Vital MTB's $2,000 Mountain Bike Comparison 16

Can a rider get solid performance out of a full-suspension mountain bike that costs $2,000 or less? We wanted to find out.

Vital MTB's $2,000 Mountain Bike Comparison

Can a new rider buying a first-time mountain bike really meet their performance aspirations at an entry-level, beginner price tag? Vital MTBers, welcome to our $2,000 full suspension mountain bike comparison test.

At Vital, we have the privilege of spending time aboard some really nice, and expensive, mountain bikes. We’ve ridden the UNNO Ever downhill bike which is almost $11,000, and we’ve tested wheelsets that cost as much, or more than, the bikes featured here. We felt it was time to take a step back and see how capable a $2,000 mountain bike really is.

 

We found six full-suspension 29ers in the 120mm to 140mm rear travel range. They’re considered trail bikes if you’re unaware of how mountain bikes are classified these days. A trail bike is made to do a little bit of everything, and hopefully do it pretty well. It has more travel than a cross-country bike and less travel than what’s called an enduro bike.

Every bike we tested was a size medium and coincidentally, not by our choice, they all featured SRAM 12-speed 1x Eagle drivetrains. That means there is a single chainring up front at the cranks and no front derailleur, keeping the bike simple, efficient and quiet. There were component similarities between some of the bikes, like three of them running a RockShox Recon fork, but each bike was definitely its own machine, each with unique riding characteristics. Enjoy our findings as we put these inexpensive mountain bikes to the test.

Timeline and Details for the Bike Reviews in our Video


3:34 - $2,000 GT Sensor Sport Bike Review

  • Great pedaling and rear suspension performance
  • One of the most modern geometries in our test with 450mm reach, 66-degree head angle and 42mm offset fork
  • Lack of dropper seat post and poor brake performance
  • Heaviest bike in test, over 34 pounds
  • Purchased through GT authorized bike shops
  • GT Website

GT is a legacy brand with a massive history in BMX and mountain biking. The $2,000 Sensor Sport is the most affordable bike in GT's trail line-up. The geometry on the Sensor may be considered the most modern of the group. Our medium had a 450mm reach. The slackest-of-the-bunch 66-degree head angle is paired with a 42mm offset RockShox Recon fork.

The pedaling efficiency of the 130mm rear travel GT was a highlight of all the bikes in the test. Despite its hefty 34-pound weight, the bike accelerated well uphill and the rear end stayed planted and composed with a laterally stiff design and high-volume X-Fusion Trunnion-mounted shock. The front end of the bike, however, was out of balance with the well-performing rear end. The front tire just wasn’t enough for pushing hard in the corners or tackling rough terrain and the 140mm-travel RockShox Recon, which is also on our Giant and Marin test bikes, was a below-average performer on the GT. Even with the supplied 180mm rotors, the Tektro M285 brakes were not up to the task when hard stopping at speed was required. To bring it back to positivity, we appreciate that the Sensor Sport does not use internal cable routing. The Vitus is the only other externally-routed bike in our test. Bleeding brakes can be difficult, requires special tools, or costs money at a shop. At this price point, to have full access to the complete brake system externally is a nice touch in our opinion. The Sensor also has a geometry-adjusting flip-chip. We stayed in the low setting, but the option is there for those who want to tinker.

Obviously our $200 upgrade on the GT would be a dropper seatpost. At $2,000, the Sensor Sport has a standard seatpost. Unfortunately we found the stock post to be too short for one of our testers, as he hit the minimum insertion line. Adding a dropper will mean more aggressive riding, making the front end even less capable. Considering a seatpost upgrade, a front tire upgrade and a 200mm rotor upgrade for the front, you’re more than halfway to GT’s Sensor Comp at $2,750. You'll get a better fork, better brakes, better tires, and a dropper. If you’re a diehard GT fan, we’d recommend saving up until you can get the Sensor Comp, or take some time with upgrades, knowing the frame geometry and rear suspension performance is solid on the Sensor Sport.


5:46 - $2,000 Fezzari Abajo Peak Bike Review ($2,200 as tested)

  • Very good component spec for the price, including SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain (the only bike with NX compared to all other bikes running SX Eagle)
  • Highly tunable suspension
  • Excellent big and medium hit performance
  • Well-performing SRAM Level brakes
  • Slight pedal bob on climbs
  • Direct-to-consumer shopping experience
  • Dropper seat post not included on $2,000 build
  • Dropper seat post installed on bike before delivery for additional $200 (as tested)
  • Fezzari Website

Fezzari is an established direct-to-consumer bike brand based in Utah. They’ve been shipping bikes directly through their website for years, and despite their history, they can get lost in the shuffle against the likes of YT, Canyon or Commencal. Having had a good experience aboard their La Sal Peak a year ago, we were excited to see what their wallet-friendly Abajo Peak had to offer.

