So you want to get into downhill mountain biking? I don’t blame you. Carving through steep, gnarly terrain at breakneck speeds on a burly dual-crown full suspension bike delivers a rush like no other. But finding the right downhill rig can feel overwhelming for beginners and experts alike.
That’s where this guide comes in. As a fellow gravity-loving thrill seeker, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to find your perfect downhill shred sled.
We’ll explore key bike attributes, top models, budget options, geometry, suspension, and tips to get you bombing hills in no time.
Downhill bikes are purpose-built machines, with 180-220mm of plush rear suspension, slack head angles, and stout frames and components made to withstand punishing terrain.
While they require some special skills, the capability and confidence a great downhill bike provides is truly liberating. Let’s dive into how to pick the best downhill mountain bike for you!
What to Look for in a Downhill Bike
Frame Material and Construction
Downhill frames are typically made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum frames like those found on the Commencal Supreme DH and Canyon Sender offer a great value.
Carbon frames, seen on bikes like the Scott Gambler 900 Tuned and Santa Cruz V10, provide a lighter, more tunable ride but at a higher price.
Suspension design also affects the ride character. Single pivot, Horst Link, and Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) are common designs that influence pedaling efficiency, small bump sensitivity, and progressiveness.
Related reading: Best Bike for Stunting.
Downhill bikes come in 27.5”, 29”, or mixed wheel sizes. Small and medium frames often use 27.5” wheels, which accelerate quickly and handle tight turns with ease.
Large and XL sizes typically run 29” wheels, which roll over obstacles better and maintain speed. Many bikes like the Specialized Demo also allow you to choose 27.5” or 29” rear wheels in certain sizes for versatility.
The best downhill bikes now feature adjustable geometry via flip chips, slider dropsouts, and shock mounts.
This lets you tweak the head angle, bottom bracket height, reach, and chainstay length to adapt the bike to your riding style and terrain. Look for at least a 63-64 degree head angle for stability at speed.
Downhill bikes need plush suspension to smooth out rough terrain. You’ll find 180-220mm of travel front and rear. Longer travel provides more shock absorbing capability at the cost of some pedaling efficiency.
Shorter travel bikes like the Norco Aurum HSP sacrifice a bit of bump swallowing for crisper pedaling response.
A burly dual crown fork is key up front, with 36-40mm stanchions for stiffness. RockShox BoXXer and Fox 40 forks are popular choices.
For shocks, air shocks are lighter while coils offer a super plush ride. Brands like RockShox Vivid, Fox DHX2, and Cane Creek Double Barrel are top options.
For more information about bike maintenance, make sure to read my guide on how to tighten spokes on a dirt bike.
Downhill drivetrains favor durability and simplicity over wide gear ranges. You’ll typically find 7-10 speed cassettes paired with short cage derailleurs and chainguides.
SRAM X01 DH and Shimano Saint are common component groups, with MBAs with 30-36t chainrings for pedaling efficiency.
Slowing a DH bike from warp speed requires serious stopping power. Look for 4 piston brakes with 200mm+ rotors like Shimano Saint brakes or SRAM Code RSC. Metal brake pads help withstand extreme heat on long descents.
Wheels and Tires
Wheels need to be durable yet light. Aluminum rims with 28-32 spokes tied to hub choices like Hope Pro 4 or DT Swiss 350s are common in DH. Maxxis Assegai, Minion DHR2, or Michelin DH tires offer grippy tread and reinforced sidewalls to prevent flats.
Top 10 Downhill Bikes of 2023
1. Santa Cruz V10
The legendary V10 from Santa Cruz is one of the most successful downhill bikes ever, piloted to countless World Cup and championship wins.
The carbon frame comes in 27.5” and 29” options with a virtual pivot suspension design that soaks up big hits while retaining pedaling efficiency.
With adjustable geometry via a lower shock mount chip, it’s easy to tune the V10 to your riding preferences.
The latest version rolls on 29” wheels in sizes medium to XL for stability and speed. Paired with Fox Factory suspension and SRAM DH components, the V10 offers proven downhill performance.
2. Commencal Supreme DH
French brand Commencal has been on a tear in downhill racing lately, thanks in part to their Supreme DH bike. Ridden to the 2019 World Cup series runner-up and World Championship titles, the Supreme DH brings World Cup pedigree at an affordable price.
The high pivot point suspension layout paired with 27.5” or 29” wheels delivers a smooth, fast ride. Flip chips allow geometry adjustments, and a strong aluminum frame keeps weight reasonable.
With builds featuring RockShox BoXXer forks and Vivid rear shocks, the Supreme DH is a World Cup level bike without the price tag.
3. Specialized Demo
Specialized’s Demo downhill bike has seen no shortage of World Cup and championship success under Loic Bruni and Finn Iles.
The Demo rolls on 29” wheels up front with a 27.5” rear wheel in sizes S-M and 29” rear in L-XL for versatility. The alloy frame is durable yet lively, and you can switch between 27.5” and 29” rear wheels easily.
