This has made trail bikes an incredibly popular mountain bike category in recent years. They give you a bit of everything, and probably open up the widest range of trails and riding when compared to other types of mountain bike.
The flipside is that choosing the right trail bike for you can be quite a bewildering prospect – there are simply so many options on the market.
Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place because our expert mountain bike testers have spent years riding and reviewing dozens of trails bikes, and this list of the best trail bikes in 2021 will help you find the perfect machine for you.
We’ve also put together a buyer’s guide to trail bikes at the end of this list that explains everything you need to know about this type of mountain bike, from what sort of terrain they are good for to the size of brake disc rotors – we’ve covered it all!
The best trail mountain bikes in 2022, as tested and rated by our expert reviewers
- Calibre Triple B: £1,499
- Bird Aether 9: £3,850
- Boardman MTR 8.9: £1,750
- Canyon Spectral 29 CF 7: £3,599 / $3,999 / AU$5,299 / €3,399
- Canyon Spectral 29 8.0: £4,149 / $4,699
- Devinci Troy Carbon XT 12S LTD: $6,199 / €6,499
- Ibis Ripley AF NGX: £3,699 / $3,299
- Propain Hugene: £3,510
- Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS: £2,700 / $3,200 / AU$4,800
- Vitus Mythique 29 VRS: £1,450 / $1,800 / AU$2,500 / €1,700
- Boardman MTR 9.0: £2,000
- Carrera Titan X: £850
- Deviate Highlander: £2,999 / $3,500
- Kona Process 134 CR/DL 29: £6,399 / $6,199 / AU$8,999
- Marin Hawk Hill 1: £1,445 / $1,600 / AU$2,399 / €1,599
- Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2: £3,995 / $4,399 / AU$5,999 / €4,399
- Marin Rift Zone 29 1: £1,655 / $1,899 / AU$2,499 / €1,899
- Nukeproof Reactor 290 Carbon ST: £4,700 / $4,700 / AU$6,600
- Privateer 141 SLX XT: £3,149
- Santa Cruz 5010 CC X01 RSV: £7,599
- Saracen Ariel 30 Pro: £3,000 / €3,499
- Vitus Mythique 29 VRX: £1,800
- Whyte T-160 RS V1: £3,600
Calibre Triple B
- Sturdy and composed
- As good as plenty of bikes double the price
- £1,499 as tested
The Triple B is the latest version of the Calibre Bossnut and is one of the best entry-level full-suspension trail bikes on the market.
This new version has updated aluminium tubing that gives it a slicker look and refined geometry for better high-speed stability and an improved climbing position. The result is a bike that is stiff and sturdy, daring you to ride hard.
The bike has 130mm of travel at the rear and is paired with a 140mm fork, delivering smooth and supple suspension that is supportive as well.
The Triple B is £400 more than the standard Bossnut, but with this, you get some choice upgrades and a bike that outperforms many £3,000 machines.
Bird Aether 9
- BikeRadar’s trail bike of the year 2021
- Excellent geometry and exceptional value for money
- £3,850 as tested
The Bird Aether 9 won our 2021 Trail Bike of the Year award, thanks to its ability to deliver in virtually all situations from long days in the saddle to short, sharp bursts in the woods.
Bird is known for long and slack geometry and the Aether 9 follows suit, with a 65-degree head-tube angle and 77-degree seat tube. Paired with the RockShox 140mm Pike Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe rear shock, this translates to a bike that is unflappable and right at home on twisty, steep descents.
When it comes to climbing, ample space between the saddle and bar lets you put your body weight in the right place and the suspension robs very few watts.
Boardman MTR 8.9
- Fantastic all-rounder
- Limits become clear on extreme terrain
- £1,750 as tested
The Boardman MTR 8.9 has the same geometry and suspension as the pricier MTR 9.0.
It has a well-chosen spec that balances cost, performance and strength, with a RockShox front fork, a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and Maxxis tyres.
The triple-butted alloy frame looks purposeful and has externally routed cables, making for easy maintenance. There is a bottle mount too, but we found there to be minimal clearance.
The geometry is modern but not extreme with a generous reach, leading to a comfortable ride.
You do have to shift your weight forward to keep front-wheel traction over tricky ascents, and downhill the bike is fairly noisy. So really this is a bike for speedy trail centre rides, rather than super-challenging terrain.