Fezzari comes out swinging for $2,000. The Abajo Peak features a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain (the only in our test compared to the lower level SX Eagle on the other bikes), 2.5 Maxxis Minion DHF Wide Trail front tire and 2.4 Minion DHR rear tires both with EXO casing, SRAM Level Brakes, 35mm diameter cockpit, and SRAM DUB bottom bracket with external bearings (the only bike in the test). The Abajo Peak gets 130mm of travel out back and 140mm of travel up front through X-Fusion suspension. Geometry was pretty traditional with a 435mm reach and 66.4-degree head angle in the low setting (where we stayed).

During setup, Steve immediately noticed that the Abajo Peak had the most tunable rear suspension. The clicks of rebound were more usable throughout the range than on any other bike in our test. The well-tuned and spec’d suspension led to some of the best performance on medium and big hits on the trail. A rider in chunky or ledge-filled terrain would be really happy on the Abajo Peak. Pedaling was relatively neutral, we did notice some minor pedal bob but It wasn’t anything that scared us away.

This is a mail-order bike which means you order it online and it shows up at your door, in a box. Assembly was straight-forward and should be within reach of any rider ready for a full-suspension bike. Fezzari offers a 30-day love it or return it guarantee, a 23-point bike fit and set-up guide as well as live chat, phone or email contact after you purchase the bike to provide some peace of mind since you won’t be dealing with a bike shop.

As mentioned earlier, the $2,000 price tag on the Abajo Peak does NOT include a dropper post. For a $200 up-charge, you get the Abajo Peak as we tested it, including the X-Fusion dropper. At $2,200 with the dropper, we would highly recommend the Abajo Peak as a bike that has components ready to perform and should last under harder riding conditions. If you’re a rider that can work on your own bike and knows when to take care of the little things, the Fezzari is a great bang-for-the-buck.


8:51 - $1,800 Giant Stance 29 1 Bike Review

  • Most playful, fun bike in our test
  • Lightest bike in test at 31 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Least expensive bike in test along with Norco
  • Can get overwhelmed in rougher terrain
  • Less-than-ideal brake performance
  • Purchased through Giant-authorized bike shops
  • Giant Website

Let’s discuss the most surprising bike in our test - the Giant Stance 29 1. We almost didn’t include the Giant because the head angle is a steep 67.5 degrees. The $1,800 price tag, paired with the wide reach and diversity of the brand, had us take a chance.

The RockShox Recon and Monarch along with the SX Eagle drivetrain are par for the course at this price point. Shimano MT201 brakes adorn the Stance, as well as the Marin in our test. A Giant branded Contact dropper post brings the bike into the modern world. The Maxxis Forekaster tires with EXO casing have proven themselves trail-ready in the Boise area and complimented our testing grounds with fast-rolling speeds and predictable cornering...to a point.

Setup was rather simple due to the limited suspension adjustment. On the flipside, that simple process means dialing in a bike for maximum performance can be, well, limiting as we showed with shock rebound adjustment ranges. Bedding in the Giant's brakes took some effort, and despite not being as weak as the Tektro brakes in our test, they felt underpowered.

On the trail, the Stance feels like the definition of a "mountain bike." It will get riders on the trail, having fun. It was surprisingly well-balanced, easy to pump, jump, and maneuver. The Recon on the Giant performed better than the Recon on our GT for no obvious reason. Pedaling the Stance was a pleasure, nice and neutral. The Stance being the lightest bike in our test at 31-pounds, 2-ounces without pedals definitely helped it feel speedy. The Giant was so much fun and so easy to ride that we wound up wanting a beefier front tire, to squeak more out of the corners.

Larger rocks and bigger hits did have the Stance feeling taxed. Pushed hard enough, it worked our nerves in rougher rock gardens. Because the Stance can carry so much speed, stronger brakes are required. Big mountain riders probably won't even have this bike on the radar, but the aspiring NICA athlete would have a ball racing and ripping this trail-rated 29er.

In the end, the Giant Stance was the one bike in the test that had us all saying, "Yeah, I would own that bike and love it." Despite the not-for-everyone press-fit bottom bracket or the non-boost rear-axle, we had a blast on the Stance and recommend it based on value and performance. Our $200 upgrade would include larger rotors to keep this rocket in check along with investigating a more stout front tire.


