Cheap suspension bikes used to not be worth looking at. They were heavy, the suspension was dreadful and they often used outdated frames with handling and wheel sizes to match. There are still some of those bikes out there too, but if you look carefully and target the best value brands there are some full-suspension rigs for under $2500 that’ll embarrass other bikes double the price. There’s even a decent range of characters to choose from whether you’re into efficient XC/Trail, goofing about in the woods, or bombing bike park black runs. While most of them are sold direct there are also a couple you can get from your local bike shop with all the setup and servicing bonuses that brings.
The best mountain bikes under $2,500
The previous iteration of the Fuel EX was widely loved, so when Trek went back to the drawing board to design the new model it slackened the head angle by a hair, steepened the seat angle a bit, and increased the front travel by 10mm.
The wheel sizing is size-dependent with the smallest two rolling on 35mm wheels and tires to maximize standover height while the rest see bigger 29er hoops both with 2.6in tires. With a full alloy frame, the Fuel EX sees a flip-chip in the linkage which allows for changes in head angle and BB height to customize handling characteristics without affecting the suspension.
Trek has changed the linkage slightly from its full floater design, now with the rear shock-mounted to a fixed eyelet on the mainframe, which allows for a stiffer frame, shorter chainstays and better tire clearance.
We're seeing quite a few XC bikes bumping the front suspension up to 120mm, blurring the lines between what we used to consider a trail bike and something you can pin a number plate onto. Not to be confused with the Spark RC, which Kate Courtney and Nino Schurter have ridden to the top step of many World Cup podiums, the Spark is a tad slacker, thanks in part to the longer 120mm RockShox Judy fork at the front and sees wider bars and a shorter stem.
Backed by a 120mm X-Fusion Nude shock, the Spark gets the brand's TwinLoc suspension system which allows for three travel settings controlled from a bar-mounted remote.
Rolling on 29-inch wheels, the bike sees an alloy frame, an asymmetric linkage and is built with a Sram SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Shimano Hydraulic disc brakes and a Syncros dropper post.
Vitus has a long history of really good affordable suspension bikes but the second season of the Mythique looks like the performance peak so far. The range actually starts with the $1,656 VR and VRW which gets the same 140mm travel frame with progressive 27.5in geometry. If you can dig deeper into your pockets for the VRX though then it’s definitely worth it. The upgraded RockShox Monarch R Trunnion shock to bring out the best of an already sorted system and the plush, tough Marzocchi Z2 fork up front is a real win. Add Shimano SLX/Deore stop and go kit, excellent Nukeproof finishing kit, a Brand-X dropper post plus a grippy Schwalbe front tire on wide WTB wheels and we can see a lot of people clicking on the Chain Reaction or Wiggle website to get one. Just be aware that dropper post drop is limited and the 29er version is awkwardly high at slow speeds.
With no dropper post and a previous generation Shimano SLX 11-speed rather than 12-speed drivetrain and quick but potentially ‘slippery when wet’ Maxxis Ardent tires it would be easy to overlook the entry model of Cannondale’s Habit trail bike family. In fact, that’s why we tested the Habit 5 which gets properly chunky tires and dropper post as standard.
What still keeps the Habit 6 a great option for riders who are happy to upgrade later are the frame and suspension which are the match of pretty much any bike of any budget. It’s not about the RockShox hardware either but rather than kinematic created by Luis Arraiz and the shock work of Greg Jakubek creating a phenomenally fluid and responsive yet big hit controlled 130mm rear end. Each frame size gets a proportional rear end and slightly repositioned linkages and pivot points so every rider gets the same excellent performance.
One of two bikes in this line up you can buy from a regular bike shop with all the extra set up and servicing help that includes, you’d be excused for thinking that value would suffer. The 120mm travel alloy frame is a really nice chassis though, with internal control routing, smooth welded hydroformed tubing and even pieces like the short linkages are neatly styled and sculpted. A RockShox damper controls the 120mm travel 4 bar rear end with a 130mm travel Recon Gold RL fork upfront. Mostly Shimano Deore drivetrain gets a 12-speed XT rear mech highlight and the brakes are Deore too. You get a short reach dropper post and lightweight Newmen finishing kit and fast-rolling Schwalbe brown wall tires which means a slightly short reach on otherwise decent 67/75 angles.
