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

Whatever and wherever you want to ride, our pick of the best mountain bikes has what you need

best mountain bike: Person riding a Voodoo Bizango Pro mountain bike on a coastal trail
(Image credit: Voodoo / Halfords)

Today's best mountain bikes are seriously capable machines and only the very best riders will be able to push them to anywhere near their limits. Whether you're looking to buy your first mountain bike or upgrade your current ride, we've got an option for you right here.

With so many incredible bikes around this year, narrowing it down to just one to name the best mountain bike to buy right now is an insanely difficult task. Nonetheless, we've picked the 2022 Trek Slash 8 as our number one choice. Ridiculously capable, yet loads of fun to ride and excellent value for money, the Slash 8 is well-equipped for enduro racing or black trail bombing. 

This guide includes bikes costing a few thousand pounds, but we've also covered some properly capable hardtails that cost around a grand. If your budget is lower than that, we also have our guide to the best mountain bikes under £500. While those machines are a little less capable than the bikes featured here, they are still hardy enough for most MTB adventures and are an ideal introduction to hitting the trails.

If you're looking for electrically powered MTBs, then check out our guide to the best electric mountain bikes, or stay on this page for our pick of the best mountain bikes on the market today.

The best mountain bike 2021

Trek Slash 8 mountain bike

(Image credit: Trek)

1. Trek Slash 8

The best mountain bike you can buy right now

Specifications
Frame: Trek Alpha Platinum Aluminium
Fork: 170mm RockShox Lyrik Select+, DebonAir Spring, Motion Control RC damper
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Ulitimate, DebonAir Spring, Thru Shaft 3-position damper
Wheel size: 29"
Reasons to buy
+Impressive componentry+Excellent suspension+Super-light weight+A lot of bike for your cash
Reasons to avoid
-Tyres aren't great in mud

Topping our best mountain bike list right now is the 2022 version of the Trek Slash 8. This bike has only a few minor tweaks when compared to its previous incarnation, but as the 2021 model racked up a stack of awards, there's little reason to change such a successful formula. The Slash's long travel suspension package of a 170mm RockShox Lyrik Select+ paired with a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate 160mm shock, with an updated air spring and exclusive Thru Shaft damper, gives insane levels of grip and fantastic control over even the roughest descent.

The drivetrain comes in the form of SRAM X1 Eagle DUB crank, GX Eagle shifter, derailleur and wide ranging 10-52 12-speed cassette. The brakes are SRAM Code R, with a 200mm rotor up front and 180mm rear for serious stopping power. As you'd expect on a bike of this calibre, it has Boost hubs front and rear, plus a 35mm stem and 820mm bars for total control with a 35mm bar diameter for extra stiffness. If you regularly ride in slippery conditions, you may want to switch out the Bontrager XR4 and XR5 tyre combo for something with a little more bite.

Capable enough for the enduro circuit, the Trek Slash 8 will allow you to hit even the gnarliest trails with more speed and confidence than anything you're likely to have ridden before. While it does have a fairly hefty price tag, when compared to its rivals, the component package here is still great value nonetheless. 

Nukeproof Mega 275 Alloy Comp (2021) mountain bike

(Image credit: Nukeproof)

2. Nukeproof Mega 275 Alloy Comp (2021)

An updated version of a tried-and-tested classic

Specifications
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 the 2021 model is 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

Specifications
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

The Canyon 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.

Norco Sight A3 (and A3 W) mountain bike

(Image credit: Norco)

4. Norco Sight

An all-mountain beast with app supported custom tuning

Specifications
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

Specifications
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.

Calibre Triple B mountain bike

6. Calibre Triple B

Best cheap full-suspension mountain bike

Specifications
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.

Voodoo Bizango Pro mountain bike

(Image credit: Voodoo / Halfords)

7. Voodoo Bizango Pro

The best value performance hardtail on the market

Specifications
Frame: Triple-butted aluminium
Fork: 130mm RockShox 35 Gold Air
Shock: N/A
Wheel size: 29"
Reasons to buy
+A capable performer+Excellent value+Key upgrades
Reasons to avoid
-Crying out for a dropper post!

Voodoo's Bizango was one of the original entry-level bikes that punched way beyond its price tag. Times have changed though, and prices have risen along with them which has meant that rather than chipping away at the quality of componentry to keep the price down, Voodoo has opted to create a number of lower priced models and elevate the Bizango to the top of its hardtail range.

For 2022, Voodoo has gone a step further again. As well as the standard Bizango (RRP £750), it has now also created the Bizango Pro (RRP £925). For an extra £175, you get a host of important upgrades. The most notable is a RockShox 35 Gold Air fork with 130mm of travel, followed by Shimano MT410 hydraulic disc brakes and the 29-inch wheels get an excellent Maxxis tyre pairing of a 2.3" High Roller II up front and a 2.25" Rekon at the rear. The Pro also gets a Boost-width bolt-through axle at the rear which really helps to stiffen up the back end – though both models run a through-axle on their forks. The Voodoo Bizango Pro climbs brilliantly, is loads of fun to ride and capable enough to take on some seriously demanding trails. If you have the budget, the upgrades over the standard Bizango are well worth the money – though that is a fantastic bike too.

Whyte 905 mountain bike

8. Whyte 905

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

Specifications
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.

Merida EOne-Sixty 800 mountain bike

9. Merida EOne-Sixty 800

The best electric enduro mountain bike

Specifications
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.

Whyte e-150 S 29ER V2 e mountain bike

(Image credit: Whyte)

10. Whyte e-150 S 29ER V2

The top electric trail MTB on the market today

Specifications
Frame: 6061 T6 hydroformed alloy
Fork: 150mm RockShox ZEB DebonAir, Charger R Damper
Shock: RockShox Deluxe Select+ RT, DebonAir
Wheel size: 29"
Reasons to buy
+Super responsive+Low centre of gravity+Uprated Bosch motor
Reasons to avoid
-Battery is a pain to remove

British bike firm, Whyte, has been behind some really outstanding conventionally powered mountain bikes over the years, so it's no surprise that when turning its design expertise to e-MTBs, its powered bikes are just as well put together too. With a Bosch Performance Line CX Gen 4 motor that's been slightly rotated so it sits as low as possible in the frame, the e-150 S has a super-low centre of gravity to aid bike handling. A 650Wh Bosch Powertube battery is housed in the oversized downtube and, though not easy, it can be removed for charging. Though it's much simpler to charge the battery while it's on the bike – providing you have the space.

A RockShox pairing of a 150mm ZEB fork and 140mm Deluxe Select+ shock provide sensitive yet capable suspension, while the 29-inch wheels are shod with a super-gnarly, double compound, 2.5” Maxxis Assigai WT up front and a double compound, 2.4” Maxxis Minion DHR on the rear that give incredible levels of all-condition grip. The drivetrain is 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle, while the brakes have been uprated this year to SRAM Guide REs with a huge 220mm rotor at the front and a 200mm one on the rear.

Despite mid-range suspension, the Whyte e-150 is so agile, so well balanced and so well designed, it can handle pretty much any trail you throw at it. Point it back uphill and the powerful motor will have you ready for another plummet in no time – which is what you'll keep wanting to do, over and over again.

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. Need more info or jargon explained? Head to our mountain bike FAQ explainer.

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. They are, however, different from road bikes (exactly how is laid out in our mountain bike vs road bike comparison). We can break today's best mountain bikes 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.

Trail
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. 

Enduro
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. 

Downhill
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.

Electric
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.