If you are thinking about buying a new mountain bike and wondering what's available for 2018, we've done the searching for you and come up with what we deem the best hardtail mountain bikes for AU$1,000 (in no particular order). Bikes at this price point are usually affordable enough if you are wanting to just dip your toes into the world of mountain biking, but also offer a capable machine that will feel at home on purpose-built singletrack or other bushland tracks you want to explore.
On the contrary, dual-suspension mountain bikes will typically come at a higher cost due to the inclusion of a rear shock. Additionally, these bikes are intended for more technical trails, which puts more demand on the bike meaning they often feature higher-end componentry, increasing the price. It is almost certain you will not find a dual-suspension mountain bike for under $1000, but if you do, start questioning the quality!
Hardtails are distinctive as they have a rigid rear triangle and suspension in the front fork, as opposed to dual-suspension bikes that have suspension in the front and rear of the bike. Bikes at this price point (AU$800-AU$1000) will have aluminium frames (read about frame materials here). The amount of movement in the suspension is referred to as 'travel' and is typically 100mm for the bikes listed below, the greater the travel, typically the greater the control on descents. In addition to the amount of travel, when comparing the front forks, look for a 'lock-out' switch, which, will enable riders to close off the suspension for use on smooth roads.
The braking system for bikes on this list moves from either cable orientated rim or disc brakes found on cheaper models, to full hydraulic disc brakes that use a fluid system to transfer force from the brake lever to the brake pads. Being a sealed system, they're incredibly low maintenance, easy to operate and provide more power and better modulation (control) in all weather conditions.
While many of the bikes listed here have a similar frame, fork and groupset, the real debate lies in the wheel choice. You'll see a mix of 27.5in and 29in diameter options below and dependent upon who you speak to in the mountain bike world, it's likely you'll get a variety of opinions as to which is better. The trend in recent times has been to opt for larger wheel sizes to improve roll-over ability and traction, which, is why the original 26in wheels have become all but redundant. 27.5in wheels are lighter, stronger and typically more nimble than 29in options. Riders with a smaller stature or those who like to jump the bike may be well suited to this smaller wheeler size.
In this category, you will mostly see a 9-speed cassette (rear cogs) paired with a double or triple crankset as a minimum, with a triple chainring (the front cogs) providing 27 gears in total and a large range to tackle steep climbs.
For the purpose of this list, we have stuck to bikes under the $1000 mark so they are easily comparable. If you are considering spending a few hundred more, you will likely see hardtails that come with 10-speed shifting, perhaps with a simpler 1x drivetrain and better-performing suspension that offers air springs for finite tuneability and control. Often times the wheelsets will be lighter and stronger, and the frame will be a lighter aluminium.
Get to know more about mountain bike groupsets and gearing by reading our in-depth guide.
To get a better understanding of mountain bikes, read our Ultimate Guide to Buying a Mountain Bike that explains the different types of mountain bikes, the type of riding you can do with them, and just how to choose the right one for you. And if you are new to mountain biking, or a road cyclist looking to mix things up, check out our Roadie to Mountain Biker - Your Skills and Technique Foundation guide.
Cannondale Trail 7 – AU$899
To kick off the list is the Cannondale Trail 7 - which has seen an almost complete overhaul from its 2017 edition. New, more trail ready geometry sees a slacker head angle paired with a shorter stem, and shorter seat stays (decreasing the wheelbase) to make the bike more manoeuvrable. Add in the wider bars and plusher WTB Ranger 2.25in tyres, and this ride looks ready to offer plenty of control.. In line with current wheel size trends, the Trail 7 is available in 27.5in for the smaller sizes, and 29in for the larger frames.
This bike also comes with Boost axle spacing, providing better stability and the option to fit even wider tyres comfortably in the frame, making the Trail 7 more trail ready than ever.
We found it pretty impressive that for the price, consumers can get a hardtail that echoes more advanced trail bikes, as seen in its dropper-post ready set-up and option to set-up with a single chainring drivetrain. The front derailleur mount is removable for this reason but comes ready with a 2x9 speed Shimano Altus groupset. To top it off, the Trail 7 is equipped with Shimano hydraulic brakes. The aluminium frame is paired with an SR Suntour XCT fork with 100mm travel.
