The Best Budget Mountain Bikes: The Ultimate Guide

Finding a cheap mountain bike is difficult regardless of the budget you've set yourself. We've listed a few of the most popular bikes per price bracket and written a guide to help you choose correctly.

Best Budget Mountain Bikes

Good mountain bikes are expensive, there’s no getting around that. It’s an unfortunate truth that quality must be compromised in some areas for a bike to be affordable. The amount of compromise depends on your budget, and the areas that you’re willing to compromise should depend on your expected usage.

This article is part of a series of articles that take a closer look at budget mountain bikes within popular price brackets.

Hopefully this guide will serve to introduce you to a few of the different aspects worth considering when purchasing a budget mountain bike. On top of that, we’ll touch on the qualities of bikes within certain budget ranges and guide you towards more material worth reading for each price bracket.

Starting at the top end of budget mountain bikes and moving towards the cheaper mountain bikes, let’s get underway.

Mountain Bikes Under $1500

Budget Mountain Bike Materials

To many casual or beginner riders, even $1500 seems extortionate for a mountain bike. In truth, this is still well within what we’d define as a budget purchase.

For $1500, you can get a fairly decent bike. It’s around this range that you start to notice more carbon fiber frames, better suspension forks and more responsive brake set-ups.

As with all budget bikes, you’re likely to get a better hardtail for your money than the equivalent full suspension.

At this range, we’d recommend you look at the following options:

BEIOU CB020 Carbon Fiber Hardtail

A carbon fiber bike differs immensely in feeling when compared to an aluminum frame. Those who have $1500 to spend should, in our opinion, give carbon frames a go.

At lower price ranges, you’re fortunate to even pick up a carbon frame regardless of quality. At this range, however, you’re teetering on the verge of a very decent bike indeed.

BEIOU offer some fantastic low cost options with strong, lightweight carbon frames. In most instances, the biggest compromise is seen in the suspension fork.

Thankfully, a lighter frame makes these bikes seem far less bouncy than their aluminum equivalents.

Steppenwolf Tundra Carbon Pro

The Steppenwolf Tundra Carbon is a fantastic little budget bike that comes in a range of different models.

Our experience is with the Pro model, which has a 30 speed Shimano drivetrain powering it. The other models come with different drivetrains, but we’re confident from reading around the web that each is as impressive as the last.

Avid Elixir 5 disk brakes give the stopping force of a bike much more expensive than this, something that is very much appreciated on steeper trails.

It feels incredibly well balanced and along with the BEIOU CB020 is a perfect example of a good cheap mountain bike.

Why We Like Them At This Price Range

Both of these bikes are fantastic introductions to the world of carbon fiber frames. If you’re shelling out on a $1500 mountain bike, we think it’s paramount you get an experience that’s totally different to what you could achieve with a $500 budget.

A good mixture of quality components, and compromises in places that intermediate riders won’t mind too much make these fantastic options for those looking to improve.

Read More: Best Mountain Bikes Under $1500

Mountain Bikes Under $1000

Budget Mountain Bike 1000$

As we move down a bracket, carbon frames become much less commonplace. In the $500-$1000 bracket, you’re often far better off sticking to aluminum bikes and making less compromises elsewhere.

Despite that, our favorite pick under $1000 is still a BEIOU carbon fiber bike.

They’re just so much fun that we’d never be able to forgive ourselves if you missed out on a chance to try one just because of a $500 dollar drop in budget.

At this range, you can almost completely rule out finding a respectable full suspension mountain bike. Good suspension doesn’t come cheap. Instead, here’s what we’d recommend:

BEIOU CB004 Toray T700 Carbon Fiber

In the previous price range, we described how costs are usually cut on the suspension forks. In this instance, the GTMRK 330 hydraulic suspension fork feels fantastic.

The biggest downside to this bike is that it has 26″ wheels, which, although somewhat down to preference, doesn’t make things as easy as bigger wheels do.

Having to put your back into pedaling over rocky terrain is made easier by the super-light frame, though.

The T700 carbon fiber has a T1000 layer wrapped around it on the bottom bracket. If that looks like nonsense to you, don’t worry. It just means that they’ve put some thought into making vulnerable areas of the bike stronger than the rest.

Diamondback Bicycles Line Hardtail

Diamondback. Aluminum. Under $1000. Bargain.

Our gripe with the BEIOU is rectified here with 27.5″ wheels proving a worthy challenger for most rough terrains.

The bike feels nice and light, though not nearly as responsive to body weight shifts as the BEIOU carbon frames.

A SR Sun tour 120Mm front suspension fork is, to be honest, bang average around this price range, but it does the job well.

Having the Tektro Auriga hydraulic disk brakes on the front and back (180mm and 160mm) mean that your ability to come to a halt is never something you’ll be in any doubt of. They’re very responsive.

