Wait ... Did You Spend Too Much on Your Bike?
We’ll be honest here, this isn’t a list of budget bikes, at least not in the usual sense. Rather, it’s more of a list of budget dream bikes—bikes that offer nearly the same level of performance as the $8,000 wonder-waffles, albeit with a few extra grams and a distinct reduction in bling factor. You’ll be hard pressed to find any shiny gold fork coatings, shiny gold cassettes or, for that matter, any shiny gold left in your wallet after buying one of these bikes. However, what you will find are high-end carbon frames, suspension that offers a balance of features and value and work-horse components that will get the job done. If you search around a bit, you even find bikes with carbon hoops.
We’ve organized the best bikes under $5,000 into short-, mid-, and long-travel categories, and further prioritized them by value.
Top Pick: The best bang for your buck. Solidly spec’d out of the box.
Runner-Up: Nearly as good of a value as the Top Pick, but fall just shy with a few components that aren’t quite up to snuff.
Honorable Mention: Offers great performance and value, but at a slightly higher cost.
Penny Pincher: Save some cash up front, and use it for upgrades later.
Splurge: You really, really want this bike—what’s few hundred dollars more?
If you’ve read this so far, and still are questioning the sanity of spending $5,000 on a two-wheeled toy, we’ve also compiled our favorite hardtails for under $2,000, full-suspension bikes under $2,500 and the best carbon buys under $4,000.
If you’re someone who jumps out of bed at 5:30 a.m. thinking, “Oh boy! Let’s go climb 5,000-feet!” then the Signal Peak Elite Race might just be the bike for you. With geometry numbers that trend more to the “pedal your guts out” side of things, the full-carbon Signal Peak is meant for racking up the elevation gain. However, it’s not so XC-oriented that you couldn’t go #endurbro an all-day adventure with your pals on bigger bikes. On that note, the 120-millimeter-travel Signal Peak Elite Race is smartly spec’d to keep weight down, but also keep strength for rough descents. Instead of a thoroughbred-XC fork, the Elite Race build sports a Fox 34 Step-Cast for more stiffness and strength. Other details point to the Signal Peak’s alter-ego, like its 180-/160-millimeter rotors with SRAM Level TL brakes, RaceFace Turbine R bars and a molded downtube protector. The carbon Reynolds TR 249 S wheels have a 24-millimeter-inner width, which matches nicely to the 29×2.35 Maxxis Forekasters.
Fezzari also offers the option to swap to Reynolds TR 367 S 27.5+ wheels and matching plus-size Rekon/Minion tires for no extra cost, in addition to an out-of-the-box tubeless setup and a multi-step fitting process to determine frame size, stem length and bar width. You could even opt to swap the stock X-Fusion Manic dropper for a Fox Transfer for an extra $120.
The cherry on top—you can run two water bottles in the front triangle.
For more information about the Fezzari, head to fezzari.com.
You say you want short-travel, but don’t want an XC bike. The new Trance 29 is a bit of an odd duck, but in a good way. It defies categories, with its 115 millimeters of travel in the back that somehow lets it ride terrain usually better tackled on bigger bikes. It’s quick, responsive yet stable and offers one of the best values around. The Trance 29 is nearly $500 less expensive than the Signal Peak, and you’ll be buying one at an actual bike shop with actual service and in-person support, but you miss out on a few things with that lower cost and personal attention. Instead of a full SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, the Trance 29 has NX-level, but does make up for it with the more powerful Guide T brakes instead of Level TLs. The Trance is more suited for the gravity-oriented rider, and comes with a non-step-cast Fox 34 fork, 180-millimeter rotors front and rear, and Giant’s TRX carbon wheelset with a 30-millimeter-inner width. Maxxis Minion rubber is mounted tubeless out of the box—the Trance is meant to get rowdy.