The bike is also ripe for upgrades and, with a few parts swapped out, we think it would be great as a lightweight, mile-munching machine.
Canyon Spectral 29 CF 7
- Ideal handling for a trail bike
- Excellent frame finish and performance
- £3,599 / $3,999 / AU$5,299 / €3,399 as tested
The Canyon Spectral 29 CF 7 delivers an effortless ride, and we reckon most riders could jump on it and start setting personal bests straight away.
The Spectral sees Canyon return to 29in wheels and a geometry that throws out no surprises, creating a bike with plenty of control that handles just as a trail bike should.
The suspension also helps the Spectral achieve its excellent ride quality, with Canyon’s take on traditional four-bar linkage rivalling the very best rear suspension.
The RockShox rear shock provides 150mm of supple travel that soaks up trail chatter. It has plenty of pop in the mid-stroke but remains rock solid when you stamp on the pedals.
When it comes to componentry, the SRAM GX Eagle groupset makes sense for the price tag, but the G2 R brakes might lack the power you want and the Pike fork doesn’t have RockShox’ latest damper. But these are small things on one of the most quietly confident trail bikes on the market.
Canyon Spectral 29 CF 8.0
- Composed and controlled
- Great geometry and kit
- £4,149 / $4,699 as tested
On paper, the Canyon Spectral 29 CF 8.0 might be closer to an enduro bike than a trail bike thanks to its generous 150mm/160mm travel. But really this is one of the most competent trail bikes there is, and we think it should be right at the top of your trail bike shortlist.
The Spectral 29 CF 8.0 takes descents in its stride, with the four-piston brakes providing plenty of stopping power. When climbing, the new geometry provides plenty of room for you to move and retain traction on steep sections and increased anti-squat figures help create a very stable feeling.
The bike is equipped with Canyon’s own finishing kit and dropper post, as well as a Shimano XT drivetrain and DT Swiss wheels. All performed well in testing, only adding to the Spectral’s appeal.
If you fancy a burlier Spectral, this is well worth considering.
Devinci Troy Carbon XT 12S LTD
- Composed on descents and efficient on the climbs
- Ideal for anyone wanting a one-bike quiver
- $6,199 / €6,499 as tested
The Devinci Troy Carbon XT 12S LTD is a downhiller’s trail bike. The handling is composed and the progressive 160/140mm travel is incredibly calm across rough terrain.
Now in its fourth generation, the Troy has wider tyre clearance and an updated geometry that’s longer and slacker, helping deliver downhill stability.
Devinci claims the Troy to be a one-bike quiver, and it’s probably as close as you’ll get. Despite the downhill performance, when you point the bike uphill it is efficient, though it would benefit from a steeper seat-tube angle to help move body weight over the bottom bracket.
The Troy we tested was the top-of-the-range carbon model with parts to match, but Devinci also offers the Troy in an aluminium frame with a varying range of specs, so there’s likely to be a Troy for most budgets and riders. It is definitely worth considering if you are after a do-it-all trail bike.
Ibis Ripley AF NGX
- Fun ride and good value
- Could do with grippier tyres
- £3,699 / $3,299 as tested
The Ibis Ripley AF NGX may only have a 120mm-travel shock, but this doesn’t stop it from being a capable trail-slaying companion.
The suspension works particularly well in the mid-stroke. This leads to a playful feel and makes it easy to push hard through turns and generate speed, turning even mundane downhills into loads of fun.
The frame geometry makes for a snappy climber and the reach figure provides plenty of room to move your weight around when pedalling out of the saddle.
The bike has SRAM NX Eagle and the choice of a 30t front chainring makes the most of the 42t and 52t sprockets on the cassette.
It might not be perfect for cruising, but if you’re looking for a hard-charging, fun ride, you can’t go too far wrong with the Ripley AF.
- Excellent on climbs and a capable descender
- Top-spec kit
- £3,510 as tested
Thanks to Propain’s direct to consumer business model, the Hugene is a cut above the rest when it comes to value for money.
The carbon-frame bike has the Ultimate-level RockShox Pike and Deluxe Shock, as well as SRAM’s X01 drivetrain, all for £3,510, making it one of the best value packages we’ve seen.
When it comes to performance, the bike doesn’t disappoint either. It’s a great all-rounder that is nimble on descents and more than happy climbing, too.
