Are you considering purchasing a new hardtail mountain bike? If you have taken a look at mountain bikes recently you likely have been blown away by all the options that are out there on the market.
It can be challenging to sort through all of the options and narrow it down to some models that will be best for you.
There are full-suspension, hardtail, and the old school bikes with no suspension whatsoever. There are also different wheel sizes, 26”, 27.5” / 650b, and 29ers. How are you supposed to know what you want? Well, keep reading to find out!
We put in all the leg work for you and are going to bring you some of the top options for a hardtail mountain bike under $1500.
This is a pretty common category and price point that a lot of people find themselves in when they are looking for their first or second mountain bike.
At this price, you can get a good level of performance without breaking the bank, and it will really allow you to get a good taste and decide if this is something that you want to get into more, or not.
Alright, let’s get started with the buyers’ guide. First, we will talk about some of our top picks, and then after that, we will talk about what we look for in mountain bikes and what makes our picks good choices for the common mountain biker who is at the beginner to intermediate skill level and is looking for a bike that can grow with them.
Co-op Cycles DRT 2.1 (or 2.2)
The DRT 2.2 from Co-op cycles is normally a bit over $1,500 (view last price here), but at the time of writing the initial version of this article, the price had been discounted down to $1,200, which made it a steal!
The new model for 2021 is above $1,500 so now we recommend the DRT 2.1 which is within the budget. These bikes are a part of REI’s house brand, and they are known for providing exceptional value.
These bikes have a bit more aggressive frame geometry compared to some of our other recommendations. It is hard to say who will vs who will not like a frame like this, so our best advice is really to get out there and give all the bikes a shot.
The worst-case scenario is you don’t like any of them a wasted an hour or an hour and a half, but at least you didn’t waste any money on a bike that you didn’t like!
The DRT 2.2 and 2.1 are aluminum-framed hardtail mountain bikes, and they come stock with 27.5” wheels. They also include a dropper seat post which is a nice touch, and you will find it convenient when you are sending it down a downhill run and want the room to maneuver!
The frame is compatible with 29” wheels if you would like the bike to feel more like a cross-country set up than a more aggressive downhill/adventure setup.
They feature hydraulic disc brakes which will keep you safe and allow you to stop whenever and wherever you need to. The DRT 2.2 bike comes with a suspension fork that has 120mm of travel.
All in all, at these prices it would be pretty tough to go wrong with these bikes. At $1,200 it was probably one of the best deals on our list, hands down, and if you get the opportunity to get your hands on one you should not pass it up.
For more information, check out the following links:
Cannondale Trail SE 3
The Cannondale Trail SE 3 is a pretty sweet hardtail. You can choose between a medium, large or extra large size and all of them come with 29” wheels.
The Trail 3 features a Shimano Deore M5100 groupset which is known for its crisp shifting, and it also comes stock with a RockShox fork with 120mm of suspension travel.
The bike is a 11-speed bike so you know that you will always be able to find a gear ration suitable for whatever your ride brings you.
Once you get going fast, you are going to want a way to slow down. The hydraulic disc brakes are just what the doctor ordered, slowing you down quickly and smoothly every time.
The wheels are made by WTB, and they are tubeless-ready meaning that you can pick up some tubeless tires and be rocking lower pressures before you know it! Trail 3 is priced at $1,300, which is a good price for a bike of this quality.
The Cannondale Trail SE 3 is available through REI by following this link:
Fuji Tahoe 29 1.3
For a 29″ wheeled bike, the Fuji Tahoe 29 1.3 is very agile and fun to ride. The entertainment factor comes from the short wheelbase and low ride height. The Tahoe’s geometry allows you to ride it aggressively, but you can also enjoy more sedate rides in comfort, making it a true all-rounder.
Its 29″ wheels smoothly roll over rocks and roots, but this is enhanced by the RockShox Judy Gold RL R fork. This fork has 100mm of travel, but you can lock it out to increase pedaling efficiency on the flat and while climbing steep hills.
Pedaling is super easy, thanks to the 2 x 11-speed Shimano drivetrain, while the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with a 180mm rotor on the front and a 160mm on the rear keep your speed in check.
If you are looking for a bike that you can feel at home on during laid back rides with the kids or entering cross country races, the Fuji Tahoe 29 1.3 is the bike that can do it all.
Ghost Kato 5.9
The Ghost Kato 5.9 is a great mountain bike for somebody that is just looking to get into the sport. While Ghost is a little bit of a lesser-known brand, that does not mean they are not producing the same quality bikes that other manufacturers are producing.
They really knocked it out of the park with the Kato 5.9. The bike features an SRAM SX Eagle groupset, just like the more expensive Cannondale we’ll mention below.
It also comes with a RockShox fork, and while it only has 100mm of travel, that still makes a big difference in comfort and traction when you are on the trail.
The 29” wheels allow you to cruise over obstacles that would leave other riders on different bikes walking their bike around or over the obstacle, and the hydraulic disc brakes will allow you to stop on a dime should you need to.
The rims are Alex TD19s, which are well-known for their strength and durability. Overall this bike should definitely be a contender on your list, especially at a price point of $1,095.
The Ghost Kato 5.9 can be purchased at REI by following this link:
The next bike we are going to take a look at is the Salsa Timberjack. It features Shimano Deore components and has 27.5” wheels, which are great in a variety of terrains and conditions.
