Review: Grand Hardtails For Under A Grand

by
January 13, 2017

Rewind to Issue #109 of Singletrack Magazine, with three hot hardtails that come in under the magic grand. Wil takes them out for a proper Pennine pasting.


There’s certainly no denying it – we are very much spoilt here at Singletrack. We’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to spend time on some very lovely bikes over the years, and more often than not, those bikes tend to be very expensive too.

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The three-way hardtail group test from Issue #109 of Singletrack Magazine. Diamondback vs Genesis vs Whyte.

Admittedly, it is (the good bit of) our job to test the very latest carbon fibre wunder-machines. You could even say that it’s our civic duty to be constantly drowned in all of the latest high-end components. And after all, without properly testing these ‘groundbreaking’ products in real-world British conditions, we’d all be at the mercy of that bubbling cesspool of slick marketing jargon, flashy catalogue photos, and fully rad video edits. And who wants to live in that weird hyper-reality?

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There are frames on the market that are more expensive than these three whole bikes put together.

Of course, the important thing about being spoilt is to be able to recognise it. And if ever there was an opportunity to highlight just how good we have it, it would be a grouptest of three sub-£1,000 hardtails. But with all the latest full sussers, geometry-pushers, and carbon fiberists at our disposal, why conduct a test on these far less glamorous humble hardtails?

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Innovation may be established at the upper echelons of the sport, but progression is most noticeable at the other end of the price spectrum.

Contrary to what many of the boutique brands tell you, the sub-£1000 hardtail is without doubt the most important segment in the entire mountain bike industry. And for two distinct reasons.

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As we found out, modern hardtails are so much better than they used to be.

The first reason is volume. This end of the market makes up the vast majority of bikes sold for most bike companies, and often by a significant percentage. It’s all well and good for Yeti, Intense and Santa Cruz to make mountain bikes that cost over five figures, but very few of us are able to afford such exotica. The reality is that many more people can afford a sub-£1,000 hardtail. As such, these bikes make up a huge slice of the overall pie and they are absolutely crucial to most bike company’s bottom lines.

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Slick 2×10 shifting aboard the Genesis Core 30.

The second reason is access. For the many sub-£1,000 hardtails on the market, these bikes represent the first big step for riders looking to access the world of mountain biking. We’re not talking about fully rigid £99 BSO (bike-shaped object) supermarket bikes that are likely to spend their existence trapped in the back of a shed behind leaky old air mattresses, rusty gym equipment, and fatally tangled fishing rods.

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A dropper post on a sub-£1000 hardtail? Diamondback says yes with the Heist 3.0+

No, we’re talking about bikes with quality frames, adjustable suspension and hydraulic disc brakes. Hardtails that are built to last and are actually fun to ride. Bikes that can open the doors to new riding destinations, new events and new riding friends. And sub-£1,000 or not, we’re talking about bikes that represent a genuine financial commitment to the sport of mountain biking.

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Reliable hydraulic disc brakes are now possible on a £899 bike like the Whyte 529.

For that reason, the humble hardtail is really the gateway drug into mountain biking. It’s the bike that will decide whether a new rider is going to get hooked, or not. This makes all three of our test bikes hugely important for each company. Because if a rider buys one of these bikes, rides it, and becomes hooked, then there’s a very good chance that rider is going to come back to the same brand when it’s time to upgrade to a lighter model, or one with full suspension. Get this bike right, and they stand a very good chance of having a customer for life.

Philosophical ramblings aside, of course the biggest question still remains. Just how good are sub-£1,000 hardtails in 2016?

Diamondback Heist 3.0 +

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The Diamondback Heist 3.0+ is an alloy hardtail built around 27.5×2.8in plus tyres.

As a brand new model for 2017, the Heist 3.0+ sits at the top of Diamondback’s 120mm travel hardtail range. Designed around 27.5×2.8in tyres, it’s the first plus bike from Diamondback, and it’s positioned as a fun, all-round trail plugger.

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The Heist 3.0+ was easily the best value bike on test.

