Bike finder: Which long-distance trail bike should I buy?

Cycling UK member Andrew Venables of Leeds is looking for a rigid mountain bike to use on long-distance cross-country trails. Cycle magazine’s experts identified a few likely candidates

Long-distance trail bike

For: Andrew Venables, age 67, from Leeds.

Bike needs: I’m looking for a rigid mountain bike for long-distance cross-country trails, like the ones in the Bike finder article in the December 21/January 22 issue (Which rigid mountain bike should I buy?). It needs to be light so I can carry it. I’m considering the Islabikes Jimi but wonder whether I’d be better off with plus-sized tyres for something like the Great North Trail, for the better cushioning and rough surface control. I fractured my pelvis and shoulder earlier this year and want to be as comfortable as possible.

Must have: Be lightweight. Have simple 1× gearing or a hub gear but not a Rohloff.

Must not have: Suspension.

Budget: £1,000-£2,000.

Guy Kesteven

As you say, we’ve covered a similar request to yours before – in fact, several times, which makes the rarity of such bikes particularly frustrating.

The Jimi is a lovely bike, and the alloy frame and carbon fork certainly make it light. The dropped frame makes it easy to get on and off but also limits the number of mounting points for bags and bottles. Additionally, the Vee Rail tyres are more hybrid than MTB and are only 2.25in wide.

We’ve already gone through options from On-One and Sonder in previous Bike finder answers, but one bike we’ve not talked about before is the Kona Unit X (£1,699). This uses the slim steel tube frame and fork and low standover height that have characterised Kona’s iconic bikes since the late 1980s

These features provide a lovely springy ride that the Unit X enhances with 29×2.6in tyres. The rims and tyres are tubeless ready, giving you the option of removing the inner tubes and using sealant for safer lower-pressure riding.

You get 12-speed Shimano Deore gearing with a wide range 10-51 tooth cassette. Shimano hydraulic disc brakes mean you’ll be fine controlling a loaded bike down the long, steep descents of the Pennines and Scotland on the Great North Trail. There are plenty of bottle and bag mounts on the fork and frame so you can stay fed and watered on the sections without refuelling stops. It’s well priced for a bike that’s sold through proper bike shops rather than direct sale.

Kona Unit X £1,699

Dan Joyce

Kona’s Unit X was the first bike on my list, too. Its 29×2.6in tyres should be fine for the riding you describe. If you want to go wider, the fork will take a 29×3in tyre and a 29×2.8in should fit the rear.

I’d suggest swapping the handlebar for a Jeff Jones-style backswept model, such as the Jones SG Loop H-Bar (£149) or On-One Geoff (£29.99). This should improve hand and shoulder comfort on longer, rougher rides, but you’ll likely need to fit longer brake hoses and a longer gear cable. I’d expect the Unit X to weigh around 14kg, set up like this.

The Sonder Frontier Rigid I mentioned before would also work well. It now comes with 27.5×2.8in tyres by default but could be fitted with 29×3.0 at the front and 29×2.5 at the rear if you wanted larger diameter wheels. Again, I’d recommend a Jones/Geoff handlebar. As it’s aluminium, the Sonder is lighter than the steel Kona; the one I tested was 12.8kg (without pedals).

If you want to go lighter still, there is another option: the Titus Silk Road SRAM GX Titanium Adventure Bike from Planet X (£1,899), which weighs a claimed 11.4kg, thanks to its titanium frame and carbon fork. Planet X might even sell it to you with the On-One Geoff handlebar ready fitted; it’s worth asking.

While it comes with 29×2.3in tyres, it will fit up to 29×2.6in; expect to spend £100-£120 on a pair. Bigger tyres and a heavier handlebar will bump up the weight but it’ll still be lighter than the Sonder or Kona. The Ti Rove from Spa Cycles is a similar bike but just over your price limit.

Titus Silk Road £1,899

Which bike should I buy?

It’s a question that comes up again and again – and Cycle’s experts are here to help.

In each issue of the magazine we provide expert advice and suggestions for one cyclist on buying, equipping and even adapting their perfect bike.

Everyone is welcome to submit queries and we particularly welcome questions from new and returnee cyclists; cyclists looking to get started in another cycling discipline that they’re unfamiliar with; and cyclists who can’t find the kind of cycle they’re looking for in their local shop.

If you need help finding the right bike for you, let us help.

An archeologist-turned-MTB-writer, Guy Kesteven has tested bikes for more than 23 years. He runs his own YouTube channel and Facebook page. He has also written the guides for two of our long-distance routes, King Alfred’s Way and West Kernow Way.

Guy is a valued contributor to the Cycling UK website and Cycle magazine, writing articles to share his invaluable bikepacking and off-road expertise.

Dan Joyce has been the editor of Cycling UK’s magazine, Cycle, for more than 20 years and has been a cycling journalist since 1991.