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Whether for bikepacking, dipping your toe into the fat bike experience or big trail riding our pick of the 10 best mountain bikes will have you reaching for your wallet....

Genesis_Longitude.jpgGenesis Longitude | £1000Mens

Best for: Bikepacking off into the unknown for days on end.

Genesis describe the Longitude as a 'A mid-fat, expedition ready, fully rigid adventure machine,' and while that does sum it up nicely, it perhaps doesn’t hint at the fun element that a well designed 27.5in+ bike can bring to the party.

It is immediately obvious this steel-framed bike is massively capable for loading up and disappearing down the road less travelled. An all-rigid setup has the potential to shake your teeth out off-road, but marry to huge 2.8in tyres and you have supple suspension built in and some astonishing grip over the mucky stuff. This wide contact patch also means the Longitude floats over soft ground with ease, opening up all sorts of terrain difficult for heavily laden bikes.

All this is good news, but what happens when you offload and just take it for a roasting around your local trails? After all most people just want one bike they can enjoy all their riding on. The good news is that it is fun – lots of fun. Those big tyres just grip everything, soak up roots and rocks and just provide laugh-a-minute riding.

VERDICT - 9 Overall.

All the pannier mounts and practicalities of an adventure bike, which can also whoop up some laughs when un-loaded.
+  It has everything you would need for carrying luggage, but is fun too
  Nothing

 

 

Four-S-2017-366.jpgOrange Four S | £2800Mens

Best for: Hitting your local trails hard and fast.

Designing a trail-capable full-suspension mountain bike that is capable of a good turn of speed is a tricky job, but Orange have given it a good go with the Four. 120mm of travel and 27.5in wheels are the heart of the frame specification, while RockShox Yari 130mm forks take care of the front end.

Shimano SLX may not be top of the line, but it has long been established as a no-nonsense level of components that just work without costing the earth.
The off-the-shelf cockpit spec is spot on, with a 50mm stem and huge 780mm bar we love, with no need to detour via the local bike shop.

Combined with the long top tube and wheelbase the Four is a superbly stable bike on the trail, tackling technical and steep ground with a confidence outweighing its short travel. The aluminium frame has been built light, a result of running shorter forks and consequently less stress, so it also has a turn of speed. The only upgrade we would make is a dropper seatpost.

VERDICT -  9 Overall
Long and hard rides, with a smattering of tough, technical descents, are the Four's forte. A
fast, light and yet deceptively capable trail bike.
+  Short travel gives a punchy and quick handling ride
  Could do with a dropper seatpost as standard

 

 

Vitus_Sentier.jpgVitus Sentier | £850Mens

Best for: Shredding your local trails and having a hoot.

Marketed as an aggressive trail hardtail, the 27.5in wheeled Vitus Sentier is made from triple-butted 6061 aluminium for a light and stiff build, featuring a Rock Shox Recon fork and Shimano Deore groupset for functional shifting and braking. A 180mm front rotor betrays the extreme target audience for this bike – big rotors for big braking requirements.

Not only is it equipped for steep and choppy riding, the frame itself sports bang up-to-date geometry to tackle this kind of ground with confidence and fun. A very slack head angle, low bottom bracket height and long front end immediately add stability on technical ground, while the excellent short 50mm stem and wide 740mm bar help keep control.

In fact, there is little we would change straight off the shelf with even the WTB Vigilante and Trail Boss tyres being models we would happily choose. Bolt through 15mm front and 142x12mm rear axles are stronger and stiffer than their QR cousins, and we were more than happy with the Shimano disc braking performance.

VERDICT - 10 Overall Womens

For £850 you are getting a genuine off-the-peg bike capable of ragging round your local trails, tackling just about any terrain you point it at.
+  Keenly priced and capable hardtail for confidence on steep trails
  It’s crying out for a dropper post

 

 

Yeti_Beti_SB5c111.jpg

Yeti SB5C Beti | £5800

Best for: Taking on more challenging trails.

The Yeti SB5C Beti is a good example of how far we have come in female bike design, with a premium carbon frame specifically made to measure for women, every bit as high specced as the male equivalent. As the price would suggest, the specification on our build is superb, with SRAM X0 drive components pulled to a halt by Shimano XT braking. A 55mm Thomson stem and 720mm bar are well specced for the shorter reach of the average woman too.

A close look at the main pivot on the SB5C reveals a complex array of shafts. The floating pivot moves as it slides along these shafts, customising the feel as you move through the 127mm suspension travel.

