The best hardtail mountain bikes are perfect for all kinds of riders, especially beginners looking to buy their first mountain bike. A hardtail is a great way of learning the craft, understanding bike dynamics and the way weight distribution works. If you are in the market for a new hardtail, read on for everything you need to know about the best hardtail mountain bikes.
Simply put, a hardtail mountain bike has a rigid frame with no suspension at the rear but a suspension fork at the front. It goes without saying that a full-suspension mountain bike has squish at both ends but this does present a few downsides including extra weight and loss of pedalling efficiency owing to bob or squat. The best hardtail mountain bikes on the other hand, are more efficient and lighter, while still offering some semblance of comfort - some hardtails, such as the Trek Procaliber, have built-in elastomers at the seat-tube junction which aim to improve rear-end compliance.
Amid the current cost of living crisis, one of the best hardtail mountain bikes would represent a more affordable proposition when compared to a full-suspension mountain bike build, owing to the absence of a rear shock and pivot bearings. This makes even more sense if you ride in very muddy or dusty regions, environments where these elements can damage suspension components, bearings and pivots. If you're looking for something a little cheaper, you can always read our guide to the best mountain bikes under £600 or best mountain bikes under £1,000
From out-and-out cross-country race rigs to dedicated hardtail trail bikes - we've got you covered. Read on to find all our suggestions or skip to the bottom of the page where we answer all your questions about everything you need to know about buying a hardtail mountain bike.
The best hardtail mountain bikes
Scroll down or click the link to skip to the bike of your choice:
Santa Cruz Chameleon R AL 29 – £3000
The Santa Cruz Chameleon is designed as a do-it-all hardtail that’s just as happy being loaded up with bikepacking kit as it is when faced with fast singletrack. During testing, it’s proven to be just as versatile as promised, demonstrating incredibly fun trail manners when you're smashing singletrack or munching miles. However, such a capable and engaging ride comes at quite the price.
With the Chameleon, Santa Cruz has pushed the envelope of the do-it-all hardtail recipe. That’s thanks to the interchangeable and adjustable dropouts. By swapping these, you can set the bike up to run a single-speed drivetrain or with a mixed wheel size. There’s even a triple-bolt cargo cage mount on the underside of the downtube, making it more than capable of carrying extra kit for a pedal-powered overnighter. Elsewhere on the frame, there’s a bottle cage mount in the front triangle - a given for a hardtail and tidy internal cable routing.
Tester Liam writes: "When descending, the Chameleon’s hooliganess comes out to play. It’s shaped nicely enough to egg you on to go that bit quicker with surprising levels of confidence, especially considering that there’s only the 2.6in Maxxis Aggressor’s squish at the rear to keep your knees from blowing out, which is helpful considering the somewhat harsh stiffness of the alloy frame."
The GT Aggressor Expert is the top end bike in the Aggressor range that’s built for recreational off-roaders who want the best in value. With that in mind, the brand has done a solid job of the bike’s spec and geometry, making it a bike that’s welcoming, capable and comfortable enough for entry-level singletrack jaunts.
Tester Liam Mercer writes: "This is a bike that really brought me back to the beginnings of my mountain bike journey, not only because I had to manually drop the saddle before charging into flowing corners but also because the surprisingly crisp 3x8 shifting got my mind reminiscing of the days I was attempting silly descents my first similarly priced mountain bike.
The Aggressor’s geometry is rather run-of-the-mill for a bike of this type but when ridden within its intentions, it’s confident, agile and very easy to get on with. The 68.5-degree head angle is steep but for a bike that’s designed to transition smoothly from road to the rougher stuff, it offers plenty of support when negotiating twisty climbs but it’s just slack enough to become somewhat stable once the speeds rack up. Paired with the 440mm reach, this bike is mighty agile. "
Mason RAW Deore XT build bike review 2022 11.jpg, by Jim Clarkson
Mason delivers its first mountain bike frame with the Raw - a steel hardtail with bespoke levels of design and manufacturing detail. The Raw is aimed at long-distance fast off-road riding and offers an engaging, supple ride feel. The Rawis top of its class.
Made in the UK by Five Land Fabrication to Mason's exacting design, the Raw uses a mix of mostly Dedacciai and Reynolds tubing. This selection of tubing offers the exacting detail we’ve come to expect from Mason. Dom (Mason’s owner) joked he has a story for every tube on the frame and each is uniquely shaped and butted to help deliver the ride characteristic they are renowned for. The Mason #fastfar ethos equals long-distance capable bikes, with a focus on speed.
