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(The Gear Loop) - First things first: our selection of mountain bikes includes bikes for women, as well as unisex versions. And no, this isn’t anything to do with equality, more a reflection of the fact that brands are getting better at bringing out unisex models that are customisable in more ways than ever before, proof of which comes in the form of things like the innovative Cannondale Jekyll 2. 

That said, even the most customisable of bikes won’t mask problem areas if you don’t take the time to do your pre-purchase research. In a perfect world, all bikes should be ridden before you buy, although sadly this isn’t always possible.

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The next best thing? Advice from an expert - not just a salesperson who’s moonlighting in a store’s bike department that day, but someone who knows about mountain bikes, can understand how riding style translates to requirements, and has ideally ridden bikes from a wide range of brands.

Take the time to read standalone reviews of suitable bikes published by us or specialist mountain biking magazines and websites, and research what the brand you’re considering does best: is it suspension, traction or stopping power? Work out your priorities and go from there. 

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And one final tip: don’t get too fixated on the bits that can be adjusted or swapped out. "Remembering that things like frame fit and suspension can be adjusted to you is more important than looking for bikes with the perfect grips or saddles, which are very personal and cheaper to buy separately," says Sam Rogers at Cycling Sports Group, which owns brands such as Cannondale, GT, and Charge.

"This opens up the option of men’s, women’s and unisex bikes to female riders. If the bike fits and can be adjusted to the correct suspension for you, this is more important," she adds.

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With that in mind, we've picked some of our favourite bikes, all selected for their excellent components, solid build quality, reliability and value for money. But that said, bicycle stock is a minefield at the moment, so don't be too disheartened if there is a bit of a wait for the bike you've fallen in love with. 

The best mountain bikes for women

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GT Force Carbon Pro

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For

  • A brilliantly balanced mountain bike

Against 

  • Not the lightest bike on the list

This is a bike designed to handle the roughest of rides with ease. Features such as the fantastic RockShox suspension, SRAM GX/NX Eagle drivetrain and agility-enhancing adjustable rear centre suspension aren’t just designed to support rider progression, but to crank up the comfort levels.

It’s not the lightest bike, but it’s one that will make tackling the toughest obstacles a joy, thanks to the clever four-bar LTS suss design, which helps ramp up the traction by reducing braking-related rear compression.

Yes, it’s expensive, but if you like tricky terrain and long rides, this bike might just change your life.

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Cannondale Jekyll 2

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For

  • You’ll struggle to find a more customisable bike 

Against

  • Expensive (disclaimer: but totally worth it)

This bike is truly a thing of beauty - but its sleek lines and elegant look belie its don’t-mess-with-me toughness.

A bike that is most at home in the mountains, the Jekyll II has an innovative design, which relies on a combo of fantastic suspension and a low centre of gravity to keep you stable, speedy and in control at all times.

Our favourite thing is the option for maximum customisation, as this is a bike that you can tweak in an almost infinite number of ways.

Everything, from the suspension layout, geometry and chain stay length can be tweaked to suit your riding style. But the emphasis on customisation means you’ll need to know your stuff to get the most out of it.

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Vitus Nucleus 27 VRW

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For

  • Great price

Against

  • Riders keen on progression will probably want a little more tech

To be honest, we were slightly concerned when we read how Vitus had precision engineered this bike for women, because we can ride as hard as men, after all.

To our relief, this bike has all the features we (and, to be clear, men) should look for when searching for an all-terrain mountain bik... irrespective of gender.

We love the double act of low, long, and slack geometry and Suntour Air suspension, designed to soak up rough terrain without compromising stopping power, as well as the features that crank up the durability.

These include a threaded bottom bracket and a wide range groupset courtesy of a Box Four drivetrain. In short? A brilliant value bike full-stop. Not just for women. 

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Ribble HT Ti Enthusiast

For

  • Great value and seriously robust

Against

  • Not great for aggressive downhill riders

This titanium-framed monster is designed with fast single-track riding in mind, with a superb, smooth shifting SRAM GX Eagle groupset meaning all of your efforts aren't wasted.

Ribble has selected things like the RockShox Pike Select+ front suspension and Hope Fortus wheels for their ability to withstand punishment, while the slack 64-degree head angle and short stem make it super reliable at handling tricky, technical terrain.

It's a bit of a beast, but if you're the sort to abuse a bike on the regular, this could be the machine to withstand it. What's more, Ribble offers a variety of frame sizes, covering heights from 5"2'.

Buy direct from Ribble.

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Specialized Chisel

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For 

  • One of the best alloy mountain bikes on the market  

Against 

  • You might want to swap some components out

We’ll try and restrain ourselves from raving about this bike’s two gorgeous colour schemes (our favourite of which is the wonderfully named, scarlet hued gloss maroon/ice papaya), simply because this aspect doesn’t improve performance.

What does, however, is the sheer ruggedness of this alloy hardtail, which has been built with cross country hacks in mind. For a bike with this price tag, the tech is undeniably impressive too: there’s D'Aluisio Smartweld technology, which achieves the perfect balance of strength, rigidity, and weight by moving the hydroformed tube joints away from high-stress areas, along with progressive XC geometry.

In layman’s terms, this refers to the trend for bikes with a longer front centre as a central part of their design - something that can crank up the rideability (although the RockShox Judy Silver’s forks take much of the credit here), making this bike more than capable of tackling tough downhill sections, without dialling down the speed.

This is a brilliant option for anyone looking for a snappy - but forgiving - hardtail at a wallet-friendly price, although Specialized often ensures the top shelf components are only hung on the most expensive bikes.

For this reason, you might look to upgrade a few elements once you've lived with the bike. 

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Bikes for all

What to look for when buying a mountain bike

Full of suspense 

The key difference between many of the bikes we’ve mentioned here is the suspension set-up, with those hardtail models only sporting suspension on the front forks, while full-suss (full-suspension) bikes also pack it at the rear.

The need for this much suspension really depends on the terrain you’re tackling and the type of riding you’re doing. Hardtail bikes make great all-rounders, as they are generally cheaper and lighter, while the lack of rear suspension means they are generally easier and more efficient to ride on the road and on hard-packed surfaces.

Full-suspension bikes soak up the most bumps and offer greater traction and stability on very fast, very technical and very lumpy terrain. Those riders keen on big drop-offs, big jumps and exceedingly fast downhill sections will want all the suspension they can afford.

Material world

Frame material will vary depending on price point and personal preference, with most high-end manufacturers now favouring carbon fibre. It’s a ludicrously expensive material, but it’s also very strong and extremely lightweight. Those covering big miles, hike-a-bike fans or downhill enthusiasts adamant on cycling back to the top will want to shave off the pounds with space-age materials.

However, most bikes on this list will favour aluminium, as it is the cheaper option, but is still great in terms of weight management and it soaks up bumps and scrapes with aplomb. The exception to the rule is Ribble’s titanium beast, which might tip the scales at 12kg, but it is near bombproof.

Stopping power 

Most modern mountain bikes use hydraulic disc brakes, simply because they offer the best stopping power in all weathers. That said, not all brakes are made equal and those with larger disc or more advanced hydraulic systems are naturally the more reliable.

That said, some manufacturers still offer rim brakes, especially in hardtail models, as they are much easier to adjust and maintain. They are also lighter and cost less to fix when things go wrong.

Writing by Tamara Hinson and Leon Poultney.