While most trail riders are probably set on a full-suspension bike, if you’re more concerned about cross-country speed you can get some really great hardtails for around the £1,500 / $2,500 / AU$3,500 mark. You’ll potentially get a proper lightweight, high-control fork from Fox or a lightweight carbon frame for gradual upgrading.
In the case of Haibike’s Freed, you’ll get both – and will be laughing all the way to the finish line.
This isn’t just a generic carbon chassis that you could find being sold direct on the internet either. It’s a class act with a big down tube dropping away from an extended stiffening box behind the tapered head tube before swooping past the bottom bracket into deep chainstays.
A curved tapered top tube flows into bridgeless seatstays for maximum mud clearance, while a 142x12mm rear axle keeps the rear wheel tight. It’s bang up to date in terms of futureproofing too with removable covers for Shimano Di2 electric shifting or the Japanese component giant’s new side-swing front derailleur standard.
Related: Best mountain bikes under £1,500 / $2,300
Haibike’s European designers clearly believe in traditional geometry rather than any of that newfangled slack head angle nonsense. Actually that’s a bit unfair, as they have eased the head angle out slightly to 70 degrees and the 70mm stem is stumpy by XC standards, while the bars are reasonably wide.
Make no mistake though, this is still a steep and fast-reacting machine designed to drill into tight corners on climbs rather than swagger down scree slopes. The stem leaves it a bit short on reach, but the low top tube means sizing up to get more won’t cause problems. The skinny seatpost also augments the shock-absorbing curved stays for a bearably smooth time in the saddle.
Fox still creates the benchmark short travel category forks and the 142x12mm frame is matched to a 15mm axle up front. The DT Swiss rims are light enough to keep the 11.9kg bike instantly responsive, and while they’re slippery when wet the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres are classic easy-speed rubber.
The Freed even gets a quality, super durable Shimano XT/SLX/Deore transmission, although the climbing performance of the 7.1 means we’re not sure the 22-tooth inner ring on the triple will get much use.
That leaves the awful Tektro Auriga brakes (which serve to show just how remarkably controlled cheap brakes from Shimano and Avid are) as the only essential upgrade – but at least the crap bit is all concentrated in one area rather than spread over a range of compromises.