The Best Mountain Bikes of 2020
From hardtails to all-mountain rides, we found the best mountain bikes for every riding style and budget.
There are a lot of great bikes on the market right now. And while we love the range of options, it can be hard to know what to buy. But we’ve got you covered. We’ve spent months researching, testing, and obsessing about all things MTB to find the best mountain bikes of 2020.
Whether you’re a completely new rider looking for the best mountain bike under $1,000 or a seasoned athlete looking for a new ride, there’s something on this list for you.
We put these bikes through the wringer and logged some gnarly miles on all types of terrain. While testing, we considered performance, handling, comfort, price, and reliability.
And if you need more help deciding, be sure to read the buyer’s guide at the end of this article.
The Best Mountain Bikes of 2020
Best Overall: Pivot Switchblade ($6,799)
One of the most maneuverable, precise, and fun bikes you can buy, Pivot’s new Switchblade is a magical unicorn. It didn’t weigh us down on climbs, and when we encountered trail features that pushed the limits of our skill, the Switchblade helped us get over them with its 142mm rear and 160mm front travel.
The Switchblade has been in Pivot’s line for a long time, and the updates for 2020 are significant. They include progressive geometry that makes the bike more adept and agile in more situations as well as straighter tubes in a more compact frame that makes the bike lighter and stiffer, with more standover height on all sizes. This makes the bike easier to handle when the going gets tough. And it also broadens the range of riders that can comfortably ride it to 5’0”-6’7”.
A steeper seat tube accommodates a longer dropper post. And the bike uses a DW-Link shock mounted upside down to leave room enough in the frame’s main triangle for a water bottle cage or one of Pivot’s new bike-mounted tools.
Many times when one bike claims to be able to “do it all,” it doesn’t do any of it well. This bike is the exception. If you want a bike, not a quiver, to ride everything from technical cross-country to lift-served bike park laps, this is it.
We tested the Switchblade with 29er wheels. It was lively in corners and boosting off bumps and hips, and the suspension felt supportive both climbing and slamming into an unexpected hole at the bottom of a big roll. When we didn’t know what was coming, we repeatedly reached for this bike.
The massive gear range made even the steepest climbs manageable. And on downhills, the suspension design and extra-wide Superboost rear triangle gave this bike more ability to absorb big features and rider failures.
Wheel size: 27.5-plus or 29
Suspension: 160mm front, 142mm rear
Pros: Do-it-all bike for an all-mountain/enduro-focused rider, agile hill climber
Cons: Carbon frame means no budget option
Best MTB Under $1,000: Schwinn Axum ($498)
If you’re on a budget, a hardtail bike is the most economical option to get you rolling. Rail trails, rec paths, and smooth singletrack highlight the Axum’s abilities. This 29er bike has a rigid rear and a 100mm front suspension fork.
Climbing, a lockout on the fork kept us from bobbing around. Descending, we opened up the fork for a forgiving ride through bermed corners and down loamy, forest paths. The Axum has eight speeds, which was plenty to navigate rolling terrain.
Schwinn chose mechanical disc brakes for this bike, which stopped us on a dime at road crossings and trail junctions. Mechanical disc brakes are lower-maintenance and more affordable than hydraulic disc brakes, with significantly more stopping power than rim brakes.
The Axum’s 2.6-inch low-profile tread tires are wider than what’s specced on most cross-country bikes. The additional road contact gave this bike a stable feel that was confidence-inspiring for beginners.
The Axum has 29-inch rims, which also smooths out the terrain. Wide tires add weight, but they made the bike ride stable and made rolling over smaller obstacles a fun challenge.
Schwinn says this bike fits riders 5’4” to 6’2” tall. We’d say that riders on the upper end of that spectrum are going to be happier on the Axum than smaller ones.
Wheel size: 29
Suspension: 100mm front
Pros: Price is right
Cons: One size only
Best Hardtail: Rocky Mountain Growler 50 ($1,899)
Less maintenance, less money, and a crazy-fun ride. That’s what you can expect from the slack and capable Growler hardtail.
Rocky Mountain made this playful bike for people who love singletrack but can’t or don’t want to spend more than they need to for a great ride. We like the 50, the highest-end Growler because it has bells and whistles that make the ride compromise-free, like a high-quality RockShox 35 Gold RL 140mm 44mm offset fork, a dropper post, and SRAM 11-50 tooth Eagle cassette with 12 speeds.
