off-road.cc's Best Bikes of 2020/21 - Mountain Bike of the Year Award, plus Benchmark, Bargain and Editor's Choice
It’s time to reveal which of the mountain bikes and e-mountain bikes we rode and reviewed in 2020 were the best of the best. These are the ones that stood out over all the others, we've sweated it out over many test miles, pooled opinions and come up a list with the mountain bikes you can buy. This is the overall off.road.cc Mountain Bike of the Year 2020/21, plus the Benchmark Bike, the Bargain Buy, the Editors Choice winners.
- off.road.cc's Best Bikes of 2020/21 - Gravel Bike of the Year Award, plus Benchmark, Bargain and Editor's Choice
- The best mountain bikes you can buy for under £1,500 - full sus and hardtails
Best mountain bikes for under £3,000 - capable trail bikes that won't break the bank
The best mountain bikes you can buy in 2020/21
10. Marin Rift Zone 2
The Marin Rift Zone 2 is a 125mm full suspension trail bike that will please riders and wallets. Updated for 2020 with revised geometry, 125mm of rear travel (up five millimetres from the previous bike) and the same big 29er wheels, the Rift Zone 2 is bang on trend. The bike proved itself to be capable trail bike when our Editor, Rach tested it. The geometry is progressive and confidence-inspiring, the suspension allows you to feel really connected to the trail and its a bike that is quick to manoeuvre.
Whilst it’s heavy for a short-travel mountain bike, and the tyres don't suit its all-rounder intentions, the Rift Zone is a great trail proposition. As it is, the Rift Zone 2 is both attainable and highly upgradeable, and as such represents a good investment for those after a seriously capable short-travel 29er
9. Specialized Stumpjumper Expert
In at number nine is the new 2021 Specialized Stumpjumper in the Expert spec. It's a brand new and refreshed bike with updated geometry and on the carbon models, it gets a new suspension platform using flex stays instead of a lower pivot in the chainstays. The Stumpy proved itself to be a great pedaller and adept in the tech too, the ride feel belieing the amount of travel on offer.
In this spec its an incredible all-rounder, the price is steep though, you'll likely want a tyre upgrade and forks too if you are going to push this bike really hard. In summary the Stumpjumper Expert is a neat, light, well-designed bike that'll give its rider a hell of a good time downhill and then pedals back up without complaint.
8. Vitus Escarpe 29 CR
Another bike that got a huge makeover for 2020/21 is the Vitus Escarpe. The range now sports a sprightly enduro bike, plus all versions have carbon front triangles matched with cool colours for sleek looks. Offering 140mm of travel at the rear paired with a 150mm fork, the Escarpe 29 CR is one of six bikes that covers all budget and both of the popular mountain bike wheel sizes. The progressive geometry on this 2k bike is a treat, it makes light work of tough trails and pedals like a demon.
This base model doesn’t have the parts longevity we’d like to see, but it’s a great starting place for a bike upgrade journey. It's a well connected trail bike that is fun, versatile and capable and a great base for future upgrades.
7. Nukeproof Mega 290 Comp
The 2021 Nukeproof Mega 290 Alloy is a hard hitting all-mountain 29er ready to tame your local tech. It's not light but pedals supremely well, while the progressive geometry makes it a great all-rounder as well as an enduro shredder. Also a bike seeing big changes for 2021, the 160mm travel enduro bike has a great smattering of hard-wearing components and you can now fit a water bottle inside the front triangle too.
The Mega is composed yet also a sprightly machine, its relatively nimble and when you compare this bike closely with similarly specced long travel bikes it trumps them in terms of spec, geometry and value for money. If you are looking to buy an enduro bike, you may want to turn your thoughts to a Mega. It pedals really well and, whether you're racing, exploring or just messing around, it's a nimble, planted bike with a great spec and impressive frame details.
6. Merida eOne-Sixty 9000
In at number six is the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 with it's all-new Shimano EP8 drive unit and a higher capacity battery. It delivers more power and range with refined performance and control, but it's the changes to the spec elsewhere that really let it fly, uphill and down.
Merida has taken an already excellent bike and, with the new EP8 drive unit and some good kit tweaks, improved it. The stiffer fork and burlier rubber address the weak spots of the old bike's spec, while the same frame design delivers excellent handing and sorted suspension – with the caveat that the rear end could do with a bit more progression.
The new drive unit and bigger battery deliver range, refinement and climbing control in spades, along with greater grunt and less noise. Hopefully, Shimano will deliver firmware upgrades to address technical climbing, but as it stands, this is an extremely polished package.
5. Benchmark Bike - Specialized Levo SL Comp
Our Benchmark Bike is the one that offered the highest level of performance outright - it's a bike that sets the technical and performance standards against which all the rest are judged and price didn’t even come into it. Think of it as the money-no-object dream bike. We've chosen an e-bike for this award as we know they are going to feature extensively in the future of mountain biking as we know it. The bike we have chosen is an excellent concept and whilst it's not perfect there is little else to rival it at this time.
The Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp Carbon is a sleek, light and very useable take on the e-bike. The motor might be less powerful than most, but it also has far less mass to push, it's smooth and the battery lasts really well. The spec – in particular the fork – holds it back on rowdy trails and the geometry verges on dated, but for flowy trails and long adventures, the 'superlight' e-bike concept is a winner and more than deserving of the 'Benchmark' title. We are looking forward to the advances that both Specialized and other brands make in competition with this bike.
The Levo SL is supportive and natural rather than super powerful – it’s a total ride extender and I’m totally sold on the concept. Rach tested this bike and at the time of writing has done almost 100,000m of descending in the test time. The Turbo Levo SL has the ability to take away most of the effort of climbing should you want, whilst still allowing you to work hard if you choose.
4. Ragley Blue Pig
The only hardtail in the top ten but one that was so good, we saw it fit to enter the charts at number four. Ragley's all-new Blue Pig Race might cost as much as a well-sorted full sus trail bike, but if you prefer hardtail thrashing thrills then it's one of the best. An almost flawless kit list is married to well-sorted geometry that encourages a lairy attitude and has the ability to back it up when it gets rough.
All in all, Ragley has pulled a bit of a blinder with the Blue Pig. If you value thinking your way through rough sections rather than blasting them at warp speed then it's a bike that is hard to argue with. In fact, it's a bike that's more than able to surprise you with just what you can ride it down without the bike feeling like it's the limiting factor. Oh, and it's a huge amount of fun.
3. Bargain Buy - Carrera Fury
The Bargain Buy is the bike that we feel gives the biggest bang for the least buck; basically picking a superb riding bike but with an emphasis on value for money.
The winner here is the Carrera Fury, a £600 hardtail from the Halfords brand, a bike that trumps all others in the value for money department. The bike comes with a thru axle Suntour air fork, a wide ranging 1x10 speed Shimano drivetrain with a clutch equipped mech, hydraulic brakes and a dropper post. Yes, a dropper post is fitted as standard for £600.
Other touches fitted that are not immediately noticeable are the external bottom bracket and 180mm brake rotors.
The Fury is not just good value as a sum of its added parts either, this is a bike that performs well on the singletrack too. Admittedly the bike isn't for real steep tech but for the sorts of riding a bike like this will see, it's a banger! It's not quite perfect - the overly tall frame being the biggest issue - but it still knocks the socks off most of its competition at this price, with the air fork and dropper post being particular highlights.
2. Editor's Choice - Vitus Mythique 29 CR
The 'Editor's Choice' is a bike that, in our opinion, gives the best combination of performance and value for money. It's a bike that is not just a good bike for the money; it's a bike that's more than capable of shaming machines double or triple the price.
That accolade goes to the Vitus Mythique 29 VRS, a wallet friendly and easily upgradable trail bike, the Mythique is the bike that we think balances cost and performance perfectly. The bike we tested is the 29 VRS, which means 140mm of travel, 29er wheels and a mid-price spec in the range. At £1,499 you get a 1x12 SRAM drivetrain, Shimano brakes, an X-Fusion fork and shock and some excellent tyres in the form of a Schwalbe Magic Mary and a Hans Dampf.
Our Rach said that the Mythique was an effortless climber and great downhill too, it proved to be stable and happy to handle any type of trail you can throw at it. It'll pedal all day at a trail centre and take on off-piste trails too, it's a one-bike-does-it-all kind of steed.
Pocket-friendly and easily upgradable, the Vitus Mythique VRS is solid performer and a fun ride – it's a bargain of a trail 29er, and certain to catch a number of new rider's eyes.
1. 2020 Mountain Bike of the Year - Cotic Rocket Gold
The 'off-road.cc Mountain Bike of the Year' is quite simply the best mountain bike we have tested in 2020. It's a bike we can safely say is the best due to its great performance and good value for money. With this bike you don't just get a cheap bike, you get a proper bang for your buck and a shed load of trail prowess too. It's a bike that we reckon, should you drop the dollar on buying one, will last you a lifetime and will be easily upgradable when and if the time comes.
When Jon rode this bike he said it was every inch the progressive long travel trail and enduro bike that it was cracked up to be. He reckons this bike has geometry that allows you to extract every last ounce of performance, one of the main reasons this bike get our Bike of the Year Award.
Jon said the Cotic Rocket was plenty stable in the rough stuff, it excelled at the tight, twisty and steep terrain on his doorstep, whilst the suspension felt plush and progressive. At £4,720 the Rocket isn't cheap but that doesn't matter for the Benchmark bike, this is all about how the bike performs, a test which the Rocket passed with flying colours.
The fourth generation of Cotic Rocket builds on a solid foundation to deliver a really well-sorted ride with handling that'll flatter the timid and encourage the confident. It rewards the rider by being a hugely capable bike with the ability to bob and weave on tight, steep and twisty trails while still being able to dispatch burly terrain with ease. In summary, if you like to party on the downhills and cruise on the way back up, then the Rocket is a planted, progressive playmate.