Best Mountain Bike Brands of 2022-From high-end to budget, we break down the top bike brands for singletrack riders
For many mountain bikers, understanding the background, history, and ethos of a company has a major impact on the purchase of a new rig. However, with so many brands to choose from, it can be difficult to navigate the landscape and find a good match. From value-oriented companies like Co-op Cycles to high-end, carbon-only players like Yeti, the brands below stand out to us as the top in the business—after all, we’ve spent a lot of time on the trails testing bikes and soliciting input from fellow riders. Below we break down some of the most well-known mountain biking brands, including a brief history on each brand, each company’s most popular models, and what sets them apart from the competition.
Whats’s exciting about Specialized is that they continues to innovate year after year. For example, while many U.S. brands are just now launching e-bikes, Specialized has been leading the charge (no pun intended) with their Turbo Levo for years, and recently went the next step to partner with non-profit Call2Recycle to create a system for recycling all its e-bike batteries sold in the USA. The company also focuses on developing unique solutions to common problems—like creating its SWAT Technology (short for “Storage, Water, Air, and Tools”), which includes tool and tube storage built into some of their frames. However, Specialized still is a major brand and has had its fair share of hiccups.
One of the biggest brands in the business, Wisconsin-based Trek produces top-notch bikes across almost every price point. And while Trek is perhaps best known for its focus on road riding (made especially popular by Lance Armstrong in many Tour de France competitions), their mountain biking lineup is equally formidable. One of their most well-known models in this category is the Trek Fuel EX, a long-standing offering that has been lauded as a jack of all trades. And despite numerous changes over the past 10+ years to its geometry and design, Trek has done a great job retaining its do-it-all personality. Additionally, Trek has always stood behind their products with a lifetime warranty on frames. It’s also worth mentioning that Trek is one of the few big brands that allows you to fully customize your bike.
Santa Cruz is a bit of an anomaly in the cycling world. With only 14 dirt-focused models to choose from (including two e-MTB lines and a gravel grinder), the brand has been able to establish themselves as a major player in a relatively short amount of time (the company was founded in 1994). Perhaps even more notable, however, is the fact that they’ve been able to grow significantly large without sacrificing that boutique-brand feel. This impressive balancing act has led to a number of popular models over the years. Recent and notable additions to their lineup include the Nomad, Bronson (now made in a mixed-wheel setup), and Hightower, and longtime riders likely remember the Bullit, Driver 8, VP Free, and Heckler with fondness. Take a look around the parking lot and there’s a good chance that at least 25 percent of the riders are on one of the Santa Cruz models.
From a rider’s perspective, there’s a lot to like about Santa Cruz. Like many other companies, Santa Cruz offers a lifetime warranty on their frames. However, unlike the competition, the brand takes it one step further by applying that same warranty to all their bearings (if you ride in the muck regularly, you’ll come to appreciate this). Santa Cruz’s bikes also are very thoughtfully designed—you won’t find any subpar components and you can truly tell the designers are passionate about the sport. The big downside to purchasing a Santa Cruz bike is cost. In the end, you get what you pay for, but value-oriented options like Giant, Marin, and Diamondback often fit the bill better for most budget-conscious riders.
Founded in 1972, Taiwan-based Giant Manufacturing produces bike frames for many of the world’s top cycling brands. While this might come as a surprise, the fact is that there are only a handful of factories that make the vast majority of bikes, and Giant Manufacturing is one of the larger sources. Their in-house bike brand—known simply as Giant—started up a little later in 1981. It’s hard to talk about Giant without also mentioning the Trance line, which has been their go-to trail/all-mountain bike since its inception 15 years ago. While it’s by no means at the pinnacle of progressive geometry (the latest Trance X excluded), the Trance is a solid choice for riders who want one bike that can do it all.
Trek and Specialized get the edge in terms of worldwide brand recognition, but Giant is a major player in the industry. Every time I help someone search for a new bike, I end up coming back to Giant for their competitive pricing and solid reputation. While their bikes might not always push the envelope in tech and aggressive geometries, it’s simply hard to beat the value. And finally, it’s worth mentioning that Giant launched a sub-brand, Liv Cycling, in 2008, which is a women’s-only cycling brand that features a comprehensive collection of bikes and apparel designed for women and by women. In our experience, Liv products meet the same standard of quality we expect from Giant and can be a great option for everyone from beginners to experienced female riders.
If there’s one bike brand that riders lust over above all others, it’s Yeti. Founded in 1985 and currently based in Golden, Colorado, this now-rider-owned company has a long-standing history in racing. The brand has been known to seek out younger talent and foster them into formidable riders (some of the most well-known examples include John Tomac, Jared Graves, Richie Rude, Aaron Gwin, and Juliana Furtado). In terms of popular models, Yeti has mixed things up recently with their aggressive geometry and unique, varying-front-and-rear-wheel travel of the SB115, SB130, SB140, SB150, and SB165 models. Yeti bikes are typically known for at least one of three things: the company’s vibrant “Yeti Teal” frame color, the unique rear suspension platform known as Switch Infinity, and high cost.
Ibis Cycles, a boutique brand that tends to fly under the radar, is well-regarded within the MTB community for producing top-notch bikes. Founder Scot Nicol started Ibis in his garage in 1981. However, in 2005, the company reemerged and launched their popular Mojo carbon full-suspension mountain bike, which remains a staple in their lineup to this day. More recently, Ibis came out with a long-travel 29er, the Ripmo (and even more aggressive Ripmo AF), which can be found tearing up the enduro race scene under riders by the likes of Robin Wallner. Another interesting tidbit: the Ripmo is designed to fit riders as short as 5’0”, which isn’t common among bikes with 29-inch wheels.
