Mountain bikes are designed for discovering the off-road environment. You can take them into the wild, heading up mountains for epic adventures, or keep it local, blasting around your local trail centre or bike park for a few hours’ fun. No cars to worry about — unlike your road-cycling counterparts — just you, your bike and the trail in front of you.
Our buyer’s guide to women’s mountain bikes will help you work out what mountain bike is best for the type of riding you want to do, what you’ll get for your money, and what features to look out for. We can also recommend some excellent bikes that we’ve tried and tested ourselves.
The Best women’s mountain bikes rated and reviewed by BikeRadar
Juliana Joplin R — women’s Trail Bike of the Year 2018
4.5 out of 5 star rating
The Juliana Joplin R wins women’s Trail Bike of the Year 2018
Capable Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension system
29er wheels with 120mm front suspension
SRAM NX/GX 1x groupset
The alloy-framed Juliana Jopline R: capable, fun and winner of Women’s Trail Bike of the Year 2018Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media Co
A capable and stable bike that gives a composed and feedback-rich ride feel. Its composure can disguise the speed this bike can get up to. While it only has a relatively small amount of suspension travel, it’s able to handle much more technical terrain than the numbers suggest.
Fantastically fun to ride, the Joplin handled every trail we threw it at, including a few downhill tracks! This is a bike that’s perfect for 90 percent of the riding most of us do.
FACT 9r carbon frame with women’s specific geometry and SWAT storage
SRAM GX Eagle with RaceFace Aeffect cranks
SRAM Guide R brakes
Roval Traverse wheels with Butcher and Slaughter tyres
With 150mm travel front and rear, the Rhyme sits more towards the all-mountain end of the trail spectrum. The ride feel is fun, fast and responsive with plenty of grip and traction provided by those plus-sized tyres.
The 2018 Spectral WMN now has women’s-specific frame geometry, developed using data from Canyon’s database of body dimensions collected from its online fit system. While this high-end model isn’t the cheapest, it also boasts an exceptional spec for the money even at this price.
The ride feel is fun and flickable, and ready to take on aggressive trail riding, but taller women and those who sit towards the top end of a size range may want to go up a size.
The Strega features the same frame, geometry and components as its Santa Cruz sibling the Nomad, but with a different (and in our opinion better) paint job and women’s-specific finishing kit, such as saddle and grips.
Redesigned for 2018, it boasts an incredibly sure-footed, stable-yet-playful ride feel, based partly around a suspension system taken from the V10 downhill bike.
There are many different types of mountain bike, all designed to suit particular types of terrain or riding.
The most popular types are aimed at cross-country, trail or all-mountain/enduro riding. Another consideration is whether you want to purchase a hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike.
Full-suspension or hardtail?
Most mountain bikes come with suspension, which just like suspension in a car is designed to absorb rough terrain to make the ride experience more comfortable and to give the tyres maximum traction on the ground.
Hardtail bikes have a rigid frame with suspension in the forks, while full-suspension bikes have suspension forks plus a suspension shock, which allows the rear wheel to move too.
Full-suspension bikes tend to be more expensive, but are better able to handle steep, rough and technical terrain. Hardtails are efficient at climbing, need less set-up and maintenance, are popular with cross-country riders and are well suited to most trail centres, bridleways and moderately technical terrain.
The different types of mountain bike (clockwise, starting top right) cross-country, downhill, enduro, trail, hardtailImmediate Media Co
Cross-country/XC mountain bikes
Cross-country or XC mountain bikes are designed for speed off-road and usually consist of a lightweight, stiff frame and fast-rolling tyres. 29er wheels are popular and most will have around 80–100mm of travel on their suspension forks. These are perfect for people who like to go fast, for long distances, above all else.
Trail mountain bikes
Trail mountain bikes are the most popular type of mountain bike because they are so versatile. Suspension travel is usually in the region of 130–150mm, which gives more scope for tackling bigger features. The geometry is more relaxed, putting the rider in a more stable and confidence-inspiring position on descents.
Modern trail bikes also perform very well when pedalling uphill and you can expect either 29in or 27.5in (also known as 650b) wheel sizes. You can find both full-suspension and hardtail trail bikes. Trail bikes are suitable for the majority of riding, from trail centres to natural terrain.
