Until recently there was no point in getting a full-suspension mountain bike for around £1,000. The extra cost of adding pivots, a rear shock and a more complex frame design always meant too many component compromises compared to the best hardtail mountain bikes under $1000 that deliver a really well-sorted ride. Often the suspension components or the frame were so poor or outdated the bikes themselves didn’t work properly either.
Thankfully, there are now some bikes out there that genuinely make riding more controlled and more fun than a hardtail and are good enough to be worth upgrading into something really good. So here’s our pick of the best ways to start your full suspension riding experience.
Best budget full-suspension bikes
Vitus has a long history of really good affordable suspension bikes but the second season of the Mythique looks like the performance peak so far. The range actually starts with either the VR or the female friendly VRW which both get the same 130mm travel frame, four-bar linkage with progressive 29-inch wheel geometry as the rest of the Mythique range. There’s also a 27.5-inch 140mm travel version of the bike but we’ve recommended 29er here as the smoother rolling wheels help offset the occasionally clunky feel of the X-Fusion fork and rear shock. The 27 is lighter, lower and more agile if you want more of a raver than a roller though. Either way, you get a very upgradeable frame with a trunnion shock mount and 148x12mm Boost rear axle. You get most of a Shimano Deore transmission (the 10-speed cassette is SunRace, the chain is KMC) and a soft compound Schwalbe Magic Mary tire for impressive grip and control through the Nukeproof bar and stem. You’ll need to get a dropper post though and with the next tier VRX getting Marzocchi Z2 fork, RockShox Monarch R shock, Shimano SLX/Deore stop and go kit and a Brand-X dropper post it’s definitely worth digging deeper into your pockets if you can.
While most of the bikes here now have decent geometry, Marin’s Rift Zone bikes set the benchmark for bringing proper no-holds-barred rough play numbers to the affordable bike rankings. 65.5-degree head tube locks the front wheel into the terrain with a 35mm stem at the end of the extended 480mm reach top tube on a large-sized frame. A 76-degree seat angle still gives it attacking poise on climbs while the 425mm chainstays give a super responsive rear-end feel.
The 'Multitrac' frame gives 125mm of travel and while it comes with a 141mm QR rear it can be upgraded to a full 148mm width Boost bolted thru-axle. The steel legs of the RockShox Recon fork are heavy but mean it isn’t too stretched at 130mm travel. The short 42mm offset makes the most of the instant short stem steering. Vee Tire dual compound Crown Gem tires are good all-round performers with broad tubeless-ready rims for stability and easy upgrading.
The Shimano Deore 11-speed gears are super reliable and while they feel very numb the Shimano MT200 brakes have 180mm rotors front and rear for a vague sensation of stopping. You’ll need to pay more for the Rift Zone 2 to get a dropper post as standard, but overall value is good for a shop-bought, globally available bike.
GT's Sensor has been around for several years and uses a really well-executed take on a classic suspension layout rather than the unique designs of GT’s past. Combine the four-bar linkage with a large-volume X-Fusion 02 Pro RL trunnion shock and you’re getting a really smooth and neutral 130mm travel rear end that competes with much more expensive bikes. The RockShox Recon Silver RL fork is usefully smooth too and while the skinny steel legs are heavy they are stiffer under load. You get a fully up to date 148x12mm Boost rear axle and the geometry can be set high or low. That gives a 65.5- or 66-degree head angle and 76- or 76.5-degree seat angle so the angles are totally on point for technical riding. The bottom bracket is still very high even in the low setting which can make it feel precarious rather than grounded. Reach is reasonable and you get a short stem and wide bar for control. The 11-speed Shimano Deore gears work well, but the brakes are very wooden and numb. The WTB rims are relatively narrow too and the DNA compound WTB tires are better in the dry than the wet. You get a dropper post though which is a definite win.
The cheapest Fluid bike from Canadian brand Norco, the FS3 still gets the same ‘size-scaled’ double-butted alloy frame with Boost axles, a decent 47cm reach on a large and a trail-ready 66.5-degree head angle and 76-degree seat angle. It comes in both 27.5in (XS, S, M sizes) and 29er (M, L, XL sizes) and either way you get Goodyear Newton and Escape tires. The good news for 2021 is that the company has fitted slimmer, lighter 2.4in and 2.35in versions (2020 bikes had 2.6in versions) so it doesn’t feel as sluggish under power. The SRAM SX Eagle gears make winching back up easier too and the Tektro brakes get 180mm rotors front and rear for a useful dose of extra power. You get a dropper post as standard and the X-Fusion rear shock works well through the 120mm of wheel movement, too. The X-Fusion RC32 isn’t as smooth or convincing upfront though so we’d be tempted to save up for the Fluid FS 2 which gets a basic but well-performing RockShox 35 fork and an unbelievably good Maxxis Dissector triple compound tire spec.