The Growler has roughly the same geometry as a full-suspension enduro bike, without the rear-end squish. It has 29-inch wheels, a 64-degree head angle, a 75-degree seat tube angle, a 470mm reach, and a 1,237mm wheelbase rolling on 2.6-inch tires.
It powers through rocks and roots and gets you in the air to clear doubles before you rail the next berm. If you’re coming from a full-suspension bike, a hardtail can be a bit jarring.
But the Growler’s 2.6-inch WTB Trail Boss tires take the edge off, while the stiff frame put some spring into our climbs. Slack geometry, fat and grippy tires, and 29-inch wheels gave this bike more guts than we expected from a hardtail, though not as much as its full-suspension cousins. Run the tire pressure low to soften the ride.
Wheel size: 29
Suspension: 140mm front
Pros: Slack enough for technical riding
Cons: Heavy for a hardtail
Best E-Bike: Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp ($6,535)
This is the first eMTB that’s light enough to lift over a downed tree in the trail, and that looks and feels a lot like a fully pedal-powered mountain bike. This bike is meant for riding singletrack. A flip chip in the rear shock mount changes the head angle between 66 and 65.5 degrees and alters the bottom bracket height for more or less aggressive riding.
At just over 38 pounds, the Rockhopper-inspired Turbo Levo SL uses a gear-driven, magnesium casing 240W motor, the same one Specialized uses in its Turbo Creo road e-bike.
It drops half the motor weight and half the power of previous versions for twice the fun and assist that feels more like a boost from a friend riding next to you with their hand on your back than a motorcycle.
The bike got us up to 20 mph on a 3-hour ride that included a fire road so steep we would have had to push a pedal bike. And the battery was still at 50% post-ride. To recharge a fully spent battery takes less than 3 hours.
Like all e-bikes, the motor whines when it’s assisting, but it’s comparatively quiet. And on the SL, there wasn’t any jerkiness when the motor engaged and disengaged, as we’ve experienced on many e-bikes including the more powerful Turbo Levo.
The shock tune is e-bike-specific — firmer in the early stages of travel for better support while climbing, and squishier as you hammer on it harder.
Though this is the lightest eMTB, it’s still heavier than a comparably specced pure pedal bike. So on steep, bumpy downhills, the SL was delightfully stable when we pushed it hard into corners and at high speeds.
Wheel size: 29
Suspension: 150mm front, 150mm rear
Pros: Light, exceptional range
Cons: Whiny motor
Best All-Mountain: Yeti SB140
One of the most playful bikes we’ve ridden, Yeti’s SB140 is for the rider who wants to crank up climbs and hoot and holler on the downhill. With this bike, Yeti adopted the kinematics of long-travel 29ers to a smaller-wheel bike. The resulting ride is snappy, easy to pedal, quick to accelerate, and immediately responsive. It likes to hop, drift, and fly when you want to. And it was never flexy or twitchy.
The 65-degree head tube, long wheelbase, and low bottom bracket made this bike climb like a mountain goat, with no reason to lock the shock unless you’re pedaling asphalt. It aired off rocks and over gaps, and whipped through tight corners making home trails feel faster and more fun.
While it’s not the biggest bike, the suspension design gave us plenty of travel for big features without sacrificing small-bump compliance. Switch Infinity looks like a secondary shock tucked behind the seat tube. It functions like an extra pivot that switches direction as the bike moves through its travel, which kept us from bobbing on climbs and bottoming out on descents.
The FOX Transfer post is sized to fit the frame, from 125 mm in size XS to 170 mm in XL, fitting riders from 4’ 11” to 6’ 7”.
Wheel size: 27.5
Suspension: 160mm front, 140mm rear
Pros: Super playful, extremely agile
Cons: Price may be a barrier to entry
Best Women’s Mountain Bike: Liv Pique 29 2 ($3,000)
One of the things women’s-specific bikes do best is to give lighter riders a shock tune optimized for riders under 150 pounds. This cross-country bike is quick and agile, poppy and playful, with a light aluminum frame and 29-inch wheels across the full size range.
