What mountain bike should I buy?
What mountain bike should I buy?
While some seasoned riders may have a fleet of bikes, most of us will most likely settle on one that covers all the jobs we’d most like it to perform, saving on space and budget. At least that’s a good starting point when you first begin riding – there’s always a chance to expand the collection at a later date!
As with buying any bike, you can spend from 100 quid to the best part of 10,000 pounds if you so desire, and everything in between. It can seem pretty confusing, but the most important thing is that it needs to be fit for purpose; we’ll help you make sense of the rest.
If you’re solely planning to ride to work predominantly on roads you may want to consider a zippier commuter alternative – you can still get options with fatter tyres and flat bars for comfort.
However, if your desire is to head off the beaten track and ride off road, on grassy fields, fire-roads and towpaths, or you want something to progress through the sport of XC (cross country) or DH (downhill), a mountain bike is the right option for you.
Women’s cycling is more popular than ever and while there are many great women’s specific designs available, there are unisex options that may serve you equally well. As with buying any type of bike, it’s important that it fits you correctly and that you’re comfortable.
A size medium can vary from brand to brand, for example, so you don’t want the frame to be too big, or too small. Check out whether you have a local bike shop who can help you if you’re not sure what size you need. All the brands featured here include a comprehensive size guide on their websites.
Wheel size has been a topic of debate in recent years, so it’s not a stupid question to ask why you’d need a different wheel size, because it’s not obvious! Most MTBs came with 26-inch wheels until what we refer to as ‘29ers’ came along – heavier, but arguably a better rolling performance for some people.
Splitting the difference, many of the brands we look at here come with 27.5-inch wheels on their best sellers, so in layman’s terms you’re getting the best of both worlds.
With cycling proving to be such a saviour during lockdown, many brands have sold out of their most popular bikes. However, we do urge you to shop around once you know what you want and look at local or independent bike shops and online retailers who may stock the brand you’re after.
There’s always bargain hunting to be had on the second-hand market too. See more on our guide on buying used bicycles, and what to look out for.
You can always change a saddle, but if you can find a bike that comes with one that you like then all the better. I know a lot of people assume a wider, bulkier saddle will offer more comfort, but that’s often not the case, as it can cause unnecessary rubbing. Saddles are such a personal contact point and I find a slimmer design, with a central dip or cut out can suit many women.
When it comes to the best women’s mountain bikes you’ll broadly be looking at two options: a hardtail or a full-suss. These days, a hardtail will offer a MTB frame suitable for cross-country mountain biking, most commonly with a front suspension fork.
A full-suss refers to a frame integrated with front and rear suspension. In the past this type of bike was considered only for the super-serious riders who were taking on the more extreme trails and jumps, but actually it’s a very enjoyable way of getting into the sport on a more forgiving machine, if you can justify the spend.
In the past you’d have to fork out – pardon the pun – a pretty significant wad of cash to know you were getting a decent bike with full suspension, but happily, some prices are coming down making things more accessible. That said, you’re much better off getting a hardtail you’re confident in than a cheap full suss that seems too good to be true, because it probably is. As a rule of thumb you’ll definitely need to budget north of £1,000.
The same goes for front suspension on very cheap hardtails: you’re better off not having it at all than heavy, inefficient forks for show. Our range of best buys starts at a budget we would suggest will provide you with a reliable steed for stress-free, off-road miles.
I mentioned the vast range in price on the market, and generally the more you spend the better you’ll get in terms of wheels, technical spec, frame material, suspension, weight and general ride quality. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a really enjoyable ride at a lower cost, you just don’t want to go so low that it’s a false economy, and you want to upgrade after a couple of disappointing rides.
We’ve picked a range of prices that we believe offer clout at their respective price point, to suit every beginner budget.
Specialized Rockhopper 27.5
I’ve always been a big fan of the Specialized Rockhopper. It’s a name that’s been around since 1985; it was a hit back then and still is today in its ever-refining incarnations.
Starting at £425, the Rockhopper 27.5 offers a reliable hardtail with front suspension with a highly respected history of research and development, which is available to pretty much every budget.
If you can spend a few more pounds, the helpful compare guide on the Specialized website allows you to see where your hard-earned cash is going on the higher-priced bikes in the range. The model pictured features hydraulic disc brakes, an A1 premium butted alloy frame, neat internal cable routing, stealth rack mounts and is dropper post compatible. See the full spec and broad size range.
Voodoo Soukri 27.5" Women’s
Voodoo has always been synonymous with trust in my mind and a worthy buy in the world of mountain bikes, often at the spikey end when it came to budget. More recently, though, they’ve teamed up with Halfords to create a more accessible range at a lower price point, still offering the years of development expertise that all its fleets benefit from.
The Voodoo Soukri, once again, comes with 27.5" wheels, hydraulic disc brakes and a similar cost to the Specialized with an RRP of £450. You’ll find this is a really common starting point for a hardtail that will perform and stand the test of time. Available in 14-, 16- and 18-inch frames the Voodoo is finished off with Shimano Altus Shadow, 18 speed.
Vitus Sentier 27 Women’s
Kicking things up the price scale a little bit here at £849.99, I’ve chosen this women’s specific alloy design from Vitus, who say the award-winning Sentier is “much loved for its long, slack modern geometry.” When you’re starting out off-road this may not mean a huge amount to you, but essentially it’s a bike known for instilling confidence in its rider.
If you’re heading out to progress on the trails, this is a good hardtail option with X-Fusion RC32 130mm Boost forks to absorb rough ground beneath you. Fitted with Tektro brakes, Shimano Deore 10 speed drivetrain, finishing kit from Nukeproof and rolling on WTB ST wheels you’ll feel the quality.
Canyon Neuron WMN AL 6.0
Available in Storm Pearl or the Frozen Valentine pictured, I couldn’t resist starting my full-suss suggestions with this stunning machine, coming in at £1,749. When you’re first looking to ride off road this may look like a hefty price tag, but it’s really easy to see where the spend is going.
A bike like this will allow you to tackle anything a trail can throw at you and will be perfect for progressing on, if you want to work on your technical prowess. Canyon says: “130 mm of travel, a lightweight aluminium frame, women’s-specific contact points and a dropper post make the Neuron WMN AL 6.0 the ideal entry-level full suspension mountain bike.” The frame comes complete with RockShox Judy Silver and Shimano Deore XT M8100 SGS.
Cannondale Habit Carbon SE 2021
You may have noticed we haven’t ventured into the realm of carbon fibre yet, and this is something that will most likely take you up to the next price bracket and for good reason when it comes to weight and ride feel.
This beauty from Cannondale is my ‘money no object’ pick of full suss MTBs and is fresh out from the 2021 range. OK, maybe sit down while I tell you the price. It’s £3,999.99, but I promise there are loads of options for staggering the cost.
Coming in this Rainbow Trout colour, it will not only turn heads on the trails, but will bring great confidence when it comes to components, frame and investing in the ultimate full package. Coming with the larger 29er wheel option, the Habit uses ‘proportional response’ to tailor the suspension layout by rider size so that every woman gets optimal control.
This is a broad overview of the vast options out there, with a few of my suggestions thrown in, but there are many more brilliant buys on the market so keep your eyes peeled for a bargain. If you only have around £100 to spend, there are budget buys on websites including Decathlon and eBay, but at that price you’ll be limited on how hard you can hit those trails!
Do you have burning questions you want answered about women’s cycling? You can ask Rebecca and our other experts.
Rebecca Charlton is a cycling journalist and one of our experts. If there's something you'd like to know about cycling please do ask her a question.