Hardtails are underappreciated. Modern geometry has brought them back into the spotlight a bit, but most riders just don’t understand how great they are. They can smash almost as hard as a full-suspension bike and force you to learn to be a better rider. They’re more affordable, easier to maintain, and come with a certain pride that you just can’t replicate on a full-sus bike.
If you’re interested in the world of hardtails, one of these 10 will suit you well.
In 2021, bikes are in very limited supply. So while we’ve tried to list bikes that are in stock, they may be gone by the time you click the link. Be sure to check in with your local retailers to see what they have in stock, too.
Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes
Bombtrack is a small German bike brand that’s slowly becoming more available in the US. It’s a great brand dedicated to adventure on two wheels. They originally focused on gravel and adventure bikes, but they’ve added a few mountain bikes to their lineup, as well.
The Beyond+ is a great bikepacking or all-around rig. 27.5″ x 2.8″ tires give you versatility over the widest range of terrain possible. Lots of bosses let you mount racks, fenders, bottle cages, and whatever else you need to put in long miles on your mountain bike.
A SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain is a great choice for a bike just under $2,000, though you do sacrifice a dropper post (Bombtrack sees this bike as more of an adventure bike than a singletrack shredder, which also explains the rigid fork).
Also, be sure to check out Bombtrack’s Projects page for lots of inspiration!
With updated geometry for 2021, the Trail SE 3 is put more in line with modern trail-focused hardtails. But a few details show that its true purpose is more in line with an all-around bike that combines riding to school with occasional trail trips. The integrated kickstand mount tells you all you need to know.
That being said, a 120mm fork and a 66.5º head tube angle will definitely help you on descents. An included dropper post gets the saddle out of the way for shredding. Shimano’s Deore groupset has gotten a ton of accolades as a fantastic value. And the 1×11 drivetrain is what you’ll find on many higher-end bikes.
Who is the Trail SE 3 really for? It seems to be for people who want an around-town bike combined with a trail bike. It’s an interesting niche. But Cannondale has done a great job of nailing it.
Ibis has been making waves with its AF line lately, but don’t forget the DV9. This is still built of Ibis’s vaunted carbon, keeping weight down and helping quiet trail chatter on rougher rides. That carbon also makes it race-worthy at a much more reasonable price point than some of the racing whips out there.
With “progressive XC” geometry, you’ll get a bit slacker head tube and a slightly steeper seat tube than previous generations of cross-country bikes, which is great. Geometry has come a long way. But this bike sticks to its roots by focusing on XC.
As for components, Ibis hit the sweet spot to stay under $3,000. A 100mm Fox 32 Step-Cast fork is a great choice here for saving weight (and that Kashima bling). Deore components are developing a great reputation for value. And the dropper gives you more room to move when you’re not on the racecourse.
Diamondback has been trying hard to reclaim its name over the past few years, and bikes like the Sync’R 29 Carbon are helping it do that. Take a look at the specs — you might be pleasantly surprised by the value that Diamondback can offer.
Start with the carbon frame. Then check out the Fox 34 Performance fork with 140mm of travel (a great alternative to all the 120mm forks on this list). Don’t miss the GX Eagle drivetrain, a step above the much more common SX Eagle. Don’t forget the four-piston brakes. Or the threaded bottom bracket. The modern 35mm handlebar. The dropper. The trail-ready tires.
Diamondback has clearly consulted real riders in creating their new bikes. The 66º head angle and 74º seat tube angle are modern enough (though maybe a touch slack on the seat tube). You’ll be hard-pressed to find another bike this well kitted out for less than $4,000.
If the San Quentin looks a little like a dirt jump bike, that’s because it’s supposed to. Marin combined elements from their dirt jump frame with modern trail geometry to create a very capable hardcore 27.5″ hardtail. This bike is meant to get rowdy.
This is the budget build, and you get a lot of value for less than $1,000. One of the highlights is the 1×9 MicroShift drivetrain. You don’t see this on many stock bikes, but it’s a great way to save some cash without giving up much gear range. It’s awesome to see Marin supporting this smaller drivetrain competitor.
Beyond that, you get what you might expect at this pricepoint — 120mm Suntour fork, Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, 27.5″ x 2.6″ tires, and several Marin components. The biggest thing lacking here is a dropper post. It seems like a big drawback for how aggressive this bike is meant to be ridden, but that’s how you keep it this cheap. You can always add one later!
The steep head tube, low bars, and 100mm fork tell you what this bike is for: racing cross-country. This is one of the few carbon bikes on our list this year, and you’ll notice right away when you lift this thing off the ground. It’s feather-light.
The 3-Star build kit is great for budding and experienced racers. The Fox 32 Step-Cast Float Factory fork is a huge highlight. Step-Cast forks are extra light, and the Kashima coating just screams speed.
The GX Eagle drivetrain is a step up from many of the other bikes on this list, and will provide great performance while cutting weight. The only thing that seems like an oversight on this bike is the lack of a dropper post. But many cross-country racers prefer a standard post to save weight, so it could be forgiven this time.
The Chameleon is one of the original hardcore hardtails. And it has aged very well. Santa Cruz has kept the geometry modern and continued to update the build kit to ensure that modern riders get what they need.
This particular build comes with a Fox 34 Rhythm 120mm fork, a high-value NX Eagle drivetrain, and SRAM’s Guide T brakes. Those Guide Ts are a great addition to a bike in this price range, as they give you the four-piston power you’ll need when you’re riding a bike this rowdy.
While stock tire choices are often driven by availability, Santa Cruz made an interesting choice here that gives you some insight into the character of the bike: a Minion up front and an Ardent Race in the rear. This bike is meant to be efficient and fast, but also hold on when the going gets really rough (and still super fast).
As one of the first brands to embrace plus and fat tires, Surly knows what they’re doing when it comes to big bikes. And the Krampus is definitely a big bike. You can rock tires up to 29″ x 3.0″ on this bad boy.
Why would you want to do that, you ask? There are two ways to answer that. First, because it’s different and cool and very Surly. Second, because bigger tires are a hell of a lot of fun. They’re super grippy, take a lot of chatter out of the trail, and are surprisingly great on the climbs. Of course, they’re also quite a bit heavier.
The Krampus comes with a solid build kit made up of Shimano, KMC, RockShox, SunRace, and other reputable brands. But you don’t buy this bike because of the build kit. You buy it because it’s a ridiculously fun bike that you can ride on absolutely any terrain. (And because one of the available color options is “Demonic Sparkle Party.”)
Trek bills the Roscoe 7 as a great bike for beginner and more advanced riders alike, and they have a great point. The plus tires are confidence-inspiring for those new to mountain biking, and can be pushed hard by experienced shredders.
The build kit and price, however, may be a bit more beginner-friendly. The 120mm (100mm on size XC) RockShox Judy is a solid introductory fork that may be a bit overwhelmed by more aggressive riders. The SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain is a good budget choice, but the Shimano non-series brakes probably won’t be enough for more experienced riders.
There’s no doubt that the Roscoe 7 is going to be a blast to ride. Plus-size hardtails are an underappreciated group of bikes. And it’s hard to beat that price for the quality of this bike. Just worth noting that intermediate and advanced riders might want to step up to a build with a more capable fork and brakes.
Believe it or not, the C2 is Yeti’s budget hardtail (there is a C1 that’s slightly cheaper, but it’s harder to find). The main reason is Yeti’s phenomenal carbon frames. Yetis are very light compared to similar bikes, and the ARC is no exception.
Of course, you get a fantastic Yeti build kit — this company never skimps on components. The inclusion of a Fox Performance 34 130mm is a nice touch, as it gives the bike slightly more capability on rough trails. The SRAM Level TL brakes might not pack enough power to stay in control on very steep trails, but they match up nicely with the almost-XC vibe of this bike.
Beyond that, what do you need to know? It’s a Yeti. It’s crazy light, has great construction, and comes with a certain reputation.
What’s not to love about the Norco Torrent? Let’s start with the frame. It’s steel, which has legions of fans for its ride characteristics and classic looks. It has very modern geometry with a slack 64º head angle and a steep 76º seat tube angle. And it comes in this badass purple color.
The S2 version of the Torrent hardtail comes with a solid groupset of SRAM’s SX Eagle and TRP G-Spec Trail S brakes. Maxxis Assegai tires show you that this bike is made to go downhill as fast as possible. A dropper post is basically standard on every mountain bike now, and the Ergon grips are a very nice touch. One of the best aggressive hardtail mountain bikes out there, especially for the price.
Let’s go from steel straight to carbon. The Chameleon has long been a popular hardtail in the Santa Cruz lineup, but it recently saw an update to a carbon frame. Lighter, more flexible where you need it, less flexible where you don’t want it. You can use it for everything from cross-country racing to all-mountain shredding (though it’s definitely better for the latter).
The R build of the Chameleon has a full SRAM kit, including NX Eagle drivetrain and Guide T brakes, with a Fox Rhythm 34 with 120mm of travel up front. WBT i25 wheels with SRAM hubs fit a range of tire styles, letting you customize the ride with everything from cross-country to enduro rubber. It comes with Maxxis Minions, giving you a clue to its intentions. Perhaps the best hardtail for the money on this list.
Look at the Powerline’s titanium frame. Just take a second to look at it. It’s a work of art. From the super-thin chain and seatstays to the gentle bend in the downtube, this is a gorgeous bike. But it’s not just for looks. Sage’s titanium is molded for strength and light weight, and the build kit on this one is to die for.
