Best Mountain Bikes Of All Types And Prices

So the rugged good looks of the MTB (mountain bike) have caught your eye. But good bikes are expensive, and your budget is…well…limited. Fortunately, with a little bit of research, $500 can buy you a great starter bike. But you have to know what to look for. Substandard mountain bikes can let you down in a number of different ways, but the best mountain bikes under $500 all have a few things in common.

Comparison Table

WHY CHOOSE A MOUNTAIN BIKE?

bike parked on a trail

If you’re looking at your first mountain bike, you may be starting out in trail sports. But a sturdy, knobbly-tired MTB can be a great commuter bike as well. MTBs are excellent for students, too. They’re durable and athletic. Plus, they make quick work of hills, and eat roads and sidewalks for lunch.

You might be tempted by a trendy fixie or a sleek road bike — and these bikes are great! But for comfort, safety, and sturdiness, there’s nothing like a mountain bike. And if you’re headed for the trails, there’s only one option.

HOW IS A MOUNTAIN BIKE DIFFERENT?

man riding a bike

 

There’s no mistaking the distinctive build of a mountain bike. But did you know that every element of that look has a purpose? it’s true. From its thick tires to its special suspension system, a mountain bike was born to make quick work of multiple terrains — and to do it comfortably and safely.

TIRES

Mountain  bike tires are fat and knobbly. They come in three sizes: 26 inches, 27.5 inches, and 29 inches. What’s the difference?

DIAMETER

Well, according to REI’s mountain bike experts, smaller-diameter wheels provide faster acceleration and better maneuverability than larger wheels. They’re also lighter. Larger-diameter wheels, on the other hand, work more efficiently over long rides. They also provide better traction, more readily roll over obstacles, and are more favorable for taller riders.

WIDTH

The standard width of a mountain bike tire is between 1.5 and three inches. But “fat tire” mountain bikes have a wheel thickness between three and five inches.

Why?

Fat tires give excellent traction, especially on snow and sand. They’re especially good for beginning mountain bikers. That said, you might be hard-pressed to find an adult-sized fat tire bike in this budget range.

TREAD

A deep, knobbly tread is one of the mountain bike’s most recognizable features. It’s what allows an MTB to eat up the trail — and what makes it such a great all-terrain bike.

Whether you’re looking at the top-of-the-line or at the bargain end of the spectrum, you can tell a MTB by its tread.

FRAME

an orange bike frame

 

Mountain bike frames come in three main materials: carbon fiber, aluminum alloy, and steel.Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and each has a very definite place on the pricing scale.

ALUMINUM FRAMES

But don’t discount aluminum just because it’s a lower-cost option! If you’re looking for durability, an aluminum frame is both more flexible and more impact-resistant than carbon. This means it’s more likely to bend than break like a carbon frame. And you can ride a bent frame home.

If your frame snaps, though, you’ll have to carry it. Aluminum is also light — not as light as carbon, but definitely lighter than steel. Many of the best mountain bikes under $500 are made with high-quality aluminum frames.

STEEL FRAMES

Steel is a traditional material for bicycle frames, and a lot of people like its retro appeal. Other people may discount steel because it’s heavy. Also, often being the lowest-price option, some people may turn up their noses for purely snobbish reasons.

But steel bikes are durable and cheap. On top of that, steel bike enthusiasts say that a steel frame gives a smoother ride. And as for durability, a steel bike will outlast a bike made from carbon fiber or aluminum almost every time.

suspension

a mountain bike suspension

 

What does that mean? Unlike a road bike, a mountain bike is made to tackle rough terrain. That can be hard on the bike’s frame, and hard on the rider. Mountain bike suspension systems give you more control over your bike on rough, uneven, and unstable surfaces. They improve your bike’s traction, and make your bike more comfortable to ride.

FULL SUSPENSION

A mountain bike with full suspension has shock absorbers at the front and rear. This works well for rough trail rides, as well as for general riding for people with joint issues. Full suspension is more expensive, and it will make your bike heavier. But if you’re going to be riding primarily on rough surfaces, then full suspension is what you want.