Liv Tempt 2 – AU$999
Liv, the sister company of Giant Bicycles, produces bikes tailored specifically towards women with its thoughtful geometry and design. The aluminium Tempt 2 comes with an SR Suntour XCM fork and 27.5in wheels across the sizing spectrum, which ranges from XS to Large.
Compatible with racks and fenders, this bike can be used for commuting or offroad touring as well, showing the versatility you can get out of a bike for the price. Many other bikes in this list also have this feature, but Liv makes it a standout point to appeal to more riders.
Shimano hydraulic disc brakes adorn the Giant Connect handlebars, and Maxxis Ardent 2.25in tyres can be found on the tubeless-ready Giant disc XC-2 wheels.
GT Avalanche Comp – AU$899
The Avalanche is one of GT's longest running models and has a historic name in mountain biking. Its triple-triangle design seen where the top tube intersects the seat tube is a feature that has remained constant through its existence. For this year, both 27.5in wheels and 29in wheel options are available across all sizes except XL, which sensibly only comes in 29in. The slack headtube angle should improve stability but the relatively narrow bars (680mm) may result in twitchier handling on rougher trails. The disc brakes are Shimano hydraulic, which is almost certain to mean consistent and responsive braking.
The finish of the bike is what we would expect in this category; SR Suntour XCM-HLO fork with 100m of travel, steel stanchions and hydraulic lockout. There’s an All-Terra V-401 triple crankset paired with a 9-speed cassette providing 27 gears, and double walled rims with quick release hubs front and rear. Important to note the rear derailleur is Shimano Deore, a standout for this category.
Norco Storm 1 – AU$999
The Norco Storm 1 has a few nice features that set it apart from other bikes here, most notably a fork upgrade from 2017. Forgoing the Suntour XCM forks in favour of a more performance-ready RockShox XC30 is a welcome improvement. Continuing the theme of a more trail-ready bike, the Storm 1 comes with a wide 720mm handlebar which offers greater leverage, therefore more control and stability. Most other bikes in this price range will come with bars 700mm or less, with wider bars usually only being seen on more expensive models.
Additionally, the plusher WTB Nine Line 2.25in tyres are also a feature, providing good levels of traction and roll-over ability, which will help newer riders tackle more demanding trails. Other upgrades for the refreshed 2018 Storm 1 include a Prowheel triple crankset paired with a 9-speed Shimano Alivio cassette and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes. We are really impressed with what this bike has to offer for the price.
Focus Whistler Evo 29 – AU$999
Focus is a German brand but the 'Whistler' is named after the famed Whistler mountain bike park in Canada, an ode to the mountain bike scene. The Whistler Evo is another 29in option with good roll-over ability and traction, ably assisted by the quality 2.2in Continental Race King tyres.
The boxy aluminium frame is paired with a 100mm travel Suntour XCM-RL fork that features a handlebar-mounted remote for the lockout. The Shimano triple crankset is paired with a 9-speed cassette, although the Shimano Altus is the equal lowest rear derailleur option on this list.
Giant Talon 2 – AU$999
The Giant Talon is one of the biggest selling entry-level mountain bike hardtails in Australia in recent years. The 2017 version featured an update in geometry that's said to 'create a more confident ride' and in line with current trends comes with a double crankset instead of a triple. Having one less chainring reduces weight and the risk of mechanical issues without compromising the total gear range of a triple.
For 2018, the geometry remains unchanged, but we see slight changes to the build with a double Prowheel RAID-501TT crankset, a Shimano 9-speed cassette paired with Shimano Deore rear derailleur which is the highest level derailleur you will find at this price point.
The 27.5in wheels are wrapped with Maxxis Ardent tubeless compatible tyres, and an SR Suntour XCM fork with 100m of travel and hydraulic lockout complete the package.
Trek Marlin 7 – AU$849
Earlier in the year we reviewed the 2017 Trek Marlin 7, and came to the conclusion that it 'should be on your short-list for a starter mountain bike under AU$1,000.'
The Marlin is predominantly offered in 29in wheels, with only the smallest 15.5in frame coming with a 27.5in option, reflecting Trek's 'smart wheel size' campaign which sees to pair the frame with the wheel size to give what it believes is the best handling. The Marlin 7 also sees Shimano components, and natural, reactive handling, thanks to a slack head tube angle and increased fork offset, a rarity on bikes at this price point. Another benefit is the large size range meaning you're more likely to find the right fit with the Marlin than some other brands. A quick look at the components and you'll see RockShox forks, double-walled Bontrager rims with Bontrager tyres, and 9-speed cassette paired with a Shimano Altus derailleur, with a triple crankset providing 27 gears in total.
