Are you searching for the best new trail mountain bike? We are constantly researching the latest and greatest models on the market and buying them to test and compare. Our review currently focuses on 21 of the best trail bikes you can buy with a focus on shorter and mid-travel options for everyday riding. We want to help you find the model that best suits your riding style, terrain, and budget, but with so many options on the market, we know it can be a challenge to find the right one. Our team of professional mountain bike testers spent countless hours riding these bikes while focusing on and scrutinizing every aspect of their design, performance, and component specification. No matter where or how you ride, we hope this review helps you find your next bike.
The Best Trail Mountain Bikes
|Price||$5,099 List||$7,299.00 at Competitive Cyclist||$8,299.00 at Competitive Cyclist||$4,999 List||$5,399 List|
|Pros||Excellent climber, aggressive geometry, rim/tire combination||Excellent climbing abilities, impressive downhill performance, high fun factor, tremendous build kit||Very stable at speed, hard charging, amazing build, supportive pedal platform, great deep stroke support||Well-rounded, modern geometry, fun on a wide range of terrain, more capable than previous model||Lightweight, playful, well-rounded, modern geometry, solid component specification|
|Cons||Expensive, big impacts are less supportive, handlebars have too much backsweep||Expensive, pivots came loose a few times during testing||Build tested is expensive, somewhat less maneuverable than previous version, can feel sluggish at lower speeds||A little heavy for carbon, chattery over high frequency chop||Not a brawler, Fox 34 fork can be overwhelmed|
|Bottom Line||A long-travel 29er that blends aggressive geometry with a sporty and dialed suspension design.||A killer daily driver that delivers feathery climbing performance and well-rounded downhill performance.||Longer, slacker, burlier, the redesigned Hightower is a hard charging 29-inch trail bike.||Capable, versatile, and hard-charging, the new Tallboy is a fresh take on Santa Cruz's shorter travel 29er.||The new and improved Ibis Ripley is one of the best all around mid-travel trail bikes we've ever ridden.|
|Rating Categories||Ibis Ripmo GX||Yeti SB130 TURQ X01||Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1||Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon C S||Ibis Ripley GX Eagle|
|Fun Factor (25%)|
|Downhill Performance (35%)|
|Climbing Performance (35%)|
|Ease Of Maintenance (5%)|
|Specs||Ibis Ripmo GX||Yeti SB130 TURQ X01||Santa Cruz...||Santa Cruz Tallboy...||Ibis Ripley GX Eagle|
|Suspension & Travel||DW-Link - 145mm||Switch Infinity - 130mm||Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) - 140mm||Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) - 120mm||DW-Link - 120mm|
|Measured Weight (w/o pedals)||29 lbs 7 oz (Large)||29 lbs 9 oz (Large)||29 lbs 13 oz (Large)||30 lbs 10 oz (Large)||28 lbs 14 oz (Large)|
|Fork||Fox 36 Performance - 160mm, 36mm stanchions||Fox 36 Factory - 150mm 36mm stanchions||RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 150mm||Fox 34 Float Performance 130mm||Fox Float 34 Performance 130mm 34mm stanchions|
|Shock||Fox DPX2 Performance Elite||Fox DPX2 Factory||RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate||Fox Float Performance DPS||Fox Float Performance DPS EVOL|
|Frame Material||Carbon Fiber||Carbon Fiber "TURQ"||Carbon Fiber "CC"||Carbon Fiber "C"||Carbon Fiber|
|Frame Settings||N/A||N/A||Flip Chip||Flip Chip||N/A|
|Wheelset||Ibis 938 Aluminum Rims 34mm ID w/ Ibis Hubs||DT Swiss M1700, 30mm ID w/ DT Swiss 350 hub||Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon Rims w/ DT 350 hubs||Race Face AR Offset 27 with DT 370 hubs||Ibis 938 Aluminum Rims 34mm ID w/ Ibis Hubs|
|Front Tire||Maxxis Minion DHF WT 29 x 2.5"||Maxxis Minion DHF WT 29 x 2.5"||Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO TR 2.4"||Maxxis Minion DHF 3C EXO TR 2.3"||Schwable Hans Dampf 2.6"|
