“Hardtail” is the name given to bikes that feature front suspension, but no rear suspension. Lighter, simpler, less expensive, more durable, and more reliable than a frame with rear suspension, the hardtail is the workhorse of the mountain bike world.
See our top picks below, or scroll deeper for more in-depth reviews of these bikes and other great options, as well as helpful buying tips and advice.
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 and other long-ride shenanigans. Build a hardtail with a longer-travel fork and plus-size tires and you’ll have a fun ripper for romping around your local trails—and you’ll save a few hundred bucks or more compared to a full-suspension option.
Hardtails continue to appeal to riders for their simplicity and for the infinite ways you can build them. Here’s what you need to know about these trusty bikes.
Hardtails Cost Less
You can almost always get more bang for your buck with a hardtail. The simpler design allows manufacturers to either reduce the bike’s overall price or include better components than you would find on a comparably priced full-suspension bike.
You Can Save Weight Too
Without pivots, linkages, and a shock, a hardtail frame is generally lighter than a comparable full-suspension frame. For riders who do lots of climbing or spend lots of time in the saddle, the weight saving can make a difference for your rides. Carbon fiber frames have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any material, but are also the most expensive. Despite this, there are desirable characteristics in all frame materials.
Find the Right Fork
Aside from the frame, the fork is arguably the most important part of the build. You’ll find suspension forks with as little as 80mm of travel on some cross-country bikes while trail hardtails, like the Commencal Meta HT AM 29, may have forks with 150mm of travel or more.
Hardtails come in many wheel sizes and gearing options. You’re find wheel sizes of 29-inches or 27.5 inches, and standard tire widths (up to 2.6 inches), plus-size offerings (about 2.7 inches wide or more), or fat tires (more than 3 inches wide). Some hardtails are designed to accept several wheel and tire sizes so you can swap out options to suit your ride.
Unlike most full-suspension bikes, hardtails can 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.
Maintenance and Durability
Fewer moving parts means fewer things that could potentially go wrong, and higher-quality parts means those parts are less likely to need fixing. The simplicity of not having a shock and rear suspension mechanism 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 will 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.
How We Chose These Bikes
Every one of these hardtail mountain bikes has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience racing and riding these products to determine the best options. Most models have been tested by our staff and those that haven’t were carefully chosen based on their value, quality, durability, standout features, comfort, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended buyer.
Here are 16 hardtails we recommend. The last five on our list cost less than $1,000.
―WOMEN’S SPECIFIC XC RIPPER―
Scott Contessa Scale 900
The Contessa Scale 900 is perfectly appointed for moderately technical, high-speed, fitness-forward mountain biking. It starts with Scott’s HMF carbon frame, which uses what the company calls EvoLap technology to make the frame stiff where it needs to be and more compliant where you need some give. A reliable Fox Float Rhythm fork with 100mm of suspension takes the edge off the rough stuff and can be adjusted on-the-fly via the RideLoc switch on the bar. Lock it out on smooth service roads, set it midway for the stuttery stuff, and open it up when you’re on more technical tracks. The wide-range, wall-scaling SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain with an 11-50t cassette keeps you pedaling when the going gets steep.
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―VERSATILE AND BUDGET-FRIENDLY―
Salsa Timberjack NX Eagle 29
The Timberjack is a fun, adventure-ready aluminum hardtail that’ll run 29-inch or plus-sized 27.5-inch wheels. Short chainstays keep it nimble in tight situations, while a longer top tube provides stability. For the NX build, Salsa gives you a RockShox Sektor RL fork with 130mm of travel—enough for most trail rides. SRAM’s NX drivetrain components provide crisp shifting, and the bike comes with SRAM’s powerful Level hydraulic brakes. The Timberjack has internal cable routing and mounts for a rear rack for light bikepacking or whatever adventures you plan. Salsa’s Alternator dropouts make it possible to run the Timberjack as a singlespeed, too.
―BEST CROSS-COUNTRY RACE BIKE―
Cannondale F-Si Carbon 2
Cannondale’s F-Si Carbon 2 hardtail has everything you need to blow past the competition on your way to the podium. Its full-carbon frame, all-new Lefty Ocho fork, powerful Shimano XT brakes, SRAM Eagle drivetrain, and carbon wheels and cranks make it ideal for cross-country and endurance racing. At $5,550, this bike ain’t cheap, but you get a level of components that typically come on even higher-priced bikes. That makes this a solid deal for racers who want the best.
