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Editors Choice Favorite Trail Bikes for Mountain Biking

Hands-down the most common question that we receive, in one form or another, is “what mountain bike do you recommend?” While we’ve written dozens of articles with bike recommendations, including budget buyer’s guides and lists of top-rated bikes according to our readers, we’ve decided to share our personal mountain bike picks with you. We’re planning to share these editor’s choice selections for a number of categories, starting with the hottest niche in mountain biking today: trail bikes.

To keep this list realistic, we’ve capped our choices at $4,000 MSRP. While the $4,000 cap might still seem high, it actually proved to be difficult, with our editors finding that some of the best trail bikes on the market aren’t available in even a basic build kit for less than 4 grand. For higher dollar recommendations, be sure to check out these Top-Rated Trail Bikes.

If we had $4,000 to spend on a trail bike, here are the mountain bikes that would make our short list:

Canyon Spectral CF 8.0

I spent a week riding Canyon’s Spectral trail bike in Sweden in 2015, and absolutely loved it. The incredible value that Canyon offers with their direct-to-consumer model is undeniable. To sweeten the deal even more, Canyon just completely redesigned the Spectral’s frame, updated the Spectral’s component spec, and simultaneously dropped the price compared to previous years.

While I’ve included Canyon bikes on editor’s choice lists before, for a long time they weren’t really relevant to the majority of our audience living in the United States. However, with their official entry into the US market in 2017 (finally!) almost everyone that reads Singletracks can now get their hands on a Canyon mountain bike.

While I had $4,000 to work with for this article, the CF 8.0 model comes in well below that cap, at $3,499 MSRP. You can also save even more money by opting for an aluminum frame–the base model retails for $2,500 MSRP.

-Greg

Key Specs:

  • Travel: 150mm front / 140mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 27.5″
  • Headtube Angle: 66.1°
  • Reach: 460mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 430mm
  • Frame Material: Carbon fiber
  • Price: $3,499 (Base models start at $2,500.)

Key Components:

  • Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3
  • Shock: RockShox Deluxe RT
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
  • Wheelset: DT Swiss M 1700 Spline
 

Kona Honzo CR Trail DL

Photo: Kona Bikes

Hi, my name is Aaron and I have an addiction. I can’t stop riding hardtails.

Out of all the bikes I’ve ever owned (a number in the dozens) it’s always the hardtails that stick around the longest. Maybe it’s because I learned to ride on the East Coast and there’s just something about the hard-nosed riding style and location that go together. Maybe it’s the simplicity and easy maintenance. I dunno. What I do know, however, is the Kona Honzo is one of the most stupid-fun bikes I’ve swung a leg over. So much so that I added a steel Honzo to my collection last summer.

Kona offers the Honzo in aluminum, steel, titanium, and now carbon. If there’s one downside to my steel Honzo, it’s the weight. With its plastic frame and a mid- to high-end build, the Honzo CR Trail DL weighs around 25lbs–a good few pounds lighter than my bike. At that weight, this Honzo could easily toe the line at an XC race and then session some dirt jumps afterward.

-Aaron

Key Specs

  • Travel: 120mm front / 0mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 29″
  • Headtube Angle: 68°
  • Reach: 470mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 415mm
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Price: $3,999

Key Components

  • Fork: RockShox Pike RC
  • Shock: n/a
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT 1×11, Race Face Next R carbon cranks
  • Brakes: Shimano SLX
  • Seatpost: KS Lev Integra
  • Wheelset: Shimano SLX hubs laced to WTB i29 rims
See Also
By Aaron Chamberlain
 

Niner S.I.R. 9

Like Aaron, I’m a big fan of hardtail mountain bikes for trail riding. Compared to full suspension mountain bikes, there are fewer things that can go wrong with a hardtail and buyers get more bang for their buck. The Niner S.I.R. 9 is a low maintenance trail bike indeed, and the 3-star build offers blingy components the full suspension bikes on this list only wish they could include. Oh, and the bike has a steel frame which everyone knows* is the best material for a hardtail.

The 3-star S.I.R. 9 not only includes a SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, it also boasts a Kashima-coated Fox 34 fork up front and a KS Lev SI dropper post for when the trails turn down. Niner offers the S.I.R. 9 built up with either 29er or a 27.5+ wheels, but I’m a purist so I prefer the 29er configuration. With two water bottle mounts and the ability to run a front derailleur, the Niner S.I.R. 9 should age nicely as trends come and go.

