The 9 Best Mountain Bikes of 2021

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The Rundown

Best Overall: Santa Cruz Bronson at Backcountry

"This versatile bike can handle most terrains including cross-county singletrack and uphill grinds."

Best Value: REI Co-op Cycles DRT 2.1 at REI

"Comes with advanced features without the high price point."

Best for Women: Juliana Bicycles Maverick at Backcountry

"Designed to meet female riders' needs with adjusted stand-over heights and chainring sizes."

Best for Racing: Yeti Cycles SB150 at Backcountry

"Features superior peddling performance so you'll lose less speed over bumps and rocks."

Best Fat-Tire Bike: Surly Ice Cream Truck at Aventuron

"Its wider tires can easily handle root-filled singletrack, powdery snow, or sandy beaches."

Best for Endurance Riding: Trek Slash 9.8 at Trek Bikes

"Built to get up and down the mountain faster and can handle banked turns typical to endurance courses."

Best Downhill: SCOTT Gambler 920 at Contender Bicycles

"Features a rear coil shock that can be custom tuned to give ample cushioning to smooth out bumps on the trail."

Best Cross-Country: Kona Hei Hei CR/DL at Huckleberry Bikes

"Features the optimal durability-to-weight ratio to help you conquer climbs on the singletrack."

Best Electric: Cannondale Moterra SE at Aventuron

"Uses a powerful Bosch PowerTube battery and can reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour."

The modern mountain bike has evolved greatly from its infant days as a BMX bike, and now the industry has rigs that cater to specialty riding like endurance or downhill as well as bikes suitable for all-mountain riding. New designs also leverage shock systems to make your ride smoother, using either full-suspension models or “hard tails” with suspension only on the front fork. Updated bikes feature bigger tires, too, to help riders navigate through—and over—tricky terrain.

Buyers should think about what type of features they'll need based on how often they'll be riding and the type of terrain they'll be riding on. Entry-level bikes usually come with multiple gear options and lighter frame materials that you can then upgrade by adding higher-end components as your skill progresses. Higher-end mountain bikes include other features like carbon fiber frames, dropper seat posts that let you adjust the height of your seat with the push of a button, and tubeless tires to help prevent leaks. We've rounded up the best mountain bikes to help get you out on the trail.

Best Overall: Santa Cruz Bronson

Santa Cruz Bronson

 Courtesy of Backcountry

“The style bike someone chooses is going to largely depend on what terrain they will be riding, who they will be riding with, and what their current or anticipated skill level will be,” advises Chris Cartier, Director of Technical Sales at Outdoor Gear Exchange ( He encourages prospective buyers to take into account their cycling background, plans for future riding, what type of terrain they’ll most encounter, and their current—and expected—skill level so you can find a bike “that will be suitable to them on day one and day one hundred.” One bike that can handle most terrains is Santa Cruz’s flagship Bronson mountain bike. This high-quality bike can handle cross-county singletrack, bomber downhill runs, punishing uphill grinds, and everything in between. Much of this versatility comes from the many build options Santa Cruz offers, including a frame that can hold wheel sizes up to 2.8 inches in width. They also offer a choice of different frame materials, such as aluminum or carbon fiber. 

The 160 mms of front travel from RockShox air shocks will help smooth out rough terrain, along with 150 mms in the rear to provide a ride that’s forgiving and responsive. A 65-degree head angle puts you firmly in control, with a one-piece swing arm that lets the rear wheel track efficiently for more stability. High-end SRAM NX Eagle shifters make it easy to transition from gear to gear, while the SRAM cassette and crankset deliver maximum power with each pedal stroke. The Bronson rides on aggressive Maxxis tires that can handle loose or wet terrain, while the air-powered drop seat post lets you adjust the seat height on the fly, giving you more time in the saddle and less time fiddling with pre-sets. Just swap in your preferred pedals and you’ve got a mountain bike that will be able to grow with your skill level and handle any terrain you encounter.

Best Value: REI Co-op Cycles DRT 2.1

REI Co-op Cycles DRT 2.1

 Courtesy of REI

“Folks looking for a modern full suspension mountain bike should be prepared to spend between $2,000 to $3,000,” says Chris. “There are some good bikes below that price range, but as the price goes down, so does the quality of the components and features present on the bike.” The DRT 2.1 by REI’s own Co-op Cycle line comes with advanced features without the high price point. The hard tail aluminum-frame includes 27.5-inch tires that give enough traction to handle the roots and rocks of the singletrack. It features 120 to 140 mms of travel, based on frame size, and 12 gears to help tackle climbs or ramp up speed when things flatten out or descend. 