|Rear Tire||Maxxis Aggressor WT 29 x 2.5"||Maxxis Aggressor 29 x 2.3||Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO TR 2.4"||Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO TR 2.3"||Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.6"|
|Shifters||SRAM GX Eagle||SRAM XO Eagle||SRAM XO1 Eagle||SRAM GX Eagle||SRAM GX Eagle|
|Rear Derailleur||SRAM GX Eagle 12-Speed||SRAM X0 Eagle||SRAM XO1 Eagle||SRAM GX Eagle||SRAM GX Eagle|
|Crankset||SRAM Descendant 30t||SRAM X0 Eagle Carbon 30T||SRAM X1 Eagle DUB 170mm(size Large) 30T||SRAM Style 7K DUB 175mm (size Large) 32T||SRAM Descendant Alloy 32T|
|Saddle||WTB Silverado||WTB Volt||WTB Silverado Team||WTB Siverado Pro||WTB Silverado 142mm|
|Seatpost||KS LEV-SI-150mm||Fox Transfer 150mm||RockShox Reverb Stealth||RockShox Reverb Stealth||Bike Yoke Revive 160mm|
|Handlebar||Ibis Aluminum Bar - 780mm||Yeti Carbon - 780mm||Santa Cruz AM Carbon - 800mm||Race Face Ride 760mm||Ibis 780mm Alloy|
|Stem||Ibis 3D Forged Stem 50mm w/ 31.8mm Clamp||RaceFace Aeffect R 35||Race Face Aeffect R 50mm||Race Face Aeffect R 50mm||Ibis 31.8mm 50mm|
|Brakes||Shimano Deore XT||Shimano XT M8000||SRAM Code RSC||SRAM Guide R||Shimano Deore 2 Piston|
|Measured Effective Top Tube (mm)||628||628||619||620||625|
|Measured Reach (mm)||473||477||470||470||475|
|Measured Head Tube Angle||65.8-degrees||65.1-degrees||65.55-degrees H / 65.25-degrees L||65.7-degrees H / 65.5-degrees L||66.5-degrees|
|Measured Seat Tube Angle||76.1-degrees||76.8-degrees||76.8-degrees H / 76.3-degrees L||76.4-degrees H / 76.2-degrees L||76.2-degrees|
|Measured Bottom Bracket Height (mm)||343||335||340||337 H / 334 L||338|
|Measured Wheelbase (mm)||1220||1231||1230||1214||1210|
|Measured Chain Stay Length (mm)||436||438||435||432 short / 442 long||434|
|Warranty||Seven Years||Lifetime||Lifetime||Lifetime||Seven Years|
Best Overall Trail Bike
Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 2019
The Yeti SB130 is a ripping trail bike that may just be the ultimate daily driver. This bicycle makes a ton of sense for a huge number of riders on a wide range of terrain. The Yeti sets you up in an excellent climbing position and delivers a feathery and efficient uphill experience. The Switch Infinity suspension beautifully balances excellent traction with a calm and relatively bob-free pedal platform. On the descent, this bike is a blast on a very diverse range of terrain. On fast and buff flow trails this bike delivers excellent stability, sharp handling, and berm-railing cornering skills. On rougher trails, the SB130 charges hard down anything but true enduro-grade terrain. The Yeti is very versatile. It is burly enough to hang on some gnar and tight and efficient enough to still be a blast on mellow and tame trails. This is a very high compliment. All of this performance is going to cost you, Yeti bikes are not know for their affordability.
Read Review: Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 2019
Best Quiver Killer
Ibis Ripmo GX 2018
The all-new Ibis Ripmo is a dialed aggressive trail mountain bike. This rig pairs a burly and confidence-inspiring front end with a lively and efficient rear end. This bicycle features 145mm of rear-wheel travel and is designed around a 160mm fork. Despite its aggressive attitude, the Ripmo is a very efficient climber. The DW-link suspension functions well under seated or standing pedaling loads but is active enough to maintain traction. On the descent, this bike has the modern geometry angles to be confident down gnarly terrain. The Ripmo remains impressively calm over small to mid-size chatter. At times, you need a reminder that this bike only has 145mm of travel and it can be overwhelmed on super gnarly trails. The Ripmo model we tested is reasonably priced, and it is offered in a variety of build kits to suit a range of budgets.
