What’s the best hardtail bike for a mountain-biking beginner?

I just starting to mountain bike, and I have no idea how to find the right bike for me. I don’t do hardcore trails, and I know that I want a hardtail. I have been looking at Marin bikes such as the Palisades and Juniper, but my preferred price is around $550. Have any suggestions? John Auburn, Alabama

Oct 29, 2007
Outside Magazine
Giant Yukon Mountain Bike

Yukon Mountain Bike


These days I ride a dual-suspension bike almost exclusively (a Marin), but I still think there’s a lot to be said for a hardtail. They’re lighter, mechanically more reliable, and, in the lower price ranges, more efficient than dualies. I was pleased to read in Bicycling magazine the other day that one of the big bike companies had recently come out with a really high-end hard-tail. Of course, it was something like $4,000.

The Marin Palisades Trail and Juniper Trail (marinbikes.com) are both more affordable trail-runners. The Palisades Trail, for instance, uses a hydroformed aluminum for its newly designed stiff, light frame. Hayes hydraulic disc brakes front and back offer good stop; reliable Shimano Deore and LX running gear, along with a TruVativ crank, handle the go. It has a nice front fork, too—a Marzocchi MZ. One problem: The list price is $960. While that’s a lot of bike for the money, it’s outside your stated budget (also, keep in mind the Juniper Trail is identical, but designed for women). Marin’s Bobcat Trail ($600) offers slightly lesser components and frame, but it still gives you the light weight of aluminum and a quality bike.

Several other brands offer excellent value, as well. Giant Bicycles (giant-bicycles.com), for instance, has economies of scale as the world’s biggest bike maker. Its Yukon is an excellent little hardtail for $550. It sports an aluminum frame, mostly Shimano gear, RockShox fork, and Hayes disc brakes. And REI’s house-brand bikes (rei.com), which carry the Novara label, are a lot of bike for the buck. The Bonanza, for instance, offers a frame that’s on par with the Marin Palisades Trail, plus a mix of gear similar to the Giant. It’s basically a $750 bike that sells for $560 and is well worth a look.

Check out the new 2007-2008 Winter Outside Buyer’s Guide, packed with reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves. It’s available on newsstands now.

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