HARDTAIL SUSPENSION

Hardtail bikes have a single shock absorber at the front. These bikes are lighter, less expensive, and less costly to maintain. Bikes with hardtail suspension are great for multi-purpose use, commuting, riding on fire roads, and smooth trails.

RIGID SUSPENSION

Rigid suspension means no shock absorbers at all. This is fine, if you’re going to be riding primarily on pavement. But if you’re thinking about hitting the trails on a rigid bike, you might want to try one out before buying. Rigid bikes are typically less expensive than bikes with shock absorbers. On the other hand, they’re decidedly less comfortable on the trail.

HANDLEBARS

a standard mountain bike handlebar

 

Another distinctive feature of the mountain bike is its wide, flat (or nearly flat)  handlebars. Why are they wide? Well, wider handlebars give you better steering control on rough surfaces. Also, some say that positioning your arms wide can make it easier to breathe more deeply during difficult rides. Why are they flat? That comes down to comfort. There are actually numerous, subtly different shapes for mountain bike handlebars. These shapes offer slightly different hand positioning that may be more comfortable during different types of off-road rides.But most mountain bikes, including the best mountain bikes under $500, will have a standard flat bar.

GEARS

bottom bracket gear installed on a mountain bike

 

Shifting gears makes it easier (or more difficult) to pedal under different circumstances. Many mountain bikes have a dizzying number of gears — sometimes 27 or more. But more isn’t necessarily better. How many gears do you need? For tooling around the neighborhood, three will often do. If you’re taking on hills, then at least eleven. The best mountain bikes under $500 will have at least 21 gears. For general riding, you won’t use them all. But if you’re thinking of hitting the trails, then you’ll want the versatility

BRAKES

mountain bike lever

 

When it comes to brakes, you need to think about placement and technology. Both of these can affect your ride, and your enjoyment.

LOCATION

When it comes to brakes, you need to think about placement and technology. Both of these can affect your ride, and your enjoyment.

TECHNOLOGY

When it comes to brakes, you need to think about placement and technology. Both of these can affect your ride, and your enjoyment.

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A BIT ABOUT BUDGET BIKES

mountain bike on a green field

 

If you’re a serious mountain biker, you’re not going to be satisfied with a budget bike. But you already know this. Even the very best mountain bikes under $500 are going to be limited in terms of quality, durability, and features.

But if you’re looking for a versatile everyday bike, or if you’re just getting your feet wet in trail sports, then a bargain mountain bike is exactly what you need.

WHAT ARE THE DEALBREAKERS?

If you’re looking for a budget mountain bike, then you’re probably looking for a good all-arounder. And this is great, because it gives you some wiggle room. According to the outdoors experts at REI, three of the most important things to look for in a mountain bike are suspension, frame materials, and wheel size. Full suspension is going to cost you. But if it’s worth it to you, then hold out for it. For most of us, though, hardtail suspension is fine for everyday riding. You might even find a bike with rigid suspension — that is, no shock absorbers — and that can drive the price down, as well.

As far as frame materials go, aluminum is often at the sweet spot where durability meets weight. But if you’re willing to go with a heavier steel frame, you might find an even better bargain.

Originally, all mountain bikes had 26-inch tires. Now the trend is larger. 27.5-inch tires are a good size for most riders. But if you want to try a 29er, there are some of those on our list as well.

Naturally, every rider is different, and so are their needs. So consider your dealbreakers carefully.

HOW WE CHOSE THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKES UNDER $500

When it comes to judging a product, there are two sources that can’t be ignored: experts and users. We looked at expert sources such as REI and SingleTracks to determine which are the most important, must-have features for any mountain bike.

Next, we searched the Internet to find the most popular models of mountain bikes with the best of these features. Then we factored in price. Finally, we looked at consumer ratings to see which models actual consumers considered the best mountain bikes under $500.

THE VERY BEST MOUNTAIN BIKES UNDER $500

Which are the best budget bikes for your money? You might be surprised.