If you wanted to take the Trance 29’s descending capabilities up a few notches without forking out too much more cash, putting on a set of stronger brakes, like SRAM Code Rs (or 200-millimeter rotors), would go a long way as well as mounting a slightly wider tire up front than the stock 2.3 Minion DHF. If climbing is the name of your game though, switching to a GX-level cassette would save some grams and widen your gear range, although you’ll have to visit your local Giant dealer to get an XD freehub driver as the NX Eagle cassette uses a standard Shimano driver.
Interested in learning more about the Trance 29? We reviewed the top tier, Advance Pro 29 0 model in our 2019 Bible of Bike Tests. See the Bible review here, or head to your local Giant dealer for more information.
Kona’s take on the XC-race bike is ready and willing to carry you to the podium. The full-carbon Hei Hei has been around for some time, but it still offers a great package to racers who want a fast bike but also need to save some money for entry fees. Coming in a few hundred dollars less than the Signal Peak, the Hei Hei is actually available at your local bike shop. It also foregoes carbon hoops for a set of WTB KOM Light i29 TCS rims/Formula hubs. And it rocks SRAM Guide R brakes to handle the stopping instead of Level TLs. The Levels are 130 grams lighter per wheel, but offer only two pistons of power and lack tool-free reach adjustment and the Bleeding Edge feature. A Fox 34 Step-Cast comes stock, and a GX-drivetrain moves things along. One thing to note is that the Hei Hei arrives with 34-tooth ring, while the Fezzari comes with a 32-tooth—you’ll need some legs to move this bike.
Out of the box the Hei Hei is ready to race, with a very solid component spec. You do miss out on carbon hoops compared to the Fezzari, but the WTB KOM Light i29s are only about a 100-gram weight penalty, and are wider to better combat tire roll. And the switch to a Maxxis Ardent Race/Ikon rear likely brings the overall rolling weight of the wheels and tires very close to the Fezzari, which comes with heavier yet somewhat grippier Maxxis Forekasters.
Learn more about the Kona Hei Hei here.
We know what you’re thinking right now, what’s an Ibis doing on a “best value” list? It’s not to say Ibis’ bikes aren’t exceptionally nice and well spec’d, they just have the stereotype of having a price tag to match their reputation. Things have changed though, and the GX build of the Ripley LS is nearly on par with the value of the other bikes on this list. In fact, there’s an NX build that we squeezed into our sub-$4k list. But for nearly the same price as the Kona, you get a full carbon frame with the same performance-level Fox suspension, a GX-Eagle drivetrain and Ibis’ alloy wheels. And if you want, Ibis offers an upgrade to Fox’s Factory-level suspension. However, you don’t get a Step-Cast fork—this bike isn’t meant to be as much of a racer as the Hei Hei. Rather, the Ripley LS falls into place beside the Trance 29 in a more do-it-all trail bike manner. There’s even the option for it to come with Schwalbe 2.6 Nobby Nics or Maxxis Minion/Aggressor 2.5 WT tires. However, the Trance 29 and Fezzari both come with carbon wheels, while to get those on the Ripley it will cost you an extra $800.
Each bike on this list so far comes with a dropper, but all max out at 150-millimeters of drop—except for the Ripley LS which comes with 185-millimeter BikeYoke Revive dropper on larger frame sizes.
The Ripley LS also comes with Shimano Deore 2-piston brakes and, as with the Trance, some riders might find that putting a set of stronger brakes on will be a big boon in steeper terrain. Alternatively, Shimano’s metallic pads and larger rotors offer significantly more power and reduce fade.
For a number of years, the Trance Advanced 2 has pretty much blown the rest of the market out of the water with its high value-to-dollar ratio. For $4,300 you get a carbon frame (with an aluminum rear-triangle), an excellent Fox 36 Rhythm GRIP damper fork and DPX2 Performance shock. The Rhythm fork might technically be near the bottom of the totem pole, but it far outperforms its price tag. The Trance also comes with 30-millimeter inner width carbon wheels, which are nearly unheard of at this price. The stock Maxxis High Rollers arrive tubeless with a 2.5 WT up front and a 2.4 out back—for a 140-/150-millimeter travel bike, the Trance is sure posturing for a brawl.