Giant's Stance had remained unchanged for a little over half a decade but was recently remodeled with bigger wheels, a steeper seat angle and slacker headtube. Available in two models, the Stance 1 comes with a 130mm RockShox Recon RL complete with 34mm stanchions, 120mm RockShox Monarch R shock, and a SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain.
Giant doesn't give the Stance Maestro rear linkage, instead opting for what the brand calls its Flex Point rear end; basically, a single pivot four-bar link that relies on flex in the seat stay instead of a dropout pivot.
For a bike that costs less than some wheelsets, the Stance is well rounded, climbing surprisingly well even with the heft it carries with it. It's a bike that needs to be ridden on top of the trail, not plowed through it, but the handling characters and suspension are well-tuned to achieve this ride.
We’re big fans of the Cortex short-travel 29er with its impressively lightweight alloy frame and efficient pedaling making short work of climbs and distance and modern trail geometry that makes the most of the RockShox suspension. That makes the news of the latest 140mm rear end, 150mm fork, slack and long geometry Evol 29er trail bike from the same design team really exciting if you want a bit more punch and stability for hitting tougher terrain head-on. While the spec they’ve used on their bikes is really well sorted for the money - including some excellent own brand kit - the small UK team behind Sonder will also let you tweak your own built through a wide range of options when you order. If you ask nicely you can even sub in some of your existing kit so nothing goes to waste. Add a great reputation for customer service that they share with their parent brand Alpkit and a growing number of Alpkit stores stocking the brand and the Evol is potentially a great alternative to better-known brands if you don’t mind the build wait.
German-based direct sale brand Canyon scores inclusivity points straight away by making the entry-level spec of their alloy Neuron trail 29er available in women’s and junior versions. There’s plenty to appeal to all genders and ages too starting with the smooth-riding 130mm travel frame with super clean internal control looks and split graphics. The Shimano Deore 12 speed transmission gets an XT rear mech highlight, there’s a dropper post as standard and you get the latest version of Schwalbe’s fast-rolling but still trustworthy Nobby Nic 29er tires too. While the angles are a reasonable balance of responsive and controlled reach is definitely on the short side and long seat tubes potentially make sizing up for extra length awkward. The steel stanchion RockShox Judy fork and 29er wheels add weight too so it’s a relatively hefty ride. Box and carriage add a significant amount to the basic cost too, but it is a quality re-usable box and you get a torque wrench included too.
Jeffsy has been in the range of American online MTB specialists YT for a while but that means the company can price it lower than the rest of the family. At its heart is a really well balanced 150mm travel alloy frame with some really high quality detailing and hydroformed tube shaping throughout making it significantly lighter than most budget competition. Geometry is well sorted too with a 66-degree head angle and 77-degree seat angle, a flip-chip to change the angles by half a degree and decent reach too. You’ve got 27.5-inch or 29in wheel options with the 27.5in getting an extra 10mm of travel in the chaos ready RockShox Yari fork. The rest of the spec is absolutely awesome for just under $2300 too. SRAM SX Eagle is par for the course but DT Swiss MT1900 wheels, Maxxis Minion 2.4in tires, long-stroke ‘Postman’ dropper post, Race Face cockpit with proper ODI grips and SDG saddle make it a match for some bikes double the price. You even get a $30 Fidlock bottle and torque wrench as part of the package.
While most of the bikes here have decent geometry, Marin’s Rift Zone bikes have been setting the benchmark for bringing proper no holds barred rough play numbers to the affordable bike rankings. 65.5-degree head tube locks the front wheel into the terrain with a 35mm long stem at the end of the extended 480mm reach top tube. A 76-degree seat angle still gives it attacking poise on climbs though while the 425mm chainstays give a super responsive rear-end feel.
