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The best hardtail mountain bikes in 2022

If you’re after mountain biking thrills on a sensible budget, the best hardtails are tough to beat for low-maintenance fun on the trails

A hardtail is simply a mountain bike without a rear suspension. Lighter, cheaper and lower maintenance than their full-suspension counterparts, they’re a blast to ride and will help you develop skills quickly. It’s essential to choose the right one for you, however: you can find hardtail mountain bikes suited to anything from sedate spins around your local trail centre through to cross-country racing and the gnarliest downhill trails.

If you’ve been away from the sport for a few years, you’ll be amazed at how quickly hardtail technology has moved on. Be it dropper posts, tubeless tyres, improved suspension or better frame designs, you can expect a dramatically improved experience. And if you’re about to jump in for the first time, you can be sure that even entry-level bikes are now more capable, user-friendly and generally better fun to ride than ever before.

The best hardtail mountain bikes: At a glance

How to choose the best hardtail mountain bike for you

Which hardtail bike you choose will come down to two things: the type of riding you intend to do and the amount of money you have to spend. Whether you want to take on gentler all-day trail adventures, blast around the local dirt track or tackle the toughest trails, you’ll find bikes specifically designed to do just that at a range of prices.

At one extreme, you have the classic cross-country or XC hardtail. These partner an athletic ride position with a minimal amount of suspension and light, fast-rolling tyres. Prizing low weight over bump-swallowing prowess, such bikes are fast uphill and on the flats, making them great for cross country racing or taking on long rides over mixed conditions, but the lightweight tyres, shocks and overall build makes them far less forgiving on steeper, rockier trails.

At the other end of the scale you have modern trail-focused hardtails. These tend towards longer frames, slacker head angles and beefier suspension forks that improve control at speed on rough terrain and provide a more upright, attacking riding position. With more suspension plus fatter, grippier tyres, modern designs focus on helping you enjoy the most technical downhill sections, but are also capable of tackling rocky, rooty climbs with ease.

Shop around and you’ll find a range of bikes that fall somewhere in between the two camps, so the key is to decide on the style of riding that appeals most and find a bike that matches your off-road persona.

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Which features should I look out for?

Frame design: Aluminium is ubiquitous as it offers low weight and high strength, and isn’t too expensive. High-end hardtails opt for even lighter carbon fibre, but the added cost means that many people opt for a full-suspension alloy frame instead. Even more important than the material is the geometry; longer, slacker geometry is becoming the standard on modern mountain bikes as it helps riders to be more confident on tougher terrain while giving little away on the uphills.

Tyres: These are hugely important. In recent years, tyres on all styles of mountain bikes have grown in width and diameter (which we’ll discuss shortly). Wider tyres roll better over rough terrain and provide increased comfort and grip. If you’re going to be riding in muddy or loose loamy conditions, then you need wide tyres with aggressive tread and lots of volume. Tubeless tyres are worth looking out for, too, as they save weight, increase grip and comfort, and reduce the likelihood of punctures.

Wheel size: The 26in wheels of yesteryear are dead. Mountain bikes now come with either larger 29in wheels or smaller 27.5in ones (sometimes described as 650b). In general, larger wheels roll faster and provide a smoother ride, while smaller wheels are stronger and provide increased manoeuvrability. Younger or smaller riders may want to opt for a bike with lighter, easier-to-manoeuvre 27.5in wheels, but 29in wheels come into their own on tougher trails.

Extras: Dropper seatposts allow you to adjust your saddle height with the flick of a handlebar-mounted switch. Now found even on entry-level bikes, they let you drop the saddle out of the way for fast or technical trail sections and quickly raise the saddle back to a climbing-friendly position when the trail points uphill. Also increasingly common are super-wide gearing systems to help conquer the steepest hills.

How much do I need to spend?

Entry-level bikes have improved massively in recent years. Even £500 models can offer powerful hydraulic disc brakes and competent suspension these days.

Spend a little more and you’ll see improved suspension forks, super-wide gearing and extras such as dropper seatposts and tubeless tyres. Push over the £1,000 mark and you’ll find more capable components, better-quality frames and suspension forks ready to tackle the toughest trails. Double your money, and you’ll swiftly find yourself in the realms of exotic carbon-framed XC hardtails or trail machines that can tackle the steepest terrains.

Once you get into four-figure territory, though, bear in mind that a full-suspension bike may be a better buy for some riders. Hardtails are great fun and an essential starting point for learning trail skills, but a full suspension bike is a more comfortable, sensible choice for riders who want a smoother, easier time on the trails.

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The best hardtail mountain bikes in 2022

1. Nukeproof Scout 290 Race: The best hardtail mountain bike for trail centre riding

Price: £1,299 | Buy now from Chain Reaction

The definition of an aggressive trail hardtail, the Scout benefits from the enormous buying power of Wiggle/Chain Reaction, which owns the Nukeproof brand. At its heart is a low and slack frame that promises good times on all kinds of adventures. In fact, it’s the exact same frame you’ll find on the higher-end models, so you can steadily upgrade it with high-end parts as your budget allows.

Even this basic Race model sports a great all-round build. Up front, the capable RockShox Recon RL fork offers 130mm of air-sprung travel, and the combination of 29in wheels shod with aggressive Maxxis tyres, wide handlebars and a short stem make the Scout feel right at home on the rowdiest trails. That said, swap out the hardcore Maxxis rubber for lighter tyres and you’ll have a bike that will roll confidently and quickly along sedate trails, too.

