What’s the Best Entry Level Mountain Bike? Top 5 Revealed
Mountain biking may be one of the most fun things you can do--but it certainly isn’t a cheap hobby. If you’re new to mountain biking, we’re here to help you find the best entry level mountain bike whether you’re on a strict budget or you’re ready to go all in.
Below, you can find our top picks for best entry level mountains, but keep reading for a complete buyer’s guide that includes helpful information on fit, getting started, and saving money on your first bike.
How We Chose Our Ratings
More than most things, if you’re shopping for a mountain bike, you need something reliable and enjoyable. If it’s not reliable, you could very well end up miles away in the middle of nowhere with a broken bike, and a bike that’s not fun to ride might completely turn you off from the sport.
That’s why we’ve been very careful to do as much research as possible, collecting data on the bikes themselves as well as reviews and testimonials from people who own and use the bikes regularly. We want you to feel comfortable you’re getting information that will be extremely valuable and helpful!
Top 5 Best Entry Level Mountain Bikes
All of our recommendations are for hardtail bikes (more on why in the buyer’s guide). Just because you’re a beginner doesn’t mean you necessarily want the cheapest bike possible, so but we’re dividing our picks into bikes under $ and bikes under $$$.
If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll also find tips in the buyer’s guide for getting the most bike for as little as possible.
Diamond Overdrive 29 1
Giant ATX 27.5 2
Cannondale Catalyst 4
Gravity G29 SS
Diamond Overdrive 29 1
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Diamondback is well known for making high-quality bikes at affordable prices. The Overdrive 29 is one of our favorites because it delivers on all those counts. It’s got 29” wheels, meaning you’ll let of speeds with relatively little effort, perfect for beginners who need to make sure they’re enjoying themselves right out of the gate.
The Overdrive 29 1 has a handbuilt aluminum frame that responds beautifully to jumps and all kinds of features, making this bike competitive outside the $$$ range (it’s somewhere in the $$ right now). Hands down, this is one of our favorites when it comes to the best entry level mountain bike.
It’s hard not to love a bike that’s got the legendary status this one has. If you want chops on the trail, the Specialized Rockhopper will certainly earn it! Some models climb past $$$, but you can get a completely decent bike for several hundred less than that.
The Specialized Rockhopper is a hardtail model that handles cross-country and trail loops equally well. You get extremely high-quality disc brakes, drivetrains, and suspensions, no matter which Rockhopper model you end up with, and you’ll appreciate the custom fork houses that give you a stiff, solid ride while providing maximum durability.
The final reason to love this bike is that it comes in so many sizes, wheel sizes, and models, so if you like how rides, you’re sure to find the perfect customized package; no additional modifications necessary.
Giant ATX 27.5 2
Edging slightly closer to the $$ level than the Gravity G29 SS, the Giant ATX 27.5 2 is a step up regarding upgraded components and the fact that it’s a hardtail with a suspension on its front wheels and not a rigid suspension. You’ll appreciate this when you start hammering away at descents and jumps.
It comes in a very wide variety of colors, so if that matters to you, you’ll be happy about this model. Plus, the derailleur is attached to the frame by a hook, and not attached to the frame itself, meaning if your bike brakes at that spot, it will be an easy fix.
The 27.5” wheel size is popular with a lot of riders because it grows with them from moving quickly on the trails to easily approaching ascents. All-around, a great bike for less than $$!
Diamond Back Overdrive 27.5
- Aluminum alloy hard tail frame is tried and true
- Custom formed and butted tubing for great balance of strength and weight
- Suspension fork provides added control and comfort on the trail
- Shimano drivetrain is a staple of reliability
- Mechanical disc brakes offer great stopping power
Another affordable pick (this one’s about $$), the Overdrive 27.5 from Diamondback gets good marks from most mountain bikers when it comes to finding the best entry level mountain bike. As a company, Diamondback focuses heavily on its frames, and you can see the results here in this butted aluminum frame that is both precise and nimble.
The Diamondback Overdrive has 27.5” rims and disc brakes, and paddle shifters that are a distinct upgrade over traditional rotary shifters. Some people do complain about its weight, however, so keep that in mind.
