You've got £3k to spend, which bike should you choose?
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So you’re committed to mountain biking and want to either upgrade or replace your bike, and you’ve got around £3,000 to spend. Well, you’re in luck because there’s a wide range of bikes on offer in that price point which should suit whatever your needs.
Read on for BikeRadar’s pick of the best mountain bikes under £3,000.
The most popular bikes in this sub-£3,000 category are full-suspension machines, featuring suspension for both front and rear wheel.
This boosts control and speed on rough terrain, and at this price point, shouldn’t impact too much on pedalling efficiency and weight.
The bikes here largely cover trail and cross-country riding, with between 100mm and 160mm of travel.
Longer travel bikes tend to perform better when the trail descends and gets technical, at the cost of a bit of weight and climbing prowess. The more XC-orientated bikes will be lighter and pedal better up hill, but won’t be as confident on the descents.
The one you choose should depend on what kind of riding you tend to do. If you go out for long days in the hills, covering many miles, then a bike further towards the XC side of things might be a good shout.
However, if you prefer the winch and plummet side of riding, one with longer travel will be a blast on the way back down.
Buying new from a bike shop should mean a properly built bike and will often include some bonuses such as free tune-ups, deals on parts or, even better, new riding friends to show you the trails. Buying new also keeps your bike up to date and lessens the chance of obsolete parts or components.
Best mountain bikes under £3,000, as rated by our expert testers
Merida Big Nine XT: £2,500
Ragley Blue Pig (2019) custom build: £2,850
Bergamont Contrail Pro: £3,000
GT Force 29 Expert: £2,799
Norco Optic C3: £2,995
Cube Stereo 170 Race 29: £2,999
Merida Big Nine XT
4.0 out of 5 star rating
Merida’s Big Nine is a proper XC race bike.Russell Burton / Immediate Media
Best suited to XC and light trail riding
Impressive comfort, even on longer rides
Well-specced for the price with top-performing Shimano XT gears
Geometry is very XC-biased
There are plenty of models in Merida’s Big Nine hardtail range that cater for every budget. This XT model sits roughly in the middle and represents great value for money, and while it’s not got the most modern geometry out there, it impressed us again and again out on the trails thanks to a host of fantastic kit.
It climbs proficiently and makes it feel like every one of your pedal strokes is transformed in forward propulsion thanks to the BB92 bottom bracket providing plenty of stiffness. The XT drivetrain has a great range of gears and our testers were never left wanting for more or modified ratios.
The XC bias does make itself known on the descents, but the Big Nine is a precise bike to ride that still managed to feel impressively capable, smoothing out the terrain. Considering its XC credentials, our testers were impressed with how well the Big Nine managed to tackle tech descents.
Better with a shorter travel fork to help keep handling snappy
With modern geometry and updated tubing, the newest Blue Pig has fantastic levels of rear-end compliance balanced with stiffness where it’s most needed.
The geometry encourages the bike to be ridden hard over even particularly gnarly terrain and there’s plenty of space to move around to get it pointing in the right direction. Down steep sections or over really rough ground it handles well, thanks to the tubing dulling hard vibrations that would be sent through to the rider on less well-damped frames.
It is worth trying to keep travel to around 140mm, though, because our 160mm travel test bike’s dynamic geometry changed a lot with the long travel fork up front.
The Bergamont Contrail Pro was a contender for the 2020 Trail Bike of the Year award.Dan Milner / BikeRadar
Best suited to trail and hardcore XC riding
Fantastic performing rear suspension
Frame is well finished and has onboard tool storage
Maxxis Forekaster tyres are a letdown except for in some conditions
Long stem limits handling
The Contrail Pro has plenty of potential to score higher and perform better with a few choice upgrades such as a shorter stem or more aggressive tyres. In it’s standard guise, it’s best-suited to trail centre loops and flowy natural trails rather than rougher, more technical and steep tracks.
The GT Force 29 Expert is a clean, simple and effective bike for putting a big smile on your face.Steve Behr
Best suited to enduro and all-mountain riding
Well-considered geometry and good-performing suspension
Fork and shock are suited to the bike and each other
Dropper post needs more travel and TRP brakes weren’t great
The Force is a great all-rounder, especially considering the price. The standard spec means that you won’t be trawling the web for upgrades right away and our expert testers thought the bike would easily keep up with other rigs costing double its price.
And as you grow and improve beyond the capabilities of its standard spec, the frame’s still got plenty to give and will respond well to upgrades. It’s a great enduro bike at a cracking price.
The Norco Optic C3 is a trail bike that has a lot of promise, on paper.Steve Behr
Best suited to light enduro, all-mountain and trail riding
Great modern geometry gives the bike a good look
Top-performing wheels and tyres
Fork and shock damping need a re-think
On paper, the Optic has everything going for it: great geometry, RockShox fork and shock, and soft compound tyres wrapped around sorted wheels. Unfortunately, the compression damping in the fork and shock contributed to a harsh-feeling ride that was hard to overlook.
Get the rear shock re-tuned to have lighter damping and upgrade the fork damper to the new Charger unit, and the Optic C3 is a real category-winning contender.
Alex started racing downhill at the tender age of 11, later going on to compete internationally representing the UK. At 19, he moved to the Alps to pursue a career as a bike bum clocking up moon-mileage riding the famous tracks in and around Morzine, France. In that time, he broke more bikes than he can remember. Alex then moved back to the UK when he landed a job working for Mountain Biking UK as their Features Editor — BikeRadar's sister title — as their features editor. Since working for MBUK, Alex's focus has moved to towards bike tech and he now wants to find out what bikes and components represent the best value for money regardless of discipline. Alex's current fleet includes his trusty commuter bike, a 2017 Marin Gestalt 3, his long term Orange Stage 6 RS enduro bike, a used and abused 2015 GT Sanction Pro, a Scott Voltage YZ dirt jump bike and a Deluxe Pro 2 BMX.
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.