11:38 - $1,999 Vitus Mythique 29 VRX Bike Review

  • Best gravity-oriented performance in our test
  • Marzocchi Z2 fork, Shimano MT501 brakes and Schwalbe tires are great spec at this price point
  • Solid climbing ability with best engaging rear hub in test
  • Surprisingly light for the build at 32 pounds 1 ounce
  • Seat post insertion depth was shorter than we'd like
  • Dealer support may be limited due to online sales only through Chain Reaction or Wiggle.
  • Chain Reaction Cycles Website

Vitus is a consumer-direct brand, distributed by Chain Reaction Cycles out of Belfast, Ireland. Vitus bikes are available through Chain Reaction Cycles and Wiggle online stores. The Mythique is a new line from the brand and is offered in both 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheeled versions. Our Mythique 29 VRX is the most expensive offering in the line at a mere $1,999.

The Mythique was our big dog in the test with 140mm travel front and rear. The Marzocchi Bomber Z2 was a visual treat, adding some pop at the front of a clean, grey frame. A SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain blends in with the rest but Shimano MT-501 brakes with Servowave lever are a welcomed sight over the other Tektro and Shimano brakes in our test. A Brand-X 125mm dropper (on our medium) and Schwalbe Magic Mary/Hans Dampf tires round out the capable highlights for just $1,999. For the price, this build is fantastic.

We know this is a budget bike for a wide range of riders, but given the capable nature of the Vitus, a few more clicks of usable rebound on the Monarch would help suspension tuning. The short 125mm drop of the seat post and the inability to insert the post as much as we’d like, limited the bike’s ability on steeper descents where we found the saddle creeping up our hind-side.

Those quibbles aside, the Vitus was the most confidence-inspiring bike for gravity situations in our test. The solid performance of the Marzocchi Z2, the power of the Shimano brakes, the grippy tires and the modern, aggressive geometry left us feeling like we were riding a top-shelf trail bike. It wasn’t just the additional travel out back compared to the other bikes, it was the complete package. The 444.3mm reach and 66.06-degree head angle kept cornering sharp but still capable in the steeps. Aside from struggling to keep our hips low enough due to the short-ish dropper, this is a bike we felt could handle days at a lift-served bike park. Despite the big build, the Mythique was only 32 pounds 1 ounce, the second lightest bike in the test.

If we threw another $200 at the Vitus, it might be for a longer travel/shallower insertion dropper post to unlock its full downhill potential. Another option would be to hold on to that $200 for visits to your local shop. With a mail-order bike like this, you’ll be on your own for maintenance and upkeep. During our test, the Vitus developed a loose pivot. The same happened to our Fezzari. This is normal and not out of the ordinary when breaking in a new bike. Lesser-experienced riders may not pick up on something coming loose right away. Paying a qualified mechanic to go through the bike, tip-to-tail, after some miles would be a great idea.


14:42 - $1,799 Norco Fluid FS 3 Bike Review

  • Least expensive in test along with Giant
  • High-volume, grippy 2.6-inch wide Goodyear tires provide great traction and smooth out the trail
  • Balanced geometry and riding position
  • SR Suntour fork performance was sub-par and needed servicing after just two rides
  • Tektro HD-M275 brakes were very poor performers
  • Purchased through Norco authorized dealers
  • Norco Website

Is it just us or is Norco on a tear lately with their bikes? We loved the Fluid FS 1 29er last year and since then have been loving the new Optic and Sight. When the Fluid FS 3 arrived, we had high expectations for the affordable Canadian steed.

The Fluid is a 120mm travel frame, using an X-Fusion 02 R shock mated to a 130mm travel SR-Suntour XCR-34 air fork. The dependable SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain is present and Tranz-X supplies the 130mm dropper post for the Norco. Tektro HD-M275 brakes are in charge of slowing the Fluid’s massive 29x2.6-inch Goodyear Escape tires, the widest in our test. For $1,799, the Fluid has some solid parts with a great-looking frame.

With tires that dwarfed all others in the test, we went a bit softer with tire pressures, but not full lunar-rover sagginess. The one component that we could not get under control was the brakes. From beginning to the bitter end, the Tektro brakes were inept at stopping the Fluid FS 3. The same lackluster braking experience we had with the GT and its 2.2-inch lightweight tires was compounded on the Norco with the bigger rubber.

The Fluid FS 3 is the continuation of the all-round trail ride experience with its larger tires providing cackle-worthy cornering control. Our medium bike had a 440mm reach, 66.5-degree head angle and 429mm rear-center. It was a balanced ride highlighted by an awesome ability to climb nearly anything.

The overall feel of the Norco had us wanting to plow any and every obstacle the trail dared put in our way. This was the antithesis of the pop-and-play nature of the Giant Stance. While the massive Goodyear's do monster-truck the rocks, they can only do so much to mask the rather harsh suspension. Big rotational forces impact, or even overpower, suspension component performance, and at this price-point, it is always a game of give and take.

