You’re locked and loaded and ready to buy the hardtail of your dreams. You’ve checked your bank account, and you’ve done the math to figure out your price point. You’re looking for the very best hardtail mountain bike under $2,000. Lucky for you, bikes in this price range have made giant leaps in fun factor, capability and reliability in the past couple years. But there’s also a veritable plethora to choose from. We’ll cut out the noise and show you the best options within the $1,000 to $2,000 range.
Spit in any direction inside a WalMart bike department and you’ll hit a mountain bike that comes with a suspension fork and costs less than Marin’s fully rigid Pine Mountain. You can even find bikes from trustworthy brands like Specialized and Trek for about $500 that come with squishy bits up front. But those forks are generally crap. They don’t perform well enough on the trail to justify their weight or poor reliability. Plus, the bikes they’re attached to typically aren’t meant to leave the sidewalk. You’re better off either going used or looking for a fully rigid rig shod with plus-size tires if $1,000 is the top of your budget.
Marin’s Pine Mountain is one such plus-size trail stomper. Those big tires add cushion and give you more traction, which means less falling. The Pine Mountain’s steel frame and fork are paired with a 10-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain and Shimano BL-425 hydraulic disc brakes for unwavering reliability. We wish it had the 148×12 rear-end spacing used on the higher-end Pine Mountain 2 instead of the strange 141×9 quick-release that pops up on bikes under $1,500—such as the Norco Fluid and Trek Roscoe below—but you can't be too choosy at this price.
Giant always serves up remarkable value, but the Fathom 2 is next-level bang for your buck. For under $1,200, you’re getting an aluminum frame with trail-ready geometry—it boasts a 67-degree head angle, 425 millimeter chainstays and a 444 millimeter reach on the size large. But that’s just the chassis.
The 120-millimeter-travel SR Suntour LO-R has a 15 millimeter through-axle and is air-sprung, so you’ll be able to adjust it to your weight and riding style—something cheap coil-sprung forks on lower-end bikes won’t allow. The Fathom’s 27.5 wheels are powered by a 2×10 Shimano Deore drivetrain and slowed by Shimano M315 hydraulic brakes. Giant also offers a 29er version of the Fathom, and the Fathom 1 is a similarly excellent value at $1,450.
We could stop there and the Fathom would still be a pretty okay value. But add in a Tranz-X dropper post and you’ve got a complement of parts that’s truly unheard of at this asking price. It’s even got internal cable routing! Kids these days…
At first glance, the Cinder Cone is a tough sell with the Giant Fathom 2 going for $130 less—and with a dropper post. But there’s a reason we included the Cinder Cone on this list, and that reason is the SRAM NX drivetrain.
We dig the idea of a simple, reliable single-ring drivetrain on all bikes, but it’s especially nice for relatively new riders who already have enough to think about without another shifter on their handlebars. The 30-tooth chainring and 11-42 cassette should provide plenty of range for unseasoned pedalers, and the 100-millimeter-travel RockShox Recon Gold RL Solo Air will help cushion the blows once the pedaling ends and the shredding begins.
Okay, if the Fathom didn’t already make the Cinder Cone a hard sale, Trek’s Roscoe 8 surely does. It comes with the same 11-speed SRAM NX drivetrain that was a main selling point on the Kona, so you can cross that off the pro/con list. The Judy TK fork on the Roscoe is a slight downgrade to the Cinder Cone’s RockShox Recon Gold, as are the brakes, but we’d still recommend ponying up the extra $60 for this Trek.
That’s mainly thanks to its 2.8-inch-wide tires that’ll help any rider—beginner or advanced—get extra fun and capability out of the hardtail frame. The Bontrager dropper post is a big selling point, too.
Norco’s Fluid might not look as sleek as the Trek Roscoe, but that’s probably just because its cables are routed externally. Both bikes have plus-size tires, basic dropper posts and SRAM NX drivetrains. It’s a good bet that when tires meet dirt, the Fluid is at least as capable as the Roscoe. But is it worth an extra $90?
Probably. First off, its RockShox Recon RL Silver fork packs a Motion Control RL damper, which is more sophisticated than the TurnKey damper used on the Trek’s Judy TK. Second, its head angle is nearly a degree slacker. Slacker head angles mean more confidence at speed, and confidence is a big part of what it takes for new riders to not feel so new anymore.
The Kobain isn’t much of a step up parts-wise compared to the Norco Fluid. In fact, its 10-speed drivetrain is inferior to the wide range, 11-speed SRAM NX setup specced on the Fluid, and it has the same Recon RL fork.
The Kobain made our list because it has Boost 148 and 110 spacing at the rear and front axles. This feature is worth paying for if you’d like to hold onto your bike and be able to upgrade parts down the road. The Boost through-axle spacing will also make swapping the stock plus-size wheels out for a 29er setup much easier.
The plus-size Fuse is also fully Boosted and upgrade worthy, but for an extra $50 comes stock with that SRAM NX drivetrain we keep banging on about. We’d prefer to see a RockShox fork on the Fuse rather than the relatively unknown Manitou Machete that comes on it, but you can trust that the 3-inch-wide Specialized Ground Control and Purgatory tires will help make up for any shortcomings the fork may have.
Plus-size isn’t your thing? Check out the Kona Honzo AL. Kona’s steel Honzo is one of our favorite 29er trail hardtails. This aluminum version will be lighter and less expensive than its chromoly sibling, but not quite as forgiving. It comes with a SRAM NX drivetrain, a 120-millimeter-travel RockShox Recon RL fork (which has that nice Motion Control damper), Shimano hydraulic brakes, and a KS Eten dropper post.
Another Kona? Yeah. Another. Three Konas made this 10-bike list because they’re smartly specced values and have modern geometry. We scoured the internet looking for an alternative from another brand that could top the Big Honzo at the $1,700 price point, but couldn’t find anything. So here it is, another killer Kona.
The Big Honzo is like the regular Honzo, but it rolls on plus-size 27.5 tires. It has the same parts kit as the Honzo AL/DR above, aside from the 2.8-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires and wide WTB Scraper STp i40 rims.
Jamis’ Komodo 27.5 Expert is an alternative to the Big Honzo at $1,700, but be warned: it’s got some wacky geometry. Make sure you ride before you buy.
Rewind five years and pretty much every bike here (except for the Honzo, but that’s a story for a different day) would have cross-country geometry. But brands have wised up to the fact that most new riders are just that–riders, not racers. Some riders do want to race, though, and can’t spend $4,000 on a carbon full-suspension rig or even $3,000 on a carbon hardtail. That’s who the Chisel was made for.
The Chisel is a lightweight aluminum bike with race-oriented geometry. It forgoes a dropper post to keep its price and weight low. What it does get is a RockShox Reba RL 29 fork, a mishmash of SRAM NX and GX parts for the drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes and fastfastfast tires. There’s also a comp version with a 2×10 drivetrain for $1,500.