We are constantly scouring the internet to find the best hardtail mountain bikes. After researching well over 50 of the best models available, we bought the most intriguing options on the market. Multiple testers rode these bikes back to back to determine their relative strengths and weaknesses and find the perfect bike for you, your riding style, and your budget. What hardtails lack in downhill performance, they compensate for with simplicity, ease of maintenance, and slick climbing abilities. Additionally, they force riders to use proper form and finesse to work through difficult sections of trail. Continue reading to learn which bikes fared well and which ones floundered.
The Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes of 2019
|Price||$1,600 List||$2,199 List||$1,599 List||$1,499 List||$3,799 List|
|Pros||High fun factor, stable and precise downhill performance, climbing traction||Swift climbing, sharp handling, excellent value||Excellent descender, high-end fork, excellent pop out of corners||Excellent high-speed stability, great traction, capable on rough terrain||Fast-fast rolling, light, excellent climber|
|Cons||3.0-inch tires cause some drag, chain slap is noisy||Not as fun on rough trails, 11-speed drivetrain||No dropper post, weak tire specification||Geometry could be awkward for some, no dropper post, long wheelbase||Expensive, poor performance on choppy terrain, brutally stiff|
|Bottom Line||An extremely fun and well-rounded 27.5-plus hardtail.||A swift-climbing hardtail that could serve as a daily driver or a cross-country race bike||An aggressive descender with an impressive build kit despite a couple notable drawbacks.||An aggressive hardtail built for high speeds with some geometry quirks.||A monster truck of a hardtail that crushes miles but heavily favors smooth and buff trails.|
|Rating Categories||Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie||Ibis DV9 NX||Meta HT AM Essential||Whyte 901||Trek Stache 9.7|
|Fun Factor (25%)|
|Specs||Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie||Ibis DV9 NX||Meta HT AM Essential||Whyte 901||Trek Stache 9.7|
|Measured Weight (w/o pedals, Medium)||30lbs 9oz||26lbs 8oz||29lbs 8oz||28lbs 2oz||26lbs 12oz|
Best Hardtail Mountain Bike
Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie 2018
The Specialized Fuse is our Editor's Choice for the best hardtail mountain bike. This rig delivers an excellent balance of downhill performance and swift climbing abilities. Yes, it is a versatile bike that is at home on any trail. The Fuse has middle-of-the-road geometry that avoids going to slack or too steep. The frame is thoughtfully designed and the thin tubing on the rear triangle adds an element of comfort as it flexes a bit and eats up some of the harsh trail surface. In addition, the meaty 3.0-inch Specialized tires can be run at lower tire pressure and provide an element of damping. Our test bike has a solid build specification including a dropper post and SRAM 1x11 drivetrain.
The Fuse still has some flaws. Some testers found that the 3.0-inch tires create a little bit of drag due to the huge contact patch. Also, there is a substantial amount of chain slap on the frame's chainstays. This noise materializes when you are in the highest 1-2 gears and it can cause quite a ruckus.
Read review: Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie 2018
Best Hardtail to Serve As A Trail and Cross Country Bike
Ibis DV9 NX 2019
The Ibis DV9 is a light bicycle that can slay a trail ride and is just as well suited to entering a cross country race. This bike has relatively upright, conservative, cross-country oriented geometry. This bike prioritizes pedal efficiency and quick handling over downhill prowess. The result is tremendous climbing efficiency, zippy acceleration, and razor-sharp steering. The NX build we tested is budget oriented, but Ibis didn't skimp where it matters with a great fork, tires, wheels, and dropper post that enhance its all-around performance. This bicycle is a great choice for the rider who wants a versatile hardtail and frequently rides primarily smooth and flowy trails.
The downside? The DV9 isn't the best choice for riders who ride rough or chattery trails. The lightweight carbon fiber frame translates a lot of the trail surface to the rider. When your motoring over choppy terrain, you can definitely feel it. As a result, this bike is best piloted by experienced riders who can use proper form and soften their elbows and knees to finesse downhill.
Read review: Ibis DV9 NX 2019
Best Aggressive Hardtail
Commencal Meta HT AM Essential 2019
The Commencal Meta HT AM is a rowdy hardtail that lives for fast downhills. This hardtail bicycle uses long and low enduro-oriented geometry typically found on full suspension bikes. The result is our most downhill capable and aggressive hardtail that charges harder than we expected. This downhill oriented geometry is a bit of a detriment to its climbing performance, but other than a wandering front end it still fares reasonably well on the uphills. Our test bike came outfitted with a stellar build kit at an impressive price. Our Essential build is highlighted by a 160mm RockShox Yari fork that is typically found on bicycles with a much higher price tag.
