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The best mountain bikes in the world? Print text only version

The Freeride bike of the moment... Four Bar Finesse from Ellsworth

So what is a mountain bike? Some would say it's a self propelled, wheeled vehicle designed to go wherever the rider wants to and have fun at the same time. I hope this isn't too obvious, but in order to answer the question, you really need to know what you want. I can think of a load of other definitions based on which bike is fastest or lightest or some other scientific measure, but these yard sticks have proved un-helpful in the past. The lightest bike will break the moment you start having real fun. The fastest bike uphill is more uncomfortable than a hair shirt. The fastest bike downhill only goes uphill if you have legs like Arnold Schwarzenegger (or a lift). Perhaps you can see where I'm coming from, there are lots of specialist bikes out there but unless you have a limited riding style they're very limiting indeed.

The Santa Cruz Superlight. One of the classic MTB desigs of all time.

So we want a bike that's light enough to pedal uphill, without getting a hernia. Fast enough downhill, to beat your mates to the bottom. Strong enough not to break, if you sometimes get big air and doesn't cost more than a small family car. Yeah, I know, pretty tall order. If we've already thrown out the need to win races (a specialist requirement) full suspension is surely the way to go. It can make both climbing and descending more enjoyable (no, really) and it's definitely more fun on descents. Horror of horrors, don't we usually have most of our fun on the descents? If you have most of your fun on the climbs you need a race bike. The down side with suspension is two fold, the expense and the maintenance. The maintenance isn't the problem it used to be, as many of the new designs work for a long time without much interference. However most of the new shocks need servicing by a specialist when the time comes and this can cost about sixty pounds. So you end up with two possible candidates for best bike, the tough hardtail and the light(ish) cross country full suspension. These could be made of almost anything (ok so spaghetti would be no good) but aluminium is a front runner for reasons spelt out in Frame Materials.
Specialized Enduro

Some fork brace clearance issues but this is one amazing ride.

You may be saying to yourself by now that the bikes I'm talking about won't be the best at anything. This is true (not fastest up or downhill, not the lightest or the strongest) but what they are best at is doing everything. Specialist bikes are usually terrible at several things each. I don't plan on going on a ride with no climbs or perhaps no descents, I want to go and ride mountains (these often have both, DUH!) and I want to have fun all day without feeling like I got on the wrong side of Mike Tyson. Does any of this sound like the way you ride? No? tough.
This is the point where many an article wimps out and refuses to name names that fit the bill for 'Best mountain bike in the world'. But not this article. This article kicks butt. So who makes the best mountain bikes? Specialized, Ellsworth, Santa Cruz and Marin. How many of you have I upset now? That many? Gulp. OK there are dozens more manufacturers who have produced at least one truly excellent bike, if not more. But these companies stand out for their obsessive reluctance to sell any bad bikes at all. Just in case you think I'm more biased than a party political spin doctor, remember I currently own a two year old K2 Proflex (great bike for sure) and I don't get paid for this website. There, I'm purer than the driven snow, and you know what snow looks like when it's been driven on....

Clips and straps? what were they thinking! Get Egg Beaters and enjoy.

Now these four companies produce some seriously expensive super bikes but a couple also produce some great cheaper bikes (Especially Specialized and Marin) and I have to say I'm heavily in favour of buying last years models, which are as much as 50% cheaper. In the case of Specialized a truly superb last years cross country full suspension bike, can be had for a grand . If you think this is too much, you won't be buying one of the best mountain bikes in the world, as (at the moment) these run from a grand upwards. Think yourself lucky, only a couple of years ago, similar bikes were over �1500. Next week we're covering the best components in the world, as you'll be enjoying your jack of all trades super bike so much, you're going to wear out a whole lot of moving parts. See Component Awards. For a look at longer travel bikes check out Freeride Review. Go here for a look at Frame Materials.

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