Top 5 Trail Bikes for Any Budget

Josh Kirchhoff

Updated March 20, 2024

The mountain bike industry is bigger than it's ever been, and these days you can get a bike designed for riding up, down, and over just about any terrain you can imagine. But as exciting as all this specificity is, there’s a reason why trail bikes are still the most popular and best selling bikes on the market. Instead of hyper focusing on one single aspect of riding, these machines are designed to perform equally well on climbs and descents in a variety of terrain, making them the perfect one bike to do it all! In this video we’ve chosen our favorite trail bikes for every budget, starting with a $1,700 sleeper and finishing with a five-figure super-bike. 

Now even within the ultra-versatile trail bike category there is still quite a large range of wheel size, suspension travel, and geometry, and bikes on either extreme have their own pros and cons. But the ones we’ve chosen as our winners are all full suspension 29ers with between 130 and 150 mm of rear wheel travel. But for each price point we’ve included a couple runner ups that are equally impressive and may be the better option for your needs.

< $2,000 ($1,699)
Marin Rift Zone 29" 1

Budget-Friendly Trail Bike with Impressive Features

 But right now, let’s get started with our first and lowest price category, the best trail bike for under $2,000, which we’ve awarded to the Marin Rift Zone 29 1 which lists for just $1,699. A few years ago, the thought of getting a trail-worthy mountain bike at this price was unheard of, but Marin has done a great job of packing tons of value into this bike. Best ye,t there’s a good chance you could buy this from a local bike shop as opposed to online from a direct to consumer brand, which is a huge perk for new riders.

Despite its low price, the Rift Zone’s frame gets many of the same features you’ll find on higher end bikes, like internal cable routing, ISG tabs, and compatibility with 12x148 boost spaced hubs with a UDH derailleur hanger. In terms of geometry, the Rift Zone is just about as average as it gets for a modern trail bike, which once again is great if you’re new to the sport and aren’t sure what your preferences are just yet. The bike features 140mm of travel in the front and 130 mm in the rear, as 65.5 degree head tube angle, 77 degree seat tube angle, and short 430 mm chainstays across all four sizes. The size large has a reach of 485 mm and the highest stack of any on our list at 637 mm.

Having a high quality frame with modern standards is the most important thing to pay attention to when buying an entry level bike, and thankfully Marin knocks it out of the park in that regard. But the Rift Zone 1 gets a decent set of components for the price as well, highlighted by air sprung X-Fusion suspension front and rear. It also gets an 11 speed Shimano Deore drivetrain with a wide range 11-51 tooth cassette and Tektro M280 hydraulic disk brakes. Lastly, the Rift Zone comes with tubeless ready, sealed bearing wheels and 2.35” Vee Tire Co. Snap WCE tires, which are also tubeless. The only thing this bike is missing is a dropper post, but that’s a relatively simple and inexpensive upgrade that you can get down the road.

The Marin Rift Zone 1’s combination of a dialed, future proof frame and well thought components earns it 4.5 out of 5 goats. The only thing keeping it back from a perfect score is the lack of a dropper post, which you’ll actually find on both of our runner ups for the sub $2000 category, the Polygon Siskiu T7 and Giant Stance 29 2. That said each of these have their own shortcomings as well; the Polygon can only be bought online without the help of a local bike shop and the Giant has pretty outdated geometry.

$2,000-$3,000 ($2,799)

Our next price category is $2-3K, which is as competitive as ever and it was tough to settle on our favorite. In the end, we chose the YT Jeffsy Core 1, which lists for $2,799. The Jeffsy has earned itself a cult-like following for its value packed build and all-around performance.

At the heart of the bike is the same sleek 145mm travel frame you’ll find on all alloy models of the bike. It In addition to the same modern standards you’ll find on most bikes at this price point, the Jeffsy has two additional mounting bolts under the top tube to add a storage bag or tool holder. The bike is available in 5 sizes, each of which gets 65.6 degree HTA, and 435 mm chainstays. The size large comes with a 481 mm reach, and 622 mm stack height, and 78.5 degree STA. 

Moving onto the part spec, and as you’d expect from a direct to consumer brand like YT, you got a whole lot of bang for your buck with the Core 1! The bike features a 150 mm RockShox Lyrik Base fork and DLX Select+ shock. You’ll also get a SRAM NX 12 speed drivetrain, SRAM DB8 four-piston hydraulic disk brakes, and an in-house YT dropper post. The Core 1 rolls on a pair of SunRIngle SR329 Trail Comp wheels wrapped in a 2.5” Maxxis DHF in the front and a 2.4” DHR II in the rear, both of which get Maxxis’s EXO+ casing and 3C rubber compound.

In total, we’re going to give the YT Jeffsy Core 1 5 out of 5 goats. The attention to detail that went into making this bike ready for just about anything straight out of the box; refusing to cut corners in even the seemingly minor areas like tires or cockpit setup. But like I mentioned earlier, there’s loads of other great bikes at this price. Two standouts for us are the SRAM GX equipped Fezzari Cascade and the aggressive short travel Canyon Spectral 125 AL 5.

Our next price category of $3,000 to $5,000 is arguably the broadest and most diverse of any, with options from just about every major manufacturer in the industry. After going back and forth on several excellent options, we ended up choosing the Trek Fuel EX 8 GX AXS as our winner, which comes in at the top of our price limit at $4,999. 