Tester Jim Clarkson writes "Striking a wonderful balance between engaging ride feel and sure-footedness, the RAW is an excellent trail focused mountain bike. The painstaking process of the tube manipulation, geometry design and detailing translates to a ride that makes you feel involved and connected with the trail. The RAW thrives on off-road surfaces that are beyond the capabilities of a gravel bike, even one with a suspension fork. At its heart, it’s a mountain bike that constantly rewards the rider."
The Big.Trail 600 from Merida is a trail-ready 29-inch-wheeled hardtail that’s impressively capable and nicely specced. It comes with a few neat touches and a ride that’ll please both new and experienced riders alike.
> Buy now: Merida Big.Trail 600 from Tredz for £1,350
The 600 sits atop a range of four builds. The lineup kicks off at a friendly £800 for the 200 model, and tops out at £1,600 for the bike you see here. Handling the bike’s 140mm of suspension is the mighty Marzocchi Bomber Z2. As a budget-friendly fork, it’s a difficult unit to fault. It’s simple with just rebound and compression adjustment, but it’s supple, really nicely damped and plenty stiff enough for a bike like this.
Tester Liam Mercer writes: "Having that much bike out front is, for the most part, what makes this bike such a solid all-rounder. It makes the Big.Trail stable at speed and impressively confident when the trail drops away. That short seat tube only helps here, offering loads of room to shift weight towards the back of the bike."
"This is where the bike's Marzocchi Bomber Z2 starts to shine. That fork, combined with the Big.Trails extra large geo and the 29-inch hoops, do a lot to tame proper chunky trails. The bike noticeably retains momentum through the rough stuff without rattling your arms to pieces. It's only your ankles you need to worry about."
The Stif Squatch is a full aggro 29” hardtail that eats descents for breakfast while getting you back to the top efficiently and comfortably. Its fairly extreme focus means it's not quite as comfortable over flat trails, but for winch-and-plummet fun it's fantastic.
Tester Liam Mercer says, "The Stif Squatch is a truly aggressive hardtail, built especially to be ragged down any descent at full chat while staying super pleasant when cranking yourself back up.
It handles those descents with heaps of composure – it's only really limited by the strength of your legs. Uphill, it’s a comfy and easy going place to be as the mega-steep seat tube makes light work of smooth climbs."
2021 Ribble 725 HT hardtail-20.jpg, by Rachael Gurney
The Ribble HT 725 Sport is a great 150mm steel hardtail for those on a budget. It's progressive, good looking and built for gravity-fed riding – it ticks most boxes for hardtail lovers. The geometry is built around its gravity-inspired inclinations, with the frame and 150mm fork giving the bike a 64-degree head angle. Reach is pegged at 455mm on a medium, meaning there's plenty of space to centre yourself on this long bike, and to move around when things get lively.
> Buy now: Ribble HT 725 Sport from Ribble for £1,599.00
Tester Rachael Wight writes: "As an entry point into the hardtail market – if you have a preference for riding down hills – the Ribble is good value in its Sport Build. If you do upgrade anything before purchase, though, ignore the drivetrain and make it the fork. While it's a shame there's no 29er version, the HT 725 really can make very good use of the broad 27.5-inch hoops it does wear."
The Marley 1.0 is Ragley’s alloy trail hardtail, and it's impressively capable while being heaps of fun on a range of trails. Ragley has been wise with the spec and for the most part, the geometry is on point. However, it trades climbing excellence for its downhill prowess.
> Buy now: Ragley Marley 1.0 from Chainreactioncycles for £1,399.00
The bike is a true purveyor of the 650B wheel. It’s agile and great fun in the corners, it’s quick on the pedals and it’s got me loving mellower trails – popping off little rock lips and manualling through rollers is easy, thanks to those short chainstays and the low, 313mm bottom bracket.
Tester Liam Mercer writes: "It’s no slouch on more techy trails either. You won’t be piling into chunky sections with the reckless abandon of a full susser – or even a hardtail with a long-travel fork – but the 65.5° head angle makes for an impressively capable ride that doesn’t hold you back from riding them.
"I’m impressed with how composed the Marley 1.0 is over chattery ground at speed, and that’s due to the 2.6in EXO+ cased rear tyre. It provides just enough damping to keep your eyes in their sockets when hurtling down spiky sections, but stays stiff enough to stop the wheel exploding unless things go very wrong."
