The 14 Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes
Editor’s Note: Some options may be out of stock but will be available again soon.
“Hardtail” is the name for mountain bikes with front suspension but no rear suspension. Often, this design is lighter, simpler, less expensive, more durable, and more reliable than a mountain bike with rear suspension. As such, hardtails gained the reputation for being the workhorse of the mountain bike world.
See our top picks below and scroll deeper for more in-depth reviews of these bikes, as well as helpful buying tips and advice.
Looking for more riding options? Check out our picks for the best electric bikes, folding e-bikes, and commuter bikes.
The Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes
What to Consider
If you are looking for the best high-performance mountain bikes (full suspension and hardtail, electric and analog), check out our Bike Awards coverage. You’ll find 11 exceptional, award-winning bikes rigorously vetted by our editorial team.
If you’re looking for an efficient race machine, a carbon fiber hardtail might be the bike for you. Hardtails also make great adventure bikes for bikepacking off-road and other long-distance riding shenanigans. Build a hardtail with a longer-travel fork and wide tires and you’ll have a fun ripper for romping around your local trails—and you’ll save money and weight compared to many full-suspension options.
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For decades, hardtails have appealed to riders due to the infinite ways you can build them up and for their simplicity. Here’s what you need to know about hardtail mountain bikes.
You almost always get more bang for your buck with a hardtail. The design allows manufacturers to either reduce the bike’s overall price or include better components than you would find on comparably priced full-suspension rigs.
Hardtail frames lack rear shocks, pivots, linkages, and the associated hardware. Thus, they are generally lighter than comparable full-suspension frames. For riders who climb a lot, the weight saving can make a difference—both physically and mentally. Carbon fiber frames have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any material but are typically more expensive than metal-framed bikes. Despite this, there are desirable characteristics in all frame materials.
Hardtails come in many wheel sizes and gearing options. You’ll find wheel sizes of 29- or 27.5-inches, standard tire widths (up to 2.6-inches), plus-size (2.8- to 3.0-inches), and fat tires (3-inches and wider). Some hardtails will accept different wheel and tire sizes, allowing you to swap out options to suit your riding needs.
Great for Kids and Tweens
The explosive growth of youth cycling programs and NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) racing got a ton of kids onto the trail and needing mountain bikes. With their combination of lightweight, lower cost, and wheel size options, hardtails make ideal bikes for young riders starting out or teens who quickly outgrow bikes.
Maintenance and Durability
Fewer moving parts mean fewer things that could potentially go wrong. And higher-quality parts mean those parts are less likely to need fixing. The simplicity of not having a rear shock and rear suspension system increases the durability of the bike as it requires less maintenance and fewer replacement parts.
A hardtail can feel more responsive than a dual-suspension bike when pedaling. The lack of rear suspension creates a more efficient-feeling pedaling platform, so acceleration feels more immediate. Climbers, especially, appreciate the extra responsiveness. Though, you lose some traction (especially under braking) without the rear suspension. Still, for a fast, brutally efficient ride, nothing beats a hardtail.
Find the Right Fork
After the frame, the fork is arguably the most important part of a hardtail’s build kit. You’ll find suspension forks with as little as 80mm of travel on some cross-country bikes while trail or all-mountain hardtails, like the Marin El Roy, may have forks with 140mm of travel or more. Some hardtails still use forks that lack any suspension. These rigid forks are typically the lightest weight and require no maintenance.
One F’n Gear
Unlike most full-suspension bikes, hardtails can more easily be converted to singlespeed setups. If the simplicity of that design appeals to you, look for models that employ adjustable dropouts or eccentric bottom brackets to tension the chain without a derailleur. An adjustable dropout also allows you to adjust the length of the wheelbase on geared bikes.
Build One Up
Hardtails also make an excellent second, third—or tenth, or twelfth—bike to have around to loan to friends, for when your primary bike is in the shop, or for dabbling into other areas of riding. Many brands (particularly small or mid-sized) offer frame-only options that you can build up on your own or with the help of your local shop. Perhaps you have some old parts kicking around and collecting dust: Hardtails are a simple and cost-effective way to put those parts to use!
How We Tested
Many of these bikes have been tested by our team of gear editors. We mapped out rides featuring most of the trail elements that you’ll likely encounter. We pushed these bikes hard on flow trails, up steep climbs, down pucker-worthy rocky descents, and through rock gardens. Our editors rode these bikes on the terrain best suited for each bike, as well as terrain entirely unsuitable, to see how far we could push the limits.
Most models have been tested by our staff, and those that haven’t have been carefully chosen based on their value, quality of parts, our experience riding similar models, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended rider.