Lower shock mounts make geometry tweaks a breeze. With plush 200mm of front and rear suspension travel and Fox Factory components, the Demo is ready to attack race tracks or trails with equal prowess.
4. YT Tues
German direct-to-consumer brand YT shattered expectations when Aaron Gwin began winning World Cups aboard their Tues bike.
Excellent value and riding characteristics quickly made it a favorite of privateers and pros alike.
The aluminum frame rolls on 27.5” or 29” wheels, with a high pivot suspension layout that gobbles up rough terrain and big hits with ease.
Flip chips allow tweaks to the bottom bracket height, head angle, and progressiveness on the fly.
YT nailed the geometry too, with long reaches and wheelbases for high speed stability. For a race-winning bike at under $4k, the Tues can’t be beat.
Related reading: Do dirt bikes have keys?
5. Trek Session
Trek’s venerable Session downhill bike gets a new champion with its adjustable alloy frame, plush suspension, and appetite for speed.
Fresh off Rhys Verner’s junior men’s 2022 World Championship title, the Session brings proven performance at multiple price points. The R1 and R2 models come with RockShox BoXXer fork and Super Deluxe rear shock dishing out 200mm of bump erasing capability.
Dual 29” wheels maintain momentum through the gnarliest tracks. With sizes based on both height and inseam for a tailored fit and a Bontrager line 35mm carbon handlebar, it’s refined details like this that make the Session such a complete package.
6. Giant Glory Advanced
Giant’s Glory Advanced incorporates some smart new tech in a proven downhill package. The full carbon frame can be run in several geometry configurations and with 27.5” or 29” rear wheels.
A composite rocker link controls 200mm of rear wheel travel to take the edge off big hits and square edge bumps. Up front the Glory eats up obstacles with a Fox 38 fork.
Giant’s Maestro suspension design balances small bump sensitivity and mid stroke support for excellent handling in all conditions.
With its carbon frame, geometry adjustability, and dialed suspension, the Glory Advanced is ready to charge.
7. Scott Gambler
French phenom Marine Cabirou piloted her Scott Gambler to 3 World Cup wins in the 2020 season, proving this bike’s downhill capabilities.
The patented 3D forged carbon frame offers precise handling and tunable flex characteristics. Scott’s TwinLoc remote controls the bike’s shock and fork simultaneously, allowing for geometry and travel adjustments on the fly.
The rear shock mount and fork uppers incorporate adjustable chips to tweak the head angle and bottom bracket height.
With Fox Factory suspension front and rear plus Shimano Saint brakes, the Gambler offers cutting edge performance for dedicated racers.
8. Transition TR11
American brand Transition packs innovation into their TR11 downhill rig. The streamlined alloy frame hides an idler pulley to increase rear suspension sensitivity and traction.
A gearbox mount option places the transmission in the frame for better weight distribution and chain management. The Super Deluxe coil shock soaks up hits, while the 63 degree head angle and adjustable dropouts make finding your ideal geometry a cinch.
With coil sprung RockShox BoXXer fork up front, the TR11 has 180mm of bump devouring capability front and rear. Reasonable pricing and US-based customer service make this aggressive trail and race bike a compelling option.
9. Nukeproof Pulse
UK direct brand Nukeproof offers their alloy Pulse model as a high value, high performance downhill machine.
Tested and proven on the World Cup circuit by Nukeproof’s elite racing team, the Pulse brings a taste of prototype capability to mere mortals.
The rear suspension layout adapts progressiveness via a flip chip, ensuring bottomless small bump compliance without wallowing deep in the travel.
RockShox suspension and SRAM DH components complete the package. With geometry and capability worthy of the world stage, riding the Pulse makes every trail feel like a World Cup course.
10. Norco Aurum HSP
Canada-based Norco packs capability into their all-new Aurum HSP at an attractive price.
Despite featuring 170mm of rear suspension for lively handling, it loses little in stability with its slack 63.5 degree head angle. The alloy frame can be configured in 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes with simple parts swaps.
Beefy RockShox BoXXer and Super Deluxe coil shocks shrug off impacts and plow through rock gardens.
A SRAM GX DH drivetrain stands up to abuse while powerful Code R brakes provide speed control on rowdy descents. For an aggressive trail and lift-served bike with a friendly price tag, the Aurum HSP delivers.
While preferences vary, any of these bikes will infuse your riding with a new level of speed and capability when pointed downhill. Test ride some models if possible, but also consider your budget and intended usage.
Racers may favor 29ers, while bike park and jump trail aficionados often prefer smaller 27.5” wheeled bikes. Keep an open mind and you’re sure to find your perfect downhill partner!
Best Downhill Bikes by Budget
With downhill bikes ranging from under $2,000 to over $10,000, it helps to have a budget in mind when shopping. Here are some of the best options at various price points.
Hardtail extravagance becomes a distant memory once you experience the confidence of full suspension.
Luckily capable downhill bikes are now available under $3k. The Vitus Dominer rolls on 27.5” wheels with robust suspension and components like Maxxis DH tires for $2500.
For a bit more, the Commencal Supreme SX hits similar marks with an aluminum frame and 180mm RockShox BoXXer fork at $2800.