RALEIGH TALUS 2


Raleigh Bikes Talus 2 MD/17

  • Custom-formed aluminum frame…
  • SR Sun tour XCE-28 fork offers…
  • Shimano 3×7 speed drivetrain…
  • Tetra M280 mechanical disc…
  • Pedals included; limited…

The Raleigh Talus 2 is a great middle-of-the road bike. It’s slightly more feature-rich than the Talus 1, and a step down from the more expensive Talus 3. The 21-speed Talus 2 features an aluminum frame, hardtail suspension, and 27.5-inch wheels. It comes with mechanical disc brakes. Amazon customers  gave the Talus 2 four out of 5.0 stars.

Pros

  • An excellent all-around mountain bike with middle-of-the-road features
  • Comes from a respected name in cycling

Cons

  • Some customers reported problems with assembly

SCHWINN TRAXION


Schwinn Protocol 1.0 Men’s Mountain Bike, 26″ Wheels

  • Schwinn aluminum full…
  • 24-speed Shimano EZ-Fire…
  • Front disc brake and rear…
  • Light and strong alloy rims…
  • Schwinn alloy crank offers…

My Pro Scooter named the Schwinn Traxion one of their 10 best trail bikes, and we’re not surprised. This 24 speed, aluminum frame bike comes with front and rear mechanical disc brakes. If that’s not enough, it has a full dual suspension. That’s right — both front and rear shock absorbers. It also has 29-inch wheels with extra-wide aluminum rims. Amazon customers gave the Traxion 4.1 out of 5.0 stars.

Pros

  • This budget bike is packed with higher-end features like large tires and dual suspension

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than similar mountain bikes
  • My Pro Scooter reports that assembly instructions are not included.

MERAX ALUMINUM MOUNTAIN BIKE


Merax 26″ Mountain Bicycle with Suspension Fork 24-Speed…

  • Front suspension forks design…
  • Fitted Shimano 24-speed…
  • Dual disc brakes provide…
  • Designed to be the most fully…
  • Weight Capacity: 330 lbs,1…

Merax is a maker of fitness equipment. You might be familiar with their treadmills, for example. It might seem strange that they’d branch out into mountain bikes. But insofar as mountain bikes are also sports equipment, it makes sense. And it really makes sense with this bike. Because while you don’t get a big name like Cannondale or Mongoose, you do get great value for money. Like many mountain bikes at this price point,

Merax’s 24-speed bike comes with an aluminum frame. But it also comes with hardtail suspension and dual disc brakes. Another Merax model, the Finiss, has received rave reviews from the experts at Clever Leverage and Very Well Fit. The Finiss is no longer available, but this newer model, which gets a 4.6 out of 5.0 stars from Amazon customers looks like a worthy successor — not to mention one of the best mountain bikes under $500.

Pros

  • Rugged front suspension
  • Dual disc brakes
  • Innovative design

Cons

  • Some customers reported the assembled bike arrived improperly assembled

GRAVITY FSX


Navi RS500 Hardtail Mountain Bike, Aluminum Alloy Frame,…

  • 6061 ALUMINUM ALLOY FRAME….
  • SHIMANO ACERA 3-SPEED (FRONT)…
  • SHIMANO FRONT & REAR DISC…
  • KENDA 27.5″x1.95″ TIRES….
  • 85% PRE-ASSEMBLED. JUST NEED…

This is another up-and-coming brand that offers great value for money. The FSX is a 24-speed aluminum frame mountain bike. It comes with disc brakes and adjustable front and rear suspension.

It promises to be a comfortable and reliable ride. And customers think so, too. In fact, Amazon customers gave the FSX 4.1 out of 5.0 stars. Is this one of the best mountain bikes under $500? We certainly think so.

Pros

  • Good value for money
  • Adjustable suspension!

Cons

  • Some customers have reported problems with assembled bikes

ARE YOU REA​​​​​DY TO RIDE?

If you’re looking for a budget bike, there are a lot of models out there to choose from. But if you’re looking for a budget bike that won’t let you down, well, that narrows your options considerably. The best mountain bikes under $500 should be feature-packed.

That means high-quality brakes, a decent suspension system, and a durable, lightweight frame. Plus, of course, any personal dealbreakers you might have.

So, which one will be your next favorite ride?

Regardless of the price of your bike of choice do not forget to protect your investment with a top-quality bike lock.

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