Mountain bikes are perhaps some of the most versatile types of bikes out there, covering everything from pottering along a canal towpath, to dropping off vertical trails on a spiky mountain skyline. But, with such a range of riding covered it’s important to establish what type of riding you’re going to be undertaking to avoid pitfalls like mushing along a towpath on 180mm of full suspension with all the weight and inefficient pedalling it brings, when you could get far more pleasure from zipping along on a flighty hardtail.
So pick your poison; if the single-track is calling, then look into the hardtail mountain bikes. Starting at around £500, they have a front suspension fork but nothing in the rear, light aluminium frames and big, lightweight wheels with similar dimensions to road bikes, you’ll fly over the lumps and bumps.
Full suspension mountain bikes are a little pricier. You’re looking at a start point of about £1000, but with the added dampening of the rear suspension, you can ride pretty much wherever your heart desires, with features such as pivot design and lock-out shock help to make your pedalling more efficient.
And for those of us who want to cycle anywhere and everywhere, including on snow and sand, it’s the fatbikes. Forget the suspension and enjoy the massive tyres and sturdy frames to get you where you’re going no matter the terrain. The perfect companion for bikepacking, prices start at approx £1000.
Once you know your budget and requirements do your research. Take to the web and surf the forums, talk to brands and fellow bikers and even go on some test rides to find your perfect fit.
To give you a helping hand, we’ve gathered together the latest bikes of 2019 that could take you up to that jaggy skyline, or down to the pub for a quick half.
Voodoo Bizango 29er | £650
BEST FOR Progressing your mountain biking on technical trails.
This multi-award winning 29 inch wheeled hardtail has taken the sub-£750 category of mountain bikes by storm over the last few years, and for good reason. The heart of any bike is the frame, and the Bizango has a cracker for the money, with butted 6061 aluminium tubes providing stiffness and power delivery without weight penalty.
The capable, trail munching 29er wheels make light work of rough trails while the drivetrain is a surprisingly advanced 1x11 SRAM NX; a cracking deal at this price and a very worthwhile addition to the bike that will keep it rolling along nicely without the complication of a front mech. Brakes are another wise spec with our favourite budget stoppers, Shimano M315s, present and likely to function perfectly for a long time to come.
VERDICT: With modern trail geometry and capable kit, the Bizango is an ideal first serious mountain bike.
Sonder Transmitter NX1 Recon | £999
BEST FOR Inspiring confidence to take on more technical trails.
The great thing about plus-sized bikes is the confidence boost you get from those huge 2.5 inch (or bigger) tyres. Rattling over rocks and roots is a calmer experience with the added cushioning, and grip is also multiplied by the additional trail footprint. It all adds up to a stable and unflustered platform for tearing up the most technical of trails.
It is the frame that really pushes this capable 27.5 bike into truly aggressive territory though, with a super-slack 65 degree head angle and long wheelbase settling you into the perfect position for attacking steep and gnarly trails.
VERDICT: The perfect bike for bringing your riding on in leaps and bounds.
Orange STAGE 5 PRO | £3800
BEST FOR Eating up tough and technical terrain
The Stage 5 is basically an Orange Five on steroids, boosting the wheel size from 27.5 to 29 inches for more trail galloping capability while speccing a 135mm travel rear end to maintain the technical abilities of its smaller brother.
Our Pro build choice is bottom of the range but still sports perfectly capable and worthwhile shiny bits, with Fox Performance 34 forks, SRAM Eagle 12 speed drivetrain and good old Shimano SLX hydraulic discs for reliable stopping power - pretty handy when you are tempted up to speed by the capable ability of the setup.
VERDICT: A very capable full suspension rig for fast and technical terrain.
Surly Wednesday | £1750
BEST FOR When you can’t decide between fun on the local trails or an expedition into the outback.
The Wednesday is the evolution of Surly’s original fat bike designs, with modern geometry encouraging more technical riding while retaining as much pedalling efficiency as possible. Well, buzzing along on 3.8 inch tyres couldn’t really be described as efficient, but you know what we mean.
The modern twist is emphasised by internal routing for a dropper post, and our build comes with a 1x11 gearing setup from SRAM, although the option of rear facing dropouts means single speed setup is an easy conversion if the technology gets too much.
Multiple rack and bottle mounts mean you can, come the holidays, rack up your luggage and set off into the unknown too, making this a versatile machine.
VERDICT: Bombproof, floating tyre fun with more serious expedition capability if you desire.
Saracen Ariel Elite | £3300
BEST FOR Enduro racing straight out of the box.
If you’re serious about taking on big trails in big mountains, you’re going to need a bike that’s up to the job. With 170mm Rock Shox Yari forks floating you though the biggest of rocks and drops, backed up by a well proportioned 165mm travel frame, the Ariel Elite is just such a machine.
The SLX drivetrain is well specced for the money, without sacrificing dependability or function, and is our go-to level in the Shimano range. It just works, and works well without breaking the bank. The same goes for the Shimano 501 brakes.
VERDICT: A big enough bike to outride most of us.
Specialized Pitch Sport | £500
BEST FOR Entry level mountain biking.
Sitting at the budget end of the Specialized range, the Pitch Sport is nonetheless a very capable mountain bike for the money. At this price you’re cranking a 3 x 8 Shimano Acera/Altus drivetrain rather than more up to date one or two chainring systems, but we have little to complain about considering the bang up to date aluminium frame with capable custom damped forks, all rolling on 27.5inch wheels.
The Pitch Sport is as capable of hacking along fire roads as it is dropping through moderately technical trails with fast and flowing ground rather than all-out technically steep terrain that would be better reserved for more specialist frames.
VERDICT: A great entry level yet capable mountain bike for not a lot of cash.
Canyon NEURON AL 6.0 | £1449
BEST FOR Mile munching capability at an affordable price.
Full suspension 29ers are well known as being trail munchers, covering ground with a combination of large wheels rolling easily over small rocks and roots with the suspension soaking up the rest.
The Neuron 6.0 is a very affordable path into this genre, coming in at less than £1500 for what is a very impressively specced bike indeed.
The all aluminium chassis uses some of the geometry and construction lessons that have bled down from further up the Canyon range, resulting in a frame that you’ll be happy to upgrade should the need present itself. A Shimano SLX and XT drivetrain drives you up the hills while Shimano hydraulic disc brakes haul it to a stop - both great options and a bargain at the price.
VERDICT: A very capable, competitively priced, full suspension bike with bang up to date geometry and components