One of the most common questions 29erOnline gets is, “I have a $1,000. What is the best bike I can get?” To be honest, it’s been a while since most folks around 29erOnline rode a $1,000 bike. We tend to test full suspension, which are inherently more expensive and, because we are certifiable bike nuts, we tend to ride and test stuff that is more expensive. We wondered - can a $1,000 bike handle what we throw at bikes every day? What compromises, if any, do you make with a $1,000 bike.

We called around and, so far, we’ve received several bikes that meet the $1,000 budget and are considered trail capable by their manufacturer. Regardless of price-point, so much in choosing a bike depends on terrain, style of rider, and just plain old opinions based on personal likes and dislikes. So, while it is unlikely that we will be able to state definitively that “this bike is the best $1,000 bike”, we can help point out each bike’s strengths and weaknesses and give an opinion based on a perspective informed by time spent riding a wide variety of bikes.

So really, at its core, testing $1,000 bikes is just like testing any other bike for us - we’ll ride them and tell you what we think about how they perform. Obviously, comparing these bikes to more expensive bikes would not be fair. However, we do feel like we can look at similar bikes and draw some conclusions about how well they perform in general and tell you what their relative strengths are.

It would be a mistake to think this is a beginner test. The truth is, for most people, $1,000 is a good amount of money for anything and mountain biking is about having fun not going broke on equipment. Every bike we are testing was designed to be capable of doing the things we will ask of it. We expect a lot out of a bike no matter the price - watch our test videos, we’ll be riding these bikes on the same trails we ride all our test bikes on.

Since we are also testing a category, so to speak, we will have additional things in mind as we test. Our goals in this test are:

1) See if these bikes can withstand the type of riding a beginner and enthusiast rider will subject them to. These bikes will be ridden multiple times a week in all conditions. We want to accelerate the wear cycle that most riders will put these bikes through, with a special eye on how things like components hold up. We will not be trading parts out. These bikes will remain stock unless their is a failure of a part, in which case we will replace it with an equivalent part.

2) See what each bike’s strengths and weaknesses are. Which bikes excel in what conditions? Are there parts that were universally liked or disliked? Did any parts fail? Where is your money best spent - the bike with the best shock, the best shifters, or something else? Do some favor tight terrain, slow speed tech, or wide open speed? Are they balanced between climbing or descending or do they have leanings toward specializing in one area?

3) If you are new to Mountain Biking, is there other gear you should budget in? For example, do clipless pedals or a quality hydration pack make any ride so much better that it is worth sacrificing on a better speced bike in favor of something else.

We have looked at this review process from the eyes of a fairly experienced bunch and I, for one, am excited to see what you can get for your hard earned cash. We have two endurance racers, 2 dedicated enthusiasts who periodically race, a rider transitioning from road riding to the mountains, and two women. This should give a wide array of experience and backgrounds to represent most user groups.

In no way are we trying to be critical or to nit pick a company. These bikes are sweated over just like the high end bikes. The kind of devotion the product managers and employees put into these bikes deserves our respect. Please read these reviews with that concept in mind.

This is the first time we’ve attempted this type of test with lots of similar bikes at once. Phone calls have been made, commitments made, commitments broken, dates quoted and dates absolutely shattered. Our original intent was to receive all the bikes in a close time frame then very methodically rotate through bikes, documenting rider’s feedback at set intervals not giving any advantage to one bike over the other. We had also cooked up a surprise format to really bring out what these companies are capable of putting out at this competitive price range.

In the end, after many hours of phone calls and follow ups, we have half of the bikes that were committed to us - best laid plans and all that. So, as bikes keep trickling in, we will build and report on them, getting them out to testers as fast as possible. We will still collect data and attempt to find out what these bikes can really handle, there will just be a lag in the testing schedule compared to what we had hoped for. Don’t worry, we will get you results in plenty of time to decide what you want before the spring riding season.

As usual please feel free to ask questions. I will ask that you post questions in the Comments section under each individual bike’s write up.

Giant Talon 0

Specialized RockHopper 29 MSRP $960

More Bikes to be added as we receive them

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

FatBob February 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Steven, welcome back ! Enjoy and thanks for the kind words.

Steven February 25, 2013 at 10:39 am

Hey guys I am new to mountain biking and have been researching for a couple months, looking for exactly this kind of review. I rode trails a bit as a teenager, but I’m 31 now…older, fatter, balder…etc. 🙂 Thanks so much for allowing newbies like me to get a little bit of knowledge about what to look for in a bike, and where to look. Looks like I’ll be confidently buying the RockHopper this week. Thanks again!