Read Review: Ibis Ripmo GX 2018
Top Pick Aggressive Trail Bike
Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
For 2020, the Santa Cruz Hightower has been completely redesigned. The updated version has a very modern long and slack geometry, flip-chip adjustability, and a low-mount VPP suspension design. The result of these changes is a very hard-charging 29er trail bike that is impressively stable at speed and is capable of getting as rowdy as you want. With 140mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork, the Hightower falls at the upper end of the mid-travel category though it rides and feels like it has more travel than that. Thanks to the supportive VPP platform, steep seat tube angle, and a roomy cockpit, the Hightower is an efficient and comfortable climber as well. While the Hightower has undoubtedly become more capable when things get gnarly, its maneuverability at low speeds and in tighter technical terrain suffers a bit due mostly to the long wheelbase and slacker front end. That said, we still feel this burly downhill crusher is deserving of our Best Aggressive Trail Bike Award. The high-end model we tested is quite expensive, but this bike is offered in a number of builds and prices to meet a range of budgets.
Read Review: Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
Best Short Travel Trail Bike
Ibis Ripley GX Eagle 2019
The Ibis Ripley has undergone a complete overhaul for the 2019-2020 model year. Other than keeping the same travel as the previous version, 120mm in the rear and 130mm in the front, the new Ripley is fully redesigned. Building on the success of the longer travel Ripmo, Ibis took many of the design features of that bike and applied them in this shorter travel package. The reach and wheelbase have been extended significantly, the head tube slackened, and the seat tube steepened to bring the Ripley's geometry up to date. The result is a much more well-rounded bike that climbs even better and descends with far more confidence. It still maintains much of its lively and playful trail manners, though that is no longer its defining characteristic. This versatile short travel ride scampers uphill and charges back down, it's only limited by its travel length. If you're looking for a short travel trail bike that can do it all, check out the new and improved Ripley.
Read Review: Ibis Ripley GX 2019
Best Value Short-Travel Trail Bike
Giant Trance 29 2 2019
Giant's Trance 29 2 is an affordable short travel trail bike that is practical for a broad range of riders and terrain. This bike is playful and agile and boasts a high fun-factor. It feels efficient with excellent climbing abilities despite its 31-pound weight and is plenty capable for any length of ride. Downhill performance is composed and impressive, especially considering its short 115mm of rear-wheel travel. Handling is quick and precise and it excels in technical terrain and rips corners with the best of them. This is a great bike for the rider who appreciates solid climbing abilities and wants a moderately aggressive geometry and prefers the liveliness of a shorter travel bike. Our test model is also an impressive value with a rip-able build, although there are several other builds available for anyone looking to go a little lower or higher-end.
Read Review: Giant Trance 29 2 2019
Another Excellent Short Travel Trail Bike
Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon C S
The Santa Cruz Tallboy recently underwent a complete redesign turning this short-travel 29er into a super capable and versatile trail shredder. The new Tallboy bears little resemblance to the previous version and it sports a modern progressive geometry, 130/120mm of front/rear-wheel travel, the low-link VPP suspension layout, and flip-chip adjustable geometry. The long-ish wheelbase and generous reach combine with the slack head tube angle to create a super stable and planted feel at speed and unflinching confidence in steep and rough terrain. The VPP suspension design isn't our favorite over high-frequency chop, but it is stellar on mid-sized and big hits giving it a "more travel than it actually has" feel. The modern geometry also translates into a comfortable climbing position and the VPP platform is ultra-supportive for an efficient uphill performance. Our biggest gripes with the Tallboy are that it's a bit heavy for a carbon bike at this price point, and it didn't strike us as especially playful. That said, if you're looking for a composed and capable short travel trail bike, the Tallboy is worth serious consideration.
