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The best mountain bikes for beginners: bikes for new mountain bikers

Best Beginner Mountain Bikes
(Image credit: Trek)

Buying a new mountain bike is hard, even for the seasoned mountain biker, and the sheer number of options can be dizzying. Before you even get into the different component specs, there are decisions to be made about wheel size, full-suspension or hardtail, and how much travel you want. The biggest question for most is the cost. For someone who has never tried the sport, they may not know what things to look for when buying a mountain bike. 

If you are unsure of what you want or have some questions of your own, check out our guide for what to look for when buying a beginner's mountain bike.

Best mountain bikes for beginners

Ragley Marley 1.0 2021

(Image credit: Ragley )

Ragley Marley 1.0

Playful hardtail that can take on any trail

Travel: 130mm | Wheel size: 27.5 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Price: $1,699.00 / £1,399.99

Excellent fork
Durable Shimano drivetrain
Dropper post
Smaller wheels don't roll over features as well as 29

The Ragley Marley really shows how good affordable bikes have become, opening up tech and features to entry level riders without having to fork out on a serious investment. The progressive geometry along with the smooth Marzocchi fork will instil confidence on rough trails allowing new riders to experiment with line choice and learn new skills. The Shimano Deore drivetrain has already proven itself as the go-to budget groupset with dependable performance and wide 11-51t 11-speed cassette.

The only disadvantage is that the Ragley uses 27.5 inch wheels rather than the more popular 29er size. While this sacrifices some capability to roll over large rocks and roots its does increase maneuverability to make the bike feel more playful on trails and jumps.

ORBEA LAUFEY H30 BIKE 2021

(Image credit: ORBEA )

Orbea Laufey H3

Aggresive hardtail for trail shredding

Travel: 140mm | Wheel size: 29 | Sizes: S, M, L | Price: $1,699.00 / £1,349.00

140mm  fork smooths out the trail
Durable 11-speed Shimano drivetrain
Dropper post
Beefy build adds weight

A hardtail doesn't have to have a lightweight cross-country build. This hardtail from Orbea sports a 140mm fork and a dropper post for aggressive trail riding. The quality spec means those beginner riders who quickly progress their riding skills won't outmatch their bike's components. 

Bolted onto the triple-butted aluminum frame are a Shimano Deore drivetrain and Shimano M201 hydraulic disc brakes. The wheelset is Orbea's tubeless-ready OC1 29er model, which comes wrapped in 2.6-inch wide Maxxis tires to keep you gripping the trail surface. 

Vitus Escarpe 29 CR 2021

(Image credit: Vitus )

Vitus Escarpe 29 CR

Outstanding value full-suspension trail bike ready to shred any trail

Travel: 150mm (front), 140mm (rear) | Wheel size: 29 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Price: $2,699.99 / £1,999.99

The geometry makes for predictable handling 
Full-suspension confidence
Incredible value
Sorted spec
Availability
Boring color

Vitus is known for producing bikes that ride great at impressively competitive prices yet Vitus has truly outdone itself with the Escarpe 29 CR. The 140mm trail bike is staggeringly good value with a solid spec list. Not only are you getting front and rear suspension from Marzocchi and RockShox, a Shimano Deore 11-speed drivetrain and a dropper post, but the front triangle is carbon - that's right - carbon on a full-suspension trail bike for sub $3,000.

All this spec is useless if the bike doesn't ride well, and Vitus has this department covered as well. The knowledge gained from developing some of the best enduro mountain bikes ever has been applied to the geometry and suspension kinematics so the Escarpe climbs as well as it descends for all-round trail performance, so you know you have a bike that will keep up as you develop your skills.

Commencal Meta HT AM Origin 2021

(Image credit: Commencal )

Commencal Meta HT AM Origin

For the beginner who wants to get rowdy

Travel: 150mm | Wheel size: 27.5 | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Price: $1,299.00 / £1,109.12

Super-slack geometry
Big fork for riding hard
Wide rims
Should come with a dropper post

Based out of Andorra, Commencal is a direct-to-consumer brand that has long sold bikes through its own website offering well-specced rowdy rides at prices other brands have struggled to match.

