One of the questions you might be asking yourself before buying a new bike is what frame material should you go for. Over the years we have seen the price on carbon fibre frames come down to suit more riders, but the alloy v carbon discussion is still hotly debated.
Recently, concerns have been raised on the environmental impacts of carbon fibre, in particular, the recycling process. This has given a resurgence in alloy MTBs. Although a little heavier than carbon, alloy frames are tough, simple, reliable and trustworthy. Less susceptible to damage on the trail or through the inevitable crashes, alloy bikes also come at a lower cost than carbon machines, this opens up these incredibly capable bikes to younger riders or those on a budget that still want the best bang for their buck. The alloy versions still use the exact same modern geometry as their higher tier carbon namesakes.
Aluminium mountain bikes have come a long way since the stereotypes began condemning the harsh ride. Tubes and frames are now designed with compliance built in, saving weight in some areas and adding strength in others.
We have a handy geometry guide here if you want to read more on what makes a modern mountain bike.
Below we have picked out some of our favourites for a closer look.
Marin San Quentin 2 27.5
Frame Progressive and slack 6061 aluminium, Double Butted Frame
Wheels 29mm internal width Marin Aluminium Double Wall wheelset
Suspension 130m RockShox Recon RL fork
Drivetrain SRAM NX 1x11-Speed
Brakes Tektro M275 Hydraulic
Best for Trail centres, jumping, enduro racing, a little of everything!
Marin offers the San Quentin in three different builds. This middle of the range model comes at an amazing price, prime for upgrading over time as you progress as a rider. Marin has created a thoroughly modern and exhilarating hardtail. All models share the same frame, and all are complemented by Marin’s own finishing kit. It’s great to see that all models come with short stems and wide bars, lock on grips and simple and effective 1x drivetrains. Taking the spirit of original San Quentin dirt jump bike from almost 10 years ago, Marin looked to their top tier Slopestyle athlete Matt Jones to help design the new San Quentin as an aggressive trail/enduro hardtail.
With 27.5 wheels, a slack 65° head angle, short chain stays and a good amount of reach, it’s still playful enough for jumping and general trail riding but this bike really shines on steep, technical descents and hammering through sections that really push what a modern hardtail is capable of.
"The slack head angle gives you the confidence to blast down every descent, while the genuinely steep seat angle means spinning your way back to the top for another run couldn’t be easier"- Mbr.co.uk.
Cannondale Habit Alloy 6 29er
Frame 130mm travel Alloy Horst link frame
Wheels WTB STX i23 TCS on Shimano hubs
Suspension 130mm travel RockShox Recon RL fork / Fox Float Performance DPS EVOL shock
Drivetrain Shimano Deore 1x10-speed
Brakes Shimano MT200 hydro disc
Best for Showing what a modern trail bike is capable of
The latest incarnation of the Habit from Cannondale was released to applause and intrigue from the press. A thoroughly modern trail bike available in both alloy and carbon with great geometry numbers and ride feel for an all-around 29er trail bike. One magazine even asked the question "Is this the ideal UK trail bike?"
Shortly after release, the bike is now enjoying fame with the new Cannondale sessions team, fronted by ex-world champion Josh Bryceland, this bike is now in the hands of exciting young riders pushing it to its limits and showing what an alloy trail bike is capable of. Inspiring for younger riders to see a relatively inexpensive bike being used to it's potential, rather than a very high priced carbon superbike.
"The latest Habit rides neutral, is quick over the ground and the suspension feels smooth and comfortable, without ever giving up its travel too easily in the midstroke" - Mbr.co.uk.
Merida One-Sixty 600 27.5
Frame 160mm travel Lite – 6066 series triple butted, hydro-formed aluminium, carbon rocker.
Wheels Merida Expert TR; 29mm inner width wheelset
Suspension 170mm travel Rock Shox Yari RC Fork / Rock Shox Super Deluxe R shock
Drivetrain SRAM NX Eagle 1x12 speed
Brakes Shimano MT-520 hydraulic discs
Best for Taking on any trail you desire
An enduro bike that won’t break the bank, the Merida One-Sixty is a very competent mountain bike that’ll take on any trail that you plan. The One-Sixty is firmly planted into the realms of enduro. It has an updated geometry that is longer, lower and slacker, making sure it’s confidence inspiring on steep and technical trails.
There are carbon models in the one sixty range, though the two entry level models are alloy, the component choice reflects the ambition and capability of the bike. With a 1x12 Eagle drivetrain, a wide wheelset on great Maxxis Minion tyres, Rock Shox at both ends and the new 4 piston Shimano MT-520 brakes.
"The One-Sixty 600 is the most affordable model in Merida’s 160mm travel range but there are no shortcuts"- off.road.cc.
Kona Process 153 27.5
Frame 153mm Travel, 6061 Aluminium Butted
Wheels WTB ST i29 TCS on Formula hubs
Suspension 160mm RockShox Yari RC Motion Control DebonAir fork / RockShox Deluxe RT Trunnion shock
Drivetrain SRAM NX Eagle 1x12 speed
Brakes SRAM Guide T
Best for Maximum fun both up and down, no matter how steep
The one thing that most people who have ridden this latest incarnation of the Kona Process agree on is how much fun this bike is to ride. It encourages you to pop off every lip and fund the transitions in the trail. Although this bike is available as a 29er, with the same ride characteristics and there are also carbon models in the range, this well priced alloy 27.5 version is our pick for this best of.
This Process 153 is a solid package from Kona, with the rowdy linkage and geometry guaranteeing fun while giving an incredibly capable chassis over technical and varied terrain.
"a bike for those who aim to have fun instead of racing against the clock. It’s made for drifting, manualing, and huck-to-flat drops"- Enduro-mtb.com.
Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp Evo 29er
Frame 140mm travel M5 alloy
Wheels Roval Traverse, 30mm inner rim width wheelset
Suspension 150mm Fox Float Rhythm 36 fork / Fox Float DPX2 performance rear shock
Drivetrain SRAM NX Eagle 1x12
Brakes SRAM Code R, 4-piston caliper, hydraulic disc
Best for Pushing your boundries
The new 2019 Specialized Stumpjumper was very well received on launch. Specialized have addressed some issues with previous models to include threaded bottom brackets and a universal shock mount to the linkage. The standard Stumpjumper rides incredibly well whether you choose 27.5 or 29-inch wheels. We were impressed by it's composed climbing ability along with its bottomless feel on the descents.
We were teased on the launch of the new Stumperjumper by this, the EVO model. Specialized has a history of creating EVO versions of their bikes that add a little extra capability. They added a lot with this Stumpjumper EVO. This 29" option has a head angle usually reserved by DH bikes of 63.5° with a front centre on the large of 813mm. This bike destroys terrain and will bulldoze its way through most trails. For those that want to step up their game and never want to be held back on descents that even threaten DH bikes, the new Stumpjumper EVO is the machine for the job.
"A specialist aimed at riders looking for something with boundary-pushing geometry that can take on seriously rowdy terrain"- Pinkbike.com.