The 7 Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes – 2021 Reviews
When mountain biking began its climb into popularity, the bikes came with no suspension to help cushion a bumpy ride. The development of the suspension fork changed that. Motorcycles already had suspension, so transferring it onto a mountain bike meant the technology just needed to be adapted for it to work. The addition of suspension forks means that a mountain biker could now go faster with increased comfort no matter where they were riding.
Although rear suspension was also introduced on mountain bikes, there are still hardtails that just have a suspension fork in the front. Full suspension bikes are great for technical terrain, but hardtail bikes have their advantages as well, especially for cross country racing as the hardtails are lighter and quite agile.
Choosing the Best Hardtail Mountain Bike
There are lots of options when it comes to choosing the best hardtail mountain bike. Knowing your personal preferences for a cross country bike, your budget, and the kinds of rough terrain you’ll ride on are all important parts of the decision.
Benefits of Riding a Hard Tail Mountain Bike
While hardtail bikes sound like a rough ride with no moving parts or pivots on their frames, the bikes are light, move fast and are less expensive than the top-end full-suspension bikes that are a similar weight.
They are easy to move up hills and ride longer distances. Because these bikes have fewer moving parts, no bearings to worry about, no shocks to repair, and no rear suspension. This means that there is going to be less worry around repair and maintenance, as the steel frame is a few simple pieces.
Along with being light and having reduced maintenance, hardtail bikes also tend to be less costly, since the engineering effort required is lower than other bikes. That means less upfront cost and the ability to spend more on the actual bike components. Smooth trails make hardtails a good choice, but they are certainly usable on tougher terrain as well if you want to take up the challenge.
There are more options than you would think when it comes to what a hardtail mountain bike frame is made of. There is aluminum alloy, carbon and steel that are often used. Usually, the most inexpensive frame is made out of hydroformed aluminum. This material offers a heavier build, but it has some flexibility, which means the ride will have a little more comfort which is helpful since hardtails are already riding with reduced suspension.
If you are concerned about the weight of the bike, then carbon may be the choice. It is the lightest and strongest material you can get for a hardtail. However, it will cost more. A carbon frame is good when it comes to power transfer and is efficient, so the ride will feel responsive. The issue with carbon is that it is stiff so it has less flexibility will not absorb bumps as well. This makes a long ride more difficult.
Finally, there’s steel as a bike frame choice. This is a good option when balancing the needs of a hardtail mountain bike. Steel has more weight than aluminum, but it is extremely comfortable due to its flexibility. The biggest benefit is that it is stronger and more durable than both carbon and aluminum so while a bit heavier, it can endure more difficult rides.
Every brand of frame is different due to its independent design. This design, or geometry, is where all the angles and measurements come together on the frame to determine how the bike is going to respond on the trail. The design is best if it is long, low and slack. This gives the rider a low center of gravity so riding on off-road, technical trails is easier to do.
When the bottom bracket is lower than the bike’s center of gravity, it is level with or lower than the bike’s wheel axle. This means that both the weight of the bike combined with the weight of the rider can move the bike through more technical terrain. If there is not a lower bottom bracket, then the rider can be bucked over the front.
Along with a lower bottom bracket, having a long bike is helpful as well. This means the bike has a long wheelbase. This refers to the distance that runs between the center of each wheel axle. Having a bike that is longer means it will be stable at higher speeds and the rider is going to have better control on steep ground.
The third part of bike geometry to be considered is slack. This is the headtube angle and how it influences the suspension fork when cornering and high-speed hits. A slack angle helps with both issues, but if the angle is excessively slack, then it becomes tough to ride the bike uphill.
As part of the geometry of the bike, the chainstay length is also important. This is a segment of the frame that runs between the bottom bracket and the rear dropout. There will be a chainstay on both sides of the bike. If the chainstay is short, then the front of the bike can lift so jumps and bunny hops are easier. However, this means that a short chainstay can then be less stable when a rider gets to higher speeds. A balance of length is important.
The other geometry issue is standover height. This is the space that is between the top of the frame and the rider. If it is large, then getting your foot to the floor is easy, as is accessibility for moving around.
With suspension being limited on a hardtail mountain bike, the suspension fork that is on it should be between 100mm and 140mm travel. Most XC bikes will have 100mm or 120mm forks with more aggressive bikes having more travel to absorb larger hits.
Travel is limited on a hardtail, as the ones with greater travel are usually on full suspension. This is because if there is more than 120mm travel on a hardtail, then the difference between the front and back is going to be too extreme.
