Best mountain bike 2018: superb MTB for any ride involving going off road or taking on mega potholes

The best trail, downhill and enduro mountain bikes to take you up and down hills, cross-country and through the woods

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King of the hills, master of muck, trail titan are just a few of the titles you can earn as a mountain biker. Tackling the rugged routes nature throws in front of us is, of course, best enjoyed riding the best mountain bike available to you.

Mountain bikes were created for off-roading and for providing lots and lots of fun. Thanks to tech developments, the bikes are now so good almost anyone can enjoy even harsh tracks.

What is the best MTB?

Your decision will be swayed by your precise requirements, but for us the Trek Fuel EX 7 29 is the ultimate off-road all-rounder.

Finding the best mountain bike to buy: What you need to know

So what are you looking for in your next mountain conquering bike of much greatness? Well that largely depends on what you’re going to do with it. There are some basic component factors to take into account and you can then balance these levels to suit what you need. So 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 the bike with just the features you need.

The basic areas you’re looking at are weight, suspension, brakes, gears and materials. That’s a super simple way to shop for your bike but that keeps it simple and unless you’re a seasoned rider, it’s enough.

For weight, 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 and want to save a few bob.

Gears are a way to make your life easier. Have more to make that hill climb easier, or go for less if you’re doing fewer climbs, saving on weight and often money too.

Materials aren’t just about weight. Yes carbon everything will make the bike lighter, ideal for climbs, but it can sometimes be better to go heavy. Why? Like we said before you get a more solid build that can take a beating and last longer, plus it’ll save you money.

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 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 then a specific enduro bike is for you. These are built for downhill speed while they’re still light enough to pedal back up afterwards. 

• DOWNHILL These are tough bikes built for going down technical tracks at high speeds so they’re tough enough to take the beatings at high speeds. That toughness means a weighty machine that’s not much fun to ride uphill.

• ELECTRIC These are found in all the above variants but add the bonus of power, making that climb back uphill easier and faster so you get to do more downhill. Or on trails you can go further without getting tired.

The best mountain bikes, in order

1. Trek Fuel EX 7 29

The best trail bike, pound for pound

Frame: Alpha Platinum Aluminium
Gears: SRAM NX, 11-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.

Norco Aurum C7

2. Norco Aurum C7

The best mountain bike for downhill racing

Frame: Aurum C 7.1 carbon
Gears: Sram GX DH 7sp mid cage RD
Wheels: WTB STP I29 TCS 27.5
Reasons to buy
+Perfect for tough terrain time trials+Race-ready specs

Some bikes will get you down the hill fast… and then there's the Norco Aurum C7. 

This beast, that’s been proved in races the world over, turns challenging sections into advantages. That’s because where other similarly priced bikes will need to slow down, the C7 can power on, making up more time. This is largely thanks to a high-end list of specs on a reasonably priced downhill bike.

Advanced Ride Technology means the suspension is specifically tuned for the challenges of downhill riding while scaled tubing means the stiffness to weight ratio is ideal. The ArmorLite carbon fibre frame can still take a beating as its 200mm ride travel can be put to full use with the front and rear Rockshox suspension system. That much ride means a super comfy ride even at speed. 

Of course a solid build like that means weight too so try to find an easy way back up the hill if you plan on doing the route more than once.

Specialized Fuze Expert Carbon6 Fattie

3. Specialized Fuze Expert Carbon6 Fattie

The best hardtail for high-speed riding

Frame: FACT 10m carbon fibre
Gears: SRAM GX 11-speed
Wheels: Roval Traverse 650b
Reasons to buy
+Carbon frame for less+High-spec components

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.

4. YT Industries Capra AL

The best enduro MTB

Frame: Capra aluminium
Gears: SRAM GX 1X11
Wheels: DT Swiss E1900 SPLINE
Reasons to buy
+Affordable price+Alluring looks

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.

5. Haibike Xduro Cross 4.0

Best electric mountain bike

Frame: Haibike
Range: 30-140 miles:
Gears: Shimano SLX 11-speed
Wheels: Haibike
Reasons to buy
+Easier uphill cycling +Great all-rounder for trails
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy, like all e-bikes 

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 mountain bikes electric, however, that problem disappears. 

The Haibike Xduro Cross 4.0 is our pick of the e-bunch; 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. If you need to lift it over a stile or wall, it'll be a great upper body workout, too.

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 allow 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.