4 Epic Do-Anything Hardtails
Mercer Hungry Monkey
PRICE: R14 500 (frameset)
GET IT NOW: mercerbikes.co.za
A few years ago, I wanted to build what I thought was the coolest mountain bike ever – a hardtail with 26-inch wheels, wide tyres, and a long-travel shock. But even as a bike-shop owner, I couldn’t find anything to do with 26; no decent wheels, or tyres, or anything.
Then I saw that local Cape Town frame-builder David Mercer was building a similar kind of hardtail, but with 27.5-inch wheels. I ordered a frame, cobbled together the other parts, and we built it.
Suddenly, from no bike, I had a bike that could do everything: it was light enough for cross-country, and it had the right angles and geometry to ride aggressive trails. I’ve done an enduro series on it, I’ve ridden Wine2Whales… I love it because it’s so durable and versatile.
I didn’t spend a fortune on a beautiful paintjob (I painted the frame myself), because I don’t want it to be something precious that I’m scared of damaging. It’s an implement of mountain destruction. I look after it, but I also smash it through sand and rocks. For me, that’s what having fun on a mountain bike is all about.
It’s a simple bike that gives me immense pleasure. I’ve had it in and out of Dave’s workshop over the years to be repaired, and I love it even more each time it comes back. – Nils Hansen, owner of Woodstock Cycleworks
Cotic Solaris Max
PRICE: R15 500 (frameset)
GET IT NOW: cotic.co.uk
I own an original Solaris, and it’s an elegantly simple 29er – fun to ride, and effortless to maintain. The guys I ride with all have dual-sus bikes, and they give me grief about my hardtail; but if you’ve never ridden a modern steel-frame mountain bike, then you’re missing out.
Steel isn’t nearly as stiff as alloy or carbon – it has a suppleness that makes for a comfortable, forgiving ride. Plus, I beat them up all the hills.
The latest Solaris has super-long, low, slack geometry (Cotic calls it ‘Longshot’ geometry), designed around a very short stem, wide bars, and 120mm-140mm suspension. It’s balanced, and fast – deceptively fast.
It’s also versatile: you can run 29-inch wheels with XC tyres, or 27.5-inch wheels with dirt-grabbing 3-inch rubber. The frame is Reynolds 853 steel, and it’ll last forever. You’ll love this bike so much, you might never consider going full-sus. – Jon Minster
Trek Roscoe 8
PRICE: R18 700
GET IT NOW: trekbikes.com
The Roscoe 8 and the Cannondale Trail 2 (also featured here) might be the best-value out-of-the-box mountain bikes available at the moment. The Roscoe takes the 27.5+ approach, whereas the Cannondale is a classic 29er. Choosing between them depends on the kind of riding you want to do.
The Roscoe is a trail bike. It comes standard with a 120mm fork and 2.8-inch tyres that dissolve rocks and roots. The frame is alloy, and the drivetrain is 1×11 SRAM NX.
It even comes standard with a dropper post, which allows you to get more centred on the bike when things get gnarly. I can’t tell you how much a dropper improves the ride experience on a hardtail!
If you live near a good trail network and you want an inexpensive bike that can handle anything with minimal maintenance, the Roscoe is hard to beat. – JM
Cannondale Trail 2
PRICE: R17 500
GET IT NOW: cannondale.co.za
This bike is a bargain, considering what you get. Cannondale make great aluminium frames, and the Trail is no exception – the frame is light and stiff, with a simple, elegant design.
There’s literally nothing you have to upgrade: the brakes are Shimano Deore hydraulic; the shock is a RockShox Judy Gold RL with 100mm of travel; and the rest of the parts are a mix of 1×11 Shimano XT and SLX, with an 11-46 Sunrace cassette.
All in, you’re looking at a 13kg bike that’s perfectly suited to a mix of riding. It’s not a burly trail bike like the Roscoe 8 (despite its name), but it’s very happy on dirt roads, jeep tracks and less technical trails. The only thing I’d add is a dropper post. – JM
3 Totally biased reasons to ride a hardtail
1/ Less maintenance. Rear suspension is a complicated business, with pivots that need to be cared for and bearings galore. All you have to do with a hardtail is check the tyre pressure and lube the chain, and maybe top up the air in the front shock every now and then.
2/ You become a better rider. You can’t just hammer through obstacles on a hardtail – you need to choose your lines more carefully. This makes you more aware on the trail, and your skills improve as a result.
3/ Your money goes further. A lightweight hardtail with good components doesn’t cost as much as a small car. If you’re on a budget, you’ll get loads more bike for your buck.