A travel fork that is long can deal with bumps better, but a short travel fork gives good feedback from the trail, so the rider can work with how the back end is reacting and the movement needed. All types of forks need proper setup and service.
Wheels are central to a good hardtail mountain bike ride. They used to be either 26” or 29” but now include 27.5” as well. The bigger wheel size means the bike can get over any obstacle easier but can be slow in corners. The 27.5” wheel has become standard to meet a healthy balance, but as technology continues to improve, the 29” are making a comeback.
The size of the wheel should depend on the riding being done. If the rider is tall or wants the most speed possible, then a 29” is a good choice, otherwise a 27.5” will work well. The difference is not huge between the two tire sizes, so it is not the most critical issue when choosing specs for a hardtail bike, but make sure it is comfortable for you.
The next wheel decision is rims. Carbon or aluminum? The pros and cons are the same as with the frame. Carbon is lightweight and stronger than aluminum, but more expensive. Carbon rims are stiff, which means you will get good acceleration and can direct the bike easier when the trail is rough. However, the stiffness means that carbon wheels do not absorb the jolts as well. This can be rough when riding a hardtail. Carbon also tends to crack rather than dent with hard hits. This means more money to replace them as they are not repairable.
In contrast, aluminum rims can absorb the jolts better and will likely dent if hit hard rather than crack. They are more affordable should you need to replace one.
The other part of the wheel to look at is the internal width of the rim. This outlines what tire size can be installed. If a rim is wider, then the tire holds more air. The wider the rim, the wider the tires that can be used.
Finally, the hub. This is the center of the wheel where the spokes join. The wheel rotates around it. There are none particularly better than the other, so the important thing is to make sure it is sturdy and can handle the extra wear and tear of hardtail riding.
Hardtail mountain bikes tend to have one or two chainrings in the front and eight to twelve in the back. This is shown by two numbers plus an X. The first number designates the chainrings and the second is for the cogs. 1×11 or x12 are the current standard. If there is only one chainring with no front derailleur or gear shifter, then the weight is reduced but the rider still has a good number of cogs for lots of range. Most people can make do with the 1×11 setup.
Brakes are not the area where you scrimp. The ability to slow down and stop is a top priority. A rider may love high speeds, but it needs to be done safely not only for the rider but others as well. Being able to negotiate corners and obstacles is not something to be ignored.
The bike should have hydraulic disc brakes rather than mechanical. The size of the rotor will define the brake’s power. The rotor will have a diameter ranging from 160, 180, 200 to 203mm. It is attached to the hub and the larger the diameter the more braking power that will be available. This is important not only for stopping, but helps keep the brakes cool and reduce overheating.
XC bikes often use 160mm rotors on both and trail bikes do better with 180mm on the front and 160mm in the rear. Rotor size can be upgraded for more power, but the bike is limited by the fork and frame so its important to know the limits.
While power is important, managing heat is too. Good brakes should prevent brake fade when the rider is on a long trail down. This is not a rotor issue but a material and quality concern.
There are additional hardtail bike components that should be looked as well. A dropper post is good if you aren’t concerned about extra weight. Handlebars, the stem and saddle should all be a good brand or a solid in-house brand. You want extras to be sturdy and reliable.
Tires are also important, not just the wheels. If your bike is on the cheaper end, then the tires will probably be made of a harder compound, so it may be good to invest in a better set. You may also want some that are good for certain terrain and weather conditions. Tires are your contact point with the ground, so they are going to affect the performance of the bike as a whole.
Best Hardtail Mountain Bikes
With all factors in place when choosing a hardtail mountain bike, here are the 7 best. One will be the right one for you.
1. Ibis DV9 NX Eagle
Ibis hardtail mountain bikes tend to have speed and this one is no different. While it isn’t the fastest of the models, it has some great assets and can certainly keep pace with most models of bikes. It is a reasonable price and offers a fiber frame along with some great features which will max out your speed on whatever trail you hit.
This bike has a carbon frame that stiff but responsive. Every bit of power that goes to the pedals will push the bike forward with that energy. The bike has geometry that is top of the line and is from a trusted brand. The frame has a long reach, making it responsive in handling so it can be used on a tight singletrack as well as technical sections that are seen more and more on XC courses.
This fork is a Fox Float Rhythm with 120mm travel, and the brakes are SRAM Level T hydraulic disc. You have 11 speeds to work with big 29” wheels to make those bumps and jolts smoother. A great bike without the big cost.
