If you’re looking for a mountain bike on or under the £1000 price mark then you are spoilt for choice. Increased competition in the mountain bike market often results in manufactures pricing their bikes extremely competitively meaning your money goes further. When purchasing a mountain bike you want a bike that is just as capable as you are, so it’s definitely worth doing your research. Rather than buying a ‘cheap’ full suspension bike under the £1000 price mark, you are much better off getting yourself a high quality hardtail/front suspension mountain bike. We’ve put together three of the best 2014 hardtail mountain bikes from Cannondale, Giant and Specialized in a comparison review to help you in your decision.
Update – To read an updated version of this post, see our Best 2015 hardtail mountain bikes under £1000 blog post.
Why buy a hardtail?
As previously mentioned, a hardtail costing £1000 or less will provide you with much better value for your money than a full-suspension mountain bike in the same price bracket. Hardtail bikes only have front suspension, which reduces the overall weight and makes for less bike maintanence. If you aren’t beginning mountain biking on a hardtail, then you should. Riding a hardtail often requires more skill than its full-suspension equivalent, you need to choose your lines more carefully as you don’t have as much suspension to soak up the feeling of rocks and roots. However, many hardtails are hard wearing and can easily absorb the likes of trail centres on a regular basis.
A hardtail is a great way of building and developing skills as the bike reacts differently to a full suspension version, helping you as a rider to improve over time. Due to there being no rear suspension, hardtails pedal amazingly well. There is very little ‘pedal bob’ when riding hardtail bikes resulting in excellent pedalling efficiency, especially when riding uphill! It’s no surprise that many cyclists enjoy riding hardtails around cross-country (XC) loops and trail centres alike.
Cannondale Trail SL 29 3 2014 – £899.99
At £899.99 the Cannondale falls below the £1000 mark. The SL 29 3 comes with 29 inch wheels. Without entering a monumental discussion regarding ‘the best wheel size’ many bikes, especially hardtails and XC bikes, are moving towards the 29inch wheel size. A 29er offers increased rolling ability and increased grip with very little negatives. If you want to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of different wheel sizes, why not read our ‘Size Matters Or Does it?’ post.
The Rockshox XC30 fork supplies the Cannondale Trail SL 29 3 with 100mm of suspension travel with the ability to remotely lock out helping to aid climbing even more. Shimano provide the chainset, with 27 gears to choose from and the Shimano Deore rear mech helps to keep those gear changes as smooth and accurate as possible. The hydraulic brakes also come courtesy of Shimano, coupled with 180mm brake rotor to the front and 160mm to the rear.
The hubs are Cannondale’s own C4 variety laced onto Alex double wall rims for strength with trusty WTB Nine Line tyres providing the grip. The speedy Cannondale has the makings of a cross-country machine with its 29inch wheels and 100mm suspension travel. All this for under £900!
Giant Talon 27.5 1 2014 – £899.99
At exactly the same price as the Cannondale, the 2014 Giant Talon 1 is almost a direct comparison apart from the wheelsize. The Talon 1’s wheels are 27.5 inches in diameter, 1.5 inches smaller than a 29er. If you don’t feel like stepping up to a 29er, the middleman 27.5 inch wheels could be the best of both worlds.
The Giant also has 100mm of suspension travel, by Rockshox XC30 forks, which locks out via a turnkey rather than remotely. In this price range Shimano Deore shifters and a Shimano Deore front mech is already a great start to the gearing system and to be joined by a Shimano XT Shadow rear mech means the Giant already screams value for money. With its 30 gears and crisp and effortless gearshifts this could only be a point in the Giants direction. The FSA crankset and bottom bracket helps to transfer the power to the real wheel with minimal fuss. Both of the Shimano brakes use 160mm rotors to provide ample stopping power when riding off-road.
The Giant S-XC2 rims use double wall technology to maintain strength and are connected to Giants own Tracker hubs. On the rims you’ll find Schwalbe Rapid Rob 2.25 width tyres, which provide great grip, possibly increasing even the most timid of riders confidence. The Giant Talon 27.5 1 is a fun XC bike with added value for money thanks to the good spec Shimano components.
Specialized Rockhopper Pro Evo 2014 – £1000
At bang on the £1000 budget the 2014 Specialized Rockhopper Pro Evo is an extra £100 compared to the Giant or Cannondale. It has the 29 inch wheels, similarly to the Cannondale but there’s something about the Rockhopper Pro Evo that makes it stand above the rest. Specialized describe the Rockhopper Pro Evo as having ‘true trail performance’, with its slightly slacker geometry and 20mm longer suspension travel than the other bikes (unless you purchase the small sized frame which has 100mm travel).
The Rockshox XC forks remains popular, with the XC32 model supplying120mm suspension travel to the Rockhopper Pro Evo. Rather than having the usual quick release spindle, the XC32 forks have a 15mm thru-axel that stiffens up the front-end helping the bike feel planted, over rougher terrain. The forks are also air sprung helping to reduce the weight; there is no remote lockout technology on the XC32 forks but can be locked out via a turnkey.
Unlike the Talon 27.5 1 and the Trail SL 29 3, the Rockhopper Pro Evo runs SRAM gearing rather than Shimano. An X5 front mech paired with an X7 rear mech helps to keep the gearshifts constant and precise. The 2×10 setup only offers 20 gears to choose from, although that may not sound many compared to the Giant Talon’s 30 gears, a 2×10 set up is usually more than enough gears for riding off-road. Instead of having a third front chainring Specialized have replaced this with an E Thirteen Turbocharger bashguard, not a move the competitors have gone for. This immediately lets you know that roots and rocks can be fended off despite the lower bottom bracket. Rather than using Shimano brakes the Rockhopper Pro Evo uses Tektro Draco 2 hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm rotor to the front and 160mm rotor to the rear.
Specialized use their own hubs, the front with the 15mm thru-axel and the rear with the usual quick release skewer. The hubs link to RH double wall rims to increase the wheel strength; on the other side of the rims are Specialized Ground Control 2.1 width tyres. It’s not unknown that Specialized create good tyres and the Ground Control range are no exception. For the sake of spending the extra £100 on a hardtail, you can purchase a more aggressive ride that’s bound to thrill all those who climb aboard if you opt for the Rockhopper Pro Evo.
When purchasing anything it’s important to get value for your money, even more so when you’re spend around £1000 on a bike. Cannondale’s Trail SL 29 3 costs the same as the Giant Talon 27.5 1 at £899.99. Both 2014 models are more than capable of bringing cross-country enjoyment to everyone. Seeing as the Specialized Rockhopper Pro Evo 2014 costs just over £100 more, it takes a more aggressive and fast paced approach when it comes to XC and trail centre riding. These are three more than capable high quality hardtail mountain bikes and can provide you with endless hours of enjoyable riding. All you have to do now is decide which one!
Written by Jamie Johnson