The Best Mountain Bikes of 2017
It’s the golden era of mid-fats—and pretty much every other ride out there
It’s the golden era of mid-fats—and pretty much every other ride out there.
Juliana Joplin CC XO1 ($6,499 as tested) / Santa Cruz Tallboy ($6,600 as tested)
Gear of the Year
There are two bikes on these pages for one simple reason: the Joplin and the Tallboy won the hearts and legs of the overwhelming majority of our female and male testers, respectively. They’re also essentially the same bike: the Juliana adds some women-specific details (saddle, grips) and a shock tuned for lighter riders, but since the Joplin was introduced in 2013, both have been built from the same basic, exceptionally capable template. (Juliana and Santa Cruz are sibling companies.) For 2017, that includes slacker geometry, shorter chainstays, and more travel (110 millimeters in the rear, 120 to 130 up front) than previous versions. What’s more, you can now get either with 29 or 27.5+ wheels, depending on the flavor of your trails. Then get ready to rip: we dropped cross-country racers in Crested Butte, Colorado, on the 29er models and felt at ease on big, gnarly descents. The 27.5+ versions—with longer forks, capable 2.8-inch Maxxis Rekon tires, and higher bottom brackets, courtesy of a flip chip in the suspension—were far rowdier and made easy work of big hits in Sedona, Arizona. Everyone likes to talk about the one bike that can do everything; Juliana and Santa Cruz just went ahead and slayed the concept. As tested with plus-size wheels: 25.7 lbs (Joplin) / 26.3 lbs (Tallboy)
Scott Contessa Spark 710 Plus ($5,000)
Best For: Marrying XC speed with all-mountain power.
The Test: The all-new Contessa Spark 710 won over skinny, Spandex-clad cross-country racers and enduro heads alike. The bike has a body built for flowy trails, with 130 millimeters of squish up front and 120 in back. But the 27.5 mid-fat tires and slack head angles boost the fun factor on technical descents, making short work of rock gardens. Compared with the men’s version of the Spark 710, the Contessa’s shock is tuned for smaller riders, and the cockpit and stand-over height were just right for our lady shredders.
The Verdict: True versatility. 28.2 lbs (men’s) / 28.4 lbs (women’s)
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie ($7,500)
Best For: Laugh-out-loud fun.
The Test: We’re sick of hearing electric mountain bikes compared to sloths. So was Specialized, apparently, because the company took its 2016 Gear of the Year–winning Stumpy 6Fattie and added a pedal-assist motor that supplements your legs with up to 530 watts. The Levo has true mountain DNA, with dialed geometry, a sturdy RockShox Pike fork, and a reliable dropper. We love the stealth, with only a few LEDs showing off the Levo’s tech. Battery life is solid: in economy mode, which provided ample backup for moderate climbs, the oomph lasted four hours.
The Verdict: Motors have their moments. 50.3 lbs
Marin Rift Zone Pro ($6,200)
Best For: Recovering cross-country racers.
The Test: If the bike test was won on looks alone, the Rift Zone Pro would lead the pack, with its contrasting colors and slick lines. But this short-travel 29er is more than just a pretty paint job. With 110 millimeters of rear travel, a 120-millimeter fork, and a semi-steep head angle, it’s a modern take on the full-suspension CX bike—quick enough to race, yet still capable for trail riding. For the price, it’s got an incredible build: a plush RockShox Pike fork, Stan’s wide Flow MRK3 wheels, a hardworking KS Lev dropper, and SRAM’s 12-speed XO1 Eagle drivetrain.
The Verdict: The fullest full-suspension bike most people will ever want. 27.7 lbs
Intense Recluse ($7,900)
Best For: All-around trail riding for the diehard 27.5 crowd.
The Test: If the Spot (below) feels willowy and quick, the Recluse massages the same 150/140-millimeter suspension numbers into a solid, muscular ride. A lot of that sureness comes from Intense’s new house-brand carbon rims, launching on this bike, which have a chunky, wide footprint for serious stiffness and confidence. The Fox X2 piggyback shock felt almost bottomless, soaking up Sedona’s square-edged steps and drops like they were carpeted. This is a bike we would happily pedal all day, especially in rugged country. Bonus points: the Fabric Scoop saddle is one of the friendliest we’ve tried.
The Verdict: Confidence inducing, with both stop-in-your-tracks good looks and assertive trail manners. 27.3 lbs
Alchemy Arktos ($6,200)
Best For: Enduro events.
The Test: Known for its handcrafted, high-speed road bikes, Denver-based Alchemy took a risk with its first full-suspension rig: a 160-millimeter, 27.5-inch trail whip. And the Arktos gets (almost) everything right. The slack 66-degree headtube and low bottom bracket provide outrageous stability while ripping down steeps. In exchange for that conviction, you get an immensely stiff machine that has a tough time climbing technical terrain without wheelie-ing out. But keep this bike on tight, chunky stuff and it’ll dice right through like a sushi knife. While there’s a custom option with killer paint choices, go stock and save $800.
The Verdict: Saddle up, point it down, and hold on tight—this is the roller coaster of mountain bikes. 29.6 lbs
Spot Rollik 557 ($7,150)
Best For: Getting playful.