It's lovely engineering, but yet more moving parts are a concern in our UK climate. Still, the SB5C certainly pedals well, climbing and sprinting nimbly.

The top-notch build certainly helps, with the combination of Shimano brakes and SRAM X0 drivetrain working perfectly. The Thomson dropper post is a great feature on the trails too.

A superb option for deep-pocketed trail riding women, more than capable of technical trails, while remaining light and zippy enough to be fun and efficient.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
A superb option for deep-pocketed trail riding women, more than capable of technical trails, while remaining light and zippy enough to be fun and efficient.
+  A gorgeous looking bike that is backed up by top-line performance
  There is concern over the long term durability of those pivot shafts

 

 

Specialized_Fatboy_SE.jpgSpecialized Fatboy SE | £1000 Mens

Best for: Dipping a toe into the fat bike experience.

The Fatboy SE is the bottom of the Fatboy range, with an M4 alloy frame rather than the rest of the range’s carbon tubes. This keeps that keen £1000 price tag under control however, so we aren’t complaining – and besides, it's really very good.

Even coming in at the shallow end of the pool, as it were, Specialized have shod the Fatboy SE with deep-end 4.6in Ground Controls, a wickedly fat and bouncy tyre for the most challenging of terrain. We have loved the flow they allow over just about any terrain, from roots to rock gardens, over which they just deform and glide without any problem. Wide mud baths are also rolled over with ease where narrower tyres fudge up and stall all around us.

The SRAM X5 drivetrain is a victim of the budget cuts, being at the low end of the scale, but it has functioned without fault through the test period. Also not entirely ideal are the quick-release hubs which are significantly less beefy than we would prefer for this size and bulk of bike.

VERDICT - 8 Overall
The Fatboy SE is an excellent starter fatty. Equally it is superb for the occasional user who doesn’t want to commit to a big budget machine.
The price and excellent M4 Alloy frame
  Quick-release fasteners are a bit puny with these wheels

 

 

Whyte_901.jpgWhyte 901 | £1300Mens

Best for: Aggressive riding on steep, challenging terrain

Whyte have clearly set out to create a bike with attitude here. The huge 2.4in tyres sit on 27.5in wheels just asking to be taken onto serious trails. The aggressively angled and hydroformed 6061-T6 aluminium frame is single ring specific, with a SRAM NX groupset helping to offset this on the climbs with a 42 tooth max sprocket on the back.

Those tyres are big, but intelligently specced to increase fun and speed in proportion, no doubt also helping with the nimble climbing that you wouldn’t expect of such a trail oriented frame.

It is on the steep and technical downhills that the 901 excels however, with a slack head angle and long wheelbase for a confident and stable ride through the roughest ground. A low bottom bracket and long top tube help with stability, while the excellent wide bar and short stem complement the frame perfectly with a wide stance. The 130mm travel Rockshox Sektor Gold soak up bumps and provide enough stiffness to carry the 901 through 'nasties'.

VERDICT - 10 Overall
A very capable bike for technical trails, with confidence inspiring geometry and intelligent component choice. Add a dropper post for perfection.
+  A hugely capable hardtail ready for anything
  We would want a dropper fitted straight away

 

 

Santa_Cruz_High_Tower_C.jpgSanta Cruz High Tower C R1 AM | £3600Mens

Best for: Big trail riding while hedging your bets on wheel size.

Built to be versatile, there are few people who wouldn’t get on with the full suspension, 135mm travel Santa Cruz High Tower. It can be built up with either 29in or the chunky 27.5 plus wheel size. This C version is the cheaper of the two carbon frames and we have chosen the 29in basic build option, with SRAM NX 11 speed shifting and SRAM Level T brakes, a Fox Rhythm 140mm for the front end bounce and high-end Race Face components for bar, stem and seatpost.

Built in a 27.5in+ format this is a formidable machine, able to tackle just about any technical terrain. With 135mm travel soaking up bumps and 3in tyres gripping for dear life. Built with 29in wheels it morphs into a speedier, mile gobbling beast.

VPP suspension is designed to reduce energy sapping pedal bob and it works, with the Hightower fast out of corners and no slacker on the climbs.

Talking of slack, the 66.5 degree head angle shows how aggressive the Hightower can ride. Steep, rocky and rooty terrain is its staple diet, even in the slightly nimbler 29in build option – we can only imagine the confidence those chunky 3in tyres would inspire.