*For those who disagree, you are wrong. Just kidding.

-Jeff

Key Specs

  • Travel: 120mm front / 0mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 29″ (27.5+ also available)
  • Headtube Angle: 68°
  • Reach: 445mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 430mm
  • Frame Material: Steel
  • Price: $3,950

Key Components

  • Fork: Fox 34 Factory w/ Kashima
  • Shock: n/a
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R
  • Seatpost: KS Lev SI
  • Wheelset: Stans Arch MK3

Santa Cruz Bronson Aluminum S

photo: Santa Cruz

I spent a couple of days riding the carbon version of this bike in Squamish last fall. Since Santa Cruz released the Bronson there’s been a non-stop parade of hype around it. Well, I found that the Bronson delivered on its outsized reputation as a bad ass trail bike. Granted, I was on the carbon frame, but the build is identical to this pick. Besides, it’s the geometry and suspension that make the Bronson so much fun, not the frame material. The suspension platform provides decently-efficient pedaling on the climbs, and it’s plenty plush on the descents. Throw in the short chainstays and a low bottom bracket and you have a recipe for smiles.

There’s a less expensive “R” build on the alloy Bronson, but the components are lackluster. Seven hundred extra bucks get you the “S” build, and it’s worth every penny. The upgraded suspension and drivetrain are reason enough to fork over some more cash, but nearly every other component is a couple notches above those on the R.

-Aaron

Key Specs

  • Travel: 150mm front / 150mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 27.5″
  • Headtube Angle: 66°
  • Reach: 445mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 432mm
  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Price: $3,999

Key Components

  • Fork: Fox 36 Performance
  • Shock: Fox Float Performance DPS
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb
  • Wheelset: Novatec hubs laced to Race Face AR 27 rims

Scott Genius 940 29er

When I rode the top-tier model of Scott’s revamped Genius, I dubbed it “the perfect trail bike.” While it’s easy to love a $7,399 carbon fiber wunderbike, the base-level Genius 940 offers a compelling argument for purchasing the most affordable build and keeping $4,400 in your pocket.

The base-level 940 features the same geometry as the top tier-build, just in an aluminum frame. It also provides the same TwinLoc suspension and the ability to run standard 27.5″ wheels, 27.5+ wheels, or 29″ wheels (I recommend the 29″). The build kit is also very respectable for the price–check out the deets in the bulleted list below.

-Greg

Key Specs:

  • Travel: 150mm front / 150mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 29″ (27.5″ and 27.5+ also available)
  • Headtube Angle: 65°
  • Reach: 466.1mm (large, 29er configuration)
  • Chainstay Length: 438mm (29″ configuration)
  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Price: $3,999

Key Components:

  • Fork: Fox 34 Float
  • Shock: Fox Float
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes: Shimano MT500
  • Seatpost: Syncros Dropper 2.0
  • Wheelset: Formula CL811/CL14811 hubs laced to Syncros X-30S rims

Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 6Fattie

I test rode a much pricier version of the Stumpjumper 6Fattie just a few months ago, and I loved it. The geometry is dialed, the suspension kinematics are spot-on, and the plus tires provide a super plush ride. The only problem is, our $4,000 budget for only gets me halfway to owning that bike.

But this is Specialized, after all, and the company offers builds to suit almost any budget. The Comp Carbon build features a carbon front triangle with SWAT storage built in and a 150mm RockShox Revelation RC fork. It also comes with a SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain, a 125mm Specialized Command dropper post (size medium and up), and burly 38mm hookless Roval Traverse rims.

-Jeff

Key Specs

  • Travel: 150mm front / 135mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 27.5+
  • Headtube Angle: 67°
  • Reach: 431mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 437mm
  • Frame Material: Carbon front / alloy rear
  • Price: $3,500

Key Components

  • Fork: RockShox Revelation RC
  • Shock: RockShox Monarch RT
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX 1×11, RaceFace Aeffect crankset
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R
  • Seatpost: Specialized Command IRoc
  • Wheelset: Specialized Roval Traverse

Transition Smuggler GX

photo: Transition Bikes

As fun as 160mm bikes are, they’re overkill for a majority of the terrain close to me. My favorite rides are long, pedally affairs, with plenty of climbing. Hauling around that extra squish takes more energy and frankly, slows me down. That’s why I’m particularly attracted to bikes like the Transition Smuggler. A moderate amount of travel paired with geometry made for getting rowdy sounds like just the ticket for covering big miles while having a blast.

