Mountain bikes are all about adventure, and the choice of three available wheel sizes–26, 27.5 and 29-inch–offers a range of handling characteristics.
Factor in the bike's suspension system plus its gear range and there's no reason to buy more or less capability than you need. Find your favorite among these 12 models (or our selection of road bikes), and get ready to roll this summer
Tight through corners and with enough power to conquer climbs, Highball comes in an aluminum-frame model to trim costs. Built to take a pounding with a Rock Shox Recon fork, 29D's respectable SRAM components shift and brake smoothly. A Race Face crank adds performance for $350-$500 less than competitors.
Testers rode this 3-inch wheel model into some tough conditions in Nevada. Pure fun, easy handling, and apocalypse-worthy construction come well under $2,000 in a 29-inch frame. Krampus rolls through (and over) nearly any obstacle in the deepest woods or battered pavement of the biggest cities.
Another 29-inch entry to roll up and over most obstacles, this 27-speed model is plusher than most with a 100mm front fork travel for moderate downhills. But the frame is the star here, with Shimano, Suntour, and Tektro components as solid starting points ready to be upgraded later. Pedals are included while the seat geometry feels balanced.
Find the sweet spot with a wide-ranging 1x11 SRAM drivetrain matched with a Series 3 aluminum frame. Smaller sizes are built on a 27.5-inch geometry with bigger frames delivered at 29 inches for optimum handling. Shimano hydraulic disc brakes are luxurious at the price as is snag-free interior cable routing and a gritty paint job.
Fat bikes mean all-season travel, no matter the conditions. A 3-inch wheel fits trails to tarmac on a respected emerging brand. Avid brakes stop cleanly as the 2x9 drivetrain reliably musters 18 speeds. While heavier than conventional mountain bikes, the stability and pure freedom of this Framed Minnesota justifies the lugging.
Pop goes the 120mm front travel as 27 gears iron out the ups and downs of your favorite trails. REI's new line continues to impress with practical components, non-flashy paint jobs, and a 27.5-inch frame that's more comfortable than many. Shimano, Tektro, and Co-op parts work together to shed snags, shift smoothly, and brake on demand.
Sweet handling on broken and twisting trails is where Hook earns its keep at a ridiculous price. Featuring popular 27.5-inch wheels for easier starts and tighter turning, the geometry is more aggressive for demanding trails. A 1x8 drivetrain and mid-range components keep the price down but still deliver 120mm front fork travel.
Get out, start pedaling, and spend less time tinkering with adjustments. This disc brake equipped model flows across most trails with only moderate exertion. Gravity's grabbed the "best of" ideas from other brands and put their own spin on a hardtail mountain bike to fit most riders comfortably—without sacrificing precise handling on descents.
Nothing stands in your way with 21 speeds, easy-rolling 2-inch tires and a bump-busting 75mm travel front fork. Not built for extremes, Talus 2 is sturdy without being cumbersome, and responsive without the whippy handling most beginning riders find unsettling. Frame geometry suits in-town riding as well.
There is lots going on here as 26-inch wheels (traditional size) pair with dual-suspension technology to confront rocks and roots confidently. An alloy crank lightens the Protocol as 24 speeds adjust to the trail moment-by-moment. Tires and seat soften the ride as does dual suspension. Ride it, and build your skills for what's ahead before spending big.
The 3x7 drivetrain is the story here, making short work of steep climbs. Reliable front and rear mechanical disc brakes smooth the descents as the front fork locks in and out as needed. Wheel rims, saddle, and shifters are welcome upgrades for the money in this well-equipped build best suited for recreational riders.
Once again, the sourcing geniuses at Nashbar put together a bike that's bigger than the money. Seven speeds on a practical 29-inch steel frame cover 70 percent of riders, as do reliable V-brakes. Front fork travel is limited to 75mm so AT1 is not a single-track hero, but it excels at the price and is easy to maintain.
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