It’s been a while since we’ve put together a list of the best mountain bikes on the market, and a few things have changed. Our previous choices, which you can still see at the end of the article, are going to be harder to find, but they’re still great trail machines. If you want to do some serious upgrading today, though, you’re going to be looking at some different rides.
The Millionaire’s Mountain Machine: Santa Cruz 5010 2.0
With a solid all-mountain background, the 5010 has always been a great bike, but the latest changes to its geometry make it even better. A slacker head tube and steeper seat tube mean you’ll be able to crush descents and generate more power on climbs, making this a great bike to take anywhere on the mountain. With more rear travel (130mm) and a redesigned suspension system, the new 5010 is absolutely unstoppable.
As you’d expect, the top-of-the-line carbon frame is feather light for a full-suspension rig, and the XTR and ENVE build kit is a dream. Included Race Face Cranks, RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post, and Industry Nine hubs paired with 27.5″ ENVE rims make this just about the nicest bike you can buy. Which is why it’ll run you almost $11,000.
Offroad German Engineering: GHOST RIOT LC 8
If you’re looking to get on the 27.5″ all-mountain bandwagon, but don’t have $11,000 to spend on the 5010, GHOST’s new RIOT LC 8 might be what you’re looking for. It’s still over $5,000, but that seems pretty reasonable after looking at the Santa Cruz, doesn’t it? The LC 8 packs a number of the same features: 27.5″ wheels, 130mm rear travel, full carbon frame, and a RockShox Pike fork. But you save a lot with XT components instead of XTR, and Easton rims on GHOST hubs.
Just because it’s half the price of the 5010, though, doesn’t mean you’ll only get half the performance. The very light carbon frame combined with high-end Shimano, Cane Creek, Easton, and Kind Shock components makes this a race-ready bike that can handle anything on the mountain, from XC to some light DH.
The Cross-Country Crusher: Niner RKT 9 RDO
With a scant 90mm of rear travel, the RKT 9 RDO is made for one thing: blazing through XC trails. There’s no doubt that this bike is all about speed. A full XTR build punctuated with Niner carbon components (even the saddle has Ni-Cro Ti rails), a carbon XC wheelset, and RockShox suspension on the front and back show that the RKT 9 means business. It even has titanium chain protectors. Seriously.
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Updated geometry makes the RKT 9 a bit more capable on gnarlier trails, and shortened chainstays help you stay nimble through even the tightest turns. Despite being a 29er, this frame has a claimed lowest weight of 4.5 lbs., making it a featherweight in the category. But Niner didn’t compromise on durability, either, meaning the RKT 9 can be your XC race rig and your weekend trail bomber.
The Titanium Hardtail Masterpiece: Merlin XLM
If you’re looking for a really lightweight rig that’ll let you tear up singletrack both up and down the mountain, it’s tough to beat a titanium hardtail. Merlin’s XLM frame has a weight of 9600g in a medium, and you’re not going to find many bikes that are lighter than that. Combine that with high-end components from Thomson, SRAM, and Industry Nine, and you have a bike that’s ready to move.
SRAM’s XX1 1×11 drivetrain cuts even more weight by getting rid of extra chain rings and the front shifter, while Thomson’s handlebar, stem, and seatpost (along with a Chris King headset) make sure everything else works like a charm without adding grams. This 29er is light enough to race seriously, but won’t shy from taking some knocks in all-mountain riding, either.
Last Year’s Picks
The four bikes you’ll find below were our picks for four of the best rides available in 2015. They’re still fantastic bikes, and some have received pretty awesome updates, but they might be a bit harder to find. If you do find one, though, you might be able to score a great deal on it!
The All-Mountain Machine: Yeti SB6
The SB6 is a reincarnation of the venerable SB66, and it packs some impressive new improvements. Central to the bike’s appeal is the Switch Infinity rear pivot, designed specifically to create linear rear-wheel travel so you can take the biggest hits out there without dropping your chain or losing power. And six inches of travel means you’ll have enough suspension to ride just about anywhere.
A full-carbon frame and handlebar make the SB6 much lighter than its aluminum-framed brothers, and the inclusion of Sram X01 on this model makes for a very smooth ride with reliable shifting and impressive durability. At $7,400 you can get one of the higher-end bikes out there without getting into expensive-as-a-car territory.
29″ Cross-Country Speed Machine: Niner Jet RDO
The Race-Day-Optimized (RDO) Jet from Niner is made for one purpose: to go fast. Of course, being comfortable is an important part of speed, so 4 inches of travel, a carbon frame and handlebar, and 29er-specific design make sure you’re in the right position and that you can stay there when you need to put power to the pedals. Niner’s carbon layup process makes for laterally rigid frames that don’t beat you up over the rough stuff.
The inclusion of SRAM’s X1 groupset on this bike is one of the reasons it made it to this list; with many of the technological advances of the top-of-the-line XX1 set, but without the exorbitant price tag, it provides race-worthy performance when you’re gunning for the finish line or just out tooling on your local trails. Shimano, RockShox, and Fox parts also make it into this build, giving the Jet top marks in the XC category. And the $5,400 price tag, while high, isn’t out-of-this-world high.
World-Champion Downhill Destroyer: Santa Cruz V10
As the first carbon bike to win a downhill World Championship, the V10 has serious chops. And the latest version, with 27.5-inch wheels, is built to be even better. The unique frame design, which offers a whopping 8.5″ of travel, will help you crush anything standing in your way, from massive drops to logs and boulder. And because the frame is carbon, you’ll save weight doing it.
Of course, a World Championship bike will come with world-class parts. An X01 drivetrain, RaceFace carbon cranks and handlebar, DT Swiss wheels, and other high-quality components make the V10 tough to top in the downhill kingdom. To get a bike of this caliber, you’re going to pay for it: you’ll have to pony up nearly $11,000. You may not want to spend that much if you’re not a world-class racer . . . but then again, why not?
The Hardtail Hero: Pivot LES 27.5
Not everyone needs a huge amount of suspension when they hit the trails. If you don’t, the Pivot LES 27.5 will suit your needs and let you rip any trails you come across. The carbon frame and 27.5-inch wheels are perfectly suited to cross-country riding—Pivot has taken extra time to make their carbon lighter and stronger than ever, turning the LES into a rocket of an XC machine.
The X01 groupset gives you smooth shifting and durability, FSA and DT Swiss components add to the package, and 100mm of travel on the front gives you the cushion you need to take some hits on the cross-country trails. Hardtails are a lot simpler than full-suspension bikes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be any less impressive. Fortunately, they are quite a bit less expensive, with the LES running at $5,000.
What’s your dream rig this year? Share below!