bike double its price.
There is little to rival the Bizango, but the carbon frame can lack comfort and you might want to upgrade to a dropper post to really unlock this bike’s potential.
Cannondale Trail SE 4
- Shimano Deore equipped and a smooth ride
- Potential to upgrade
- £900 / $1,150 as tested
The Cannondale Trail SE 4 has an XC-inspired geometry that’s suited to low-impact trail riding and new riders with ambitions for bigger things thanks to the potential for upgrades.
The bike is equipped with a reliable Shimano Deore drivetrain and a Suntour front fork. The spring rate on the fork isn’t easily adjustable, but the Trail SE 4’s Boost spacing means it will be easy to upgrade the front fork without having to get a new front wheel. There is further future-proofing with an internal routing port for a dropper post.
The bike feels fairly low and aggressive when riding in the saddle, but you feel upright standing on the pedals. It’s easy to control on descents and feels smooth when climbing.
It’s worth noting that the geometry isn’t as progressive as other bikes, which might hold some riders back when they get more into riding.
Vitus Sentier 27
- Smooth ride and impressive spec
- Geometry might not suit everyone
- £900 / $1,100 / AU$2,250 / €1,300
Sold online via Chain Reaction Cycles, the Vitus Sentier 27 does a good job of blending performance and affordability.
While there’s no dropper post, the bike does have a 130mm X-Fusion XC32 air fork, Shimano Deore 1×10 groupset, WTB rims, Schwalbe tyres and Tektro brakes. So there isn’t much scrimping at all.
The aluminium frame is well-finished and the geometry is more cross-country than aggressive hardtail, but the long seat tube might not be ideal for shorter-legged riders.
Riding the Sentier is fairly comfortable on the climbs, but the XC-inspired position makes for a more stretched-out position.
The short reach can make it a bit twitchy descending, but descending prowess and control are by and large good, and you can really flick this bike around, making for a fun ride.
Ultimately, this bike does have a few shortcomings, but it’s hard to argue with the value-for-performance ratio. Just pay attention to the geometry to ensure you get the right fit.
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.