2021 Mountain Bike Top Picks

2021 Trail Mountain Bike Test from Mountain Weekly News

Trail bikes are the do-it-all workhorses of the mountain bike world. With a medium amount of travel and a focus split between climbing and descending, trail mountain bikes best choice for almost all mountain bikers out there, including you and I.

That versatility and wide appeal means that there are tons of options out there. Here are 10 of the best mountain bikes in 2021.

The Best Trail Bikes of 2021

alchemy arktos

Alchemy Arktos 29 150F/135R

Making carbon bikes by hand is a great art — an art that Alchemy has mastered. While all of their bikes are made by hand, the Arktos is actually the only one made overseas. Still, the company is based in Colorado and is focused on delivering high-end carbon bikes, which is very cool.

There are several versions of the Arktos, each with its own specialty. The 150F/135R, as you can guess, has 150mm of travel up front and 135mm in the rear. That puts it squarely in the modern trail category. And Alchemy’s Sine Suspension System is tuned for versatility, a perfect choice for this type of bike.

The GX Eagle build comes with a lot of great component choices, too, from the Fox 36 with Kashima coating to Industry 9 Enduro S Hydra wheels to the SRAM G2 R brakes. This is a high-end built meant for light weight and trail-friendly durability. It’s certainly not a cheap bike, but you get a huge amount of value for this price.

Price: $5,699

santa cruz 5010 carbon

Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon XT

27.5″-only bikes are becoming rarer all the time, and they’re often hardtails. But the Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon XT is unabashedly a 27.5″ bike. And it’s not just for shorter riders. It’s for anyone who wants to have a great time on the trails.

The smaller hoops on the 5010 make it snappy, maneuverable, and lighter weight than its 29″ brothers. 130mm on the back and 140mm on the front further point to the short-travel, grin-inducing purpose of this bike.

One of the most important parts of this bike is the lower-link VPP suspension, a recent tweak to Santa Cruz’s suspension layout. The original VPP layout was well-regarded, but the redesign has turned even more heads with its great pedaling characteristics. This bike is well suited for those who get as much enjoyment out of the climbs as they do the descents.

Price: $6,599

niner rip 9 rdo

Niner RIP 9 RDO 2-Star

While the Eminent looks a bit like a spaceship, the RIP 9 RDO Mountain Bike looks less like it was manufactured and more like it was grown. With 140mm of rear travel and 150mm of fork travel, this bike may have been in the all-mountain category not too long ago, but that’s just long-travel trail now.

The 2-star build is a great choice for budget-conscious riders (those with over $4,000 to spend, anyway). The Fox 36 Float Rhythm fork marries burly stanchions with mid-range internals. The SX Eagle drivetrain gives you solid SRAM performance without getting into GX or X01 territory. The Level brakes don’t quite match the aggressiveness of the bike, but they’re easy to upgrade later.

The inclusion of 2.6″ Schwalbe tires is a nice touch. Many riders are embracing the 2.6″ trend for a great combination of grip and decent weight, and it’s good to see Niner Rip 9 Bike tailoring their builds for those riders.

Price: $4,400

norco torrent ht

Norco Torrent HT S1

The Torrent HT has been a solid performer in the trail hardtail category for years. This steel-framed beast packs a 150mm fork for more front-end travel than you’ll find on many full-suspension trail bikes. The super-slack 64º headtube angle tells you exactly what this bike is all about.

The S1 build of the Torrent HT is made for riders who appreciate high-quality components. The RockShox Lyrik Ultimate is an absolute banger of an enduro fork. Shimano M520 four-piston brakes provide lots of stopping power. Stan’s rims with XT hubs are made for taking abuse.

You don’t see a lot of trail hardtails being extolled for their performance against full-suspension alternatives. But the Norco Torrent frame is made for thrashing fast, technical trails on a lightweight, strong steel frame. There’s no way you won’t have an absolute blast on this machine.

Price: $3,399

trek farley 5

Trek Farley 5

Fat bikes are great for trail riding. When you don’t need as much speed as a cross-country bike provides or as much squish as an all-mountain bike, a fat bike can give you massive versatility and fun.

The Farley is a great introduction to fat biking and one of the best beginner mountain bikes. This is a 27.5″ fat bike, so you’ll get better rollover than you would with a 26″. And those monster tires on this Trek Fat Bike give you unbeatable traction on whatever you might come across. Think balance, and lots of it.

The Trek Farley 5 offers a mix of Bontrager and Deore components that provide all you need, and most sizes come stock with a 4.5″ Gnarwhal tire, a fantastic choice for trail riding. The included dropper post is a nice touch, and you’ll want it for trail riding.