Gravity G29 SS
- Simple Single Speed Handling
- Rigid Fork
- Tektro Novela Disc Brake 160mm Rotor front and rear
- WTB NANO or PROWLER SL RACE, 29x2.1 (No Choice. Most are coming with Nano 2.1)
- WTB SPEED DISC 29x32H, Black anodized Aluminum Rims
Is a rigid suspension the best ride? No. Does this bike check all the boxes for us? No. But it is about $, and if that’s all you can afford, we love it because it gets you on the trail! It’s a single speed, rigid frame bike whose stark simplicity lends it a sort of appeal. However, if we’ve given you the idea that you’re not going to enjoy riding this bike, we’ve done you a disservice, because that’s far from the truth.
Here’s what this bike does right: it’s got a threadless stem that gives it extra support and stability (riders frequently refer to this bike as “solid”), and 29” wheels, which makes riding fast fun and easy. It’s a terrific, basic bike that’s sturdy enough to try things with. And since it’s a budget buy, you don’t have to be worried about breaking anything.
If you like these five bikes but want to keep looking--or if you want to better understand which of these bikes is the best entry level mountain bike for you, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about purchasing your first mountain bike.
Buyer’s Guide To Entry Level Mountain Bikes
Mountain biking isn’t a hobby you just fall into, and hopefully you have a helpful friend, family member, or coworker who can walk you through the basics and take you for your first ride. If not, or you just want to be extra prepared, we’ve put together an excellent guide covering what you need to find a great entry level mountain bike.
Hardtail Vs. Full Suspension
One of the very first things you’ll need to decide is whether you’re getting a rigid, hardtail, or full suspension. This decision will impact your trail ride and, just as important; it will impact how much you pay for the bike.
Bikes without any suspension at all are called rigid suspension mountain bikes. These are less common, though they’re gaining popularity as they’re commonly the suspension choice for fat tire bikes, whose tires act as suspension.
These bikes are often less expensive, and while sometimes fat tire, rigid suspension can be good choices for beginners because of their simplicity and ease of use, if you’re planning on sticking with mountain biking for the long haul, we recommend upgrading to a hardtail or a full suspension.
A full suspension mountain bike has a suspension kit on both wheels; a hardtail has a solid rear and a suspension on the front tire. You will have a hard time finding a good mountain bike with a full suspension for less than $$$, and it’s not always worth it since it will require additional maintenance. Most beginners do well to start with a hardtail.
What Kind Of Frame?
Another huge price driver when it comes to choosing the best entry level mountain bike is the frame material and construction. The material the frame is made with--aluminum alloy, carbon fiber, alloy, etc.--impacts the final cost, and how well the bike is constructed impacts the final cost.
Aluminum alloy is one of the most popular choices for beginner and intermediate level bikes because it is strong yet relatively light, and it’s not extremely costly.
Carbon fiber is extremely strong and very light, but it costs a ton of money. Aluminum alloy is probably more than sturdy enough for most of the jumps and spills you’ll be taking when you start, though if your budget allows for carbon fiber, go for it!
Choose Disc Brakes, Never Rim Brakes
A manufacturer might try to talk you into rim brakes to cut cost corners, but don’t listen. Disc brakes are the superior choice, hands down, every time. If you’re looking for the best entry level mountain bike, you’re prioritizing safety, which means you’re going with the industry standard for stopping power.
What Size Do You Want Your Tires To Be?
Bikes used to only come with 26” tires, but now they’re available in 26”, 27.5”, and 29”. 26’ers have a higher angle of attack, meaning you’ll be able to handle features more easily, but 29’ers are more efficient when it comes to pedaling and speed. 27.5’ers tend to be just right for a lot of people, but you can pay for more a 27.5” or 29” tire.
Sometimes, you can get a 26+ or a 27.5+, which means the tire is just a tad fatter than regular tires the same size. This can also make pedaling easier and more efficient, though it’s not something you’ll want as you increase in expertise.
How Many Gears Should Your Mountain Bike Have?
