Bike finder: which rigid mountain bike should I buy?

Our expert bike recommendations
Paul Thompson from Milton Keynes wants a rigid mountain bike suitable for commuting but also for short off-road rides on forest trails, canal towpaths and bridleways. He asked our Cycle magazine panel of experts for advice

Rigid mountain bike

For: Paul Thompson, age 55, from Milton Keynes

Bike needs: I’d like something for commuting and fun. Not long rides, but lots of short ones. I love going off-road, but I’m not very rad. So: forest trails, canal-side paths, bridleways, as well as badly-maintained cycle paths.

Must have: I’d really like 1×11 or 1×12 gears.

Must not have: Suspension.

Budget: Ideally £1,000. I guess I could go to £1,200.

Guy Kesteven

One thousand pounds is a decent amount of money but not wanting suspension narrows your options considerably. Most mainstream brands assume that everyone wants the extra cost and complexity of a suspension fork.

On-One have two options, the best of which will depend on your attitude to weight. The Bootzipper (£799.99 at time of writing) is their all-steel, rigid-fork adventure bike. The slim steel tubes and fork give a smooth, gliding ride, particularly in the 29er wheel format. It comes with all the fixtures you’re likely to need for bottles, cages, mudguards and bikepacking bags, and it has 1×12 speed SRAM SX Eagle gearing.

The only downside is that the frame and fork are pretty heavy, so it’s no lighter than a bike with an alloy frame and suspension fork. I’d suggest upgrading the tyres to something faster and lighter than the standard Fire XC Sport tyres. On One let you tweak the build if you ask nicely, though, and generally have a good stock of Vittoria rubber– in which case the AKA would be a good choice.

If you want something faster and feistier, then the On-One Whippet (currently £1199.99) has a full carbon frame and fork. It’s a lot lighter and has a sportier ride in general. Broad WTB rims and a wide riser bar still give it a surefooted, power-assisted steering feel if you end up going quicker than you expected in the woods. It too comes with SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed, but there are fewer fixtures for bags, mudguards, etc.

On One Bootzipper 29er SRAM SX £799.99

Dan Joyce

The Sonder Frontier (from £849) ticks all your boxes. It’s a cross-country aluminium hardtail that you can buy with either a 100mm suspension fork or a rigid aluminium fork. Other options include: 1×12 Deore or 1×12 SRAM SX Eagle (Deore adds £100); and 29er or 27.5+ wheels (no price difference).

I tested a rigid SRAM SX model with 27.5+ wheels earlier last year. It was £50 cheaper then but it remains good value for money. There are frame fittings for mudguards and luggage cages, so it’ll work for commuting or bikepacking as well as mountain biking. You could fit a rear pannier rack if you added a seatpost clamp with integral eyelets.

For the riding you describe, I’d recommend 29er wheels rather than 27.5+. It doesn’t sound like you need the cushioning and rough-surface control that plus-tyres provide, and 29er tyres will be less draggy on tarmac and smoother trails. Wide gravel tyres such as Schwalbe’s G-One Allround in 57-622 (£36.99 each) might work better than mountain bike tyres for the same reason.

The combination of a rigid fork and a flat or riser bar can be hard on the hands, even with 29er tyres. If it’s a problem, try comfier grips (e.g. ESI Chunky Grips, £16) in combination with Cane Creek Ergo Control bar ends (£29.99). A back-swept loop handlebar like the On-One Geoff (£29.99) also works well, but you’ll need to fit longer brake hoses and a longer gear cable.

Sonder Frontier SX Eagle Rigid £849

What bike should I buy?

It is the one question that comes up again and again. What bike should I buy? Cycle's experts are here to help you.

In each issue of the magazine we'll provide expert advice and suggestions for one cyclist on buying, equipping, and if necessary 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 bike they're looking for in their local shop.

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

Our experts

An archeologist-turned-MTB-writer, Guy Kesteven has tested bikes for over 23 years, Guy 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 also 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 over 20 years and has been a cycling journalist since 1991.