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 mountain biked, 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 about buying your first mountain bike, check out our guide for what to look for when buying a beginner's mountain bike.
- Best budget dropper posts
- Best budget forks
- Everything you need to know about your mountain bike suspension
Best mountain bikes for beginners
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 that beginner riders who quickly progress their riding skills won't outmatch their bike's components.
Bolted on to the triple-butted aluminum frame are a Shimano Deore drivetrain and Shimano M201 hydraulic disc brakes. The wheels are Orbea's tubeless-ready OC1 29er model, which come wrapped in 2.6-inch wide Maxxis tires to keep you gripping the trail surface.
The Norco Fluid is a full-suspension bike that won't break the bank, perfect for entry-level riders. The 120mm frame is paired with a 130mm fork and 27.5-inch wheels. The fork and shock both come from X-Fusion, a trusty budget suspension brand. The SRAM SX Eagle 1x12 drivetrain and the TranzX dropper post are great specs. Although, we'd recommend ditching the stock tires in favor of something from Maxxis or Schwalbe.
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. It now appears it is branching out to sell through other retailers like Wiggle.
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 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 hard to beat with a RockShox 35 Silver fork and SRAM 10-speed groupset. The only thing missing is a dropper post.
Vitus offers a solid full-suspension trail bike for those that are ready to step up their riding game. The Mythique comes in both 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheel size options, and the VR model listed here brings 130mm of front and rear travel. That shock-absorbing travel is provided by an X-Fusion fork and shock. Shimano provides the drivetrain and hydraulic brakes. A stand-out spec on this bike is Schwalbe Tires - a Magic Mary in the front and a Hans Dampf in the rear.
A step up from the Vitus Mythique brings you to the Nukeproof Reactor, another 27.5-inch wheeled alloy trail bike. The Reactor is also available in a 29er version for the racer types. The 140mm frame is paired with a 150mm fork from Marzocchi, making this a great bike for all-mountain and enduro shredding. A Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain and Shimano M6120 brakes round out this outstanding build kit. Plus, you'll get Maxxis tires to keep your wheel connected to the trail surface, including an Assegai up front, which is Greg Minnaar's signature tire.
Vitus is another direct-to-consumer brand you'll find available through Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. The geometry is a tad more conservative than the Nukeproof, but it's still plenty capable and can hang in when things get fast and loose.
This model comes with a 1x12 SRAM SX Eagle groupset and 140mm Marzocchi bomber fork. With 27.5-inch wheels and tires, everything is based around boost spacing, and all up, the bike is claimed to weigh a hair over 13kg.
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 Aluminium which also sees a tapered headtube to eliminate flex in the front end and improve steering accuracy.
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 the one end, 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. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 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 favour one end of this spectrum, we think you should spend your money on a trail bike.
Trail bikes are available in dualies and hardtails and are designed to do everything well. With between ~120mm to about ~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 lose 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 err 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 of 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 replaced. The 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.