The halfway point between £500 and £1,000 is a very competitive price bracket. Budget is prioritised above all else when you’re sticking below £500. But breaking the £1,000 mark gives the manufacturers a little more wiggle room to tailor their frames to specific purposes and spec higher-quality components.
At £750, however, you’re caught between managing your budget and keeping your expectations realistic. You’ll be coming across some nicer kit on the bikes in this price range but it may be only one or two standout components among a spec list that’s predominantly made up of basic parts.
Don’t worry too much about compromising though as the manufacturers realise this is a price point that’s largely governed by budget. As such they tend to focus their attention on producing a decent frame and pick components that will keep the costs down, on the assumption that you’ll gradually upgrade them as they wear out over time.
The trick, therefore, is to seek out a bike with the frame that’s best for you and use that as a platform on which to build in future.
It’s easy to get fixated on finding the best fork, gears, brakes or wheel and tyre combination but you need to consider the sort of abuse the British weather and landscape can inflict on them in a relatively short space of time — especially during winter. So if you’re compiling your Christmas list for Santa and you’re limited to £750, prioritise the chassis over the fancy baubles hanging off it.
- Lighter than its rivals
- Better gears than its rivals
- Performance to beat more expensive bikes
The VooDoo Bizango is the bike to beat in the sub-£750 category. It’s capable of embarrassing bikes not just in the £800 category but the £1,000 category too. So what is the magical recipe that this witch doctor uses to charm the rider and hex its rivals?
The 29er wheels are undoubtedly a big part of the equation. They take more effort to get rolling but once they’re going they just don’t want to stop. Another advantage the Bizango has is its tyres — big volume, grippy Maxxis Ardent 2.25in tyres.
Helping matters even further is the frame, which rides brilliantly. The well-balanced 29er chassis handles, smoothes and sprints remarkably well. The final kick in the teeth for the competition is that despite bigger wheels and thru-axle fork, it's over a kilo lighter than anything else we’ve tested in this bracket.
Diamondback Heist 2.0 27.5
- The presence of a RockShox Recon fork is a pleasant surprise
- Decent frame with wider-than-usual handlebar
- Enjoyable ride that encourages you to push harder
While the Heist’s frame is decent, it’s the kit selection that puts the Heist’s ride on a different level. The 740mm bar and mid-length stem create a proper power-steering trail set up, and the Race Face logos are something to show off to your friends.
The RockShox Recon fork is a great find at this price, and the Performance compound Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres underline control better than we’d expected. Even the Shimano XT/SLX/Deore gears are great for the money and help the Heist feel like a much more expensive bike out on the trails.
Whyte 604 Compact
- Compact geometry is ideal for smaller riders
- UK-specific touches add to durability
- Triple transmission means you won't run out of gears
Whyte's 604 Compact is a brilliant option for smaller riders who are on a budget. Compact refers to the 604's frame geometry, which is tailored for those who require a shorter reach and lower standover height. This makes the 604 ideal for tall kids, youths, and shorter riders both male and female.
The 3x9 Shimano transmission of the 604 means there's range for any gradient and Tektro's Auriga brakes mean there's always plenty of stopping power. We enjoyed this bike’s predictable grip and performance inspiring confidence on all but the steepest trails.
Saracen Mantra Pro
- Great frame that’s ripe for upgrades
- Suntour fork is willing to take a beating
- A playful bike that’s determined to push the pace
This is an extremely upgradeable frame (as well as being naturally playful and accurate). The real beauty of the Mantra, though, is that price never comes into the equation when you’re riding it.
The Schwalbe Rapid Rob tyres are definitely more geared to covering the ground fast than outright grip — a little more of that up front would go a good way to improving technical tenacity.
The 160mm-rotor Shimano brakes are a bit undersized for a bike that’s as playful and determined to push the pace as the Saracen is. In our view, though, that’s simply an extra nugget of proof that the Mantra Pro is all the bike you need to have serious fun on serious trails. If you’re not into 29er wheels, the Mantra is the way to go for under £600.
- Easily adjustable suspension fork
- Heaps of upgrade potential
- Capable tyres are hard to find at this pricepoint
UK retailer Go Outdoors is responsible for some of the best value bikes out there right now and the Gauntlet hardtail is certainly no exception. Well-chosen geometry and an easily adjustable suspension fork as well as quality tyres mean that the Gauntlet offers a seriously impressive ride for the price.
It's a shame that the chain drops fairly regularly with the standard set up, particularly as Calibre's standard fit 760mm handlebars encourage you to give it plenty on the downs, although this — along with the bike's other minor shortfalls — aren't exclusive to the Gauntlet and shouldn't cost a bomb to resolve. At a smidge over 30lbs/13.6kg, the Gauntlet isn't too heavy either.