10 Best 2018 Cross-Country Hardtails (650b and 29er) for Under £2,000
October 26th, 2017
October 26th, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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Cross country mountain biking is all about getting out there into the green, exploring hills and woods, tackling obstacles of varying scariness, staying fit and generally loving life traffic-free. There are a few genres underneath mountain biking itself, including downhill and enduro, but we’re going to focus on what is known as “Cross-Country”, or "XC" for short. Despite the Olympic racing roots of XC, cross-country can also mean anything from a bridalway bimble to a testosterone fuelled epic in the mountains with your mates, and, despite the different styles of rides under this vast umbrella, one bike tends to dominate; the hardtail. So here's a few of our favourites:
Trek have a decent range of cross-country bikes with three hardtail models, plus women’s specific versions of each, and even scaled down junior versions. The cheapest hardtail, not including the fitness-oriented bikes, is the aluminium X-Calibre 7 at £675. Confusingly, the Superfly is also an aluminium hardtail, but this is their mid-range performance hardtail that is available in both aluminium and carbon and starts the range at £1,300 (for the SRAM GX 11-speed model with RockShox Reba). At the top of the tree is the Procalibre, with a unique take on comfort and design with the IsoSpeed decoupling system, which is basically a flexible insert near the seat tube that allows the seat post to have enough movement for comfort, but without sacrificing power to the rear wheel when pedalling. Despite using actual rocket scientists to design these frames, they start their carbon models at £1,700. This year, the Procalibre comes in aluminium and starts the pricing at £1,300 for Shimano 2x11 SLX with RockShox Recon Gold RL, giving you a more “marathon” frame and spec than the Superfly, but also adding an extra 2lbs for the technology.
For high-end race machines, the Cube Elite is your carbon weapon of choice, however, the Cube Reaction is their mid-range hardtail offering a wide variety of spec choices that range all the way up to the new SRAM Eagle 12-speed. The Reaction HPA is the aluminium frame, and the Reaction C:62 is the carbon frame. The Cube Reaction HPA Pro is the base model aluminium 29er frame equipped with Shimano SLX groupset, RockShox Recon 100mm forks and Cube/Shimano Deore wheels for a bargain £1,049. A very similar spec can be found on the base model carbon equivalent, the Reaction C:62 29er, retailing at a rather low price of £1,399, available in blue (pictured) or black. Check out our review of the Reaction.
Specialized have seemingly lessened their range of hardtails recently, covering the sub-£600 market with the 650b Pitch, and the sub-£1,000 market with the aluminium Rockhopper 29er, and then jumping to the carbon Epic Hardtail starting at a whopping £2,500. The recent addition of the Chisel is the only middle ground; an aluminium cross country hardtail starting at £1,300 spec’d with Shimano Deore groupset and RockShox Judy forks, complete with a “raw” look gloss charcoal (pictured). Oddly, there’s only one other model choice at present, the Chisel 1X, which is a 1x11-speed version with RockShox Reba forks at £1,700.
We reviewed the Methanol 27.3 650b hardtail last year and loved how fast and nimble it was, but as of last year, the UK received the Methanol CV with their famous Countervail carbon technology to dampen vibrations. Both the old Methanol and the new Methanol CV come at a price. For everyone wanting the keep under the £2k budget, you’ll need to check out the newest addition to the family; the Grizzly. Named after their 80s race bike, the Grizzly is an aluminium frame starting at £1,000 with Shimano Deore and Rochshox 30 Silver TK 29" Soloair 100mm forks. For a touch more money at £1,300 you’ll get the hardy Shimano XT/SLX groupset mix with RockShox Recon forks instead.
The Scott Scale is the only cross-country hardtail in their line-up with a whopping 30+ options, not including the top level Scale RC range (of which there are a further 10). You'll have ample spec choices for both 650b and 29er, aluminium and carbon, and almost all models come in a Contessa (women's specific version). The Scale 700s are 650b and the 900s are 29ers. Both gender and wheel-size variants are priced the same as each other depending on the spec. The aluminium frames start from £890 and work their way up to the Scale RC carbon models at over £7k a pop, so, with the huge range of spec options inbetween, there really is a Scale to suit most budgets. There are also two 650b Plus bikes in the range too.
Niner are an American brand that are massive in the US, Australia and growing in Europe. They are lesser known here in the UK as they were considered quite expensive and niche, but prices are looking more competitive as others start hiking up prices. As the name suggests, you only get bikes in 29" wheels. The Air is their cross-country hardtail which is now only available in their “Race Day Optimised” lightweight carbon, though you may be lucky to find one of the old Air 9 Carbon or even aluminium versions still for sale from pre-2017. These bikes are limited in the UK, with either custom builds being made in shops, or standard builds being dictated by the UK supplier, Jungle Products, who sell direct on Stif. Expect £3,999 for Shimano XT with RockShox SID. There is also the aluminium EMD starting from £1,399.
Given the past success of the Topeak Ergon Race Team, the Grand Canyon is clearly a bike that can take on the world, from short World Cup races to 8-day marathons. The Grand Canyon is now an aluminium-only model starting from £599. If you want a carbon race machine, you'll need to look at the Exceed, the new weapon of choice from most of their cross-country sponsored riders. This year, the Exceed has extended its range down to £1,549 with the Exceed CF SL 5.0, complete with Shimano SLX and RockShox Recon Gold forks. See our review here.
Giant / Liv
The XTC carbon 29er used to start from £1,775, but now it has been bumped into the “Performance XC” ranks and starts from £2,499. For those sticking under the £2k mark, you’ll need to consider the aluminium Fathom, available in 650b or 29er, ranging from £899 to £1,199, pictured. For all the ladies out there, head over to Liv, which is Giant’s women’s specific sister company, although specs tend to be a tad poorer and you’’ll need to be on board with lots of pink and purple colour-ways.
These guys have updated their models for 2018, with the new 29er carbon hardtail being called the Doctrine. Unfortunately, we were unable to find out the price of these in the UK at the time of print, so do search for this if it interests you in early 2018. Previously they had offered a 29er (The Nine) and a 650b (The 7), which are still available in UK and online stores. The Nine and The 7 are available in both aluminium with budget-conscious kit for way under £1,000, or carbon with more lightweight oriented kit from around £1,599 upwards. Expect stealthy black bikes that sometimes don’t even show off the brand name.
For cross-country, there is the 650b (the Big.Seven) and 29er (the Big.Nine). You can expect signature black and green colour combos with the usual Merida logo and stripes on most bikes, but there are a few outliers that look pretty custom, like the Big.Nine 6000 (pictured), which is laced with the new SRAM Eagle 12-speed for £2,500. The aluminium models start from as little as £455, and the carbon models start from around £1,600.
Others to consider;
We have stuck with the top 10 biggest brands in the UK as we could literally harp on forever about cross-country hardtails. Pretty much everyone makes one these days, even big-time roadie brands like Pinarello make them. Other big players that didn’t make the cut, but have certainly made great hardtails over the last few years include Cannondale, Commencal, Ghost, Saracen, B’Twin, Orbea, Genesis and GT, Lapiere, BMC, and KTM to name a few.