Most modern mountain bikes are highly-evolved machines that can handle any kind of off-road terrain. This evolution may be less radical than it was a few years ago, but that’s a good thing as the vast majority of 2019 MTBs, as you’ll see in our list of the best mountain bikes listed below, have thoroughly sorted frames and components making it easier to take on demanding trail conditions.
The trend for wider rims and tyres has continued, improving grip and predictability, which in turn gives better ride confidence and speed. Frames with longer top tubes, lower standover heights and slacker head tube angles are pretty standard now, too, also making bikes more stable and confidence inspiring as a result.
The best mountain bike of 2019: our expert pick
- While each of the models featured in this buyer’s guide are worthy winners of best in class, there is one bike that stands out due to its versatile nature, all-round capability and fantastic component selection…
- The Canyon Spectral CF 7.0 is our best mountain bike of 2019. Canyon is renowned for excellent value for money, and with its carbon frame and componentry that shames many higher priced bikes, the Spectral CF 7.0 is definitely no exception.
- The Spectral feels confident and precise with well-balanced frame geometry. The controlled suspension is supportive over less threatening terrain, yet easily soaks up big hits when needed. In short, it’s the only mountain bike you’d ever need and one that’s just as well suited to the trail centre as it is to the enduro circuit.
Choosing the best mountain bike for you
Increasing numbers of mountain bikes now come with wider (110x15mm front, 146x112mm rear) ‘Boost’ hubs that improve wheel, fork and back end stiffness and ride predictability.
All the models featured in our best mountain bikes list below come equipped with dropper posts that enable you to easily set your saddle height to suit the conditions as you ride.
Keep your saddle high for good pedal efficiency on the climbs, then drop it out of the way, enabling you to adopt the most effective body position on the descents.
If you’ve got all the money in the world you can get a bike with the best of everything. For the rest of us, it’s probably best to go for just the features you need.
The basic areas you’re looking at are weight, suspension, brakes, gears and materials.
If you go for a heavier bike, it’ll likely be cheaper but also more solid and able to take a beating on downhills. The downside is you’ll struggle getting it back up to do another run.
Suspension is important if you want to keep your teeth in your face and to continue using your knees in the future. An essential for downhill riding but less necessary if you’re just bumping about the woods.
The most modern 12-speed gear systems have a single front ring and a wide-ranging 10 to 50 tooth cassette. This will give you as much, if not more, range than older multi-ringed systems, but without needing a front derailleur, front shifter and additional rings, 1x systems are much lighter, easier to maintain and give you more clearance when riding over trail obstacles.
Are there different types of mountain bikes?
Mountain bikes, despite the name, are actually do-it-all machines. It's just they're made with certain specialities in mind. For this reason they break down into categories including downhill, trail, enduro and even electric bikes. So first you need to ask yourself, what is this bike for?
• TRAIL – for the most all-round mountain bike, your best bet is a trail bike as its frame and wheels can handle flats as well as hills.
• ENDURO – if you’re enduro racing, a specific enduro bike is for you. These are built for downhill speed while still being light enough to pedal back up afterwards.
• DOWNHILL – tough mountain bikes built for going down technical tracks at high speeds, so they’re built to take the beatings at high speeds. That toughness also adds up to a weighty machine that’s not much fun to ride uphill.
• ELECTRIC – these are found in all the above variants but throw in the bonus of power on demand, making that climb back uphill easier and faster, so you get to ride more downhill. Or on trails you can go further without getting tired.
The best mountain bikes to buy right now
1. Canyon Spectral CF 7.0
The best mountain bike for charging on any kind of trail
Reasons to buy
Last year Canyon completely redesigned the Spectral, making it longer and lower than before. 2019’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.
Our best mountain bike top pick 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.
2. Scott Spark 940
A great MTB for cross-country racing and flat-out trail riding
Reasons to buy
The 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.
3. Nukeproof Mega 275 Comp
The best mountain bike for enduro racing and bike-park uplift days
Reasons to buy
The original Mega was launched in 2009 and has been ridden to massive success on the Enduro World Series by Sam Hill. Fully redesigned last year, the Mega has been tweaked and updated for 2019.
