There’s no doubt there are some absolute stinkers in the bargain BSO (Bike Shaped Object) ranks and the big brands such as Trek, Specialized, Giant, Merida, Scott and so on don’t go as low as £400. Even normally super cost-effective brands such as Calibre and Boardman haven’t risked their reputation with a £300 or lower bike. If you look around though you can find a 27.5-inch wheeled alloy framed bike with a suspension fork, cable disc brakes and knobbly tires that will scrabble some grip out of the dirt. The best bikes will give you a reasonable range of sizes, too.
- Best budget mountain bikes: the best off-road options at affordable price points
- Best mountain bikes under £500
- Best hardtail mountain bikes under $1000
Let’s be honest, most of the bikes you’ll find under £300 are potentially unfit to tackle a molehill nevermind a mountain. Lookalike suspension forks will barely move when brand new and probably won’t work at all after a month of mild use in a bit of mud. While you can get various full suspension bikes we’d strongly recommend you leave most of them alone. A basic coil shock will add some bounce but is unlikely to have any sort of damping to ever stop it bouncing once it starts. Thin plate linkages and basic bushings rather than proper pivots are likely to flex badly and potentially fall apart very quickly. The suspension fork you get upfront will almost certainly be badly compromised by the cost of the extra bits at the back and weight won’t be far off an E-bike either.
Happily, there are some trail proof bikes out there for under £300 and those are the ones we’ve listed here.
While the bikes below are the ones we would recommend at the £300 price mark, if you are able to stretch the budget a little bit our choice of the best mountain bikes under £500 will offer significantly more performance on the trail. They also generally work out cheaper in the long run as the componentry specced is far more durable and require less maintenance.
Best mountain bikes under £300
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RockRider is the in-house mountain bike brand of French sports Hypermarche Decathlon and it's always put together outstanding packages by keeping things simple and straight forward. The ST520 gets an alloy frame with shaped tubes and even a 69.5-degree head angle in a world that’s mostly populated with geometry from the last century. Cable disc brakes provide all-weather stopping and the 'Weight Adjuster' on the 80mm travel forks is actually the most sensible way we’ve ever seen spring preload explained. The tires and 24-speed gears are B’Twin branded and ‘mushroom’ grips, Hammock saddle and Flex seat post with quick release frame clamp make for comfortable contact points. You get rack and mudguard mounts for work as well as play and for £100 less there’s an ST100 with V brakes and 18-speed gears but a similarly decent rest of spec.
One of the own brands of UK motoring megastore Halfords, Carrera is another brand with an excellent reputation for delivering performance well beyond expectation for the price. The Valour does without disc brakes but that means some real gains elsewhere. The Suntour XCE fork has 100mm of usefully smooth travel. The twin-ring 14-speed Shimano Tourney/Altus gear mix keeps weight down to a claimed 15kg. The semi-slick tires have a puncture protection layer and you get a memory foam saddle for comfort, too. Wide bars and a short stem give lively handling and twin bottle cage mounts mean you won’t go thirsty on long rides. It comes in four sizes and there’s a women’s version, too.
Despite being the cheapest bike we’re recommending here, the Valier from another of Halford’s own brands - Apollo - still comes with a 21-speed Shimano gear set and cable disc brakes. You even get a 180mm front rotor to add a bit more power and you get decent pedals as standard, too. Mid-sized 27.5in wheels are still a bonus at this price and these are wrapped in fast but trustworthy Kenda tires. You get Apollo suspension forks to smooth things out upfront and a well-cushioned saddle but Halfords are still claiming a 15.2kg weight. The frame also has fixtures for a rear rack and mudguard if the Valier is going to be your all-weather daily driver. The only downside is that while we haven’t seen a geometry sheet the static and action pictures of the bike suggest a very steep and short frame, with a long stem and narrow bars which are all going to undermine confidence on more taxing terrain.
If you’re determined to get double springs for under £300 then this is the best option we’ve found. While most ‘suspension’ bikes around this price are simple Y-frame pogo sticks, the Gradient at least looks like a ‘proper’ suspension bike complete with a stiffening linkage pivoting on the seat tube to stop the skinny tubed back end wagging around too much. Apollo has also managed to squeeze a short-travel suspension fork, mechanical disc brakes and a twist-shift 21-speed Shimano gear set into the budget. There are even mounts for a bottle cage but at a claimed 17.6kg the ‘Lightweight aluminum’ badging might be an optimistic statement. Like the Valier hardtail, the short, steep geometry and long stem, the narrow-bar cockpit is going to get nervy if the trail starts to get remotely technical.
Claud Butler is a classic brand from UK cycling history and they’re still a strong presence at the lower end of the market. The Edge name has actually been borrowed from the old MTB range of sibling brand Dawes but the performance edge here comes from a claimed 14kg weight. There are some significant compromises to get the bike to that point though. You get V brakes not discs and the Zoom fork only has 50mm of travel fork. You’re only getting old school 26in wheels too although 36 spokes in each one should make them sturdy at least. Geometry is also dated with a 71-degree head angle and a 73-degree seat angle that’ll feel nervous compared to slacker, longer bikes. The HT isn’t the only option though as there’s a Low Step women’s frame version and the 13.5kg Edge with a rigid steel fork for £269.99.