Best mountain bike 2021: rides to suit hardtail hooligans as well as big-mountain beasts

Whether you're looking to hammer your local trail centre or hit the global the enduro circuit, our guide to the best MTBs around has got what you need

Whyte S-150C RS V2
(Image credit: Whyte)

Today's best mountain bikes are impressive beasts, thanks to modern frame geometry, totally sorted suspension and decades of component development. This guide is here to guide you through your options and help you find the best mountain bike for your riding style and budget. 

All that technology doesn't come cheap though, so you'll need a fairly hefty budget to bag yourself a well appointed full suspension bike. If you can't quite stretch to a fully loaded, full sus ride, we'd suggest going for a hardtail as they cost substantially less, but are almost as capable and just as big a blast to ride. 

Overall, we think the best mountain bike right now is the Whyte S-120 S V1. Capable of charging down gnarly descents, yet efficient enough to take on an XC marathon, the S-120 S V1 has set a new benchmark for shorter travel bikes. The Nukeproof Mega 275 comes in a close second: completely redesigned from the ground up, the all-new Mega takes the iconic enduro bike to a whole new level. Neither of those are especially cheap though, and if your budget is lower, you'd be better off consulting our best under £500 mountain bike guide. Or if you feel you need some assistance, our best electric mountain bikes guide will help you out. 

For the best mountain bikes around though, stay right where you are. Whether you're looking to ride at your local trail centre or take on a trip to the mountains, our selection of bikes has got your covered. We've listed bikes with a wide range of applications to suit different budgets, but each one of them is what we consider to the best in its class. 

If you're not entirely sure what kind of bike you need, our mountain bike vs road bike explainer walks you through the differences, or you can head to the bottom of this article for a breakdown of the different mountain bike types. 

The best mountain bike 2021

Whyte S-120 S V1 mountain bike

(Image credit: Whyte)

1. Whyte S-120 S V1

The best mountain bike overall right now

Frame: 6061 aluminium alloy with Boost width dropouts
Fork: 120mm SID 35 Select, Boost
Shock: RockShox SIDLuxe Select
Wheel size: 29-inch
Reasons to buy
+Way more capable than its travel suggests+Superb handling+Capable and quick+Well-tuned suspension

Whyte have always been at the forefront of mountain bike development (its shape-shifting S-150 was a winner in the 2020 T3 awards) and this new S-120 S V1 is testament to their continued drive to move bike design forward. Despite relatively short travel of 120mm, the S-120 S' well balanced frame and highly tuned suspension is just as capable as many longer travel bikes without being burdened by the weight and wallow extra suspension brings.

As well as being capable, this bike is seriously quick. It rolls on WTB i27 29” rims with a Maxxis tyre combo of a super-grippy, dual compound High Roller II up front and a faster rolling Forekaster at the rear. The 12-speed drivetrain comes courtesy of SRAM GX Eagle MMX, while the brakes are also from SRAM, with 180mm Guide G2 Rs at both ends.

Nukeproof Mega 275 Alloy Comp (2021) mountain bike

(Image credit: Nukeproof)

2. Nukeproof Mega 275 Alloy Comp (2021)

A newly updated version of a tried-and-tested classic

Frame: 6061 aluminium alloy with Boost width dropouts
Fork: 170mm RockShox Yari RC, Boost
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Select R
Wheel size: 27.5-inch
Reasons to buy
+An awesome enduro machine+Optimised suspension tune+10 years of development+Also available with 29" wheels

The Nukeproof Mega has been around in one guise or another for 10 years now and this 2021 sees the launch of its fourth incarnation. Both the carbon and the aluminium framed versions of the bike reflect the some of the design team's favourite aspects of the Mega over the years and the result is a bike that will look familiar to Mega fans, but is the most capable and fun to ride yet. Among the many changes from the Mk 3 version, the newly designed frame aims to keep the saddle in the optimal position when climbing – despite changes in bike length as the swingarm moves through its travel. The seat tube is shorter too which enables the Mega to run longer dropper posts so you can get the saddle right out of the way on descents.

A host of other additions include improved suspension, the use of SRAM's new Universal Derailleur Hanger, Enduro Race pivot bearings and for the first time ever, room in the frame for a 750ml water bottle. The Mega also comes in 29-inch versions and for those with deeper pockets – the Pro version.