The Sonder Transmitter is an aluminium trail hardtail with impressive geometry and some good looks, with some obvious thought put into the frame. It is beaten by other bigger brands when it comes to value though, leaving us to make a decision between aggressive geometry or better parts.
The Transmitter is an all mountain trail hardtail designed in the UK from the guys at Sonder and Alpkit. They have a huge array of bikes to choose from and although this is aimed at harder hitting, gravity fed riders, you won’t be disappointed if you are just starting out on your mountain bike journey or if you happen to want to dabble in a spot of bike packing.
Tester Rachael Wight writes: "The Transmitter is an agile bike. There has been some thought into the spec of the wheels and tyres and I reckon they suit this hardtail pretty well, wider rims and tyres providing suspension, grip and comfort where it’s needed and otherwise absent! The steep seat angle is a welcome surprise and I certainly appreciated the more efficient seated position when climbing. If you want a ‘one-hardtail-does-it-all’ then the Transmitter will do that in spades."
Specialized's Chisel is a cross-country racing machine that delivers a solid spec for the money. On paper, it might struggle to match direct-sales rivals and other options in the best hardtail mountain bike space, but it makes up for that with a truly impressive ride quality and sorted, if old-school handling for anyone that wants to cover ground, quickly.
> Buy now: Specialized Chisel frame from Sigma Sports for £1,199.00
The 29-inch-wheeled Chisel range sits at the top end of Specialized's aluminium framed cross-country hardtail offerings, with the two bike lineup consisting of this bike and the £1,800 Chisel Comp. Both bikes share a very nicely made M5 frame with the so-smooth-it-looks-like-carbon D'Aluisio Smartweld technology stitching it all together.
Tester Jon Woodhouse writes: "The Chisel is an unashamed cross-country machine with rapid handling angles to match the head-down, flat-out intentions. If you're expected a slacked out trail bike, you'll be sorely disappointed, but if you want to elevate both yourself and your heart rate at maximum speed, then there's a lot going for it. It's got a Boost spaced through axle rear end, a proper threaded bottom bracket and a tapered steerer up front too, plus decent mud clearance from the skinny, unbraced seat stays.
After testing a few of the best hardtail mountain bikes, we’ve found that very few of them have come close to matching the apparent value of the Vitus Sentier VR. It comes with a mighty impressive spec for the cash and a geometry that’ll please new riders. However, that same geometry offers a severe blow to the bike’s versatility.
> Buy now: Vitus Sentier 27 VRS from Wiggle for £1,439.00
A trick up the Sentier's sleeve is that it's available with either 27-, or 29-inch wheels with models getting the very same spec and a similar geometry. The Sentier is built around an alloy frame with 140mm of travel at the fork, with slick internal cable routing and very chunky 2.6in tyres.
Tester Liam Mercer says, "Suppose the Vitus Sentier 27 VR’s excellent value is something that catches your eye, and you’re mainly looking to ride mellow-ish trail centres. In that case, the Sentier’s exciting and quick handling is absolutely something that’ll keep you smiling. If you’re looking for a bike that you can keep with you as you grow and progress in the sport, it won’t be too long until you begin looking for something more progressively shaped."
The bikes of Canyon's Grand Canyon range are cross-country racers with winning intentions that will be a little easier on your wallet than their competitors and can provide you with just as much speed.
If you are set on pushing your limits on the cross country course then the Grand Canyon will be a good partner. It’s not radically different from other cross-country bikes on the market and it doesn’t break the mould in terms of geometry, but with the help of the 120mm fork on the Grand Canyon, it's slacker than some of the best hardtail mountain bikes which I think can only be a good thing.
Tester Rachael Wight writes: "The Grand Canyon is happy to munch up singletrack and mash out miles, although again riders may wish to change the 70mm stem for something shorter. While descending I found the long stem allowed too much weight to be distributed forward of the steering axis and therefore unbalanced the bike on more technical descents. In its current form Canyon has produced a bike that works well for it’s given purpose and won’t scare off new folk entering the scene with talk of progressive geometry."
Hardtail vs full suspension: which is better?
So far in this guide, we have looked at hardtail mountain bikes in detail and who rides them, but why choose one? Well, many mountain bikers and cross-country riders enjoy hardtails for a few reasons.