As with most modern mountain bikes, the DRT 2.1 uses only a rear drivetrain to streamline shifting and reduce weight, while hydraulic disc brakes provide stable stopping power, even in wet or muddy conditions. It also comes with other features that are typically found on more expensive bikes, like front and rear thru axels and an X-Fusion Manic dropper seat post with 125 mms of travel for easy seat height adjustments. Another bonus feature on this bike is that it includes a tubeless-compatible rim setup. Chris recommends this type of tire because it’s an affordable upgrade that allows for less pressure in each tire, which results in a smoother ride over rough terrain.

Best for Women: Juliana Bicycles Maverick

Juliana Maverick Carbon R

Courtesy of Backcountry 

The sister brand of bike makers Santa Cruz, Juliana Bikes got its start in 1999 by crafting the first mountain bike specifically aimed at female riders. In the subsequent years, the brand (named after mountain biker Juli Furtado) has continued to meet female riders’ needs. Their bike designs take several factors into account—that women are typically shorter and weigh less than men—to influence their bikes’ stand-over heights, suspension tuning, chainring size, saddles, and grips. And much of that thinking has been integrated into the Maverick, a go-to model for endurance and trail riders that boasts a 65.5-degree head tube angle and 140 mms of travel in the back and 150 mms of front suspension to deliver a ride that’s fast, responsive, and nimble. The Maverick rides on 2.4-inch wide, 29-inch tires and comes with a carbon frame. It also features a flip-chip to easily change the bike’s geometry by lowering the head tube and the bottom bracket. For all women riders who thought they had to suffer on a standard mountain bike, you’ve met your new best friend.

Best for Racing: Yeti Cycles SB150

Yeti Cycles SB150

 Courtesy of Backcountry

Built with speed in mind and designed for the most aggressive endurance mountain bike racer, the SB150 from Yeti Cycles leverages more than 20 years in the industry to create one of the fastest bikes on the trail. The brand’s Switch Infinity sits at the core the SB150’s suspension system, which uses translating pivot technology that switches directions as the bike moves through its 150 mms of travel. This technology helps assure superior peddling performance and forgiveness you need as you go deeper into the travel so you’ll lose less speed over bumps and rocks. 

The overall carbon frame geometry rides low, slack, and long to encourage a more aerodynamic posture. It also features shorter fork offsets, a steeper seat tube, and a longer reach with shorter chainstays so the front wheel gets sufficient traction and has responsive steering, which keeps the bike nimble even in the steepest of climbs. All components are top of the line, and the bike comes with a Fox Transfer drop post and 29-inch Maxxis Minion DHF Tires to encourage faster speeds on downhill trails.

Best Fat-Tire Bike: Surly Ice Cream Truck

Surly Ice Cream Truck

 Courtesy of Aventuron

Fat tire bikes might have gotten their start as a snow-specific bike, but the genre quickly graduated to all forms of cycling, especially where elements like sand and gravel play a major part in the terrain. The wider tires allow for more contact between the earth and the tires, which affords better traction and control, especially when you ride them with slightly deflated tubes. But even if you inflate the tires to their maximum pressure, fat-tire bikes also offer more clearance than their thinner tire counterparts. Surly’s Ice Cream Truck typifies this approach, delivering a mountain bike that’s ready for root-filled singletrack, powdery snow, or sandy beaches.

It rides on 26-inch tires that are anchored on 100-mm tubeless-ready rims that let you ride onto anything with confidence. The no-shock steel frame delivers total power transfer with each pedal stroke, with a choice of 12 gears in the rear derailleur triggered off Shimano SLX shifters. The fixed seat post can be adjusted easily thanks to a glove-friendly clamp, and Tektro Gemini disc brakes provide stopping power in even wet and muddy conditions. Beyond all that technology, the Ice Cream Truck—like most fat-tire bikes—are simply fun to ride, evoking memories of your first BMX bike tricked out with all the modern features.

