Best Bikes For Light Trail Riding | PedalChef

Key Takeaways

  • Some features that you might associate with more expensive bikes may be found on cheaper bikes. For example, the Carrera Fury has a lifetime warranty for the frame, and the specialized rockhopper expert has an air fork.
  • More expensive bikes are still better unless they aren't worth their price. More expensive bikes are more efficient, more durable, faster, and have better features.
  • My favorite bike for light trail riding is the Spark RC 900 SL AXS. For a mid-priced bike, try the Giant Revolt Advanced Pro 0, which is great for everything except competitive racing.
  • For a cheaper bike, try the Boardman ADV 9.0 or the Carrera Fury. The Specialized Rockhopper Expert is made mostly for light trails but may work on bumpy ones.
  • Tubeless tires are an advantage. If your bike's wheels are compatible with tubeless tires, I recommend replacing your regular tires with them. They can resist a puncture that would flatten a regular tire.

Some people want a light and fast bike for light trails rather than a heavy and powerful bike for bumpy trails. What are the best bikes for light trail riding?

The Boardman ADV 9.0 is a fast bike with a stiff frame plus great tires and brakes. If you have enough money, the Giant Revolt Advanced Pro 0 is a high-tech, high-performance bike. The best light trail bike may be the Scott Spark RC 900 SL AXS which is used by Olympic champions.

I own a Spark RC 900 SL AXS and would be surprised if there is a better light trail bike out there. I have also tried the Boardman ADV 9.0 and the Giant Revolt Advanced Pro 0, and I know people who own the other bikes I recommend.



Why Get a Bike for Lighter Trail Riding?

Not every bike aims to work well on bumpy trails. A bike might be designed for lighter trail riding, pavement, or a mix of pavement and trails.

A lighter mountain bike won't have the powerful suspension that an enduro bike or downhill bike does. However, it will often be faster and cheaper than an enduro bike or downhill bike. Less suspension can also make it easier to climb hills.

What Types of Bikes Are Good for Light Trail Riding?

Light trail bikes are in-between heavy trail bikes (relatively slow but with powerful suspension) and bikes that are not for off-road use. Gravel bikes and hardtail mountain bikes (with suspension on the front but not on the back) work well for light trails. Hybrid bikes are usually closer to road bikes than mountain bikes, so they may not work well even on light trails.

Some heavier bikes may work fairly well for light trails if you can lock the suspension. If you lock (disable) the suspension on a trail that doesn't need suspension, you can reach a higher speed.

However, even with the suspension disabled, a heavier bike is not as good as a lighter bike. Gravel bikes and hardtail bikes perform better on light trails than enduro bikes and other rough trail bikes. You may also spend a lot more money than necessary if you buy a rough trail bike and use it on light trails.

Do Hardtails Have Any Advantages Over Full-Suspension Bikes?

Yes, hardtails have some advantages even though are usually only good for lighter trails. Anything that is simpler and has fewer moving parts is more durable. You will need fewer repairs than with a full-suspension bike of the same quality.

Some people also prefer the feel of riding a hardtail as long as they are on a light trail. You can really feel the acceleration if you pedal hard on a hardtail, you feel it less on a full-suspension bike. Many hardbacks also have adjustable dropouts, which allow you to adjust the length of the wheelbase or convert your geared bike into a single-speed bike.

The Best Light Trail Bikes You Can Buy in 2022

Boardman ADV 9.0

Reasons to Buy

  • Reasonably priced
  • Light and stiff carbon frame
  • Good pedaling efficiency and fast acceleration
  • Compatible with tubeless tires
  • Good brakes


  • Should have had some heavier gears for riding fast on pavement

The Boardman ADV 9.0 is one of the best mid-priced bikes you can get for light trail riding. The carbon frame is impressively light and similar to what you would expect from a more expensive bike.

The bike is also efficient, so you can build up speed quickly and ride long distances without getting tired. The stiffness of the frame also helps you build up speed quickly. The seat angle puts you in a great position for fast acceleration.

Tires, Gears, and Brakes

The Panaracer GravelKing SK tires are fast on trails and grip a paved surface well. Even if you don't replace them with more durable tubeless tires, they perform very well. The wheels are strong and have strong rims.

The Boardman ADV is a 22-speed bike, which seems a bit unnecessary to me. They could have left out the front derailleur and made it an 11-speed bike instead. A lot of the time, there is still a gear for every situation without a front derailleur.

The lightest gear ratio (30/32) is light enough and can get you up hills. The heaviest gear ratio (46/30) is a bit too light and prevents you from going as fast as you otherwise could on paved ground. They could have done a better job choosing the selection of gears.

Gear Shifting is Smooth

On the plus side, the gear shifters work very smoothly and are durable. You won't have any problems with the gears other than the bike being a bit underpowered on flat pavement.

Responsive and Quiet Brakes

You can also count on the brakes to stop you. The disc rotors will stop you smoothly and without making much noise. Even on wet ground and in mud, the brakes work reasonably well.

