Best mountain bike 2020: the best MTB from hardtail trail blasters to electric enduro sleds

Mountain bikes have come a long way from the clunkers originally ridden in California’s hills almost five decades ago. Unlike its cobbled-together forbearers, the best mountain bikes of the modern day are highly-evolved machines capable of making short work of trails that only the most highly skilled riders would consider risking life and limb on just a few years ago.

Longer top tubes, slacker head angles and lower bottom brackets have made today’s best mountain bikes more balanced, stable and confidence inspiring than anything that has come before. Single ringed cranks with wide ranging cassettes do away with the need for front mechs, while dropper seat-posts enable riders to slam the saddle out of the way when plummeting down boulder-strewn descents. Other most subtle evolutions such as wider ‘Boost’ hubs and bolt-through axles have made wheels, forks and dropouts stiffer – massively improving bike handling as a result.

In this guide, we’ve ranked what we think are the very best mountain bikes right now. From casual trail riding to race-ready machines, our selection of bikes covers a wide range of uses and price points, but each one of them is what we consider to the best in its class.

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The best mountain bike of 2020: our expert pick

  1. It’s perfectly balanced, offers great specs for the price, and will enable you to take on anything a trail might throw at you
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How to choose the best mountain bike for you

All the models featured in our best mountain bikes list come equipped with a dropper post. These enable you to easily set your saddle height to suit the conditions as you ride. This is done via a handlebar remote, so you don’t need to stop pedalling and dismount each time you want to adjust the saddle height. 

It’s recommended to keep your saddle high for good pedal efficiency on climbs, then drop it out of the way, enabling you to adopt the most effective body position when it’s time to descend.

Many mountain bikes now come with wider (110x15mm front, 146x112mm rear) ‘Boost’ hubs that improve wheel, fork and back end stiffness and ride predictability.

If you’ve got an endless supply of cash you can buy a bike with the best of everything. For the rest of us, it’s probably best to focus on the features you need most. The basic areas you’ll want to look at are bike weight, suspension, brakes, gears and materials. Cheaper bikes tend to be made with heavier frames and components, making them more difficult to pedal uphill and harder to pilot on the trail.

Suspension is important to remove vibration on non-lethal trails and to help keep you on your bike when things start to get more serious. Full suspension is definitely recommended for downhill riding but less necessary for most singletrack and fire road riding. Here, front suspension only should be up to the job.

Modern 12-speed gear systems have a single front ring and a wide-ranging 10 to 50-tooth cassette at the back of the bike. This will provide as much gearing range as older multi-ringed systems. Another benefit of this system is that it does away with a front derailleur, front shifter and additional rings, making your mountain bike lighter overall, easier to maintain and gives more clearance over logs etc when out on the trail.

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If you opt for a heavier bike, it will be cheaper but also more solid and able to take a beating on downhills. However, heavier bikes require more effort to ride back to the top of the trail if you want to do another run.

Suspension is important if you want to keep your teeth in your face and to continue using your knees in the future. Full suspension is essential for downhill riding but less necessary if you’re just pootling about in the woods. Here, front suspension will work just fine.

The most modern 12-speed gear systems have a single front ring and a wide-ranging 10 to 50 tooth cassette at the back of the bike. This will provide as much, if not more, gearing range than older multi-ringed systems. Another benefit of this system is that it does away with a front derailleur, front shifter and additional rings, making your mountain bike lighter overall and easier to maintain.

Are there different types of mountain bikes?

Despite the name, mountain bikes are actually designed to do any kind of biking you want – it’s just that manufacturers build them with certain specialities in mind. For this reason we can break them down into four main categories: downhill, trail, enduro and electric bikes. Before you decide on the category for you, it’s important to know what each bike is primarily built for.

Trail For the most all-round mountain bike, this should be your top choice. The frame and wheels of trail bikes can handle riding flat, uphill and downhill terrain.  Enduro if you plan on enduro racing, you’ll want to invest in a specific enduro bike. These bikes are built for optimum downhill speed while still being light enough to pedal back to the top afterwards. 

Downhill These are supremely tough mountain bikes, built for going down technical tracks at high speeds. They’re designed to handle a beating at high speeds. All that strength adds a lot of weight, so they’re not much fun to ride back up the hill.

Electric These benefit from power assistance on demand, which means you can ride back uphill easier and faster after a downhill run, or ride further on a trail without getting tired. They come in all the above varieties, and we have a dedicated best electric mountain bike guide if this is what you’re after.

The best mountain bikes to buy right now

British bike manufacturer Whyte is renowned for building innovative and award-winning mountain bikes. Its 2020 offerings continue in that tradition, not least with the S-150C, which is our pick for the best mountain bike overall right now. It comes with 29-inch wheels, is also designed to run on 27.5-inch wheels – which Whyte sell separately, or you can run your existing wheelset of course.

In addition to its wheel-swapping abilities, the S-150C is also a cutting-edge trail bike in its own right. Whyte knows what its doing when it comes to geometry and this is a perfectly balanced bike that allows you to easily take on just about anything a trail can throw at you.

The S-150C RS V2 is the mid-range model of three bikes, and is well specced for the price. Up front you get the excellent 150mm RockShock Pike Select fork, which is paired with a RockShox Deluxe Select, RT Debonair shock. SRAM’s 12-speed GX Eagle takes care of the transmission, while its Code 4 four-pot brakes have tons of power. The supplied 29-inch wheelset has wide WTB i30 rims and is shod with a Maxxis pairing of a triple compound, 2.5 High Roller tyre up front and a dual compound, 2.5 Aggressor to the rear.

Last year Canyon completely redesigned the Spectral, making it longer and lower than before. 2020’s incarnations have a host of updates, the headlines being 10mm more suspension travel at either end, plus additional models across the range.

The Spectral CF 7.0 is the entry level carbon-framed model and comes equipped with RockShox’ excellent Pike fork and RockShox Super Deluxe RCT shock – the equivalent of a Pike in rear shock form.

Other key specifications include SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 gearing with a 10-50 cassette and powerful SRAM Guide R brakes. Everything rolls on wide-rimmed DT Swiss M 1900 wheels and Maxxis‘ triple compound Minion DHII 2.4 tyres. This mountain bike will take on any trail you point it at. It’s also extremely well-balanced, being fast and efficient even when the trails point upwards.

The Spectral CF 7.0 is available to buy direct from .

Canadian bike brand Norco has redesigned its well-regarded Sight range for 2020. The seven-model range (consisting of 4 carbon-framed and 4 aluminium framed bikes) has been built to give ideal weight distribution and grip in all situations.

With humans coming in all shapes and sizes though, getting a perfectly balanced ride could seem something of a tall order. To help achieve its aim, Norco has also released its Ride Aligned set-up app. Enter your measurements, weight, riding ability and model choice into the app and it will not only recommend the best bike and componentry sizes for you, but it also gives detailed suspension settings and tyre pressures, making it a doddle to custom tune your fork and shock and totally dial in your ride.

The Sight A3 and the A3 W (female-specific version) we’ve picked out here may be the cheapest aluminium models in the range, but they still offer the balanced and capable ride of their fancier stablemates combined with the best value for money.

From the SRAM Eagle 12-speed gearing to the wide 29mm WTB rims with 2.5in Maxxis Minion DHF tyres, all the componentry choices are hugely capable and bang up to date. With a RockShox pairing of a 160mm Yari fork up front and 150mm Deluxe Select R shock to the rear, these are bikes that can handle just about anything that comes their way.

The next runner-up in our best mountain bike buyer’s guide, the Spark is an XC World Cup-winning model that’s just as popular with non-racers as it is with serious competitors. This wide appeal is down to the Spark’s highly capable nature and being just as well-suited to long rides on regular trails as it is to short, sharp blasts on the race circuit.

Despite only 120mm of travel, the Fox fork and shock are both smooth and reliable performers, while the stiff frame (aided by a wide Boost hub at the rear) and 29in Synchros/Formula wheels on fast-rolling Maxxis Rekon 2.4 tyres enables you to put down some serious speeds.

The well-specced groupset is a mix of SRAM and Shimano, consisting of a GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain and SLX M7000 brakes. The Spark is fast and well-balanced on XC circuits and non-lethal trails, but it’s also tons of fun on steep, swooping descents.

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The original Mega was launched in 2009 and has been ridden to massive success on the Enduro World Series by Sam Hill. Fully redesigned in 2018, the Mega has been tweaked and updated for 2020 and is now available in five sizes with the addition of a new medium-long framed bike.

This year’s models feature wider Boost hub spacing front and rear to help give extra stiffness and ride predictability. They also feature 1x drivetrains across all models and lengthened top tubes on large and extra-large frames.

The Mega Comp comes with RockShox suspension in the form of the bombproof Yari fork and Super Deluxe shock. SRAM Guide T brakes and a SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain take care of the stop and go, while the Mega runs on Nukeproof Neutron wheels and Michelin Wild Enduro 2.4 tyres front and rear.

There’s no doubting the Mega’s credentials on properly steep, gnarly trails, but it’s also a heap of fun to ride anywhere and makes shorter work of the ups than many of its rivals.

Whether you’re looking for a bike to rip on more forgiving trails, or one to plummet down steep, gnarly runs, with its long, low, slack and exceptionally well-dialled frame geometry, the Whyte 905 is a hardtail that’s hardcore enough to handle it all..

The 905 runs on wide-rimmed, Boost width, WTB ST 135 wheels shod with an ultra grippy, triple compound Maxxis High Roller II 2.8 tyre on the front and a faster rolling Maxxis Recon 2.8 on the rear. These plus-sized wheels and tyres let you seriously rip through almost every type of terrain allowing you to reach some proper warp speeds in the process.

The SRAM Guide T brakes are excellent stoppers and an upgrade on last year’s Levels, while the 1×12 SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain provides all the gear range you could ever need.

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The Pinnacle Ramin 2 has been around in one guise or another for a few years now, but the 2020 version of this rapid yet robust 29er has everything the modern trail rider could want at a massively competitive price.

Up front is an air-sprung, Boost-width RockShox Recon. While the fork may only sport 120mm of travel, it is still capable enough to take on anything most non-lethal trails can through at you. The 30mm internal width, 29-inch WTB rims are shod with a classic hardcore hardtail tyre pairing of a super grippy 2.6 WTB Vigilante upfront and a faster rolling 2.4 Trail Boss to the rear. The gearing is taken care of by SRAM’s entry-level 12-speed SX Eagle transmission, while the brakes come in the form of Shimano’s no-frills, but ultra-reliable BR-MT200 series.

With a frame that’s bang up to date with a confidence inspiring slack head-tube angle and a roomy top tube length, the Ramin 2 is highly capable all-rounder and when you hit the pedals hard it’s certainly no slacker either. 

Merida’s EOne-Sixty 800 is closely based on the company’s conventionally-powered enduro bike of a very similar name (just drop the ‘E’). The capable nature of the bike with 160mm of travel and its long, low frame design is made even more accomplished by the addition of a Shimano Steps 8000 motor.

The Steps motor provides 250W of power and three levels of ride assistance – Eco, Trail and Boost. The range of the 500Wh Shimano Steps battery depends on the terrain you’re riding and how much assistance you use, but expect to get at least a couple of hours out of it unless you plan on hammering up Alpine climbs in Boost mode.

The EOne-Sixty 800 can literally take you anywhere and is a total blast to ride wherever you may end up. Despite the weight of the motor and battery, the bike is still playful and fun to ride. With its Boost width wheels on 2.8 Maxxis DHRII tyres, there’s always loads of traction and grip to keep you in full control.

The Triple B is the younger and even more capable sibling of the highly regarded Bossnut – still available as the updated Bossnut Evo. Yes, it does cost £398 more than the original, but it’s money well spent as you get host of upgrades.

The Triple B’s Reba RL fork has 10mm more travel and better damping than its cheaper stablemate’s Recon RL. As well as the fork’s bolt-through axle, you also get one on the rear for a big dose of back end stiffness. The Triple B also comes with a 125mm Tranz X dropper post, which is a real coup for a full-sus bike at this price.

The uncomplicated suspension is easy to set-up and use, making it an ideal first full-sus bike. The ride is well balanced and can handle anything red and black graded trails happen to throw your way, while the slack head tube angle combined with the wide bars and short stem gives plenty of confident control over steep, rooty sections.

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This beast offers a posterior friendly 130mm of front and rear suspension to absorb bumps and jumps alike on downhill and along trails. That comfort is thanks to RockShox Reba RL forks in the front and FOX Performance Float EVOL rear shocks. The bike is also light enough to cycle without too much effort thanks to its lightweight aluminium frame and 1×11 SRAM NX drivetrain.

The Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheels are solid enough for worry-free riding and are tubeless ready for tyres that just keep going. And with SRAM Level T hydraulic disk brakes you won’t need to worry about wrapping yourself around a tree even at high speed. 

Great tech like Active Braking Pivot means the suspension works just as well off the brakes as when on them, which is ideal for downhilling safely and comfortably. This is a real all rounder, comfortable downhill at speed, bumping over tree roots and through mud ruts in the woods or even for leisurely cycles along canal paths.

This takes the already impressive Fuze from 2016 and adds a very light, carbon fibre, FACT 10m frame. Despite lowering the weight this is still very much a hardtail (ie: there’s no rear suspension), meaning a super tough bike that can take whatever high speed lumps, bumps and jumps it needs to survive. 

Fox Rhythm FLOAT 34 front forks give 120mm of travel that should make comfortable light of any trail. This is thanks to an air-sprung setup that can be adjusted thanks to a two position sweep adjustment system. So while that ride isn’t as good as some downhill machines it’ll still be plenty for most riders who aren’t racing over rocks at super speeds.

The 3.0-inch 6Fattie Purgatory and Ground Control tyres on the Roval Traverse 650b wheels mean super traction control for cornering combined with climbing efficiency with a super tough GRID casing to protect the tyre wall. All that and the Specialized disc brakes should bring you to a relatively rapid halt if things go pear shaped.

Good looks aren’t necessarily at the top of everyone’s list when looking for a good MTB. They’re going to be covered in mud soon after buying anyway. But that said, the YT Industries Capra AL is not only pretty affordable, considering what you get, it’s also a highly handsome beast.

The Capra AL is an all-mountain bike that’s also got what it takes to get you back up the mountain for more. The gears are decent SRAM GX and the RockShox Monarch Plus R shocks also impress, and even the travel is high at 170mm for a comfy ride on that solid aluminium frame which remains light enough for the uphill. Yet the price is on the low side. 

While there is a lighter carbon Capra option out there, the standard model offers much the same riding fun for a way smaller price. Take this out to any trail and watch it eat up the earth or throw it downhill as fast as you can muster. 

In summary: a highly capable all-round fun machine.

You might enjoy the downhill element of mountain biking, but most riders are less keen on the uphill-climbing bit. With numerous brands now making electric mountain bikes, that problem disappears. 

The Haibike Xduro Cross 4.0 is a trail bike setup, supported by a 250W Bosch Performance CX crank drive motor. While the Suntour NCX-E45 front forks can handle the roughness of off-roading, they’re also able to deliver a stiff enough ride for on-road commuting too, making this bike a real all rounder. 

For those that can’t imagine pushing the 21.9kg beast along, fret not, there is a Walk Mode where a little electric assist is even applied when you’re off the bike. 

The 36-volt battery is apparently good for up to 140 miles, but this likely won’t apply to the uphill climbs any mountain biker is going to use it for. The bottom of the range estimate is a still useful 30 miles, though, and Shimano SLX 11-speed gears enable you to assist the battery even on the uphill. 

On the downhill, all that weight will still come to a safe stop when you need it to thanks to Magura MT4 disc brakes.

About the author…Rich Owen has been frantically riding mountain bikes since the early 90s and is a former editor of What Mountain Bike magazine. He’s also a surfer with over 20 years’ experience and lives near North Devon’s best beach breaks.

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