The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500

The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500

14 exceptional full-suspension values

The annual drool-on-carbon show that is the 2018 Bible of Bike Tests just launched, 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 $2500. 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.

Short Travel: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500

Top Pick: Marin Rift Zone 2 -- $1,950

 

Marin Rift Zone 2
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 tires. It even gets a SRAM NX 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.

Wheels: 29
Travel (R/F): 120/120mm
Headtube Angle: 67.5°
marinbikes.com

 

Runner Up: Giant Anthem 3 -- $2,200

Giant Anthem 3
Giant's Anthem 3 is a close second with 27.5-inch wheels, 110 millimeters of rear travel and a 130-millimeter travel fork, it'll be a lively, playful ride, and plenty capable on trails that aren't too steep or fast. For riders who don’t believe every bike with little travel needs big wheels, the Anthem is a strong member of a shrinking club. We do wish it came with a higher-end fork than the RockShox Recon Gold RL, but it's a solid package overall, from the trunnion-mount RockShox Deluxe shock to the versatile Maxxis Forecaster tires. It’s also one of only two bikes that belong on this list that offer parallel-link rear suspension platforms. Not coincidentally, the other parallel-link bike on this list is also a Giant, which speaks to the brand’s reputation for value.
Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 110/130mm
Headtube Angle: 68°
giant-bicycles.com

 

Honorable Mention: Rocky Mountain Element AL 30 -- $2,600

Rocky Mountain Element Alloy 30
It's a little above 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 Rocky’s first bikes to depart from their hard-line favoritism of bushings over bearings in its frame pivots. But it still offers their Ride 9 geometry and suspension rate adjustments. The settings are all well within the XC range, but you can choose precicely 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.
Wheels: 29
Travel (R/F): 100/120mm
Headtube Angle: 68.7° – 69.8°
bikes.com

 

Penny Pincher: Scott Spark 970 -- $1,900

Scott Spark 970
If, on the other hand, you can deal with unshaven legs and would prefer to upgrade over time rather than pay extra up front, the Spark 970 has a race-worthy chassis that merits higher-end components. The Spark frame was recently reconfigured around a trunnion-mount rear shock that made for a stronger and stiffer front triangle. What hasn’t been reconfigured is Scott’s signature TwinLoc remote shock controls. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s probably no more techy a remote system as Scott’s. Make this XC bike even more XC with a half stroke of the lever and make it a full-on hardtail by pushing it all the way, and simply tap to release. You’re on your own if you want a dropper post, but given there’s also a front derailleur on the Spark 970, that’d make the cockpit mighty crowded.
Wheels: 29
Travel (R/F): 120/120mm
Headtube Angle: 67.2°
scott-sports.com

 

Splurge: Salsa Spearfish Carbon GX1 -- $3,000

Salsa Spearfish Carbon GX1
Got an extra $500 to throw around? Put a hook in the GX1 Spearfish. We first met the Spearfish at the 2015 Bible of Bike Tests, and none of us could believe after riding it that it actually had just 80 millimeters of rear travel. It feels much more capable than its numbers imply, but it’s still an XC rocket thru-and-thru. The Spearfish isn’t trying to be something it’s not. It’s got traditional geometry and a conservative spec. Its carbon frame is equipped with Fox suspension front and rear and an 11-speed SRAM GX drivetrain. Just add dropper. Or don't.
Wheels: 29
Travel (R/F): 80/100mm
Headtube Angle: 69.3°
salsacycles.com

Mid Travel: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500

Top Pick: Canyon Spectral 6.0 Alu -- $2,500

Canyon Spectral AL 6.0
This is probably the best bike ever made for $2,500. Maybe even for $3,000. Many of its components--like the SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, RockShox Pike RC fork and Deluxe RT shock, DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheels and Maxxis Minion DHF 2.6 tires wouldn't be out of place on a bike costing thousands more. In fact, the 140-millimeter-travel aluminum Spectral looks like such an unbeatable value that we struggled to find a slightly more-expensive bike worth splurging on, which is why the one we picked costs over $4,000. So what's the catch? If there is one, it may be too early to tell. We aren't sure when this model will be available, it will be shipped to you un-assembled, and you’ll have to either foot the bill to have the bike built or do it yourself. Like most of the modern consumer-direct brands, Canyon claims their bikes ship fully adjusted, lacking only pedal, handlebar, and front wheel installation. They’ve been putting that business model into practice for years in Europe, and we’ll see how it plays out here in the states. All we can say for sure is that this bike will be hard to beat.
Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 140/150mm
Headtube Angle: 66.1°
canyon.com

 

Runner Up: Trek Fuel EX 7 29 -- $2,500

Trek Fuel EX7
Trek's 130-millimeter-travel Fuel EX chassis can handle just about anything outside of the bike park and the steepest, roughest downhill tracks, while its race-worthy efficiency and fun, lively disposition have kept it a perennial favorite at the Bible of Bike Tests. Neither of the two geometry settings offered by Trek’s Mino-Link flip chips feel tacked-on. The high setting makes it an eager, nimble pedaler that likes to twist and turn, while the low setting gives it a different type of eagerness without making it feel sluggish. The Bontrager XR4 tires, SRAM NX 11-speed drivetrain and Level T brakes, and Fox Float DPS shock all round out a solid build. Pick up a tubeless kit for the appropriately wide Line 30 rims and maybe a couple volume spacers for the fork, and this 29er will be ready to achieve your singletrack aspirations.
Wheels: 29
Travel (R/F): 130/130mm
Headtube Angle: 67.2° – 67.7°
trekbikes.com