Enduro and all-mountain bikes
Enduro and all-mountain bikes are increasingly popular, particularly with riders who like all-day adventures in mountain environments. Enduro racing sees riders tackle timed technical descents with untimed uphill liaison sections.
This demands a bike that can descend well — over more terrain than the average trail bike can handle — and climb competently, but the focus is on the downhill with a compromise on climbing performance compared to say a trail bike or XC bike.
This type of bike will usually be full-suspension, and will have more travel than a trail bike — around 160–170mm. Aside from enduro racing, this type of bike is great for riders who like technical terrain and long days out exploring natural trails and mountains.
They’re an increasingly popular choice for mountain bike holidays in places such as the French Alps, Canada’s Whistler and similar.
Downhill mountain bikes
Downhill mountain bikes are designed to do one thing well and that’s go downhill fast (in case you hadn’t guessed) in competition or on purpose-built tracks.
They’re likely to feature a whopping 200mm of travel front and rear, and super-slack frame angles to make the steepest of slopes manageable. Because they’re designed to descend, they aren’t generally good at climbing, and most downhillers would push back up to the top of a track or use an uplift service or chairlift rather than attempt to ride.
But if you are pointing them down the hill, they’re a hell of a ride. There are very few women’s-specific downhill bikes, though some brands do produce smaller sizes of their DH bikes that may suit more petite riders.
Downhill mountain bikes have 200mm of travel front and rear which allows racers like Tracey Hannah to ride through some incredibly steep and technical terrainPhil Hall / Immediate Media Co
What size women’s mountain bike do I need?
Like shoes and clothes, bikes come in different sizes to fit different people. Mountain bikes generally use one of two sizing systems: either Small, Medium, Large etc. or a measurement in inches, 13in, 15in, 17in etc.
The first stage is to have a look at the manufacturers guidelines. This will usually give a recommended height range for each bike size. The next stage is to give it a test ride and see how it feels — many shops will lend bikes out for demos, or host demo events, that will allow you to do this.
If you sit between sizes, or if there’s overlap, this is particularly important as you need to work out which bike offers the closest fit.
Getting the correct size of bike frame is the most important part for a fun, efficient and comfortable bike. A bike shop can make small adjustments to the seat and handlebar position, but getting a bike that’s too big or too small can result in a bike that’s difficult to handle and in rare cases, potential injury if it’s ridden extensively.
Some women’s bikes, such as those by Liv, are based around a frame that has been developed with its own unique geometry, designed by the brand to specifically suit female riders.
This will be based on research conducted by the company itself, from global body dimension databases, and rider testing and feedback, and takes into account elements such as a different average height to weight ratios, height ranges, body strength, flexibility, limb length, etc.
Other brands, such as Juliana and Specialized, will have a unisex frame that’s used for both male and female riders, with women’s specific features like those listed below.
Most women’s-specific bikes will also have some, if not all, of the following features…
Saddle: Almost all women’s specific bikes will feature a women’s saddle, which many women find more comfortable than unisex or men’s saddles
Standover and reach: Brands that do make frames with women’s specific geometry will often give them a low standover and a shorter reach
Sizes: Good news for smaller riders — the women’s specific lines in many brands will go down to smaller sizes than the unisex lines
Cockpit: The control area of the bike is often set up for the on-average smaller hands of women, using smaller grips, narrower handlebars and brakes with adjustable reach
Wheel size: Mountain bikes are usually fitted with either 27.5in/650b wheels or 29in wheels, which will be uniform across a range. However, some companies, such as Trek, will fit smaller frames with 27.5in tyres and larger frames with 29in tyres, which keeps the handling uniform across the sizes and prevents toe overlap
Suspension: The majority of women’s specific bikes will have a suspension tune that’s designed to suit the lighter on average weight to height ratio of women
But do you need one? As with anything to do with bikes, we’d always recommend taking a bike for a test ride where possible before deciding on it. Some women find women’s specific bikes suit them, others get on fine with unisex bikes.
Even where the frames are unisex, the advantage of women’s-specific bikes is that you are less likely to have to tweak the cockpit or change the saddle.