Best User-Friendly All-Around Trail Bike
Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 29 2019
The Specialized Stumpjumper is a 140mm travel 29er that is fun for everyone. There are some high-end bikes that require a very aggressive rider to come alive. The Stumpjumper is a more user-friendly option and is a great choice that riders of all skill levels can appreciate. Downhill performance is confident, reliable, and predictable while climbing is efficient and comfortable. Handling is reasonably sharp and this bike reacts with minimal rider input. This well-rounded bike has no fatal flaw and makes sense for a tremendous amount of riders due to its huge bandwidth. Pricing is competitive with affordable aluminum builds and high-end carbon models offered.
Read Review: Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 29
Best Trail Bike Under 2500
YT Jeffsy AL Base 2019
The YT Jeffsy AL Base has been redesigned for 2019 and has an outstanding all-around performance that earned it our Editor's Choice Award for a mountain bike under $2500. We feel this bike represents the best value in a trail bike that you're going to find, and it is trail worthy straight out of the box. YT's consumer-direct sales model allows them to deliver a price to build kit ratio that most other brands can't compete with. The impressive build of the Jeffsy AL Base is only one reason it performs so well on the trail. It also has a modern, but not extreme, geometry that gives it a well-rounded performance that shines in virtually all aspects of riding. It's a comfortable and adept climber and a versatile descender that handles any terrain that comes your way with composure and capability well beyond the asking price. Our biggest gripe with the Jeffsy AL Base is its moderately heavy weight, beyond that, we feel you'd be hard-pressed to find a better all-around trail bike at this price.
Read Review: YT Jeffsy AL Base 2019
Best Women's Trail Bike
Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 27.5 12-Speed - Women's
The Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon Women's impressed our tester's with its seemingly mythical ability to do everything well. This carbon-framed bike has the travel and progressive geometry to charge as hard as you want on the descents, yet it also has a high level of user-friendliness and doesn't require a professional skill level to enjoy. The 150mm of front and rear wheel travel combine with the Stumpy's relaxed geometry to provide unflinching stability at speed, a smooth and supportive ride, and big-hit capabilities that the other women's models we tested can't compete with. Despite the longer travel and slacker geometry, it maintains a high degree of maneuverability and responsive handling, with excellent traction and cornering abilities at lower speeds in mellower terrain. Specialized's FSR suspension platform provides a supportive pedaling platform and the Stumpjumper scrambles uphill with a comfortable climbing position and serviceable component specification including a 12-speed drivetrain and girthy 2.6" tires. This bike's well-rounded trail manners, user-friendliness, and downhill capabilities made it a tester favorite and we've awarded it our Editor's Choice Award for the best overall women's trail bike.
Best Hardtail Trail Bike
Specialized Fuse Expert 29 2020
The Specialized Fuse Expert 29 is a new model for 2020 and features an updated frame design and 29-inch wheels. Previous Fuse models have been tester favorites and the new version easily took the top spot as our favorite hardtail. This new model has a more progressive modern geometry that is longer and slacker than the old model but remains conservative enough that it performs well in virtually every situation. This bike charges downhill, devours flow trails, and had our testers grinning from ear to ear after every test ride. It might not be an XC race bike, but it still climbs very efficiently and effectively given its nearly 30 lb weight. Not to mention the fact that it looks pretty slick with its brushed aluminum finish and subtle purple lettering. We think it's also a solid value with a component specification that is ready for anything you are. If you're looking for a do-it-all trail hardtail, look no further.
Read Review: Specialized Fuse Expert 29 2020
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team of professional mountain bike testers spends a lot of time rolling around on two wheels. Each of our test team members has spent years relentlessly hammering test bikes around the Sierra Nevada mountains in every condition imaginable. We don't simply ride these bikes for a week or two and then move on. No, these bikes are passed around between riders for months on end and are tested for hundreds of miles each.
Our trusty testers are salty bike industry veterans, shop mechanics, racers, and gravity fiends. These testers eat, breathe, and sleep mountain bikes and always push these our test bikes to the limit.
