The annual drool-on-carbon show that is the Bible of Bike Tests is soon to launch, and with it, several dozen reviews of bikes most of us will never be able to afford. The good news: Most of the models reviewed in the Bible are offered in lower-end, more reasonably-priced builds that perform similarly to the dentist-spec versions we tested. You’ll find a few of those here, plus some models only offered as budget-friendly bikes, and a few previous-year closeouts.
You will no-doubt notice not all of these bikes are, in fact, under $2,500. We actually started with a price ceiling of $3,000, but decided to shrink our budget to $2,500, weeding out the average values for the exceptional ones. We then divided the best 14 mountain bikes around that nice, round number into short-, medium- and long-travel categories, and awarded each a title:
– The "Top Pick," in our opinion, represents the best value for money under the $2,500 budget.
– The "Runner Up" offers a similar value to the Top Pick.
– The "Honorable Mention" is also a solid value, but maybe not quite as good as the first two, or perhaps doesn't quite fit within the budget.
– The "Penny Pincher" is the least expensive bike that we found that still looks like it will perform well on the trail.
– The "Splurge" exceeds the $2,500 budget, but is still an exceptional value.
If $2,500 is more than you want to spend on a mountain bike, then you must be a completely reasonable human being. Check out this post for a selection of hardtails starting below $1,000. Or, if you’re looking for the fancy plastic, check out these carbon bikes under $4,000.
Short Travel: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500
Our top choice among the short-travel bikes is the Marin Rift Zone 2, with its go-anywhere, ride-anything pairing of 120 millimeters of front-and-rear suspension and 29-inch wheels. It gets a SRAM NX 11-speed drivetrain with some SunRace and FSA bits thrown in to keep the price down. That includes the TranzX dropper post that maxes out at 120-millimeters on medium thru XL sizes, but it’s one of few functional compromises you’ll make on a bike that’s got some solid fundamentals like Boost spacing, a threaded bottom bracket, and 29-millimeter-internal width rims.
Travel (R/F): 120/120mm
Headtube Angle: 67.5°
In the previous iteration of this roundup, the Scott Spark 970 (which no longer exists), claimed the “Penny Pincher” title with its low, $1,900 price tag. This year, the base model of the Spark is the 960, and while it costs $200 more, Scott gave it some serious upgrades over the 970 that make the extra cost more than worth it. The 960 now comes with a 1X drivetrain, SRAM’s NX Eagle, as well as updated suspension with Scott’s TwinLoc remote for both ends of the squishy bits. A half push the TwinLoc lever makes the XC-oriented Spark even more XC oriented by dropping the travel from 120 millimeters to 85, and pushing the lever all the way will turn it effectively into a rigid. Hit the release button and you’re back to full travel for descents, and Scott now specs a dropper post on the Spark 960 so you’ll be able to conquer even steeper grades.
Headtube Angle: 67.2°
It barely makes it in under budget, but if you want an affordable full-suspension XC rig that's already shaved its legs, the Element Alloy 30 is it. The Element was one of Rocky’s first bikes to depart from the hard-line favoritism of bushings over bearings in its frame pivots. But it still offers Ride 9 geometry and suspension rate adjustments. The settings are all well within the XC range, but you can choose precisely where in that range you want your Element to perform. Add the rare feature of fitting not one but two water bottles within the front triangle, and this may be the most XC-ready machine on this list.
Travel (R/F): 100/120mm
Headtube Angle: 68.7° – 69.8°
The new Sensor Alloy shares the same frame geometry as its more expensive carbon brethren, but at much less cost. The Sensor is GT’s aggressive 29er trail bike, with all the modern, long and low, geometry trends that go along with it. The Alloy Sport offers a very competitively priced build for those who might otherwise consider settling for a mid-range hardtail. The component spec on the Sport build isn’t anything to write home about, but that’s not to say it won’t get the job done. The frame leaves lots of room for upgrades in the future as well for things like a dropper post, which doesn’t come on the Sport build. If you’re thinking about a lot of upgrades down the trail though, and find yourself willing to shell out another $700 (about the cost of a dropper post, fresh tires and a new set of brakes), the Alloy Comp retails at $2,625 and offers upgrades to—well—just about everything.
