Budget mountain bikes no longer have to equate to trail riding disappointment. As economies of scale and trickle-down technology trends increase, entry-level buyers, have access to some great deals in the budget mountain bike market.
We have segmented this latest buyer’s guide into three price ranges, allowing riders to match their expectations with a specific price point. The good news is that product planners in the mountain bike industry have heeded the call for greater value and delivered some excellent specifications, at very reasonable prices.
Our buyer’s guide divided into a sub-£500, sub-£1000 and sub-£1500 sections and if you are unsure of what to look for, skip to our guide on what you need to know when buying a budget mountain bike. While the below bikes are a pick of the best available there is a wealth of other bikes at these price points that are worth considering. be sure to also check out our buying guides for the best mountain bikes under £500 and the best mountain bikes under £1000.
Best mountain bikes under £500
GT is a legendary name among BMX riders and mountain bikers. Its Zaskar range of hardtails have an impeccable cross-country racing pedigree but the company offers many more affordable frame options too.
Although the Aggressor Expert is an entry-level bike, it does have an advanced frame design feature to make your hardtail ride with a bit more compliance. Instead of a gusset bracing the top- to seat tube, the seat stays flow around the seat tube, to allow for superior terrain absorption.
The Aggressor Expert has a generous spread of gearing, thanks to a Shimano 3x8 drivetrain and braking is hydraulic, courtesy of Tektro’s M275 levers and calipers. SR Suntour’s 80mm coil fork smooths over terrain at the front, but the Aggressor’s geometry numbers are better suited to less challenging off-road trails, instead of dedicated singletrack descents.
Budget bikes are always a compromise between performance and price, however Giant is able to use its huge economies of scale as the Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer is recognized as the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world.
You don't become the world's biggest bike manufacturer through poor production either and Giant is at the forefront of manufacturing techniques and despite the Talon's cheap price, it gets a high-quality ALUXX SL aluminum frameset. Componentry is also impressive at the price featuring a Shimano Acera rear derailleur, Tektro hydraulic brakes and fast-rolling Maxxis Ikon tires.
The Talon 29er is only available in medium, large and extra-large sizes however Giant sells a 27.5-inch wheeled Talon which is exactly the same but available in smaller sizes. If you are looking for a woman touch, Giant's sister company Liv offers a women's version called the Tempt.
From Indonesia comes the Polygon Premier 4 hardtail. With an established history of UCI Downhill World Cup racing bikes, Polygon’s frame engineers have proven themselves.
The Premier 4 rolls 27.5-inch wheels and is probably best suited to riders who are either small or medium in stature. It uses a 120mm SR Suntour coil front fork to tame technical terrain.
Peruse the Premier 4’s geometry numbers, and you discover that these Indonesian aluminum hardtails are unquestionably targeted at smaller riders. The 69-degree head angle is class average but reach numbers are exceptionally short, for all the frame sizes. As an example, the Premier 4 in a size L, has only 417mm of reach.
For junior riders or very small adults, the Premier would make for an agile bike, with its smaller wheels and compact geometry. Large riders should best avoid it, though.
Best mountain bikes under £1000
It is no secret that the UK has had a long love affair with hardtail mountain bikes. Short descents and technical tight trails don't always require full suspension and mud-prevalent winters can quickly destroy bearings.
This has resulted in a drive for increasingly capable hardtails and when Merida decided to bring back its Big Trail range they set out to make the perfect UK hardtail bike. The capable 65.5-degree head angle is paired with a 140mm air sprung Suntour fork while the 75.5-degree seat angle will help put you in a good position to power back up steep climbs. Drivetrain and braking are managed by Shimano's workhorse Deore groupset and MT400 brakes.
With its X-Caliber 8 Trek proves that aluminum is still an entirely viable material for constructing high-performance hardtail mountain bikes, at a fair price.
The X-Caliber 8 runs a RockShox Judy air-sprung fork, with 100mm of travel and the benefit of a 15mm front thru-axle, to deliver accurate steering, even in technical terrain.
Sensitive to the great variety in sizes that it offers, Trek’s product team for the X-Caliber 8 has wisely opted to equip the XS and S frames with 27.5-inch wheels, while all other sizes are 29ers. Rims are from Bontrager’s Kovee range and measure up to a 23mm internal diameter, giving the tires a fair size structure to seat on.
With its massive range of sizes, Trek’s product planners have shown great awareness by altering certain component dimensions, adjusted to specific sizes. Crankarms vary in length between 170- and 175mm, while there are stems in 10mm increments, from 60- to 90mm, depending on the frame size.
Recognizing that larger riders require more stopping power, the L, XL and XXL frame X-Caliber 8 models all use Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes in combination with 180mm rotors, instead of the 160mm brake components fitted to smaller sizes.
Year-on-year we have been impressed with Vitus' Sentier hardtail range as it has always offered a blend of excellent riding characteristics, well-thought-out specs and good value for money.
The 2021 Sentier is no different, with Vitus continuing the format of 130mm of front suspension, a dependable Shimano drivetrain and the same geometry that helped make last year's bike so popular. The 66.5-degree head angle couldn't be described as progressive but combined with the 29er wheels it's slack enough most trail riding whether your blasting over lumpy roots or negotiating technical singletrack.
Best mountain bikes under £1500
Nukeproof has a strong racing pedigree, with Sam Hill having won the EWS World Championship on the brand’s dual-suspension Mega. The design team at Nukeproof have used their EWS victory as inspiration for the Scout 275 Sport, a bike that has a tremendous spend-to-fun coefficient.
