Whether you’re looking for downhill crushers, cross-country speed machines, or something in the middle, you’ll find it here. And you’ll find the best builds, lightest carbon, and stiffest wheels out there. All you have to do is look and drool.
Paying is an entirely different matter.
Plus-Sized Traction: Salsa Pony Rustler Carbon
27.5+ is here to stay. It offers huge amounts of traction while still giving you the nimble feel of smaller wheels. Plus-sized tires are often found on trail bikes, where they get to show off their traction chops, but the Pony Rustler is a more XC-oriented bike. With 140mm of travel, a carbon front triangle and seatstays to keep things light, and the venerable Rock Shox Pike fork, it’ll see you setting new personal bests on all of your local trails.
Salsa wasn’t content to limit the Rustler to a single wheel size, though: you can replace the included 27.5 hoops with 29ers. Which means you’re basically getting two bikes in one: a versatile bike ready for anything, and a cross-country scorcher. All you need to do is change out the wheels. When you think about it that way, the $4,500 price tag is actually pretty reasonable. Salsa Pony Rustler – $4,499 at REI
The Enduro Monster: Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon
The Hightower has always been a phenomenal bike. But with its recent conversion to a very enduro-focused rig, it’s become a different sort of beast. And this build is stunning. It foregoes the trendy 27.5″/29″ dual compatibility and opts for the now-proven 29″ wheels. It also gets 150mm geometry befitting its enduro style. This is a bike meant to win races down the hill—but not suffer too much riding back up.
SRAM Eagle XX1 graces the Hightower LT, giving you a full 12 gears with no front derailleur. Santa Cruz packs their own carbon rims in combination with awesome Industry Nine hubs. Every other part of this build is what you’d expect for a top-of-the-line bike: Reverb seatpost, carbon Santa Cruz handlebar, Fox Kashima rear shock, and SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes. It’s really hard to top this bike—which is why it costs as much as a small car. Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon – $9,299 at Competitive Cyclist
As Big as It Gets: Trek Stache 9.7
Trek has made an absolute steamroller of a hardtail in the Stache. Not many brands have stepped up to the 29+ level, but Trek nailed it with this one. It’s hard to grasp just how big the wheels and tires on this bike are until you see one in person. It’s impressive. And that gives you all the benefits of both worlds: great rollover for obstacles and lots of grip for technical terrain.
The 9.7 is Trek’s highest-caliber version of the Stache: an OCLV carbon frame, adjustable rear thru-axle, asymmetrical chainstays for a shorter wheelbase, and a Pike fork make this a bike that’s made for destroying trails. It’s not like anything you’ve ridden before, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Trek Stache 9.7 – $3,499 at Trek
Sharp as a Knife: Pivot Switchblade
135mm of travel puts the Switchblade on the XC side of full-suspension bikes, but it has chops for rougher riding, too. It’s capable enough for technical trail riding, but quick and nimble enough for cross-country speed fests. And the fact that it comes ready for either 29″ or 27.5+” means you can take full advantage of both. Both versions come with Reynolds carbon enduro wheels, light and strong enough for absolutely anything. Despite being very capable for climbing, the geometry of the Switchblade favors gnarly descents. It’s pretty much a perfect do-everything bike.
The XTR complete bike comes packed with Shimano’s best: XTR shifter, derailleur, and brakes complement the KS dropper and Race Face crank. The fact that both the front and rear shocks have Fox’s Kashima coating just adds a cherry on top. This bike’s build really shines with the wheels, though. Reynolds’ carbon wheels are legendary, and you don’t see them on many pre-built mountain bikes. Pivot Switchblade XTR – $8,399 at Competitive Cyclist
Maximum Versatility: Ibis Mojo 3
Everyone is jumping on the enduro bandwagon, but Ibis has created the perfect bike for mere mortals in the Ibis Mojo 3. 130mm of rear travel make it capable without being overly burly, and the geometry focuses less on massive hits and searing descents. It’s more about getting you through every ride in comfort and style. And the fact that it can accommodate tires up to 2.8″ makes it comfortable on any terrain you’ll find.
This particular build is a marvel: SRAM Eagle X01 leads the pack with a 1×12 drivetrain, Ibis carbon rims on Industry Nine hubs add speed without weight, and you get a carbon crankset to top it off. Putting all of that on Ibis’s carbon frame makes for a stellar ride. And while it’s near the top end of anyone’s price range, it’s a bike that you’ll love to ride for a very long time. Ibis Mojo 3 – $7.899 at Competitive Cyclist
Curious as to what we picked in previous years for our best mountain bike lists? Read on to find out! You can probably find quite a few of these bikes on clearance, so the prices may not reflect what you’d actually pay right now. If you can find one of these, snatch it up right away.
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. GHOST RIOT LC 8 – $3443 at REI
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.
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. Niner RKT 9 RDO – $3999 at Backcountry.com
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.
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. Santa Cruz 5010 2.0 – $2599 at Backcountry.com
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. Yeti SB6 – $5699 at Competitive Cyclist.
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. Niner Jet RDO – $6299 at Jenson USA.
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? Santa Cruz V10 – $8995 at Backcountry.com
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. Pivot LES Frame – $2499 at Backcountry.com
What’s Your Dream Mountain Bike?
These are some of the best bikes out there, but only you can decide what’s perfect for your wallet and style of riding. We want to know what your dream bike would be—and if you think you’ll ever get one. Give us a shout in the comments below!