Getting into mountain biking can be a daunting prospect. Prices range wildly, from a few hundred pounds right up to several thousand, and as a beginner, it's difficult to know how to pitch it. What you want is a bike that's reliable, sturdy and packs enough features to let you tackle bumpy trails and tricky terrain with confidence, but which won't bankrupt you with fancy additions that realistically aren't going to make any difference to your performance or enjoyment… at least until you've spent a few years in (on?) the saddle and turned into a mountain biking daredevil.
Halfords has a range of mountain bikes designed to fill that exact niche, and I got to test some of them out in the hills and trails of the South Downs on a recent trip. Being outdoorsy with some cycling experience, but pretty much brand new to mountain biking, I'm probably the exact kind of person who these bikes are aimed at. For balance, I also got the views of the more pro-level MTBers I was cycling alongside. Okay, behind. Quite significantly behind. Listen, we met up at lunch. Let's move on.
Originally a US brand, Voodoo came across the pond several years ago in the form of a UK-specific range sold exclusively at Halfords. By UK-specific, I mean they're different from their Yank counterparts, being designed and tested specifically for the kind of trails you'll find in the UK.
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The real star of the range is the Voodoo Bizango. At £750, this hardtail isn't eligible for our best budget mountain bikes under £500 ranking. The Bizango range does, however, get a shoutout in our general best mountain bike guide, and that's because it delivers a lot of bang for your buck. If you're serious about getting into mountain biking, this will serve you well until you're ready to upgrade to a full-suss and start shelling out in thousands rather than hundreds.
Voodoo Bizango: specs
Frame: Triple Butted Aluminum with 141mm Boost QR rear axle
Fork: 120mm Suntour Raidon Air Spring – 15x110mm thru axle
Gearing: Shimano Deore M5100 1x11 – 11-51 cassette, 32T chainset
Brakes: Shimano MT200
Tyres: Maxxis Ardent 29"x2.25"
Wheels: Voodoo 29" with 24mm internal tubeless compatible rims
Saddle: WTB Volt custom spec with added Gel insert
The Bizango isn't a new name – in fact, the original was a bit of a game-changer in the sub-£750 entry-level MTB category. Prices have risen in the market in general, and the 2022 version is a little more spenny, with Voodoo deciding to keep the quality level high and add some cheaper, slightly less well-specced models beneath it in the range to cater to those on a tighter budget.
So what do you get for that cash? You can check out the exact component details in the specs boxout (or on the Halfords site), but here's a rundown of the bits that made a noticeable difference to me as a beginner. The 1x drivetrain gives you access to 11 gears via a one-handed mechanism that's super easy to flip through when you hit, for example, an unexpected incline. Hydraulic brakes deliver responsive and efficient stopping. So responsive, in fact, that it's worthwhile getting to grips with them before you set off – hot tip – to avoid an abrupt and painful halt mid-ride.
Larger, 29" wheels roll over obstacles with ease and make for a smooth, speedy ride, and the fork has an air spring, which means you can let air out for more bounce, if you want it. You can scroll through sexy close-ups of all the various different bits in the carousel just below.
The Bizango is also built so that you can easily upgrade various component parts down the line, if you get into the sport more seriously, rather than having to shell out for a whole new bike. For example, the fork has a tapered tube design that means you can swap in a more advanced one (incidentally, an upgraded fork is one of the main points of difference on the pricier Bizango Pro, the range-topper, squeaking in under a grand at £925).
I spent some time chatting to Halfords' Cycle to Work manager, David Roberts, who also happens to be an elite Team GB Four Cross mountain bike racer, and who lent his considerable expertise with performance mountain bikes to the design of this range, with a special emphasis on getting the geometry right.
Halfords says the whole range is designed to be "stable and confidence inspiring" on steep trails, as well as offering easy handling on twisty singletracks, and pleasant to ride on all the mellow bits in-between. We tackled all those kinds of routes on our trip, and as a beginner I found it comfortable to ride and noticeably easier to handle than other bikes I've ridden, despite taking on much more challenging trails than I was used to. The learning curve, getting to grips with how the bike handles, is nice and quick, and by day two I was very confident how it would behave and how to take on different kinds of routes.
The consensus amongst the cyclists on the trip was that the Bizango seriously delivers. Both the bike technician and our guide (from MarmaladeMTB, not Halfords) separately commented to me that, to ride, it doesn't feel that different from a £2k- £2.5k bike. Which is high praise indeed for something that costs a third of that.