The 12 Best Mountain Bikes

Aug 31, 2020

Category: Gear

Summer might be wrapping up a bit faster than we expected, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to pack up our mountain bikes for the cold season. In fact, it means that we need to utilize our remaining time in the most optimal way possible. For some, that means fine-tuning a cycle for the last downhill bombs of the year; for others, that means taking advantage of the discounted sales surrounding the platforms and gear that will be replaced in Q1 of 2021; and for the remainder of individuals, it means picking up a brand-new bike to kick off the trail-season in style.

With each new year, the biggest proprietors in the industry introduce their up-to-date platforms. The latest and greatest technologies, components, and innovations are highlighted well before riders start heading back to their favorite mountains, providing the promise of a fresh new experience, well-manicured lines, and even greater progression. But if you don’t dwell on the “bleeding-edge” of contemporary cycling, you’ll be delighted to hear that platforms from the prior year aren’t necessarily outmoded. That means that you’ll be able to prepare for the upcoming season with a brand-new bike that’ll perform with the best of them. Below, we’ve collected a handful of our favorite cycles from around the space, striking the perfect balance between Downhill, Enduro, Cross-Country, and Technical Trail models to give you a better idea of what it is you might be looking for, what bikes will perform the best on your terrain of choice, and where to start if you’re a beginner, mid-level, or professional rider.

Giant Trance 29 3

Giant’s Trance line has been a mainstay within the mountain bike industry for quite some time, and as one of the most affordable offerings around, it’s a great entry-level cycle for those who are dipping their toes into the sport. You won’t be able to partake in all of the luxurious, high-performance options that come at a higher price point, but the money you’ll save with this $2,100 platform will allow you to go all-out on personalized parts, allowing you to elaborate on the complete model. At its core, the brand’s Trance 29 3 is a short-travel trail bike that’s been upgraded to take on complex trails and technical single tracks with ease, thanks to its Maestro rear suspension, trunnion-mount shock, and Advanced Forged Composite upper rocker arm. Pair that with an ALUXX SL aluminum frameset, Shimano, and SRAM SX Eagle components, and Giant’s smooth Tracker Performance Boost hubs, and you’ve got a capable bike that will carry you from the trailhead to the peak in style.

Style: Technical Trail
Suspension: 115mm Rear, 130mm Front
Recommended Level: Entry

Purchase: $2,100

Nukeproof Reactor 290 Elite Carbon

If you’ve ridden mountain bikes over the past decade, or you’ve been immersed within the mountain biking culture in one way or another, you’ll be well-acquainted with Nukeproof. Aside from making some of the most revered bikes in the industry, the brand also boasts some of the genre’s most capable entry-level options, including the Reactor 290 Elite Carbon. Unlike Giant’s Trance 29, the Reactor 290 is a carbon-infused cycle that places an emphasis on aggression. It’s lightweight, features one of the brand’s most robust component selections, and elaborates on the original Reactor flagship, which was introduced over 23 years ago. That’s a long time to fine-tune a trail-oriented mountain bike, and it shows. Nukeproof has included a fully-outfitted Rockshox front and rear suspension, a set of award-winning carbon handlebars, and a reputable SRAM XO1 Eagle Drivechain, complementing its Carbon Descendant Cranks and Deemax DH wheelset. Sometimes, being “old school” has its merits.

Style: Technical Trail
Suspension: 130mm Rear, 140mm Front
Recommended Level: Entry/Mid-Range

Purchase: $3,420

Guerilla Gravity Gnarvana Ride

Guerilla Gravity might fly under the radar when compared to the mountain bike genre’s biggest names, but that doesn’t make them any less relevant. The brand’s Gnarvana is a testament to its capabilities, offering riders a downhill- and enduro-focused bike that makes full use of its 160mm linkage-controlled travel and Revved carbon technology. Thanks to the Gnarvana’s Freedom Linkage, you’ll be able to tune your ride in a variety of different ways, catering to different styles of terrain, environmental formats, and riding types. Each frame is crafted with unique carbon technology and a 6061 aluminum rear triangle, resulting in an astonishing 6.6-pound weight. The Gnarvanas capabilities are only exacerbated by its 170mm RockShox ZEB Select front fork, SRAM NX Eagle (and Descendant 6K) component layout, and a speedy DT Swiss M 1900 i30 wheelset.

Style: Enduro/DH
Suspension: 160mm Rear, 170mm Front
Recommended Level: Mid-Range

Purchase: $3,895

Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 29 ST

Specialized has been dominating its MTB-focused competition with the Stumpjumper for years. As if the well-designed platform wasn’t already viable enough, the brand decided to outdo itself with the Comp Carbon edition — a sleek, lightweight 29er outfitted with some of the finest parts in the industry. Each 11m carbon frame boasts a bevy of add-ons, including a 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, custom-tuned suspension system, and ultra-responsive tube angles that result in enhanced responsiveness on the trail. To achieve this, Specialized gave the Stumpjumper it’s very own 130mm FOX FLOAT Rhythm 34 front (and 120mm FOX FLOAT DPS Performance rear) suspension format, allowing riders to bridge the gap between their feet and hands. This, paired with the company’s 3D-forged alloy peripherals, sealed hubs, and Roval Traverse 29 wheels, creates one of the most dominant trail bikes in the industry.