Commencal technically classes the Meta HT as an enduro bike, likely due in part to its 160mm fork and super slack 65-degree headtube angle. If you're planning to tackle an EWS (Enduro World Series) course, a rear shock is a must, but the Meta HT is a hardy hardtail that is a capable descender. The geometry encourages descending at lightspeed and provides enough front suspension to get you out of a lot of trouble.

For the money, the Meta HT AM Origin is great with a RockShox 35 Silver fork and a Shimano 11-speed groupset. The only thing missing is a dropper post.

Specialized Chisel Comp

(Image credit: Specialized )

Specialized Chisel Comp

Fast mile-muncher for the budding XC racer

Travel: 100mm | Wheel size: 29 | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL | Price: $1,900.00 / £1799.00

Quality alloy XC frame
Solid spec list 
Conservative geometry

If you are more interested in lap times than airtime then Specialized has the budding XC racer covered with its Chisel range. With 100mm of travel and a lightweight alloy frame, the Chisel is ready to cover ground quickly and efficiently. In fact, Specialized claims the Chisel is one of the lightest alloy mountain bike frames available at 1,350g, making the Chisel Comp a worthy candidate for upgrades as you get more serious about riding.

Stock components are a mix of functional name-brand kit from the likes of RockShox and Shimano as well as Specialized own-brand kit which is used around the touchpoints and finished off with quick Specialized Fast Trak tires. 

Cannondale Habit 4

(Image credit: Cannondale )

Cannondale Habit 4

A trail bike for the aspirational jibber

Travel: 140 (front), 130mm (rear) | Wheel size: 29 | Sizes: SM, MD, LG, XL | Price: $3,000.00 / £2,700.00

Size-specific geometry
Balanced, agility-biased handling
Rock-solid lifetime warrantied frame
Heavy
Ai Offset frame makes some upgrades more complicated

You have to be living under a rock to be a mountain biker and not have seen 50-01's videos of them hitting huge jumps and tearing down trails. Cannondale's Habit might be marketed as a trail bike but in the right hands, it's clearly far more capable. This is down to Cannondale's superb suspension platform which absorbs trail trauma and allows you to ride as hard as you can rather than punishing you when your talent runs out.

Cannondale has chosen RockShox dampers front and rear, a SRAM drivetrain and Shimano brakes. A 150mm dropper should get the saddle out the way on descents while the Maxxis tires keep you on the trail in a range of conditions. Cannondale uses what they call Ai Offset for its frames, this moves the drivetrain 6mm outboard which results in a stronger rear wheel and more mud clearance. The downside is the Habit requires propriety cranks and special rear-wheel dishing which should be considered if you are planning on future upgrades.

Vitus Sentier 29 VR

(Image credit: Vitus )

Vitus Sentier 29 VR

Confidence-inspiring trail bike that will push your skills

Travel: 140mm | Wheel size: 29 | Sizes: M, L, XL | Price: $1,449.99 / £1,199.99

Marzocchi fork
Versatile geometry
Resin only discs
No small size available

Another Vitus, this time the very popular Sentier which uses neutral trail-orientated geometry to offer a confidence-inspiring ride. Perfect for those hitting the trails for the first time but it's still plenty capable and can hang on when you start getting fast and loose.

This model comes with a dependable 1x11 Shimano Deore groupset and 140mm Marzocchi bomber Z2 fork. We have chosen the 29er as the one to go for although Vitus do offer a 27.5 version which would suit smaller riders or those who ride very tight trails.