Salsa is a great brand that specializes in making off-road adventure bikes, so you can feel confident that a lot of research went into the development of this frame.
It has 130mm of suspension travel in the fork which is more than enough to get you through the toughest trails, and it also has hydraulic disk brakes which will provide fantastic stopping power.
The bike also comes stock with a dropper seat post, which will allow you to really get technical when you are out of the saddle.
Coming in at a low price of $1,100, this bike would be a great bike to get started with mountain biking or to improve your skills. It certainly will not be a bike you outgrow anytime soon.
The Salsa Timberjack is available at REI through the following link:
Trek Roscoe 7
The Trek Roscoe 7 is a high-end hardtail trail bike that is designed to be ridden hard. Its aggressive geometry instills confidence on rough terrain, as does its 27.5″+ wheels. This wheel size gives you playful and agile handling, while the extra width improves traction when riding off-road.
Trek has fitted the Roscoe 7 with the fantastic 12-speed SX Eagle drivetrain. Therefore you can be confident that you will have crisp and reliable shifting to get you up the steepest climbs.
Another quality component you will love is the RockShox Judy SL air-sprung fork. This fork is adjustable to suit the rider’s weight, but it also provides a smooth and almost silent ride on techy descents.
For a bike of this type, featuring these components, the Trek Roscoe 7 is very well priced. Straight out of the box, this bike is competent and lots of fun to ride. You won’t feel the urge to start upgrading components straight away, but you will want to take it out on the trails as much as possible.
What To Look For When Buying a Hardtail Mountain Bike
So now that we have talked about some of our recommended hardtail mountain bikes, let’s break down what we look for and why.
First- Frame material. The frame material can play a big role in how a bike handles and responds to the trail. Steel can be heavy, yet forgiving, while aluminum gives you weight savings but can be a little jarring on certain trails.
Carbon is an excellent mixture of the two, combining lightweight and bump absorption.
The second thing that we look for is wheel size. The larger the wheel size, the more obstacles you will just be able to roll over, and the easier it will be to do that.
On the contrary, people sometimes find larger wheels like 29ers to feel sluggish on the trail which isn’t very exciting.
While a few years ago 29ers were all the rage, the new kid on the block that everybody is obsessed with is the 27.5” wheel, also known as 650b wheels.
They combine the best of both worlds between a standard and sporty 26” mountain bike wheel and a larger yet sluggish-feeling 29” mountain bike wheel.
To be clear, we are not saying that a 29” wheel is actually slower than a 27.5” or 26” wheel, what we are saying is that it doesn’t feel as fast or snappy to the rider. Everybody likes different things, so don’t be afraid to give all three common sizes a shot.
The third thing we keep in mind when looking for new mountain bikes is the brakes. Disc brakes perform drastically better than rim brakes in all conditions, but it is especially noticeable in wet or muddy conditions.
If you are always riding in dry areas, it might not matter as much to you, though you will still notice increased braking power with a disc brake.
If you ever do any riding in wet conditions, you will notice a huge difference in braking power between disc brakes and rim brakes, and we can not recommend a bike with disc brakes enough.
While most components on a bike can be changed and upgraded as time goes on, there oftentimes are not the necessary mounting points on a frame and fork not originally intended for disc brakes.
Keep this in mind when you are shopping because you can always upgrade the derailleurs or saddle later, but if you buy a bike fitted with rim brakes you are probably going to be stuck with rim brakes for life.
When you are looking at new mountain bikes, one of the biggest improvements you can make is shedding some weight. If you are upgrading, make sure the bikes you are looking at don’t weigh more than your current mountain bike.
And if you are shopping for your first hardtail, prioritize weight savings over other aspects like derailleurs. A lighter weight bike will feel snappier on the trails and faster when you’re riding it, and it won’t be quite as tiring to ride fast compared to a comparable yet heavier bike.
One place where weight savings can make an especially big difference is in the wheels. Due to the fact that the wheels rotate around and around as you propel yourself forward, weight changes in the wheels can have dramatic effects on your ride quality.
The law of rotational mass says that for every 1 pound you save on your wheels, it will feel like you have lost 7 pounds from your bike.
Since it would be hard to ditch that much weight on your bike you should focus on obtaining the lightest weight wheels that you can.
Well, hopefully, you found this guide to be informative and helpful. It can be a challenging and stressful time when you are looking to purchase your first mountain bike.
There are so many choices, and just walking into a bike shop and taking a look at all of the options can be quite overwhelming, not to mention the pushy salespeople who won’t stop trying to get you into a $6,000 carbon fiber racing machine.
Now that you have read this article, hopefully, you understand what to look for in a good hardtail mountain bike, and maybe even have a few models you are interested in checking out.
Now when you go to the bike shop you will know what you are talking about, and will be educated on some of the choices out there. Have fun, stay safe, and remember that a bad day of riding is better than a good day at the office!
Jake V is an avid cyclist from Wisconsin. Over the last 12 years, he has explored the worlds of road biking, mountain biking, cyclocross, and urban riding. He currently has too many bikes (if that is even possible), but his favorite would be his Colnago EPS or Cinelli Tutto, depending on what kind of riding is in store for him that day. When he is not riding bikes, he likes to go sailing, skiing, and enjoy a few craft beers.