Price: $1,949,99

trek fuel ex 5

Trek Fuel EX 5 Deore

The Trek Fuel EX 5 Deore is, without a doubt, one of the best trail bikes you can buy. That’s true at any level — whether you’re looking at the entry-level EX 5 or one of the higher-end carbon versions, you absolutely can’t go wrong with a Fuel EX.

The Trek Fuel Bike comes with 130mm of rear travel paired with a 140mm RockShox Recon fork makes for a great all-around trail bike. This mid-travel machine also includes a Mino Link for making slight adjustments in the geometry so you can tailor it to your riding style. No matter how you adjust it, Trek’s Active Braking Pivot suspension design minimizes brake dive for more confident braking.

As we’ve come to expect, Trek included a lot of smart choices on this entry-level trail bike. Deore components, 2.6″ tires, a dropper post, a Knock Block headset, and an integrated downtube protector are all nice touches.

Price: $2,399.99

trek roscoe 6

Trek Roscoe 6

As Trek’s 27.5″ trail hardtail, you know the Roscoe 6 is going to provide great value. The Trek Roscoe Bike is especially notable in this regard as it sits right at $1,200, a very reasonable prospect for many beginner and intermediate riders.

That price point doesn’t keep you from getting the things you need to have fun on the trail, though. A fork with lockout, dropper post, and Schwalbe 27.5″ x 2.8″ tires are all things you’d want if you were building out a custom bike, but Trek includes them right off the bat.

Many hardtails have gone to 29″ wheels, but the Roscoe is still dedicated to the grippy, fun plus-size tires on its 27.5″ wheels. These are great for beginners, as they cushion the trail and require less skill to keep on the ground, but many expert riders also enjoy the smaller wheel size, so don’t feel limited here.

Price: $1,099.99

yeti sb130

Yeti SB130 Turq T2

The SB130 is Yeti’s mid-travel trail slayer. Combine that pedigree with their Turq carbon for maximum weight savings and stiffness, and you have a race-ready machine (or one that will just get you from the beginning to the end of your favorite rides as fast as possible).

This version of the SB130 comes with X01 Eagle AXS wireless shifting, a Fox Factory 36, DT Swiss wheels, and high-end SRAM G2 RSC brakes. Yeti spared no expense in getting the best build kit they possibly could on this machine. Which is reasonable, considering the price.

With the Switch Infinity suspension and the heavy-duty fork, you could conceivably ride this on a less technical enduro course. It’ll handle any trail riding you can throw at it — and probably more. This is a dream bike with a price tag and components to match.

Price: $7,700

eminent onset lt comp

Eminent Onset LT Comp

Nothing out there looks quite like an Eminent. Their AFS suspension layout just doesn’t have any imitators (yet). Like all suspension layouts (especially on trail bikes), Eminent says that it’s great for both descending and climbing.

With a 150mm Cane Creek Helm fork, though, this bike might tip a bit toward the descending focus side. That’s a burly fork that will put up with a lot of abuse. The 140mm of rear suspension provided by the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock will similarly eat up big hits. Deore four-piston brakes add stopping that you’ll need when you’re crushing big lines, too. This is a trail bike, but maybe a bit more on the all-mountain side.

While Eminent bikes tend to be on the expensive side, the Comp built of the Onset LT comes in under $5,000, which is actually saying something in 2021. The SLX build is largely to thank for providing a good value drivetrain with even more value-focused Deore brakes. Touches like the Helm fork and the Crankbrothers Synthesis Enduro wheels show that Eminent thought about durability and descending capability too, though.

Price: $4,699

co-op cycles drt 3.3

Co-op Cycles DRT 3.3

REI’s house brand Co-op Cycles has come a long way in just a few years. They now offer full-suspension trail bikes in the DRT series, and they’re smartly designed bikes. The 3.3 provides 130mm of rear suspension (120mm on XS frames) paired with a 130mm fork for a well-balanced short-travel bike.

The RockShox Revelation fork is a great choice for this build, as it draws inspiration from higher-end RockShox options to offer solid performance at a great price. The SLX drivetrain similarly provides a solid value. A combination of house-brand and name-brand components keeps the price very reasonable.

Co-op Cycles may not be the sexiest brand out there. But REI’s house-brand gear has always been a fantastic value and showed the company’s dedication to smart choices. The DRT series is no different, and the DRT 3.3 is a great example.

Price: $3,299

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Full Suspension & Cross Country Mountain Bikes

About the Author

Mike Hardaker
Mike Hardaker grew up surfing and snowboarding in Orange County and followed his love of surfing to Hawaii before eventually moving to the mountains to concentrate on snowboarding. He went on to found Mountain Weekly News where he is still CEO and Editor in Chief.

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