The Norco could have been a front runner, a monster on the descents, had it not been for the Tektro brakes. We put them through every test, gave them every chance but at best, all they could do was slow the bike somewhat. They never offered control, confidence or consistency when we wanted to push the bike further.

In a game of "Would you Rather," we wondered if we'd rather have rim brakes instead, which is a bummer because the Fluid FS 3 carries the spirit of the awesome, $2,800 FS 1. It has glimmers of greatness offered by a solid chassis, but that sheen is dulled by insufficient suspension and incompetent brakes. We aren't writing this one off completely. For our $200 we could install some larger rotors or even a set of Shimano's MT501 brakes to get this promising rig back on track. Live in a place with rocks and loose over hardpack conditions? The Fluid might be your trail tamer with traction to spare.

Note that the 29" version is only Med-XL. XS-Med are in the 27.5-inch configuration


18:19 - $1,949 Marin Rift Zone 2 Bike Review

  • The most modern geometry of our bike test with 455mm reach and 65.5-degree head angle
  • Extremely fun and capable on descents and in corners.
  • Well-performing RockShox Deluxe Select Debonair rear shock
  • Grippy, aggressive Vee Snap Flow tires keep the bike composed descending rough terrain but slow the bike down on climbs and through flatter portions of trail.
  • Buy directly through Jenson USA but also have Marin dealer support through authorized shops
  • Jenson USA Website
  • Marin Website

Last and certainly not least is the Marin Rift Zone 2, coming in at $1,949. This is the newest iteration of the fun and capable Rift Zone line from the Northern California brand. The 2020 version no longer borders on cross-country travel and geometry. Its travel has been bumped to 125mm/130mm compared to 120mm/120mm on the older Rift Zone. The Marin's geometry is the most aggressive of the bunch with a long, 455mm reach and 65.5-degree head angle on our size medium. A 35mm stem means it’s ready for ripping. More SRAM SX Eagle, and a RockShox Recon fork is familiar but we have a promising RockShox Deluxe Select shock with Debonair sleeve out back. Shimano’s MT201 brakes, the same as the Giant, slow the bike down. With updated travel and geometry, Marin has gone extremely aggressive with their tire choice. The Vee Flow Snap tires are only 2.3-inches wide but they feature Vee's Tackee rubber compound with large, ground-chewing knobs.

Unfortunately, due to some shipping issues, the Rift Zone showed up the day after Steve and Brad headed home, so I was the only one to ride it. Using the same trails that I know well, I gathered some time on the bike. Right away, the slow-rolling nature of the tires was apparent. This is in stark contrast to the fast-rolling tires of the previous Rift Zone. Even though the bike is only 32.5 pounds, it’s extremely sluggishness uphill due to the nearly downhill-ready tires. Thankfully, and I’ll speak for Steve and Brad on this one, none of us in this test care about suffering to the top if we have a capable bike on the way down.

The new geometry, bump in travel, and RockShox Deluxe all combined with those meaty tires, make the Rift Zone punch above its weight class when things get rough and speeds increase. The damped nature of the tire construction and the RockShox Deluxe keep the bike composed through the chatter and on bigger hits. The tire profile is pretty squared off, however, and in hard-packed flat corners, leaning into those bulky side knobs can get squirrely. In sandy or loamy conditions, they’ll hold fast, but they’re not an all-conditions tire. The Recon on the Marin was the best-performing of the 3 we tested. It was smoother and more consistent than that of the GT or Giant. We’ll chalk up the performance variances to production issues at this low end of the spectrum. If you get a bike with a Recon, have your local mechanic give it a once-over. When it works properly, it works well.

The downfall of the Marin, like the Giant, is the brakes. A bike that can handle so much at speed particularly in the rough, needs to be able to stop at will. The Shimano brakes weren’t the worst, but they were definitely no match for the MT501’s of the Vitus or the SRAM Level brakes of the Fezzari. We’d definitely put our $200 toward better brakes on the Marin, knowing the kind of fun that awaits this bike on the descents. If we found an extra $50, we’d also take off the rear Vee Flow Snap tire and save it for use on the front once the other wears out, replacing it with a faster tire out back.

Marin has cracked the modern trail code with its newest Rift Zone. Upgrade the brakes, get ready to earn your way up, and prepare for class-leading descending on the way down. 

You can purchase the bike directly from JensonUSA.com or from a Marin authorized bike shop in your area.

It’s been a blast finding out what a budget mountain bike can do. We’re surprised by the level of performance available for $2,000 or less and we hope you’ve found the test informative. Hit us up with your comments and questions, and let us know what bikes should we round up for our next comparison.

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