Almost all women’s-specific bikes will come with a women’s-specific saddleRussell Burton / Immediate Media
How much should I spend?
Budget is often one of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding which mountain bike to get. While mountain bike prices go well north of £4,000, you can get a perfectly decent bike for a fraction of that cost. There are, however, a few things you should look out for:
Whether they’re mechanical or hydraulic, look for disc brakes rather than rim brakes because they’ll provide the stopping power you’ll need, particularly in wet and muddy conditions
We’d recommend steering clear of full-suspension bikes below £500 because they are unlikely to be effective and efficient — you’re much better off going for a hardtail (no rear suspension) at this level. Quality full-suspension bikes start to come in around the £1,000 mark
Keep some money in your budget aside for kit and components. Most mountain bikes above a certain price point won’t come with pedals and those that do may not be great, so having some money spare to get a decent quality set will make a huge difference to your ride. You’ll also want to get a helmet, glasses and gloves if you don’t already have them
Under £300 — Alloy frame and steel-forked rigid bike (no suspension) or hardtail. Around 18 gears with a triple crankset, and V-brakes or mechanical disc brakes
£350 to £500 — Alloy frame hardtail with around 100mm travel on forks, 21 to 24 gears with a double crankset, and either hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes
£550 to £950 — Alloy frame hardtails and some full-suspension options, with better quality suspension forks by brands such as RockShox and Suntour
£1,000 to £2,000 — Full-suspension trail bikes, alloy bars and stem and hydraulic disc brakes and high-quality cross-country hardtails (these are lighter and designed to go faster rather than take on the roughest ground), with carbon or alloy frame, quality forks such as RockShox Reba RL and 11-speed gearing
£2,000 to £2,500 — High-grade alloy or carbon frame with quality suspension components including Fox 34 or 36, or RockShox Pike forks and Fox Evolution rear suspension shock. 12-speed chainset, wheels designed to take tubeless tyres (which are less puncture prone and can be run at lower pressures for more grip) and more suspension travel options up to 150mm
£2,500 upwards — High-quality carbon-fibre frame with top of the range suspension from Fox or RockShox. Wide-ranging 12-speed gearing with a single-ring crankset, high-end tubeless-ready wheels
Most women’s mountain bikes will have suspension tuned to suit lighter ridersPhil Hall / Immediate Media Co
How to get a bargain bike
If you’re not fussed about having the latest model, you can score some serious savings by buying an older model. Many retailers will discount their bikes in the middle of the year, which means you could get around 30 percent off.
You can also save money by buying a second-hand bike online, though there are pitfalls to be aware of so you can avoid falling foul of them.
Liv produces frames with women’s specific geometry rather than unisex framesPhil Hall / Immediate Media Co
Popular women’s mountain bikes
Specialized and Trek are two major brands whose bikes are ubiquitous on trails around the world. They both produce bikes covering the full spectrum of the market, from entry-level hardtails to high-end women’s-specific trail and enduro bikes.
Liv is the women’s-specific arm of global bike brand Giant. One of the longest established women’s-specific bike manufacturers, it boasts champion cross-country mountain bikers on its race team. Liv produces a wide range of women’s-specific mountain bikes, with a focus on trail and cross country.
Canyon is a German direct-sell brand who produce a wide range of bikes with specs that are great value for money. In 2017, it started developing a selection of bikes with a different geometry for female riders based on data it has collected from its online fit system, research, and using global body dimension databases. Some, but not all, of its WMN-model bikes have this type of frame design.
Juliana Bicycles is the sister company to California-based boutique brand Santa Cruz. The Juliana Roubion is one of the few women’s-specific enduro bikes on the market, and is based on the popular Santa Cruz Bronson.
There are many other smaller brands available who will produce women’s-specific mountain bikes, such as Pinnacle and Voodoo in the UK.
Aoife is an experienced journalist, editor and product tester. With 6 years’ experience of reviewing bikes and kit, she’s ridden and rated nearly every women’s road and mountain bike available on the market. She enjoys putting the latest products through their paces, helping riders find the right kit for them and sharing the best advice, hints and tips to help them get the most out of riding.