Style: Technical Trail/DH
Suspension: 120mm Rear, 130mm Front
Recommended Level: Mid-Range/Pro

Purchase: $4,520

Ibis Ripley SLX Complete

Over the past decade, mountain bikes have taken on a longer and more “slack” persona. There’s a good reason for this, especially when you’re navigating steep downhill segments where you need to soak up anything that comes between you and the bottom of the mountain. But what about those technical riders that want to strike a balance between the burly downhill models of the modern-day, and the responsive, nimble platforms that are used in other styles of riding? Ibis’ Ripley SLX seeks to answer that question — or at least, provide a bit more clarity. Instead of going all-out, the company’s engineers have started with subtle changes, adding a one-degree shift in the cycle’s head tube, adjusting its reach by 45mm, and giving it just enough of seat-tube-shift to make it equally as viable in uphill sections. To keep it as lightweight and capable as possible, Ibis has gifted the bike with a carbon fiber frame, a performance-focused Fox Float DPS rear shock, and a 130mm Fox Float 34 Performance front suspension, pairing nicely with its Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain and S35 wheelset.

Style: Technical Trail/Enduro
Suspension: 120mm Rear, 130mm Front
Recommended Level: Mid-Range/Pro

Purchase: $5,100

YT Jeffsy Pro Race

YT’s Jeffsy Pro Race has everything going for it. As its name might signify, it’s a professionally-outfitted model that adopts an intuitive 29-inch wheel layout, a lightweight Flip Chip carbon frame, and a formidable FOX FLOAT suspension system, giving it all the gumption it needs to tackle the traditional trailhead during the weekends and slay the race circuit during the week. Since the bike has been outfitted with a bevy of Factory performance parts, you’ll be able to tune it to your own personal tastes without spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on high-end alternatives, making it a perfect mid-range model for those who want to plug-and-play at their favorite trail. To keep things as smooth as possible, YT has introduced an X01 Eagle crankset, a 12-speed XG-1295 Eagle cassette, and a pair of carbon TRS Race wheels, keeping weight to a minimum. That doesn’t mean that they’ll give out on you when you need them most, either. Each wheel has been crafted to maintain speed and stiffness, regardless of the terrain that it faces.

Style: Technical Trail/Cross-Country
Suspension: 150mm Rear, 150mm Front
Recommended Level: Pro

Purchase: $5,300

Yeti Cycles SB130 LR C1

Yeti is one of the most legendary names within the mountain bike industry, and the SB130 LR C1 is a magical platform that serves to amplify its expansive cycle range. A product of the team’s crazy ideas and lunchtime brainstorm sessions, the SB130 LR C1 GX Eagle is a different kind of beast, introducing six-degree-enhanced rear travel, SRAM’s lauded Code brake system, a sleek and performance-focused SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, and a pair of DT Swiss EX1900 wheels, helping riders to soak up anything that stands in their way. To give the 29er a personality of its own, Yeti has found a way to introduce a FOX Performance DPX2 rear shock, a 160mm Fox Performance 36 front suspension, and a set of Maxxis Minion DH tires, collaborating with its carbon fiber frame, 12-speed transmission, and reinforced components to ensure that it maintains its structural rigidity after taking big hits. To round things out, new linkages (and a metric shock) have been added to give riders more room for adaptable tuning, quality-of-life additions, and packs.

Style: Enduro
Suspension: 137mm Rear, 160mm Front
Recommended Level: Mid-Range/Pro

Purchase: $5,500

Trek Supercaliber 9.8

Trek’s Supercaliber 9.8 is a bit different from the other options on our list, but when it comes to cross-country mountain biking, it’s the king. This unique cycle boasts a race-savvy geometry that’s been built from the ground up to usurp the genre’s most dominant offerings and claim its rightful place on the race podium. To achieve this, Trek has introduced a proprietary IsoStrut integrated shock, allowing for the capability and travel of a full-suspension setup, without the additional weight. It’s complemented by an ultra-lightweight OCLV Mountain Carbon rear linkage, 120mm Fox Performance 32 Step-Cast front suspension, and a set of Bontrager Kovee Elite 30 carbon wheels, illustrating its race-worthy potential. Since Trek wanted to create a bike the was technical, sleek, and robust, it cut weight in various areas to promote unparalleled speed, introduced a carbon seat post and handlebar, and finished things off with a pair of with carbon cranks, resulting in a functional platform that’s become lauded among riders. Did we mention that it’s also the 2020 “Mountain Bike of the Year”?

