As one of the most popular categories of mountain bike available, there’s little denying the versatility of a trail bike. So with that in mind, we thought it's high time to look through the current crop of trail mountain bikes, and list what we deem are the best choices to be had for around AU$3,000.
Consider this a short-list of the bikes we'd put our own money on (in no particular order).
What is a Trail Bike?
Trail bikes are best described as the all-rounder of singletrack, designed to be efficient on the climbs, and with 120-140mm of suspension travel, still, provide plenty of confidence and control on rough and technical descents. While this list is mostly comprised of dual suspension, a few hardtails have made the cut thanks to their plus-sized wheels and impressive value for money.
At this price, bikes become increasingly specialised as either cross-country, trail, enduro or downhill, allowing you to choose a bike type that best suits your riding style and the local terrain. Wheel sizes remain a hot topic within the trail bike category, with some brands focused on the smaller 27.5in size for nimbleness, while other brands are dedicated to the larger 29er wheel for its greater roll-over and speed. And then some brands are on the fence, offering both.
Budget pending, a dual suspension remains the most popular choice for this type of riding; however, trail hardtails are continuing to offer plenty of value, typically built with better performing forks and drivetrains as standard. Choosing a dual suspension bike provides additional control and comfort, but you'll have to settle for lesser components as the greater complexity (moving components) of a dual suspension frame is a large part of the cost. At this price, the aluminium frame you're getting is often the same as found on the more expensive models.
What to Expect for your Money
Many of the top-tier features such as a dropper seatpost, 1x drivetrain and tubeless wheels that you see on the best mountain bikes start to become available at this price. The dropper seatpost has become a preferred choice amongst enthusiast mountain bikers as it allows remote-controlled saddle height adjustment for negotiating technical descents without having to compromise pedalling on flat and uphill sections.
- Related Reading: Dropper Seatposts: A Complete Buyer’s Guide
Finely damped suspension package that features adjustable air springs are just about standard at this price, as are hydraulic disc brakes.
Expect drivetrains to be equipped with either a 10, 11, or 12-speed cassette, paired with a 1x (single chainring_ crankset. The benefit of the 1x drivetrain is less moving parts, which means less chance of mechanical failure or issues; and reduced weight. This allows manufacturers to experiment with frame design, creating bikes with greater tyre clearance and shorter chainstays which help create a more nimble bike with better traction and control; and lastly, frees up space on the handlebar for a dropper seatpost remote.
Designed to improve steering and suspension performance, thru-axle wheels appear at this price but are far from standard equipment with a few bikes still featuring the traditional quick release skewer. Tubeless wheels are an excellent upgrade for any mountain bike and will allow the use of lower tyre pressures without risk of puncture, some brands will offer "tubeless-ready" wheels at this price, but commonly you'll need to purchase compatible tyres.
- Related Reading: Mountain Bike Wheels: What to Know
If you're able to spend a little bit more, then truth be told, the very best value in mountain bikes sits within the AU$3,500-AU$4,500 price range. Here features such as 1x drivetrain, dropper posts, tubeless wheels and thru-axles are near guaranteed. You'll also find improved suspension quality, better shifting and perhaps even a carbon dual suspension frame. However, if your budget doesn't stretch that far, then you'll undoubtedly find the bikes listed here more than capable of putting a smile on your face.
Trail Dual Suspension
Giant Trance 3
The Trance carries on with little change in 2019 save for a fresh lick of paint and some specification changes following its major update in 2017. With a massive 150mm of suspension travel at the front and an impressive 140mm at the rear, the Trance is a genuinely modern trail bike capable of handling trails of increasing difficulty just as smoothly as fast flowing singletrack.
Featuring a quality alloy frame paired with a thru-axle-equipped Suntour Aion 35 RC fork up front and a RockShox Deluxe R shock at the rear. Rolling stock comes in the form of proprietary 27.5in AM alloy wheels, paired with tubeless Maxxis High Roller II tyres. Shimano Deore 1x10-speed shifting, a PraxisWorks 1x crankset and Shimano M365 hydraulic disc brakes round out this budget-friendly package. And the best part? The Trance 3 receives Giant's Contact Switch dropper seatpost as standard.