Doug October 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Chris – I upgraded from a mid 1990’s hardtail mountain bike last November to a full suspension Niner RIP 9 and the difference in comfort and performance for me is astounding. Ticking down the list – in no particular order – there’s a huge increase in comfort from full suspension, improved steering control from vastly more tunable suspension, far superior braking control and modulation with disk brakes, and better roll over of obstacles with the larger wheels.

I totally agree with FatBob’s thought that you’ll love the added comfort and confidence a 29er brings. I’ll concede that the bike feels big when I hop on but that feeling disappears after a few pedal strokes. For me I’ve found riding my new bike far more enjoyable than the old one and have absolutely no desire to go back to smaller wheels or a rigid bike. I go faster in more comfort and safety on my 29er.

FatBob October 5, 2012 at 5:04 am

Hi Chris, as of this time I don’t have a comment on 650b. We are getting a couple to try out and give our perspective on. None of us have ever ridden it and we try really hard not to speculate. we are scheduled around December before the first one comes.

As far as your height. I wouldn’t worry about your height. we have riders shorter than your self, down to 5’4″ who are very happy riding their 29ers. It sounds like you are going through a dealer. I recommend you ride the bike. Even in a parking lot you will know if you are comfortable. How the bike handles, probably not. How it fits shouldn’t be a problem. If your reach and leg extension is correct you should be fine. I would measure your bike now and have the shop sales person set the bike up as close as you can to your set up. If they are not willing to spend this time buy from someone else. With the bike you are talking about unless you are 5’6″ riding an XS frame with size 12 shoes, toe overlap should not be a problem. So my question is, if you can stand over the frame comfortably, your reach is correct, handle bar to seat drop is correct(easy to do with bar and stem choice), you have proper leg extension etc..whats the problem with running a 29er ?

I personally think you will love the added comfort and confidence a 29er brings. Let us know when you ride the Specialized what you think.

A $1000 dollar bike is a very good bike. Its biggest obstacle for you will more than likely not be the fork. More than likely it will be the weight. More than likely again you will be very happy with your new bikes comfort, disc brakes and modern fork technology including your fork compared to your present bike. Speculation, speculation and one more time speculation 🙂

Chris October 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I like both the detail and easy to understand reveiws. I have a 2 part question:
1. At 5’6″ (175#) I’m getting conflicting advice on buying a 29er versus looking for a 27.5 (650B) size bike. Care to weigh in?

2. I’ve been riding a ’94 Rockhopper with early generation suspension forks (Rockshox)and since returning to the west and putting the kids in college, I’m ready to ride more and ready for a new bike (but have to temper that with a $1k budget due to the kids being in college). I’m tempted with getting a new Rockhopper and in reading the reviews, the shocks are generally poo-poo’d etc. My question is: since I still enjoy my ’94 bike, won’t I be so amazed by the new technology that any poo-pooing of the ’12 bike will be overshadowed by better (relatively) shocks, disc brakes, etc.? I’m looking at the base model rockhopper, but might consider the “comp” – but probably not the “pro”

Avin October 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Hi guys,
Your interesting review of Rockhopper 29er helped me to finally choose the bike and i am now the pround owner of it. The design and feel from the ride is awesome. I am pretty new into MTB and this Specialized looks like the perfect for the start 🙂
So thanks and keep up the good work.

FatBob September 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Hi Eric. I think at your weight and tendency towards aggression 🙂 I would say getting a bike like the Kona Honzo would be a good way to go.

My recommendation with wheels is not to get caught up in more money equals stronger. This is not always true.

At #300 pounds plus not many stock bikes are going to last you. We need to not look at riders and assume that heavy means flabby and couch potato. I have some friends that are #300 pounds plus that are very strong, powerful guys ! Truly stock bikes are not really made for big powerful riders. If I was you, I would look at something like a Kona Honzo, Canfield Yelly Screamy, Surly Karate Monkey or Banshee Paradox. Get a Marzocchi 44 fork( low air pressure system. It takes less air pressure to hold a comparably heavier rider putting less stress on the seals and internals) Then go with All-Mountain rated rims, hand built 32 hole 3 cross so WHEN you brake spokes they are easy to replace. Get a stiff side walled 2.3 tire with heavy casings. Some nice Shimano SLX brakes with 200 mm rotors. Save money everywhere else that you can.

Im pretty sure this is not the Answer you are looking for but is the truth. Congratulations on losing #100 pounds, that is quite an accomplishment ! That Specialized HardRock did pretty good for you overall !