The two-link suspension system makes the Hugene feel like it’s got a lot more than its 130mm of shock travel and enables you to hit bigger obstacles than you might on another bike with this much travel.
The balance of the Hugene is just right for climbing, with enough stability for long, smooth trails and lots of traction for steeper sections. The overall low weight and crisp gears also help you scale uphill.
It is worth noting that balancing the suspension does take more time to get right than with some other bikes, but if you do this you’ll get the absolute most out of this impressive bike.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS
- Geometry and suspension make it a fun all-rounder
- Great spec for the price
- £2,700 / $3,200 / AU$4,800 as tested
The Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS pairs a carbon front triangle with an alloy rear triangle and is decked out with some brilliant kit for its price, including a RockShox fork and rear shock, as well as DT Swiss E 1900 wheels.
Vitus has updated the Escarpe’s geometry, making it more versatile than the previous model. A steeper seat tube and updated four-bar linkage suspension mean you can clock up plenty of miles in comfort with little pedal bob.
It isn’t the fastest climber, but it more than makes up for this when you point it downhill. The Escarpe is loads of fun, enabling you to shred trails and tackle technical sections with confidence.
The updated suspension, with its 140mm of travel, provides a decent amount of support and is never harsh on big hits.
If you’re looking for a bike to play in the woods, take to the bike park and try out jumps, this would be a great choice.
Vitus Mythique 29 VRS
- Great kit for the price
- Possible saddle-height issues for some
- £1,450 / $1,800 / AU$2,500 / €1,700 as tested
The Vitus Mythique 29 VRS comes with progressive, modern geometry and reliable parts for a great price. The aluminium frame has a four-bar suspension system that allows for precise adjustment. The frame is also 1x specific and comes with SRAM’s 12-speed SX Eagle drivetrain.
Uphill, the bike pedals efficiently without too much suspension bob. Point the bike downhill and it doesn’t feel quite as playful as other bikes, but it does feel stable at speed and the suspension dulls out big hits.
The Mythique comes with a dropper post, but the frame design means you can’t get the saddle that low, which is a shame because getting it lower would give you more room to shift your weight around, consequently improving descending.
But really this is nit-picking. The Mythique is a solid performer and a great package that rides like many more expensive bikes.
Boardman MTR 9.0
- Rides with confidence and has excellent brakes
- RockShox fork and rear shock
- £2,000 as tested
The MTR 9.0 is Boardman’s flagship mountain bike, with an upgraded alloy frame, 150mm RockShox fork, a Deluxe Select+ rear shock and a groupset that is, by and large, comprised of Shimano SLX-level parts.
The bike is happiest heading downhill, where it feels planted, and the Shimano SLX four-piston brakes provide a whole load of stopping power.
The MTR climbs reasonably well. The relatively steep seat-tube angle helps you get your weight over the bottom bracket, and the wide-ranging 10-51 tooth cassettes help winch you up the toughest climbs.
The bike has a dropper post, which is great for such a gravity-focused bike, but the dropper lever is a bit small and not the easiest to use.
The bike rides with more confidence than you might expect and, apart from the dropper lever, there really isn’t much to fault.
Carrera Titan X
- Excellent spec for the price
- Real advantage over hardtails at this price
- £850 as tested
Full-suspension bikes for under £1,000 are a rarity, and ones that are as well-specced as the Carrera Titan X are rarer still.
The kit on this bike is really impressive. It has SRAM SX 12-speed gearing with a 1x setup, a Trans-X dropper post and Shimano hydraulic brakes. In short, what you’d expect from a pricier bike.
When it comes to ride performance, the Titan X’s suspension works surprisingly well, making this bike a good shout over a hardtail – which is normally the go-to option at this price point.
When climbing, the Titan X’s frame is a little cramped due to its relatively old-school geometry, but it winches up hills better than you might expect.
The only real drawback to the Titan X is the limited sizing, and taller riders should stay clear. This is a real try-before-you-buy bike, but if it fits and you’re on a budget, it’s a compelling option.
- Comfortable enough for all-day riding
- Active and supportive rear suspension
- £2,999 / $3,500 (frame and fork) as tested
The Deviate Highlander has a high-pivot suspension design. This is common in the world of downhill bikes, but less so on trail bikes.
In part thanks to the pivot design, the Highlander’s rear suspension is active and supportive, providing plenty of grip and making it a mean descender. The only thing that really holds the suspension back is a stiff idler wheel, which added drag to the drivetrain.