Travel (R/F): 130/130mm
Headtube Angle: 65.5° – 66°
In past years, there’s been three levels of aluminum Anthems: 1, 2 and 3. This year, there’s only the top end, Anthem 1, build. While not quite as value-focused as last year’s mid-level builds, the Anthem 1 still offers a serious bang for your buck. For the $3,150 price tag, you get full Fox Performance suspension with a GRIP damper in front, as well as SRAM’s NX Eagle drivetrain and a set of Guide T brakes. A set of Giant’s own hoops come stock (with a 30-millimeter inner width) already set up tubeless on Maxxis High Roller II rubber—a nod toward Giant’s designation of “XC Trail” for the Anthem. Giant’s own dropper post is known for its reliability, as is the super plush Maestro suspension design. All things considered, the Anthem 1 is probably a bike you’ll buy and have no trouble running bare-bones-stock. No upgrades or vicious maintenance cycle required.
Travel (R/F): 110/130mm
Headtube Angle: 67.4°
Mid Travel: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500
The Trance 3 is a solid option, especially if you prefer to buy your bikes at actual, real-life brick-and-mortar bike shops. Also especially if you’re a fan of Giant’s Maestro linkage, which has earned its place among the leading dual-link designs of today. The Trance has earned both our Penny Pincher and Top Pick badges, as we struggled to find another bike at this price point with specs to topple the Trance. Most other bikes with a comparable price lacked a dropper or burly suspension, or they were from consumer-direct brands and out of stock until the spring.
The Trance boasts a Pike-like Suntour Aion fork and a 10-speed Shimano drivetrain. A Rockshox Deluxe R rear shock lacks a lockout, which is a bit of a bummer, but the Trance makes up for it with the inclusion of a dropper post, tubeless tires out of the box and an integrated front fender on the Aion.
Travel (R/F): 140/150mm
Headtube Angle: 67°
Trek's 130-millimeter-travel Fuel EX chassis can handle just about anything outside of bike parks and full-on downhill tracks. The 29er version of the Fuel EX has been a long favorite of Bike, and the plus-size version is aimed at bringing a capable trail bike to riders who want something that boosts the confidence but doesn’t drain the wallet. The Fuel EX 5 Plus has a fairly base-level build, complete with a Rockshox Recon fork, Deluxe RL shock and a mixed Shimano/SunRace/Race Face 10-speed drivetrain. The Recon fork is bumped up to 140 millimeters of travel from the standard 130 millimeters for the 29er. The Fuel Ex 5 doesn’t come with a dropper post, but the frame is routed for it once you pick one out. The Alex rims laced to Bontrager hubs don’t come set up tubeless, but are compatible if you want to go sans tubes. Even set up with tubes, though, the 2.8-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nics will certainly provide gobs of traction. Out of the box, the Fuel EX 5 that can handle nearly anything you throw at it—but you might just have to stop to lower your seat before the really gnarly stuff.
Travel (R/F): 130/140mm
Headtube Angle: 67.2°
Fezzari might not be a house-brand name you recognize, but that might change in the near future. The consumer-direct, American company offers a few different high-end mountain bike options, everything from a base-level aluminum model to a top-of-the-line carbon dream machine. Their Abajo Peak is a mid-level, mid-travel, big-wheeled trail bike. Its geometry is right in line with the industry’s low and long trend, but Fezzari does dial it back a notch to keep things from getting too long and low. Unlike many bikes at this price point, the Abajo is held up by X-Fusion suspension both front and rear with the McQueen RCP fork and O2 Pro RL shock. Good value for the features they offer. A set of WTB i29 TCS wheels (like many other bikes in this roundup) are mounted with Maxxis rubber, and can be set up tubeless from the factory if desired. On that note, Fezzari offers quite a few options for customization during checkout on the web, including input fields for custom fitment.
