The best budget mountain bikes are some of the most important bikes out there – buy the wrong one and it'll kill the fire of a future filled with mountain biking, but buy the right one and it's the gate way drug to a life time of berm slapping and adventuring, and luckily, entry-level bikes no longer have to equate to trail riding disappointment. The knock on effect of a rocky few years globally means the price of bikes has gone up, but don't fear, you can still get a brilliant ride for not a whole lot of cash.
While our experts have picked their best budget options it's good to know what to look out for yourself. One thing to keep in mind when looking at the budget mountain bikes is that there will always be compromises somewhere. If a bike has a great drivetrain, it might have lower-end suspension in order to keep the price down or vice versa. And while most components work pretty well these days, we'd definitely recommend you click on our guide to what you need to know when buying a budget mountain bike.
Once you buy a bike, you might find that you want to upgrade some of the components too. That doesn't have to be too expensive, so we've put together buying guide for the best budget bike upgrades. If you're looking to spend a little bit more for a full-suspension trail or enduro bike, check out our guide to the best bikes under $2,500.
As everyone's concept of 'budget' can differ, we have chosen a range of bikes across a number of price ranges to allow riders to match their expectations with a specific price point. We've also picked XC and Trail style options and even found a couple of great full suspension options at an affordable price.
Best budget mountain bikes
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The biggest brands might have a bulk buy advantage but sometimes they aren't as quick to respond to the latest trail trends. Online brand Vitus certainly uses its direct sell status and focused design team to its advantage with the bang up to date Nucleus though. Featuring a 1x drivetrain, air-sprung 120mm Suntour fork, and a frame with with really well thought-out geometry, it's great value for the money and a great ride too. 27.5-inch wheels are more responsive than 29ers for jumping, flicking off fun bits, and generally playing around too. WTB branded wheels and rubber mean fewer worries about heavy handling or unreliable tire grip too.
If you prefer 29er wheels, well Vitus has a Nucleus 29 VR (opens in new tab) with the same spec bike with bigger wheels for the same price.
GT has been a legendary name among BMX riders and mountain bikers for decades. While their bikes are still raced at the highest level, these days the company is better known for its more affordable options as well.
Although the GT Aggressor Expert is its entry-level bike it still gets GT's signature Triple Triangle frame design where the seat stays and seat tube overlap for stiff, multi-point contact.
The Expert has a generous spread of gearing, thanks to a 3x8 drivetrain, but that's harder to shift smoothly than a more up to date single chainring setup. SR Suntour’s 80mm coil fork is smoother than most air-sprung forks at this price, but it's heavy and can't easily be adjusted for rider weight. Despite the name, the Aggressor’s geometry and handing are better suited to less challenging off-road trails. Though with 27.5in or 29in wheel options and plenty of sizes, you'll be able to get an Aggressor that fits you really well.
The best budget mountain bikes are always a compromise between performance and price. However, Giant is one of the largest manufacturers of bicycles in the world, controlling production right from raw material to finished bike. That gives it huge economies of scale as well as excellent quality builds at all price levels.
Despite the Talon's cheap price, it gets a high-quality ALUXX SL aluminum frameset that's much more sophisticated and smoother riding than many similarly priced bikes.
The Talon 29er is available in small, medium, large and extra-large sizes for those who want the easiest rolling performance. However, Giant also sells a 27.5-inch wheeled Talon which is more agile and available in smaller sizes for shorter riders. Giant's sister company Liv also offers a women's version called the Tempt.
Riders targeting a top value bike for mile-munching cross-country or adventure missions could do a lot worse take Aim at Cube's budget 29er XC hardtail. The Aim got a bit of a geometry makeover for 2022, slackening out the previously old skool steep geometry with a little more contemporary 68.5-degrees. It still has quite narrow 680mm handlebars though to keep handling sharp and nimble on tight trails and climbs. The fast-rolling 29er wheels and tires mean it would also make a great flat bar gravel/bikepacking bike for those who want more control than a dropped bar setup.
As one of the largest bike brands in the World, Cube also gets the best prices on components and passes them directly on to its customers. That means this bike comes with a super reliable Shimano drivetrain and fast-rolling Schwalbe Smart Sam tires. Mechanical disc braking isn't as powerful as hydraulic disc brakes but maintenance is simpler for home mechanics or trail-side fixes.
Kona have been around since mountain biking’s earliest days, and the Mahuna is their latest take on a versatile entry level hardtail.
Despite a heavier than average weight, the Mahuna’s surprisingly smooth ride results in a true all-rounder that feels confident and composed across a variety of terrain, although it’s faster paced XC trails that really bring the Kona to life. A relatively conservative 68-degree head angle ensures responsive steering when descending and precision while climbing, and the 60mm BB drop keeps rider weight low and stability high throughout all on-trail situations. Riders in-between L and XL frame sizes may be in a predicament though as there’s a hefty gap between reach and seat tube measurements.