Transition now sells bikes directly through their website. This change allows them to offer their bikes at a really competitive price point. I’ve always liked their bikes — they’re well-designed, durable, and fun to ride — but in terms of price, Transition was low on the value scale. Thankfully, it looks like those days are behind us. The Smuggler with a GX Eagle build kit is about $1,000 less than the (roughly) comparable build from 2017.

-Aaron

Key Specs

  • Travel: 140mm front / 120mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 29″
  • Headtube Angle: 66°
  • Reach: 475mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 430mm
  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Price: $3,999

Key Components

  • Fork: Fox 34 Performance
  • Shock: Fox Float Performance Elite DPS
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb
  • Wheelset: Novatec hubs laced to e*thirteen TRS rims
See Also
By Aaron Chamberlain
 

Trek Fuel EX 9.7

The Trek Fuel EX line is one of the most popular among Singletracks readers, and based on my own tests, it’s easy to understand why. The Fuel EX 9.7 build features a carbon front triangle mated to an alloy rear triangle. It manages to keep the weight down a hair below 30lbs–impressive for a full suspension mountain bike within our price range.

Trek has really dialed in their Fuel EX builds this year, ditching 2x drivetrains in favor of 1×11- and 1×12-speed systems, and the Fuel EX 9.7 comes with a 150mm dropper post in my size frame. The included Bontrager XR4 tires are burly enough to tackle even the most aggressive trail rides. I only wish there was more than one frame finish to choose from. Give a brother a glossy bike he can show off and keep clean!

-Jeff

Key Specs

  • Travel: 130mm front / 130mm rear
  • Wheel Size: 29″
  • Headtube Angle: 67.7°
  • Reach: 465mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 432mm
  • Frame Material: Carbon front / alloy rear
  • Price: $3,699

Key Components

  • Fork: Fox Rhythm 34
  • Shock: Fox Performance Float EVOL
  • Drivetrain: SRAM NX 1×11
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide R
  • Seatpost: Bontrager Drop Line (up to 150mm for size L, XL)
  • Wheelset: Bontrager Line Comp 30
See Also
By Jeff Barber
 

YT Jeffsy CF Pro 29

I had long wanted to test a YT bike to see what all the fuss was about, and I had my first chance in early 2017. I didn’t even get to ride the most expensive model, but the $3,999 Jeffsy CF One 29 left me thoroughly impressed! While the CF One 29 model has been discontinued, the CF Pro model has just been introduced for 2018 at the same price point. If you find paying $4,000 for a mountain bike off-putting, the base model Jeffsy AL starts at just $2,299 (which is $300 less than last year).

The direct-to-consumer business model allows YT to offer some impressive prices on well-specced bikes. The 11-speed drivetrain featuring e*thirteen’s TRS+ cassette with a 511% range is an attractive component spec, and the XTR rear derailleur paired with it is a big step up from the SRAM X1 drivetrain last year.

-Greg

Key Specs:

  • Travel: 140mm front / 140mm rear
  • Tire Size: 29″ (27.5″ also available)
  • Headtube Angle: 67°/67.5°
  • Reach: 445mm (large)
  • Chainstay Length: 435mm
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Price: $3,999 MSRP (Base models start at $2,299.)

Key Components:

  • Fork: Fox 34 Float Performance Elite
  • Shock: Fox Float DPS Performance Elite
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XTR Rear Derailleur with e*thirteen TRS+ 11-speed cassette (511% range)
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide RSC
  • Seatpost: Fox Transfer Performance Elite
  • Wheelset: e*thirteen TRS+ 29
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# Comments

  • fsuglover

    Why link a 2015 article a Canyon bike while doing a article in 2018?

  • mongwolf

    Wow, nice to see components like the Eagle 1×12 at this price point. I think we have begun to see some downward pressure on mtb prices. For some years there, it was a pretty strongly upward sloping price curve.

  • 2sharp7

    I bet if you’d tried the KNOLLY ENDORPHIN, it could have made this list!

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