The Highlander climbs well, if not as fast as others, and while there is some suspension bob, you can still comfortably tick off the miles.
Currently, Deviate only offers the Highlander as a frame and fork package. This might be a disadvantage for some, but if you’re looking to build up a unique gravity-seeking machine this might be a good place to start.
Kona Process 134 CR/DL 29
- Nimble and lively but balanced feel
- Will eat up miles and hammer downhill
- £6,399 / $6,199 / AU$8,999 as tested
The Kona Process 134 gets its name from its 134mm of rear travel, and it’s aimed at hitting the short-travel sweet spot of being easy-going on the climbs but still ripping on descents.
The Process is a rapid enough climber, and its 13.9kg weight doesn’t hold you back. Sometimes it’s necessary to flick the low-speed compression lever for greater efficiency, but this is a bike that will lap up the miles.
Point the Process downhill and its lithe but balanced feel makes it a joy to ride fast. Despite the short rear travel, it has just the right amount of progression for bigger hits and will smooth out the chunder too, muting small bumps. The RockShox 140mm fork matches the rear shock well.
This full carbon-frame bike is a blast to ride and eye-catching too, but its compact frame might not suit tall riders and it is expensive compared to the competition.
Marin Hawk Hill 1
- A real blast of a bike
- Suspension and balance are well worked out
- £1,445 / $1,600 / AU$2,399 / €1,599 as tested
The Marin Hawk Hill 1 has 130mm/120mm of travel, making it one of the shortest-travel trail bikes on this list.
This might put bigger jumps out of reach, but it leads to a bike that is super-feisty, letting you jump, flick and mess around with reckless abandon.
Point the Hawk Hill downhill and up the pace and the suspension is smooth and balanced, but the tyres don’t provide a huge amount of grip. The aluminium frame has some flex to it, but this only adds to the bike’s springy feeling, flinging you out of corners.
The bike’s zippy feel is great for climbing and sprinting, with little of the energy-sapping you might associate with budget bikes. Having said this, the drivetrain does feel a little clunky.
The spec of the bike could be better; the Shimano Deore groupset is only 10-speed and the lack of a dropper post is a glaring omission. But with some upgrades, this bike could be even more fun to ride.
Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2
- Fantastic frame
- Great performance across riding disciplines
- £3,995 / $4,399 / AU$5,999 / €4,399 as tested
Marin recently updated its Rift Zone, making it less of a cross-country orientated bike and shifting it towards the rowdier end of the riding spectrum.
The new longer, slacker geometry is on the extreme side for a trail bike and the Rift Zone now veers closer to an enduro bike than other trail bikes.
When you point the Rift Zone 2 downhill you can feel this new geometry come into its own. The short rear end loves to be flicked around, while the long front brings some welcome stability and control.
The rear shock also helps with downhill performance, but the lightweight front fork holds it back. The little extra stiffness of a more enduro-focused fork would unleash a load of potential.
Despite its downhill potential, the Rift Zone 2 is also a swift climber, with the geometry freeing up enough room to get your body weight over the bottom bracket.
You could switch out the big tyres and rims to make it a lighter, more efficient climber, but that would be missing the point of this bike.
Marin Rift Zone 29 1
- Highly capable descender with great suspension
- Could do with a dropper post
- £1,655 / $1,899 / AU$2,499 / €1,899 as tested
The Marin Rift Zone 29 1 sits at the trail end of the brand’s full-suss range, but its geometry suggests faster, more gravity-orientated riding.
The bike is very comfortable thanks to the supple front fork that absorbs small bumps with ease. The rear suspension isn’t as supple, but the upside is it provides plenty of support and ramps up nicely.
The alloy frame has a relatively slack head tube and a steep seat tube, which creates a stable riding position.
When climbing, the geometry makes for comfortable pedalling and reduces front-wheel lift.
The bike is more than capable of attacking gnarly descents, but it does reveal the shortcomings of the spec. The 32mm fork stanchions can lead to a noodly feel and the lack of a dropper post interrupts flow.
There’s no denying how capable this bike is, but just keep some money aside because switching out the tyres and adding a dropper post is a priority.