Designed for XC racing — with the same women’s-specific geometry Liv’s team is competing on in World Cup races — the bike has a tight 100mm front and rear travel, with a remote lockout to eliminate bob on climbs and a short-travel dropper. Cranks and stem length change as Liv goes from XS to L, but the wheel size does not.
We appreciated the stock 30-tooth front chainring with a 12-speed 10-51 tooth SLX cassette, which gave us the legs for long climbs on steep terrain. In all sizes, the bike was agile in corners, stiff and power transferring on climbs and flats.
Liv did an impressive job in keeping handling consistent across sizes without dropping to a 27.5-inch wheel, something many brands do, which changes a bike’s ride feel and handling. Even on the XS, there’s room for a water bottle in the frame.
Wheel size: 29
Suspension: 100mm front, 100mm rear
Pros: Consistent feel and handling across sizes
Cons: Rides short
Best Enduro Bike: Guerilla Gravity Gnarvana Ride ($3,895)
This long-travel 29er is made to dominate steep, technical, featured descents, to hit jumps and to land them, whether you’re in the bike park or riding desert dirt. But unlike a downhill bike, it’s a bike you can power uphill to get to the goods.
With 160mm rear travel and a 170mm fork with a slack, 63.7-degree head angle, FOX’s beefy 38 fork and DHX2 coil shock, this bike’s DNA is crushing descents. Other Guerilla Gravity bikes have Crush and Plush shock modes. The Gnarvana has Plush mode only because it’s inevitably headed into terrain that will use all the suspension it has to offer.
In the Gnarvana, a carbon front triangle pairs with an aluminum rear swingarm that can be swapped with Guerilla Gravity’s $445 seat stay kit to turn the Gnarvana into an all-mountain bike. But that change also requires a new fork and shock.
When we added up the costs and added time for labor, we found it’s nearly the same to buy a second bike. But the design helps Guerilla Gravity save on carbon molds, which keeps its bike prices low across the board.
The Gnarvana’s GeoAdjust headset means this bike can quickly fit spot-on for a wider range of riders. Each rider can tweak reach by 10 mm with a quick switch in the orientation of the headset cups.
It’s not the lightest bike, and there are certainly other bikes that are more agile climbing through tight switchbacks. But point the nose downhill, and the uphill inconveniences are beyond offset by the downhill fun when you let ‘er rip.
Wheel size: 29
Suspension: 170mm front, 160mm rear
Pros: Colorado-made, killer price, DH-capable
Cons: Not as nimble on climbs as some other long-travel 29ers
Best Budget Bike: Marin Hawk Hill 1 ($1,599)
It’s not worth spending money on full suspension unless that suspension will improve your ride. And this one does, at a price that can’t be beat. The aluminum frame Hawk Hill has 120mm rear and 130mm front suspension, with playful 27.5-inch wheels and a capable 10-speed drivetrain.
You give up a few gears with this bike over more expensive models. But what you don’t give up is the ability to tune your fork and shock to your body weight for a great ride. The suspension is responsive with good compression and rebound. It’s not quite as plush as on other bikes, but it got the job done.
The Hawk Hill has modern trail bike geometry — a 66.5-degree head angle, 74.5-degree seat tube angle, 18mm BB drop, long reach, short chainstays, and a short offset fork that climbed efficiently and that that didn’t buck us over the bars when the going got rough.
The kinematics are similar to what you’d find on a trail bike that’s twice the price. Hydraulic brakes helped us check our speed on descents. And we set up the tires tubeless so when we rode hard there’s be less chance of flats. The conversion was easy because the wheels come tubeless-ready.
If you ride a lot, the parts won’t last as long as on more expensive bikes. But you can upgrade brakes, wheels, or drivetrain as budget allows — or not. You might want to add a dropper post to get the most from this capable and affordable bike. But you can also wheel it out of the shop and head straight for the trail.
Wheel size: 27.5
Suspension: 130mm front, 120mm rear
Pros: Top-notch spec for the price
Cons: No dropper post
Best Cross-Country Bike: Cannondale Scalpel SE 2 ($4,000)
Built for speed, Cannondale’s Scalpel SE is zippy and fast. It has a responsive suspension that keeps the bike’s wheels in contact with the trail so you can go farther faster.