―LONG TRAVEL MID-FAT HARDTAIL―
Trek Stache 9.7
For riders who want a fast and forgiving ride, the Stache has 3-inch-wide tires on 29-inch wheels that can handle long gravel rides and fast singletrack. The light carbon frame comes with high-end components, including a RockShox Pike fork and SRAM GX Eagle shifters and derailleur. The short, 420mm chainstays are designed to make the bike more maneuverable, while the 68.4-degree head-tube angle leans toward stable descending and control through tight corners. It’s a comfortable ride enjoyable for just about anybody.
―BEST VALUE XC BIKE―
Giant XTC Advanced 29 2
With its composite frame and 29-inch wheels, Giant’s XTC Advanced is ready to rip your local cross-country track or help you win your next weekend ride. For 2020 the Advanced 2 gets a RockShox Recon RL Solo fork with 100mm of travel to smooth out the bumps. Shimano’s SLX 12-speed drivetrain offers reliable shifting for the 10-51t cassette. The XTC Advanced 2 also gets Maxxis Rekon Race tubeless tires, which save weight and allow for trail-gripping low tire pressures.
―FOR BIKEPACKING AND RIPPING THE PUMP TRACK―
Santa Cruz Chameleon
The Chameleon trail hardtail is Santa Cruz’s most versatile frame. It is compatible with both 29- and 27.5-inch wheel sizes, with clearance for tires up to 2.6 inches wide and 3 inches wide, respectively. It also has an adjustable chainstay length, so it can be converted to a singlespeed. It can rip rocky singletrack or be loaded up for backpacking, making it ideal for backwoods adventures. The new carbon model should satisfy riders who want all the shreddy attitude of the Chameleon but refuse to compromise on weight. The new frame is stiffer and more responsive than the aluminum option, according to Santa Cruz representatives, and also 250 grams lighter (size large).
The carbon Chameleon has several build kit options, all anchored by a SRAM drivetrain. The top model is the SE Reserve build, which includes Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon rims built to blue Hope hubs and a matching Hope headset.
Kona Honzo DL
Kona deserves some credit for making hardtails cool again. The original Honzo was a unicorn. In a time when all hardtails were for beginners or elite racers, Kona brought forth a rigid beast meant for having fun on any type of trail. It had the geometry and components of an all-mountain model, but the simple reliability (and more attainable cost) of a hardtail. Now, Kona has eight models, including a few with carbon frames. We like the DL because the aluminum frame keeps the price down, but the parts won’t hold you back.
―BEST ENDURANCE HARDTAIL―
Felt Doctrine 3
The Doctrine is a race-oriented carbon fiber hardtail with 29-inch wheels. But like some newer XC bikes, the 69-degree head tube is a bit more relaxed, giving the bike a more playful, versatile ride. For 2020, the Doctrine gets a 12omm Fox 32 Rhythm fork and a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain. The Doctrine 3 also boasts Shimano MT500 hydraulic disc brakes. The Alex MD25 wheels are tubeless-ready and ship with 2.25–inch Schwalbe Racing Ray front tires and the company’s Racing Ralph rear tires.
―BEST HARDTAIL FOR BIG TRAILS―
Commencal Meta HT AM 29
Like the Honzo, the aluminum Meta is made to get rad. A RockShox Lyrik Select+ fork provides 150mm of suspension and includes compression and rebound adjustments. Commencal sets up the Meta with 29 x 2.35 tires for a speedy vibe. SRAM’s 1×11 NX drivetrain handles shifting, and SRAM Level hydraulic brakes with 200mm and 180mm rotors provide solid stopping power. A 150mm KS Lev Si dropper post completes the build—we’d have this fun ripper in the eye-catching orange color scheme.
