Looking to hit the trails and need a new mountain bike? We rounded up some of the best mountain bike brands to get you started.
Ah, mountain biking. Nothing beats tearing through the trees or conquering a technical descent. But to get started, you need a bike! And with the numerous offerings from the most popular mountain bike brands on the market, shopping for a new bike can quickly get overwhelming.
We put together this guide to get started. We’ve looked at the top features of many leading brands and considered reviews of specific products to compare the most popular mountain bike brands on the market today.
Popular Mountain Bike Brands of 2020
Specialized distributed the first mass-produced mountain bike, the original Stumpjumper, back in 1981. It’s still one of the most relevant brands on the market today.
Specialized makes all sorts of bikes from comfortable cruisers to high-end performance road racing bikes. It’s also recently expanded to offer leading electric mountain bikes. Specialized now carries multiple models of e-bikes to choose from. We had a chance to check out last year’s Turbo Levo and thought it was pretty great.
In addition to e-bikes, Specialized also carries a huge range of traditional mountain bikes, from lightweight, efficiency-driven cross-country models to long-suspension enduro and even downhill bikes. The company is also somewhat rare in respect to its popularity for both its entry-level bikes, like the Rockhopper, as well as its higher-end models, such as some of its S-Works builds.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it carries the best of everything available. But if you want to get a feel for the types of mountain bikes available on the market today, Specialized offers a broad selection.
Headquarters location: Morgan Hill, California
Trek has been around for over 40 years. Although it got its start selling touring bikes, it has since branched into selling all types of bikes. From simple cross-country bikes to full-suspension downhill bikes, Trek carries a full range of mountain bikes. It even has its own electric mountain bike models.
Despite this range of models, Trek is perhaps best known for its entry-level, hardtail mountain bikes. While it carries decent, higher-end trail bikes and lightweight racing bikes, its cheaper hardtails are its most popular sellers. These models are made for exploring the trails around your house, but if you want to start tackling major technical features, you’ll probably want to look for an upgrade.
If you’re looking to get into mountain biking, aren’t ready to commit to a more expensive model, and want a large service network, Trek could be the way to go.
Headquarters location: Waterloo, Wisconsin
Giant is another alternative to Trek and Specialized and fills a similar niche. It sells everything from a lightweight cross-country racing bike to a long-suspension enduro bike.
Among this range of models, it also sells several trail bikes that are meant to be good for most singletrack riding. Plus, it makes its own electric mountain bike. Because of its range of offerings, it may be worth looking through Giant’s models to see what types of mountain bikes are out there.
It’s the only brand on this list that’s based in Taiwan. But while many brands build their frames in Taiwan, Giant aims for cost-effective builds. Its prices are often lower than those of brands like Trek or Specialized. Giant also manufactures parts for several other brands.
If you’re looking for an entry-level mountain bike that won’t break the bank, definitely check out Giant.
Headquarters location: Dajia District, Taiwan
Cannondale is another brand that sells a huge range of cycles, but mountain bike riders know it best for its cross-country models. These bikes are built for tackling uphills and flats efficiently.
They usually have steeper geometry (meaning their front tire is tucked under the headset more) than a trail or enduro bike for better pedaling power and prioritize being as lightweight as possible.
Cannondale also has a wide range of offerings, such as the 27.5-plus Bad Habit.
Cannondale is innovative and not afraid to try new things with its bikes. The brand is famous for its Lefty fork — an unconventional single-sided fork. It’s one of the crazier sights on the trails these days, but many riders love the Lefty. It’s harder to service than a normal fork, which is a drawback, but many find that the performance is worth it.
If you’re looking for a fast cross-country bike outfitted with leading tech, check out Cannondale.
Headquarters location: Wilton, Connecticut
Santa Cruz is known for its small line of high-end mountain bikes. It focuses on lightweight carbon fiber or aluminum models with a wide range of travel (or amount of suspension).
Although Santa Cruz produces everything from a gravel bike to a dirt jump bike and even an electric mountain bike, it’s best known for its trail-style mountain bikes — those in the midrange between cross-country and enduro.