 

Honorable Mention: Giant Trance 3 -- $2,300

Giant Trance 3
The Spectral is still our top pick for a 140-ish-millimeter 27.5 bike in this price point, but 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 on par with the leading dual-link designs of today. The Trance boasts the same spec as the Anthem discussed above, but swaps the Recon fork for a more Pike-like Suntour Aion.

Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 140/150mm
Headtube Angle: 67°
giant-bicycles.com

 

Penny Pincher: Jeffsy AL One -- $2,250 (reg. $3,000)

YT Jeffsy AL One 27:29
You really can't have a conversation about bikes that are worth their price without talking about the Jeffsy, especially when the aluminum, one-by drivetrain model is model is marked down to $2,250 from a still-not-bad $3000. The Pike RC fork, Guide RS brakes and DT  M1900 Spline wheelset are well-suited, even for a bike at the Jeffsy AL One’s original price. But act fast, these are closeout prices for a reason. If you miss the window on these 2017’s, you'll have to wait for the 2018 models to roll out to see if YT can compete with Canyon's pricing. Go ahead, consumer-direct brands, battle it out.
Wheels: 27.5/29
Travel (R/F): 150/150mm (27.5), 140/140mm (29)
Headtube Angle: 66.5° – 67° (27.5), 67° – 67.5° (29)
yt-industries.com

 

Splurge: Specialized Stumpjumper Expert -- $4,400

Stumpjumper Expert 29
What's a $4,400 Stumpjumper doing here? It's an example of how much you might have to spend to get a bike that has an objectively better spec than the Canyon Spectral. That being said, this Stumpy is a killer value in its own right, with a carbon frame and wheels and an Eagle GX drivetrain making up the fundamentals of this bank-breaking value. It got a significant bump in travel since its last update, but it’s still significantly shorter in the cockpit and wheelbase than most bikes in its category. Maybe it’s fitting that such a classic model would have relatively classic geometry.
Wheels: 27.5/29/27.5+
Travel (R/F): 150/150mm (27.5), 135/150mm (29, 27.5+)
Headtube Angle: 67°
specialized.com

Long Travel: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500

Top Pick: Process 153SE -- $2,200

Kona Process 153 SE
What Kona has done here, presumably, is taken some left over Process 153 frames and outfitted them with a 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.
Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 153/160mm
Headtube Angle: 65.5°
konaworld.com

 

Runner Up & Penny Pincher: Capra AL -- $1,950 (reg. $2600)

YT Capra AL
At $1,950, the only reason the Capra AL isn't our top pick and penny pincher is because it's currently on closeout as a 2017 model. All sizes but the XL are in stock as of writing, though, so get on it! The Lyrik RC fork, Monarch Plus R shock, SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain and DT Swiss E1900 wheels make this an unbeatable long-travel option.
Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 165/170mm
Headtube Angle: 65°
yt-industries.com

 

Honorable Mention: Commencal Meta SX V3 -- $2,400

Commencal Meta SX
By the numbers, the Meta SX will lend itself to jibs and jumps--it isn't too long, but is plenty slack and squishy. This build includes a 170-millimeter-travel RockShox Lyrik RC, a Monarch Plus RC3 shock, SRAM NX 11-speed drivetrain, and Maxxis High Roller II tires, though it should be noted the Meta SX doesn’t run on Boost rear spacing. The NX cranks are a little under-gunned for a bike this gnarly, but the Meta SX is a great example of a brand putting your money into higher-priced and (ideally) longer-lasting hardware like frame and suspension. Case in point; a dropper post is not included, but that won't matter when you do most of your climbing seated on a chairlift or in a pickup truck.
Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 160/170mm
Headtube Angle: 65.5°
commencalusa.com

 

Splurge: Commencal Meta AM V4.2 -- $2,600

Commencal Meta AM V4.2
If you appreciate Commencal's swoopy aluminum frames, but want more traditional long and low geometry than the Meta SX offers, and if you can forgive us for breaking the budget by $100, the Meta AM is the way to go. This enduro-worthy rock banger comes equipped with a similar spec to the SX, plus a more traditional but more modern RockShox Deluxe shock and gets updated to Boost spacing. Also unlike the Meta SX, the AM version is spec’d with a dropper post, but Commencal maxed out the length at 125 millimeters, even on large and XL frames. The Level T brakes are things of lighter-weight builds, but the 180 and 200-millimeter rotors should slow you down just fine.

Wheels: 27.5
Travel (R/F): 160/170mm
Headtube Angle: 65.5°
commencalusa.com

Related to The Best Mountain Bikes Under $2,500:
The 2018 Bible is Here

The 10 Best Hardtails Under $2,000

11 of The Best Bikes for Your Money in 2017