Why We Like Them At This Price Range

As we mentioned previously, if you can afford a carbon fiber frame, give one a try. If you don’t think they suit you, or you’d rather an aluminum bike with fewer compromises made, then the Diamondback Line is a perfect choice.

Neither of these bikes are world beaters, but for a budget mountain bike under $1000, they’re exactly what most riders are looking for.

Read More: Best Mountain Bikes Under $1000

Mountain Bikes Under $500

Mountain Bikes Under $500

Moving into a $500 maximum budget, there’s a clear shift in attitudes towards hardtail and full suspension. At this level, there’s a healthy mix of both. I know what you’re thinking:

If you can’t get a good full suspension under $1000, how would you be able to get one under $500?!

Well, this is because expectations are completely different at this range, and rightly so. If you’re a beginner mountain biker, a cheap mountain bike will suffice.

Whether that’s hardtail or full suspension, ehhh, it doesn’t matter all that much as long as you’re comfortable riding it.

Budget mountain bikes need to have a bigger selection of styles because they’re catering for a wider demographic than the intermediate to advanced bikes. With that in mind, let’s look at our highlighted bikes in this range:

Diamondback Recoil 29er Full Suspension

Quite an easy choice as our best mountain bike under $500. It’s a full suspension model from Diamondback that has 29 inch wheels, meaning it glides effortlessly over rough terrain.

The Sun tour XCT 100Mm is far from ideal, and leaves the bike feeling a tiny bit floaty after a heavy landing.

With that said, it still outperforms every other full suspension bike we’ve experienced at this price bracket.

Since most other price ranges are overwhelmed with hardtail options, it’s only fair we include a full suspension here for those who would prefer to try it. It’s more than worthy.

In our opinion, this is the best full suspension mountain bike you’ll find on a tight budget.

Raleigh Bikes Ziva Women’s

This Raleigh Women’s Ziva model mountain bike is another fantastic option for those limited to $500.

It has the same front fork as the Diamondback Recoil, but seems better balanced during small jumps. As a result, the float isn’t as noticeable.

Hydraulic disk brakes are a true blessing at this price range, you’ll struggle to find better.

Another thing we love about this bike is that it’s extremely easy to assemble.

With no prior knowledge of mountain bikes, you can have this up and running in under an hour tops.

Why We Like Them At This Price Range

As we reach the more inexpensive mountain bikes, the range of available bikes flourishes into an endless mess of different styles and models.

Narrowing them down to ones that are worth investing your time and money into is increasingly more difficult.

The two bikes highlighted here are prime examples of reliable bikes under $500, despite being very different in ride experience. They’re also from very popular bike manufacturers, meaning you have a good chance of gradually improving components

Read Our Full Guide On Mountain Bikes Under $500

Mountain Bikes Under $300

Mountain Bikes For $300

We’re finally at the last price bracket in our guide. Mountain bikes under $300 are rarely going to blow your mind, but they will offer you a taste of the thrill mountain biking brings.

For beginner bikers looking to get their feet wet with mountain biking, these are a reasonable choice. In many cases, the room for improvement with bikes that started under $300 is quite limited.

The components are often well below the standard of those found in $500 bikes, meaning those with plans to upgrade components may be better off starting with a slightly more expensive bike.

Despite that, these bikes are still fun. The phrase cheap and cheerful comes to mind. Let’s look at what bikes under $300 have to offer:

OMAAI Full Suspension Mountain Bike

The OMAAI Full Suspension Mountain Bike provides unrivaled value for money at just shy of $300.

Adjustable handlebars mean it’s likely to fit any rider and the 27 speed shifters are surprisingly smooth given the lower quality components used in bikes at this range.

It has 26″ wheels, which while not excellent, still do a fairly good job of gripping dusty tracks and trails.

It definitely isn’t a smooth ride, and the front suspension fork leaves quite a lot to be desired. That’s a given on any suspension at this price, so it’s not something we can hold against it.

Better suspension costs more money, for $300, this gives you more than what you paid for.

Vilano 26″ Ridge Mountain Bike

What immediately stands out about this bike is that it looks a lot more expensive than it is. The mag alloy wheels look very flashy when compared to the boring spokes found on other bikes under $300.

It has Shimano shifters and derailleurs. Something that many manufacturers do without at this price range in order to boost the profit margins.

Disk brakes are acceptable, and while these don’t offer the same level of response as hydraulic brakes found on more expensive models, they’ll do the job on beginner trails.

It comes pretty much pre-assembled, so you’ll only need 20 minutes to tighten up some loose nuts and bolts before it’s all up and running.

We found a huge improvement after taking it to our local bicycle shop to get a few adjustments made.