If you value the direct trail feedback of hardtail frame, and its lower maintenance burden (especially for winter riding), the Scout 275 will not disappoint. With a 140mm RockShox Recon RL fork up front and huge Maxxis Assegai and Dissector 27.5x2.6in width rolling it along, this Scout is an awfully confident singletrack descender.
For those riders who like jumping and popping off trail features, the Scout 275’s blend of components are geometry will appeal. Nukeproof fits a 780mm (S and M) 800mm (L and XL) handlebar to give you the opportunity to always correct the bike’s attitude within a margin of error, thanks to the leverage effect of such a wide handlebar.
If you desire a literally nuke-proof trail hardtail that won’t require any upgrades to make it trail-ready, this Nukeproof is sure to become a very trusted trail scout on your mountain biking journey.
Specialized’s Chisel Comp is one of the smoothest looking metal mountain bikes you can buy. Thanks to the Californian brand’s D'Aluisio welding technology, a Chisel Comp has impeccably smooth tubing transitions, making it appear like a carbon-fiber bike on the surface.
Not only does the D'Aluisio welding make it look good, but it also allows Specialized’s frame designers to save weight in specific joint areas, without sacrificing overall strength.
The Chisel’s geometry is biased towards climbing efficiency, with a 69.8-degree head angle and a 74-degree seat tube angle. Those numbers hardly imply that it lacks agility in tighter descending terrain, with a wide 750mm handlebar and generously sized Specialized Fast Trak 29x2.3in tires, you will have sufficient grip and steering geometry to explore the bike’s handling limits.
From the Yorkshire brand best known for its interpretation of the classic British trail riding hardtail, comes the progressive geometry Scandal.
On One’s designers are not shy of pushing the envelope in terms of geometry and its latest Scandal looks keen for a steep descent, even parked up against a garage door its slack geometry is obvious.
Design to run forks in the 120- to 130mm range and accommodate tires up to 2.6”n wide, this aluminum 29er is made for those riders who harvest most of their mountain biking enjoyment on the descents.
Geometry is tremendously progressive, with a 65-degree head angle keeping your weight balanced over the bike, even when terrain gradients get radical. Instead of an enormously long top tube, the size L Scandal has 460mm of reach, which isn’t the longest in class, but gives the bike a good blend of high-speed stability and apex-clipping agility when charging into switchback corners.
The Scandal uses a 130mm RockShox 35 Gold RL DebonAir fork upfront. With its stout 35mm stanchions, you will confidently roll over the rockiest or rootiest terrain without experiencing any twitchiness from the front wheel. Balancing the Scandal’s descending capabilities is a 148x12mm thru-axle rear, ensuring optimal lateral stiffness when pinging through a rock garden at speed, or railing a high-speed berm.
For adventurous trail riders and those seeking the most singletrack fun on a budget, this Caliber is simply the business.
Designed to be thoroughly playful and responsive, the Bossnut combines a proven single-pivot rear suspension system with progressive geometry. Its 66-degree head angle, 130mm fork and 780mm width handlebar combine to give the Bossnut excellent steering leverage and front-end control for riding in steeper terrain.
Although it only rolls 27.5-inch wheels, they are mounted on 29mm internal diameter rims, to ensure a stable tire casing structure when inflated, delivering predictable grip and braking responses on technical trails.
Terrifically capable and enlivened with thoughtful frame angles and components, a Bossnut is simply unbeatable at the price. The only debit is that it remains available only with 27.5-inch wheels, which might dissuade taller riders.
Big wheel trail bikes don’t come more keenly priced than this Californian aluminum frameset.
There are absolutely no sacrifices regarding the Rift Zone’s geometry or frame angles. With its 65.5-degree head angle and a 480mm reach on size L, you are getting similar geometry to bikes that cost three times the price.
Marin uses the proven Horst-link rear suspension system on its Rift Zone, with an X-Fusion O2 Pro R shock controlling the bike’s 125mm of travel. This suspension design allows for a full-size water bottle to be mounted inside the front triangle.
The Rift Zone manages to sneak in below the £1495 by sacrificing the popular 1x12 drivetrain standard for an 11-speed rear cassette, although it does have a generous 11-51 range, to ensure that even the steepest climbing gradients are within your ability at a survivable cadence.
Marin’s product team has equipped with Rift Zone 1 with a proper trail riding cockpit, combining a wide 780mm handlebar with a compact 35mm stem, allowing riders to balance and muscle this bargain 29er over technical terrain with ease.
The frame’s only weakness is that 141mm quick-release rear axle, which might allow for too much rear-end flex when those 29er wheels start defecting through rougher descending terrain at speed.
What you need to know when buying a budget mountain bike
Don't get bargained into narrow rims
The biggest issue here is to ensure you are on a bike with hydraulic brakes and reasonably wide rims.
Many bargain mountain bikes use older rim profiles which are much too narrow, in the 19-21mm internal diameter range. Such narrow rims don’t allow modern mountain bike tire casings to shape correctly, when inflated, diminishing the braking and cornering performance of your bike.
A welcome trend in the budget hardtail market has been improved geometry, with slightly slacker head angles and longer top tubes. Don’t be afraid of riding a bike which feels ‘too big’. Modern mountain bike geometry has proven that longer bikes are more stable, especially over loose off-road terrain
When to expect single chainrings and better wheels?
In the sub-£1000 price range you should be expecting an air-sprung fork and better 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-£1000 class, 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.
Making your bargain dual-suspension bike even better
Some of the best value is to be had in the sub-£1500 segment, where there are some cracking dual-suspension trail bikes on offer.
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 the £1500 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.