Many of the other components are made by Boardman itself and not by other companies. The parts are made of high-quality materials and work well with each other. The seat is also well-shaped and properly padded.

Compatible With Tubeless Tires

While the bike comes with regular tires with tubes, the wheels are designed to work well with tubeless tires. Tubeless tires have a few advantages:

  • They are much harder to puncture. If you ride over a sharp rock with regular tires, you will get a flat tire. Tubeless tires are different - there is a sealant inside them that will close any hole in seconds.
  • They are not completely puncture-proof, because a hole can be too big for the sealant to close. However, they are quite noticeably more durable than regular tires.
  • Tubeless tires work better with slightly lower tire pressures. You can lower your tire pressure (reducing how much your bike vibrates) without having to worry about getting a flat tire. Lower tire pressure also means better traction because more of the tire touches the road.
  • Lower tire pressures also let your wheel roll over small bumps instead of going up in the air or off to the side. Lower tire pressures also absorb some of the impact.

Tubeless tires have two disadvantages, which are 1) they can be a challenge to install yourself, so you might have to go to a bike shop, and 2) tubeless tires are more expensive. I still recommend tubeless tires whenever your wheels are compatible with them.

Giant Revolt Advanced Pro 0

Reasons to Buy

  • Noticeably better than earlier models
  • Excellent gear shifters and brakes
  • D-shaped seat post
  • Stability
  • Superior handling


  • Not the best gravel bike for racing

The Giant Revolt Advanced Pro 0 might be the best new bike of 2022 or at least one of the best bikes you can get for light trail riding. It is fairly expensive but includes exceptional parts. The gear shifters are almost perfect, as are the brakes.

While the Giant Revolt is a bit heavy, it is still fast, and it feels lighter than it is. Certainly, the bike is best used as a light trail bike, it is not designed to perform best on harsh trails.

If you want to change the tires, the wheels are compatible with much larger sizes. You can replace the original tires with ones that are up to 53mm wide. This will improve the bike's performance on rough terrain, though truly rough terrain may require a different bike.

An Improved Design

The frame and fork are noticeably better than for pre-2021 models. The bike still uses a D-shaped seat, now with a lighter seat post, and the seat stays are slimmer.

D-Shaped Seat Posts Reduce Bumps

D-shaped seat posts are a relatively new technology that helps reduce bumps. They are effective enough that they have become fairly common in recent years.

D-shaped seat posts have a rounded back and flat front, which makes the seat post more flexible and the ride more comfortable. They are particularly important on bikes that do not have full suspension and might be uncomfortable to ride otherwise.

The Revolt also uses D-shaped handlebars to reduce impacts. Both the seat and the handlebars can move and flex when you encounter rough terrain.


The tires are now larger than before (even if you do not replace them with the largest compatible tires) and wide tires keep the bike stable. There is also a longer wheelbase which might make the bike more stable, though the difference is small.

More of a Recreational Bike Than a Racing Bike

The Giant Revolt does not work all that well as a racing gravel bike. You can ride the Revolt fast on a light trail, but it isn't quite as good as gravel bikes intended for racing.

Racing bikes are stripped down and focus only on speed. The Giant Revolt is not like that and is comfortable, adjustable, and controllable rather than as fast as possible.

New Changes Improve Handling

The Giant Revolt Advanced now has a steeper head angle and a lower bottom bracket to improve your control. The steeper head angle makes the bike easier to control at relatively low speeds. However, if you are going fast, the steeper head angle makes the bike less stable.

In my experience, the steeper head angle improves the bike. You notice how easily you can make a lot of small turns to avoid obstacles with the steeper head angle, but don't feel it is that much of a disadvantage at high speed. The lower bottom bracket may also make the bike a bit more stable.

Now Compatible With Dropper Posts

While the Giant Revolt does not come with a dropper post, the seat post fitting is now compatible with one. Dropper posts allow you to adjust your bike while you are riding it. You don't even have to stop.

With a dropper post, you can use a lever on the handlebars to lower your post as far down as you want. This can keep you safe on a trail with a lot of obstacles.

For example, if you have to lean forward to duck under tree branches, you don't want any risk of falling forward over your bike. With a dropper post, you can lower the seat while you lean forward, minimizing this possibility.

Scott Spark RC 900 SL AXS

Reasons to Buy

  • Used by Olympic gold medalists and other elite athletes
  • Very light for a full-suspension bike
  • The suspension has three different modes
  • Great for climbing hills
  • Very efficient


  • Expensive

The Scott Spark RC 900 SL AXS is ultra-light for a full-suspension bike. It is a good choice if you want a bike to use on both lighter and rougher trails. It is an expensive bike, but fast enough for racing and great in many other ways.

Despite the suspension (110mm of travel on the front, 100mm at the back) the bike is light and fast. The suspension has three modes to choose from, so you can turn on traction mode to go up a steep hill or turn on lock mode if you are pedaling as hard and fast as possible.

