Double Yer Money Hardtails: Bike Test

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Hardtails are not just for winter, and mountain bikes don’t have to be expensive. Benji looks at what your money can get you.

I think we’re all rather sick and tired of seeing very ugly mountain bikes with a very ugly price tag attached being plastered all over the internet and social meejas. Ugly as in the offensively expensive sense. It seems like every other week or so we see the latest five-figure full suspension (usually electric) mountain bike making headlines. Almost every single one of these megabucks mountain bikes ain’t pretty. They’re gaudy at best. Downright sick-in-mouth disgusting at worst. It’s rare that expensive things packed with technology are pretty. So we thought we’d counter this egregious trend by doing two things. First, let’s do a test of hardtail mountain bikes. Hardtail mountain bikes are inherently one of the best looking creations on the planet after all. And secondly, let’s do a bit of investigation as to how much money you actually do need to spend to get yourself a bike that can do a decent degree of Actual Mountain Biking.

Now then, finding just how low you can go with price tags before the bike in question isn’t really capable of riding proper off-road tracks and trails isn’t as easy as you might think. In the end, somewhat pleasingly and appropriately, our cheapest bike in this test came from good old Halfords. Home of the first bike purchase for many of us. The bike is question is a £580 Voodoo Braag. The Braag is essentially the frame from the much-loved Voodoo Bizango 29, but built up with (even) cheaper parts. It looks like a proper mountain bike on paper. Can it go up, along and down capably though?

With the cheapest bike selected, we could then work out the price tag of our next hardtail: circa £1,200 (doubling up the budget each time). This decision didn’t take very long actually. Merida Big Trail hardtails all look great offerings, especially in terms of good geometry frames. The £1,200 Merida Big Trail 400 even has a decent dropper in it and everything.

The third and final double-yer-money bike was a trickier proposition. And no doubt some people will raise their eyebrows at our choice of an all-out cross-country race bike. And maybe we are wrong. Never mind. The third bike is a stunning carbon Trek Procaliber 9.6. The general idea was to highlight how a bump-up in budget can get you into the world of niche and specificity. Let’s go get our hardtail on!

The Bikes

Voodoo Braag
Voodoo Braag
  • Brand: Voodoo
  • Product: Braag
  • Price: £580.00
  • From:
  • Tested by: Benji

Read the Voodoo Braag review

Merida Big Trail 400
Merida Big Trail 400
  • Brand: Merida
  • Product: Big Trail 400
  • Price: £1,200.00
  • From:
  • Tested by: Benji

Read the Merida Big Trail 400 review

Trek Procaliber 9.6
Trek Procaliber 9.6
  • Brand: Trek
  • Product: Procaliber 9.6
  • Price: £2,550.00
  • From:
  • Tested by: Benji

Read the Trek Procaliber 9.6 review

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Hardtails are great aren’t they? Even if only to look at. Happily, hardtails are also great fun to ride. When it comes to deciding which of these three very different hardtails was the ‘best’, it’s a bit of a pointless exercise. Depending which metric you want to go with, each of them was ‘the best’ at something. Take the lowly Voodoo Braag for example. Yes, its fork was woeful and its brakes were more optimistic ideas than actual momentum reducers, but the Braag had the nicest frame feel of all of these bikes. Massive triangles made of metal with little in the way of bracing. Just a really nice feel to it as it trotted along happily over hill and dale. The Trek was far and away the fastest bike around a set route. In that stopwatch-centric sense, it was always the winner. The Merida was the best all-rounder. It didn’t excel at anything in particular but it didn’t have any weak points, anywhere.

All three of the bikes could also be pushed into alternative active service too. With a cockpit tweak and a dropper post, the Trek could be made into quite a nice modest trail bike. The Voodoo Braag needs some more serious outlay (when factoring in its original sub-£600 price tag) but, if upgraded over the years, with new brakes and a decent fork the Braag would make for a truly excellent inflation-busting mountain bike. The Merida needs just one tweak, but it’s not really a tweak you can do after you’ve bought it – you need to buy the size up from what you think. We wish we’d tried the XXL(!) size. We can’t really see why on paper, but the XL just rode a little too ‘small’. Aside from the sizing (which is fine so long as you’re aware of it before ordering) the Merida Big Trail 400 is still clearly a brilliant example of where we’re at with capable hardtails these days. Good to ride, good to look at, great to live with.

IsoFlex soft-tailing

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Review Info

Brand: N/A
Product: N/A
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Tested: by Benji for Singletrack World Magazine Issue 149

Orange Switch 6er. Stif Squatcher. Schwalbe Magic Mary Purple Addix front. Maxxis DHR II 3C MaxxTerra rear. Coil fan. Ebikes are not evil. I have been a writer for nigh on 20 years, a photographer for 25 years and a mountain biker for 30 years. I have written countless magazine and website features and route guides for the UK mountain bike press, most notably for the esteemed and highly regarded Singletrackworld. Although I am a Lancastrian, I freely admit that West Yorkshire is my favourite place to ride. Rarely a week goes by without me riding and exploring the South Pennines.

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Viewing 2 posts - 1 through 2 (of 2 total)
  • Double Yer Money Hardtails: Bike Test
  • honourablegeorge
    Full Member

    Surely a hardtail can’t have a soft tail? Because then it has a tail which is not hard?

    Full Member

    Good one

    But in this case the tail isn’t soft at all. It’s just they didn’t fit the seat tube to the frame securely. The rear triangle is still rigidly fixed to the rest of the bike

    Oh and can we have a fact check on droppers not flexing for and aft?

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