In the past, Giant has spec’d the Trance with a Fox 34. But the upgrade to a 36 didn’t come with a matching upgrade to the brakes. The SRAM Guide Ts are a little under-gunned for the terrain that this bike might find itself in. The Trance comes with 180-millimeter rotors and organic pads, and bumping them up to 200 millimeters and swapping to metallic pads, or even picking up a set of Code RS brakes would ensure that speed stays in check, or at least helps reduce arm pump on extra-long descents with the extra braking power.
Like the Ripley LS GX above, the Mojo 3 GX offers uncanny value for your money, especially for an Ibis. Coming stock with Fox Performance suspension–a 34 and Float DPS–the Mojo 3 can also be upgraded to Factory suspension for just under $500, or just the fork or shock for a few hundred. For lighter riders, Ibis can put on a “Roxy” tuned shock with a lighter damper tune, which is something not many companies do. A GX Eagle drivetrain is on par with the rest of the pack in this list, and a BikeYoke Revive dropper offers either 125-,160-, or 185-millimeters of drop for taller riders. The Mojo comes stock with alloy wheels, with the option to upgrade to carbon, and with two options for tire choice: Schwalbe or Maxxis 27.5×2.6. There’s no additional cost to choose between the two, so you can just decide on what you want based on the terrain.
The Shimano Deore 2-piston brakes should have enough power for most riders, but if you’re one to venture into the steeps, swapping to larger rotors and metallic pads drastically increases power. Also something to note is that the Mojo 3 runs a 27.5 fork, so running a true plus-size tire in the fork might result in clearance issues. Some larger 2.8-inch tires have clearance issues in the rear triangle as well, especially if there’s mud involved. The Mojo 3 works best with the stock 2.6 tires, which still offer great traction and float with plenty of clearance for mud and grit.
Note, this image is not the Dawn Patrol spec. Image: Knolly
Before we set off with the wrong foot forward, yes, this is a $5,000 aluminum bike. It just so happens that making advanced aluminum frames is less expensive than carbon ones—and so for the same price, Knolly believes that making an uber-alloy frame will outperform a mid-level carbon one. It doesn’t just stop at the materials and advanced processes Knolly uses for its frames either—the suspension design is just as sophisticated as any other uber-bike out there, and most other frames don’t use things like titanium hardware and dual-row angular contact bearings in the main pivots.
Knolly also hangs this frame with components that match the brand’s performance-first ethos—you can choose between Fox or RockShox suspension for the rear, and with Knolly’s Dawn Patrol build you get a Fox Performance Elite 34 up front. A set of Spank Oozy wheels come stock, as does a RaceFace cockpit and Chromag touch points. Knolly was even kind enough to spec a 170-millimeter Reverb with the 1x remote. A SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain moves things along, and a set of Guide RS brakes keeps speed in check.
On that note, while the Guide RS brakes are noticeably more capable than the Guide Rs we see on many other bikes, the Fugitive is surely going to end up places where stronger brakes would be beneficial. In addition, the Turbine bars come at 760 millimeters wide, which might be too narrow for some riders. A wider bar can always be cut down, but could be left full width if needed.
Image: Santa Cruz
Big wheels, excellent suspension design and a stout chassis has kept the Hightower as a mainstay in Santa Cruz’s lineup for quite some time now. The S-level build, only offered in the C carbon frame, offers a burly build that could take on a mild bike park day or an all-day epic. The Fox Performance suspension—a 36 and DPS—perform well above their price point, and a full SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain is one the best values you get.
The Guide R brakes are probably a bit under-gunned for the Hightower however, and while increasing the rotor size to 200 millimeters would help, upgrading to a set of Code Rs would be the best solution.