The cousin of Cannondale’s SI marathon race bike, the SE was created for speed without sacrifice. It’s built with a slack and stable 67-degree head tube, shorter stem, wider tires than on the SI, and a dropper post. The suspension platform is proprietary.
It uses a flexing chainstay instead of an extra pivot. This is a unique design the brand has fine-tuned over the past decade to minimize weight and maintenance without compromising compliance. Smaller SE sizes roll on 27.5-inch wheels instead of 29-inch wheels to keep the bike agile and quick handling across the board.
Dropper post length is also specific to bike size. With 100 mm on the smallest size to 150 mm on the largest, Cannondale uses short chainstays for lively and efficient climbing, and it does this while still leaving plenty of room for bigger tires and mud.
Traction on descents was impressive and made this race-inspired bike feel relaxed, capable, and confident rather than twitchy on downhills so we could descend without restraint.
An integrated wheel sensor recorded speed, route, and distance. We used it and Cannondale’s app to register our bike, schedule service, and to access owner’s manuals. The downtube has mounts for Cannondale’s new Stash on-board tool, which took weight out of our pockets and pack.
Wheel size: 27.5 or 29
Suspension: 120mm front, 120mm rear
Pros: Extremely capable and fast, women’s-specific builds also available
Cons: Stash tool kit not included
How to Choose the Best Mountain Bike
There are three things you need to think about before you start shopping for a mountain bike: where you’ll ride, how you’ll ride, and your budget.
Where Will You Ride?
If you live where it’s hilly, buy a bike with enough gears to get to the top without walking. Many mountain bikes now come with a 1x drivetrain with a single chainring in the front and a range of gears in the back.
Having one shifter instead of two makes choosing the right gear much simpler. It also makes the drivetrain and your bike lighter, and it cleans up your handlebar, making space for a dropper post lever.
If you buy your bike at a bike shop and not online, it’s easier to get your bike customized with a smaller front chainring to make hill climbing easier.
How Will You Ride?
Buy a bike to match your goals. If you’re all about speed, choose a fast and light bike. Dreaming of a bike that can do a little bit of everything? Opt for an all-mountain or trail setup, which will have more suspension than a cross-country bike and less than an enduro bike.
If you want to huck off big rocks and wooden jumps or ride lifts at a ski area with your bike and hit jump lines, get an enduro bike with enough suspension to handle the impacts, and also one that’s made for abuse because the worst kind of bike is a broken one.
If you’ll never leave the rec path, opt for a hardtail, which will save you the weight and money.
What’s Your Budget?
The general rule of thumb is the more money you spend on a bike, the lighter and more durable it will be. If you plan to do more technical riding, get the nicest frame you can afford. Parts can be upgraded, but in general, your frame can’t.
Also, get the bike with the best suspension you can afford. More responsive and tunable suspension will make you a better rider, and it will be more fun.
Bike Types Explained: XC, Enduro, Trail, All-Mountain
A cross-country bike is built for uphill and downhill speed as well as mellower terrain. Most cross-country bikes have 100mm suspension and come with 29-inch wheels, which are faster than 27.5-inch wheels.
To optimize for climbing, cross-country bikes usually have a steeper head tube angle. But recent advances in suspension design are blurring the line between XC and trail bikes.
A trail bike won’t be quite as light as a cross-country bike, and it will usually have more front and rear suspension. Trail bikes are fast uphill with geometry and suspension that’s forgiving and fun riding downhill.
An all-mountain bike is the most versatile style of mountain bike. It will take you almost anywhere you want to pedal.
With 120-130mm suspension in back, if you have your sights set on big rides that balance climbing and descending, a nimble all-mountain bike is the best choice. They rally through anything but the biggest downhill features.
An enduro bike is downhill-focused, but a bike you can still pedal. Enduro bikes are usually heavier than all-mountain and trail bikes because they have more front and rear travel, enabling you to sail through technical roots and rock gardens, over jumps, and down drops.
An enduro bike will have a noticeably slack geometry. Many enduro bikes now have shorter chainstays and other modern bike kinematics that make them as good pedaling uphill as crushing descents. But they’re made for races where the downhill is timed, but the uphill is not.
If you’re going to ride lifts and hit huge jumps and high speeds and never pedal uphill, buy a downhill bike. It will have a heavy reinforced double-crown fork with maximum available suspension to reduce flex and help you sail over the biggest jumps and drops.