Certain specification options can make it feel like it’s out of its depth on more technical terrain though, which means it's best suited to riders on the search for an upgradable XC/distance at a killer price point. Something the that two bottle mounts also lend themselves to.
The fact the Mahuna is available though a true bricks and mortar bike shop is a big bonus too, plus its frame is covered by a lifetime warranty which reinforces the purchase as a quality investment.
Make sure the check out our comprehensive Kona Mahuna bike review for a more in-depth look into how it performs in the real world.
If you’ve read our very recent recent review of the Rockhopper Elite 29 you’ll see that during the testing period we were left in a conundrum between excellent ride-feel attributes and several upgrade limiting design features; as a result the Rockhopper is brilliant for some riders, but a total non starter for others.
On the trail the Rockhopper’s low weight provides an energetic and lively ride feel that encourages you to stamp on the pedals with enthusiasm – A characteristic which when paired with the smooth RockShox Judy air sprung fork, low bottom bracket and fantastically well modulated Shimano MT200 brakes make the Rockhopper ooze confidence on the trail.
The shine of these quality ride attributes quickly started to vanish as we took a deeper look into the Rockhopper’s construction though, and its the straight non-tapered head tube that’s the major flaw here. With the all the best aftermarket suspension forks in 2022 featuring tapered head tubes there’s no room for the Rockhopper’s front end performance to grow as time goes on.
If it wasn’t for the upgrade limiting design overlooks the Rockhopper has the potential to be one of the best performing bikes in it’s category, so if you’re not bothered by future upgrades its a great performing and feeling option.
Don’t stop reading here though, make sure to check out Bike Perfect's in-depth dive into all areas of the Specialized Rockhopper Elite’s construction and performance.
We thought Merida's Big Trail 600 was great when we tested it and the Big Trail 400 shares the same DNA and a really sorted spec for the price. Merida is another massive Taiwanese manufacturer that makes frames for loads of other brands, but the best buys are always under its own name. Teaming up with progressive shops and riders to really dial in the geometry and feel of this super confident 29er too, guaranteeing good times on genuine Big Trails.
While the 140mm fork, 1x Shimano Deore groupset with hydraulic brakes, 2.4in tires, and a dropper post are all obvious highlights, there's some great 'hidden' detailing too. Short seat tubes let you size up or down to get the reach you want for the riding you do. There are twin bottle mounts and an accessory mount for trail essentials but also stealth kickstand and fender fixtures for weekday workhorse duties.
The Marlin hardtail family are Trek's best-selling mountain bikes, which makes them one of the most popular in the world. It's easy to see why with a weight under 30lbs, fast-rolling 29er wheels, and a racey look that's complemented by fiery paintwork making it a standout performer.
Trek has also taken the super smart decision to scan its warranty data and only use the most reliable equipment available. This includes Shimano Deore gears, hydraulic brakes, and a RockShox Judy fork which means you get to ride more and worry about maintenance less.
The relatively steep 69.5-degree head angle, narrow, low-rise handlebars, slim 29er rubber, and no dropper post definitely make it a racer, not a raver. However, if you're after maximum speed or just efficient, comfortable long-distance mileage over mixed terrain the Marlin is one hell of a catch.
Nukeproof is known for its top-level enduro race bikes and even its most affordable models are built for attacking the rowdiest trails. The Scout 290 frame is tough yet surprisingly forgiving and the superbly balanced geometry should mean you can hurl yourself at the toughest trails without getting hurt. A properly controlled 140mm RockShox Recon RL fork up front, huge 2.5in Maxxis Assegai tire upfront and fast-rolling Dissector rear tire, and Shimano Deore stop and go kit are ready for anything too.
While the 29er only comes in M-XL sizes Nukeproof also offers the Scout Race in a 27.5 version in S and M sizes. The only real chink in the Nukeproof Scout Race's armor is that it doesn't come specced with a dropper post like the Comp does. There are plenty of high-quality options when shopping for the best budget dropper posts though and the frame is ready for whichever you choose.
Plus size tired bikes were somewhat of a flash in the pan trend and have since lost the popularity that they previously held. That's not to say they don't serve a purpose with many riders from beginner to expert-level loving the extra grip and comfort that the big tires offer.
The Fuse is a great bike for those looking to tackle singletrack comfortably and confidently thanks to the 66-degree head angle, feature-packed frame, and very well specced component list. Those big 2.8in tires are combined with a 130mm RockShox fork, Shimano Deore groupset, and TranzX dropper post. Plus, you'll be able to find it widely in Specialized shops.
Chain Reaction/Wiggle's own brand Vitus has always impressed with the value of their bikes but the Mythique is a bargain even by their standards.
The VR is the bottom-of-the-range model but you still get Shimano Deore stop-and-go highlights, WTB rims, and Schwalbe tires that would shame a lot of hardtails at this price. While the suspension units are basic, the underlying design still delivers 130mm of trail-taming, hardtail beating control at either end. Well judged geometry includes a 470mm reach, 66-degree head angle, and 76-degree seat angle on the large, and while the 29er rides a little high, there's a 27.5in wheeled version too. There's a woman's version with different contact points as well so everyone gets to joy this properly capable, super enjoyable but remarkably economical all-rounder on the trails.