Erik September 22, 2012 at 11:58 am

I need some advice. I have a Hardrock26 and need to upgrade to a more durable bike. When I bought this bike I was 440lb. I’ve lost allmost 100lbs. My problem now is as I’ve lost weight I’ve gotten alot stronger and ride alot more agressivly. After I started braking spokes I upgraded my rear rim. I’ve done that twice and now have the double budded spokes and top of the line rim. This morning just riding into work over some rough asphault sidewalk and 1 inch bumps I broke a couple spokes. At 350lbs at the moment what bike on the 1000 – 1500 range would be durable enough to survive as I lose another 100lbs? I need something I can ride on sidewalks and roads 100 – 150 miles a week without having to drop more money into it every month. Thanks for any help.

Chris August 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Thanks for the input Bob. I picked up the Talon and absolutely love it!!! My local bike shop switched out the tires for free. They put on some Bontrager 29-3 2.0’s and they work great! Now I just need to find a saddle that takes some pressure off the sensitive areas. Thanks again!

FatBob August 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I would go Talon. It has an easily tuneable, 4 inch travel fork. The Avid parts are also easier to find replacement parts. The handling is excellent on both bikes. Also the outboard bearing cranks are a big selling point. Downside ? Only one water bottle cage and the tires are best swapped at the store if you will be primarily riding trail. The RockHopper has really great tires. Either way you will be getting a great bike.

Chris August 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Have a chance to purchase a 2012 Rockhopper 29er for $800 out the door or a 2012 Giant Talon 0 29er for $930 out the door. Any advice on which would be a better buy? I have test road the Talon and liked the feel of it. Haven’t had the chance to ride the Rockhopper yet. I tend to be an aggressive rider at times and choose to go over obstacles instead of around…

FatBob March 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

Don’t feel bad, I’m killing me too. Check us out on FaceBook. We are updating more regularly there with tidbits about all the bikes in our stock. We had a couple of mishaps that have slowed us down.

FatBob March 26, 2012 at 11:20 am

Don’t feel bad, I’m killing me too. Check us out on FaceBook. We are updating more regularly there with tidbits.

Papaprice March 25, 2012 at 6:10 am


You’re killing me….narrowed my choice down to the rockhopper and giant and discussed pros and cons with my lbs which stocks both. Can’t wait for your final review, my new steed has been ordered so can’t wait to see what your reviewers conclude….

FatBob March 4, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Thanks Jerod. We are working on starting to compile comments. The crew had to get through a couple of them to make sure we were comparing the same style bikes. If you have any questions please leave them here and we will answer them as fast as we can to assist you in your buying decision.

On the $1000 bike topic, Jamie raced the GT Karakoram on today in Sumter SC. We did change the wheels and tires as in the open class he would have seriously diminished his chances of doing well. He will be getting a race report up soon.

I will try to convince him to race another $1000 bike next weekend in Danville, VA with the same wheel set to make sure we are consistent. stay tuned we will be updating this soon.. promise we will.

Jerod March 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm

This is hands down the most useful set of write ups I’ve seen so far in my hunt for a new bike.

My hitch is being shipped to me, I think I have my rack picked out and should pick that up next week, have my lid, gloves, shoes and camelback… I’ve been putting the bike off till last since I’m having a tough time deciding. My budget was a few hundred dollars more than a grand but these breakdowns are so good that I’m inclined to buy in this category just for sheer confidence.

I can’t wait for all the impressions. I hope I can hold out long enough.

Many, many thanks. You have a new reader and if you printed a mag; I’d sub based on this article and the bike write ups alone. Keep up the great work!

FatBob February 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

We are 4 riders in so far. The only two things that went wrong are the rear shifter cracked at the lever and the tires are just not up to the task for our local trails.

The hardest part about this review is that everyone needs to ride all the bikes before they can really comment on any one. We need to make sure we are comparing the same birds and not comparing it to the $3000 dual suspension bikes we have been riding. We are getting close though as I am pretty much through the bikes with at least 2 members having ridden all of them. So sorry to make you wait but fairness and making sure we have a real perspective is very important and does take quite a bit of time.

If you have any specific questions please let ask here and I will gladly answer what I can.

Markus February 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Are any of the ride reports in yet, I’m looking to buy a bike soon. Really interested in the Giant review and actual test ride data as this is one of the bikes that come in to consideration for me.
Will you also have a Norco in your test line up? Charger or Nitro?

FatBob February 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm

thanks Clint. Beer is good !

Clint January 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Hello again. Thank you for the great advice. I live in AZ and I’ve tested both bike. I think I am going with the Giant, the wheels were definately fast when intook it for a test spin but the shop is going to do a swap. Thanks again for the feedback…Beer Money will be in your future.