To be clear, this isn't the perfect bicycle. Due to the slack angles, handling can be quite sluggish at slower speeds and through sharper corners. In addition, it came stock with some miserable tires which we punctured multiple times. Oh yeah, it also came with a rigid dropper post. The lack of the dropper post significantly detracts from the fun factor.
Read review: Commencal Meta HT AM 2019
Why You Should Trust Us
Pat Donahue, our former Senior Mountain Bike Editor at OutdoorGearLab, leads the tests. Pat has ridden well over 150 bikes in the past 15 years. While he has spent several years on downhill and enduro race tracks, he prefers to just go out and ride. He is joined by professional skier, singletrack enthusiast, and bike mechanic Kyle Smaine; elite, multi-discipline Australian competitive cyclist Paul Tindal; and bike industry veteran Joshua Hutchens, who has done everything from owning and running his own shop in Oregon to guiding around the world since his early days on a BMX bike.
Our testing process is very involved and thorough. You can rest assured that we did our due diligence with these bicycles. First, we gather our test bikes and painstakingly measure each bike. Yes, manufacturers do provide geometry charts for each model, but we feel it is more thorough to measure each bike ourselves to eliminate any variance in measuring techniques. Furthermore, we frequently find some substantial discrepancies between our measurements and the manufacturer measurements.
Next comes the fun part. Each tester takes each bike on multiple test rides. We test these bikes on trails we are extremely familiar with. This familiarity means we ride the same exact lines on each bike and can easily discern between the ride properties of each bike. Our test rides are not quick, 25-minute, hot laps. They are substantial, multi-hour rides.
We also do switchout days where were jump on bikes back to back in quick succession. This is an extremely important element of our testing process. Riding different bikes on the same trail, one after another, makes the relative differences and strengths and weaknesses extremely apparent.
Related: How We Tested Best Hardtail Bikes
Is a Hardtail Mountain Bike Right for You?
There is no denying mountain biking is an expensive sport. Modern bicycles are packed full of cutting-edge technologies, and their price tags reflect this.
Hardtail mountain bikes can be very appealing. The price tag is the first thing that will grab your attention. The lack of a rear suspension linkage and shock make these bikes less expensive to produce and easier to maintain. Hardtails are a fantastic way for newer riders to build skills as they force proper form and soft knees/elbows over rough terrain. Also, these can be excellent second bikes for full suspension owners who want a simple, hearty bike for wet and sloppy conditions. It's not all wonderful; hardtails have a far narrower range of trails they can comfortably ride. Additionally, they provide a much less forgiving ride by translating the trail surface to the rider's body more directly.
A bare-bones full suspension bike generally sells for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000. Well-equipped bikes will usually start above $3,000. If you ride regularly, all of the bearings and pivots on these full suspension bikes require maintenance to keep them running smoothly and quietly. This maintenance will likely run you a few hundred dollars a year. The enormous upside to full suspension bikes is they offer far superior performance in almost every area of the trail compared to hardtails. Great climbing traction, far more aggressive descending abilities, and all-day comfort are all benefits of full-squish rigs. Riders who intend on getting into mountain biking for the long-haul will typically benefit from dropping the extra coin for some rear suspension.
Which is right for you? Taking a look at your goals is essential.
If you are looking to head out on a relaxing ride once a week on mellow terrain with minimal amounts of technical features, a hardtail is a solid choice. Beginners looking to build their skills are also great candidates for these bikes. If you're in this camp, know that mountain biking can potentially be more fun on a full suspension bike. Riders who want to ride a wide range of trails should strongly consider full suspension. If you're going to ride multiple times a week and push your skill set, a full suspension bike is often the best option.
Some riders simply prefer the simplicity and efficiency of a hardtail. They have fewer moving parts, often weigh less, and you'll never lose energy through rear suspension movement. The added challenge of riding without the crutch of rear suspension appeals to many riders as well. It's really about personal preference. So, whether you're just starting out or you've been riding for decades, there are more styles of hardtail mountain bikes on the market than ever before, and something sure to match any rider's needs and budget.
If the price tag associated with a quality mountain bike has you choking, look no further! We compiled the performance scores of each hardtail bike in our test and mapped them out in relation to their list price. Bikes such as the Marin Pine Mountain 1 2018 and Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie 2018 represent what we believe to be an excellent value.
Modern hardtails typically have one of four common wheel sizes. Each wheel size has strengths and weaknesses.
- 27.5 — Great for those who want a quick and playful ride. These are the smallest diameter wheels that are still widely produced. As a result, you sacrifice rolling speed and momentum in favor of superb cornering abilities and a high fun-factor.
