Carbon tends to be lighter, but it won’t suffer bumps and crashes as readily as metal. Two of our bikes are aluminium, the other carbon. None are tooth-rattlingly harsh to ride, but there are noticeable differences in weight.
Routing of the brake and gear cables differs very much between bikes. External cabling can be easier to maintain, but also more susceptible to damage if you do happen to topple off. Internal cables look neater and won’t get too grimy.
All three of our bikes run disc brakes. This method of stopping generally offers more precise modulation and less chance of locking up either wheel on rough, wet or loose terrain.
The norm is a big ring in the high-40s and a smaller chainring in the low 30s – this gives enough top-end speed for flat, dry paths, and a small enough gear to tackle more technical, uphill sections of trail. However, road compact set-ups (50/34) are also common.
The three bikes we tested are wearing tyres that vary between 30-40mm, and feature different tread patterns. Running this wide rubber with considerably less pressure than you would on the road helps with traction off-road.
We’d recommend treaded mountain bike shoes and pedals for occasions when you’re forced to dismount.