Our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson has been riding mountain bikes since the early 1990s. This east coast native moved to North Lake Tahoe in 2001 and has been obsessively riding the area trails ever since. Benson is a competitive gravel and mountain bike racer and spends more time in the saddle than most while testing, training, and riding just for the fun of it. In 2018, he logged over 5,000 miles and 600,000 vertical feet on his mountain bike alone. He is also especially tough on and critical of gear and has spent over a decade working as a product tester and reviewer in both the ski and mountain bike industry.
Pat Donahue, our former Senior Mountain Bike Editor, has been riding a revolving door of bicycles for a decade and a half. He has ridden well over 100 bikes in that time and is passionate about connecting people with the right bicycles. He has ridden and tested bikes in a huge range of locations and trails ranging from burly bike park laps to heinous all-day epic rides. He has an affinity for super steep and chunky trails and is especially adept at testing the durability of wheels and tires. Pat is now the co-owner of a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe.
Paul Tindal is a tremendously versatile rider. Growing up in Australia, Aussie Paul rose through the elite ranks as a road rider and triathlete. Upon moving to the United States, he spent time building wheels for a high-end manufacturer prior to becoming a manager and lead mechanic at a high-volume bike shop. All the while, Paul was racing in the professional ranks in the downhill and enduro disciplines. All of this goes to say, this man performs at an outrageously high level on every type of bicycle.
Joshua Hutchens is an industry veteran who has been working with bicycles since the ripe age of 12. This California native has spent an enormous amount of time rolling on two wheels. Joshua has owned a bike shop and is a meticulous mechanic. He has traveled the world as a bicycle guide leading clients on massive rides in some of the most beautiful locations imaginable. Joshua has put in his time as a cross country racer and rides with a tremendous level of finesse and is tremendously in-touch with his bicycle during testing. He is our only tester who can ride a no-handed wheelie, seriously.
Analysis and Test Results
We are constantly scouring the market for the latest and greatest mountain bikes to test and compare. When we see a great new bike, we buy it and put it through our rigorous testing process. Each of our testers spends at least a week riding each bike before passing it on to the next. When testing is completed, we compare notes and cross-examine the lot of them to bring you this all-encompassing trail mountain bike review. Each bike is ranked in terms of fun factor (worth 25%), downhill performance (35%), uphill performance (35%), and ease of maintenance (5%). We compare the best of the best below. The bikes' intended applications, build qualities, and prices range widely. We've found that our favorite bikes shine even with less than ideal components and the best are appropriate for a wide range of terrain.
With such an enormous variety of bikes to chose from, pinpointing which one will offer the best value for your needs can be a big task. We assess both overall performance as well as how the bikes performed relative to price. Sure you can buy a bike that may require you to take out a second mortgage on your house, but you certainly don't have to. We're finding that many of the reasonably priced bikes we test are just as much fun to ride as the high-priced competition.
Thomas Aquinas once said, "Fun factor is critical when evaluating a trail mountain bike." That's why fun factor is worth a hefty 25% of the final score.
The Ibis Ripley is the epitome of a modern, zippy and fun-loving trail bike. Everything about piloting this 120mm fun-wagon is a blast. The 2019 redesign has made the Ripley far more well rounded, though it's still happy seeking out boosts and trail-side shenanigans. There are plenty of overused, cringe-inducing, terms used to describe trail bikes these days. Phrases like poppy, snappy, and flickable are hurled around all willy-nilly. That said, the Ripley is a poppy, snappy and flickable bike and the recent overhaul has also made it far more competent on the climbs and in steeper and rougher terrain on descents. Versatility is fun.
The Giant Trance 29 2 is another playful trail bike that will have you seeking the fun line at every opportunity. Riding the Trance 29 is a hootin' and hollerin' good time. This is another short-travel 29er that has the ability to alter the opinion of the 29er naysayers whose criticisms get quieter every year. Fine-tuned geometry encourages playfulness on the trail in the form of boosts and manuals. While the Trance doesn't possess the pure playful manners and supreme cornering abilities of the Ripley, it's an incredibly capable descender. This bike can and will comfortably tackle more aggressive trails that may seem to be above its short-travel pay grade. A bonus for those of us who don't live for the climb, the Trance climbs comfortably and painlessly.
