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The Best Mountain Bikes, According to Experts

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With many gyms still closed as the country attempts to slowly reopen after quarantine, lots of us are looking for new ways to get exercise. Ordering a Peloton to your door, even with contactless delivery, seems a little risky (and, uh, expensive). That’s where getting outside and biking — far away from other people — comes in. It’s the perfect solution. But what kind of bike do you need — a mountain bike or road bike? And if a mountain bike is right for you, how do you know which one to buy? We asked five experts those questions (and more) to help simplify your search.

Why a mountain bike? Generally speaking, mountain bikes are great all-around bikes that can handle nearly anything. And as you get faster or interested in rougher terrain, they can keep up. (A road bike definitely isn’t going to help you on rough terrain.)

Your budget will determine which features you should focus on, says Tyler Benedict of BikeRumor. For $500 to $700, you can usually get a bike that has hydraulic disc brakes, not mechanical. They are more efficient, so you can apply less pressure to stop more fully, which comes in handy on complicated terrain and can literally save your life. For bikes under $1,000, he suggests sticking with a 1x drivetrain — a setup with one chainring at the front of the bike and a wider-range rear cassette (the rear cluster of gears) — because it is simpler and lighter. It’s okay to stay basic with the handlebars, saddle, and grips, he says.

Higher budgets will get you even lighter bikes and better wheels. “If you can save a pound on the tires, that’s like saving two pounds on the bike,” Benedict says. If you’re spending less than $1,500, he recommends hardtail bikes, which have only front suspension. For a good full-suspension bike, which will give you greater control over hard ground, he says you’ll need to spend at least $2,000. Despite the prices you see on many high-end bikes, which can easily go for five figures, there are good options out there for under $1,200, including the Kona Lava Dome ($479, below) and the Giant Talon 3 ($550). Finding them in stock right now, however, can be a challenge. That’s why we also put together this story to help you find in-stock bikes for less than $1,200.

“The best advice I can give anybody is go to a couple different bike shops and test ride a couple different things,” Benedict says. “An $800 bike from one brand is going to have pretty much the exact same parts on it as an $800 bike from another brand.” And Josh Whitmore, an expert level coach at CTS Coaching, says you should look for a bike that feels good going both downhill and uphill. “You want something that’s capable of handling gnarly terrain but also efficient and nimble when climbing,” he says. Here are our experts’ picks for the best mountain bikes. (If you’re looking for the best bikes for kids, we have you covered there, too.)

Best overall mountain bike

Several experts we spoke with are fans of Specialized bikes. Katy Curd is member of the Gowaan Gals, an all-female mountain-bike group that hosts the Gowaan Fest each year, and the owner of Katy Curd Coaching. She recommends the Stumpjumper for its “simple design and how perfect it is for pretty much any trails you throw it at.” Alex Zuckerman, the owner of Bicycle Playground, also endorses the Stumpjumper and adds that it is great for brand-new riders all the way up to pros.

Best mountain bike for beginners

The Kona Lava Dome or Giant Talon are great entry-level bikes, says Stirling Eiriksson of Cycle Works in Santa Cruz, California. (But good luck finding them.) These are both hardtail bikes, which are better for novice riders, because “more moving parts equals more service intervals and more money,” Eiriksson says. Plus, full-suspension bikes require constant upkeep. Rather than paying all that money, opt for a bike with a lockout on the fork and hydraulic disc brakes. With any beginner bike, however, Eiriksson warns that they won’t necessarily be able to satisfy your needs as you grow as a rider.

Editors’ note: For Kona availability, you’ll need to contact them directly.

Best mountain bikes for aggressive riding

Zuckerman loves Yeti’s SB130 bikes. In fact, he owns two of them. “Yeti has a unique suspension design that they call ‘switch infinity’ that makes for a great pedaling bike that rides very plush,” he says. “It responds so well to an aggressive riding style that it makes me want to ride harder just to see how far it can be pushed. It feels as good as anything else if you’re just riding it, but when you get on it to ride aggressively it really comes alive and makes for a fun ride.”

Most versatile mountain bike

Whitmore is most impressed by the Specialized Epic bike. It’s a versatile cross-country bike, he explains, that can ride many different types of trails. He recommends it to all customers.

Best mountain bike with electric assist

The Specialized Turbo Levo is the same as the Stumpjumper, Zuckerman says, but with an added electric-assist motor that increases your pedaling output by 410 percent. “This opens up mountain biking to riders of all physical abilities. Age and physical handicaps are not as limiting as they once were because of bikes like this.” Just be sure to check the restrictions in your area before buying and riding a Turbo Levo. In some places, these bikes are classified as motor vehicles — and thus not allowed on trails.

Best mountain bike for cross-country riders

For cross-country biking, Eiriksson recommends something light and efficient, like “cult classic” Kona Honzo, which he says goes up hills easily with little effort. Almost everyone on the Cycle Works staff owns one. “The long top tube and slack geometry gives it confidence to go fast on any terrain. It’s special because once you get to the top it knows how to get down.”

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The Best Mountain Bikes, According to Experts