Expect the bike to be so low and slack that uphill pedaling will be somewhere between a chore and a push. Downhill bikes are designed to rage downhill as fast as you’re willing to go.
Modern bikes have either 27.5- or 29-inch wheels. The smaller (27.5-inch) wheels are more nimble and easy to maneuver, and they often have a more playful feel on the trail. They’re also quick to get moving.
Twenty-nine-inch wheels take more energy to get rolling, but they hold their speed once they’re moving. They also roll over obstacles in the trail more easily than 27.5-inch wheels.
But don’t rule out a bike just because it doesn’t have the wheel size you think you want. A bike’s kinematics and frame design combine with wheel size to give each bike a unique “feel” and skill set, and sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re rolling without stopping to read the sidewall.
Fatter tires are heavier, but they’re also more stable. What kind of tread you need depends on where you’ll be riding.
A smoother tread is faster, but may also be more slippery. The fattest tires you’ll encounter on a mountain bike are 27.5-plus tires. These extra-wide tires typically measure 2.8 inches and give you confidence-inspiring stability and a more comfortable and forgiving ride.
They also have more rolling resistance, and they’re heavier than non-plus tires. Not every frame can accommodate plus tires. Check the manufacturer’s website.
Mountain bike frames are made from aluminum or carbon. An aluminum frame will be more affordable. Typically, a carbon frame will be more expensive and more forgiving.
Carbon dissipates shock better, and the manufacturer has more control over the characteristics of the bike because it can determine the shape and size of tubes as well as and reinforce and lighten the frame where it wishes.
All carbon is not created equal — many brands have multiple carbon layups. The most expensive carbon build is the lightest and most finely tuned.
A hardtail bike has front suspension, but no rear suspension. Buy one if you’re on a tight budget or if you’re riding relatively smooth terrain. Most hardtails are less expensive and lighter than comparably specced full-suspension bikes.
Many also come with wider tires that can supplement the bike’s suspension, especially if you ride with your tires set up tubeless and at lower pressure.
A full-suspension bike has a rear shock and a front suspension fork that compress and extend as you ride to make the ride less jarring and to keep your wheels in contact with the ground, increasing both traction and control.
The best full-suspension bikes won’t pogo. Most shocks and suspension forks can be locked out for more efficiency climbing. And most can also be tuned and adjusted to your weight, riding style, and personal preferences.
Ask your shop to help you set your bike up so you have the best experience regardless of how much or little you ride. If you’re getting bucked, or your bike feels too squishy or unresponsive, it’s probably your suspension. The more expensive your bike, the more advanced and tunable your suspension will be.
A dropper post is a seat post that you can raise and lower with a handlebar-mounted lever. If you’re riding singletrack and your bike doesn’t come with a dropper, add one.
It’s an easy upgrade and one that will instantly make you a better rider. Engage your dropper post, and your seat sinks, lowering your center of gravity to make riding technical terrain and downhills easier.
“Spec” refers to the parts on your bike, including drivetrain, brakes, fork and shock, and more. The more expensive a bike, the longer-wearing and more precisely functioning the parts will be.
Lube your drivetrain regularly. If you wait until it’s chirping, you waited too long. Use bicycle-specific lubricant, and apply one drop to every second link. Bike lube cleans and oils the chain.
If you can, leave the lube on the chain overnight. Then, before you ride, hold a rag over the chain while you spin the pedals backward to remove grit, grime, and extra lube.
If you have a full-suspension or front-suspension bike, manufacturers recommend that you have a shop service your suspension every 30 hours of riding. Check brake pads and cables for excessive wear regularly throughout the season.
Buy the Best Bike You Can Afford
When buying a bike, you get what you pay for. More expensive bikes will have longer-wearing parts, lighter and stronger frames, and better wheels.
Buy locally, and you’ll often get extras, including the option to demo bikes before you buy, a 30-day tune-up, professional advice to help you get the best bike for you, and assistance swapping out parts to get your bike dialed for you.
You’re also keeping money in your community. If you’re looking for a deal, ask your local shop if they’re selling their demos or if they have a previous-year bike priced to move.
Buy a bike you can grow into.
Have a favorite mountain bike we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.