Nukeproof Reactor 290 Carbon ST
- Great spec and good geometry
- Confident downhill, but not as fast as some uphill
- £4,700 / $4,700 / AU$6,600 as tested
The Reactor 290 Carbon ST is a pared-back, shorter-travel version of Nukeproof’s do-it-all trail bike, the Reactor. The result is a full-suspension bike that bridges the trail and burgeoning downcountry categories.
The bike has 130mm of travel up-front and 125mm of travel at the rear – even though you’d be fooled into thinking there was more. This makes the geometry of the bike less extreme than the standard Reactor, but it is still progressive and helps create a ride that is energetic uphill and seriously fun down.
Nukeproof has matched the carbon-fibre frame with its own carbon finishing kit, and the rest of the spec is top-notch too, with Shimano’s XT drivetrain and brakes, DT Swiss wheels and Maxxis tyres.
Only fractionally lighter than the standard Reactor, you might wonder if the weight penalty is worth it for the extra travel, but this is being very picky because this bike is great for the money, super-capable and really fun to ride.
Privateer 141 SLX XT
- Great value for money
- Excellent suspension and geometry
- £3,149 as tested
The Privateer 141 is built around an aluminium frame with a remarkably long and slack geometry. This will grab some riders’ attention because, when paired with the 150mm/141mm of travel available, this bike accelerates at any whiff of a descent. And with powerful four-piston brakes, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to let it go.
The long geometry does impact agility, though, and getting the front end up and over obstacles takes a bit of work.
Common wisdom might suggest that such a long bike wouldn’t make a great climber, but the steep head tube helps counter the long wheelbase and makes this bike great on ascents. The rear suspension, which is incredibly stable, helps too.
Combine all this with a great spec, and on the face of it the Privateer 141 is an excellent trail bike. But the handling can be slightly unruly which, given how far trail bikes have come in recent years, stops it from getting a higher score.
Santa Cruz 5010 CC X01 RSV
- Composed and fun
- Only 130mm of travel, but still capable
- £7,599 as tested
The new Santa Cruz 5010 CC X01 RSV is the brand’s top-flight version of its 5010. The bike has an updated geometry that sees it getting lower and longer, and it now has Santa Cruz’s low-slung VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) design. It sticks to 650b wheels though and retains the fun factor of previous models.
The suspension comes in the form of RockShox’ top-spec kit on the front and rear, providing 140mm/130mm of travel. Paired with the new geometry, this creates a ride that is capable and fast on descents, remaining composed but spurring you on, and is incredibly energetic on climbs when pushing power through the pedals. The handling is also razor-sharp.
Fittingly for this carbon fibre bike, and its significant price tag, the finishing kit is top-tier too, with SRAM drivetrain and brakes and Santa Cruz’s own carbon Reserve rims built around DT Swiss hubs.
This all comes together to create a bike that is seriously fun to ride. It’s not quite as playful as previous versions, but it is more capable and faster. And if the price is too steep, Santa Cruz offers the 5010 in less expensive builds.
Saracen Ariel 30 Pro
- Stretched-out geometry
- Efficient pedalling and snappy ride feel
- £3,000 / €3,499 as tested
Saracen’s Ariel 30 Pro sits at the trail bike sweet spot, with 130mm of travel at the front and rear courtesy of Fox.
The aluminium bike has a long reach and slack head angle. Its stretched-out geometry gives the bike straight-line speed on rough descents, especially when the trail is super fast. It also shows that long bikes can have finesse on tighter trails and when weaving through obstacles.
Having said that, it does require more effort to move around than bikes with shorter wheelbases and the rear end doesn’t smooth out the roughest trails.
When it comes to climbing, the Ariel 30 sits high in its travel, and it feels nice and efficient on longer climbs. The roomy front end lets you move your body weight around and, combined with the grippy tyres, this provides plenty of confidence on steeper, more technical climbs.
In terms of spec, Saracen has kitted the bike out with Shimano components from the Deore, XT and SLX families. Four-pot Deore brakes provide plenty of stopping power, too.
Vitus Mythique 29 VRX
- Excellent balance and near-faultless spec
- Geometry compromises the ride
- £1,800 as tested
The Mythique 29 VRX is Vitus’s top-of-the-range trail bike. It’s an impressive package that will suit riders looking to tear up trail parks and dabble in more technical riding.
The spec of this bike is as close to perfect as we’ve seen for the price. It has a RockShox Monarch R rear shock, Marzocchi Bomber Z2 front fork, Shimano Deore and SLX drivetrain, and WTB wheels.
