There's a ton of fun to be had out on the trails at this price point, and thankfully there are quite a few singletrack-capable bikes now among the best mountain bikes under $1,500.
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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.
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
- Price: $1,300
- Frame material: Triple-butted, hydroformed alloy
- Fork: RockShox XC 30 Silver TK PopLoc, coil, 100mm
- Drivetrain: Shimano Deore/SLX
- Wheels: Shimano hubs/DT Swiss 483d rims
- Tires: Continental Race King, 29x2.2
- Weight: 29.5lbs
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.
Commencal Meta HT AM Essential
- Price: $1,449
- Frame material: Triple-butted 6061 alloy
- Fork: Marzocchi 350 R, 160mm
- Drivetrain: Ride cranks/SRAM X5/X7
- Wheels: Ride Alpha hubs and rims
- Tires: Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO TR, 27.5x2.3
- Weight: 31.7lbs
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.
Giant Stance 27.5 2
- Price: $1,500
- Frame material: ALUXX alloy
- Fork: RockShox 30 Gold TK Solo Air, 120mm
- Shock: RockShox Monarch R
- Drivetrain: FSA Comet cranks/Shimano Alivio
- Wheels: Giant Tracker Sport hubs/Giant CR70 rims
- Tires: Maxxis Ardent, 27.5x2.25
- Weight: 30.7lbs
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.
Norco Torrent 7.2
- Price: $1,399
- Frame material: Custom formed 6061 X6 alloy
- Fork: SR Suntour Raidon Plus, 120mm
- Drivetrain: Race Face Aeffect Cinch/Shimano Deore/SLX
- Wheels: Novatech hubs/Alex MD-40 rims
- Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic, 27.5x3.0
- Weight: 29lbs
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 Verb Elite
- Price: $1,300
- Frame material: 6061 alloy
- Fork: SR Suntour XCR RL DS, 120mm
- Shock: All Terra
- Drivetrain: SR Suntour/Shimano Deore
- Wheels: All Terra/Alex
- Tires: Kenda Slant Six, 27.5x2.2
- Weight: 34.6lbs
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."
Also worth a look…
Kona Big Kahuna
- Price: $1,399
- 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, 27.5x2.8
- Weight: n/a
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.
Trek Superfly 5
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.
Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie
- Price: $1,500
- Frame material: M4 alloy
- Fork: Manitou Machette, 100/120mm
- Drivetrain: Specialized Stout XC/SRAM NX 11-speed
- Wheels: Specialized Stout
- Tires: Specialized
- Weight: n/a
Orbea Loki H30 27+
- Price: $1,499
- 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, 27.5x3.0
- Weight: n/a
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.