- 29 — Best for those who want to ride fast. The larger diameter of "wagon wheels" smooths over some of the trail surfaces. It's harder to disturb the momentum of these big wheels. You sacrifice a bit of agility compared to 27.5-inch wheels, but they roll faster and take a bit of the inherent harshness out of a hardtail.
- 27.5+ — 27.5+ wheels feature tires that are either 2.8 or 3.0-inches wide. The extra rubber creates a larger diameter that is similar to a 29er. Most importantly, the wide rubber provides exceptional traction and creates a bit of cushion/dampening. This can be very beneficial on a hardtail.
- 29+ — This is a less standard wheel size that uses a 29 x 3.0-inch tire. The 29+ is a huge wheel that provides an exceptionally stable and fast rolling ride at speed. Also, it makes trail obstacles feel far smaller in scale than any of the other wheel sizes. The downfall? These large wheels can be a handful in the corners, feel sluggish on climbs, and they are typically far from playful.
Note: Tire choice can make a massive difference within a wheel size — for example, a 29 x 2.3-inch tire ride very differently than a 29 x 2.6-inch tire. Adding a bit of width can make for a more aggressive feel and provide a bit of damping.
Carbon Fiber vs. Aluminum vs. Steel
Frame material is important. Each frame material has inherent strengths and weaknesses that can have an enormous effect on performance and price. Your budget will dictate frame material to a large extent, but here is a brief rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of each material.
- Carbon Fiber — The lightest, stiffest, and strongest option. It's also one of the more expensive materials. Carbon fiber transmits your power and body movements most effectively. The stiff ride is responsive, and the lower weight is a huge bonus. Carbon fiber ages well, meaning it retains its integrity better than aluminum that weakens over the years. It is also the strongest of the frame materials. The catch, while carbon fiber is extremely strong, it doesn't stand up well to being crashed into rocks. Also, it isn't eco-friendly as it has no way of being recycled.
- Aluminum — This reliable metal is less expensive and doesn't age as well as carbon fiber. While aluminum is not as stiff as carbon fiber, it responds better to getting dropped in rocks. Additionally, it isn't quite as unforgiving as carbon fiber, which results in minor amounts of frame flex. No big deal. This flex can work in your favor by softening the harsh feel of a hardtail. This material is easily recyclable.
- Steel — Some hardtail bikes, particularly from smaller manufacturers, are built with steel. Steel is less stiff than carbon fiber and aluminum resulting in a bit of frame flex. The upside? It provides a more damp ride than the other materials. Additionally, steel can be repaired if a weld fails.
Hardtails are typically associated with a more old school ride feel and this is related to their rigid rear ends and frame geometry. Modern mountain bike geometry trends are slowly but surely making their way into the design of hardtail mountain bikes and there are currently more different styles of hardtails on the market than ever before. Brands have been diversifying their frame geometries to achieve different ride characteristics. Nearly all hardtails are efficient climbers due to their lack of rear suspension although there are differences in uphill handling based on the length of the wheelbase and reach as well as the head tube angle.
These days you can get a quick handling carbon fiber framed model with middle of the road geometry, like the Ibis DV9 or the Trek Stache, that are lightweight, efficient, fast rolling, and eat up miles and vertical like it's their job. In the case of the DV9, it's a versatile trail worthy bike that could easily double as an XC race bike on the weekends. Moderate geometries lend themselves well to versatility and bikes like the Specialized Fuse are great examples of this. The Fuse is very well rounded, and it performs impressively well in virtually all situations. You'll also find models like the Marin Pine Mountain, with more conservative geometry, that are better for less aggressive trail riding and are well suited to bike packing and adventure riding.
On the other end of the spectrum, we now have companies bringing long and slack to the designs of their hardtail frames. The terms aggressive and enduro haven't been associated much with hardtail mountain bikes until more recently as brands like Whyte and Commencal have started producing downhill oriented models. The Commencal Meta HT AM, for example, has a slack head angle and a 160mm fork that give this bike the ability to get rowdy. The Whyte 901 is similarly downhill oriented with a long wheelbase, low bottom bracket, and long reach that thrives at speed on the descents.
There you have it folks. Hardtail mountain bikes can be a great option for a variety of reasons. Budget-conscious riders will save significant amounts of money over a full suspension bicycle. Newer riders will be forced to learn proper form and finesse. Experienced riders can benefit from riding a hardtail every now and again to reinforce proper habits. Oh yeah, they are also far easier and less costly to maintain. The Specialized Fuse is still our Editor's choice to serve as a daily driver. The Ibis DV9 is a clear choice for those riders seeking swift climbing, zippy acceleration, and might want to enter a cross country race or two. The Commencal Meta HT AM is still the downhill king. Stay tuned as we will be sprinkling new bikes in periodically.
— Pat Donahue, Kyle Smaine, Paul Tindal, Joshua Hutchens