There is so much to love about this bike, it’s hard to decide where to start. The 12-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain (with a 30T chainring and 10-51T cassette) provides a massive range, with gearing low enough to ease the pain of climbing steep hills. Its 29-inch wheels (27.5” on XS size) carry speed while maintaining maneuverability on technical trails and the 2.6-inch tubeless-ready tires offer great traction and a plush ride. The 140mm travel RockShox Recon SL SoloAir fork has plenty of travel for getting rowdy and can be locked out for added efficiency, such as when climbing a paved road. And speaking of rowdy, a dropper post is a very cool addition and adds to the Roscoe’s versatility.
For decades, the Rockhopper has been a mainstay of Specialized’s mountain bike lineup. The Rockhopper Elite boasts three key components—tubeless-ready wheels, a wide range 1 x 11-speed Shimano drivetrain, and an air-spring RockShox fork. Since the Elite comes in your choice of 29-inch (sizes S-XXL) or 27.5-inch (sizes XS-M) wheels and is offered in three great paint colors, lots of riders will find it to be their perfect bike. Although it can handle rocky and technical trails, that kind of terrain isn’t the Rockhopper’s forté. But that’s the beauty of this bike. It’s most at home on flow trails and moderately technical terrain, yet it has the chops to get you through the rugged stuff.
Budget hardtails usually aren’t great for trail riding as the parts wear out quickly, the brakes are underpowered, and the suspension doesn’t really do much. While not as well equipped as a high-end hardtail, Polygon’s Premier 4 offers many of the same features and components found on competitors’ bikes costing hundreds of dollars more. We particularly like that Polygon chose Tektro hydraulic disc brakes and a Shimano 8-speed cassette on the Premier 4. Other bikes around this price usually come with lower quality mechanical disc brakes and 7-speed freewheels.
While most brands make bikes rated for riders up to 200 or 250 pounds, Zize exclusively focuses on bikes for heavyweight riders. With its cromoly frame and fork, heavy-duty wheels, and Clarks hydraulic disc brakes, the Yonder accommodates riders up to 550 lbs. The Yonder also features a 100mm wide bottom bracket shell and 3-inch width, 26-inch WTB tires for added rider stability. The bike has a dependable Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain, however, the gear range is not super low—so it’s not best for riding up steep hills. Though the Yonder is pricey, consider this bike if you’re a heavier rider looking to get into off-road riding.
Want a super capable trail hardtail light enough for some racing? Then the Yeti ARC is for you. Inspired by Yeti’s proven trail and enduro full suspension bikes, the ARC frame uses a low, slack, and long geometry that makes for fast-paced yet confident descending. The 130mm travel Fox 34 fork, long drop Fox Transfer post, and EXO casing Maxxis tires also add to the bike’s downhill abilities. While loaded with features for getting to the bottom of the trail fast, the Yeti ARC still has climbing chops. The SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain provides enough gear range for long climbs and 26-pound weight is reasonable given the bike’s built kit. Sure, you could swap out some components for lighter bits but you’d sacrifice a lot of the ARC’s descending prowess.
The Grand Canyon 5 is an excellent package for riders seeking a hardtail for cross country and trail riding. Many women’s bikes are identical to the brands’ men’s-oriented models, only with different saddles and paint colors. Canyon’s WMN bikes, however, feature modified frame geometries, lower standover heights, women’s saddles, and a narrower handlebar. A SR Suntour XCR fork manages the rough terrain and can be locked out from the bar with the remote lever. The wide-range Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain (with an M6100 cassette) keeps you going when the trail gets steep.
For a few years, plus-size tires—27.5-inch wheels with 2.8- to 3.0-inch wide tires—were all the rage for mountain bikes. They offer more traction and cushier ride quality than typical 2.25” or 2.5” wide mountain bike tires and without the added weight penalty of 4-inch fat bike rubber. But as quickly as the plus tires showed up on the scene, they seemed to disappear even faster. Salsa is one of the brands still proudly flying the plus tire flag.
Salsa’s Rangefinder is a super versatile and well-rounded hardtail. Want to explore some new singletrack? Maybe do a backcountry bikepacking trip? The Rangefinder is a great multi-tasker. The Advent X 27.5+ model features a 10-speed Microshift drivetrain (with 11-48T cassette), 2.8” wide Maxxis tires, and hydraulic disc brakes. The Rangefinder can also fit 29” wheels if you want to swap wheels for fast-paced rides.
Shop the 29-inch Wheels
Purchasing a bike when you are new to mountain biking can be tricky! Perhaps you don’t want to invest much money, only to find out you didn’t like the bike. Or, maybe you want a bike for occasional use or more mellow trails? That’s where bikes like the Liv Tempt fit in. These bikes are enough to have a fun (and safe) time on the trail but without some of the high-end features that drive up a bike’s price.
