Founded in the early 1970s, Specialized can be credited with catalyzing the explosion of mountain biking in the United States. Although their bikes are manufactured in Taiwan (which is common within the cycling industry), the brand’s roots are firmly planted in California. A staple within their lineup - and a model many may have heard of - is the Stumpjumper.
Introduced in 1981, the Stumpjumper was the first mass-produced mountain bike in the world and the company still offers more than 20 versions of the full-suspension design under the same name today. And the brand's wider collection covers everything from entry-level mountain bikes to road and electric bikes, meaning there’s an option for just about everyone.
2. Trek Bikes
One of the biggest brands in the business, Wisconsin-based Trek produces top-notch bikes across almost every price point. And while Trek is perhaps best known for its focus on road riding (made especially popular by Lance Armstrong in many Tour de France competitions), their mountain biking lineup is equally formidable.
One of their most well-known models in this category is the Trek Fuel EX, a long-standing offering that has been lauded as a jack of all trades. And despite numerous changes over the past 10+ years to its geometry and design, Trek has done a great job retaining its do-it-all personality.
3. Giant Bicycles
Founded in 1972, Taiwan-based Giant Manufacturing produces bike frames for many of the world’s top cycling brands. While this might come as a surprise, the fact is that there are only a handful of factories that make the vast majority of bikes, and Giant Manufacturing is one of the larger sources.
Their in-house bike brand—known simply as Giant—started up a little later in 1981. And just as Specialized has the Stumpjumper, it’s hard to talk about Giant without also mentioning the Trance line, which has been their go-to trail/all-mountain bike since its inception 15 years ago. While it’s by no means at the pinnacle of progressive geometry, the Trance is a solid choice for riders who want one bike that can do it all.
4. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a bit of an anomaly in the cycling world. With only 13 dirt-focused models to choose from (including the new Heckler e-MTB), the brand has been able to establish themselves as a major player in a relatively short amount of time (the company was founded in 1994). Perhaps even more notable, however, is the fact that they’ve been able to grow significantly large without sacrificing that boutique-brand feel. This impressive balancing act has led to a number of popular models over the years.
Known for their unique approach to building and designing bicycles, Connecticut-based Cannondale has never been afraid to try new things. Some of their more noteworthy and polarizing designs over the years have been the one-sided Lefty fork and unique Headshok unit, both of which replaced standard suspension forks on some models.
What truly sets Cannondale apart, however, has been their use of oversized aluminum tubing. In the 1980s, when most other companies were still building bike frames out of steel, Cannondale was taking a different approach with their lightweight alloy. Even today, the company still uses this material liberally in their lineup.
According to switchbacktravel.com