Canyon Spectral CF 7.0 mountain bike

3. Canyon Spectral CF 7.0

The best mountain bike for charging on any kind of trail

Frame: Carbon with 6066 aluminium swingarm
Fork: 160mm RockShox Pike RC
Shock: 150mm RockShox Super Deluxe RCT
Wheelsize: 27.5in
Reasons to buy
+An extremely well-balanced machine+Outstanding componentry for the price+Light and stiff carbon frame

Last year Canyon completely redesigned the Spectral, making it longer and lower than before. 2020’s incarnations have a host of updates, the headlines being 10mm more suspension travel at either end, plus additional models across the range. The Spectral CF 7.0 is the entry level carbon-framed model and comes equipped with RockShox’ excellent Pike fork and RockShox Super Deluxe RCT shock – the equivalent of a Pike in rear shock form. Other key specifications include SRAM GX Eagle 1x12 gearing with a 10-50 cassette and powerful SRAM Guide R brakes. Everything rolls on wide-rimmed DT Swiss M 1900 wheels and Maxxis‘ triple compound Minion DHII 2.4 tyres. This mountain bike will take on any trail you point it at. It’s also extremely well-balanced, being fast and efficient even when the trails point upwards.

The Spectral CF 7.0 is available to buy direct from Canyon’s website.

Norco Sight A3 (and A3 W) mountain bike

(Image credit: Norco)

4. Norco Sight

An all-mountain beast with app supported custom tuning

Frame: Sight aluminium 150mm travel
Fork: RockShox Yari RC Motion Control 160mm
Shock: RockShox Deluxe Select R
Wheelsize: 27.5 or 29in
Reasons to buy
+Customised bike set-up via an app+Decent spec list for money+A bang up to date all-mountain bike

Canadian bike brand Norco redesigned its well-regarded Sight range for 2020. The seven-model range (consisting of 4 carbon-framed and 4 aluminium framed bikes) has been built to give ideal weight distribution and grip in all situations. With humans coming in all shapes and sizes though, getting a perfectly balanced ride could seem something of a tall order. To help achieve its aim, Norco has also released its Ride Aligned set-up app. Enter your measurements, weight, riding ability and model choice into the app and it will not only recommend the best bike and componentry sizes for you, but it also gives detailed suspension settings and tyre pressures, making it a doddle to custom tune your fork and shock and totally dial in your ride.

The Sight A3 and the A3 W (female-specific version) we've picked out here may be the cheapest aluminium models in the range, but they still offer the balanced and capable ride of their fancier stablemates combined with the best value for money. From the SRAM Eagle 12-speed gearing to the wide 29mm WTB rims with 2.5in Maxxis Minion DHF tyres, all the componentry choices are hugely capable and bang up to date. With a RockShox pairing of a 160mm Yari fork up front and 150mm Deluxe Select R shock to the rear, these are bikes that can handle just about anything that comes their way.

Scott Spark 940 mountain bike

5. Scott Spark 940

A great MTB for cross-country racing and flat-out trail riding

Frame: Custom-butted, hydro-formed alloy
Fork: 130mm Fox 34 Float Rhythm Air
Shock: 120mm Fox Nude EVOL
Wheel size: 29in
Reasons to buy
+A seriously fast yet confident performer+Versatile enough for racing and blasting trails+Decent component selection

The next runner-up in our best mountain bike buyer’s guide, the Spark is an XC World Cup-winning model that’s just as popular with non-racers as it is with serious competitors. This wide appeal is down to the Spark’s highly capable nature and being just as well-suited to long rides on regular trails as it is to short, sharp blasts on the race circuit. Despite only 120mm of travel, the Fox fork and shock are both smooth and reliable performers, while the stiff frame (aided by a wide Boost hub at the rear) and 29in Synchros/Formula wheels on fast-rolling Maxxis Rekon 2.4 tyres enables you to put down some serious speeds. The well-specced groupset is a mix of SRAM and Shimano, consisting of a GX Eagle 1x12 drivetrain and SLX M7000 brakes. The Spark is fast and well-balanced on XC circuits and non-lethal trails, but it’s also tons of fun on steep, swooping descents.

