You don't need to spend thousands of pounds to get a good mountain bike ripe for razzing the trails, under 1k will get you a fairly decent hardtail and even a good full susser or two from some budget brands. Over the winter we have been testing a variety of bikes that all cost less than £1,000, here are the cream of the crop with these top bikes all being scored 3.5 stars or above.
Just click on the picture of the bike to go straight to the full review.
The Voodoo Bizango is the totally sorted hardtail that’s ruled the roost for a few seasons at this price point. Over the years, Voodoo has added a smaller 16” size to fit shorter riders, lowered the top tube for more room to move and changed the aluminium frame’s blend for a smoother ride. One thing they’ve never done though is mess with the excellent value and impressive ride quality. The Bizango is a nimble, well-balanced package that’s not only fun, it rides and steers like a proper trail bike on flatter trails. With the basics nailed down, for a tad over £500 this Voodoo is simply a killer deal anyone can enjoy riding.
Vitus is one of a handful of direct sales brands pushing the boundaries of value for money in mountain bike complete builds. This ready-for-anything Sentier 29 VR is touted as its aggressive trail hardtail, and with modern 1x11-speed drivetrain and on-the-money components for the cash, it's essentially the bigger wheeled version of the firm's popular Sentier VRS 27.5 bike. The top-value Sentier hits a pretty sweet balance between the ability to get about efficiently and still be able to hit up some more advanced trails if you fancy your chances.
Whyte’s affordable 605 hardtail might not break the bank, but when it comes to on-trail performance it blows most rivals out of the water thanks to a frame sporting bang-up-to-date geometry and well-chosen components. All in all the Whyte 605 is hugely impressive for the money. Yes, you can buy bikes at this price point that come with much better bits bolted to them, the bendy coil sprung fork and lightly treaded tyres being the ones you might feel most keenly, the latter especially in the winter. However, if you’re looking at as the bike as a complete package then it’s bloody hard to beat. If you want a bike that’s going to allow you to push your riding onwards, boost your confidence both uphill and down and you aren’t fussed about what’s written on the components then the Whyte is a superb machine - and not just by the standards of ‘budget’ bikes.
The Mantra is Saracen’s popular front suspension bike designed more for fun trail riding than any punishing training or cross country schedule. The Mantra Trail provides a good balance between getting about quickly and effectively, with enough calmness and composure for faster speeds or if you want to dip your toes into more technical off-piste terrain. The frame is solid and responsive without being too harsh and uncomfortable and the bike’s very easy to get along with from the outset for most kinds of riding. Upgrading to a dropper seatpost, grippier tyres and potentially fitting a slightly shorter stem would significantly broaden the Saracen’s remit if your focus is a bit more hardcore or downhill orientated too.
The Marin Bobcat Trail 4 is Marin's entry level hardtail offering. Entry level can often mean loud in looks but low in terms of geometry and riding said bike on anything other than a canal tow path. However, Marin has delivered something genuinely fit for purpose in the Bobcat. If you like the idea of commuting to work on fatter tyres, razzing along the toe path with the kids at the weekend or even entering your first cross-country race, the Bobcat is ready for you, and ready for shiny new bits when you wear the originals out.
The Canyon Grand Canyon AL 3.9 offers really impressive value for money, but if your riding aspirations extend beyond traditional cross-country excursions, you might find the handling and cockpit kit hamper more hardcore intentions. Kept to sensible terrain for a sub £600 bike and the Grand Canyon is capable and quick. It picks up speed with ease and those big hoops do a decent job of eeking out traction, tyres notwithstanding. It'll merrily jink between flat corners and it'll happily cover distance in a head-down, pedal-hard fashion that will feel very familiar to anyone that grew up on classic cross-country hardtails. It's just a shame that with a less tiller-like stem, more relaxed geometry and maybe a smidge more travel on the fork, the Grand Canyon would have you feeling confident enough to search out technical terrain worthy of its namesake. If your ambitions end at cross-country, then there's much to recommend it, however.
If you're looking for a rapid handling cross-country hardtail then the X-Caliber delivers in spades, but it's a bit of a handful when the trail turns downhill thanks to steep geometry and a dated cockpit. The X-Caliber 9 has a lot of potential. If you're willing to make it – and yourself – work very hard, then it'll reward with a responsive, sharp and precise ride character that won't beat you up like cheap aluminium frames often can. On flat, flowing singletrack, it's precise and lively, while covering ground will come with ease. It's a real shame as it could do all this and much more if Trek had calmed down those race roots, relaxed the geometry and butched up the cockpit. With a mild tweak, this could be a seriously rapid hardtail; not just up and along, but also down.
And that's all so far folks, we'll be adding more bikes as we ride and test them in the future. If there is anything you particularly want to see tested then let us know in the comments below!
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