Bet you weren't expecting to see a full-suspension bike in our list of the best budget mountain bikes, yet Marin Bikes seem to have pulled off the impossible. Not only does the Rift Zone have the on trail benefits of full suspension, adding confidence, grip, and control, it also manages to budget in a solid spec sheet that is on par with many equally priced hardtails. There are some compromises - there's no dropper post, the X-Fusion rear shock is basic rather than brilliant and the Boost QR rear wheel is a pain to upgrade (Marin says the frame can be changed to 148x12) - but for under $2,000 it's still a proper bargain.
As to be expected from an established brand like Marin the geometry is sorted as well with a 65.5-degree head angle, 76-degree seat angle, and decent reach numbers which put you in a great position to shred the trail both up and down.
How to choose the best budget mountain bikes
How much should I spend on a mountain bike?
So when it comes to how much is a mountain bike, what should you be looking for? With the price of mountain bikes varying from $200 to $15000 there's no right or wrong answer to this question, but there are some guidelines worth sticking too.
As a general rule we think that if you're looking to spend $2000 or less, the best hardtails are where you should be putting your money. Due to the additional development, material and moving parts, full-suspension bikes at this price point tend to be heavily compromised, which in reality will probably make them ride worse than a properly sorted hardtail anyway.
To get reliability and performance from a full suspension bike you should be looking to spend around $2500 as this will get you a quality handling bike from a major brand that won't fall apart before you've even reached the trail head.
What about second hand?
While there are some total bargains to be had buying second hand can be extremely risky, especially if you don't know exactly what to look for. First and foremost you can say goodbye to any manufacturer guarantees and warranties, and it's almost impossible to prove if any previous maintenance goals have been hit correctly and on time.
Our advice would be to visit a tried and trusted bike shop or legit, customer-service focused online retailer.
Are budget mountain bikes any good?
In short, yes, but they're not the total bargain they were a few years ago. We're not sure why, but more affordable bikes seem to have been hit hardest by price increases and component specs have dropped dramatically for a similar cost. Trickle-down tech and properly shaped frames mean you can still have proper off road fun for under four figures though.
Even in the sub-$1,000 price range, you should be expecting an air-sprung fork and decent quality tubeless wheelsets. The ideal rim width for most forest and mild singletrack riding is around 25mm, although bikes more purposed towards descending will offer wheels with an internal rim diameter closer to 30mm.
Double-chainrings should not be a feature at this price point, with most brands capable of fitting 1x12 drivetrains, crafting a cleaner appearance for your bike, and better chain life, thanks to a straighter chain line.
There is no excuse to feel uncomfortable on a mountain bike in the sub-$1,000 class either, as designers have experimented and discovered the best blend between slacker head angles and longer reach numbers, delivering superior high-speed stability and climbing comfort.
Are full suspension mountain bikes worth it?
You will have noticed that our choice of the best budget mountain bikes is almost exclusively hardtails rather than full suspension. The reason being is that if you are working to a tighter budget you will often find that brands make critical compromises to the spec of a bike in order to cover the additional costs of development, suspension system hardware and shock.
The fact that most big name manufacturers don't bother to risk their reputation on compromised low cost suspension bikes should be a warning too. That's because most full suspension rigs from 'bargain' brands have out dated geometry, poor quality forks and shocks and will actually ride worse than a sorted hardtail for the same money.
That said there are some brands, like the Marin and Vitus featured above, which manage to add front and rear suspension without sacrificing the overall performance of the bikes. Neither feature a dropper post though and components will generally be of a lower quality than a hardtail of the same price.
What do I need before I can hit the trail?
It goes without saying, but buying the best possible helmet you can afford is an absolute must before you even thing about hitting the trails.
Getting pedals with your new bike isn't always a certain either, and due to them being a vital contact point getting the right ones is crucial. If you're a new rider looking to hone your skills, or a seasoned rider who values playing in the woods then the best flat pedals are what you need. But if XC is your vibe and maximum efficiency is a priority, the best clipless pedals are will deliver.
Some general spares like a chain link, small chai tool and tube and pump are great thing to carry on any ride too.
What should I upgrade first on a mountain bike?
Some of the best value is to be had in the sub-$1,500 segment with wide rims, appropriately sized tires and generally terrific trail-orientated frame geometry have become standard features in this price segment.
Whatever you can save between your purchase price and your price budget ceiling, can be put toward a dropper seatpost upgrade. It may not seem like a priority upgrade, but speak to anyone that has one on their bike and they will all laud the performance and convenience of a dropper post.
Fitting the best mountain bike tires can transform a bike's personality for a relatively low outlay. Whether it increasing grip, speeding up rolling resistance or adding more comfort, fitting the best tires you can greatly enhance your experience on the trail.
But in our opinion, the best upgrade any mountain biker can do to enhance their riding experience is to book some coaching.