Priced Right: Felt Nine 5 $2,000
Best for: Comfortable responsiveness
The full-carbon Nine 5 offers the most speed and best handling for the least amount of cash. This hardtail features a super light, race-ready frame with outstanding responsiveness and mid-level components that keep the price down without adding much weight. With substantial compliance for a rigid rear triangle design, the ride is relatively smooth, and the lack of rear-end suspension means explosive acceleration on hills or while sprinting. SRAM X5 and X7 components performed adequately for the price, and the Tektro brakes excelled. The RockShox XC32 fork is rough in small bumps and a bit springy. Paired with the bulky WTB wheels, it’s not stiff enough to rail through tight corners.
Runner Up: Giant SLM 29 2.5, $2,100