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Read on to find out who came out on top in the definitive test of the best hardtail mountain bikes at £500, £750 and £1,000, and pick up the new issue of MBR to find out more.

Hot on the heels of our Trail Bike of the Year test, this time we seamlessly switch focus from the best full-suspension rigs to the best hardtails. With a whopping 18 bikes and three distinct price points, it’s by far the biggest event in the MBR test calendar.

We cover everything from sub £500 entry-level bikes all of the way up to £1,000 hardtails sporting the latest geometry and mod-cons. So if you’re in the market for a new hardtail, this is the one-stop-shop test that will help ensure you get the best possible bang for your buck.

To make the test as fair as possible we stuck to our guns on the upper price for each category, even if that meant some contenders fell by the wayside in the initial selection process. We also tried to keep all of the bikes in each category within £50 of each other. This was most critical with the sub £500 category, as £50 represents 10% of the total price of the bike, giving the more expensive models a distinct advantage.

And it’s this price sensitivity that forced us to suspend our normal practice of fitting the same tyres to each of the bikes. As such, all of the bikes were test exactly as sold, with no allowances being made for overly long stems, narrow handlebars or uncomfortable saddles. After all, any changes to the specification, no matter how small, ultimately increase the bottom line.

As you can imagine, testing 18 bikes in one issue is a massive undertaking, especially if you want to put them through their paces. To make it more manageable, and allow us to retain the same exacting test standard that we apply to every other bike test, we allocate a specific tester to each category. In effect, it’s three separate tests all under the umbrella of Hardtail of the Year. It’s why we have three winners, as it would be impossible to compare the performance or value of one of the £500 bikes, with bike costing twice the price.

THIS YEAR’S WINNERS

BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £500

VITUS NUCLEUS 275 VR

After only the few pedal strokes on the 2017 Vitus Nucleus, it was obvious that all of the other bikes in the sub £500 category would be competing for second place.

The superior geometry of the Vitus frame, combined with the air sprung suspension fork and the best tyres in test, means that the only limiting factors here are your skill level and fitness. It really is in a class of its own and its easily deserving of its second mbr Hardtail of the Year award. Can anyone step into the ring and break its winning streak or even get beyond the first round? We very much doubt it.

BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £750

WHYTE 605

The Whyte 605 is our Hardtail of the Year in the £750 category, but it isn’t perfect. There are a couple of iffy component choices, like the square-taper crankset, none-branded hubs and summer only WTB tyres, but what stops the 605 getting a perfect 10 is the fact that Whyte’s award-winning 800 and 900 bikes are totally dialled. If Whyte could trickle down the geometry and handling, and fit a proper front tyre and a wider bar, the 605 would be on a completely different level to any other bike in the category.

BEST HARDTAIL UNDER £1,000

NORCO FLUID 7.2

The Norco Fluid 7.2 HT+ rewrites the book on what can be produced for a penny shy of £1,000. With a modern trail-focused frame design, choice components, Plus size tyres and a dropper seat post, Norco has produce a standout package that will flatter any rider.

Yes, it’s one of the heavier bikes in this category, but it certainly doesn’t ride heavy and a quick tubeless conversion would instantly save 0.5kg of rotational weight.

Best of all, the Plus size tyres make everything easier. They are a lot easier on the joints too making it a great choice for long days in the saddle.

THIS YEAR’S TEST BIKES

UNDER £500
Diamondback Sync 4.0 £495
Marin Bolinas Ridge 2 £450
Merida Big Seven 40 £475
Ridgeback X1 £499.99
Specialized Pitch Sport £495
Vitus Nucleus 275 VR £489.99 (WINNER)

UNDER £750
Cannondale Trail 4 £699
Canyon Grand Canyon AL 4.9 £747.99
Kona Shred £699
KTM Ultra Fire 29 £745
Nukeproof Scout Sport £750
Whyte 605 £699 (WINNER)

UNDER £1,000
Cannondale Cujo 2 + £949.99
Forme Ripley 2 £900
Genesis Core 30 £999.99
Norco Fluid 7.2 £999.99 (WINNER)
Ragley Marley 1.0 £999.99
Scott Scale 760 £949

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