Choosing the best budget mountain bike can be a minefield – buy the wrong one and it'll rob you of a fun-filled future, but buy the right one and it'll be the gateway drug to a lifetime of berm slapping and adventuring. Luckily, entry-level bikes no longer have to equate to trail-riding disappointment.
While our experts have picked their best budget options, it's good to know what to look out for yourself. One thing to bear in mind when looking at budget mountain bikes is that there will always be compromises. If a bike has a great drivetrain, it might have lower-end suspension in order to keep the price down or vice versa.
Even though most components work pretty well these days, we'd definitely recommend you read our guide to what you need to know when buying a budget mountain bike – which you'll find at the bottom of this article.
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 a buying guide for the best budget bike upgrades. If you're looking to spend a little bit more for a full-suspension trail bike or enduro bike, check out our guide to the best bikes under $2,500.
The best budget hardtail we found was the Vitus Nucleus 27 VR which has great spec in a modern design. While the best budget full-suspension bike was the Vitus Mythique 29 VRX which gives excellent componentry which even includes a dropper post. Elsewhere, the best value for money option was The Marin Rift Zone 29 1 – a nicely put together full-suspension bike that doesn't break the bank.
As everyone's concept of 'budget' can differ, we've 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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1. Best hardtail
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 with the same spec bike with bigger wheels for the same price. Bigger wheels mean even more fun. What's not to love?
2. Best full-suspension
Chain Reaction/Wiggle own brand Vitus has always impressed with the value of their bikes but the latest Mythique VRX is a bargain even by their standards.
The 2023 model comes with upgraded suspension in the form of the excellent Marzocchi Bomber Z2, which we gave 4.5 stars out of 5 in our review. This is paired with a RockShox Deluxe shock. This 2023 model gets a new and upgraded frame which we found, while putting through its paces, is ideal for tough trail bombing with a low center of gravity, a confidence-inducing slack front end and a more upright seating position for more efficient climbing.
The component package is excellent for this price too, with a 12-speed Shimano SLX/Deore drivetrain, Shimano MT501 hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm rotors, a dropper post and 29 or 27.5-inch wheels shod with reliable Maxxis High Roller II 2.3in tires.
We've yet to fully test the latest model, but our friends over at MBR.com were mightily impressed and awarded the Vitus Mythique 29 VRX 10/10 in their review.
3. Best handling
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 contender at a killer price point. Something the that two bottle mounts also lend themselves to.
The fact the Mahuna is available though true bricks and mortar bike shops is a big bonus too, plus its frame is covered by a lifetime warranty which reinforces the purchase as a quality investment.
Beyond the frame, Kona has specced Shimano's superb Deore 11-51t, 11-speed groupset, although depending on your location you may get Microshift XLE 11-46t 11-speed instead. WTB ST i27 wheels are paired with Maxxis Forekaster 29 x 2.35-inch tires for decent rolling performance.
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.
4. Best spec overall
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 it's the straight non-tapered head tube that’s the major flaw here. With the all the best aftermarket suspension forks 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 it's 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.
5. Best for trail riding
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.
It's clear the Merida has teamed 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, 1x10 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 kind of 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. What's not to love?
6. Best for speed
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. 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 lack of 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.
7. Best for technical trails
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 and huge 2.35in Magic Mary tire up front plus a fast-rolling Nobby Nic tire to the rear and Shimano Deore stop-and-go kit are ready for anything too.
The latest US model from Nukeproof offers the Scout Race as a 29er in M-XL, although a UK version also comes in S-XL options with 27.5in wheels for smaller riders.
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.
8. Best for trail grip
After catching everyone's attention when they first appeared around 10 years ago, bikes with plus-size tires have since become a bit of a flash in the pan.
That's not to say they don't serve a purpose in 2023 with many riders – from beginner to expert-level – loving the extra grip and comfort that big fat 27.5-inch tires bring to the table.
The Fuse is a wonderful bike for those looking to tackle singletrack comfortably and confidently thanks to the 66-degree head angle, feature-packed frame, and well-specced component list.
Those big 2.6-inch wide tires work their magic when combined with a 130mm RockShox Judy fork, SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivertrain and a TranzX dropper post.
Plus, you'll be able to find one easily in your local Specialized shop, so getting your hands on this bike really shouldn't be a problem.
9. Best upgradable full-sus
Bet you weren't expecting to see two full-suspension bike in our list of the best budget mountain bikes, yet along with Vitus, Marin Bikes seem to have pulled off the impossible. We're also loving the new eye-catching two-tone paintwork.
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's on par with many equally priced hardtails.
There are a few compromises – there's no dropper post and the X-Fusion rear shock is basic rather than brilliant – but it's still a proper bargain and you can upgrade these components later if you wish.
As to be expected from an established brand like Marin, the geometry is sorted as well with a 65.5-degree head angle, 77-degree seat angle, and decent reach numbers which put you in a great position to shred the trail both up and down.
10. Best for comfort and stability
The mid-fat, plus – or whatever you want to call it – platform has proven to be popular with beginner riders and dirt tourers looking for a little extra comfort and offering increased stability and predictable traction when riding trails.
Trek knows how to make a high-quality frame and the Roscoe comes with all the features and additions that you would expect on a modern hardtail.
