Mountain bikes at this price range can vary greatly and that’s a good thing! You can find cross-country (XC) machines that are more focused on going fast up hills and zooming around less technical trails, as well as all-mountain rigs with 27+ wheels and tires that boast heaps of traction for climbing performance, which really come to life when the singletrack points down. Wheel-size choices are abundant here as well, with 27.5″ and 29″ sharing space with 27+ bikes.
The other sweet thing about this price point is that while the frames are usually alloy, they’re high quality and worthy of a parts upgrade or two as your skills progress, or your love affair with riding slides towards obsession. Also, the suspension forks tend to be brand name items, which is always welcome for better performance and durability.
…they’re high quality and worthy of a parts upgrade or two as your skills progress or your love affair with riding slides towards obsession.
We tested three hardtails and two full-suspension rigs: BMC’s Teamelite 03 Deore-SLX, Commencal’s Meta HT AM Essential, Giant’s Stance 27.5, Norco’s Torrent 7.2 and GT’s Verb Elite. Also included are four new contenders definitely worth a look that we’ll hopefully get our hands on soon.
BMC Teamelite 03 Deore-SLX
XC speed and terrain are just what the Teamelite 03 ordered: XC speed and terrain are just what the Teamelite 03 orderedBikeRadar
With a name like Teamelite 03, it’s pretty clear that racing is in this 29er’s pedigree. Its alloy frame is all about response, with no concession to comfort. The speed-focused frame is fronted by a coil-sprung RockShox XC 30 Silver fork. An interesting choice for sure, and one that’s an easy pick for upgrading to a lighter, higher performing air-sprung model, especially as your obsession for velocity deepens. If your plans include testing your fitness in some XC or short track racing, put the Teamelite 03 on your list.
On the other end of the hardtail spectrum sits Commencal’s Meta HT AM Essential. With slack angles and a mega 160mm travel Marzocchi fork leading the charge, the Meta’s focus is clearly on smashing trails with gravity’s assistance. A KS eTen dropper post comes standard, as does a stubby 50mm stem and medium wide 760mm bars, all parts less concerned with weight or ascending, and more into romping through ugly terrain with confidence. The chunky 27.5in wheels are wrapped with proper enduro-ready tires, Maxxis’s 2.3in Minion DHR II with EXO casings.
One of only two full-suspension rig to meet the $1,500 requirement is Giant’s Stance 27.5 2. While not incorporating Giant’s renowned Maestro rear end, the Stance’s FlexPoint rear suspension offers a surprisingly adept ride. The bulk of the components on this 27.5in-wheeled bike are Shimano’s Alivio and Giant’s house brand, neither of which are lust worthy, but also not necessarily negatives. With a bike this capable, the RockShox fork could definitely benefit from a thru-axle. It’s all good though as the Stance is worth riding (hard and fast) until upgrading is needed.
Drivetrain: Race Face Aeffect Cinch/Shimano Deore/SLX
Wheels: Novatech hubs/Alex MD-40 rims
Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic, 27.5×3.0
Hailing from the riding mecca of British Columbia, Canada, Norco knows a thing or two about making fun to ride bikes. The Torrent 7.2 highlights that know how with a modern long and low alloy frame and 27+ tires. Together, they create a very capable hardtail that can scramble up some tricky ascents, yet absolutely blast through seriously hacked out terrain on the way down. It’s not all sunny days and hero dirt though, the SR Suntour fork was likely a budget consideration and its performance shows.
GT’s Verb Elite is the second full-suss bike to make the $1,500 cut. It uses GT’s long-refined I-Drive rear suspension for traction and riding performance greater than its bargain price. With that high-end, complicated frame and suspension, it’s noticeable the rest of the spec list is a bit compromised. However, as any rider worth his or her salt will tell you “it’s the frame that matters, as the parts hanging off it can be swapped out relatively easily.”
The Big Kahuna lives up to its name with fat 27+ Schwalbe rubberCourtesy
Frame material: Kona Race Light 6061 alloy
Fork: RockShox Recon Silver RL, 100mm
Drivetrain: Race Face Aeffect/Shimano Deore
Wheels: WTB Scraper STP i40
Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic, 27.5×2.8
Big wheels and big fun look to be standard on Kona’s 27+ Big Kahuna. Kona bikes are known for their dirt ready performance and the addition of plus size tires will surely up the traction, cornering ability and trail-smoothing capabilities. The parts spec looks worthy of the task as well with a RockShox Recon 100mm fork up front and WTB Scraper 40mm wide rims wrapped with a little lighter, yet still very wide 2.8in Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires.
There are a lot of Superflys in Trek’s portfolio. Ten to be exact, ranging from 24in wheel kids’ bikes, to a rigid singlespeed build, all the way up to full carbon race whips. Like the BMC above, Trek’s Superfly chassis is all about cross country speed. It’s offered in a 29er for all sizes minus the smallest 15.5in size which rolls on 27.5in hoops. The 29ers have Trek’s impressive G2 fork offset, which is fast becoming the standard on big wheel bikes. This Superfly 5 attacks singletrack with a high-end alloy frame, tubeless ready wheels and tires, and a RockShox 100mm fork damping the hits. That all adds up to a lot of go-fast in a bargain package.
Big, plus-size tires and a dropper post expose the Fuse’s desire to get rowdyCourtesy
Frame material: M4 alloy
Fork: Manitou Machette, 100/120mm
Drivetrain: Specialized Stout XC/SRAM NX 11-speed
Wheels: Specialized Stout
Don’t be confused by the misleading naming convention, the Fuse Comp 6Fattie is Specialized’s take on the 27+ hardtail. Like other plus-size hardtails, the Fuse Comp is more about how much fun you can have on the trails than how fast you can blur the scenery. Along with plus-size 27.5in wheels and tires, there’s a Manitou fork guiding the way, and the Fuse Comp is one of the only bikes within budget to use an 11-speed SRAM drivetrain.
Slack and low, Orbea’s Loki is an all-mountain departure from the Basque company’s XC rootsCourtesy
Frame material: Hydroformed triple-butted alloy
Fork: SR Suntour Raidon, 120mm
Drivetrain: FSA Comet cranks/Shimano Deore/SLX
Wheels: Orbea Ready 27+
Tires: Maxxis Chronicle, 27.5×3.0
More fun and more capable was the concept for Orbea when jumping into the plus-size bike foray. The Loki H30 features Boost hub spacing front and rear, so that means you can stuff 29er wheels in there as well giving the Loki a bit more versatility. Whichever wheel size, the parts list is pretty tidy with Shimano Deore and SLX handling the shifting, fat Maxxis rubber, and Shimano hydro discs on stopping duties.