The suspension creates a smooth ride over trail chatter and makes the bike great to ride around bumpy singletracks and worn trails.
With a supple mid-stroke, it’s easy to generate speed downhill and there’s plenty of pop for jumps.
The geometry does hold the Mythique back. The alloy frame has a short reach and steep head angle, which led to us wanting to shift our weight too far back on descents.
One thing to bear in mind is the dropper post doesn’t lower enough for tall riders.
Whyte T-160 RS V1
- Composed and excels on rough terrain
- Limited range
- £3,600 as tested
Whyte’s T-160 RS V1 is a competitively priced, longer-travel trail bike, that is super smooth to ride and has a good smattering of kit, including SRAM GX Eagle and SRAM Code R brakes.
Whyte is known for long, low and slack geometries that bridge the gap between trail and enduro bikes. The T-160 continues this trend with long seat stays and a geometry-adjusting feature that drops the bottom bracket by 11mm.
The geometry paired with the fluid suspension creates a bike that will hammer through anything while maintaining its stable and assured ride. It still has pop, too, enabling you to surge out of berms without any wallowing.
Weighing close to16kg makes the T-160 more suited to climbing on fire roads or tarmac than steep, technical ascents. The pedalling feels smooth with not too much suspension bob. When climbing at lower speeds, we found the shock’s compression lever helped improve the ride.
Overall, this bike feels well sorted but it’s probably one for play-in-the-woods types rather than mile eaters, due to its weight.
In a mountain bike category as large as trail bikes, there are almost countless bikes to choose from, with pretty stiff competition.
The following trail bikes didn’t score enough stars to be included in our main best list, or haven’t been subject to a full review just yet, but are still worth considering.
They might just offer you what you’re after and those first rides might make their way onto the main list once our testers have put them thoroughly through their paces.
- Canyon Scalpel SE LTD Lefty
- Cotic Jeht Gold GX
- Evil Offering GX Hydra
- Giant Trance X Advanced Pro 29 0
- Hope HB.130
- Intense Primer 29
- Lapierre Zesty AM 6.9 CF
- Norco Sight C2 29
- Pacer RC295 Ultimate GX
- Transition Scout GX
- 2021 Specialized Stumpjumper Expert
Trail bike buyer’s guide | Everything you need to know when choosing a trail bike
What is a trail bike?
The trail mountain bike category occupies the space between lightweight, speed-focused cross-country bikes and enduro and all-mountain mountain bikes designed to fly downhill and slowly winch back to the top.
Balancing pedalling efficiency and gravity potential, trail bikes aim to hit a sweet spot; they aren’t quite as rowdy as enduro bikes but are tougher than cross-country bikes.
They make light work of riding down flow trails with big sweeping berms and can cut it on more demanding terrain too – and you might be surprised at just how capable they truly are.
Really, trail bikes are best for mountain biking in the most general sense and are designed to give you just about enough of everything.
Trail bikes also tend to be relatively affordable when compared to other types of mountain bike. The components don’t have to be super-lightweight as on XC bikes, or heavy-duty enough to survive the rigours of downhill, which helps to keep costs down.
Although enduro and downhill bikes are considered to be the Formula 1 of mountain biking, we think trail bikes are the most important and widest-spanning category, and benefit from economies of scale where bigger production runs also play a factor in keeping prices down.
The affordability of trail bikes combined with their versatility, helps to make them an ideal choice if you’re new to the world of mountain biking or are looking for a one-bike solution to all your mountain biking needs.
What to look for in a trail bike
There are no set rules when it comes to defining what a trail bike is and, like all mountain biking sub-disciplines, they exist on a sliding scale in terms of capability, geometry, suspension travel and price.
However, there are various factors that when put together constitute a trail bike and are worth bearing in mind when looking for one of these versatile machines.
Many brands stick to aluminium alloy or carbon fibre for trail bike frames, while some more boutique builders opt for alternative frame materials, such as steel or titanium.
Carbon has the advantage of being lighter and stronger, and can be made to be stiffer than an equivalent aluminium frame, so it’s a good choice if zipping uphill and weight are priorities. It does, however, cost more than aluminium.
While it might not have the exotic feel of carbon, or be as lightweight, an aluminium frame is a good call if you’re new to the sport or on a budget, but it’s hard to argue with the desirability and performance of carbon.
