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Mountain biking is more popular than ever due to the development of added trails and bike parks, improvements in bike geometry and components, and growing interest in televised mountain bike events and competitions. Demand for new bikes has skyrocketed as a more riders hit the trails.
The upfront cost of this sport can feel overwhelming, but there are affordable options if you’re just getting started. Whether it’s a full suspension downhill shred machine or hardtail cross country bike, there is a budget friendly mountain bike option here for you. Many brands offer at least one, if not many, affordable mountain bikes in their lineup, and many of the ones I’ve selected cost under $2,000.
Best Cheap Mountain Bikes
- Best Cheap Hardtail: Specialized Rockhopper Expert 29 / 27.5
- Best Cheap Full Suspension: Marin Rift Zone 2
- Jack of All Trades: Marin Bobcat Trail 4
- Great Value and Performance: Rocky Mountain Growler 20
- Great First Trail Bike: Kona Mahuna
- Great First Race Bike: Trek Marlin 7
- Affordable and Reliable: Batch—The Disc Brake Mountain Bike
- Best Women-Specific Trail Bike: Scott Contessa Scale 930
- Hardtail with Dropper Post: Kona Honzo
- Affordable Mixed-Wheel “Mullet”: Santa CruzbChameleon D MX
- Cheapest Race-Ready Hardtail: Giant Talon 1
- Best Combo of Grip and Speed: Giant Stance 29 2
- Boost Spacing and Tubeless-Ready Wheels: Cannondale Trail 4
- Good for Commutes and Trail Rides: Trek 820
How to Buy an Affordable Mountain Bike
Frame size and wheel size are the most important factors to find the right fit for your mountain bike. Frame sizes typically run S, M, L, and XL and are determined based on your height. Some brands also offer XS and XXL frames and custom sizing. Many brands provide a frame size chart on their website to help you select the correct size.
The majority of adult mountain bikes come in either 27.5-inch or 29-inch wheels. Generally, larger 29-inch wheels offer more speed and stability while 27.5-inch wheels deliver a more responsive “snappy” feel as smaller wheels accelerate a bit faster. Many shorter/smaller riders prefer a 27.5-inch wheel while taller riders might opt for a 29-inch version, but the best guidance is to test both sizes before making a purchase.
Also note that tubeless compatible rims allow for a tubeless tire in the future. With a tubeless tire, you can run lower tire pressure making the tire more grippy for technical terrain as well as reducing your overall bike weight.
For those willing to try something unique, a new style of bike has emerged in the last few years. The mixed wheel or “mullet” mountain bike is configured with a 29-inch wheel in front and a 27.5-inch wheel in the rear. Some versions of the mixed wheel bike—with 26-inch wheels—have been in existence since the early 2000s, but the concept evolved after 27.5-inch wheels became standard around 2013. Since then many brands have experimented with the idea and the “mullet” is now a production offering from big-brand companies.
In 2019, the UCI (the Union Cycliste Internationale, governing body for World Cup mountain bike races) even relaxed its restrictions and it now accepts mixed-wheel bikes in competitions. This style of mountain bike is suited for fast, technical terrain by providing more control in the front and more clearance in the rear. It’s best for more advanced riders.
Almost all of the bikes here are equipped with one-by (1x) drivetrains meaning there’s a single chainring on the crank. These drivetrains are simpler, lower maintenance, quieter, and less likely to drop the chain compared to 2x or 3x drivetrains. At the rear, most of these bikes have 10, 11, or 12 speeds which offer more range and tighter jumps between gears. There are even less expensive mountain bikes with 2x or 3x drivetrain options, but we have focused on newer and more advanced mountain biking technology. In addition, 1x drivetrains are 15-to-20 percent lighter than 2x and 3x ones which can make a big difference in climbing steep terrain.
There are two types of suspension for a basic mountain bike—hardtail or full suspension. Hardtail mountain bikes have a front fork suspension; full suspension bikes have both front fork suspension and rear suspension. A hardtail bike will usually be lighter, easier to climb, and better for cross country style mountain biking than a full suspension bike which offers more comfortable riding through technical terrain, a cushier feel, and is better equipped for downhill riding that involves jumps or drops.
The decision—hardtail or full suspension—is dependent on your riding style and budget. If you go with a full suspension bike, be prepared to pay extra as these are more expensive than hardtails. Since I prefer a mix of rugged technical and steep terrain as well as machine-built berms and flow trails, a full suspension bike fits my needs. If you prefer to stick to less technical cross-country trails, a hardtail may be a better fit.