Best for Endurance Riding: Trek Slash 9.8

Trek Slash 9.8

 Courtesy of Trek

Trek employs ample use of carbon—lightweight OCLV Mountain Carbon in the frame and wheels—in their Slash 9.8 to shave off every conceivable ounce of extra weight, making it ideal for endurance racing. The 29er is built to get you up and down the mountain faster, and can handle the big hits, rail corners, and banked turns typical to endurance courses. You also get a burly 160-mm fork and 150 mm of rear travel that’s supported by Trek’s RE:aktiv shocks to soften transitions and avoid slowing down your pedal power. It’s built to respond better as you pick up speed, with a host of high-end components that deliver quick acceleration and tubeless-ready Bontrager front and rear wheels with thru axels. Shifting between 12 gears is smooth and intuitive thanks to the SRAM GX Eagle shifter and derailleur, and a dropper post lets you raise and lower the seat mid-stride with up to 170 mm of travel. Riders will also appreciate Trek’s Control Freak Cable Management system, which lets you configure your shift, brake, lockout, and dropper post lines to your preferred set-up.

Best Downhill: SCOTT Gambler 920

SCOTT Gambler 920

 Courtesy of Contender Bicycles

Downhill-specific mountain bikes need to be strong, sturdy, and forgiving—and that’s what you get with SCOTT’s Gambler 920. Built with a lightweight alloy frame, the Fox 40 Performance Elite fork provides a massive 203 mms of travel to swallow unwieldy terrain. It also features a Fox VAN RC Performance rear coil shock that can be custom tuned to provide travel between 55 and 225 mms, which is ample cushioning to handle rocks, branches, or any other bumps on the trail. The bike runs on 29-inch wheels with Shimano disc brakes and shifters to toggle through the seven speeds in the rear, but it can also accommodate 27.5-inch tires. As with most downhill mountain bikes, you don’t get a drop post for a seat, since downhill riders always drop the seat as low as possible to keep things clear on the big drops. The Gambler 920 pilots intuitively, so you can powerfully bank through a turn with precision. Plus, the bike comes with a Syncros DH Fender on the front tire to shield you from rocks and mud.

Best Cross-Country: Kona Hei Hei CR/DL

Kona Hei Hei CR/DL

 Courtesy of Kona

The serious cross-country rider focused on covering lots of terrain rather than navigating obstacles on the singletrack will appreciate the straightforward simplicity of a hard-tail bike. Unlike other mountain bikes with back shocks, this genre of bike delivers an intuitive feel on the trail and assures that every ounce of power generated by your pedaling will be used, which is precisely what the Hei Hei from Kona delivers. The frameset on this 29er mountain bike is engineered for a 120-mm fork, and has been hand-crafted out of carbon fiber to provide the optimal durability-to-weight ratio to help you conquer climbs and gain speed on singletrack. Wider hub spacing improves the stiffness of the tubeless Maxxis Recon Race tires and adds clearance, while internal cable routing cuts down on the frame rate and keeps things slick and fluid. SRAM GX-Eagle components and responsive disc brakes assure confident shifting and stopping.

Best Electric: Cannondale Moterra SE

Cannondale Moterra SE

 Courtesy of Aventuron

Electric mountain bikes can give you the little bit of extra power you might need on the trail, and the Monterra SE from Cannondale was built to handle all the elements. It uses a powerful Bosch PowerTube battery that is mounted towards the front of the bike’s frame, which results in a low center of gravity, and can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. The 625Wh battery comes with a 4a charger, and the battery can also be charged while it’s mounted to the bike because Cannondale included a charging point in the seat tube. But the Monterra SE doesn’t merely use the battery to power the pedal-assisted propulsion. It also uses a Proportional Response design that builds in the suspension based on the size of the bike, so that every rider gets optimal performance while braking, climbing, or descending on the trail. Cannondale layered in loads of cycle-centric features, too, including a 180-mm Rock Shock fork and rear shocks, hydraulic brakes, a drop seat post with 100 mms of travel, and a top-line SRAM shifter and twelve-speed derailleur. The frame is made out of a lightweight BallisTec Carbon, making this bike durable enough to conquer anything in its path.

Why Trust TripSavvy?

Nathan Borchelt has been an avid mountain biker for decades, and his obsession with the sport has afforded the experience of riding on single- and flow-tracks in Scotland; lift-service downhill routes throughout Utah, Oregon, Colorado, New York, and West Virginia; and countless other local and far-flung adventures. He’s also an experienced gear reviewer and has followed the evolution of mountain bikes from the saddle of his hard tail Gary Fischer to the cushioning monster of his latest obsession, the Santa Cruz Bronson.

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