What women’s mountain bike should I buy?
Choosing your first mountain bike can be a daunting process, with a huge range of categories, models, sizes and prices on offer. Fear not: we’re here to help you narrow it down, and make sure you get the best mountain bike for you and the kind of riding you’d like to do.
First you need to think about what type of mountain biking suits your needs best, then whether you need a rigid, hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike, what your budget is and finally what sizing and spec will be best.
Different types of mountain bike
The different types of mountain bike on offer largely correspond to different racing disciplines. Regardless of whether you want to race or not, these categories help to find which will be best for the riding you want to do.
- Cross country (XC) – the most pedally bikes designed to take on longer distances over less technical terrain; suspension travel up to 100mm
- Downcountry – a relatively new classification, placed between XC and trail for a lightweight, pedally bike that’s still good on more technical trails; suspension travel up to 120mm
- Trail – perhaps the most popular option, offering a blend of downhill capability and pedalling efficiency for everyday trail riding; suspension travel 130-150mm
- Enduro – longer travel and slacker geometry for tackling steeper and more technical tracks while still being able to pedal between trails; suspension travel 160-180mm
- Downhill (DH) – designed for optimum descending over rough terrain and steep slopes, but rely on a motorised shuttle back to the top of the hill rather than pedalling; suspension travel 180mm and over
E-mountain bikes are also surging in popularity and can be found in almost all of these categories.
Full suspension or hardtail?
Within these categories you can find hardtails and full-suspension mountain bikes. Hardtails feature a suspension fork but no suspension to the rear, while full-suspension mountain bikes have both a suspension fork and shock. Hardtails tend to be favoured for less technical riding where pedalling efficiency is key, whereas full-suspension bikes are smoother over rougher terrain and bigger features on purpose-built mountain bike tracks.
Sizing and fit
Women’s cycling is more popular than ever and while there are a few 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.
You might be wondering what the difference between a unisex and a women’s-specific mountain bike is. Generally speaking, they will differ in terms of components including a women’s saddle, narrower handlebars and sometimes thinner grips.
Some brands also offer women’s bikes in smaller sizes than their unisex bikes. The suspension tune may also differ, with forks and shocks set up to accommodate a lighter average rider weight.
Saddle choice is deeply personal so there’s no guaranteeing that just because a bike is supplied with a women’s-specific saddle that you’ll get on with it. There are many options on the market with differing shapes, construction and features such as central channels and cut-outs.
Most brands now offer a sizing charts online to help you choose the best size for you. Don’t assume all mediums will be the same, for example, as just like clothes they do differ slightly from brand to brand. The best way to check sizing is to visit a trusted bike shop and swing your leg over some bikes to get a feel for sizing in the flesh.
From a couple of hundred pounds to ten thousand, and everything in between, there’s a huge variation in the price of mountain bikes out there.
Generally speaking, 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.
Some features that add cost include the frame material (carbon fibre will be more expensive than aluminium alloy), suspension design (full-suspension bikes will be more expensive than hardtails), high-spec groupsets and premium components.
Remember that besides the initial outlay for the bike and any accessories you’ll need, there’s also annual servicing costs for the bike to factor in, as well as for the suspension.
If you have a small budget but a big wishlist, check out the secondhand market for some real bargains. See more on our guide on buying used bicycles.
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-suspension mountain bike 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.
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 £449, 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 29 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 spiky end when it came to budget. More recently, though, the company has 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 comes with 29" wheels, hydraulic disc brakes and a slightly higher price compared to the Specialized with an RRP of £580. You’ll find this is a really common starting point for a hardtail that will perform and stand the test of time. Available in small, medium and large frames, the Voodoo is finished off with a single chainring drivetrain with wide-ranging 9-speed Microshift Advent gearing.
Vitus Sentier 27 VRW Women’s
Kicking things up the price scale a little bit here at £1,249.99 (though often discounted), I’ve chosen this women’s-specific alloy design from Vitus, which says 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 Marzocchi Bomber Z2 forks to absorb rough ground beneath you. The build comes with a Shimano Deore 11-speed drivetrain and brakes, finishing kit from Nukeproof and Vitus and rolls on alloy WTB rims shod with quality Schwalbe tyres.
Canyon Neuron WMN AL 6.0
Available in ‘Peak Blues’ or ‘Alps White’ (pictured), I couldn’t resist starting my full-suspension suggestions with this stunning machine, currently coming in at £1,849. 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.
The frame comes complete with Fox 34 Rhythm forks and a FOX Float DPS Performance shock, as well as a Shimano SLX drivetrain.
Cannondale Habit Carbon SE
You may have noticed we haven’t ventured into the realm of carbon fibre yet. This frame material is something that will take you up to the next price bracket, and for good reason, too, when it comes to weight and ride feel.
This beauty from Cannondale is my ‘money no object’ pick of full-suspension mountain bikes. OK, maybe sit down while I tell you the price. It’s £3,999.99.
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 a couple of hundred to spend, there are some budget buys on websites including Decathlon and eBay, but at that price you’ll be limited on how hard you can hit those trails!