Frame geometry probably has the biggest impact on how a mountain bike handles, with even slight adjustments to the wheelbase, head tube angle and reach determining how a bike feels.
In keeping with their Goldilocks position between XC and enduro bikes, trail bikes have a relatively slack geometry that makes them capable enough to handle most rough descents, while being suitable for all-day epics and plenty of comfortable and efficient climbing.
As a general rule, trail bikes have a head tube angle of between 64 and 66.5 degrees and seat tube angle of between 73 and 78 degrees.
Look for slacker head tube angles if you want a bike that will descend better, because a slacker angle helps give the bike a calmer ride by slowing down the steering. It also makes its wheelbase longer, which helps improve stability at high riding speeds.
Most commonly, trail bikes have front and rear suspension with between 120mm and 150mm of travel.
As travel increases, a bike will be better suited to riding downhill and less suitable for climbing, so when considering how much travel to go for on a trail bike think about the type of terrain you’ll spend most of your time riding and your riding style.
If you ride on rougher, more technical trails, or like to barrel down descents, choosing a trail bike with 140mm or 150mm is advisable.
Shorter-travel bikes won’t descend quite as well, but they are light and efficient so are a good choice if endurance riding and climbing is more your thing.
Wheel size and tyres
There used to be a time when mountain bikes simply had 26in wheels. But those days are long gone, and now mountain bikes come with either 27.5in or 29in wheels.
Both wheel sizes have their advantages and disadvantages. 29in wheels roll over obstacles and hold their momentum more, making them the preference for cross-country and the best downcountry mountain bikes. Compared to 29in wheels, 27.5in wheels are faster accelerating, stronger and more agile, with handling and placement feeling more natural too.
Trail bikes come with either of the two sizes and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer to which size wheels you should go for – you might prefer the snappier feel of 27.5in wheels or value the efficiency of 29in wheels.
One thing to bear in mind when selecting what wheel size to go for is your height. A taller rider will probably benefit from a larger wheel, whereas a shorter rider will benefit from a smaller wheel. Some manufacturers do consider this and provide models with different-size wheels depending on frame size.
Trail bike tyres tend to be chunkier with a decent amount of tread and are around 2.3 to 2.5in wide. These provide a decent amount of grip and help make trail bikes the versatile machines they are.
The best mountain bike tyres can really change how your bike feels, so it’s worth paying attention to what tyres a trail bike is specced with, but also remember that it’s not too hard to swap tyres out for something more suitable for your riding.
Trail bikes tend to have drivetrains with one front chainring. Thanks to wide-ranging 12-speed cassettes (normally between 10 to 52t), only having one front chainring doesn’t limit climbing potential.
Groupsets such as Shimano’s Deore XT M8100 are a popular choice on trail bikes. Trail bikes also tend to have easier gearing than speed-focused XC bikes. Front rings are usually between 30- and 34-tooth, while rear cassettes can go up to 52-tooth.
This gives trail bikes a wide range of gears for enough speed on the flat and to help you get up tough climbs.
Like most aspects of trail bikes, the brakes strike a balance between stopping power and weight saving.
Trail bikes will generally come with disc brakes that have two- or four-piston calipers. Four-piston brakes are more powerful and are aimed at downhill riding, where more braking power is needed, but this will of course add weight.
Rotors on trail bikes are often a mix, with up to 200mm both front and back. The larger the disc rotor, the more powerful the brakes will be, but this also comes with a weight penalty.
Hydraulic brakes are standard on all full-suspension trail bikes costing £1,000 or above, and often the best mountain bikes under £1,000 come with these brakes too.
Wide mountain bike handlebars are becoming the norm, and provide extra stability, comfort and control.
Trail bikes follow this trend, many coming with a 760mm or 780mm bar, while some go up to 800mm. Just as smaller-sized trail bikes tend to have smaller 27.5in wheels, they also come with a narrower bar, going down 740mm, to help make the bike a better fit for smaller riders
Dropper posts are almost standard on trail bikes.
They allow you to lower and raise your saddle with the flick of a handlebar-mounted button, giving you extra room to move your weight around on descents and the correct saddle height for efficient pedalling.
A dropper post is one of the first upgrades you should consider if your trail bike doesn’t have one, because it will open the bike up to a wider range of riding.