The Yeti SB130 also has a very high fun factor. This mid-travel 29er climbs extremely well, shreds downhill and operates with razor-sharp handling. This bicycle is fun on a huge range of trails and you'll never feel like it's overkill. A bike that is fun on any trail you put in front of it is somewhat of a rarity.
The YT Jeffsy AL Base is an impressively versatile bike given its 140mm of travel. Here at OutdoorGearLab, we find versatility to be very fun. The Jeffsy performs well above its asking price and we feel it is one of the best values for a trail bike that you find. This rig is an efficient climber with a calm pedal platform. Once at the top of the hill, downhill performance is incredibly fun and user-friendly. While the Jeffsy isn't super fun on the gnarliest double black diamond terrain, it is a blast up to that point. This YT is more capable on the descents than the Pivot Trail 429 and Giant Trance. That said, it sacrifices much of the fun-loving, zippy, handling of the shorter-travel bikes.
Some of the harder charging options are quite fun in their own way. The Santa Cruz Hightower and Ibis Ripmo are a blast for those who ride aggressively on steep or rough trails. No, these longer-legged 29ers can't match the climbing abilities of some of the short-travel options, but they really shine when the pitch steepens and the gnar factor gets turned up. They are extremely fun in that they are not limited to certain trail types, you can jump aboard one of these bikes and ride pretty much anything.
The Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon is another well-rounded bike. Riders who don't typically encounter truly gnarly terrain will have a blast on this 29er. It climbs well enough to be great all-day bike, and on the descent, it can tackle just about anything. The Stumpjumper is a particularly interesting option for newer riders. This bike doesn't require an ultra-skilled rider or mach speeds to be fun. Anyone can hop on this bike and start having fun. That is a very high compliment in our books. Specialized also makes it in both men's and women's versions, and both are among our favorite trail bikes.
Shredding downhill is undoubtedly the lynchpin of a fun mountain bike experience. While all of the bikes in this review are categorized as trail bikes, some are more fun descenders than others. A bike's geometry, suspension platform, and component specification are the primary factors that influence its downhill performance. This metric is worth 35% of the final score.
The Ibis Ripmo won the Quiver Killer award. The Ripmo is an impressive descender, especially when you consider how well it climbs. The Ibis has a modern geometry and instills confidence when rolling into some sketchy terrain. A 160mm fork is paired with a 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion DHF and creates a supremely confident front end. Rolling into a steep chute or nasty rock garden is confidence-inspiring. The Ripmo is great over small bumps and has a calm yet sporty rear end. The long-and-low geometry delivers an extremely stable ride at high speeds.
The redesigned Santa Cruz Hightower is an extremely capable and confidence-inspiring descender amongst mid-travel trail mountain bikes. It places riders in a confident position to work down a steep section of trail and provides excellent stability at speed. It is more difficult to find the Hightower's speed limit compared to the Specialized Stumpjumper. The suspension keeps the rear end calm and feels excellent on bigger impacts. This bike is capable of tackling seriously rough and steep descents, there is no question this bike rides more aggressively than 140mm of travel suggests.
The Santa Cruz Bronson slides nicely into that not-quite-enduro and not-quite-trail category. This 27.5-inch bike possesses similar downhill manners to the Kona Process 153 CR 27.5 but requires a more aggressive rider to tap into its full potential. The Bronson is also a bit harder to rattle on black-diamond terrain. The Commencal Meta TR is a zippy and quick handling performer on the descent. While this 130mm bike isn't as comfortable straight lining rock gardens, it still feels pretty aggressive and stable. Commencal built the TR with near enduro geometry on a mid-travel platform. The result is a high level of stability at speed while retaining a relatively nimble feel.
The Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon Women's is our favorite women's bike for charging downhill. This bike's long and slack geometry combines with ample travel and nice component specification to deliver a very well-rounded downhill performance that includes hitting drops and tackling the steep and rough and moderate trails alike. The Stumpy is user-friendly and fun to ride on a huge range of terrain.
We would be remiss to not give kudos to some of the shorter travel trail bikes for their impressive downhill performances. Modern geometry trends are taking the capability of bikes with less travel to new heights, and bikes with a little less travel may be more appropriate for a lot of riders and riding locations. The Santa Cruz Tallboy may be short on travel with just 120mm in the rear and a 130mm fork, yet this bike is capable of tackling just about anything you are. This bike is a blast to ride on all types of terrain and is only limited in more aggressive terrain by its modest travel numbers. The Ibis Ripley is another shorter travel rig that rips on the descents. It has a touch steeper head tube angle than the Tallboy with identical amounts of travel and strikingly similar geometry. This lively and quick-witted bike will have you riding most things faster than ever while seeking the fun line down the hill. The mid-travel Cannondale Habit Carbon 3 tok us by surprise with its downhill prowess. This bike has 130mm of rear travel, a 140mm fork, and a relatively modern geometry that begs to ride downhill fast and can handle chunky and steep better than most. This bike is more capable than any of our testers expected and truly impressed us on the descents.
While grinding uphill may not be as adrenaline-inducing as charging a descent, it is equally important in a trail mountain bike. Being able to comfortably ascend a long climb is critical in choosing a bike. It is no surprise the short travel bikes dominate this category. It is worth noting that some of the longer travel options provide exceptional uphill skills especially when you consider how aggressively they attack the descent. Generally speaking, the geometry of a bike is the primary element dictating rider comfort and handling, while the suspension platform plays a major role in efficiency. Climbing performance is worth 35% of the final score.
The Ibis Ripley is a fantastic option thanks to its modern geometry, light weight, and great traction. The 2.6-inch tires provide a nice wide footprint that allows for exceptional performance over loose or technical terrain. The DW-Link suspension is calm and remains fairly active. Climbing positioning is upright with riders being positioned directly on top of the bottom bracket. While this bike doesn't offer the most outright pedaling efficiency, it is a clear favorite on technical terrain.
The Yeti SB130 is an excellent climber. It is especially impressive when you consider how capable this bike is on the downhill. The Switch Infinity suspension is active enough to deliver fantastic rear wheel traction while still offering a firm pedal platform. Pair this dialed suspension design with impressive components and a 29.5-pound weight and you have a formidable uphill weapon. The SB130 is a bike that you can climb on all day long while still being able to shred down the hill.
The Ibis Ripmo is a surprisingly effective climber. Thanks to the steep seat tube angle, riders are placed in a comfortable and upright position right on top of the cranks. Seated climbing efficiency is impressive and standing climbing loads are calm with a very minimal amount of pedal bob. There is little need to use the climb switch on this 145mm bike. It rides fairly high in its travel to help keep your pedals from smashing rocks or obstacles. There's no doubt that this is one of our most confident descenders, and uphill abilities better than you'd expect from this ripping 29er.
The Pivot Trail 429 has an extremely energetic climbing feel and efficient approach. This short-travel trail mountain bike leans towards the cross-country side of the riding spectrum. Sitting and spinning uphill is comfortable and efficient. Riders sit directly over the crankset allowing for maximum power transfer. The DW-Link suspension platform is calm with almost no pedal bob whether standing or seated. Every pedal stroke is productive and is effectively transmitted to the wheels. The Trail 429 is more of an efficient climber than the Giant Trance 29, but it is less comfortable charging through the rocks on the uphills and downhills. Cayon's Neuron CF 8.0 also impressed us on the climbs with a feathery light feel and impressive efficiency.
The Juliana Joplin is a women's trail mountain bike with a comfortable climbing motion. Modern trail bike geometry creates a balanced and efficient uphill position. Sharp handling makes navigating uphill switchbacks or technical sections of trail reasonably easy. The Specialized Fuse Expert 29 is also a sure-footed climber. While the pure efficiency isn't outstanding for a hardtail, traction really sets it apart as does the simple nature of the rigid rear-end.