Built from shapely hydroformed and butted alloy tubing, the Heist 3.0+ frame is packed with up-to-date technologies, including a tapered head tube, press-fit bottom bracket, and Boost 148x12mm hub spacing.

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Masses of grip and comfort make the Heist 3.0+ an excellent entry into the world of mountain biking.

In a nod to British sensibility, the rear derailleur cable runs full length outer, and all cables are managed by bolt-on guides that run along the underside of the downtube. Diamondback has also ensured that there is sufficient…read more here.

Genesis Core 30

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The Core 30 is the top-end model of Genesis’ Core hardtail range.

Celebrating its seventh birthday in 2017, the Core fulfills the role of entry level cross-country bike in the Genesis line-up. The latest edition was introduced in 2016, and it features a redesigned alloy frame that’s built around 27.5in wheels and modern trail-oriented geometry.

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Lovely raw finish on the hydroformed alloy tubing.

The overall goal with the Core range was for Genesis to build a hardtail that is responsive, planted and fun to ride. But while the British brand’s designers see the Core range as being most riders’ first foray into mountain biking, they also wanted to create a bike that would be sufficiently stable when being pushed by more enthusiastic riders.

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Sharp handling thanks to ‘proper’ geometry inspired by pricier Genesis hardtails.

Take a look at the Core’s numbers on paper, and you’ll start to see what Genesis is on about. The Core’s geometry has clearly been inspired by…read more here.

Whyte 529

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Whyte offer hardtails in both 27.5in and 29in wheel options. The 529 rocks the big wheels for big speed.

When it comes to entry level hardtails, UK-based Whyte offers up two distinct options: the 800-series that is built around 27.5in wheels, and the 529/629 series that is built around 29in wheels.

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Whyte has always pushed the geometry boundaries, and this is even more noticeable on the 529.

The 529 and 629 share exactly the same frame, which is brand new for 2017. Built around a 120mm travel fork, the new alloy frame utilises reworked geometry that draws from Whyte’s higher-end trail hardtails. Whyte is well known for pushing the boundaries of contemporary frame geometry, and its designers have sought to bring this progression to the entry-level models as well.

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There are some parts that we’d swap out on the 529, because this bike possesses a bucketload of potential.

Compared to the previous iteration, the 529’s geometry has made a considerable transition away from the cross-country side of the spectrum. Highlighting this transition is a very…read more here.

Verdict

Contrary to what you might think, having the opportunity to test ride a bunch of sub-£1,000 hardtails proved to be a truly eye-opening experience for me. Sure, this isn’t really the cutting-edge end of the market, and there are definitely no fancy new technologies or frame standards that will be setting internet forums on fire. Not at all. Instead, these bikes are much more humble in both their appearance and in their componentry. But that’s what makes their on-trail performance that much more remarkable.

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What a grand gets you these days is very different to that of a decade ago.

During the test period, I had a few momentary flashbacks to the first real mountain bike that I started riding with. It was a lightweight alloy hardtail with an 80mm travel fork, 2.0in tyres, linear-pull V-brakes and a 560mm wide flat handlebar. I loved that bike, and it was responsible for getting me hooked on mountain biking. Looking back at it now after having ridden these three modern test bikes though, it was sketchy as hell to ride in comparison.

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Whether you’re new to the sport, or you’re looking for that 2nd workhorse winter bike, these sub-£1000 hardtails are ideal options.

For new riders to the sport, the latest sub-£1,000 bikes are more capable and confidence-inspiring than ever before. Sure, they’re not perfect, and they come with their own unique personalities that mean some riders will dig them, and others won’t. But they’ll get you out onto the trails and tackling a wider variety of terrain than anything before them. And as I think you’ll agree, that is very exciting indeed.

Want to check out more of our bike reviews? Then head to the Review Section of our website. Better yet, why not subscribe and support what we do here at Singletrack? A digital subscription starts at just £1.49 per month, and that way you can read not only the entire magazine, but you’ll also get access to our ENTIRE back catalogue – how good is that! Oh and to put it into perspective of just how much value that is – that’s £15 per year – or three serves of fish ‘n’ chips. Which one do you think is better for you?

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