When it comes to road cyclists, most “ordinary” people think we’re a weird bunch, but in the cycling world it’s the mountain bikers who are viewed as a “unique bunch of riders.”
Not only are mountain bikers unique, some even say they’re “out there.” But here’s the thing about mountain bikers; They are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and loyal sports people you’ll find on planet earth. Mountain bikers are loyal, very loyal, and when it comes to bike brands, many riders stay with the same brand their entire riding lives.
In this article, we are going to take a look at the top 12 mountain bike brands on the market. The list is not curated in any particular order. It’s simply designed to introduce newcomers to mountain biking and familiarize them with the industry’s most popular and reputable brands.
We’ll also delve into:
- The different types of mountain bikes
- The kinds of materials used and finally
- The right bikes for the right trails
Some of the brands below you would’ve heard of, like Trek and Cannondale, while others might be less familiar, like Kona and GT. Either way, I can ensure that each of the twelve brands on the list manufactures high-quality bikes for every type of trail riding.
It’s just a matter of choosing which one is best for you!
Company is based: Waterloo, Wisconsin, USA
Popular Models: Fuel Exe 9.9 and Supercaliber 9.9 XX1
Pros: Trek is commonly acknowledged as the grandfather of mountain bikes, being the first company to manufacture high-quality, affordable bikes for the niche
Trek is quite simply one of the most recognizable bike brands on the market today, with quality bikes across all cycling niches and categories, such as road cycling and mountain biking.
The Trek brand really rose to fame during the 1990s thanks to the success of the legendary road cyclist Lance Armstrong who singlehandedly took Trek from a relatively unknown bike brand to an international titan within the industry. Unlike many bike brands that excel in one area, Trek is just as well-known for its road bikes as it is for its mountain bikes.
Trek is the global authority in mountain biking technology. It’s no wonder that their mountain bikes are by far the most technologically refined in the industry today. At Trek, their innovations are not restricted to only the highest-quality mountain bike models; in fact, all Trek mountain bikes are packed with features and components that help to make your riding experience a memorable one.
Company is based: Connecticut USA
Popular Models: Cujo 1 and the Cujo Neo
Pros: Cannondale makes some of the best, if not the best, mountain bikes on the market and has been doing so for more than 30 years.
Cannondale, similar to Trek, has been at the forefront of the mountain biking industry for decades now. Cannondale focuses its attention on innovation and bikes made specifically for mountain bikers who love riding the trails.
Their initial mountain bike was first introduced in 1983, and the company has since gone on to dominate the e-bike market now with models such as the Adventure Neo and the Canvas Neo. If you’re after an affordable, high-quality mountain bike, it’s tough to surpass the reputable and trustworthy folks at Cannondale.
Company is Based: California, USA, and Taiwan
Popular Models: Trance and Anthem
Pros: Giant is one of the only bike brands that manufacture everything in-house, drastically cutting manufacturing costs.
Giant is, yep, you guessed it, a “giant” in the cycling industry and has been manufacturing high-quality road and mountain bikes for decades now. Giant was first established way back in 1972 and remarkably has continued to manufacture some of the best mountain and road bikes on the market.
The company manufactures all of its road and mountain bikes in Taiwan using its own components. Giant utilizes cutting-edge technology and innovative designs to keep Giant at the top of the industry. The fact they develop their components in-house helps to drastically keep the costs down while keeping quality assurance high.
Giant is also a powerful player when it comes to supporting the cycling and mountain biking niche. The company sponsors several professional men’s and women’s teams on the road cycling and mountain biking tours.
Giant is one of the only brands to offer high-quality bikes across all categories, not just the high-end like many competitors.
Company is based: Koblenz, Germany
Popular Models: Lux Trail CF and Luc Trail CF 9 Emily Batty
Pros: Canyon bikes are made to order; yes, that’s right, made to order. The company is best known for its German engineering, continuing the German tradition of manufacturing cars such as Porsche, Audi, and Mercedes Benz.
The Canyon bike company is most recognized for its road and time trial bikes, but with that said, in recent years, the brand has become a real big hitter in the mountain bike category. The Canyon bike brand was founded in Germany and still has its headquarters based in the city of Koblenz.
As mentioned, the brand is best known for its German engineering, which utilizes the latest technology and design features and makes each bike specific to the customer’s requests and dimensions.
Canyon offers different types of models across all categories, including everything from full-suspension bikes to the more basic hardtail. Canyon has also recently entered the e-bike market with its ever-popular model, the Pathlite.
Company is based: Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Popular Models: Breed and Broam
Pros: The fact that Felt design and manufacture all of their dirt and gravel bikes in the USA using local craftsmanship is one heck of a unique selling point.
Felt is one of the newcomers to the mountain bike and dirt categories. The company is based in the USA and strives to take riders back to their childhood days when they “felt” they could simply head into the wilderness and enjoy the great outdoors. As a matter of fact, this is where the brand’s name, Felt, first originated.