2. Diamondback Bicycles Overdrive
This bike a classically styled bike from the 90s but has been updated so it has all the modern technology needed for a good ride. It has a slack head angle, long reach, as well as a rear boost axle, so the bike is more than perfect for trails. It is a solid hardtail and is good for the beginner to intermediate who wants to get into the sport without a ton of investment upfront. The components are designed for beginners but are high quality so can do more than required. They are also easy to upgrade.
The 6061-T6 Aluminum frame is designed for more hardcore hardtail rides than XC as the frame can absorb the hits in the chainstay and still offer a comfortable ride. The tires are mid-size at 27.5” and offer great grip and even better stability in the tight corners. It is ready to hit the trails as well as being used for some outdoor backpacking adventures.
The fork is an SR Sun tour with 80mm travel, and the brakes are Tektro Aries with 160mm rotors. It’s a 24 speed Shimano Altus M310 drivetrain so can get you anywhere smoothly. It doesn’t have the biggest tires but the 27.5” ones are great for versatility and stability.
3. Orbea Laufey H30
This is a tough hardtail bike. It may not win races but that is not what it is designed for. It is designed for hardcore fun. It is not the fastest bike for the trails, but it is going to give you a great time out. Its hydroformed alloy frame is unusual in this type of price range.
The Laufey has 29” tires that will give you max traction when you hit the tight corners loose rock. If the PSI is right for your weight, then you will like how the tires can absorb the bumps and jolts along the way. The bigger tires will also help you get up any areas that are difficult where thinner tires would be problematic. The frame has long and slack geometry, boost axle spacing as well as internal cable, so the frame has a sleek look.
The fork is RockShox Recon RL 140 Air that is solid, and the brakes are Shimano MT201 hydraulic disc. Shimano is always quality. The drivetrain is an 11 speed Sun Race is also good quality. The tires are big so there is lots of shock absorption for a smooth and fun ride.
4. Santa Cruz Chameleon
This bike is adaptable to almost any surrounding. It’s a mountain bike that is versatile and solid. It’s a capable hardtail that can traverse almost any trail.
The updated geometry of the 6000-series aluminum frame is the reason the bike is so adaptable. The frame is low with short chainstays and has length in its front end. This is all designed to work with a slack head angle, so getting up the mountain is just a fun as coming down. Whether the goal is a flow trail, a touch black diamond or a fun backpacking trip, the Chameleon can do it.
The Chameleon comes with 27.5” tires but can be changed for bigger 29”. With bigger tires, it adds to its abilities. Bumps are much smoother, and traction is awesome in the corners. The fork is a Fox 34 Float Performance and the drivetrain is SRAM 12-speed. The SRAM brakes are also good for quick and smooth stops and slowdowns.
5. Pivot LES Eagle
This modern XC race bike has good stiffness, is efficient and handles well. The Pivot carbon LES frame has been updated to reduce its weight while increasing stiffness with boost axle spacing. Its geometry has been tuned up too.
The sacker head angle allows the LES to be extremely able to work the technical trails and any tough racecourse. The chainstays are short so will help speed through corners or weave through any tight sections. The tires but can be swapped out if they are not being used for racing.
The fork is a Fox 32 with 100mm travel, and the Shimano drivetrain is a 12 speed. The brakes are Shimano as well offering great slowing and hard stop performance.
6. Norco Torrent HT S2
This hardtail is a top design and ready to take on technical trails. The Chromoly frame is solid with a slight flex for added tractions. The rear has boost spacing to it will add lateral stiffness.
The RockShox fork with 150mm travel is stellar as well and while longer than most hardtail forks, it is perfect for tough terrain. It will make a ride smoother and reduce harsh bumps. It is adjustable so can be tuned to meet the rider’s weight and ride style.
The SRAM drivetrain is a 12 speed and the brakes TRP G-Spec Trail S. Both of these helps to increase the power of the hardtail for a good ride.
7. Niner AIR 9
This bike is great for trail riding as well as backpacking trips. The Hydroformed aluminum frame is great with new geometry to help make the ride great. The cockpit and wheelbase are longer, it has shorter chainstays and the head angle slacker can run on any trail.
It is stiff but still has flex when needed. The Marzocchi fork has 120mm travel and both the drivetrain and brakes are SRAM. The tires are 29” so can take on any tough course. The offers good traction and great rider comfort.
These 7 hardtail mountain bikes are all good investments but make sure to choose the one that suits your riding style, where you are riding and budget. There are many available for the beginner up to the most experienced rider. Don’t make a quick decision, do your research, take a ride and make sure you choose the best one for you.