This year’s models feature wider Boost hub spacing front and rear to help give extra stiffness and ride predictability. They also feature 1x drivetrains across all models and lengthened top tubes on large and extra-large frames.
The Mega Comp comes with RockShox suspension in the form of the bombproof Yari fork and Super Deluxe shock. SRAM Guide T brakes and a SRAM NX Eagle 1x12 drivetrain take care of the stop and go, while the Mega runs on Nukeproof Neutron wheels and Michelin Wild Enduro 2.4 tyres front and rear.
There’s no doubting the Mega’s credentials on properly steep, gnarly trails, but it’s also a heap of fun to ride anywhere and makes shorter work of the ups than many of its rivals.
4. Whyte 905
A ride-it-all hardtail bike with vibrant good looks
Reasons to buy
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.
5. Merida EOne-Sixty 800
The best electric enduro mountain bike
Reasons to buy
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.
6. Calibre Triple B
This full-suspension mountain bike is an absolute bargain
Reasons to buy
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.
7. Trek Fuel EX 7 29
A hugely enjoyable trail bike that won't break the bank
Reasons to buy
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.
8. Specialized Fuze Expert Carbon6 Fattie
High-speed riding has never been so much fun
Reasons to buy
This takes the already impressive Fuze from 2016 and adds a very light, carbon fibre, FACT 10m frame. Despite lowering the weight this is still very much a hardtail (ie: there's no rear suspension), meaning a super tough bike that can take whatever high speed lumps, bumps and jumps it needs to survive.
Fox Rhythm FLOAT 34 front forks give 120mm of travel that should make comfortable light of any trail. This is thanks to an air-sprung setup that can be adjusted thanks to a two position sweep adjustment system. So while that ride isn’t as good as some downhill machines it’ll still be plenty for most riders who aren’t racing over rocks at super speeds.
The 3.0-inch 6Fattie Purgatory and Ground Control tyres on the Roval Traverse 650b wheels mean super traction control for cornering combined with climbing efficiency with a super tough GRID casing to protect the tyre wall. All that and the Specialized disc brakes should bring you to a relatively rapid halt if things go pear shaped.
9. YT Industries Capra AL
An affordable downhill bike for eating up the trail
Reasons to buy
Good looks aren't necessarily at the top of everyone's list when looking for a good MTB. They’re going to be covered in mud soon after buying anyway. But that said, the YT Industries Capra AL is not only pretty affordable, considering what you get, it's also a highly handsome beast.
The Capra AL is a downhill bike that’s also got what it takes to get you back up the mountain for more. The gears are decent SRAM GX and the RockShox Monarch Plus R shocks also impress, and even the travel is high at 170mm for a comfy ride on that solid aluminium frame which remains light enough for the uphill. Yet the price is on the low side.
While there is a lighter carbon Capra option out there, the standard model offers much the same riding fun for a way smaller price. Take this out to any trail and watch it eat up the earth or throw it downhill as fast as you can muster.
In summary: a highly capable all-round fun machine.
10. Haibike Xduro Cross 4.0
This versatile electric mountain bike goes for miles and miles…
Reasons to buy
You might enjoy the downhill element of mountain biking, but most riders are less keen on the uphill-climbing bit. With numerous brands now making electric mountain bikes, that problem disappears.
The Haibike Xduro Cross 4.0 is a trail bike setup, supported by a 250W Bosch Performance CX crank drive motor. While the Suntour NCX-E45 front forks can handle the roughness of off-roading, they’re also able to deliver a stiff enough ride for on-road commuting too, making this bike a real all rounder.
For those that can’t imagine pushing the 21.9kg beast along, fret not, there is a Walk Mode where a little electric assist is even applied when you’re off the bike.
The 36-volt battery is apparently good for up to 140 miles, but this likely won’t apply to the uphill climbs any mountain biker is going to use it for. The bottom of the range estimate is a still useful 30 miles, though, and Shimano SLX 11-speed gears enable you to assist the battery even on the uphill.
On the downhill, all that weight will still come to a safe stop when you need it to thanks to Magura MT4 disc brakes.
About the author...
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.