Whyte 905 mountain bike

6. Whyte 905

A ride-it-all hardtail bike with vibrant good looks

Frame: Multi-butted, hydro-formed 6061 alloy
Fork: 130mm RockShox Revelation RC
Wheel size: 27.5+in
Reasons to buy
+A ridiculously fast and furious ride +Totally sorted handling+Instils huge levels of rider confidence

Whether you’re looking for a bike to rip on more forgiving trails, or one to plummet down steep, gnarly runs, with its long, low, slack and exceptionally well-dialled frame geometry, the Whyte 905 is a hardtail that’s hardcore enough to handle it all. The 905 runs on wide-rimmed, Boost width, WTB ST 135 wheels shod with an ultra grippy, triple compound Maxxis High Roller II 2.8 tyre on the front and a faster rolling Maxxis Recon 2.8 on the rear. These plus-sized wheels and tyres let you seriously rip through almost every type of terrain allowing you to reach some proper warp speeds in the process. The SRAM Guide T brakes are excellent stoppers and an upgrade on last year’s Levels, while the 1x12 SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain provides all the gear range you could ever need.

Pinnacle Ramin 2 mountain bike

(Image credit: Pinnacle)

7. Pinnacle Ramin 2

A fast and furious charger that won't break the bank

Frame: 6066-T6 double and triple butted aluminium
Fork: RockShox Recon RL Solo Air 120mm
Wheel size: 29-inch
Reasons to buy
+Capable yet speed hungry+Excellent value for money+Modern frame geometry
Reasons to avoid
-Weighty drivetrain

The Pinnacle Ramin 2 has been around in one guise or another for a few years now, but the 2020 version of this rapid yet robust 29er has everything the modern trail rider could want at a massively competitive price. Up front is an air-sprung, Boost-width RockShox Recon. While the fork may only sport 120mm of travel, it is still capable enough to take on anything most non-lethal trails can through at you. The 30mm internal width, 29-inch WTB rims are shod with a classic hardcore hardtail tyre pairing of a super grippy 2.6 WTB Vigilante upfront and a faster rolling 2.4 Trail Boss to the rear. The gearing is taken care of by SRAM's entry-level 12-speed SX Eagle transmission, while the brakes come in the form of Shimano's no-frills, but ultra-reliable BR-MT200 series.

With a frame that's bang up to date with a confidence inspiring slack head-tube angle and a roomy top tube length, the Ramin 2 is highly capable all-rounder and when you hit the pedals hard it's certainly no slacker either. 

Merida EOne-Sixty 800 mountain bike

8. Merida EOne-Sixty 800

The best electric enduro mountain bike

Frame: Triple-butted, hydro-formed Prolite aluminium
Fork: 160mm RockShox Yari RC Boost
Shock: 160mm RockShox Super Deluxe R
Wheelsize: 27.5+in
Reasons to buy
+An e-bike that can get you anywhere and tackle any trail+Decent enduro geometry and spec+Plus-sized wheels and tyres give loads of grip

Merida’s EOne-Sixty 800 is closely based on the company's conventionally-powered enduro bike of a very similar name (just drop the 'E'). The capable nature of the bike with 160mm of travel and its long, low frame design is made even more accomplished by the addition of a Shimano Steps 8000 motor. The Steps motor provides 250W of power and three levels of ride assistance – Eco, Trail and Boost. The range of the 500Wh Shimano Steps battery depends on the terrain you’re riding and how much assistance you use, but expect to get at least a couple of hours out of it unless you plan on hammering up Alpine climbs in Boost mode.

The EOne-Sixty 800 can literally take you anywhere and is a total blast to ride wherever you may end up. Despite the weight of the motor and battery, the bike is still playful and fun to ride. With its Boost width wheels on 2.8 Maxxis DHRII tyres, there’s always loads of traction and grip to keep you in full control.

Calibre Triple B mountain bike

9. Calibre Triple B

Best cheap full-suspension mountain bike

Frame: 6061 hydro-formed alloy
Fork: 140mm RockShox Reba RL
Shock: 130mm RockShox Monarch R
Wheelsize: 27.5in
Reasons to buy
+A sorted full-sus bike for the cost of a hardtail+A dropper post at this price!+Ideal for those new to full-suspension

The Triple B is the younger and even more capable sibling of the highly regarded Bossnut – still available as the updated Bossnut Evo. Yes, it does cost £398 more than the original, but it’s money well spent as you get host of upgrades. The Triple B’s Reba RL fork has 10mm more travel and better damping than its cheaper stablemate’s Recon RL. As well as the fork’s bolt-through axle, you also get one on the rear for a big dose of back end stiffness. The Triple B also comes with a 125mm Tranz X dropper post, which is a real coup for a full-sus bike at this price.