A standard seatpost is adjustable by hand to the height of the rider. Many riders will lower their seatpost when riding downhill to allow more maneuverability and then raise it again when climbing uphill. A dropper seatpost or “dropper” is an integrated cable (or in some cases electronic) which allows the rider to quickly adjust the height of the saddle with the use of a lever usually located on the handlebar. This saves time and eliminates the inconvenience of making manual adjustments. But, of course, this technology adds cost to your overall bike purchase.
How We Tested/Evaluated These Mountain Bikes
The majority of these bikes have been ridden by our Bicycling team of test editors. Some of these bikes are new for the 2022-2023 season and, therefore, not all of the latest releases have been tested. However, based on our testing experience with the brand and testing of the older models, we are confident in our recommendations. Many factors are at play when determining which bikes are worth recommending including value, quality of parts/components, our experience riding similar models, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended rider. These are the best affordable mountain bikes you can buy right now.
Travel: 80-100mm based on frame size | Drivetrain: SRAM SX 12-speed | Wheel Size: 29-in. or 27.5-in. | Dropper Post: No
The Rockhopper Expert boasts three components that you don’t always see at this price, and which make the bike as capable as some options that cost much more: tubeless-ready wheels and tires, a 1×12-speed drivetrain, and an air-spring fork. Just one of these features would set it apart from other bikes in this category. Factor in the wheels and drivetrain and you’ve got a special bike on your hands. Although it can handle extremely rocky and technical trails, it’s most at home on flow trails and moderately technical terrain.
READ FULL REVIEW ROCKHOPPER 27.5
Travel: 130mm | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 12-speed | Wheel Size: 29-in. | Dropper Post: Yes
The Rift Zone 2 is the 29er version of the Bicycling Editors’ Choice-winning Marin Hawk Hill. This bike gets larger wheels, which roll over rocks and other features more easily and add some stability as you pick up speed. With 125mm of travel, the Rift is great for trail rides, especially on technical terrain, and can even work for some light-duty racing. A 1x drivetrain, dropper post, hydraulic disc brakes, and tubeless-ready wheels make the Rift Zone 2 stand out—few bikes at this price include all these features. But those are only some of the reasons why we fell for it. Marin also got the geometry just right. It simply took the winning dimensions of the Hawk Hill and adapted them for bigger wheels.
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Travel: 120mm | Drivetrain: SunRace 9-Speed | Wheel Size: 27.5-in. or 29-in. | Dropper Post: No
This is a great value hardtail with modern geometry for the more recreational rider who is looking to hit more singletrack and advance their skills. The fastback seat stay design provides a comfortable ride while still giving way to efficient power transfer. Custom wheel sizing is a perk and a size M can select between the 27.5 inch or 29-inch sizing. The Bobcat Trail 4 comes stock with WTB Trail Boss tires—known for great traction in technical terrain—making this a solid purchase for the rider who wants to advance to more aggressive singletrack. Another major bonus: this mountain bike comes with internal cable routing to add a dropper seatpost in the future.
Travel: 130mm | Drivetrain: MicroShift Advent 10-speed drivetrain | Wheel Size: 29-in. | Dropper Post: Yes
The Growler 20 isn’t flashy, extra light, or super fast. But the latest version of this utilitarian aluminum hardtail got some upgrades, including more travel in the form of a 130mm Suntour fork and 29-inch wheels. The stock rims can be set up tubeless for a smoother ride, better traction, and fewer flats when paired with the tubeless-compatible tires. A built-in dropper post lets you quickly lift and lower your saddle with the simple press of a lever so climbing and downhill ripping are both more ergonomic and more comfortable.
Travel: 100mm | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 11-speed | Wheel Size: 29-in. | Dropper Post: No
This is an excellent first trail bike. Its 100mm of suspension with 29-inch wheels provides a smooth ride ready to explore single track as well as handle roots and rocks with control. Bottom line: This option is a great value for an entry-level mountain bike with solid components and modern design. The Maxxis Forekaster tires are fast and responsive and the WTB rims can easily be swapped out to tubeless for a smoother ride. It’s the perfect cross-country style bike at a very reasonable price.