Steve January 25, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Just pick up the Specialized 29er that is have pictured. I love it! I have been riding it hard on desert trails here in AZ. It handles the rough stuff like I’m riding on a dirt road and climbs hills that has stopped me in the past. My only complaint is the paint shows the dirt , but then again who the hell cares.

FatBob January 18, 2012 at 5:33 am

Hi Gary, we are working on that as we write this. Gt has been interested from the start, we are just waiting for availability. It seems Cannondale is as well. So hang in there, these bikes are high on our list and look to be very competitive.

This test is huge with alot of rider input. We are trying hard to meet our deadlines. It is really encouraging to get all the support we have from companies and readers alike. Thanks !

Gary January 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I am also interested in how the GT nearest $1000.00 stacks up, thanks! Great site.

FatBob January 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

Welcome back Matt. Glad we can help !

Matt January 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Hey guys, great job. The Google knew what I wanted and sent me here 🙂 Finally getting back into MTB and my old Trek steel frame isn’t quite cut out for what I’m riding. Hope to make a purchase this Spring and this series is perfect for what I’m looking for!

FatBob January 4, 2012 at 8:02 am

Hi Clint, There is no perfect answer here. If you are not able to change a single part…depends on where you ride. The Giant has fast tires and is a little lighter. the Specialized has more aggressive tires and a little more relaxed geometry by feel, but is heavier. The Giant is more XC in its feel.

Alot depends on where you ride and you as a rider.

It is not the goal of this test to tell you which bike is better. We hope to be able to tell strengths and weaknesses based on our experience and on a variety of trails. I don’t envy your choice as we have both bikes here and are riding them and this would be hard to choose.

If you are more of a beginner rider I would lean you to the RockHopper, more of an advanced rider on a budget, the Giant. See if you can budget in a tire trade and the Giant extends is usefulness.

Light feeling with an emphasis on climbing speed, Giant. More playful and confident, Specialized. With the Specialized loose the grips. they unfortunately spin around. Trade up to a locking set.

I cant get to much more into it. 3 riders have ridden this bike but we have not discussed it at all beyond the basics.

Clint January 2, 2012 at 7:42 am

I’m currently looking to purchase this week and I have these 2 bikes in mind to purchase. The question is the Specialized Rockhopper (Expert) vs The Giant Talon 0. I am a new rider so I am sure they will both be great, just curious on which will be a better deal and components wise. Thank you for the rad site, and I look forward to this series of articles.

Clint January 1, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Between the RockHopper & the Talon 0, which one do you feel is better? I love the site and this test will be great to follow. Thanks.

FatBob December 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Awesome Steve, and thanks for the trail work at the creek. Are you doing the C. Storm 40 miler at the end of January ?

Steve December 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Hey Bob. I just got a Trek Marlin SS and with some upgrades still fell under the 1000 mark. Love this new ride. Great way to get into trying a 29er. Been trying to catch you at the Creek to show it to you.

FatBob December 9, 2011 at 8:59 am

Hello Kevin. I am excited as well. A few of the reasons we are doing this are 1) help new riders out by giving information they can really use getting into this awesome sport. 2) Find out how viable it is for an enthusiast rider, or are they better off spending more.3) and most important to me, this is by far the most common email we get. Seems as though a large portion of readers are only planning on spending $1000 on a bike. We want to answer their questions. When I was asked this question all I could do is reference them to a website or send them to a brand I trusted. That just isn’t good enough. So while it is requiring patience on the part of readers with these questions, it will be an answer I can be confident in.

The goal here is not so much the best bike but telling you the differences and how it translates to ride quality. Ultimately it is a way to arm you with all the tools you need to make a decision. These bikes need to last a few years and also need to be worth upgrading as parts wear out.

i cant give to much information but so far I am very impressed with what is being sent.

Keep watching. This is a big series and will take some time but is actually the number one priority here. the pictures are coming out great and it keeps evolving to better serve not only you but the companies that support us.

Indecently we asked for a GT but the bikes were unavailable till January. Anyone else out there interested ? Looks like my time frame has been pushed forward so i can see if we can arrange for it to happen.

Kevin December 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I am very excited to see how this plays out. With higher end bikes its all to easy to get the beast of all worlds when you pay for it, XT all around, Carbon frames and super-light wheelsets will make every rider feel like a pro, but in the end its not realistic to think you will attract new blood to this sport if there is a $3,000 minimum entry fee. With a $1000, this sport really becomes an attractive proposition, and having reviews of where to spend that $ makes it better for first time buyers who get discouraged that they cant justify the extra $1000 everyone seems to demand. Im really looking forward to the review, and might I suggest the GT Karakoram as a potential contender.

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