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Best budget mountain bikes 2022 – off-road options at affordable prices

A mountain biker does a small jump on a trail lined with ferns
(Image credit: Merida)

Budget mountain bikes no longer have to equate to trail riding disappointment. The great news is that while prices of decent bikes have definitely gone up, you can get a top mountain bike for less money than you might think – if you know what to look for. 

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

GT Aggressor

(Image credit: GT)

GT Aggressor Expert

Decent starter bike from a legendary MTB and BMX brand

Specifications

Fork: SR Suntour M3030
Drivetrain: Shimano 3x8
Sizes: XS, SM, MD, LG (27.5in), SM, MD, LG,XL (29in)

Reasons to buy

+
Signature Triple Triangle seat stays for a distinctive look.
+
29 or 27.5in wheel options

Reasons to avoid

-
Coil fork is heavy
-
Complicated 3x8 drivetrain

GT has been a legendary name among BMX riders and mountain bikers for decades. Their bikes are still raced at the highest level too but these days the company is better known for its more affordable options as well.

Although the Aggressor Sport 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 Aggressor Expert has a generous spread of gearing, thanks to a 3x8 drivetrain, but that's harder to shift smoothly than a 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 also better suited to less challenging off-road trails. 27.5in or 29in wheel options give accurate dynamic fit though.

Giant Talon 4 2022

(Image credit: Giant)

Giant Talon 4 29

Best budget bike for cross-country riding

Specifications

Fork: SR Suntour XCE
Drivetrain: Shimano Microshift 2x7
Sizes: XS-XXL

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value for money
+
Hydraulic brakes
+
Fast-rolling tires

Reasons to avoid

-
2x drivetrain is dated

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.

Cube Aim 29 2022

(Image credit: Cube)

Cube Aim 29

High value, high speed cross-country / gravel adventure bike

Specifications

Fork: SR Suntour XCE
Drivetrain: Shimano Tourney 2x8
Sizes: XS-XL

Reasons to buy

+
Lively handling on gentle trails
+
Fast-rolling tires

Reasons to avoid

-
Narrow handlebars limit descending ability
-
Mechanical disc brakes

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 if you're a long way from home on a tour.

Vitus Nucleus 27 VR 2022

(Image credit: Vitus)

Vitus Nucleus 27 VR

Playful budget hardtail for proper off-road riding

Specifications

Fork: SR Suntour XCR32 Air
Drivetrain: Box Four 1x8
Sizes: S-XL

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value for money
+
1x drivetrain
+
Decent trail geometry
+
WTB wheels and tires
+
29in wheel version available

Reasons to avoid

-
27.5in wheels are fun not fast

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 proper geometry for less than $1,000/£650, 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 hoops and rubber mean fewer worries about heavy handlings and rowdy riding grip too. 

Prefer 29er wheels, well Vitus has a Nucleus 29 VR with the same spec bike with bigger wheels for the same price.

Merida Big Trail 400

(Image credit: Merida)

Merida Big Trail 400

Proper trail hardtail for under $1,500

Specifications

Fork: Suntour XCR 34 140mm
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x10
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL

Reasons to buy

+
Top quality frame
+
Shimano Deore groupset
+
Excellent trail geometry
+
Sweet detail touches.

Reasons to avoid

-
Kenda tires could be grippier

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.  

Trek Marlin 7

(Image credit: Trek)

Trek Merlin 7

Best selling fast XC hardtail

Specifications

Fork: Rock Shox Judy
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x10
Sizes: XS-XXL

Reasons to buy

+
Quality frame
+
Shimano drivetrain 
+
Low weight
+
Proportional XS to XXL sizing

Reasons to avoid

-
Old geometry best suited to mellow trails
-
No dropper post

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 Scout 290 Race

(Image credit: Nukeproof)

Nukeproof Scout 29 Race

A riot on the trails, but surprisingly smooth too

Specifications

Fork: RockShox Recon RL 130mm
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x10
Sizes: S-XL

Reasons to buy

+
Slack, low and ready to attack the most technical trails
+
Surprisingly smooth ride 
+
Sorted suspension and overall kit package
+
Excellent Maxxis tire spec
+
275 27.5in wheel version available

Reasons to avoid

-
No dropper post
-
No XS or S sizes

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.

Specialized Fuse 27.5 2022

(Image credit: Specialized )

Specialized Fuse 27.5

Fatter tires for a cushioned trail experiance

Specifications

Fork: RockShox Judy Silver TK fork
Drivetrain: SRAM SX Eagle 1X12
Sizes: XS-XL

Reasons to buy

+
Advanced aluminum construction 
+
Slick appearance 
+
Confidence-inspiring levels of grip
+
Dropper post

Reasons to avoid

-
Plus-size tires need careful setting up for best performance

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. 

Vitus Mythique VR

(Image credit: Vitus)

Vitus Mythique 29 VR

Affordable full suspension that really rips

Specifications

Fork: X-Fusion RC32 130mm
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x10
Sizes: S-XL

Reasons to buy

+
Basically good suspension
+
Well-considered trail orientated geometry
+
Sorted overall spec including dropper post
+
Schwalbe tires
+
29 or 27.5in options

Reasons to avoid

-
Ready for a fork and shock upgrade
-
29er is a bit tall

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. 

Marin RIFT ZONE 29 1

(Image credit: Marin )

Marin Rift Zone 29 1

Budget full suspension packed with trail performance

Specifications

Fork: RockShox Recon Silver RL
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x11
Sizes: S-XL

Reasons to buy

+
Full suspension performance
+
Well-considered geometry 
+
Decent specification

Reasons to avoid

-
No dropper post
-
141mm quick release boost rear wheel isn't a common standard

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

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 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.

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg

With contributions from