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Travel: 100mm | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 10-speed | Wheel Size: 27.5-in. (XS/S) or 29-in. (M/L/XL/XXL) | Dropper Post: No
One of the cheapest bikes on this list, The Marlin 7, which also comes in a women’s version, is ideal for aspiring racers, everyday trail riders, and casual commuters alike. Riders who like to pedal fast will appreciate its steep, aggressive head and seat angles, and a high bottom bracket that offers decent pedal clearance on the trail. Its cables are internally routed, too, which isn’t common on bikes at this price. It has a 1×10-speed Shimano drivetrain that provides plenty of gearing options and simplifies shifting decisions. And even though the RockShox Judy 100mm coil-spring fork is heavier than some comparable air-spring models, it does a surprisingly good job on super-rocky trails. Add to that the 2.2-inch-wide Bontrager tires on 29-inch Bontrager Connection rims, which never squirmed too much on sketchy terrain, and you have a bike that not only looks fast but also offers the kind of sharp handling and precise steering you’d expect from higher-priced racing models.
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Travel: 100mm (80mm XS) | Drivetrain: Shimano Altus 9-speed | Wheel Size: 26-in. (XS), 27.5-in. (S), 29-in. (M/L) | Dropper Post: No
This is a great first mountain bike equipped with modern technology—front suspension, disc brakes, a lightweight aluminum frame, and 1x drivetrain. Best for flowy trails and mellow climbs, this entry-level bike won’t perform as well in aggressive, technical terrain or steep climbs but is a great value for an all-around modern mountain bike.
Travel: 110mm | Drivetrain: Shimano SLX Deore 12-speed | Wheel Size: 27.5-in. (XS/S) or 29-in. (M/L) | Dropper Post: No
This women’s specific hardtail delivers high end performance at a value. The Contessa can handle moderate singletrack and moderate downhill, but a major plus on this design is the 12-speed drivetrain along with Scott’s RideLoc remote lockout feature which allows the rider to lock the suspension for a cleaner, more efficient climb.
Travel: 120mm | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 11-speed | Wheel Size: 29-in. | Dropper Post: Yes
The Honzo, first produced back in 2012, has only gotten better. This is the perfect bike for the rider who is looking to move into more technical terrain and cross-country riding. The integrated dropper post allows for a quick transition from uphill to downhill and perfect for a trail with mixed terrain. Complete with a 1×11 Shimano Deore drivetrain and 120mm RockShox Recon fork, the Honzo rides smooth even in rocky, twisty single-track.
Travel: 130mm | Drivetrain: SRAM SX 12-speed drivetrain | Wheel Size: 29-in. front / 27.5-in. rear | Dropper Post: Yes
Like a Chameleon, this bike can shapeshift for any rider. Santa Cruz designed this ride with customization in mind. You can easily swap between a full 29-inch wheel setup or the mixed 29-inch front / 27.5-inch rear configuration. Customizing to the “Business in the front, party in the back” model provides stability up front while still allowing for playful flow and quick switchbacks in the rear. The low-angle top tube and geometry of this bike enable a variety of configurations and riding types. Climbing is a breeze with SRAM’s 12-speed drivetrain and the 130mm RockShox Rekon front fork handles the technical gnar with ease. The SDG dropper post adds a quick shift for climbing. Although this is the most expensive bike included here, the customization, top-end components, and the Santa Cruz notoriety make this an excellent value.
Travel: 100mm (80mm in sizes XS/S) | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain | Wheel Size: 27.5-in. (XS/S) or 29-in. (M/L/XL/XXL) | Dropper Post: No
This hardtail is an excellent choice for both the dirt-curious wanting to explore singletrack and active riders game to try their hand at racing. The 100mm RockShox Judy fork is one of the best coil-sprung forks you’ll find—it does a remarkable job on rough, rugged trails. The Shimano 1×10 drivetrain comes with an 11-42 cassette and a 32t chainring, giving riders a wide range of gears that’s good for both hauling the mail on pavement and noodling up long, steep climbs. Like the Trek Marlin 7, this bike is equally well-suited to entry-level racing as it is to recreational rides. It shares many of the same attributes as the Marlin, but a shorter reach and lower stack make it a good alternative for riders who want a more upright and comfortable riding position. Possibly the Talon’s best feature, and a big perk on a bike at this price, are the tubeless-ready aluminum rims (although you’ll need new tires, sealant, and valves).