Good Enough for World Champions

People riding the Scott Spark have won Olympic gold medals, plus the world championship and the world cup. It is truly a high-end bike, able to compete with any other bike of its kind. This is my favorite bike and it might be the best light trail bike.

Great for Either Lighter or Harder Trails

The Scott Spark is an ideal bike for a trail that is mostly easy but has a few rough and bumpy parts. On most parts of the trail, the light bike will keep you going quickly without tiring. When you get to the bumpy parts, the suspension will help you roll over roots and rocks, especially with the 29-inch wheels.

Quality Components

Both the brakes (Shimano XTR Disc Brakes) and the electronic gear shifters (SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS 12-speed) are very good. They work immediately and are durable. The bike also includes a power meter to track your performance and help you improve.

Carrera Fury

Reasons to Buy

  • An affordable trail bike
  • Fun and comfortable to ride on light trails
  • Great geometry
  • Hydraulic brakes
  • Lockable suspension
  • Decent warranty despite its price


  • Cables are routed externally
  • The parts don't compare to what more expensive bikes have
  • The fork isn't a good shock absorber

Bikes that perform well on light trails are often cheaper than bikes for harder or more technical trails. For a more technical trail, you may need full suspension, for a lighter trail a hardback will do. It is much easier to find a decent hardback bike for less than $1000 than to find a decent full-suspension bike for that price.

Great Performance for its Price

The Carrera Fury is certainly fun to ride. If you try it, it doesn't feel like a cheap bike. You can ride around lighter trails quickly and easily without tiring.

If you were to race someone with a more expensive bike and a similar skill level, you would notice the Carrera Fury's limitations. However, it is a perfectly good bike for recreational riding on lighter trails. If you are looking for a beginner bike for light trail riding, it is ideal.

The Carrera Fury is also a well-designed bike with great geometry. Carrara did a great job making this bike impressive for its price.

Good Gears and Brakes

The Carrera Fury has a simple 10-speed Shimano drivetrain with only one derailleur. The brakes are hydraulic and not mechanical despite the bike's low price. The slack head tube angle keeps you stable but makes quick turning a little more difficult.

Underwhelming Suspension

The Fury offers front fork suspension with 120mm of travel. The suspension is also lockable, so you can disable it when going up hills. It also has rebound damping adjustment.

However, the suspension isn't as good as what more expensive bikes offer, in my experience. It underreacts to small bumps. Taking it out on a trail where you frequently hit small bumps isn't a good idea.

The suspension is acceptable rather than poor. However, if you ride that Fury shortly after riding a higher-end hardtail bike, you will notice a difference. The Fury is comfortable to ride on smoother trails where you won't hit many sticks, roots, or rocks.

Other Advantages and Disadvantages

The bike lets you drop/raise the seat post without stopping, another thing that makes the Fury great for its price. The bike turns well, and the tires grip the ground properly.

While more expensive bikes route the cables inside of the frame, the Fury does not. The brake and shift cables are outside, exposing them to potential damage.

Despite that vulnerability, the bike is durable in many ways. The aluminum frame has a lifetime guarantee.

Specialized Rockhopper Expert

Reasons to Buy

  • Unusually advanced features for the price
  • Air-based front suspension
  • Great drivetrain and wheels
  • Can be used on heavier trails


  • Gear shifters are not that smooth

The Specialized Rockhopper Expert has a few stand-out features that are uncommon for a bike that costs only 1000 dollars. I love the Boardman ADV 9.0, but the Specialized Rockhopper Expert might be the most advanced light trail bike you can get for around $1000.

The three most impressive things about the bike (compressed air-based

suspension, SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, and wheels compatible with tubeless tires) all go beyond what you can expect from bikes that you can get for $1000.

Air-Based Suspension

The 100mm RockShox Judy fork uses compressed air rather than a coiled spring. This type of suspension is adjustable, so you can increase or reduce the air pressure based on your location and weight.

You can lower the pressure for very light trails or increase it if you ride a heavy trail and test the bike's limits. You can also lock the suspension to disable it completely if riding on pavement. An air fork is also lighter than a spring-based fork.

Excellent Tires and Wheels

The Ground Control tires are fast on dry ground and reasonably good in mud. They are light and work well on a variety of terrain, including what you will find on light trails.

The wheels are also compatible with tubeless tires. Tubeless tires contain a sealant that closes most puncture holes very fast, so fast that your tire hardly loses any pressure.

The SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain would not be found on a much more expensive bike, but it still works well in my experience. It is a 1x12 drivetrain, so you only have one gear shifter. There is a gear ratio for nearly every situation you will encounter.

Somewhat Useable On Rough Terrain

While this bike won't work as well as a heavy full-suspension bike on rougher terrain, it does work fairly well for a hardback. If you try a bumpier-than-usual trail once in a while, you may be surprised by what it can handle.

The bike probably won't perform well if you ride downhill fast on bumpy ground. However, the rockhopper is still a light trail bike that may work as a heavy trail bike.