Mountain bikes are designed for discovering the off-road environment. You can take them entirely 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.
Best women's mountain bikes rated and reviewed by BikeRadar
Juliana Joplin R — women's Trail Bike of the Year 2018
- £3,299 / $3,299 / AU$TBC
- Alloy frame with 110mm rear travel
- Capable Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension system
- 29er wheels with 120mm front suspension
- SRAM NX/GX 1x groupset
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’s only got 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, and for that reason the Juliana Joplin R has been crowned women's Trail Bike of the Year 2018!
Specialized Rhyme Carbon Comp 6Fattie/29er
- £3,500 / $3,500
- 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.
Canyon Spectral WMN CF 9.0 SL
- £4,499 / $5,999 / AU$7,199
- Carbon frame with women’s specific geometry
- 140mm travel front and rear
- SRAM X1/X01 groupset and SRAM Guide RSC brakes
- DT Swiss XMC 1200 Spline wheels
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.
Yeti Beti SB5 C-series XT
- £4,799 / $4,799 / AU$7,290
- C-series carbon frame
- Unique Switch Infinity suspension system
- Shimano SLX/XT groupset
- DT Swiss M1900s with Maxxis Ardent EXO tyres
Put the work into this bike and you’ll be rewarded with a lively, agile feel that feels like it gives you free speed due to its innovative suspension system.
Scott Contessa Spark 910
- £3,999 / $4,200 / AU$5,000
- Carbon-framed 29er mountain bike
- Twinloc system allows remote suspension control
- SRAM GX Eagle groupset with Shimano SLX M7000 hydraulic disc brakes
A capable short-travel full-suspension bike that's lively and efficient on trails, with a feedback-rich ride feel.
Best bargain women's mountain bike
Calibre Bossnut Ladies
- £1,300, or £999 with £5 Go Outdoors card. International shipping available
- Alloy unisex frame with 130mm rear travel and women's specific saddle
- Shimano Deore 2x10 groupset
- RockShox Sektor forks with 130mm travel
- WTB ST i25 32H tubeless-ready wheels
Pretty much unbeatable for the money, the Calibre Bossnut Ladies bike combines carefully considered components to give the best performance for the money along with a well designed frame.
Best women's enduro bike
Juliana Strega / Santa Cruz Nomad
- From £4,299 / $4,499 depending on build options
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.
What type of mountain bike do I need?
There are many different types of mountain bike out there, 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.
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 vast 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 mountainous environments. Enduro racing sees riders tackle timed technical descents with untimed uphill liaison sections.
This demands a bike that's able both to 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 extremely 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 just 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.
What size women's mountain bike do I need?
Like shoes, clothes and blocks of cheese, 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.
As mentioned above, some (but not all) women's mountain bikes will have a unique riding position with a shorter reach, more upright position and lower standover than their unisex counterparts, which is worth taking in to account if you're shopping for a new bike.
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.
Women's mountain bike features and specs
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.
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
There's a detailed breakdown on what to expect for your money in our mountain bike ultimate buyer's guide. That said, the following is a good starting point:
- Under $500 — Alloy frame and steel-forked rigid bike (no suspension) or hardtail. Around 18 gears with a triple crankset, and V-brakes
- $500 to $1,000 — Alloy frame hardtail with around 100mm travel on forks, 21 to 24 gears with a double or triple crankset, and either hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes
- $1,000 to $1,500 — Alloy frame hardtails, with better quality suspension forks by brands such as RockShox and Suntour. Often have triple cranksets giving a huge range of 27 to 30 gears, using SRAM X5 or equivalent
- $1,500 to $2,500 — Full-suspension trail bikes, with around 120mm travel, alloy bars and stem and hydraulic disc brakes. Alternatively, 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 10-speed gearing such as Shimano Deore
- $2,500 to $4,000 — High-grade alloy or in some cases carbon frame with quality suspension components including Fox 34 or 36, or RockShox Pike forks and Fox Evolution rear suspension shock. 11-speed chainset, or in some cases 12-speed, 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
- $4,000 upwards — High quality alloy or 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
How to get a bargain bike
If you aren't worried about having the very latest model, you can score some serious savings by buying an older model. Many retailers will start to discount their bikes in the middle of the year, which means you could get in the region of 30 percent off.
You can also save yourself some money by buying a second hand bike online, though there are pitfalls that are worth being aware of so you can avoid falling foul of them.
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 XC.
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 regionally who will produce women's specific mountain bikes, such as Pinnacle and Voodoo in the UK.