The Test: Spot built its reputation on belt-drive singlespeeds, making its latest entry—a highly refined, full-squish, all-mountain ripper with a new suspension design—something of a shocker. But we were quickly won over. Using a modified four-bar linkage, the suspension feels firm and efficient: the Rollik pedals like a race bike but ramps up cleanly into its 140 millimeters of travel. Our five-star build came with the blinged-out SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain and matching 150-millimeter Kashima-coated Fox 34 Float and Float DPS Evol suspension bits. And once again, Stan’s revised MK3 Arch wheels impressed for their light weight and stiffness. Women especially loved its low stand-over height. Wallet watchers: you pay a Colorado-boutique-builder premium for this bike, to the tune of about $1,500.
The Verdict: Think of it as a long-travel cross-country racer—fast and light, but frisky on intimidating terrain. 27.3 lbs
YT Industries Jeffsy CF Pro Race ($5,600)
Best For: Versatile riding at a killer price.
The Test: This direct-to-consumer German brand leaped onto our radar last year when it signed downhill legend Aaron Gwin. The carbon-fiber Jeffsy is the company’s 140-millimeter, 29-inch offering, and it’s a hell of a first entry, with better pedaling performance than hyperefficient race bikes and bigger cojones than many all-mountain sleds. Because of YT’s Internet-only sales model, value is exceptional—you don’t get stiff Next SL cranks and gossamer carbon DT Swiss Spline XMC 1200 wheels at this price from anyone else. Only two things kept it from winning our Gear of the Year kudos: the derailleur is finicky, and the hub should really be Boost spacing.
The Verdict: As well-rounded as any bike on the market. 26.5 lbs
Evil The Wreckoning ($6,400)
Best For: Skilled riders who like bulldozing big obstacles.
The Test: The Wreckoning puts to rest the myth that 29ers are ponderous. With 160 millimeters of travel, a front end as stable as a downhill bike, and short, nimble chainstays, this rig is built for getting rubber off the ground and going nuclear. “It’s a bit tentative at slow speeds,” according to one tester, “but add more gravity and it goes down like an elevator.” The magic is in the Delta System suspension, the third and perhaps best design from Dave Weagle. It all but eliminates pedal bob, making for outrageously efficient performance for such a long-travel bike. And yeah, the XO1 Eagle 1×12 drivetrain had enough range for so much heft.
The Verdict: The name says it all—this beast is built to mete out judgment on the trail. 31.1 lbs
Ghost SL AMR X 9 ($5,500)
Best For: Slammin’ it.
The Test: REI’s top-of-the-line mountain bike, the Ghost looks a lot like the YT on paper. But on the trail, it’s a bigger, beefier machine. The brawny Fox 36 Float fork was impervious to huge drops and the nastiest rock gardens, while the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock reminded us just how bottomless and supple a coil can be. That spring shock is heavier than an air model, though, and opinions were split between those who didn’t mind pedaling around the heft (the downhill-oriented testers) and those who did (the skinny racers). Nobody complained about the strapping parts picks, including meaty 2.35 Schwalbe tires, Race Face Arc 27 rims, and bear-hug-wide 800-millimeter bars. “Feels like it’s made for wrestling the land,” said one tester. “And winning.”
The Verdict: It’ll push anyone who saddles up. 30.5 lbs
Rocky Mountain Pipeline 770 MSL ($4,800)
Best For: Confidence at speed.
The Test: As soon as we saw that the Pipeline came with 2.8-inch Maxxis Rekon tires, we knew it would be a killer ride. That rubber made it one of the fastest 27.5+ bikes we’ve ridden, with highly nuanced trail feel. The tires can’t take all the credit: this bike is a bit more aggressive than most mid-fats with comparable travel—130 millimeters in the rear and 150 up front. That combo let us crash through rock gardens and slingshot through turns in ways that would cripple skinnier-wheeled bikes. And for less than five grand you get some nice parts, including a Race Face cockpit and Silverado saddle.
The Verdict: A high-value plus rig for the aggressive-riding crew. 28 lbs
Cannondale Bad Habit Carbon 1 ($5,500)
Best For: Happy-trails cruising.
The Test: If David Lee Roth rode a plus-size mountain bike, he’d pick the Bad Habit based on looks alone. Ironically, for such a loud disposition, this bike sits squarely in the middle of the pack. The pedaling and descending are both solid, courtesy of its 120-millimeter suspension, and the overall ride quality was one of easygoing comfort. The Bad Habit’s most riveting trait is the Lefty 2.0 fork: it’s tricky to set up, but we found it precise and supple once dialed. At 28 pounds, this bike had testers wanting more gears or at least a bigger granny.
The Verdict: The La-Z-Boy of plus rides—chill and damn comfy. 28.1 lbs
Yeti SB5+ ($7,000)
Best For: Proving that plus bikes shred.
The Test: Yetis have divided our testers for years. Some love the aggressive bounce-back of its proprietary suspension system, while others find the ride too stiff. The SB5+ strikes the ideal balance by tempering a forceful 127-millimeter rear end with the extra grab and forgiveness of 2.8-inch tires. Elevated chainstays keep the back of the bike short, despite the tire girth. The sum of these parts is a fast trail rider that gets livelier and more confident the harder you push it. Women testers liked it even more than men, who complained of pedal strikes due to the low bottom bracket.
The Verdict: The politician of mountain bikes, with just enough for everyone. 27 lbs