Style: Cross-Country
Suspension: 100mm Rear, 120mm Front
Recommended Level: Pro

Purchase: $5,900

Pivot Mach 4 SL

Pivot’s Mach 4 SL was built for speed, and in the case of its unique geometry, it was actually built to take on World Cup courses under the direction of the sport’s top athletes. While many of us may never reach that level, owning a cycle that’s been conceptualized and crafted to meet the requirements of professional riders is always a plus. This cross-country bike is the fastest 100mm travel XC race platform that Pivot has ever created, calling upon a compact carbon frame design, optimized tubing, and a dual upright, reinforced swingarm for ample stiffness (and swiftness) when you need it most. It features a Fox Factory DPS rear suspension, a 120mm Fox Factory Stepcast front fork, Shimano XTR SGS components, and a 12-speed Shimano XT M8100 drivetrain for the ultimate in technical responsiveness. Pair that with a set of DT Swiss M1700 wheels and 350 hubs, and you’ve got all the ingredients to take you from the trailhead to the podium, regardless of your riding level. All that’s left is to put in the time and effort that it takes to become competitive.

Style: Cross-Country
Suspension: 100mm Rear, 120mm Front
Recommended Level: Pro

Purchase: $6,400

Revel Rascal X01 Eagle

Revel’s Rascal X01 Eagle might look tame, but as its name implies, it’s a bit rambunctious. With this versatile downhill offering, speed, stability, and responsiveness are the name(s) of the game, thanks to its informed Canfield Balance Formula, maximized ergonomics, and adaptable components. It calls upon a 140mm RockShox Pike Ultimate RCT3 front fork, a 130mm rear suspension, and a set of RW30 Industry 9 1/1 carbon wheels wrapped in Maxxis Minion DHF tires, giving it everything it needs to ascend, or descend in style. Sticking to its carbon trend, Revel has outfitted the bike with an ENVE M6 Carbon handlebar, a Rockshox Reverb Stealth post, and a lightweight SRAM Descendant Carbon DUB crankset, pairing nicely with its SRAM X01 Eagle components. At the end of the day, the Rascal X01 stays true to its name as a jack-of-all-trades that gives its competition a tough time anywhere it goes; so, if you’re looking for a platform that can tackle whatever terrain you throw at it while remaining lightweight, nimble, and mischievous, you’ve found your vice.

Style: Enduro/DH
Suspension: 130mm Rear, 140mm Front
Recommended Level: Entry/Mid-Range

Purchase: $7,200

Santa Cruz Megatower Carbon CC

Santa Cruz’s Megatower Carbon CC is the last “traditional” offering on our list, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The brand has earned its trusted reputation through relentless trial and tribulation, and if we’re being honest, this lightweight wonder represents the very best of its range. Calling upon the successes of the brand’s alternative platforms, the Megatower adopts the same transcendental lower link-driven VPP suspension as its counterparts, resulting in a progressive shock rate and exceptional bottom-out resistance. You’ll be able to adapt this suspension setup to mirror your own specific needs, allowing you to dial in various geometries for improved play, stability, stiffness, or response. It also introduces a 160mm Fox 36 Float Factory front fork, a lightweight SRAM X1 Eagle 148 DUB crankset, and a 12-speed SRAM XG1295 Eagle drivetrain, giving riders some of the finest components in the industry. At this price point, that’s somewhat expected, but if that’s not enough to warrant the cost, maybe set of Santa Cruz Bicycles AM Carbon bars, a Race Face ARC Offset 30 wheelset, SRAM X01 Eagle components, Maxxis Assegai (and Minion DHR II) tires, and on of the lightest frames in the industry will sway your opinion.

Style: Enduro/DH
Suspension: 160mm Rear, 160mm Front
Recommended Level: Pro

Purchase: $7,500

Specialized Turbo Kenevo Expert

Specialized rounds out our list with the only electrified mountain bike that we’ll approve of in the midst of these formidable, leg-driven wonders. The brand’s Turbo Kenevo Expert is, without a doubt, the most capable eMTB on the market today, thanks to its 180mm RockShox front (and rear) suspension, a proprietary “sidearm-style” frame, and a mountain-slaying battery that brings 700 watt-hours of power to the forefront for even the most aspirational riders. You’ll be able to soak up any terrain imaginable, courtesy of the cycle’s improved axle path, and enlivened suspension. Of course, the Kenevo’s drivetrain wouldn’t mean much without its surrounding peripherals. A Specialized M5 Premium Aluminum frame, RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Select Plus rear shock, SRAM Code R brake system, and Praxis forged M30 crankset ensure that the bike’s premium Roval 27.5″ Alloy DH wheels get you where you need to go with minimal effort.

Style: Enduro/DH
Suspension: 180mm Rear, 180mm Front
Recommended Level: Entry/Mid-Range/Pro

Purchase: $8,225

The 12 Best Mountain Bike Trails In America

Finding the perfect cycle is only the first part of the equation. Now that you’ve procured your loyal, two-wheeled steed, head over to our guide on the best mountain bike trails in America to take it out for a test run.

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