Travel: 130mm | Drivetrain: Shimano 12-speed drivetrain | Wheel Size: 29-in. | Dropper Post: No
We’ve loved the Stance with 27.5-inch wheels, and we’re stoked to see that Giant is now offering the low-cost full-suspension bike with smoother-rolling 29-inch wheels. The updated geometry is optimized for the larger wheels, and the bike retains the Aluxx aluminum frame and FlexPoint rear-suspension system. The end result is a bike with a 120mm shock, a 130mm fork, 1×12 drivetrain, and tubeless-ready 2.35-inch tires that can roll quick and bite hard into the trail. It’s an excellent combination: The bike rides better than you’d expect out of any $1,800 full-suspension bike, let alone those that cost far more. The suspension is good enough to smooth out rocks and bumps, and the whole thing is damn light—30 pounds for a size small.
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Travel: 100mm | Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain | Wheel Size: 27.5-in. or 29-in. | Dropper Post: No
This bike has all of the major elements you need for hitting the trails as well as cruising around town. The Trail 4 build allows for future customizations based on the rider’s preferences and needs. The frame features front and rear Boost Axle spacing making it easy to swap the wheels out, internal cable routing ready for a dropper post installation and it has two water bottle cage mounts inside the front triangle. The head and seat angles are steeper than comparable bikes making seated climbing a more manageable task. This bike is a smooth ride at a great price.
Travel: 75mm | Drivetrain: Shimano TZ500, 14-28, 7-speed 3x drivetrain | Wheel Size: 26-in. | Dropper Post: No
The 820 is Trek’s answer to people who just want a solid, reliable, and affordable bike to ride. With a steel frame, a fork with 75mm of travel, and 26×2-inch-wide tires, the 820 is labeled as an entry-level hardtail mountain bike. It’s ideal for college students looking for a reliable commuter and a way to explore local trails, or a family looking to buy a bike that several people can use for a variety of purposes. A seven-speed Shimano Tourney groupset, with a 42/34/24 crank and a 14-28 cassette, will enable almost any level of rider to get where they’re going.
BI: Should I upgrade to tubeless tires?
K.L.: Some bikes we’ve recommended come stock with tubeless ready rims allowing for a quick swap to tubeless tires later on. If you’ve ever dealt with a pinch flat and laborious fix mid-ride, you should strongly consider upgrading to a tubeless option. A tubeless tire uses a liquid sealant instead of a tube, and with no tube there is nothing to pinch. You can also run your tires at a lower pressure which can give more overall traction to the tire as it lends to more surface area/tread of the tire in contact with the ground. If you’re advancing to more technical and steep trails, you will also have an advantage with tubeless tires. If your bike is not already set up with tubeless ready rims, you’ll need to purchase a new wheelset which can be pricey—which is why a tubeless ready (TR) setup is a bonus when purchasing a new bike. The flipside to this is that you will need to carry a bit more gear to handle flats in the field and that includes sealant, CO2, tire plugs, and a spare tube if required for larger holes that can’t be quickly fixed.
BI: What is Boost spacing and why should I care about it?
K.L.: Boost spacing refers to the width of the front and rear axles—a “Boost” of 10mm to the front and 6mm to the rear. This addition adds more strength and rigidity to the wheels, frame, and fork resulting in an all-around sturdier bike. Historically, mountain bikes had 135mm rear and 100mm front spacing which was then replaced by 142mm rear spacing. With the adoption of 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheels becoming the standard over dated 26-inch wheels, the standard Boost spacing was born, growing to 148mm rear spacing with a 12mm rear axle and 110mm front hub spacing with a 15mm front axle. This increase resulted in more stability for bikes with bigger rims and tires. If you’re looking for a mountain bike to grow with then standard boost spacing should be considered. Some manufacturers are now promoting a Super boost which increases the rear spacing to 157mm for even more stiffness and durability. For the most part, you should look for a bike with the standard 148mm rear / 110mm front spacing.
BI: Should I test ride a bike?
K.L.: Ride before you buy! And not just a casual lap around the block of your local bike shop. If you plan to invest in a new mountain bike, it’s important that it meets your needs based on your size and riding style. Many bike shops offer demos for a reasonable daily rate. And in some cases, they will subtract the demo fee if you end up purchasing the bike. Take the time to get on dirt and ride a variety of trails before committing to a purchase. Another great option: Look for demo days at nearby bike parks or trail systems. This is a great way to check out a variety of brands, talk with knowledgeable reps, and demo different models.