However, it does boast its own downhill race team, the Santa Cruz Syndicate, so its longer-travel bikes should not be ignored. Santa Cruz has a great reputation among mountain bikers, and you’ll see its bikes all over the trails.
If you’re looking to go fast on a bike that can handle big features, it’s likely Santa Cruz has you covered.
Headquarters location: Santa Cruz, California
Juliana is the sister company to Santa Cruz and sells exclusively women’s-specific mountain bikes. The shocks are designed with lighter riders in mind, and the frames are offered in size XS.
Unlike some women’s-specific bike brands, Juliana’s bikes come in nice, neutral colors that aren’t too cutesy. The bikes are high-quality, too, which is to be expected from a Santa Cruz offshoot. And though the geometry stems from Santa Cruz models, Juliana mountain bikes incorporate women’s-specific details like women’s saddles and grips.
Juliana currently only sells five models, but those five cover a range of mountain biking needs. If you’re a lighter rider and have a hard time finding a good-quality mountain bike that fits comfortably, give Juliana a try.
Headquarters location: Santa Cruz, California
Salsa Cycles’ tagline is “adventure by bike,” and it’s best known for its gravel and bikepacking bikes. However, it’s recently begun broadening its lineup of trail-focused mountain bikes, focusing on upgrading to stay competitive. Salsa tends to be more niche than brands like Trek or Giant, without the price of Pivot or Yeti Cycles.
Everything the brand does points toward the experience you have on its bikes — they may not be the lightest or fastest on the market, but Salsa has a close eye on how your ride will go.
For example, both the Horsethief and Spearfish models have space for two water bottle holders; most full-suspension trail bikes barely have room for one. I’ve ridden a couple of Salsa models over the years and have found them to be comfortable and lots of fun.
If you want a fun day out on the trails, either on an efficient hardtail or a playful full-suspension bike, check out Salsa.
Headquarters location: Bloomington, Minnesota
Pivot Cycles is a fairly new brand, founded in 2007. While it sells a range of styles, including gravel, cross-country, downhill, and even an e-bike, it focuses on its trail and enduro bikes.
Pivot pays close attention to detail in its technology and geometry, meaning that its bikes perform smoothly and efficiently, according to online reviews. It has a couple of race teams — one for cross-country and one for enduro and downhill — which attract riders from all over the world.
Pivot charges a lot for its bikes, but it’s easy to see why. If you’re looking for a high-end bike with a lot of travel that excels on rocky, technical trails, then Pivot may make the bike for you.
Headquarters location: Tempe, Arizona
Yeti Cycles was established in 1985. Since its inception, Yeti has focused on high-performance bikes. Today, it has a strong focus on enduro racing, with riders like Enduro World Series Champion Richie Rude on its team.
In 2014, Yeti introduced the Switch Infinity, a rear suspension design meant to give you more effective pedaling power. We had a chance to test several of its current models, like the SB100 and the SB130, and thought they performed super well. However, Yeti bikes are expensive, so this performance comes with a hefty price tag.
Yeti has a super-small lineup of bikes, with only six models on the market today, but that just means it knows what its audience wants. If you’re looking for a full-suspension trail or enduro mountain bike and you have the cash to drop, Yeti is well-regarded by top riders.
Headquarters location: Golden, Colorado
How to Choose a Mountain Bike
There are lots of factors that go into choosing a mountain bike, and we walk you through the process here. To get started in your search, the main thing you’ll want to focus on is the type of riding you’ll do.
Are you more interested in riding steep, technical descents and taking it slow on the uphills? Or do you want efficient pedaling and snappy climbing? Your preferred type of riding will shape the amount of suspension and style of mountain bike you should look for.
You’ll also want to think about your price range. Are you looking for a higher-end mountain bike with the best componentry? Or are you just looking to get a feel for the sport before dropping several thousand dollars? That will influence which brands you lean toward exploring.
Once you’ve honed in on your riding style and budget, you can then get into the nitty-gritty details about the individual bikes like fit, weight, components, and specs.
Whether you’re a beginner rider looking to get started with your first mountain bike or an expert rider looking to up your game with the latest technology, investing in a new mountain bike from any of these best mountain bike brands should be a step towards getting you out on your next great ride.