VERDICT - 10 Overall
A super-capable all rounder and one of the few bikes with the versatility to chop between the two hot wheel sizes of the moment. Just as well it's so good…
+  A hugely capable, versatile, and fast full suspension bike
  Not the cheapest option, but worth every penny

 

 

Scott_Scale_960.jpgScott Scale 960 | £1300Mens

Best for: Racing and leaving your mates behind on long climbs.

Efficient, fast and easy rolling, 29in hardtails are ideal for racing, and that is the background of the Scale 960. A lightweight aluminium frame is hung with 100mm travel RockShox TK30 Solo Air forks and largely Shimano Deore components. Fast-rolling 2.2in Maxxis Ikon tyres and Syncros hardware complete the picture.

This bike's light and sprightly build just demands to be ridden fast, and there are some nice touches to efficient riding too, including a remote lockout for the RockShox for bob-free sprints and climbs. It's good to see full length outer cable routing for the rear mech – always the best option for long term clean shifting in our gritty and wet UK climate. The rest of the cabling is internal.

Maxxis Ikon tyres are one of our fast-riding favourites, rolling well while retaining a good amount of grip in the small blocks.

For technical trail riding the Scale has respectably wide 720mm bars and a fairly relaxed head angle completing a bike that is not only fast, but confident over the rough stuff.

VERDICT - 8 Overall
For big miles with technical forays the Scott Scale 960 is a lot of fun, but with a brutally efficient, lightweight frame and reliable Deore equipment.
+ Fast and light, the Scott is easy to clock up miles on
- A little steep and short for all-out trail riding

 

 

Trek_Stache_9.6.jpgTrek Stache 9.6 | £2700Mens

Best for: Questioning if you really need full suspension at all.

A little over a year ago Trek introduced their new Stache 29in+ bike, a regular 29er sporting 3in rubber to add an element of rugged capability to the high-rolling speed of the wheel size. It worked a treat, and now they have introduced carbon models to reduce the overall weight – and increase fun – even further. The 9.6 is the lower range offering, if you can call a £2700 bike ‘lower range,’ and sports a 120mm RockShox Yari fork, SRAM Guide R brakes and a SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain. Bontrager hubs and SUNRingle rims make up the wheelset.
Everything about this bike says fun to us. Those 29in+ wheels are pretty much unstoppable through all sorts of technical rocky and rooty ground, sticking to anything and floating over soft mud like tarmac.

Trek have used every trick to make the bike more trail friendly, finessing the light and stiff frame to make a bomber bike from start to finish.

Their Stranglehold dropout at the back also means you can run anything from 27.5in+ to regular 29in wheels.

VERDICT -  10 Overall
A real hoot to ride, the Stache 9.6 is all you will need to cover any ground like a steamroller. As close as you can get to full-suspension without springs.
+  This bike really can go anywhere with ease
  The price is prohibitive for a hardtail really

 

 

Sonder_Vir_Fortis.jpgSonder Vir Fortis SRAM GX1 | £1850 MensWomens

Best for: Bringing some carbon fibre-framed zip to your fat biking.

All fans of bikepacking kit will know the Alpkit brand. They have mastered the gear side of things, becoming hugely popular on the scene, and have recently moved into the bikes themselves by creating the Sonder brand.

Bringing fat bikes into the 21st century, Sonder have specced the Vir Fortis with a full carbon frame and fork that flows and curves in stark contrast to the normally staid design of the breed. 4in Jumbo Jim tyres shod the 26 inch wheels, while 11 speed SRAM GX1 provides the drive and SRAM Guide R the stopping power.

Although the original spec provides mere 4in Schwalbe Jumbo Jim tyres Sonder have built the Vir Fortis to accommodate up to 4.8 inchers – true terrain flatteners. We do like the fours though, as they are more of a balance between speed, manoeuvrability and ground munching.

They are also lighter too, something than can also be said of the feather weight frame – a pinch at 1550g for the medium. This brings a whole new feel to the normally cumbersome fatty style, and we thoroughly enjoy the change in both long distance travelling and shorter blasts through the woods. Grip is out of this world, yet a distinct burst of speed can be wrung from it – relatively speaking.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
stom frame bags for a modern take on fat biking, more than ready for your next adventure. Or just some bouncy fun on local trails.
+  An exciting, modern, light-weight carbon framed fatty
  We aren’t huge fans of the SRAM Guide R’s long term durability