If you’re looking for full suspension, the £1.5-£3k price bracket takes you from capable entry-level bikes right up to seriously fast, strong and light full-sus rigs for trail centre glory and aggressive XC through to all-mountain and enduro-spec rides.
While there are full-sussers available for under £1,500, don’t plan any Alpine gravity jaunts or DH races on them; they’re generally too compromised on suspension performance and weight for serious, enthusiastic use. So, while there are plenty of good bikes available for less money (see Hargroves Cycles guide to buying your first MTB), £1,500 is a good place to start.
At the other extreme, there are plenty of bikes available for more than £3,000! But while materials get more exotic, parts lists get very desirable and performance reaches sensational heights, arguably the biggest steps forward are found with the £1,500-£3,000 band.
At the top end of this bracket you even find ‘boutique’ brands creeping in. These make very special machines indeed – highly focused, uncompromising and super-stylish stand-outs on the trails. Carbon frames from major manufacturers start to appear too, bringing significant benefits in weight and stiffness.
Look around the middle area of £2,000-£2,500 and you find a host of hugely capable full-suspension bikes, featuring up-to-the-minute frames and highly capable components. Choice here is excellent, and you can expect quality suspension, drivetrains and brakes from big brands such as Fox, RockShox, Shimano and SRAM. These are frames that reward new upgrades with a real performance boost – they’re the same as those on the more expensive models – so they’re long-term investments too.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
The first thing is the suspension. Travel is certainly important (think 110-120mm for XC and light trail, 130-150mm for aggressive trail and 160mm-plus for serious gravity riding) but how that travel is controlled is arguably more important. Look for compression damping adjusters to join rebound as prices rise. Extra control is worth more than extra travel.
There’s a second thing more important than simple travel – frame geometry. Compare, for example, the Specialized Men’s Camber 29 and the Transition Sentinel.
Both are 29ers, both full-suss trail bikes. But while the Transition has 20mm / 40mm more travel back / front, that’s not why it’s more at home on extreme trails. A look at the geometry shows the Sentinel is over 8cm longer, a centimetre lower and a whopping 4.5 degrees slacker than the Specialized Camber.
By the same token, the Camber is zippier, more responsive and likely more fun for all-round trail use. In this price bracket there’s excellent choice in frame geometry – just make sure it matches your riding.
WHAT ABOUT COMPONENTS?
Drivetrains should be quality 10-speeds, brakes hydraulic discs. You don’t have to go far up to find 1×11 transmissions, premium brakes and remote-activated dropper posts. All are a huge benefit on tricky trails.
You have a good choice of either wheel size, and while 27.5in has been more popular for more aggressive bikes, hard-hitting 29ers are becoming more popular too. Really this, or whether to go for a wide-tyred ‘Plus’ bike, is down to personal preference. Check out our feature on Plus bikes which features some recommended models and also explains the difference between ‘Plus’ and ‘Fat’.
BIKES WE LOVE
The Specialized Men’s Camber 29 (£1,700) is an excellent choice for all-round performance. Featuring 120mm travel both ends thanks to a custom X-Fusion shock matched an air-sprung RockShox Recon fork, and matching SRAM and Shimano componentry with 180/120mm-rotor’d Tektro disc brakes, it’s ready for anything from XC epics to the fastest trail centre descents.
More capable still is Specialized’s Stumpjumper Comp Alloy 29/6Fattie (£2,500). That extra performance is partly in the extra travel from its all-RockShox suspension – 135mm rear, 150mm front – and compression/rebound adjustment. It’s also partly thanks to a lightweight 11-speed SRAM GX drivetrain and powerful Guide R brakes. But then there are the wheels… coming with 29ers as standard, the 29/6Fattie is fully compatible with 27.5in Plus wheels (Specialized call them 6Fattie). This gives you the option of big, balloon-like tyres for extra comfort and grip – it’s two bikes in one.
Looking for carbon? The Cube Stereo 140 HPC Race 27.5 (£2,499) has a carbon monocoque front triangle and a 6061 aluminium back end offering 140mm of Fox DPX2-powered travel, paired with super-robust Fox 36 Float factory Fit forks. Throw in a 150mm dropper post and SRAM’s 1x 12-speed drivetrain and you have superb set-up for fast trail use and even enduro racing.
On the XC side there’s the Scott Spark 940 (£2,999). With 120mm of Fox bounce remotely switchable between 120mm, 85mm and locked out, a cutting edge SRAM 12-speed drivetrain, Boost spacing and a 120mm Synchros dropper post, it’s built for speed. At Hargroves we’ve always been impressed with what Scott roll out, and feature more of the Scott MTB family in our women’s specific feature.