Travel (R/F): 130/140mm
Headtube Angle: 66.9°
This base model of the carbon Jeffsy (both 27.5 and 29 versions) is currently on sale from $3,400 to $3,100 at the time of writing this. Even at $3,400, the Jeffsy CF is a good deal but knock $300 off and you have a great deal. The full carbon-framed Jeffsy is adorned with Rockshox suspension—a Pike RCT3 and Monarch RT3. Perhaps not the latest and greatest, but then again they were the latest and greatest just a few years ago and still perform amazingly well. A healthy dose of e*thirteen goodness comes stock as well, including a TRS+ cassette, tires, seatpost and TRS wheels. They Jeffsy is 11-speed with a Shimano XT shifting system, but with the TRS+ cassette actually has a 511-percent range (larger than SRAM Eagle’s 500 percent). The brakes are upgraded to SRAM Guide RS, and the cockpit is made up of Race Face Turbine R bits, which perform just as well as they look. The cherry on top? Most of the two-color options and sizes (except XL) are still in stock … at least as of right now.
Travel (R/F): 140/140mm
Headtube Angle: 67°-67.5°
Long Travel: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500
What Kona has done here, presumably, is taken some leftover Process 153 frames and outfitted them with an entourage of affordable components. A few of the parts might be a little prim for the 153's intentions—namely the brakes and rear shock—but this is a reasonable starter setup if you want to tame colossal terrain on a conservative budget. And the Process frame geometry was far ahead of its time when it came out, so even its previous iteration seems contemporary.
Travel (R/F): 153/160mm
Headtube Angle: 65.5°
If it wasn’t for the 75.5-degree seat tube angle, the Clash could be mistaken for a downhill/freeride bike. It’s long, slack and comes with a 180-millimeter Rockshox Yari fork. It also comes with a rigid seatpost instead of a dropper, which doesn’t help with its “I only ride lifts” vibe. However, if you’re someone that prefers to ride lifts, shuttles and occasionally will go for a pedal to earn your turns, the Clash might be your ticket to fun. Its parts specs include the Yari as mentioned, a Rockshox Deluxe RT, WTB ST i29 TCS rims, SRAM Guide T brakes (with 200-millimeter rotors) and an extra-healthy smattering of Commencal’s house brand, Ride Alpha, components. It also comes with SRAM’s NX Eagle drivetrain, so you can pedal this bike, you just probably won’t earn any Strava KOMs on the way up. On the way down though, you could probably just straight line everything in sight if you wish.
Travel (R/F): 165/180mm
Headtube Angle: 65°
Really, the only reason the Marin Alpine Trail didn’t get top pick honors is that it goes over budget by a couple hundred dollars. But then again it is a brick-and-mortar bike, which offers a few perks. Test riding one might be as simple as heading to your local dealer, and if you actually decided to make the purchase, you’ll get the accompanying service, support and advice, which have measurable value. This helps to bring the price into the perspective of some of the other bikes on here from consumer-direct brands. As far as component spec goes, the Apine Trail 7 is on par with any of the other bikes in this price bracket. The X-Fusion O2 PRO RCX rear shock and Tektro Orion brakes might be a little pedestrian, but that doesn’t mean they’re of lesser quality than offerings from the big dogs. Marin also specs an e*thirteen TRS+ 11-speed cassette with a Shimano SLX shifting setup, which saves on costs while increasing the range to 511 percent. That’s more than SRAM Eagle’s 500 percent. Eleven-percent more. Other smart choices include a reliable X-Fusion Manic dropper, a stubby 35-millimeter stem and big ol’ 203-/180-millimeter rotors.
Travel (R/F): 150/160mm
Headtube Angle: 65°
Kona’s new Process made waves when it was first announced, which only grew taller when the 29er 153 was released a short time later. The new Process is available in carbon or aluminum, with the aluminum versions starting at the $3K mark. For that price you get a Rockshox Yari RC and Deluxe RT, along with NX Eagle and Guide T brakes. A Trans-X dropper and WTB ST i29 TCS rims round out the build. This is certainly more of a budget component spec, but the frame is the same as higher-end builds so upgrades later down the road are always an option. However, realistically there’s not much you’d really need to change out of the box—the Process is more than capable of handling the stress of repeated bike park laps. It’s not the lightest bike out there for long days in the saddle, but at least the saddle sits above a 76-degree seat tube. And anyway, you’re probably aren’t buying a 153-/160-millimeter travel 29er for all-day epics—are you?
Travel (R/F): 153/160mm
Headtube Angle: 66°
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