Wheel size: 27.5in
Trek Fuel EX 7 29
The Fuel EX 7 has the potential to be a do-it-all trail bike with either 29in or 27.5in Plus wheel options that you can change to suit your riding style or locals trails (only 29in available as stock in Australia). Like the new Giant Trance, the Trek Fuel EX carries on with few changes following a significant update in 2017. What elevates this above other trail bikes available is the adjustable headtube angle and progressive frame geometry. The former giving thanks to the 'Mino Link', which allows 1/2 a degree change by simply undoing two bolts.
The 130mm-travel alloy frame is paired with 130mm RockShox Reba fork up front and Fox Performance Float EVOL shock appearing at the rear. The front suspension travel may seem small compared to some others on this list, but the 29in Bontrager wheels and big volume 2.4in tyres go a long way to smoothing out the trails.
A SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain and Shimano M400 hydraulic disc brakes feature, as does a Bontrager dropper seatpost.
Wheel size: 29in
Norco Fluid FS-1
The Fluid FS-1 from Canadian-brand Norco sits atop the enthusiast-level Fluid product line-up. With a dropper seatpost, tubeless-ready wheels, a choice of 29er or 27.5” rolling stock, and a 1x drivetrain fitted, it deserves to sit high on the ladder of consideration.
The alloy frame provides 120mm of travel at the rear controlled by a RockShox Deluxe R shock, matched with 130mm RockShox Revelation RC fork up front.
The creators of 1x drivetrains, SRAM, provide its NX Eagle 12-speed group with a large ratio 10-50 cassette to ensure you won't be left short by dismissing the second chainring. WTB STP i29 rims, Novatec hubs (thru-axle) and wide Maxxis Forecaster 2.6" 27.5in tyres will keep you rolling. SRAM Guide T hydraulic disc brakes round out the package.
Wheel size: 29in
Cannondale Habit Al 6 27.5
Cannondale is no stranger to creating capable trail munching machines at the top end of the market, and with the Habit 6, the American company brings this refinement down to an affordable price.
Redesigned in 2018, the Habit 6 features an alloy frame paired with a thru-axle-equipped RockShox Recon RL fork, out back there's a Fox Performance DPS EVOL shock offering up 130mm of travel at both ends. The 1x drivetrain comes courtesy of Shimano in the form a 1x10-speed Deore with 30T front chainring and an 11-42T rear cassette. Shimano also provides its MT200 brakes, using larger 180mm anchors at both ends. WTB provides its 23mm-wide i23 tubeless-ready rims with Maxxis Ardent 2.4in tyres wrapping up this trail-ready package.
Wheel size: 29in
Specialized Stumpjumper ST
Yet another ride overhauled in 2019, the Stumpjumper ST is sure to offer you a refined ride on the trail. Available with both 27.5” and 29er wheels, and mens and womens build kits, the Stumpy ST offers 130mm travel at the fork and 120mm at the frame. The suspension comes courtesy of a RockShox Recon RL fork and an X-Fusion 02 Pro RL rear shock. The big bag 2.3in tyres will surely provide plenty of confidence, too. Like many models here, the frame shares its design with more expensive models, with premium features such as adjustable geometry, thru-axles, space for 3” rubber and a side-arm suspension design all found on this model.
There's little doubting Specialized have invested in critical areas such as the frame and suspension at the expense of the drivetrain. In the past, we’ve been critical of Specialized neglecting the drivetrain on its entry-level offerings; this is no longer the case with a capable 11-speed Shimano SLX drivetrain finding its way onto the Stumpjumper ST. Like some others on this list, a dropper seatpost is also missing. However, it can be found on more expensive offerings, and the quality frame is fully ready to accept such an upgrade.
Wheel size: 27.5in
Marin Rift Zone 3
Available for as low as AUD$2,500, the Marin Rift Zone 3 is arguably the cheapest bike listed here. Such a price is achieved by the American outfit opting for its good to be sold in Australia by predominantly online by a direct-to-consumer distributor.