The YT Industries Tues AL Base at $2799 brings a high pivot point carbon rear triangle and DH ready build to the table.
$3000 – $4000
This is a sweet spot for privateer racers and park rats looking for performance without breaking the bank.
The alloy framed Canyon Sender 6 at $3399 or the YT Tues Performance model at $3799 fit the bill. Or check out the Saracen Myst AL with its World Cup pedigree and beefy suspension for $3500.
If you go direct from Norco, their Aurum HSP with RockShox BoXXer fork and Super Deluxe coil shock brings big capability for only $3299. Lots of performance bang for your buck in this range.
$4000 – $6000
Here you’ll find carbon frames and higher end suspension on bikes like the Scott Gambler 910 for $5,700. The Yeti SB165 with its low slung shock delivers a stable ride for $5,700 too.
For a more DH focused carbon frame, the Giant Glory Advanced 1 27.5 weighs just 36 lbs and costs $6,300. Getting into this price range buys you premium performance to shave seconds off your time and put a bigger smile on your face.
Price tags go astronomical chasing every last ounce of performance, but bikes like the Santa Cruz V10 CC XX1 AXS are absolutely drool worthy.
For $9,500 you get a tuned carbon frame, wireless SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS shifting and RockShox BoXXer fork with bleeding edge Charger 5 damper.
Of course not everyone needs a World Cup level steed, but it’s sure nice to dream!
Downhill Bike Geometry and Sizing Guide
With downhill bikes now highly adjustable, dialing in your fit is easier than ever. Let’s break down the key measurements and how they affect handling.
Wheelbase and Chainstay Length
Longer wheelbases over 1,250mm provide straight line stability necessary at speed. Short chainstays under 440mm make bikes more nimble but less stable. Choose your priorities!
Reach and Standover
A longer reach gives you room to maneuver while keeping weight centered between the wheels for confidence. Standover height determines how easily you can stand over the bike and affects fit.
Head Tube Angle and BB Height
Slacker head tube angles around 63-64 degrees are best for high speeds. Lower bottom brackets under 340mm keep you grounded in corners. Higher bottom brackets avoid pedal strikes.
When sizing your downhill bike, consider your height, inseam, riding style, and adjustable features. Test ride models when possible too.
Downhill Bike Suspension Guide
Types of Suspension Designs
- Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) – Balances pedaling and small bump sensitivity. Found on Santa Cruz, Pivot, and Ibis bikes.
- Single Pivot – Simple, durable design. Provides a plush ride but can bob when pedaling. Seen on Commencal and Propain models.
- Horst Link – Creates a controlled wheel path and consistent suspension feel. Used by Specialized, Norco, and many others.
- Four Bar or Multi-Link – Very tunable for desired ride characteristics. Common on Giant, Nukeproof, and Canyon bikes.
Leverage Ratios and Progressiveness
The leverage ratio describes how shock movement translates to wheel travel. Higher ratios mean more wheel travel per shock stroke for sensitivity, but can bottom out easier.
Lower ratios are more progressive avoiding harsh bottom outs but sacrifice small bump compliance. Look for bikes with flip chips or linkages that allow tweaking progressiveness.
Air vs. Coil Shocks
Air shocks are lighter and more adjustable but can lack the suppleness of coil shocks which excel at absorbing impacts.
Air works well for lighter riders while heavier riders may benefit from coils. Quality air shocks continue to erase this gap though.
Getting Started in Downhill Riding
Once you pick out your new downhill bike, you’ll need to get up to speed on skills before hitting the crazy stuff. Start with easier trails focusing on the basics:
- Choose terrain wisely and progress slowly
- Stay low in an athletic position for stability
- Let the bike move underneath you to absorb bumps
- Brake early before corners and obstacles
- Weight your outside pedal through corners
- Stay relaxed and make smooth inputs
Take clinics and watch technique videos to continue improving. Joining local groups helps you learn good lines and etiquette on trails.
As your skills grow, you’ll gain confidence to take on steeper, rockier, and more technical riding. Just remember to put in the time mastering the basics first!
Before you know it, you’ll be nailing rock gardens, perfecting big sends off jumps, and carving corners just like a World Cup racer! Now go get after it and enjoy the thrill of downhill on your new dream machine!
Finding the perfect downhill bike is a mix of personal preferences, riding style, budget and terrain. Test riding bikes and analyzing your priorities help narrow the choices.
While specs and models vary, modern downhill bikes offer more adjustability than ever to customize your fit and handling.
Don’t forget that developing strong riding skills takes time regardless of your equipment. Great suspension and geometry provide tools that allow you to progress, but practice makes perfect.
Start slowly on mellower trails, take some lessons and don’t get ahead of your abilities. With some patience you’ll be shredding black diamond runs and bike park laps in no time!
The speed, capability and adrenaline rush of downhill riding provides an incredible experience.
We hope this guide gives you the knowledge to pick the right downhill bike and skills to make the most of your new freedom machine. Now get after it and we’ll see you at the bottom!
Or if you want, you can read more on our site: How To Attach Bike Trailer Without Coupler.
Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.