Why We Like Them At This Price Range

These bikes are very fun. Of all the metrics and measurements we could use to rank cheap mountain bikes, fun is the most important here.

You simply will not get a high quality mountain bike at this price range, but you can certainly get a fun one. These two are living proof of that.

Read Our Full Guide On Mountain Bikes Under $300

Complete Guide To Cheap Mountain Bikes

A Good Cheap Mountain Bike

It’s not uncommon to suffer some pretty severe sticker shock on first browsing the market for a decent quality mountain bike. Whatever the reason you are on a hunt for the best budget mountain bike, don’t despair when you see price tags in a range you may expect to pay for a good used car on many bikes in the shop or as you start browsing online. With some thought, you will find the best inexpensive mountain bike, available in a price range that you can live with.

At the other extreme, don’t fall for value-priced floor models at the local big box or department store, either. Maybe you think getting a deal on a sort of starter bike for a few hundred bucks might be worth the investment to get going, but you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

If the bike is ever going to actually leave pavement or packed dirt and get pounded up and down mountain trails at full speed like a mountain bike is meant to do, you’ll soon figure out why they’re so cheap.

It is worth the extra investment to get the best mountain bike for the money, one that is designed specifically for the unique challenges of riding off road on rough terrain.

Brief History of Mountain Biking

While bicycle equipment was built of sturdy (and usually very heavy) materials in the early days of biking a hundred and fifty years ago, bikes weren’t specifically built for off-road riding on mountain trails in the beginning.

One of the earliest known efforts to make bicycles into “mountain bikes” involved an army group, the 25th Infantry Bike Corps, who outfitted bicycles for carrying equipment over rough trails in 1895.

The group tested their bicycle army transport unit by first riding round-trip from Missoula, Montana to Yellowstone National Park, and then from Missoula to St. Louis, Missouri! This was cross-country riding at its finest, over a century ago.

Many mountain bike enthusiasts consider Marin County, California to be the modern birthplace of the mountain bike, however, as it was here that groups of young cycle enthusiasts begin competing in the 1980s to create bikes suited for off-road use in the mountain trails of the area.

Soon technology began to catch up with the new dirt biking passion, with equipment and gear being specifically made for the more extreme needs of mountain biking. A new market was born, and in the past four decades since the Marin County movement of the 80s, mountain biking has grown exponentially to serve a huge sector of the bicycle business with stronger and lighter drivetrains, wheels, and frame materials.

What To Look For In a Budget Mountain Bike

Choosing A Budget Mountain Bike

Now that you have a rough idea of how mountain bikes came to be, we’ll take a closer look at the aspects that make them so well loved.

Wheel Size

As mountain bikes have developed over the decades, manufacturers have settled for the most part on three wheel sizes: 26, 27.5, and 29-inches. The 26-inch wheel has long dominated the market as the standard since the creation of the mountain bike, but the introduction of the 29er broadened the potential of the sport for many riders who tried the bigger wheels.

Especially well suited to taller riders, the 29″ wheel gives greater control over rough and technical terrain. Later, the 27.5″ wheel came to be a sort of “compromise” between the smaller and larger extremes, combining some of the advantages of the 29ers with a few of the benefits of the original 26-inch wheels.

Frame Size

Getting the right fit for your body when buying a budget mountain bike is crucial to enjoying the ride and getting the most out of the biking experience. Generally three frame sizes are: small, for people approximately 4’10” to 5’4″ tall; medium, for those in the 5’5″ to 5’9″ range; and large, for people 5’10” to 6’3″ or so.

Get to know the options and try out the fit and comfort while riding to be sure you have the frame for you.

Seat adjustment on a mountain bike is very different from that on a road bike, of course. The rider sits up taller, head up to see the trail ahead, unlike the pitched forward downward-leaning incline of a road bike.

Handlebars are generally flat to allow the rider to maintain upright posture, not dropped like road bikes with their “ram’s horn” curved bars. As well as offering protection, mountain bike gloves are recommended because they provide so much more grip on flat handlebars.

Suspension

Mountain Bike Suspension

The suspension, or shock absorber built into the bike, is the feature most notable in a mountain bike that sets it apart from any other type of bicycle. Mountain bikes have evolved into three basic suspension styles: rigid, hard-tail, and full suspension.

Rigid: a rough ride on hard terrain

The original mountain bike had no suspension, just an extra-strong frame and forks to handle the rough off-road terrain. Today, rigid mountain bikes, with no shock absorbers either front or rear, are available, but less common and typically used for light trail riding.

Some rigid suspension bikes are used as a “hybrid” on-off trail bike for those who want just one all around bicycle. Most people who want to ride a mountain bike, though, have a particular kind of riding in mind, which is off road on dirt, mud, gravel, and rocky terrain. This type of biking is best done with a bike made for the purpose.

