Best trail bikes 2023 | 23 trail mountain bikes & buyer's guide - BikeRadar

The top trail bikes as rated by our expert reviewers, plus our buyer's guide for everything you need to know

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Best trail bikes 2023 | 23 trail mountain bikes & buyer's guide - BikeRadar

The best trail bikes hit the sweet spot between rowdy enduro bikes and svelte cross-country bikes, delivering performance that’s equal parts fun and super-capable.

This has made trail bikes an incredibly popular category among the best mountain bikes in recent years. They give you a bit of everything, and probably open up the widest range of trails and riding when compared to other types of mountain bike.

The flipside is that choosing the best trail bike for you can be quite a bewildering prospect – there are simply so many options on the market.

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place because our expert mountain bike testers have spent years riding and reviewing dozens of trail bikes, and this list of the best trail bikes in 2023 will help you find the perfect machine for you.

We’ve also put together a buyer’s guide to trail bikes at the end of this list that explains everything you need to know about this type of mountain bike, from what sort of terrain they are good for to the size of disc brake rotors – we’ve covered it all!

The Bird Aether 9 won our 2021 Trail Bike of the Year award, thanks to its ability to deliver in virtually all situations from long days in the saddle to short, sharp bursts in the woods.

Bird is known for long and slack geometry and the Aether 9 follows suit, with a 65-degree head-tube angle and 77-degree seat tube. Paired with the RockShox 140mm Pike Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe rear shock, this translates to a bike that is unflappable and right at home on twisty, steep descents.

When it comes to climbing, ample space between the saddle and bar lets you put your body weight in the right place and the suspension robs very few watts.

Elsewhere, the bike has a full Shimano XT M8100 groupset and DT Swiss EXC 1501 wheels, making this bike not just a great performer but excellent value for money too.

The Boardman MTR 8.9 has the same geometry and suspension as the pricier MTR 9.0.

It has a well-chosen spec that balances cost, performance and strength, with a RockShox front fork, a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and Maxxis tyres.

The triple-butted alloy frame looks purposeful and has externally routed cables, making for easy maintenance. There is a bottle mount too, but we found there to be minimal clearance.

The geometry is modern but not extreme with a generous reach, leading to a comfortable ride.

You do have to shift your weight forward to keep front-wheel traction over tricky ascents, and downhill the bike is fairly noisy. So really this is a bike for speedy trail centre rides, rather than super-challenging terrain.

The bike is also ripe for upgrades and, with a few parts swapped out, we think it would be great as a lightweight, mile-munching machine.

The Habit 4 impressed us with its playful and balanced ride feel.

Its aluminium frame features size-specific geometry. Cannondale increases the chainstay length with the frame size making the Habit. The bike feels surefooted and quick to turn.

We found the RockShox Recon fork to bind on hard compressions, though this didn’t take too much away from the performance of the bike.

A steep seat tube angle of 77.5 degrees makes winching up climbs comfortable, though the bike lacks some of the punchiness of other bikes on this list.

Canyon’s Neuron covers ground fast, with supple suspension that provides good comfort while descending, although, it can feel a tad active on steeper, technical descents.

The bike has a nimble ride feel that helps it eat up trail centre singletrack with ease, with the Schwalbe tyre combo offering fast rolling speeds.

We found the RockShox Recon fork to be a little out of tune with the rear of the bike, and not providing the desired amount of support on steeper terrain.

The Merida One-Forty 700 impressed us in testing, winning our Trail Bike of the Year 2023 award.

The carbon fibre frame, which is shared with the longer-travel One-Sixty, uses flex stays in the rear linkage and provides 140mm of rear travel.

Merida has packed serious value for money into the bike, with a RockShox Deluxe Select+ rear shock and a 150mm Marzocchi Z1 fork.

On climbs, the bike has zero wallow and a perky attitude, making the uphills easier than on its contemporaries.

Downhill, the geometry is spot on with composed and accurate handling adding to the ride.

The Propain Hugene was our Trail Bike of the Year in 2020, but 2021 saw Propain refresh the bike, updating the geometry and increasing travel.

