Best Hardtail Trail Bike
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 2017
Most fun and most confident bike in the test
Recommended for any rider
Great dropper seatpost
Not a great all-day climber
Serious chain slap
The Specialized Fuse 6Fattie
launches jumps, destroys corners, charges descents and forgives mistakes. Its well-balanced geometry, solid build, and endless traction combine to make hardtail mountain bike magic. This rig is so solid that it can feel tankish, and we don't recommend grinding it uphill all day. It's not particularly speedy either, but our testers don't care. They're too busy having a good time. The Fuse
is fun, pure and simple. For rolling trails that quickly reward climbs with descents, half-day adventures, or even mellow downhill laps, it is hard to fault. The Fuse
is a simple, confident and low maintenance trail bike for the people, regardless of skill level or riding style.
Read Full Review: Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie
Most Playful and Versatile
Santa Cruz Chameleon R1+ 2017
Super nimble and playful
Best fork in the test
Nearly too nimble
Not the zippiest pedaler in the test
No dropper post
is a trail ripping, dirt jumping, cross-country commuting freak show with traction that just won't quit. We like it. But it's Swiss Army knife nature (and lack of a dropper seatpost) keeps its trail skills from cutting as sharply as the award-winning Fuse
. It's close though, with the Chameleon
going the more nimble, slightly less stable route. The bike is comfortable, quick, and self-assured on descents, but the rigid seatpost makes it tricky to find just the right balance point. On the climbs, the Chameleon
makes quick work of switchbacks, but it can be a struggle to keep the front wheel grounded on the steep pitches. Despite a few body positioning challenges, the Chameleon
performs nearly as well as the Fuse
with more of a punk rock attitude.
Read Full Review: Santa Cruz Chameleon R1+
Most Innovative and Aggressive
Trek Stache 7 2017
Holds momentum better than any bike in the test
Heavy and less nimble
Requires more aggressive handling
No dropper post
is guaranteed to make you grin. All that undamped 29 x 3" tire bounce is silly good fun. But, just like an actual stache, some folks love 'em and some don't. Our most aggressive testers dig the Stache's
high-speed take on hardtail trail riding. The more finesse focused riders found its heft and the undampened bounce in those balloon tires cartoonish. Either way, there's no denying that the Stache's
endless traction and ever increasing momentum equal trail-smashing good times. It's a shockingly efficient pedaler. But it's also a lot of mass to move around, requiring an aggressive approach on downhill turns. Busting up steep climbs can be tiring as well. All-in-all, the Stache
is a capable and bemusing bike, but its trail diminishing tires leave you feeling more like a passenger than a pilot.
Read Full Review: Trek Stache 7
Best All-Day Climber
Kona Honzo AL/DL 2017
Performs reliably everywhere
Fairly functional dropper post
Uninspiring component spec
On the pricey side
narrow tires offer a rougher ride than the plus-sized bikes in the test. They also impose less rolling resistance. Combine the quick rolling rubber with efficient pedaling, deft handling, and a cockpit that's all-day comfortable, and you've got a pleasant climbing bicycle. It's not perfect. It has a stout granny gear, a 32-tooth chainring and 42-tooth climbing cog. The Honzo's
hub is also slow to engage. Once up to speed though, it spins along efficiently. Making the Honzo
our first choice for a long day in the saddle with a lot of vertical ground to cover.
Read Full Review: Kona Honzo AL/DL
Full suspension bikes have the ability to get significantly more rowdy but require far more maintenance.
Hardtail V Full Suspension
At $2,000 you could get into a bare-bones full suspension rig. For $2,500 to $2,600 you could get one of the impressive 2017 short-travel full suspension trail bikes we tested alongside this crop of hardtail mountain bikes. The downside is a slightly heavier bike and more time and money spent on maintenance. Rear suspension linkage service and shock overhauls can run about $300 a year.
If you want to get into mountain biking but don't want to drop too much coin or deal with increased care and maintenance that full suspension bikes command, a hardtail might be right for you. If you are getting into the sport for the long-haul, and the expense and attention are worth it to you, a full suspension bike offers higher performance and will not limit growth.
Thinking through which kind of mountain biking matches your riding style, skills and MTB dreams? Here's some grist for the mill:
Cross-country Bikes — Relentlessly efficient. These bikes are hardtails or full suspension bikes with about 100mm of travel that are laser-focused on pedaling and climbing speed. Narrow rubber and super low bars decrease descending confidence.
Hardtail Trail Bikes — Simple and effective. These bikes have a rigid rear end but are more relaxed than a cross-country style hardtail, putting riders in a more comfortable position. Well-rounded but not the best on descents.
Short-Travel Trail Bikes — Squishy yet fast. Short-Travel trail bikes feature roughly 110-130mm of rear travel and can attack downhills confidently while retaining excellent climbing abilities. These are comfortable and efficient full suspension rides.
Mid-Travel Trail Bikes — Well rounded and aggressive. Mid-Travel bikes sport roughly 130-150mm of rear travel. These bikes are capable climbers but aim to balance downhill performance and pedal efficiency evenly.
Enduro or Long-Travel Trail Bikes — Aggressive and rowdy. These bikes feature 155-170mm of travel and can attack technical downhill terrain confidently. Enduro bikes can climb but are made to aim downhill.