Budget mountain bikes no longer have to equate to trail riding disappointment. As economies of scale and trickle-down technology trends increase, the best budget mountain bikes now have excellent component selections at great price points.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at the 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. Most components work pretty well these days, but 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.
Once you buy a bike, you might find that you want to upgrade some of the components. That doesn't have to be too expensive, so we've put together buying guides for the best budget mountain bike wheels and the best budget forks. 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.
Best budget mountain bikes
GT is a legendary name among BMX riders and mountain bikers. Its Zaskar range of hardtails has an impeccable cross-country racing pedigree but the company offers many more affordable frame options, too.
Although the Aggressor Sport 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 3x8 drivetrain. 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.
The best budget mountain 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.
The Talon 29er is available in small, 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 for shorter riders. Giant's sister company Liv also offers a women's version called the Tempt.
Those looking for a classic, mile-munching cross-country bike should take Aim at Cube's budget 29er XC hardtail. The steep geometry may not be on-trend with many other bikes however the steeper head angle will keep handling sharp and nimble on tight trails.
Componentry is always tricky at this price mark and Cube goes down the smart route of a Shimano drivetrain and Schwalbe Smart Sam tires. You don't get hydraulic disc brakes as Cube has opted for mechanical. Although braking isn't as powerful, maintenance is certainly simpler for home mechanics.
The Vitus Nucleus brings a 1x drivetrain, air-sprung fork and solid components to a bike that's less than $1,000, making it a great value for the money. Plus, you get 27.5-inch wheels, which are great for jumping and flicking your way down the trail.
This bike features a 120mm fork from SR Suntour, and a 1x8 drivetrain from Box Four. One of the downsides is that you only get eight gears, however, a 1x drivetrain is a bargain at this price point. The Nucleus rolls on WTB hoops and rubber and features components from Nukeproof and Vitus.
Vitus bikes are also readily available on online bike shop websites, which makes purchasing a breeze.
NS started out as a dirt jump brand but has since branched out into all types of bikes from downhill to lycra-clad XC racing. Rowdy hardtails are still its bread and butter and they've created one of the best budget mountain bikes in the Eccentric Lite 1, which is certainly ready to shred your local singletrack.
Predictable geometry, as well as a decent component list, allow you to have fun on the trails. Most notably, the reliable Shimano groupset and NS brand tubeless-ready wheelset, which is equipped with fast-rolling Maxxis tires, will lead to a fun time on the trails. Strapped to the front of the AL6061-T6 custom formed and butted alloy frame is an X-Fusion RC32 fork with 120mm of travel. In addition, you get Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors front and rear.
Rocky Mountain makes some top-of-class full-suspension bikes, but its Growler hardtail takes the same legacy of trail-shredding to a rigid aluminum frame. With burly trails in mind, this hardtail comes with a 130mm fork, which is nice seeing that most hardtails come with less fork travel. The Shimano drivetrain and brakes will be reliable, but you only get 10 gears instead of 11. Like most budget hardtails, the bike comes with an SR Suntour fork, which will work, but advanced riders looking for more adjustments and a more supple trail feel will have to spend the dollars to upgrade to a Fox or RockShox fork.
Altogether, the Growler has an outstanding spec and value for this price point, truly making it one of the best budget mountain bikes on this list. It's also a solid platform for future upgrades as your riding progresses. That said, the first upgrade on the list should be a new set of tires so that you can convert the bike to tubeless for maximum grip and comfort.
If you value the direct-trail feedback of a 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 tires 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 and geometry will appeal. Nukeproof fits a 780mm (S and M) or 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.
Nukeproof actually offer the Scout Race in both this 27.5 version but also an identically specced 29er for riders looking for increased trail stability. The only real chink in the Nukeproof Scout Race's armor is that it doesn't come specced with a dropper post although there are plenty of options high-quality options when shopping for the best budget dropper posts.
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.
Year-on-year we have been impressed with the 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 VRS may be the top-of-the-range model but it is no different, with Vitus continuing the format of 130mm of great quality front Fox suspension, a dependable 1x12 Shimano Deore 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 for most trail riding whether your blasting over lumpy roots or negotiating technical singletrack.
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. The glaring omission is of course the lack of dropper post, but if your budget is $2,000 you still have 100 bucks left over to upgrade the seatpost straight from the box.
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.
Giant is also keen to slip a full-suspension offering into the competitive best budget mountain bike market and, by leveraging its huge economies of scale, has made the Giant Stance 29 2 available for a staggering $1,685 / £1,699. For those looking to add a little extra comfort to gentle singletrack and flow trails, the Stance is a good proposition.
Rather than use pivots, Giant has developed aluminum flex stays to simplify the frame design, reduce maintenance and offer 120mm of travel. This is paired with Giant's own Crest 34 RCL fork (or a SR Suntour Raidon 34 LOR DS if shopping in the UK) which has 130mm of travel. The finishing kit is almost exclusively from Giant's own catalog apart from the Praxis crankset, 1x12 Shimano Deore drivetrain and Maxxis Forecaster tires. If you want a little more tire volume, Giant also offers an equally priced 27.5+ version with the same spec.
It isn't perfect, like the Marin the lack of dropper post and non-standard 141mm boost quick-release rear axle detract from the bikes overall performance. That said if you aren't sending black runs you probably won't notice the extra rear-end flex and a dropper post is a fairly affordable aftermarket upgrade.
How to choose the best budget mountain bikes
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.
That said there are some brands, like the Marin and Giant featured above, which manage to squeeze front and rear suspension without sacrificing the overall performance of the bikes - although neither feature a dropper post. If you are choosing a full-suspension don't choose a bike that skimps on suspension, drivetrain or brakes as these are costly upgrades.
Most importantly consider whether you actually need a full-suspension mountain bike. The Vitus VRS we featured has a considerably better spec sheet for the money. If your local trails aren't hugely fast and mega rocky, hardtails are still likely to be the best performance for your money.
Are budget mountain bikes any good?
In short, yes. Thanks to the trickle-down of tech, budget mountain bikes pack in more performance at an affordable price than ever before.
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.
How do you make the best budget mountain bikes even better?
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.