Mountain bikes are expensive toys. They require a fair bit of maintenance to keep them running in top shape. It is best to refer to component product manuals for service schedules. That said, you should expect to service your bike regularly.
Full Suspension vs. Hardtail
There is no doubt that a full suspension trail mountain bike possesses performance advantages in every ride category. The one area where hardtail bikes have an advantage is that they don't require pivot/linkage maintenance. You should clean/regrease/torque your suspension pivots multiple times a year to prolong the life of your bearings. In addition, this will keep your bike running far more quietly.
Just like keeping up with regular car services, smaller, more frequent services can save you big bucks in the long term. Here's a quick and dirty primer:
- Before Ever Ride — Check tire pressure, brake function, axle torque levels
- After Every Ride — Clean and lube chain, wipe down stanchions
- Weekly — Clean off mud and debris, check spoke tension
- Bi-Weekly — Check for and tighten any loose bolts, check headset for proper tightness, clean pivots, check shock pressure
- Monthly — Check chain wear and brake pads. Replace as necessary
- Annually — Complete professional overhaul
Ease of Maintenance Ratings
Some bikes are more challenging to maintain than others. We ranked the ease of maintenance for the bikes in our test based on the following criteria:
- Suspension Pivots — How often they need to be serviced, how complicated that service is, and how expensive the bearings are.
- Fork and Shock — These are the most expensive components on your bike and also the most complicated. Suspension products should be serviced at least once a year. Manufacturers will tell you to replace wiper seals far more frequently. This all depends on trail conditions and how frequently you ride. We rate the forks and shocks based on how often the oil and seals need to be changed, how often it requires a complete rebuild, and how costly and accessible that service is.
- Dropper Post — The dropper post is a relatively new component. Just like any suspension product, it needs to be serviced periodically. Certain designs require far more attention than others. Mechanical droppers are often preferred as opposed to hydraulic units which have a high number of seals that wear and require replacement. Having a dropper post means more maintenance (and fun). These bikes scored a little lower.
- Brakes — Brake pads wear and the hydraulic fluid needs to be bled to have air pockets removed from the lines. This should be done annually. We score Shimano brakes a little better than SRAM. Shimano has a long service interval and uses mineral oil and a simpler bleed process. SRAM brakes require corrosive DOT 5.1 fluid and a tricker bleed process.
- Drivetrain — Chain, cassette, and chainrings all wear together. If you ride 2-3 times a week, expect to replace a chain a couple times a year and other drivetrain components annually. We don't account for drivetrain wear and tear in the rankings.
- Tires — Different rubber compounds burn at different speeds. Expect to purchase one or two sets of tires per season for your trail mountain bike. We don't consider tires in the rankings.
- Wheels — It is important to have proper spoke tension on your wheels. It is a good idea to have them trued and tensioned a couple times a year to avoid serious issues. We don't include wheels in the score either.
Our fork and shock ease of maintenance rankings reflect the manufacturers recommended service intervals. According to owner manuals, Fox suspension items require less attention than RockShox. Local mechanics we spoke with stated they have to service Fox products more often than their intervals suggest.
There are lots of amazing bikes on the market these days and our list of favorites keeps growing every year. Currently, the Ibis Ripley and Santa Cruz Tallboy are standouts in the short-travel category. These trail mountain bikes are ideal for the rider who doesn't feel the need to ride a longer travel bike but still wants an impressively capable ride. The Santa Cruz Hightower, Ibis Ripmo, and Yeti SB130 are fantastic mid-travel options. These bikes are perfect for folks who want to ride a wide range of terrain and charge hard when given the opportunity. Specialized continues to deliver crowd-pleasing bikes and the Stumpjumper impressed both our men and women testers with solid all-around performance and easy-going demeanor. The new Specialized Fuse 29 was easily the best trail riding hardtail we've tested, and those seeking the best value should be sure to check out the YT Jeffsy AL Base.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal