The Best Mountain Bikes: Ride Steady No Matter the Terrain

person mountain biking


Mountain biking is a highly technical sport, but that doesn’t mean it's not for everyone. There are trails and roads for every level, so whether you're looking for a fun outdoor activity or are training for a race, you can still enjoy mountain biking. But, you’ll need the best mountain bike to make sure you have a safe, steady, and enjoyable ride. Hybrid bikes, though versatile, are not ideal for the trails.

However, with the wide range of price options and variety of features to choose from, it can be tricky to nail down the right bike for you. There's also a bit of a learning curve when it comes to understanding the technical aspects of a mountain bike. Also make sure to budget for any extras you may need like biking accessories.

Sound like a lot to keep track of? We know the struggle which is why we’ve put together a guide on how to find the best mountain bike. We’ll walk you through what to look for in a bike, plus give you our top picks. Whether you're an experienced rider training for mountain bike races or a beginner looking for the right bike for your next outdoor trip, we're confident there’s something on this list for you.

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The Best Mountain Bikes - Our Top Picks

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What to Look for in a Mountain Bike


Suspension

There are two major things to consider when it comes to suspension: full suspension and hardtail. Full suspension mountain bikes have suspension mechanisms on both the front and the rear, while hardtail bikes only have suspension on the front. Full suspension works for advanced trails or any trails where you expect to come across intense, unpredictable obstacles. Hardtail bikes are usually good for less intense trails and other offroad terrains such as gravel.

Long or Short Travel

The travel on your mountain bike refers to how much the suspension can compress. Higher travel means more compression potential, less travel means less. What does this mean for you? You need to know how rough your terrain will be when you ride. If your suspension reaches its limit frequently (such as any bumps from roots, rocks, etc.), the bike’s frame will absorb this force rather than the suspension.

Tires

The tires on your mountain bike affect your ride quality. It’s possible to get custom tires, but generally, you'll either have 29.1-inch tires or 27.5-inch tires. The size of your bike’s frame determines the size of tires you’ll need.

Size

You've probably ridden a bike that was too big or too small for you at some point in your life, and many people often think size isn’t a very important factor. However, when you’re riding your bike on trails and over uneven terrain, you could injure yourself with the wrong-sized bike.

Most bikes come in a size scale from small to large, with only a few inches on the frame varying between sizes. Check a manufacturer's size guide to determine what is best for you.

Fork

Forks connect your mountain bike's suspension system to the frame. Different brands have different fork methods, but the main thing to keep in mind is that forks are where the suspension meets the shock produced by obstacles.

Best Overall - Schwinn Mesa 3 Mountain Bike

Schwinn Mesa 3 Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Suspension type: Hardtail
  • Fork material: Zoom HL565
  • Brakes: Rim
  • Travel: 80mm front
  • Tire size: 27.5"
  • Speeds: 21
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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The Schwinn Mesa 3 is our pick for the best overall mountain bike because it works for beginners and trail veterans alike. We like that the frame is made from lightweight aluminum, but key components, like the suspension fork, are made of steel for extra durability.

The Mesa 3 has a dual braking system—on the front and back rims—so you won't have to worry about controlling your speed in wet weather or when you're going downhill. One thing to keep in mind? Hardtail suspension and relatively short travel mean you don't want to take it on more advanced trails, but for light to moderate off-road terrain, it's a great option.

What We Like

  • Dual-braking system
  • Lightweight, but durable frame
  • Great for beginners or casual riders

What We Don't Like

  • Short travel
  • Requires assembly

BUY: Schwinn Mesa 3 Mountain Bike

Best Entry Level Mountain Bike - Diamondback Release 29.1 Mountain Bike

Diamondback Release 29.1 Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Suspension type: Level Link Suspension
  • Fork: SR Suntour Aion
  • Brakes: Hydraulic Disc
  • Travel: 140mm front
  • Tire size: 29.1"
  • Speeds: 12
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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Just getting into mountain biking? The Diamondback Release is a great option for a couple of reasons. First, the hydraulic braking system allows the rider to brake more consistently if they feel uncomfortable on certain terrain. Second, it has a long travel, so the suspension absorbs the impact to keep your ride smooth.

The most unique aspect of the Diamondback Release 29.1 is the patented Level Link suspension system. Typically, bikes have suspension systems that connect to the fork but Level Link connects directly to the frame. This lets the suspension better absorb the shock of bumps and obstacles.

What We Like

  • Level Link Suspension
  • Hydraulic brake system
  • Long travel

What We Don't Like

  • A bit heavier than other mountain bikes
  • No water bottle holder on the frame

BUY: Diamondback Release 29.1 Mountain Bike

Best Enduro - Cannondale Jekyll Carbon 2 Enduro Mountain Bike

Cannondale Jerkyll Carob 2 Enduro Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Carbon
  • Suspension type: Full Suspension
  • Fork material: RockShox Zeb Select
  • Brakes: Hydraulic Disc
  • Travel: 170mm
  • Tire size: 29.1"
  • Speeds: 12
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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If you aren't familiar with what an Enduro is, it’s a type of mountain biking race where you ride to the top of a hill or mountain, then race down in a time-trial fashion. Because of this, Enduro bikes typically have a higher travel than trail bikes and need to be full suspension. The Cannondale Jekyll Carbon 2 contains both of these features, plus a few extras.

Cannondale is known for quality bikes and the Jekyll's carbon frame is strong. The full suspension and hydraulic brake discs make this bike a smooth ride that can handle a lot of barriers as you race down the track. But because it’s so well-constructed, the Cannodale does come with a higher price tag. Still, for those serious about trying Enduro or if you're already a veteran, we think this bike is worth the investment.

What We Like

  • Durable, carbon frame
  • Full suspension
  • Hydraulic brake discs
  • Extra long travel

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy weight
  • Seat might be uncomfortable for some during uphill rides

BUY: Cannondale Jekyll Carbon 2 Enduro Mountain Bike

Best Hardtail - ICAN Cycling Carbon Hardtail Fat Bike SN01

ICAN Cycling Carbon Hardtail Fat Bike SN01

SPECS

  • Frame material: Carbon Fiber
  • Suspension type: Hardtail
  • Fork: Carbon, 150 x 15 Thru Axle
  • Brakes:Hydraulic Disc
  • Travel: 150mm
  • Tire size: 26" x 4"
  • Speeds: 12
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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The ICAN Fat Bike SN01 is a unique bike on our list because of the tire size. The tires are 26' in diameter, which is a bit shorter than most other mountain bikes. They’re also four inches wide which means this bike rides smoothly over long distances, even when encountering uneven terrain.

The suspension on the SN01 has a long travel to absorb shock, and the carbon fiber frame is much more lightweight than other bikes in its class. Even better, this bike comes with mounts so you can transport small cargo ranging from laptops to packs if you're riding to your hike.

What We Like

  • Lightweight carbon fiber frame
  • Fender mounts for storage
  • Fat tires made to travel multiple types of terrain

What We Don't Like

  • Fat tires mean lower speeds
  • Difficult to steer compared to other mountain bikes

BUY: ICAN Cycling Carbon Hardtail Fat Bike SN01

Best for Trails - Diamondback Line 27.5 Mountain Bike

Diamondback Line 27.5 Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Suspension type: Hardtail
  • Fork: SR Suntour XCR
  • Brakes: Hydraulic Disc
  • Travel: 120mm
  • Tire size: 27.5
  • Speeds: 9
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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When you're into standard trail riding or prefer a bike that changes speeds easily, the Diamondback Line 27.5 has you covered. The 120-millimeter travel is enough to absorb most of the roots and rocks you'll encounter, and the hydraulic braking system holds up well if you need to ride the brakes down a steep decline.

We especially like the extra wide handlebars which work for beginners and seasoned riders alike. All in all, the Line 27.5 is a good balance of price and quality performance for trail riders used to light to moderate trails.

What We Like

  • Good performance for a fair price
  • Wider than normal handlebars
  • 120mm travel is good for most light to moderate obstacles

What We Don't Like

  • Some assembly may be required if it's shipped to your house
  • Having only 9 speeds limits versatility

BUY: Diamondback Line 27.5 Mountain Bike

Best Full Suspension - Alchemy Bikes 2022 Arktos 150 Mountain Bike

Alchemy Bikes 2022 Arktos 150 Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Carbon
  • Suspension type: Alchemy Sine Suspension System
  • Fork: Fox 38 29 Factory Kashima 170mm Boost
  • Brakes: Hydraulic Disc
  • Travel: 170mm front, 150mm rear
  • Tire size: 29.1"
  • Speeds: 12
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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If you're a serious rider, we recommend checking out the Alchemy Arktos 150. Designed with Alchemy's premium Carbon frame and equipped with the patented Sine Suspension system, the system is "tunable". This means it tailors the shock absorption of the bike to fit the rider and terrain.