Felt’s gravel and adventure bikes are reliable, durable, and, most importantly, affordable. Whether you’re looking for a bike for the rolling hills or the backcountry trails, Felt’s gravel and dirt bikes deliver riders with versatile designs and suspension systems that can handle even the most rugged terrain.
Felt bikes handle exceptionally well, providing riders with a sense of safety and peace of mind, especially when descending on the hairiest of trails. Felt also has a wide range of gearing options, making it easy for customers to choose the specifications that suit their riding style the most.
Company is based: Morgans Hill, California, USA
Popular Models: Demo Expert and StumpJumper
Pros: Riders are attracted to the trail for various reasons, whether to pursue that rush of adrenalin, push their limits, or flee the daily struggle. Regardless of your inspiration, riders will find a Specialized bike that puts a smile on their face.
When it comes to mountain bike brands, Specialized is right up in the top tier with the other big manufacturers like Trek and Cannondale. The company also manufactures bikes for the road category but has become increasingly seen as a mountain biking brand in recent years. Their Starjumper model is one of the best-selling mountain bikes of all time across any brand and continues to sell to this day.
Specialized bikes are lightweight, durable, and reliable and are just as poised on the blacktop as they are on the rugged trails and steep descents. Mountain biking is in the brand’s DNA, and it shows in every model that rolls off the manufacturing line.
The brand offers a wide range of high-quality and affordable bikes in the following categories:
- Trail and
Simply put, whether you’re a newcomer to mountain biking or a seasoned veteran, Specialized has a model to suit your riding needs and will keep you safe and enjoying the trails for years to come.
Company based in: California, USA
Popular Models: Alpine Trail Carbon, Rift Zone, and Bobcat Trail
Pros: Like Specialized, Marin focuses most of its research and development on building the best mountain bikes possible. This results in bikes designed specifically for mountain bikers, not the “hybrid” bikes that many non-mountain biking brands offer.
Marin is one of the only bike brands in the industry that solely concentrates its focus on the mountain bike category. The company was first established in 1986 by Bob Buckley and has since grown to become a popular brand with somewhat of a “cult-like” following among mountain bikers.
The brand is based in Marin county, the USA, with most of the bikes being named after suburbs and locations throughout Marin county itself.
Marin Bikes are manufactured with fun in mind. Since the first mountain bikes carrying the Marin name debuted in 1986, the company has been devoted to improving mountain bikers’ lives by designing fun, high-quality bikes that give riders years of riding pleasure.
Marin says about its company, “we operate a business based on hard work, fueled by passion, and fulfilled by the satisfaction of bringing the joy of cycling to riders across the world.”
Company Based in: The Pacific Northwest, Canada
Popular Models: Process X, Honzo, and Hei Hei
Pros: Out of all the brands on this list, Kona is known and recognized as the brand that builds the best mountain bikes on the market. They focus all their attention on the niche, and it shows.
The Kona bike brand was established in 1988 by Jacob Heilbron and Dan Gerhard in the Pacific Northwest of Canada. The brand is well respected and represented on the world tour, with many pro riders choosing the brand as their go-to ride.
Kona mountain bikes have something for every level of rider. Whether you’re out to climb an epic mountain range or descend at breakneck speeds, the Kona brand has you covered. The brand’s flagship models are the Process X CR and the Process X CR DL, both of which are comfortable on the trails.
The Hei Hei models are the bike of choice for those riders looking to demolish vert records, while the Honzo is the ideal bike for those hardcore steel lovers. Last but not least is the Unit X model, which is perfect for those riders who love bike-packing around the countryside.
Company Based in: Santa Ana, California, USA
Popular Models: Force Expert and Fury Pro
Pros: GT Bicycles is another smaller but devoted bike company that has dedicated its time and efforts to building bikes specifically for the mountain bike market.
The GT Bicycle brand has garnered a cult-like following over the years, particularly in the BMX and mountain biking categories. The company itself was founded way back in 1972 before mountain biking was even a thing and now has the full support of a multi-national conglomerate based out of Canada.
This conglomerate also has several other well-known and respected bike brands under its vast umbrella, including Schwinn, Mongoose, and Cannondale, which I looked at earlier in the piece. The GT bikes are designed in North America and manufactured in Asia.
Company Based in: Santa Cruz, California, USA
Popular Models: V10, Megatower, and Highball
Pros: Would you believe my first BMX was a Santa Cruz? To this day, I still remember the Santa Cruz t-shirt and hat mom bought to go with it. Santa Cruz is one of the most iconic brands from the 90s, and they are still at the top of their game.
Established in 1984 in Santa Cruz, California, the brand does things a bit differently than the conventional way of manufacturing large quantities of affordable bikes. Instead, Santa Cruz focuses their attention on building limited numbers of high-quality mountain bikes; this is a primary factor in why they’re viewed as so cool.