It starts with a RockShox Pike Ultimate fork with 130mm of travel. This is a rowdy fork meant for riding fast. Then you have the SRAM X01 build kit, with Shimano’s XT brakes thrown in for a bit of variety. A carbon handlebar and SDG Radar saddle take the edge off of rough trails. The DT Swiss M1900 wheelset feels a bit like an afterthought on the build, but they’re definitely reliable.
Everyone was talking about the Tallboy this year — its new-school geometry and low travel and downcountry and all that. But don’t sleep on the Highball. This isn’t a downcountry cross-over bike. This is a cross-country rocket. The headtube angle is 69.5º. This is not a full-suspension trail bike wannabe.
The R build of the Highball grabs a Fox Rhythm 32 fork with 100mm of travel, enough to stay super light and keep pedaling efficiency high. A SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain keeps weight down. Level T brakes are built for cross-country riders. Santa Cruz even includes ESI Chunky foam grips in a nod to weight-conscious racers.
There are a ton of e-bikes out there. But the Powerfly manages to stand above for a few reasons. First of all, it’s rather affordable when it comes to electric mountain bikes. That’s really not a bad price. But it’s not just a good price — it’s a good value. This is a capable cross-country bike that can handle long days of singletrack.
The 67º head angle gives you a clue as to the Powerfly’s intentions. Steep enough for cross-country riding. Just slack enough to descend a bit, too. The 120mm RockShox Recon RL says much the same. SRAM SX Eagle components get you the Eagle name without a second mortgage. And the Bosch Performance Line CX motor is a solid, dependable option. This Trek hardtail mountain bike is really a cross-country hardtail. With a motor.
This is Trek’s hardtail cross-country race machine. It starts with Trek’s stiff OCLV carbon frame — but don’t be too worried about a harsh ride. The IsoSpeed decoupler affords just a tiny bit of give at the junction between the top and seat tubes. It’s certainly not suspension. But that little flex can help reduce discomfort on long days in the saddle.
Aside from the frame, you’ll get all race-ready components. Carbon Bontrager wheels. SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain. A RockShox Reba RL fork with 100mm of travel. This bike could handle a bit of trail riding, and will certainly dominate modern XC tracks. But it’s all about speed. This component kit doesn’t leave any question. If you’re looking for the best carbon hardtail mountain bike, you found it.
While you can get the Scout in a 29″ version, we think the 27.5″ option is just as good, if not better. The Scout has been a favorite of hardtail riders for years. The smaller wheels drop a bit of weight and give you more control over the bike, giving the Scout a fun, devil-may-care attitude.
The Scout is built with a low bottom bracket and slack head angle to emphasize shredding. Nukeproof says that versatility is what this bike is all about. The stiff aluminum frame keeps pedaling efficient, while the RockShox Lyrik with a full 150mm of suspension ensures you can put up with a serious downhill beating. The Scout does it all, and with great style. If you’re looking for the most fun you can find in a hardtail, you’d be hard-pressed to beat this beast.
Another cross-country speed machine, the Alma is a serious contender for hardtail race bike of the year. Orbea’s monocoque carbon fiber is light and strong — and can we talk about that frame for a minute? Absolutely gorgeous. Super clean lines, minimal stays, and a little bend in the top tube before it meets the seat tube to give it a bit of personality. Amazing.
The parts on this rocket are what you’d expect from a budget race bike. SRAM NX Eagle components aren’t super high-end, but they’re light and reliable. The RockShox Judy Silver has a remote lockout for switching quickly to climbing mode. Shimano brakes keep the price down. This build is focused on value. Consider buying this for the frame and then making a few upgrades later.
If the Alma is the budget race hardtail, the Air 9 RDO 4-star build is the ultimate competitor. There’s nothing missing from this bike. Niner’s RDO carbon process results in very light frames that don’t carry extra weight. And it’s paired with a race-ready Fox 32 Step-Cast fork that’s even lighter than the normal 32. It also has a remote lockout and a Kashima coating.
The components are all Shimano’s latest XT 12-speed gear, except for the RaceFace carbon crank. DT Swiss M1900 wheels provide reliable performance. Niner’s own carbon seatpost gives a little bit of flex without the extra weight of a dropper (though many XC pros are even running droppers today). And Maxxis Rekon and Rekon Race tires are perfectly ready for race day from the moment you buy this machine.
There’s only one sub-$1,000 bike on this best-of list. The Trek Marlin 7 is one of the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1,000. It might be weird to see this on a list of best hardtails. But there’s just no getting around the insane value you get from the Marlin 7. It works for everything. The aluminum frame comes with rack mounts so you can go from short-track racing to bikepacking. There’s even a kickstand mount if you want to be able to leave your bike standing up.
The RockShox Judy fork is coil-sprung, which certainly doesn’t give you the same performance as an air-sprung fork. But you know what? It’s really not that bad. And it slashes the price of this bike to where it is. The build kit is full Shimano, including mostly Deore-level parts and a set of hydraulic disc brakes for improved stopping power. It’s everything you need without anything you don’t — including a bank-breaking price tag.
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