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Q: What's the Best MTB You've Ever Ridden?

At some point, on some stretch of trail, you've been aboard the best mountain bike of your life. So which MTB was it? Spencer explains his criteria and choice for the best mountain bike he's ever ridden. Hop into the comments to tell your story!

Written by: Spencer Powlison

Published on:

Posted in:Bikes

“Best” is a short word. A simple word. And yet, trying to pin down the best mountain bike I’ve ever ridden has me all twisted up in a knot. Was it that first high-end mountain bike I rode in the late-’90s, a Reynolds 853 Voodoo Bizango? Or was it my first full-suspension bike, a 2005 Titus Racer-X? Maybe it’s my latest crush, a Santa Cruz Blur 4.

I’m going to keep it simple and pure — “best” just means the absolute highest-performance, most versatile, funnest, and coolest ride I’ve ever piloted. But hey, there’s more than one way to play the game. Drop into the comments below and tell me about your best-ever MTB.

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For me, it has to be the 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy 4. Sorry folks, you know I love vintage, but I’m kidding myself if I say anything with rim brakes or quick-release skewers was actually better than a modern rig like the Tallboy. Also, I’m inclined to choose an all-rounder, not a specialist bike like the viper red-livery Cannondale F-Si I loved last summer. 

Cannondale F-Si
Loved this Cannondale ... But it wasn't the best MTB I've ever ridden.

And man-oh-man is that Tallboy a versatile bike. It was one of the earliest examples of the “downcountry” mountain bike category. I’d say the first time was the charm because Santa Cruz paired an ample 120mm of rear travel with slack, stable geometry that had me always amazed at the Tallboy’s capabilities. Over-forking mine with a 140mm RockShox Pike Ultimate certainly helped it keep pace with proper enduro bikes too.

Along those lines, the spec on my old Tallboy was so dialed too. SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS shifting with a gold chain, cassette, and cranks … Ooo-wee! And the red calipers on those SRAM Code brakes really set off the build too. But more than just looking good, DH-spec brakes made this Tallboy extra-capable on steep, gnarly descents.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4
What CAN'T this Tallboy do?!

But hold up, Spencer! Didn’t you say this bike was versatile? You’re just yammering on about “shredding the gnar.”

Okay, okay, how’s this for versatile: A couple lifetimes ago, right before the pandemic, I raced the Tallboy at the 50-mile True Grit Epic in Utah. And I got narrowly out-sprinted for fifth! Now, that’s a very rocky, technical course, so this bike was advantageous at times, but with lighter, faster tires, the Tallboy can hang.


The Tallboy 4 may be the best mountain bike I’ve ever ridden, but it isn’t perfect. It’s an all-rounder, so you have to make some compromises. The 120mm rear suspension got overwhelmed on extremely rough descents. Maybe a different rear shock could have helped it a bit. To that end, it wasn’t as supportive under race-pace pedaling. It’s not an XC bike, so what do you expect? 

Okay, I’ve said my piece. How about you? Tell me about the best mountain bike you’ve ever ridden, and don’t be shy! Riff on this as you like. Maybe your best MTB comes down to fond, nostalgic memories. Bonus points for sharing a photo too!