The Arktos 150 also comes equipped with a "flip chip" that converts the bike to an Enduro bike, giving you the ability to have mixed tire sizes.

What We Like

  • Patented Sine Suspension System
  • Convertible to an Enduro bike
  • Backed by the Alchemy Lifetime Warranty

What We Don't Like

  • High price point
  • Some riders may find the seat sits too low

BUY: Alchemy Bikes 2022 Arktos 150 Mountain Bike

Best Electric - Schwinn Ridgewood Electric Mountain Bike

Schwinn Ridgewood Electric Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Suspension type: Hardtail, Front Suspension
  • Fork: Schwinn, 29", Hi-Ten steel, 100 mm
  • Brakes: Mechanical Disc
  • Travel: 100mm
  • Tire size: 29.1"
  • Speeds: 7
  • Fit: One size that fits people from 5' 7" to 6' 2"

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While an electric bike isn't a great choice for serious trails, it is a great bike for an everyday commute. And, the Ridgewood bike comes equipped with a handful of mountain bike features to make sure you have a smooth ride over versatile terrain. When it's fully charged, you have a nice riding range of 45 miles.

The motor is also pedal assist which means if you're looking to pedal, the motor gives you an extra push to maintain the speed you want. Also keep in mind that this is a class2 e-bike, so it has a maximum speed of 20 mph.

What We Like

  • Pedal assist motor can help you maintain speeds with ease
  • 45-mile range when fully charged
  • 20 mph speeds that can be maintained by the motor alone

What We Don't Like

  • Only 1 size
  • Takes 4 hours to fully charge the battery
  • Very short suspension travel

BUY: Schwinn Ridgewood Electric Mountain Bike

Best Budget - Cannondale Trail 8 Mountain Bike

Cannondale Trail 8 Mountain Bike

SPECS

  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Suspension type: Hardtail, front suspension
  • Fork: SR Suntour M3030
  • Brakes: Hydraulic Disc
  • Travel: 75mm
  • Tire size: 29.1"
  • Speeds: 14
  • Fit: Multiple size options

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If you're new to mountain biking, you might not be in a position where you want to drop a fortune on a new bike. Luckily, there is a wide range of prices on the market, including the budget-friendly Cannondale Trail 8.

Although it's expensive, it still offers all of the basics you'll need for a good ride. The travel is very short at 75 millimeters, but Cannondale's quality comes through in its well-built suspension system, brakes, and frame material.

What We Like

  • Budget-friendly price point
  • Lightweight frame
  • Hydraulic disc brakes

What We Don't Like

  • Very short travel
  • Cables are exposed

BUY: Cannondale Trail 8 Mountain Bike

FAQs About Mountain Bikes


Is it worth it buying an expensive mountain bike?

The short answer is, that it depends on a number of factors like experience level and how much you plan on using it. If you're just starting out with mountain biking and want to ride moderate to strenuous trails, then you’ll likely eventually want to buy a higher-quality bike to give yourself a better ride.

However, if you're just starting out or you want a bike to use on roads or light trails, then you'll likely be satisfied with a lower-cost option. Keep in mind, that with mountain bikes, you usually get what you pay for.

How much do mountain bikes cost?

Mountain bikes come at a variety of price points, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Most people don't need to buy a top-of-the-line bike, but serious riders who are looking to improve their performance can expect to spend a few thousand.

Our recommendation? Decide what your purpose and budget are before you look at the price tag. This will help you find the right price.

Which mountain bike is best for beginners?

Most mountain bike brands have a product designed for beginners. If you're trying to get into trail riding, focus on finding a bike with good suspension system ratings and long travel—travel is measured in millimeters and represents how much shock a suspension system can absorb. The higher the number the more shock it can absorb. These are some of the features beginners should look for when searching for the best mountain bike.

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