―BEST WOMEN’S TRAIL BIKE―
Trek Roscoe 7 Women’s
There is so much to love about this bike, it’s hard to decide where to start. The SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, with a 30t chainring and 10-50t cassette, gives a massive range of gears and plenty of low-range options for easing the pain of climbing steep hills. Its 27.5-inch wheels are maneuverable in tight, technical terrain, and the 2.8-inch tubeless-ready tires offer great traction and a plush ride. The RockShox Judy Silver fork has plenty of travel for getting rowdy (1oomm for size the extra-small frame size, 120mm for small through large) and can be locked out for more efficient off-trail riding. And speaking of rowdy, a 100mm dropper post is a very cool addition to a bike at this price.
―BEST FOR BIG CLIMBS―
The Open One+ isn’t a bike for everyone. It’s a niche bike. Short and twitchy, the One+ is unabashedly made for technically astute riders, those who enjoy the challenge and precision of a hardtail with razor-sharp handling. It’s also incredibly light. At just over 19 pounds for a size large, this bike practically jumps forward with any pressure on the pedals and dances up steep climbs. It’s light, sharp, and unforgiving of unrefined technique.
You can order a frame online and then meticulously source every component yourself to end up with your dream build. Or there are also complete bikes available through some online retailers. Contender Bicycles offers a and a .
5 Bikes Under $1,000
―GREAT VALUE AND PERFORMANCE―
Rocky Mountain Growler 20
Not long ago, you had to pay thousands for a mountain bike you could trust on anything but the smoothest trails. As for sub-$1,000 models, there were few if any that you’d want to take on a big, out-there adventure ride. But the price of entry is falling and this bike is leading the way: The $899 Growler outperforms bikes twice its price. You get an aluminum frame with trail geometry, a 120mm coil-sprung fork, 27.5 x 2.8-inch WTB Ranger tires, hydraulic disc brakes, and a Shimano 1×9 drivetrain. It’s everything you need at a price you’ll love.
―CHEAP HARDTAIL THAT’S RACE READY―
Geometry tweaks and component upgrades have modernized the KHS Aguila, but the $180 premium over the old model positions the new bike in the competitive $1,000 hardtail market. The head tube is slacker, reach is increased, chainstays are shorter, and the bike is equipped with a 1×11-speed drivetrain. The bike also gets new rubber in the form of CST Jack Rabbit 29 x 2.1-inch tires and has Shimano MT400 hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm and 160mm front and rear rotors. The coil-sprung SR Raidon 32 100mm fork isn’t as advanced as the air-sprung forks on some competing bikes, but the 29er’s small 28-tooth chainring should make spinning uphill easier.
―GREAT FIRST TRAIL BIKE―
Trek Marlin 7
One of the cheapest on this list, the Trek Marlin 7, which also comes in a women’s version, is one of our favorites for its balance of performance and affordability. It’s a great first trail bike for kids who are curious about mountain biking and maybe even interested in racing, but it’s also a solid choice for adults who want a low-cost, multipurpose bike. Rack mounts and a 2×9-speed drivetrain make it a functional commuter, and the 100mm RockShox XC30 coil-sprung fork is reliable. Internal hose and housing routing adds a pro-level look.
―JACK OF ALL TRADES―
Fezzari Wasatch Peak Comp 29er
Updated for 2019, this race-ready ripper makes the list because it’s both a great first XC race bike and a competent, reliable bike for all-day trail adventures. The 130mm SR Suntour XCR Air is a great fork for a sub-$1,000 bike, and the Shimano 1×10 drivetrain simplifies shifting while providing a generous gear range. The Fezzari is outfitted with 29-inch wheels and 2.2-inch, tubeless-ready, XC-style Maxxis Ardent Race tires, but it can can also have 27.5-inch wheels and fat, 2.8-inch-wide tires. Fezzari’s consumer-direct online store also allows you t add custom options and upgrades.
―FOR HITTING THE JUMP LINE―
Marin San Quentin 1
The San Quentin 1, according to Marin, has a dirt jump-inspired frame with modern trail geometry: a slack head tube angle paired with a steep seat tube angle. It comes with a 120mm-travel SR Suntour XCM fork with lockout, 27.5×2.3-inch tires, and a Shimano 1×9-speed drivetrain, which keeps shifting decisions easy but also limits the amount of gears you have. Semi-internal cable routing, a tapered head tube, and cool paint add to the frame’s good looks.