Long has humankind looked at the highest peaks and aspired to brave their summits as a test of their fortitude. There is something about a pile of stone that begs to be ascended and conquered. You can do this on foot, but when ingenuity and innovation have given you so many better options, why wouldn’t you take them? If the spirit of the mountain calls to you and you ache to experience the sweeping vistas then it is time to get a good mountain bike.
We’ve compiled our 6 best mountain bikes so that no matter where your adventure takes you, you’ll be able to ride in style. We’ve considered suspension, traction, comfort, and durability so that whether you want to climb the bleak peaks or are just dying for a rush as you race down the mountain, you’ll find an option to keep you happy. We’ve even got choices for the budget conscious, the tweener fan, and the light rider who needs added grip and grit. It is time to ascend!
Ibis Ripley 29
Unbeatable Balance: This is designed for both going up quickly and easily and coming down without smashing up any bits you might want to use for reproduction at some point. It is light as a damn feather at slightly over five pounds, yet the 120mm suspension let’s you climb like a champ. The pedaling efficiency is tremendous for a 29-inch so there is no wasted motion. The X Fusion Microlite shock system takes a pounding. The Fox Float CTD Boost Valve includes trail adjust so that you’re able to cope with changing conditions on the fly. Overall, this is a win no matter what your riding style. Don’t let the wheel size scare you off. It works like a much smaller bike. [Purchase: $7,000]
Trek Session 9.9
Downhill Dream: Fancy a helicopter drop onto the top of a mountain so that you can enjoy the unbridled rush of truly death-defying downhill? Then you’ve got to get you a Session 9.9. It is barely over 7 pounds so you can cart it around anywhere but despite the airy body, it’s able to take hits well above its weight class. It has Fox suspension complete with a Fox Hybrid Air Fork. As you hit every rock and knoll the mountain has to offer, you’ll still feel like you’re sitting on a cloud. The rear shock package is built for punishment so no matter how hard your ride, your tailbone is safe as houses.
The secret of its success is largely due to the DHX RC4 dampener. It can cope with either large jolts or dozens of small jostles as you go along. It gets the tire out of the way with a quickness and accuracy unseen elsewhere. When it comes to climbing, this doesn’t have quite enough torque to make it feel effortless or easy, but when you get to the peak and there is nowhere to go but down, you’ll be happy to have the Session. [Purchase: $8,900]
Santa Cruz Bronson
Top Tweener: 27.5 inch wheels are coming on strong lately. Whether you need a tweener to fit an unusual body type or just like the added control, you’ll be happy with the Bronson. It also looks a lot smoother and the lines are much more appealing than most of its awkward competition. The VPP suspension is pure Fox which makes any ride smooth as sittin’ in butter. Top it off with a single piece continuous fiber triangle at the front and rear and you’ve got yourself a rugged customer.
The Bronson uses the R AM build made by Santa Cruz but rather than being a speed demon this is a much more durable model that is made for adventurers rather than racers. The bottom bracket is 13.6 inches while the head tube sits at a comfortable 67 degrees. The chainstay is 17.3 inches and keeps the rear tire in tight and close so that you get the speed of a tweener with the stability of a 29-inch wheel. Even if you hate tweeners, give the Bronson a test drive. It will make a believer out of you. [Purchase: $3,400]
Scott Contessa Genius 700
For the Ladies: Fellas, it is time to take a back seat. There is absolutely nothing girly about the Contessa. It has a TwinLoc lever suspension that helps adapt to trail conditions without ever needing to take a break. When you swap it into Traction Mode the suspension changes from 100mm to 150mm for better climbing. While it is technically built for women it works well with any light rider and specifically acts to aid those with a smaller build to take on the hill.
The body is a tweener but it is unlike Scott’s previous tweener line in that they have dropped the old suspension in favor of Fox. The difference is incredible. The drive train is an XT ten speed and the brakes offer much more versatility than the previous offerings which tended to be too stiff. It tips the scales at just under 30 pounds so lifting and dragging are reduced. You can use the shock-mount chip to slacken the bottom bracket for a mellower ride. [Purchase: $5,500]
Specialized S-Works Epic 29
Upsie Daisy: Specialized claimed they improved on their XC champ model. We said it couldn’t be done. Then they just went ahead and blew our minds anyway with the Epic. This is a rock crawler with its 2×10 XTR gears and stiff rear end. It has a 142x12mm through axle that helps keep the bike stable and reduces slipping even when you’re climbing shale. It even offers simple storage for two water bottles and a discreet place to slip a multi-tool. Truly, the Epic is built for hard-core use.
Endurance racers will note that the BRAIN automatic shock lockout system is still in place and the AutoSag is right where it needs to be so that shock alteration and replacement is a breeze. The Epic is fast and extremely aggressive, so short-ride and casual riders will find it a little overwhelming, as is the hefty price. The suspension travel is 95mm rather than 100 which makes it great for crags and cliffs. This is meant to be a workhorse, though you wouldn’t know it from the light body. Note that this is the very first 29 incher ever to win a World Cup event. [Purchase: $10,500]
Vilano Blackjack 29er
Budget Model: Vilano might not be a name you know, mostly because it’s a name that even the people at the company aren’t sure about, but they make some killer gear. They also won’t cost you a fortune. If you’re trying to get into the mountain bike game without dropping serious coin, then this is the way to go. It gives you big 29 inch wheels that can roll right over obstacles. The frame is all 6061 butted aluminum. The rims steal the show with their double wall alloy and the 80mm fork helps keep jarring to a minimum.
The best part is that the gear shifter is a Shimano 7 Speed EF-51 so even on the fly you’ll have smooth transitions that get you ready to climb or help reduce the descending strain. Both front and rear derailleurs are also Shimano while many parts of the frame are Promax. Even if you don’t trust the Vilano brand, you know that they’re building with quality craftsmanship. [Purchase: $332]
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