If you want, for an extra $1,200 Santa Cruz will ship the bike with their Reserve 30 carbon wheels. While that’s a lot of extra dough, the lifetime warranty of the Reserve wheels should make the upgrade a little more appealing in addition to all the usual benefits carbon wheels offer.
The 29-inch wheeled, half-carbon, half-alloy Sensor is GT’s do-it-all trail bike, with 130 millimeters of travel front and rear and progressive geometry to back things up. The Sensor Carbon Elite’s spec certainly matches its jack-of-all-trades attitude—a SRAM GX/X01 drivetrain keeps things light but dependable, and a set of Stans Flow S1 wheels helps keep the cost down without dragging down performance. GT has spec’d the Sensor with a KS Lev Si dropper, and included the Southpaw lever as well—nice touch.
While an adequate RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock holds up the back, the Revelation fork is a bit under-gunned, especially considering that most of the other bikes on this list are equipped with much burlier forks. The Revelation at least has a Charger damper, but for harder charging riders, a stouter fork might be in order. It might even be worth it to bump up the front travel to 140 millimeters, which is the way (we’ve heard) that most of the GT staff build their Sensors. If you do choose to go that route, it’s worth noting that GT has designed the Sensor’s suspension to work with a coil shock too—party on.
The Norco might just be the most boring bike on this list, and that’s one of the reasons you should get excited about it. The flat grey paint job may be the dullest color for a bike you can imagine, and the geometry numbers of the Sight could probably set the mean for the industry. A Pike holds up the front end (which was exciting about five years ago) and the momentum is controlled by the same SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain we see on a lot of bikes. Apart from the e*Thirteen rims laced to DT Swiss hubs, there’s nothing particularly flashy about the Sight—which might be exactly the point. Norco hasn’t made a bike made to turn heads on the showroom floor, instead, they’ve made one that scoffs at fashion trends, choosing to instead show its colors out on the trail.
That boring Pike on the front—it’s got a RCT3 Charger 2 dampers, one of the best dampers available, and the reason we see so many GX Eagle drivetrains on bikes is because they work so darn well. The e*thirteen rims and DT Swiss 370 hubs might not be the lightest out there, but both are known for their standout durability and performance. Little touches like 800-millimeter wide Race Face Turbine R bars and Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II tires confirm that the Sight isn’t just another bike that falls in with the rest—it’s very deliberately spec’d to put performance out on the trail first and foremost.
No “best value” list could be complete without a YT on it these days, and the recent release of YT’s 2019 lineup saw a continuation of the brand’s killer deals. The Capra lineup remains largely unchanged from last year, apart from the dropping of the base-level CF build in favor of just the CF Pro and CF Pro Race builds—perhaps this is an attempt to mitigate some of the stocking issues YT has had. Either way, the CF Pro offers such a good deal that we doubt the base CF build will be missed, and there’s still the alloy models at lower price points too.
The CF Pro comes with a build kit that ensures awesome performance at a price that beats out all the competition, even the amazingly priced Fezzari below. For $4,400 you get a RockShox Lyrik RC2 and Super Deluxe RC3 suspension, a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain with Descendant cranks and e*thirteen LG1 Plus wheels, tires and TRS+ seat post. Little details like the e*thirteen TRS+ chain guide and Race Face Turbine R cockpit make the YT stand out further, and of course for a bike as burly as the Capra, nothing but a set of four-pot DH brakes like the SRAM Code RSs would get the job done. YT has even sped’c 200-millimeter rotors front and rear.
What could improve on the Capra CF Pro? Well, if we’re being honest, we wouldn’t really change anything. It comes dialed out of the box and heck, you even get a torque wrench and shock pump with the bike when it arrives.