This is a short-travel trail bike optimised for speed with 120mm of travel front and rear. A RockShox Revelation RC fork sits up front, with Deluxe RT Debonair shock out back. Impressively, it's Shimano SLX and XT 1x11 components that take care of shifting duties, with the much underrated Shimano Deore hydraulic brakes featuring too. An in-house aluminium wheelset wrapped in 2.4” WTB Trail Boss rubber handles provides the grip on the trail.
So with spectacular components for little money, what gives? Well, the online purchase aspect isn't for everyone. However, the distributor does offer an option for the bike to be pre-built by a pro mechanic and a 14-day test ride for peace of mind.
Wheel size: 27.5in
Merida One Twenty 9.600
Another shorter-travel, big-wheeled option, the Merida One-Twenty is pitched as a 'do-it-all' type bike that is available in both 27.5 and 29er wheel sizes. To start with, there's a 130mm RockShox Sektor RL fork up front, and a Deluxe RL controlling the 120mm of travel at the rear. Wide 2.35in rubber wraps around the 29er hoops, sure to add plenty of confidence to this ride.
A SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain offers a wide-range 12-speed, 10-50T gear selection, with Shimano MT500 hydraulic disc brakes featuring as a good match. An upgrade from 2018, the One Twenty now also scores an in-house dropper seatpost as standard.
Wheel size: 29in
GT Sensor Comp
Best known for pioneering BMX bikes, GT has long-offered a range of high-performance mountain bikes. The Sensor Comp is best suited to long days exploring new trails with its 130mm of front and rear travel. It's quality frame construction, 1x11 Shimano SLX drivetrain and dropper post are reasons for us selecting it here. The trunnion mount suspension package comes courtesy of RockShox, with a Sektor RL found on the front and Deluxe R shock featuring out back.
At AUD$3,499, Sensor Comp is the most expensive on our list, however, with a dropper seatpost, quality frame and suspension parts offered as standard, it's easy to see where the money has been spent.
- Wheel size: 29n
- RRP: AUD$3,499
The trail hardtail continues to evolve and shape up as a viable option compared to a dual suspension bike. Many brands are continuing to support 'Plus-sized' wheel formats, fitting out new models with massively wide tyres. These 2.8in to 3in wide tyres add grip beyond belief, soak up the hits and remain comparable in weight to a thinner-wheeled dual suspension model.
Kona Honzo DL
With an impressive frame, dropper seatpost and tubeless-ready wheels, the Kona Honzo is an excellent example of the value on offer when you remove the rear suspension. This alloy-framed trail bike rolls on 2.3in wide 29er tyres, with a 120mm RockShox Recon Silver fork up front. Revised geometry from 2017 sees this bike get more capable of tackling steep and technical terrain.
The SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain is comprised of a 30t front chainring with a wide 11-41t cassette featuring out back. Braking comes courtesy of Shimano in the form of its ever-popular Deore level products. Rolling stock sees Shimano Deore hubs laced to tubeless-compatible WTB i29 rims shod with beefy Maxxis Minion DHF rubber.
- Wheel size: 29er
- RRP: AUD$2,999
Commencal Meta HT Race
With a considered build-kit and a competent geometry, Commencal has a theory that it’s better for riders to have a good hardtail than a bad full-suspension bike.
Featuring an alloy frame with a 150mm RockShox Lyrik front fork, and 2.5” wide 27.5plus tyres the Meta is sure to feel like much more Enduro than trail. The beefy tyres provide tremendous grip, while shorter chainstays should help deliver an exciting ride. The competent SRAM NX Eagle 1x drivetrain is again in play, with a wide-range 10-50T cassette given out back.
The Meta rolls on quality E13 tubeless rims laced to Formula hubs. Maxxis provide the tubeless-ready tyres in the form of its Minion DHF (front) and Aggressor (rear) 2.5" rubber, and the bike is finished off with a quality KINDSHOCK E20i dropper seatpost.
- Wheel size: 27.5in Plus
- RRP: AUD$2,899
After more information about mountain bikes? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Buying a Mountain Bike to find the perfect ride to suit your needs.