The parent company of Polygon manufactures bikes and frames for a big list of other brands including some real premium names. Buying its own bikes gets you the same quality at a much lower price though and the Siskiu T7 is a thoroughly modern trail bike at a great price. Like Norco, you get the option of 27.5-inch wheels in smaller frame sizes and then 29er on the bigger bikes. That gets you either 150mm forks and 140mm rear travel or 140mm fork and 135mm rear. Either way head angles are around 65-degrees with a 76.5-degree seat angle and a long 480mm reach on the large for excellent self-correcting stability. Super short seat tubes keep the center of gravity low and you get long-stroke dropper seatposts as standard. You get a super-short 35mm stem for super-responsive steering with a RockShox Deluxe Plus Select shock and lightweight Recon RL fork. Add a 12-speed Shimano gearing mix and 2.4in wide Schwalbe Addix compound tires on wide tubeless-ready rims and you’ve got a seriously comprehensive spec for a total bargain price. Especially considering it comes from proper bike shops not just delivered in a box for you to build. If you want a lighter, XC format then the Siskiu D7 and D5 deliver a slick-looking 120mm suspension performance for €1,499 and €999 respectively making Polygon a bargain bike powerhouse.
German online bike brands are smashing the value-for-money comparison game these days and Radon reaches down lower on budget than Canyon or YT.
The headline spec on the Radon is so good we had to actually rewrite the intro to this buyer's guide as we’d previously said you’d never get Fox suspension at this budget! As well as the excellent Fox 34 Rhythm fork and Fox DPS rear shock you get mid-range SRAM NX/GX Expanded Eagle 12-speed gears, powerful Magura brakes, a proper post as standard and Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires on quality Sun Ringle wheels. According to Radon that makes it nearly two kilos lighter than most of the bikes here at 13.6kg.
The only downside in what looks an unbeatable deal is that the frame is relatively old (it still has tabs for a front derailleur) and that’s reflected in the short and relatively steep geometry. If you’re not after slack and long then save your pennies and your effort on the climbs with the super-value Skeen.
If you’re in the UK, the undisputed king of budget suspension bikes for the past few years has been the Calibre Bossnut. Calibre is the bike brand of bargain outdoor lifestyle store chain Go Outdoors who use a member discount scheme so you need to get a £5 store card to get the £1,200 price listed here, not the theoretical £1,500 retail price, but it’s definitely worth signing up.
The original Bossnut was updated with a totally new frame last year. That not only meant new features like curving hydroformed tubes and a bolt-through rear axle on all models but fresh geometry and tweaked suspension, too. That means large bikes now get a 460mm reach and all bikes get a 66-degree head angle and 74.5-degree seat angle with 130mm of rear travel.
Incredibly the basic Bossnut gets RockShox Recon fork and Monarch rear shock as well as a full SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed transmission. You get a High Grip WTB front tire, 45mm stem and 780mm bar for proper control as well. The only thing to watch for is the rear axle is 142x12mm not the latest Boost standard and you don’t get a dropper unless you get the Bossnut BBB for £1,499 (which also gets a fork and gear upgrade).
Best budget full-suspension bike: what to look for?
The only thing you can’t upgrade on a mountain bike is the shape of it. Some manufacturers (not the ones featured here) just use old outdated steep and short frames as the basis for their cheap bikes. Others make new frames but weirdly seem to think that the fresh riders likely to be buying at this price point would benefit from something that’s twitchy and sketchy rather than stable and confident.
As a rough guide 120mm travel bikes should have a 67-degree head angle, moving towards 65-degree as travel extends to 150mm and you’re getting faster on descents. Reach figures should be 460+mm on a large, with a 50mm or shorter stem and a 760mm or wider bar for decent power steering.
At the lower end of the price range you’re almost certainly going to take a hit on suspension quality. That means 32mm steel legs rather than 35mm alloy legs on forks and simple rear shocks with limited adjustment and potentially less than perfect damping. You can expect to get equipment from Manitou, Suntour, X-Fusion or own branded gear rather than RockShox or Marzocchi dampers although you can get them or even Fox in this list. That doesn’t mean that cheaper forks and shocks etc. can’t work well, but read our reviews to guide you in the right direction and potentially be more prepared to do more servicing and general TLC.
The real surprise with this list is how good the rest of the spec on several of these bikes is, with comparable brake and gear setups to hardtail bikes. The days of super long stems and narrow bars ruining the ride are thankfully behind us too and even saddles and grips are generally sorted. The thing you probably won’t get and will have to upgrade to is a dropper seat post but make sure that the frame you choose is at least ready for an internally routed setup.
Whether you get a hardtail or a suspension bike, swapping tires is a great way to make real performance gains at a reasonable price. So if you’re buying from a shop and have a bit of cash left in your budget then ask if they can swap them (or set the existing ones up tubeless) before you get the original ones dirty.
4. The next bike up
The amount of extra kit and performance you get on the next bike up in the range - and the price gap - can alter significantly. In some cases, brand managers will sacrifice some profit to create a really killer value entry level bike. In other cases, it’s you who’ll be making those sacrifices. It’s certainly always worth checking what saving a bit longer or digging deeper into your budget will get you and where relevant we’ve flagged up whether the ‘next bike up’ is the better deal here.