The Tempt 2 ticks all the right boxes for a solid beginner bike. It has a wide gear range for climbing hills, hydraulic disc brakes with good stopping power, and an SR Suntour suspension fork. Liv exclusively makes women’s bikes, and the Tempt has proportional wheel sizing for better bike fit: 27.5” for XS and S, 29” for S, M, and L.
The mid-90s were a golden age for hardtails and mountain bike racing. Brands fought it out on the trail with big factory teams at NORBA races and on shop floors with well-equipped bikes purpose-built for cross country racing. Marin brings that vibe back with the Team Marin, a bike designed for privateer XC racers but also well-suited for daily trail riding.
While the Team Marin 2’s design ethos and aesthetic harken back to years past, the bike is thoroughly contemporary and outfitted for the needs of modern-day trail riders. The aluminum frame sports a slack 67-degree head angle for confident descending and a 74-degree seat tube angle for better climbing and improved performance with dropper posts—which the Team Marin comes equipped stock. A wide-range 1×12 Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain, sure-stopping TRP G-Spec hydraulic brakes, and a 120mm Fox 34 Step Cast fork round out the features of this super-capable and great-looking hardtail.
E-mountain bikes have exploded in popularity over the past few years, helping cyclists to tackle harder rides and longer climbs. But your don’t need to drop 5-figures to get a solid, trail capable e-bike. Orbea’s Orrun comes equipped with trail-ready features such as a 120mm travel Marzocchi Bomber Z2 fork, Magura MT30 disc brakes, and Maxxis tubeless tires. The internal 540Wh battery provides assist for a claimed 8-hours of riding (a 252Wh range extender is available for even more trail time). The addition of a dropper post would turn the Urrun into an even better trail bike.
The Roscoe 24 is a great bike for kids who want to take their riding skills off road. Designed to accommodate riders between 4-foot-3 and 4-foot-11, this bike comes with 24-inch wheels, a 1×8-speed Shimano groupset, and Tektro mechanical disc brakes. While the 2.8-inch wide tires weigh a little more than narrower rubber found on many bikes in the category, they add lots of traction and inspire confidence. This makes the Roscoe well-equipped for young riders’ trail riding adventures. The bike comes in three great colors and is also available with 20-inch wheels for riders under between 3’9” and 4’2”.
Introduced last year, the new Scalpel Carbon hardtail pairs the lightweight of a World Cup-level XC racing frame with the geometry and handling prowess normally found on more aggressive trail bikes. The outcome is a bike that climbs with almost road bike efficiency but descends and corners better than other hardtails in the category. Of the four-model Scalpel HT lineup, our favorite is the Carbon 3. It features a 29-inch wheel carbon frame (Hi-Mod designated models feature the superlight, 885-gram frame variant), a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain, Stan’s tubeless rims, and Shimano hydraulic brakes. Cannondale’s Lefty (found on the Hi-Mod models) is polarizing. Luckily, the Carbon 3 comes equipped with a RockShox Sid SL Select+, the go-to choice for many cross country racers. We only wish the Scalpel HT shipped standard with a dropper post to really take advantage of the bike’s great geometry.
I’m sure many of you are perplexed right now and just said, “Wait, Cervélo makes mountain bikes?” When the Tour de France winning Jumbo-Visma race team required a mountain bike for its racers, the product folks from team sponsor Cervélo stepped up to deliver this podium-worthy ride. Sporting a 907-gram (claimed) carbon frame, 69-degree head angle, and long reach top tubes, the ZHT-5 is made for speed. This SRAM GX Eagle AXS 12-speed wireless equipped model also comes standard with a 100mm travel RockShox Sid SL Select fork, e.thirteen TRS Race tubeless wheels, and a RaceFace cockpit.
Whistler, British Columbia-based Chromag Bikes builds bikes, frames, and parts engineered to withstand the challenging trails that make its hometown a destination for mountain bike riders. (Chromag also makes the best-named kids bike in cycling history!) Build-up the Canadian-made Primer frame with your choice of parts to meet your riding needs and budget. Designed for use with 160mm travel forks and either 29-inch or 27.5+ wheels, the 4130 steel-framed Primer is not meant to be a flyweight bike, but something that can be ridden hard deep in the woods.
As Deputy Editor, Tara Seplavy leads Bicycling’s product test team; after having previously led product development and sourcing for multiple bike brands, run World Championship winning mountain bike teams, wrenched at renowned bicycle shops in Brooklyn, raced everything from criteriums to downhill, and ridden bikes on six different continents (landing herself in hospital emergency rooms in four countries and counting). Based in Easton, Pennsylvania, Tara spends tons of time on the road and trail testing products. A familiar face at cyclocross races, crits, and bike parks in the Mid Atlantic and New England, on weekends she can often be found racing for the New York City-based CRCA/KruisCX team. When not riding a bike, or talking about them, Tara listens to a lot of ska, punk, and emo music, and consumes too much social media.