The uncomplicated suspension is easy to set-up and use, making it an ideal first full-sus bike. The ride is well balanced and can handle anything red and black graded trails happen to throw your way, while the slack head tube angle combined with the wide bars and short stem gives plenty of confident control over steep, rooty sections.

Trek Fuel EX 7 mountain bike

10. Trek Fuel EX 7

A hugely enjoyable trail bike that won't break the bank

Frame: Alpha Platinum Aluminium
Gears: SRAM NX, 12-speed
Wheels: Bontrager Line Comp 30
Reasons to buy
+Lots of bike for the price+Comfy suspension for downhill

This beast offers a posterior friendly 130mm of front and rear suspension to absorb bumps and jumps alike on downhill and along trails. That comfort is thanks to RockShox Reba RL forks in the front and FOX Performance Float EVOL rear shocks. The bike is also light enough to cycle without too much effort thanks to its lightweight aluminium frame and 1x11 SRAM NX drivetrain. The Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheels are solid enough for worry-free riding and are tubeless ready for tyres that just keep going. And with SRAM Level T hydraulic disk brakes you won’t need to worry about wrapping yourself around a tree even at high speed. 

Great tech like Active Braking Pivot means the suspension works just as well off the brakes as when on them, which is ideal for downhilling safely and comfortably. This is a real all rounder, comfortable downhill at speed, bumping over tree roots and through mud ruts in the woods or even for leisurely cycles along canal paths.

How to choose the best mountain bike for you

All the models featured in our best mountain bikes list come equipped with a dropper post. These enable you to easily set your saddle height to suit the conditions as you ride. This is done via a handlebar remote, so you don’t need to stop pedalling and dismount each time you want to adjust the saddle height. 

It’s recommended to keep your saddle high for good pedal efficiency on climbs, then drop it out of the way, enabling you to adopt the most effective body position when it’s time to descend.

Many mountain bikes now come with wider (110x15mm front, 146x112mm rear) ‘Boost’ hubs that improve wheel, fork and back end stiffness and ride predictability.

If you’ve got an endless supply of cash you can buy a bike with the best of everything. For the rest of us, it’s probably best to focus on the features you need most. The basic areas you’ll want to look at are bike weight, suspension, brakes, gears and materials. Cheaper bikes tend to be made with heavier frames and components, making them more difficult to pedal uphill and harder to pilot on the trail.

Suspension is important if you want to keep your teeth in your face and to continue using your knees in the future. Full suspension is essential for downhill riding but less necessary if you’re just pootling about in the woods. Here, front suspension will work just fine.

The most modern 12-speed gear systems have a single front ring and a wide-ranging 10 to 50 tooth cassette at the back of the bike. This will provide as much, if not more, gearing range than older multi-ringed systems. Another benefit of this system is that it does away with a front derailleur, front shifter and additional rings, making your mountain bike lighter overall and easier to maintain.

Are there different types of mountain bikes?

Despite the name, mountain bikes are actually designed to do any kind of biking you want – it's just that manufacturers build them with certain specialities in mind. For this reason we can break them down into four main categories: downhill, trail, enduro and electric bikes. Before you decide on the category for you, it’s important to know what each bike is primarily built for.

For the most all-round mountain bike, this should be your top choice. The frame and wheels of trail bikes can handle riding flat, uphill and downhill terrain. 

If you plan on enduro racing, you'll want to invest in a specific enduro bike. These bikes are built for optimum downhill speed while still being light enough to pedal back to the top afterwards. 

These are supremely tough mountain bikes, built for going down technical tracks at high speeds. They’re designed to handle a beating at high speeds. All that strength adds a lot of weight, so they’re not much fun to ride back up the hill.

These benefit from power assistance on demand, which means you can ride back uphill easier and faster after a downhill run, or ride further on a trail without getting tired. They come in all the above varieties, and we have a dedicated best electric mountain bike guide if this is what you're after.

Rich Owen
Rich Owen

Rich Owen has been frantically riding mountain bikes since the early 90s and is a former editor of What Mountain Bike magazine. He’s also a surfer with over 20 years’ experience and lives near North Devon’s best beach breaks.