The 2018 Marlin has seen a $100 reduction in price without compromising the build, which leaves you with the same spec'd bike but more room to move with stuff like helmets.
Specialized RockHopper Comp – AU$875
The RockHopper Comp is another quality 29er option that has a schmick gloss black paint job making it look higher-end than its price-point counterparts. The new A1 aluminium frame is paired with an SR Suntour XCM fork with between 80/90/100mm travel depending on frame size. Much of the other components are Specialized's own; the stem, handlebars, crankset, rims, hubs and tyres, keeping it all neatly within the family. The brakes are ever-reliable Shimano hydraulic with a 160mm centrelock rotor, and the shifters are Shimano Acera.
The Specialized triple crankset is combined with a mixture of Shimano components, the 9-speed Shimano cassette providing 27 gears in total. The 29in wheels feature double walled rims, alloy hubs with quick releases front and rear, and are wrapped in 2.3in and 2.1in tyres (front and rear, respectively), which should provide loads of traction. The sizes range from XS through to XL and all feature a 29in wheelset.
Rocky Mountain Soul 20 – AU$899
A brand with its roots in mountain biking, the Rocky Mountain Soul 20 is a great addition to this list with a couple of standout features that make it perfect for hitting up entry to intermediate level trails. For starters, the travel of the Suntour XCM HLO is a handy 120mm, which is more than usually found on hardtails at this level. This bike does come in a size XXS, which downsizes to a 100mm fork. An ode to the style of riding of its big mountain birthplace, the handlebars are a massive 760mm wide that will provide enormous levels of control, feeling like more of a trail bike than an cross-country weapon.
The Maxxis Ardent tyres are a grippy 2.25in wide and are paired with the light and nimble 27.5in wheels by Alexrims. The groupset is the standard triple crankset, in this case, provided by Suntour, and the cassette is a 9-speed offering from Shimano. All up, the Soul 20 is edging more toward a 'trail' hardtail which should rock the descents.
Merida Big Nine 100 – AU$899
Merida's Director of products Juergen Falke, said that hardtails still remain the largest mountain bike segment for the brand globally. With that in mind, the manufacturing company have offered up a good range of entry-level hardtails in the Big Nine series.
Our pick for value is the Big Nine 100, which has 29in wheels coupled with Maxxis Ikon 2.2in tyres. The 9-speed drivetrain is an expected Shimano Alivio/Altus medley and has an SR XCM triple crankset up front with 100mm of travel. The narrower 680mm handlebars are equipped with Shimano hydraulic brakes, including a front 180mm rotor for increased stopping power when things get fast!
Reid Xenon 29 – AU$599
The Australian-designed Reid Xenon 29 is priced well below the AUD$1,000 cut-off for this list but stacks up impressively well. The alloy frame is paired with Suntour XCM HLO fork with 100mm travel, lockout and preload adjustment, the Suntour XCM triple crankset combined with the 9-speed Shimano cassette provides 27 gears, and the 29in wheels are wrapped with 2.1in tyres. Reid is able to keep costs down by selling directly to the consumer, which, does mean if you order a bike, expect to complete some self-assembly or you can pick it up assembled direct from one of their retail outlets.
Polygon Xtrada 5.0 – AU$949
Polygon is another company that sells direct to the consumer. The Xtrada 5.0 hints of trail bike inspiration like many others have this year, which is evident in the fitting of an SR Suntour XCM HLO fork with 120mm of travel and wider 720mm handlebars. The components are a Polygon triple crankset with 9-speed Shimano Alivio, hydraulic disc brakes and Schwalbe Smart Sam 2.25in tyres.
Wheel sizes on offer are 27.5in wheels for the small and medium frames, and 29in for the medium and large frames. Yes, you read correctly, riders who fit a 18in or 20in frame have the option of either wheel size. As with the Reid, either expect some assembly when the bike arrives (Polygon's Australian seller, BicyclesOnline, not only pre-assembles the bike for you, they provide clear videos on how to complete the final steps) or put aside some money for your local bike shop to do it for you.