Hard-tail: easier on the arms

A hard-tail mountain bike has front forks with a shock absorber, but no rear suspension. This set-up helps absorb a lot of the harsh impact of rough trails or obstacles on the rider’s arms and hands while avoiding the extra weight and bulk of a rear shock absorber. A lot of the best cheap mountain bikes are hard-tail models.

Full suspension: softer ride but more effort

As with all choices, a full suspension mountain bike with front and rear shock absorbers offers a more cushioned ride on rough trails, but the slight trade off is that more energy is required to pedal, as the suspension travel (movement) absorbs some of the energy used to propel the bike forward.

Full suspension adds weight, which makes riding up hills and over tricky technical terrain harder, unless top-grade lightweight materials are used in the bike.

This is why most full-suspension bikes cost more than most people’s idea of a budget mountain bike, and why many of the best mountain bike values are found in the hard-tail style of bike.

Materials

Budget Mountain Bike Materials

Frames of most budget mountain bikes tend to be made of an aluminum alloy for the best combination of strength and weight conservation.

High-end bikes feature a range of space-age technology, with carbon fiber frames, titanium frames, and fully aluminum frames that are machined from high-grade metal, all available on the market.

Many of these high-tech frames come at prices that would require a second mortgage for many customers to be able to afford them. Most budget mountain bikes will feature an aluminum alloy frame designed for maximum strength with minimum weight and optimal cost.

Components

The mechanical parts that make up the operating equipment of the mountain bike generally come already assembled on most mountain bikes you might buy, but it helps to know a bit about the range of components available to make an informed decision about how you will outfit your ride.

If you have a bit of room to work with in your budget, it is worth the effort to learn more about the equipment that makes your bike go, and possibly consider upgrades from what is available on the stock bike to fit your unique riding style.

Disc brakes or calipers?

The classic caliper braking system that most bike riders know is still available on many mountain bikes. Quite a few mountain bikes, though, have gone to a disc brake system, similar in some ways to car brakes that provide more braking power with less squeezing force on the brake lever.

Check out the options in the price range you are considering, and decide whether disc braking, either rear only or on both wheels, is a feature that you want to see on your new bike, and consider whether the bike you want is in your price range.

Derailleurs to Cassette

The business part of the bike that converts the rider’s energy from cranking on the pedals to the rear wheel to make the bike go is called the drivetrain.

Typically you will find a ratio of 3 x 7 or 3 x 8, giving your bike 21 or 24 gears to work with.

Often the individual components on a bike are made by a different manufacturer than the bike frame, so it is worth a look to be sure you like the grade of components that the shop (or manufacturer) has equipped the bike with and what your options are in equipment.

Types of Mountain Bike Riding

Types Of Mountain Biking

As the sport of mountain biking has grown in popularity and spread across the country and around the world, different types of riding specialties have developed, with each category offering a range of unique options in bike gear and hardware to get the most out of that type of biking.

There are many divisions, depending on who is keeping score, but the primary three types of riding are cross-country, trail, and all-mountain, or enduro riding.

Cross-country

One of the main differences in the three types of mountain bikes on the market is what is called “travel” of the suspension, that is, how much the shock absorbers move while the bike is in use on the trail.

For cross-country bikes, generally 80-120 mm of movement is the standard.

Cross-country mountain bikes can be further divided into two sub-categories, for racing or for longer distance riding. Naturally, bikes specifically designed for racing may tend to be in a higher price range, as the components and materials are made to be stronger and lighter, which typically costs more in materials.

Trail

A lot of good mountain bikes in a reasonable price range are designed for trail riding. Typically these bikes feature 120-150mm travel in the suspension, perfect to absorb a lot of the bumps and impacts of mountain biking on technical terrain.

Many riders enjoy a wide variety of terrain, from soft sand or wet dirt to hard packed trails with ruts to rocky or gravel surfaces, so a well-built, all-purpose trail bike with a good amount of suspension travel is ideal for many mountain bikers.

All-mountain or Enduro

Riders who enjoy tough technical trails and rapid descents often ride an all-mountain or Enduro type bike, which typically have 140-160 mm travel in their suspensions to absorb hard bumps and shocks on rough trails at full speed.

Many of the bikes in this category tend to have high-end components and carbon-alloy frames that push the entry price point above most people’s idea of a reasonable budget mountain bike.

Get Out There And Get Dirty

The mountain biking market has developed into a major specialty area, with options for all types of riders, from people just getting into the sport to those ready to make a leap to a different style of riding.

Knowledge is power when you are making a buying decision, especially when you are hunting for the best cheap mountain bike on the market.

With a bit of education and smart shopping skills, it is possible to find a very good quality budget mountain bike at a price you’ll be happy with.