The Best Mountain Bikes of 2017-2018
Our highly experienced reviewers perform extensive field tests and score products on objective criteria to determine the best cross-country, trail/all-mountain, enduro, plus-sized and fat bikes.
We divided our bike reviews into lightweight cross-country bikes, designed for ripping up the singletrack; trail/all-mountain bikes, the jack-of-all-trade rigs; beefy, downhill capable enduro bikes; the super-stable and fun plus-sized bikes; and fat bikes.
Here’s what we learned testing the Niner RIP 9 RDO 4-Star XT 29 ENVE, the top-ranked bike in the enduro category. You won’t ride down as well if you’re exhausted at the top from a heavy, slow-climbing bike. In other words, a bike doesn’t have to be the best at descending to win this category. With carbon rims and the lowest overall weight in the test, the RIP was the best climber in our fleet of test machines. On the flats and rolling terrain it was nimble, quick, and playful. That translated into less stability on descents (testers ranked it last in descending), but when it came to overall ride quality it beat out everything else. Just know you’re going to pay a lot for it. But we feel it impacted riding quality so much that it is worth considering if you like the up as much as the down and have the cash.
A mythical beast at home in the steepest of terrain, the Yeti SB 5.5 lives up to its namesake. Without the almost-unfair advantage of the Niner’s carbon wheels, this would be the winner of the test. This bike performed better all around, hitting enough sweet spots to make it the bike of choice of most testers. It may not handle technical climbs as well as the smaller-wheeled brethren in the test but it was an able climber nonetheless. And while it may not have been as stable as the slacker bikes we rode, it still descended like a bomb.
The Borealis Crestone Pro is a fat bike you may want to ride year round. With various tire size options, and a light and well built carbon frame and fork, this is not a bike you will leave in the back of the garage during summer. The Borealis is nearly as light as a XC race bike, weighing in at just over 26lbs. SRAM XO 11 speed was spec’d on the bike we rode (the Elite comes with SRAM XX), which was more than required for quick and responsive shifting. The 4.8 inch Maxxis Minions chew through snow, ice or dirt equally. The Crestone Pro is your bike if you are looking to experience a higher end fat bike with less weight and more fun.
The Rocky Mountain Suzy-Q 50 is an excellent choice if you’re not yet ready to fully commit to a Fat Bike and/or if this will be your only mountain bike—it’s highly versatile and relatively inexpensive, and certainly one of the best values in this group. The narrower rims and tires will still provide many of the benefits of full-on fatties, but with better speed and without the weight and handling compromise, especially if you don’t always ride on snow or sand. It’s respectably light, especially for a 27.5” alloy rig, and it’s quite quick on harder packed snow or dirt. However there’s no suspension, so the ride is a bit bumpy, and descending can be tricky in more technical and/or turny terrain.
The Flux is light and nimble, without the raked out front end so common on trail bikes, yet it has 120mm (4.7 inches front and rear) of travel on 27.5 inch carbon wheels. The suspension is responsive and provides capable anti squat technology minimizing unnecessary movement. While it’s very difficult to find flaws in this bike, it is quite expensive and the rear shock is tricky to lock out on the fly. *Editor's Note: The model we tested had 1x11 but the 2017 models will have choice of SRAM Eagle 1x12 setups. Also, the Flux we tested was built up in a way that's not available as a package on Turner’s website – the closest option would be the 2017 SRAM X01 Eagle.
Best for Tackling a Variety of Terrain
Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770 MSLBiking, Mountain Bikes & Trail Mountain Bikes
The Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770 MSL is one of those rare true do-it-all bikes that can go straight from the race course to the terrain park with ease and grace. It’s marketed as an XC bike but it’s just as strong for Trail riding if not more so. This is thanks to the 27.5” rig’s adjustable “Ride-9” geometry combined with a light and super stiff frame with ample travel and a slack head tube angle. Add to that a full Shimano XT group with a bonus RaceFace cranks, and Stan’s wheels and you’ve got an outstanding bike for all but the gnarliest terrain – all at a very reasonable price. The only real complaints we have are the lack of IceTech braking technology, and a bit less nimbleness in tight turns when set at slacker geometry.
The ride quality on the Bulls Wild Edge, with its carbon monocoque frame is superior considering its price. With RockShox on both ends, the suspension is responsive and quality, even if the small bumps and initial hits were a little harsh. Shimano XT is a perfect choice keeping value and performance, with strong and responsive brakes even in the most demanding applications. The wheels are built on SRAM X.0 hubs with Bulls XC-25D Lite rims, and well matched to the quality of the rest of the bike, with a performance oriented wheel set that stayed true through our testing.
At this level in the XC/Marathon category, riders are often looking for a single bike that can race occasionally but also handle a wider variety of trails. If you’re looking primarily for the former, the Niner RKT 9 RDO is certainly the bike for you in this group. The frame makes for an extremely fast, highly responsive ride, with minimal wasted energy whether sitting or standing, and it’s fairly light for the price. The stiffness and perfectly balanced geometry are ideal for racing over smooth, tight courses, and it’s certainly comfortable enough to handle a longer marathon course. However, the shorter rear travel and frame’s speed-first design means some sacrifice on rougher trails. It’ll fly through corners, but huck that two-foot drop and you’ll feel it on the landing. This is not the best option for riders looking for cross-category versatility.