This latest version of the Fuel EX is one of the most adaptable bikes on the planet, featuring 6 geometry configurations, an adjustable suspension leverage rate, and mullet compatibility. You’ll also get in frame storage on the EX 8, which is still relatively uncommon for an alloy frame. The big is available in a whopping 7 sizes, fitting riders 4’9 to 6’8. Each size gets 140 mm of travel in the front paired with a 165 mm fork, and in the bike’s low setting with a neutral headset cup gets a 64.5 degree headtube angle. Just about everything else will change based on frame size, maintaining an equal ride feel for the entire range of bikes. In the low setting, the size large gets a 485 mm reach, 621 mm stack, 77.2 degree STA, and 440mm chainstays. 

The Fuel EX 8 GX AXS is the most expensive alloy version of the bike you can get, and as you’d imagine that means you’ll be getting some pretty nice components bolted to it. As the name suggests, this model gets a full SRAM GX t-type drivetrain as well as a pair of SRAM DB-8 brakes. Suspension duties are taken care of by Fox, with a 150 mm Fox Rhythm 36 up front and a Float X Performance shock in the rear. Rounding out the spec is a nice set of high-engagement Bontrager Line Comp wheels and 2.5” Bontrager XR5 tires.

The combination of the frme’s high degree of tunability mixed with the SRAM’s newest electronic drivetrain earns the Trek Fuel EX 8 GX AXS a full 5 out of 5 goats in our book. At $5,000 you could get yourself a carbon frame from a variety of manufacturers including Trek, but if your into having the latest tech on your bike then this is the one for you. A few other great options at this price are the capable short travel Rocky Mountain Element A30 and the burly Ibis Ripmo AF.

$5,000-$8,000 ($7,299)

We’ve made it to our second highest price category, $5,000 to $8,000. Now, onto our winner, which is the Transition Smuggler Carbon GX AXS, which lists for $7,299. Despite being Transition’s second smallest bike, the Smuggler has continually been praised for its ability to handle rough terrain while still remaining as playful and lively as you’d expect from a 130 mm travel bike.

The bike is available in 5 sizes, S-XXL, and all feature a 65 degree head tube angle. The size large gets 485 mm reach, 625 mm stack height, 78 degree STA, and 443 mm chainstays. This combination gives the Transition the longest wheelbase of any bike on our list, which certainly plays into its poised composure at high speed. 

The Smuggler features Fox suspension, with a 140 mm 34 Performance Elite fork and Float Performance Elite shock. It’s quite unusual to see a piggyback shock paired with 34 mm stanchions fork, and larger, more aggressive riders may notice a bit of unwanted flex from the fork. That said, the highly tunable high and low speed compression adjustments are sure to help dial the suspension into each rider’s specific needs. The highlight of the Smuggler's part spec is of course its SRAM GX t-type access drivetrain, as well as a pair of SRAM Code Silver brakes. The bike also gets RaceFace Aeffect R wheels with a 2.5” 3C Maxxis Assegai up front and 2.4” Maxxis Dissector in the rear, both of which getting Maxxis’s EXO+ casing. Another big highlight for me personally, is the inclusion of 210 mm dropper post on the three largest sizes, meaning you can get the most out of the bike’s low seat tube. One slight drawback for some riders though, may be the lack of in-frame storage like many other carbon bikes at the price point, instead Transition has opted to add a pair of mounting bolts below the toptube.

In total we’re giving the Transition Smuggler Carbon GX AXS 4 out of 5 goats. We love its capable geometry and robust part spec, but would love to see the Fox 34 swapped for something like a 36 to keep up with the bike’s downhill capability. Two other great bikes at this price point are the fast, XC oriented Santa Cruz Tallboy GX AXS and, for all the 27.5 fans out there, the ultra playful Yeti SB140 27.5 XT.

>$8,000 ($8,500)

Our fifth and final price category is for any and all bikes over $8,000. At this point it gets harder and harder to distinguish performance differences as you increase price, but our winner, the Specialized Stumpjumper Pro, which lists for $8,500 includes everything you need from an elite level trail bike without any excess fluff to further increase the price. First up, you’re actually getting the same high-mod carbon frame found on the highest end S-Works model, keeping the bike’s weight at under 30 bounds. Like the Trek Fuel we mentioned a moment ago, the Stumpjumper is loaded with modern amenities like in frame storage and adjustable geometry.

Speaking of geometry, the Stumpjumper is available in 6 sizes, all of which feature 29” wheels, 130 mm of rear wheel travel, and a 65 degree HTA in the low setting.  The S4 frame size gets a 475mm reach, 632 mm stack height, 76 degree STA, and 432 mm chinstays.

As you’d imagine, the Stumpjumper Pro gets all the latest bells and whistles including a 140mm Fox 34 Factory fork and DPS Factory shock. You’ll also get a SRAM XO transmission drivetrain, SRAM Code Silver brakes, and a BikeYoke Revive dropper post. Lastly, the Stumpy Pro rolls on carbon fiber Roval Traverse rims latest to DT Swiss 350 hubs with 2.3” Specialized Butcher tire up front and a 2.3” Specialized Purgatory in the rear.

Our last bike, The Specialized Stumpjumper Pro, will once again earn itself a full 5 out of 5 goats. This bike is an example of just how far mountain bike technology has come, and this may sound like a shocker, but you’re actually getting a whole lot of bike for “just” $8,500, and for that reason we’re going to give it a full 5 out of 5 goats. If you want something with a bit more aggressive geometry and part spec then check out the Pivot Switchblade Team XTR and if you want the epitome of technical innovation and integration, then take a look at the Scott Genius 900 Ultimate.

Runner Ups:

Pivot Switchblade Team XTR

Scott Genius 900 Ultimate