The rest of the spec is on point. Shimano Deore 10-speed gearing keeps things spinning up even the steepest climbs thanks to an 11-46t cassette, and the rest of the finishing kit is also of above-average quality. If the lack of a dropper post is disappointing, set your sights on the pricier £1,799 Comp model instead – that bumps up the specification across the board.

Key specs – Wheel size: 29in; Frame material: Aluminium; Suspension travel: 130mm; Gearing: Shimano Deore 1×10-speed; Extras: Tubeless-ready

Buy now from Chain Reaction

2. Calibre Point: The best-value hardtail mountain bike

Price: £350 | Buy now from Go Outdoors

The Calibre Point offers incredible value – it’s by far the cheapest bike we’re happy to recommend. Stump up the £5 for Go Outdoors’ yearly member’s card and it’s currently an unbeatable £350.

Despite this budget billing, it offers features normally found on bikes that cost twice the price. These include a modern geometry with a long top tube, short stem and wide handlebars. Mixing fun and efficiency, its twin chainrings and 9-speed cassette offer a wide range of gears, while hydraulic disc brakes help keep your progress under control.

Up front, a 120mm suspension fork provides the right amount of give for a wide variety of applications. Coupled with easy-rolling 29in wheels and moderate-width tyres, the result is an efficient bike for general trail riding. Finished with low-key graphics, a flat grey paint job and neat internally routed cables, this bike looks and performs well above its paygrade.

Key specs – Wheel size: 29in; Frame material: Aluminium; Suspension travel: 100mm; Gearing: Xgear 2×9-speed; Extras: N/A

Buy now from Go Outdoors

3. Trek X-Caliber 9: The best hardtail mountain bike for singletrack

Price: £1,525 | Buy now from Trek

While it’s tempting to picture yourself as an aspiring cross-country racer or a gnarly downhill pro, most of us spend most of our time riding moderately technical singletrack. It’s this that the Trek X-Caliber aims to excel at.

The X-Caliber balances poise and control with a geometry and parts list that doesn’t ever tip too far in one single direction. Based on a tough but light aluminium frame, the 100mm of suspension provided by its RockShox Recon fork delivers just enough squish to take the sting out of the trails, and the 2.35in-wide tyres are grippy without feeling too sluggish.

The Trek’s 12-speed Shimano SLX drivetrain uses a clever clutch mechanism to keep the chain in place over rough terrain, and the combination of a 30t chainring and enormous 10-51t cassette means that you’ll be able to climb anything. With a dropper post rounding off the build, this well-equipped, trail-focused bike promises to be a fast and capable companion.

Key specs – Wheel size: 29in; Frame material: Aluminium; Suspension travel: 100mm; Gearing: Shimano XT/SLX 1×12-speed; Additional features: Dropper post, tubeless-ready wheels

Buy now from Trek

4. Vitus Rapide 29 CRS: The best hardtail mountain bike for cross-country racers

Price: £1,800 | Buy now from Chain Reaction

Rapide by name, rapid by nature. This carbon-framed cross-country bike provides race-winning lightness twinned with a ride that’s fun even when you’re not competing.

Much lighter than its aluminium peers, the Rapide CRS’s chassis is simultaneously stiffer under power and more forgiving when the trail gets rough. The exceptionally racy RockShox SID fork can be locked out via a lever on the handlebars, and the race-ready wheels pair WTB tubeless rims with Schwalbe’s supremely fast-rolling Racing Ray and Ralph tyres.

The focus on flat-out speed doesn’t mean modern attributes are overlooked. You still get a single-chainring 12-speed drivetrain and wide 11-51t cassette. The bars are also comparatively wide, while the stem isn’t too long. Keeping the handling planted, this combination means the Rapide also remains usable for more general trail riding.

Key specs – Wheel size: 29in; Frame material: Carbon fibre; Suspension travel: 100mm; Gearing: Shimano SLX 1×12-speed; Additional features: Tubeless-ready wheels

Buy now from Chain Reaction

5. Specialized Rockhopper Elite: The best hardtail for more laidback riding

Price: £949 | Buy now from Sigma Sport

The venerable Rockhopper has recently been redesigned to meet the needs of modern trail riders. As one of Specialized’s more affordable options, it aims to maximise its capabilities by supplying riders with the latest technology without breaking the bank.

Depending on your height and suitable frame size, the bike either comes with 27.5-inch or 29-inch wheels. Whichever camp you fall into, you’ll benefit from a RockShox Judy SoloAir fork with TurnKey lockout, excellent 11-speed Shimano Deore shifting and hydraulic disc brakes.

The Rockhopper provides plenty of scope for upgrades, too. There’s internal routing for a dropper seatpost, and both its wheels and tyres are a squirt of sealant away from switching to tubeless. However, even in its standard guise, the Rockhopper is a great all-around bike that’s happy to try its hand at everything from trail riding to more cross-country focused events.

Key specs – Wheel size: 27.5/29-inch; Frame material: Aluminium; Suspension travel: 80-100mm; Gearing: Shimano Deore 1×11-speed; Additional features: Tubeless-ready wheels

Buy now from Sigma Sport

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