The 'Multitrac' frame gives 125mm of travel with a full width Boost axle and internal control line routing. The RockShox Recon fork isn’t too stretched at 130mm travel and the short 42mm offset makes the most of the instant short stem steering. Tackee Compound Vee Flow Snap 29 x 2.35in tires on broad tubeless-ready rims glue that geometry onto the ground but they’re heavy and roll slow so you might be lower in the SRAM SX Eagle gear range than normal. You get a dropper post as standard and Rift Zones are available from your local Marin dealer anywhere in the world.
If you talk to anyone savvy about budget suspension bikes one name will always come up first. Calibre is the bike brand of bargain outdoor lifestyle store chain Go Outdoors which doesn’t sound that promising but for a while, the firm had one of the best bike designers in the business. The result was a £1,000 suspension bike that rode like most bikes three times the price and the original Bossnut was revamped with a new frame last year to update the geometry and suspension to keep it top of the affordable trail bike rankings. The BBB has brilliant zero upgrades needed component spec including RockShox forks, SRAM Eagle, top-quality WTB tires, awesome Guide RE brakes and a dropper post. By the way, Triple B stands for one time Go Outdoors boss Big Bad Barry, but don’t tell him that.
If you can creep just £70 over £2,000 then the super slack, bomber tough, 150mm travel Enduro/Bike Park ready Calibre Sentry comes onto the menu too.
At a quick glance, the MTR full suspension range from Boardman doesn’t look that different but it’s actually changed in some very significant and positive ways. For a start, while the curved, sculpted tube frame looks very similar it’s now rolling on 29er wheels and has 145mm travel for much better rollover and speed sustain. Geometry is longer, slacker and lower, too, so the whole bike feels more stable and confident on technical trails. You get a 780mm bar and short stem for precise power steering and Maxxis Minion tires are seriously impressive spec at this price. The range extends to the 9.0 with RockShox Pike fork and Shimano SLX but the 8.8 still gets a RockShox fork and a dropper post as standard plus wide range Deore gears making it a serious bargain if you’re not hung up on getting a 12-speed block. They’re sold through Halfords stores too so service will always be convenient in the UK.
What to look for in mountain bikes under $2500
The only thing you can’t upgrade on a mountain bike is the shape of it. Some manufacturers (not the ones featured here) just use old outdated steep and short frames as the basis for their cheap bikes. Others make new frames but weirdly seem to think that the fresh riders likely to be buying at this price point would benefit from something that’s twitchy and sketchy rather than stable and confident.
As rough guide 120mm travel bikes should have a 67-degree head angle, moving towards 65-degrees as travel extends to 150mm and you’re getting faster on descents. Reach figures should be 460+mm on a large, with a 50mm or shorter stem and a 760mm or wider bar for decent power steering.
Very few suspension systems work that badly now, but this list includes some bikes where the damping control is properly brilliant. It’s hard to tell what suspension will feel like without riding so make sure you read our reviews to get a back end that matches your plush or pedal priorities. You’ll notice there’s a real theme of “we think it’s worth spending a bit more to get this version with the RockShox/Marzocchi dampers” in this list too. That doesn’t mean that cheaper forks and shocks from Manitou, Suntour and X-Fusion etc. can’t work well, but some definitely don’t. Servicing them or getting spares can be more of a pain compared to more popular brands too.
Apart from suspension parts which are expensive and can really ruin the ride don’t get too hung up on components. Brand managers might kill themselves to fit a SRAM Eagle group at a given price but those big cassettes are seriously heavy and right on the back wheel where they affect suspension sensitivity the worst. It might mean you get a poorer fork too so you might get a much better overall performance and a more durable bike by going with Deore 11 speed and just grunting a bit harder on the climbs. Then again if you’re likely to want 12 speed later then getting it now will stop you having to upgrade hubs, shifters and mechs further down the line.
Swapping tires is another great way to make real performance gains at a reasonable price so if you’re buying from a shop ask if they can swap them (or set the existing ones up tubeless) before you get the original ones dirty. As for the rest of the components just change them in the order that they really annoy you or wear out, but to be honest most of the bikes are really well sorted right down to the grips.