Santa Cruz bikes have drastically different design elements from other brands and offer riders bikes that are visually striking and jam-packed with the premium components from brands like Shimano and SRAM. It’s fair to say that Santa Cruz customers are the most loyal in all of the mountain biking.
Many Santa Cruz riders have never even owned another model from a competitor’s brand, and chances are they never will. So if you’re after a unique, prestigious, and rare bike, I’d highly recommend considering Santa Cruz for your next mountain bike.
Company Based in: USA
Popular Models: Portal, Dragon, and Renegade
Pros: Many people new to the sport of cycling have never heard of Jamis, but those of us who have been around a while understand the enormous influence and impact that Jamis has had on the cycling industry.
The bike is an incredible piece of machinery and one of the only ones that I believe is 100% positive; Ok, barring for those cold wintery days. For many people, the bike is a great way to stay fit and healthy while reducing your carbon footprint and helping to support mother nature.
The folks at Jamis set out to make every bike as light as possible, easy to ride, and environmentally friendly as any other. Jamis is a brand that is truly devoted to cycling. Whether it’s mountain biking, road cycling, e-bikes, or kid’s bikes, the same R&D, passion, and care go into each and every frame.
According to Jamis, they have “been building category-defining superbikes that put professionals atop podiums at road races and mountain bike events.” It’s clear to see by the brand’s history and longevity in the cycling industry that the crew at Jamis are true believers in the power of two wheels.
The brand doesn’t just build bikes, but they strive to build better lives and better communities through cycling. If you’re a serious cycling fan passionate about the sport and helping the environment, I couldn’t think of a better brand to spend your hard-earned money with.
Company based in: Tennessee, USA
Popular Models: Nolichucky and Pinhoti III
Pros: The team at Litespeed is on the cutting edge of designing and building titanium race bikes for both mountain and road categories. Far from being afraid to push the envelope, Litespeed has become a trailblazer in the cycling industry, predominantly using materials like titanium.
When it comes to choosing a bike, it’s never an easy task especially considering how expensive many bikes are these days. The guys and gals at Litespeed have made it their mission to make your job as a customer as simple and stress-free as possible.
The brand prides itself on bringing unparalleled experience, cutting-edge technology, and expertise to the bikes it builds. It’s been said that Litespeed customers never forget the first time they rode a Litespeed bike; there’s something that a titanium bike frame offers that other materials just can’t match.
Established in 1986 and owned by the American Bicycle Group, Litespeed is still an independent bike manufacturer designing and building quality bikes handcrafted in their factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Litespeed has the advantage of offering customers a small-business mentality with big-business dreams.
Litespeed’s attention to detail and focus on customer service results in visually striking bikes that perform superbly well in all weather conditions. Litespeed bikes are stiff where they need to be yet deliver a level of comfort and compliance to riders that is hard to match.
Finally, did you know that NASA chose Litespeed as its “titanium technology partner” for the Mars Curiosity Rover? Not a bad accomplishment to be recognized by NASA.
Four Most Common Types Of Mountain Bikes
When choosing a mountain bike, there are four main categories you’ll have to choose from, although the categories are seemingly growing more expansive each year.
Currently, the four primary and most types of mountain bikes now available on the market are:
- Downhill and
But before you go burning a big fat hole in your wallet, you’ll also need to consider other factors like how often you plan on riding? What type of riding you’ll be doing? and then there’s always the issue of budget or, in my case, lack thereof.
Let’s take a brief look at the four main types.
By far and away, the trail bike is the most common mountain bike sold on the market today. Trail bikes are regarded in the niche as the “great all-rounder,” a bike that is just as comfortable hurtling across the mountainside as it is on the blacktop.
Trail bikes are exceptionally good at descending and equally as impressive when it’s time to climb. Trail bikes generally make excellent choices for beginners who are still unsure what style of riding they prefer.
Mountain biking is not just about smashing down trails and jumping over obstacles; in fact, many mountain bikers love to ride long distances. Cross-country mountain bikes are typically well-balanced and provide the rider with outstanding comfort and compliance.
If you’re a rider who enjoys longer, slower rides across the mountainside rather than up and down it, then the cross-country mountain bike is probably the right choice for you. There are a huge number of models on the market ranging from affordable to expensive, so as always, be sure to do your research first.
Well, the name is a giveaway with the downhill mountain bike, but just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, these bikes are built for going downhill fast, very fast. If you’re a risk taker and an experienced mountain biker who loves the adrenaline rush, then downhill bikes are for you. The bikes are designed to be aero, with limited pedaling, and can quite literally “descend like a stone.”
Similar in nature to the trail bikes mentioned earlier, enduro mountain bikes are also excellent all-rounders that are at home both descending and climbing ridgetops. Enduro bikes tend to be lightweight, made of high-quality components, and are extraordinarily robust and durable. Simply put, enduro mountain bikes can take a real beating day in and day out.