The Propain now has 140mm of rear travel to better balance the 140mm or 150mm front fork options.

The geometry is also longer, lower and slacker with a steeper 76.5-degree seat angle and 65.5-degree head angle.

The new shape works really well. It provides plenty of stability and the back wheel hugs the ground. It is agile and playful in the corners encouraging you to throw the bike around.

The bike is composed when you start pedalling and the seated position is comfortable. There’s a touch of pedal bob when you’re stamping on the pedals but we only really noticed this on flat, trail-centre straights.

This bike is a custom build with a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork and DPX2 shock, SRAM X01 drivetrain and Newmen wheels with Schwable tyres. While this build costs £4,695, pricing starts at €3,300 for the German brand’s bike.

Vitus is becoming synonymous with value for money, with the Chain Reaction direct brand giving the Escarpe 29 CRS a similar treatment.

The full carbon fibre frame has 140mm of rear travel controlled by a RockShox Deluxe Select+ and the front end is supported by a 150mm RockShox Lyrik Select.

The Escarpe is more descent-focused compared to other trail bikes, with its climbing performance limited by pedal bob and increased sag on steeper pitches.

Downhill, the bike smooths terrain and offers a confidence-inspiring ride over a broad range of trails.

The MTR 9.0 is Boardman’s flagship mountain bike, with an upgraded alloy frame, 150mm RockShox fork, a Deluxe Select+ rear shock and a groupset that is, by and large, comprised of Shimano SLX-level parts.

The bike is happiest heading downhill, where it feels planted, and the Shimano SLX four-piston brakes provide a whole load of stopping power.

The MTR climbs reasonably well. The relatively steep seat-tube angle helps you get your weight over the bottom bracket, and the wide-ranging 10-51 tooth cassettes help winch you up the toughest climbs.

The bike has a dropper post, which is great for such a gravity-focused bike, but the dropper lever is a bit small and not the easiest to use.

The bike rides with more confidence than you might expect and, apart from the dropper lever, there really isn’t much to fault.

Boardman’s MTR 8.8 is built to be the ideal all-round UK trail bike. It’s very capable when pointed down a trail, thanks in part to the 145mm of rear suspension controlled by a RockShox Deluxe Select+, and 150mm RockShox Recon Silver RL fork.

Considering its suspension travel, it climbs very well, but it’s the descents where the Boardman shines.

In its price range, there aren’t many bikes that can provide the same levels of performance. However, a couple of spec changes, such as a longer dropper post and more powerful brakes, would make the riding experience even better.

A shorter-travel trail bike, the Spectral 125 mixes that with a 140mm-travel fork and a long reach geometry that’s built for more aggressive riding. It’s a different, all-carbon frame from the longer-travel Spectral bikes and saves 100g in weight.

The stiff, aggressive, low-slung frame is great for bikepark laps and climbs, but you need to increase the sag from the recommended values for the bike to handle rock gardens comfortably.

The bike navigates super-steep terrain admirably though, with the long frame helping to maintain stability. It pays to tinker with the Spectral 125’s suspension settings and to ride hard to get the best out of the bike.

Want a spec upgrade? We’ve also tested the Canyon Spectral 125 CF8.

Full-suspension bikes for under £1,000 are a rarity, and ones that are as well-specced as the Carrera Titan X are rarer still.

The kit on this bike is really impressive. It has SRAM SX 12-speed gearing with a 1x setup, a Trans-X dropper post and Shimano hydraulic brakes. In short, what you’d expect from a pricier bike.

When it comes to ride performance, the Titan X’s suspension works surprisingly well, making this bike a good shout over a hardtail – which is normally the go-to option at this price point.

When climbing, the Titan X’s frame is a little cramped due to its relatively old-school geometry, but it winches up hills better than you might expect.

Best trail bikes 2023 | 23 trail mountain bikes & buyer's guide - BikeRadar

Collapsible Wagon The only real drawback to the Titan X is the limited sizing, and taller riders should stay clear. This is a real try-before-you-buy bike, but if it fits and you’re on a budget, it’s a compelling option.