Well almost, the 141mm quick-release rear axle which, in a world where stiff thru-axles are now standard, seems like an oversight. However, if you aren't fussed about upgrading wheels in the future this will likely never be an issue.
The specification is what you'd expect from the Wisconsin brand, including a decent quality SR Suntour XCM 32 fork and Shimano drivetrain paired with Alex rims and Kenda Havok 27.5-inch tires.
You even get a 130mm dropper post which is rare to find at this price point.
It must be noted that Trek updated the Roscoe range with new geometry, however, the Roscoe 6 still uses the old frame. Although it's almost 50 percent more expensive, If you can stretch your budget, the Roscoe 7 is far more capable and is a significant upgrade.
11. Best for novice riders
Whyte is a brand well known for its slack, long and progressive geometry and while the Whyte 429 V2 might not be as slack as some other bikes in its range, it still has great numbers for beginner and intermediate riders seeking speed thrills out on the trails.
Components are almost always a standard-issue affair for mountain bikes at this price, although there’s a good selection here. Gearing comes in the form of Shimano’s dependable 10sp Deore groupset and a Sunrace 11-46t cassette.
Wheels are Whyte's own brand with Maxxis Forekaster 29 x 2.35-inch tires on the front, and Maxxis Recon Race 29 x 2.25-inch ones on the rear for durability and lower rolling resistance. Novice riders looking to push themselves onto more challenging trails will be in very safe hands.
13. Best for adaptability
Not all mountain bikes are designed to shred rock gardens and not all mountain bikers are out to get gnarly. If the idea of multi-day adventures is more your thing then the Sonder Frontier is a great option for bikepacking. The durable alloy frame keeps weight down, has boost spacing and there are three bottle cage mounts on the frame, plus triple bosses on the forks to mount bottle or accessory cages.
While the complete bikes all come with 29er wheels, the frame also has the capacity to clear 27.5x3-inch tires for those looking for a bit more comfort.
Taking to the trails on a rigid mountain bike is certainly an acquired taste that will test your skills, although the Frontier geometry should mean it’s still a blast on smooth flow trails. The rigid fork can also be swapped out for a 100mm suspension fork and there’s even internal routing for a dropper post, if that’s your thing.
Beyond simplicity and mounting options, another advantage of a rigid fork is it frees up some budget for Sonder to spec some better parts. That means you get a full Shimano Deore M6100 12-speed groupset including a wide range 10-51t cassette which will make light work of steep gradients when loaded with camping kit.
14. Best for XC miles
The Grand Canyon 6 caters for more dedicated XC riders than part-timers, and is designed for covering miles quickly and efficiently.
Canyon has always been known for its stellar value and this model is no different, making its very reasonable asking price go a long way.
The Grand Canyon 6 comes specced with a Shimano XT 12-speed derailleur which is paired with a Shimano Deore 10-51t cassette for slick shifting performance.
A fast-rolling combo of Canyon own-brand wheels and 2.25in Schwalbe Tough Tom (front) and Rapid Rob tires (rear) work well in most conditions and keep the bike feeling spritely up punchy climbs.
As a bonus for smaller riders, the XS and S bikes come with 27.5in wheels for a better fit to create consistent riding dynamics across all sizes.
Best budget mountain bikes comparison table
|Vitus Nucleus 27 VR||SR Suntour XCR32 Air 120mm||Box Four 1x8||S-XL|
|Vitus Mythique 29 VRX||Marzocchi Bomber Z2 140mm||Shimano Deore 1x12||S-XL|
|Kona Mahuna||RockShox Judy 100mm||Shimano Deore 11-speed||S-XL|
|Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29||RockShox Judy 80/90/100mm||Shimano Deore 11-speed||S-XXL|
|Merida Big Trail 400||Suntour XCR 34 140mm||Shimano Deore 1x10||S–XXL|
|Trek Marlin 7||Rock Shox Judy 80/100mm||Shimano Deore 1x10||XS, S (27.5in) M, ML, L, XL, XXL (29in)|
|Nukeproof Scout 290 Race||RockShox Recon RL 140mm||Shimano Deore 1x10||M–XL|
|Specialized Fuse Sport 27.5||RockShox Judy Silver TK 130mm||SRAM SX Eagle 1x12||XS-XL|
|Marin Rift Zone 29 1||X-Fusion Slide Boost RC 140mm||Shimano Deore 1x11||S-XL|
|Trek Roscoe 6||SR Suntour XCM 32 120mm||Shimano Deore 1x10||XS–XXL|
|Whyte 429 V2||RockShox Silver TK 120mm||Shimano Deore 1x10||M–XL|
|Sonder Frontier Deore Rigid||N/A||Shimano Deore 1x12||S–XL|
|Canyon Grand Canyon 6||SR Suntour XCR 100mm||Shimano Deore XT 1x12||XS, S (2.75in), M, L, XL (29in)|
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 (£157) to $15,000 (£11,792) 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 $2,000 (£1,572) 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 $2,500 (£1,965) 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 buying 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 (£786) 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 (£786) 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 the extra expense?
You will have noticed that our choice of the best budget mountain bikes is mostly hardtails rather than full-suspension bikes. 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 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 outdated geometry as well as 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 trails?
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 what 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 (£1,179) 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 praise 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's 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.