Trek Roscoe 8

(Image credit: Trek )

Trek Roscoe 8

Everything you'd look for in a trail-focused hardtail with a light price tag

Travel: 120mm | Wheel size: 27.5 | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL | Price: $1,879.99 / £1,495.00

Comes with a dropper post
The geometry makes for predictable handling
Plus-size tires add extra comfort
Brakes aren't the most powerful
141mm boost spacing

Trek's Roscoe is built around a 27.5+ tire with the idea that a rider of any level can experience a fast and flickable trail bike in the form of a wallet-friendly hardtail. The frame is made from Trek's Alpha Gold Aluminum which also sees a tapered headtube to eliminate flex in the front end and improve steering accuracy. It uses Boost spacing although it's the less common 141mm quick release version of the standard which could cause complications if you need to replace the rear wheel in the future.

Devoid of any rear suspension, there is a 120mm RockShox 35 fork at the front complete with the SoloAir spring and Turnkey hydraulic lockout. The cockpit is bound by Trek's Knock Block to prevent the levers from impacting the frame in a crash, and sees a short stem and wide bars for heaps of leverage in the corners. 

There are 12 gears to get you up the climbs, with SRAM's NX Eagle drivetrain looking after the chain. Even better, this Roscoe 8 even comes with an internally routed TransX dropper post. 

Mountain bikes for beginners: What to look for?

1. XC? Trail? Enduro? Downhill?

Mountain bikes are divided into categories based on their geometry and the amount of suspension travel, and each class is designed to excel in distinct terrain and riding situations. 

On one end of the spectrum, we have the cross-country bike, which has steep angles, limited tire clearance, between zero and ~100mm of suspension travel, and comes in hardtail or dual suspension varieties. Atthe opposite end, you have downhill bikes, which feature super-slack angles with ~200mm of suspension designed to take a beating and rumble down the steepest, gnarliest terrain. 

Unless you're planning on racing either of these disciplines or the trails in your area massively favor one end of this spectrum, we think you should spend your money on the best trail bike you can.

Trail bikes are available in dualies and hardtails and are designed to do everything well. With around 120-140mm of travel, this category of bike has stable handling and the geometry is such that you can happily ride it on an all-day epic, or even laps in the bike park. A bike in this category is a generalist and will grow with you as your skills improve. 

2. Speaking of suspension

Modern suspension is genuinely amazing and can smooth out bumps that would rattle your fillings loose only a few years ago, while also providing a stable pedaling platform so you don't lose watts bobbing up a climb. 

Even at the beginner level, you should look for air suspension, as this allows you to tailor the sag to your weight. We'd also lean more on the side of hardtails over dual suspension for riders just starting out. With a more straightforward frame design, a hardtail will have nicer components than a full suspension bike for the same price. A hardtail will also help you to develop stronger fundamentals which you will build upon as you get better on your bike. 

3. How much should you spend on your first mountain bike?

While we could throw out a number and include a whole bunch of bikes that hit that price range, we don't necessarily think that's how you should pick your first mountain bike — ultimately the decision will come down to how much you have to spend, and the value you may attach to riding your bike.

There aren't many genuinely bad bikes nowadays, however you get what you pay for in terms of quality. If you buy a $500 bike, it's going to be specced with inferior parts, and in the long run, it will likely end up costing you more, because they will inevitably break and need to be replacedThe reason seasoned mountain bikers can justify spending the price of a 2016 Honda Civic on a mountain bike is they will spend hundreds of hours riding it, and the comfort and ride characteristics that come with such a product over that period of time are worth it. 

Having said that, if you're just getting into mountain biking, remember the bike itself isn't the only cost of entry; you're going to need a helmet, multi-tool, track pump, shock pump, pedals — you get the idea. When you do decide to pull the trigger, make sure to budget for those costs too. 

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Colin Levitch

Born and bred in Colorado, and now based in Australia, Colin comes from a ski racing background and started riding as a way to stay fit through the summer months. His father, a former European pro, convinced him to join the Colorado State University collegiate cycling team, and he hasn't stopped since. It's not often he pins on a number nowadays, and you'll likely find him in search of flowy singletrack, gravel roads and hairpin corners. Colin has worked at BikeRadar.com and is a regular contributor to Australian Mountain Bike and Cyclist magazines. 

Rides: BMC Team Machine SLR01 Trek Top Fuel 9 Ibis Ripley