In this post, we’re going to help you find the best cheap mountain bike available in 2016. Buying an affordable mountain bike is a great way to get started with an exciting new hobby.
Whether you want the thrill of hurtling down narrow footpaths, or just need one for commuting, mountain bikes are far more versatile than road models.
With most affordable mountain bikes now being built with aluminum frames – something that was rare until recently, you’re able to land a high-quality bike without needing to spend $2000+. Also, many affordable models come with acceptable brakes and gears.
Mobile Device Users: Rotate your phone to landscape (wide/horizontal) view to see the entire comparison chart.
Wheels – 26 or 29?
The 29-inch (larger) has risen in popularity over the past few years. Before that, the industry standard was the 26-inch wheel. There’s no perfect wheel size and it comes down to personal preference. This short video will help explain what you should expect with regards to your mountain bikes wheel size.
Our Top 4 Picks Reviewed
Note: The comparison table above uses the, “Our Rating” score (out of 100 points) to rank the bikes based on our review. The individual reviews you read below may not be in order. We’ve added them in an effort to give you a better sense of each bike’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
Diamondback Overdrive Hard Tail Mountain Bike
The Diamondback Overdrive is one of the best looking models on this list. With an aluminum alloy frame, 29” wheels and front suspension fork, it’s capable of tackling the toughest trails. Other components include a Shimano drivetrain and disc brakes for extra stopping power.
It is a great choice for beginner mountain bikers. Some folks have said that it’s comfortable and that it provides excellent value for money.
One downside is that it isn’t as simple to put together as others on this list. This is only an issue when you first buy it though – once assembly is completed it’s an excellent model.
Diamondback Sorrento Hard Tail
The Diamondback Sorrento is a hardtail that provides surprisingly good performance for such an inexpensive model. It is built with an aluminum frame, 27.5” wheels for all-round performance and Shimano shifters. The Sorrento also comes with linear pull brakes.
The Diamondback Sorrento might not have many stand-out features, but it’s a solid entry-level model. The 27.5” wheels are easier to accelerate than the larger 29” size, and the front suspension fork provides extra comfort.
If you’re looking for something versatile to get started with mountain biking, or would like a cheap second model that still performs well, then the Sorrento could be a good option.
SE Bikes Big Mountain 21-Speed V Hard Tail
The SE Bikes Big Mountain is built with a steel frame and Shimano Tourney 21 speed shifters, and also comes with mounts for two water bottles.
While the SE Bikes Big Mountain doesn’t have any stand out features, it offers strong all-round performance.
It isn’t going to win any awards for its appearance or components, but its performance speaks for itself. For those reasons, it’s our #3 pick.
Victory Vegas Jackpot Dual Suspension
The Victory Vegas Jackpot is the only dual-suspension brand on this list. With its 26” wheels, which are perfect for fast acceleration, aluminum frame and Shimano 24-speed drivetrain, it boasts an impressive array of components.
This one also includes disc brakes and Shimano shifters.If you’re sure you want to buy a dual suspension unit then this definitely a model to consider.
As we mentioned earlier, dual suspension is usually only necessary for extreme off-road riding. It is likely to be more comfortable to ride than others on this list, but also heavier.
Our Buying Guide
Choosing any new bike can be difficult, but it’s especially hard with mountain bikes. It’s vital to find one that is durable, especially if you plan to take it on some bumpy off-road trails. This extra durability often comes at the cost of increased weight though. You also need to consider whether you really need suspension, or are better off with one that is rigid.
It can sometimes feel like there are almost infinite mountain bikes available. Things become even more confusing when you consider that each has certain strengths and weaknesses, and may have been designed for a specific type of riding. This is especially an issue for cheap bikes, where more compromises have to be made on quality.
If you aren’t sure what to look for in a mountain bike, we’ve listed the most important considerations below. This list is perfect for people who want to get up to speed quickly and make an informed decision.
How to Choose a Cheap Mountain Bike
The first step in choosing is deciding what you want to use it for. Your riding requirements affect every component on the unit, but especially the suspension. Many first-time buyers are convinced that suspension is essential, but this isn’t always the case.
To make your decision easy, here’s what we recommend.
Commuting only (especially in hilly areas). Rigid units, which have no suspension, are usually best for commuting. Suspension forks are heavy, so you’ll get much better performance with a rigid one. This is especially true for value mountain bikes, which often come with poor quality and heavy suspension.
Both road and off-road. If you plan on a mix of road and off-road biking, you might want to consider buying a hardtail (front suspension fork only). It will be heavier, but more comfortable to ride over rough terrain. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a suspension fork unless you’re going to ride on really rough terrain, but some people prefer the feel and extra comfort.
Off-road Only. If you’re buying specifically for heavy off-road riding, then a suspension fork is recommended. We suggest staying away from most of the full-suspension ones in this price range though. Cheap full suspension road bikes often have to sacrifice quality in other areas, and the suspension is likely to be extremely heavy.
You also need to think carefully about the type of riding you’re interested in. Are you most attracted to downhill riding? Taking part in competitions? Embarking on long rides through the countryside? Some are built to excel at a specific type of riding, while others are designed for all-round performance.