Fezzari has been making a name for itself these last few years, and has stepped up its offering to be seriously competitive in the market. The La Sal Peak is Fezzari’s long-travel 29er complete with a full carbon frame with internal tubes for easy cable routing and modern, progressive geometry to match such leading brands as Transition and Yeti. Fezzari also packs a heck of a punch into its bikes’ component specs. On the La Sal Peak Elite, you get RockShox suspension, a Lyrik RC2 and Super Deluxe RC3, a full SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, Stan’s Flow MK3 wheels and, best of all, SRAM Code RSC brakes. Other nice points include Race Face Turbine R bars, stem and a Fox Transfer dropper.
If you want to go a little crazy and throw a set of carbon wheels into the mix, the La Sal Peak Elite Race ($5,600) is exactly the same spec apart from Reynolds TR 309 S wheels in place of the Stan’s. A thousand extra dollars for a set of carbon hoops isn’t a bad deal in itself, which is only made sweeter when you factor in the lifetime warranty of Reynolds wheels.
The La Sal Peak, like pretty much every other bike on this list comes with EXO casing tires, which, you guessed it, might not be burly enough for some riders. Apart from that small detail though, the La Sal Peak Elite leaves little to be desired. Heavy riders might want to switch to a 200-millimeter rotor up front, but the Code RSCs will have plenty of power for almost anyone.
Fezzari also offers custom bike fit which adjusts things like dropper post length, bar width and stem length based on the measurements you provide.
Image: Santa Cruz
The new Bronson is more than a mini-Nomad, it’s got its own distinct personality as a trail brawler who likes to find the side hits and trail gaps, but isn’t afraid to blast into a rock garden at Mach Stupid. While the Bronson may ride differently than the Nomad, Santa Cruz has chosen to use a very similar spec on both bikes, one certainly suited for taking punishment at high speeds. A Fox Performance 36 hangs off the front and a Rockshox Super Deluxe R soaks up things in the rear, and both are aided by the 2.6-inch Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR rubber that comes on the S+ build (the regular S build comes with a 2.5 and 2.4). The Bronson also comes stock with a set of Code R brakes and 180-/200-millimeter rotors—a clear indication that this bike isn’t messing around.
There isn’t much that would need to change out of the box as Santa Cruz has smartly spec’d the Bronson for riding hard. However, some riders, particularly in rougher terrain, might find the EXO+ casing Minions to be under gunned. Unfortunately, the Minions don’t come in a stronger casing for 2.6, but plenty of other tires, like the WTB Vigilante, come in a stronger casing for the wider width.
It may be aluminum, but for a bike that’s meant to be absolutely sent to the moon and back that might not be a bad thing. The Reign SX is pretty much what it sounds like—a beefed up version of the already beefy Reign enduro shred sled. The SX models come with coil shocks and longer, 180-millimeter travel forks to complete a bike that encroaches on DH-rig territory. Giant is known for bringing great value with its bikes, and the Reign SX 1 certainly continues that trend. For $4,000, you get DVO suspension—an Onyx SC fork and Jade shock—which is a rare find on any bike other than a Giant, who recently partnered with DVO. You’ll also get 800-millimeter wide bars, a set of SRAM Code R brakes with 180-/200-millimeter rotors and a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain.
Perhaps the only component spec that would need to be changed are the EXO-casing Maxxis tires. Even though they are plenty wide at 2.5-/2.4-inches, for a clearly gravity-oriented bike like the Reign SX, this bike still deserves the more supportive Double Down casings. Going out on a limb, we’re pretty confident that anyone interested in the Reign SX isn’t as concerned about weight savings as they are flat protection and durability. In fact, as evidenced by the Reign’s head-scratchingly slack 72-degree seat tube angle, that climbing has (quite literally) taken a back seat on this bike, and the tires should follow suit. However, at $4,000, you could probably afford two extra sets of tires for dry and wet conditions, maybe even an extra wheelset, and still come out spending less than some of the other bikes on this list.
Learn more about the Reign SX at Giant’s website here.