By the nature of riding off-road, mountain bikes are subjected to a hard life whether it’s the wet and muddy conditions or the continuous bumps on the trail which are tough on the bike. There are far fewer things to worry about when servicing and maintaining your bike by not having rear suspension. On a full suspension mountain bike, having a rear shock can come with its own mechanical woes such as worn bushings, pivot bearings and servicing intervals - all of which add further expense to the crucial maintenance of your bike.
With a hardtail mountain bike and its rigid rear end, all of your pedal power can be directly transferred to forward motion. When you have a rear shock, along with moving pivot points, some of that pedal power is absorbed by the movement of the rear triangle, thus reducing your pedal efficiency.
It could be argued that because your bike is lacking the plush rear end of its full-suspension sibling, you need to consider your line choices more carefully. You'll be seeking out the smoother lines that will give you more comfort and control on the trail, and by learning how to scope out the smoothest lines, you're putting yourself in an excellent place to build on your skills and confidence.
Cost is one of the most important factors when considering a new mountain bike. Factoring in a suspension platform, a rear shock, pivoting rear triangle, additional bolts and fittings, a hardtail bike is generally a lot lighter in weight and crucially lighter on your wallet. These bikes can certainly be more friendly to the cautious buyer, with some fun entry-level hardtails mountain bikes starting from around £500.
Should I buy a carbon hardtail?
The choice to drop your cash on a carbon hardtail mountain bike frame will depend on your budget. If you are just starting out and are looking to build up your confidence and skill level, the occasional spill/crash is inevitable. With this in mind, an aluminium frame material might be a better option as a starting point based on its durability and resilience to impacts.
As you progress you might be looking to reduce the overall weight of your hardtail and a carbon-fibre frame will give you a competitive edge over your rivals. Carbon fibre bikes tend to lock out the top of the tree in the bike shop catalogues but most metal frames are just as impressive when it comes to weight andf spec levels. In the end, it all comes down to your budget, goals and terrain you ride.
What size hardtail should I buy?
We recommend that you try and test ride as many bikes within your budget as you can. Size is a significant factor when it comes to buying one of the best hardtail mountain bikes and the incorrect bike size will negatively affect your experience. All manufacturers have detailed sizing charts available on their websites and your local bike shop will often arrange demo days for you to determine which size bike is right for you.
Here is basic frame-size guide to help give you an idea :
Height Under 157cm (5ft 2in) - Frame size 13in to 14in (XS)
Height between 157cm to 167cm (5ft 2in to 5ft 6in) - Frame size 15in to 16in (Small)
Height between 167cm to 178cm (5ft 6in to 5ft 10in) - Frame size 17in to 18in (Medium)
Height between 178cm to 188cm5ft 10in to 6ft 2in (5ft 10in to 6ft 2in) - Frame size 19in to 20in (Large)
Height 182cm+ (6ft 2in+ ) - Frame size 21in to 23in (XL/XXL)
If you find that you are falling between sizes the recommendation would be to size up rather than down.
In recent years, as manufacturers have moved away from frame sizes and rather quote seat tube length in inches, reach has arguably become the most important figure. It is the measurement from the bottom bracket to the centre of the head tube. It can be tricky to get this measurement yourself from the bike but this measurement will be listed by the brand in their size charts. It is the measurement that tells you whether you will be too stretched out on the bike or too cramped hampering your comfort and control.
Swapping the stem out will help perfect the fit but might change the ride characteristics simultaneously by making the steering too twitchy and nervous, or slow and lazy. Moving the saddle forward or back will also adjust the fit but this changes the efficiency of your pedalling power.
Frame stand over height or clearance is the last point worth noting when you are deciding which is the best hardtail mountain bike size for you. It is the height of your top tube as you straddle the bike when standing with both feet on the ground. Make sure you measure your inside leg before sizing up a mountain bike frame.
How heavy are hardtail mountain bikes?
Hardtails are a great choice for new riders thanks to their simplicity and value when compared to their full-suspension counterparts. But the biggest benefit is the lower overall bike weight. With clear advancements in mountain bike frame manufacturing techniques, frame durability and contemporary geometry, hardtails are not just lighter than their forebears but more capable over technical terrain, too.
The overall weight of the hardtail mountain bike will vary depending upon the frame material and the choice of components but the best hardtail mountain bike made with the same frame material, the same wheel size and components will be lighter than a full suspension mountain bike. This is due to the lack of a rear shock and its associated hardware, linkages, bearings and bolts.
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