If you're looking for a good all-round mountain bike, but feel overwhelmed by the breadth of choice available, a trail mountain bike could be the answer.
A real workhorse of a bike, the right one can gobble anything you throw at it. The best thing is you don't have to blow your whole life's savings to get something solid, either.
But what is a trail bike? There are many varying interpretations of this – it’s pretty open-ended – but most define ‘trail’ as a full suspension bike that will be fun and reliable for trail centre adventures, local rides, epic jaunts up in the mountains and Sunday razzing alike.
These aren’t bikes for Enduro World Series thrashing (that's what enduro bikes are for), and they aren’t lightweight cross-country steeds either, but trail bikes have been getting increasingly versatile as technology, geometry, and wheel size has evolved.
Trail mountain bikes balance weight, geometry and practicality in order to ensure fun times are had on the flat, the uphills and the descents, making them the perfect option for shredding pretty much anything in lower mountains and rolling terrain.
Not sure where to start in your search? These are the most exciting trail mountain bikes you can buy in 2021.
1. YT Industries Izzo
Direct-sales brand YT Industries specialises in producing extraordinarily good value, high performance bikes. The Izzo is the brand’s entry into the trail sector and it represents YT’s preference for gravity-fuelled riding.
Slack angles on a low-slung frame with short chainstays make for confident descending and a bike that likes to be thrown around on the trail. YT even says the carbon-fibre Izzo is happy taking in enduro laps, all-day epics or just riding along the river to get an ice cream.
Six Izzo builds provide solid options for modest budgets, and the all-singing-and-dancing high-end models feature components normally found on more costly bikes.
2. Nukeproof Reactor
Nukeproof has gone to the significant lengths of creating not one but four different versions of its Reactor trail bike – riders can choose between 27.5" and 29” wheel size on a carbon fibre or alloy frame. The level of choice available shows just how popular this style of bike is, especially for riding in smaller hills and mountains.
Select the smaller wheel size for manoeuvrability or go for the wagon wheels for all-out speed, Nukeproof says. Then, choose a low/slack or high/steep setting – Rail or Trail – by flipping the geometry flip chip. And finally smash the uphills as well as the descents thanks to the suspension tune that is designed for stable pedalling with enough support to hit turns and jumps hard when rolling at speed.
As well as the wheel size and frame material options, a number of different builds also includes an ‘ST’ 29” bike with slightly shorter 125mm travel and an ‘RS’ version with 10mm extra fork travel.
3. Norco Optic
Canadian mountain biking is all about technical riding and that is reflected in the bikes made by Norco, which hails from the epicentre of the sport in British Colombia. Norco is unapologetic in stating the Optic’s intentions as a corner- and jump-loving bike aimed at fun descents and tearing it up when you are hard on the pedals.
The Optic employs Norco’s Ride Aligned research and setup-aiding app to ensure the bike’s rider is centred on the bike for maximum grip and stability. The Optic range features five price point models all based around the same carbon fibre frame. There is also a frame-only option if you’d prefer to go fully custom on the build kit.
4. Specialized Stumpjumper EVO
The Stumpjumper is Specialized’s flagship trail mountain bike, with the EVO version being, the brand says, its ‘rippingest’ ever. What that means on paper is angles and intentions usually reserved for longer-travel enduro or freeride bikes.
A stiff – but not too stiff (according to Specialized) – carbon fibre frame construction, adjustable head angle that is tweaked by spinning an eccentric upper headset cup, low bottom bracket height (also adjustable with shock linkage flip chips to make it even lower) and plenty of progressive support in the suspension alludes to the Stumpjumper EVO’s penchant for downhills and jumps. Plus, an aftermarket MulletLink allows you to swap the rear wheel for a smaller 27.5” wheel if mullets are your thing.
Specialized’s trademark internal SWAT box (a stash box under the water bottle) is roomy enough for extra water, tools, and some trail-side snacks. The pricing of the four models is not for the faint hearted, but you get a superbly finished bike.
5. Pace RC295
British company Pace has been around the mountain biking scene since the very start. Back in the early days, the brand made its mark with its famously square tubing. Now its RC295 is causing a stir in the UK for its capability in all terrain and situations.
While Pace claims the RC295 is as happy racing enduro stages as it is pedalling around your local singletrack loop, it manages this on just 135mm rear wheel travel. The rest is in the bike’s relatively limit-pushing geometry, longer-travel 150mm fork and its quality construction.
Dealing with a small company like Pace also means simplicity: you speak directly with the factory and can also ask for a range of build kit customisations.
6. Santa Cruz 5010
Santa Cruz’s latest 5010 is a playbike built for trail riding at the extreme end of things – it’s made for pedalling and singletrack riding but is great fun for jumps and stunts too.
Sharp angles, including size-specific chainstay lengths, and 27.5” wheels give the 5010 its responsive ride. But its Virtual Pivot Point suspension system promises a bottomless feeling beyond the bike’s modest 130mm travel. The latest model features a 140mm fork up front (previously the 5010 had 130/130 travel) for a confident ride.
Santa Cruz offers two carbon fibre frame options, C and CC, with the latter being a higher-grade construction resulting in a lighter frame.
7. Pivot Switchblade
While all of Pivot’s bikes fall firmly into the superbike category (that is to say, they are eye-wateringly expensive), the American brand keeps hitting the nail on the head with its designs, and the Switchblade is no exception.
Pivot puts the 2021 Switchblade in the ‘all-mountain’ category, but its 142mm rear travel and promise to ‘conquer the entire mountain’ put it in line with the other bikes in this list. The all-new carbon fibre frame offers roomy standover (meaning a low-slung top tube), as well as reduced weight, space for longer dropper seatposts and a steeper seat angle than its predecessor.
There is a wide range of build kits available but be sure to forewarn your bank manager before ordering.