You should know your maximum budget before you start searching for a mountain bike. In most cases, the more you pay for one the lighter it will be. You can also expect more brand name components on pricier models.
It’s certainly possible to buy a great ride for around $300-$400. You’ll have to make compromises in certain areas (and be careful about the one you choose), but there are some excellent options for first time mountain bikes in this price range.
Once you start looking at those much lower than $350, however, the quality of components drops dramatically. There are still some gems to be found, but you’ll probably need to wait for special deals to get the one you want.
Note: Make sure you include initial setup and maintenance in your budget. Off-road riding can be hard on tires, so you’ll probably need to replace these at some point within the first year.
More Buying Guides (based on price):
The frame is probably the most important component. Top-quality groupsets are great, but if the components are hanging off a poor quality frame then it won’t be fun to ride.
Frames on inexpensive ones are usually either aluminum or steel. You may also be able to find aluminum tubing frames in this price range. Here are the benefits to each material:
Aluminum. This is a great material for absorbing impacts and is relatively light. The downside is that aluminum frames only have an expected lifetime of around three years, especially if you regularly ride on rough ground.
Steel. One with a steel frame is more durable. With basic maintenance, and avoiding letting the frame rust, a steel bike can last much longer than aluminum.
It’s rare to see a carbon fiber frame on a budget mountain bike. While carbon fiber is one of the most popular materials for more expensive models, it is also more likely to be cracked or damaged. Some mid-range units come with a carbon fork and aluminum frame.
Note: Mountain bikes usually have a sloped top tube. The result is more clearance and a smaller overall frame. When fitting one by looking at the standing clearance, make sure you keep this in mind.
There are three common wheel sizes for mountain bikes: 26”, 27.5” and 29”. Each has advantages and disadvantages. 29” wheels make it easier to maintain speed compared with 26”, but are more difficult to accelerate. The larger wheel size also makes riding over rocks and stones more comfortable.
27.5” wheels are designed to provide some of the benefits of both 26” and 29” wheels. If you aren’t sure which wheel size is right for you, 27.5” is a good compromise.
Choosing gears, brakes and other components when buying an affordable mountain bike starts to get confusing. The good news is that, compared with the frame, wheel size and suspension type, most components don’t have as much of an effect on the overall performance.
One important decision is the type of gear system to buy. We generally recommend choosing a derailleur system for mountain biking. You need to be more careful with these compared with internal hubs, as they are easier to break, but they are lighter and offer smoother performance.
Other considerations include:
Number of gears. Mountain bikes typically have between 18 and 30 gears. 24 gears is a common number for cheap ones. There are single gear options available, but on tough trails you need exceptional strength and endurance to ride these.
Brake type. There are two common types of brakes: disc and rim. Disc brakes provide greater consistency and better performance in wet weather. Rim brakes are cheaper but less effective.
Why Buy A Mountain Bike?
Cycling is a growing hobby around the world, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a fun activity that’s great for staying in shape, and you can get started relatively cheaply. Mountain bikes have a few unique benefits, such as:
The wider tires, tougher components and, in some cases, suspension of mountain bikes means they are capable of riding on almost any terrain. Unlike road bikes, which are built specifically for flat ground, you can go almost anywhere on these.
There are a number of different types of mountain biking. Popular options include:
Cross country. This is one of the best types of cycling to increase endurance and fitness. Cross country mountain biking involves long rides on a mixture of tough climbs and rough terrain.
Downhill. If you’re looking for thrills then downhill riding is probably the most exciting option. The goal is simple: get to the bottom of a hill as quickly as possible. You probably need to buy a specialist bike for downhill riding.
Trail riding. This is the most common type of mountain biking, involving a mixture of tiring climbs and fast downhill sections.
While road cyclists might not agree with this statement, mountain biking is probably a more tiring activity – at least for beginners. Aside from steep hills, you also need to deal with bumpy ground and other obstacles. If you want to get in shape and have fun at the same time, mountain biking is a great choice.
An added bonus of mountain biking is that you aren’t sharing the trail with cars. There are, of course, other dangers, such as unexpected drops and sharp corners, but if you’re used to riding on roads it can be a relief to not have to worry about dangerous drivers. Keep in mind that if you’re not on a designated trail, you still have to be careful of pedestrians.
Mountain biking is a fun and exciting hobby to get into. Whether you want to go on cross country rides, compete in downhill events, or just want to get some exercise, they can deal with almost any terrain and situation.
Buying the best cheap mountain bike can be daunting, especially if you’ve never bought a one before. To keep things simple, the main considerations are the type of riding you plan on doing, the frame size and material, suspension type and wheel size. Once you’ve found a few options that satisfy the most important requirements, you can then consider other components such as brakes and gears.
We always recommend that you don’t spend your entire budget. Every bike should be professionally fitted and tuned, especially if you’re buying online. A simple fitting doesn’t cost much money, but can have a big effect on the performance and long term durability. You should also save some money for ongoing repairs. All mountain bikes require maintenance, especially if ridden on rough terrain.
If we had to choose just one cheap mountain bike to recommend, it would be the Diamondback Response (all their mountain bikes are great). The combination of 29” wheels, front suspension fork and aluminum frame make this an excellent choice for your first one. The mechanical disc brakes are also a bonus, especially when riding in wet weather conditions.