Ibis focuses their efforts on only seven bikes: six full-suspension models (including the made-in-the-USA Exie) and one gravel grinder (the Hakka MX). Impressively, they are also one of the more reasonably priced boutique brands—for example, the popular Ripley AF’s frame clocks in at $2,199.
While not steeped in history like most of the other brands on this list, relative newcomer Pivot (started in 2007) has already made a name for themselves. But considering its founder, mountain biking legend Chris Cocalis, this rise to popularity doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, Pivot is known for pushing out high-quality carbon bikes covering a variety of disciplines. Popular models include their long-travel 29er, the Firebird 29, as well as the time-tested Mach 4. In addition, Pivot has another 13 models to choose from that cover everything from gravel/cyclocross to fat biking and e-MTB.
Similar to other boutique brands’ offerings, Pivot bikes don’t come cheap. While their frames are certainly standouts when it comes to craftsmanship and design, it can be hard to justify such a high price—for reference, their cheapest complete mountain bike comes in at over $5,000. Not to mention, Pivot provides a 10-year warranty. That said, Pivot places an undeniably strong focus on quality and it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.
Evil Bike Co.
Evil Bike Co. is one of the most intriguing brands to make our list. The Bellingham-based company takes a different approach to designing their rigs, heavily influenced by what the owner, Kevin Walsh, wants to ride. And considering that Evil was born in the Pacific Northwest where steep and rough trails are the norm, it should come as no surprise that their models are heavily descent-focused. This 29er put Evil on the map and showed riders what larger wheels were capable of. The short-travel rig features a relatively slack head-tube angle, is fun to ride, and happily gets airborne—all foreign concepts for 29ers back in 2015 when the Following made its debut.
As mentioned above, Evil does things a bit differently. Their modest lineup—six bikes in total—all share a punk-rock persona and don’t-mess-with-me attitude. The company is especially cheeky in their marketing campaigns, using slogans like “more better’er” and “tech crap” to poke fun at the rest of the industry. It’s worth mentioning that Transition Bikes, another Bellingham-based, downhill-focused company, shares the same attitude. And while the two differ significantly in price (Evil only offers carbon bikes) and suspension design, both brands’ primary focus is designing high-quality bikes that are especially fun to ride in the woods. Another commonality is that both companies recently updated their warranty policies from three years to lifetime.
Known for their unique approach to building and designing bicycles, Connecticut-based Cannondale has never been afraid to try new things. Some of their more noteworthy and polarizing designs over the years have been the one-sided Lefty fork and unique Headshok unit, both of which replaced standard suspension forks on some models. What truly sets Cannondale apart, however, has been their use of oversized aluminum tubing. In the 1980s, when most other companies were still building bike frames out of steel, Cannondale was taking a different approach with their lightweight alloy. Even today, the company still uses this material liberally in their lineup.
Washington-based Kona has achieved a sweet spot that few other brands have: They’re large enough to offer bikes for all ability levels, yet small enough to remain connected to the riding community and stay true to their roots. Kona’s mountain bikes always have been more about fun than anything else. Perhaps one of their most popular models over the years has been the Stinky lineup (late ‘90s to early 2000s)—the 130mm-travel “freeride” bike was well ahead of its time. Beyond mountain bikes, Kona also has a number of other styles in their lineup, including everything from fat bikes to commuters. And similar to other major brands on the list, Kona offers a lifetime warranty on all bike frames (excepting carbon models) produced after 2009.
YT Industries was one of the first direct-to-consumer companies to enter the U.S. bike market and has remained extremely popular ever since. Known for producing quality bikes with high-end parts for exceptionally low prices, the German-based brand has triggered an onslaught of “support-your-local-bike-shop” debates. If you’re looking to score the best bike for your money, it’s almost impossible not to be tempted by their low prices, which regularly undercut the brick-and-mortar competition by hundreds of dollars.
Where to Buy a Mountain Bike
While the vast majority of mountain bike sales are still happening at local shops (something we fully support), purchasing a rig online is becoming more common and much easier by the year (the COVID pandemic has certainly accelerated this too). We like Backcountry and Competitive Cyclist (which are jointly owned and share a lot of inventory) for their knowledgeable online staff, great fit tool, large selection of high-end offerings, and reasonable shipping costs. Other popular online bike retailers include Jenson USA, Chain Reaction Cycles, Evo, and Colorado Cyclist. REI Co-op, who is better known for their backpacking and camping gear, is another great source for mid-range and budget-oriented models. We like that you can order from the convenience of your home but then pick it up in the store for free–if for some reason you don’t like the color or fit of the bike, simply return it on the spot. Additionally, REI members get 10 percent back on full-priced items at the end of the year, which can add up if you’re buying an expensive mountain bike.
One final consideration for buying online is working with consumer-direct brands like YT Industries and Canyon. They forgo the middleman in the name of saving money and orders are placed directly through their website. These brands offer the most bang for your buck and are a great way to get a solid bike for hundreds, if not thousands, less than their competitors. And as mentioned above, working with your local bike shop may still be one of the best options out there. Their hands-on knowledge, combined with the fact that you’re able to test ride the bike before purchasing, makes for a great combination. Furthermore, should anything ever go wrong, it’s much easier to walk into a shop for advice than it is to call up an online retailer.