Mountain bikes can have more than 30 gears and as few as one. How many yours comes with should be a calculation based on how complicated your terrain will be and how comfortable you are with changing gears.
Frankly, for almost all mountain biking newbies, we recommend keeping things as simple as possible. Lots of gears often mean first-time riders are afraid of them and struggle to use them correctly--it’s much better to have a simple set that you can click through, at least until you hit expert level.
Must-Haves In A Mountain Bike
A lot of the choices we’ve already outlined depend on your budget and personal preferences, but if you want to make sure you’re getting the best entry level mountain bike, the following are non-negotiable:
Make Sure Your Derailleur Isn’t Connected to the Frame
The derailleur is part of the crankshaft and moves the chain from one rear cog to another when you shift gears. It’s a weak point on your bike, which means that if it’s connected directly to your bike’s frame, there’s a good chance that your frame will break if it breaks.
Falls and spills are part of the game when you take up mountain biking, and if your frame breaks when that happens, not only are you hiking back with your bike on your shoulder, but you’re out of a bike altogether since that can’t be fixed. Instead, look for a bike that connects the derailleur to the frame with a metal hook or extra part. This way, if it breaks, you just swap out the derailleur for a new part--much less expensive than replacing your whole bike.
Get a Threadless Stem
The stem is the part of the bike that connects the fork--the part that holds the front wheel--to the handlebars. Yours should be threadless; if it is, you’ll see pinch bolts at the stem and bolts that connect it to the handlebar. A quill stem, which is a cheaper option usually, is older, and you’ll struggle to find replacement parts. Just don’t do it.
Quick Release Wheels Only
Again, when it comes to identifying the best entry level mountain bike for you, don’t compromise when it comes to the wheels. Make sure they’re quick release. This means that they have levers that allow you to swap out the wheels without needing tools, vital for mountain biking.
Get a Quality Crankshaft
A big indicator of the quality of your bike’s crankshaft is whether or not the crank and chainring assembly are modular and bolted, or if they’re riveted together. If they’re riveted, replacement is extremely difficult. If they’re modular, it’s much easier. Plus, you can upgrade a modular unit.
Get the Right Size for You
In addition to your wheel size, you’ll also need to look at the size of the bike, itself. Any decent bike shop will be able to help you appropriately size a bike for your height and frame because there’s nothing worse than trying to bike without a big that’s the wrong size.
However, if you’re buying your bike online, any good online bike seller should have very clear guidelines about the size bike that’s right for you. A lack of clear instructions, in our opinion, indicates the company doesn’t take mountain biking very seriously.
Tips For Getting More Bike For Less Money
No doubt about it; mountain biking is expensive. However, with these tips, you can maximize your dollars!
Get a Cheaper Bike and Upgrade Parts
As long as the bike you get is good-quality, you may be able to save some money by forgoing the factory extras and doing upgrades yourself. You can, for example, install wider, knobbier tires, and then run them at a lower pressure for a squishier feel.
You can add a chain guide if you find yourself doing lots of jumps and losing your chain, or if you’re just tired of hearing yours slap around. You can also upgrade the pedals and fork fairly inexpensively.
Any upgrades outside of those two, however, will likely be so expensive that you should just buy an upgraded bike altogether.
Particularly if you have a good friend who can go with you to check the bike to spot problems, buying used is a great way to save some money on an excellent bike. Mountain bikes tend to hold their value so you’ll probably have to wait a long time to find an outright steal, but if you’re willing to wait, you can often find a good deal.
If you’re worried about doing the tune-up yourself, most bike shops can help you with that. While we’re on the topic of the second-hand market, keep in mind that because bikes hold their value so well, you’ll likely be able to sell yours for a good sum, too, when you’re ready to upgrade.
Look for Last Year’s Model
You can often find discounts or clearance sales on last year’s models, especially when new models come out. Cultivate a relationship with your local bike shop to make sure you get notified!
Nothing is more fun than hitting the trails with a brand new mountain bike; now that you know which to choose, you should be on your way in no time!
Last update on 2021-10-18 at 01:23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API