Don't let the word 'cheap' deter you - the best cheap mountain bikes are more trail-ready and capable than you might think. With plenty of choices, we have tailored this buying guide to help you find the right bike for your budget. Choosing a mountain bike at any price point can be tricky and there is a shed load on offer for the cash-conscious rider. Whether the cost of living of crisis is tightening its grip on your original budget or you are a complete newcomer to mountain biking, there is a bike for you.
The cheapest bikes are - typically - of the hardtail variety, meaning they utilise a rigid frame and suspension fork up front. There are also a number of cheap full-suspension bikes out there for good money. In the past, you might have been advised to steer clear of cheap full-suspension mountain bikes, but brands such as Carrera and Rockrider bring well-rated full bouncers to the lower end of the market.
Even the cheapest mountain bikes are full of features that years ago you would only find draped on the most expensive models. You can now expect the trickle-down technology to reach entry-level bikes; this includes air-sprung suspension forks, 1x drivetrains, hydraulic disc brakes and even dropper seatposts.
You can keep a look out online and at your local bike shop for deals around Black Friday and Christmas time to help your cash go further. You can often find end-of-season deals and model-year stock clearances with prices slashed on bikes that keep a similar specification and componentry; often manufacturers have only changed colourways in the very latest catalogue.
There is a lot to choose from but we've compiled a list of our favourite options below. Still unsure? Scroll down to the bottom of this article where we answer all the questions to help you find the best cheap mountain bike.
Carrera-Fury-2021-review-100.jpg, by Jon Woodhouse
The Carrera Fury is built around an aluminium frame. It gets a rather nice matte finish and subtly profiled tubing, not to mention a Shimano 1x drivetrain and dropper seatpost, the latter two of which make for an impressively specced bike.
The 45mm stem length and 760mm width bars are contemporary, reinforcing the sprightly ride characteristic of the Carrera Fury with a responsive and direct steering feel. It's hard to fault the Carrera Fury - it represents absolutely stunning value and all the kit is frankly exceptional for the cash.
It's not quite perfect - the overly tall frame being the biggest issue - but it still knocks the socks off most of its competition at this price, with the air fork and dropper post being particular highlights.
The Marin Bobcat Trail 3 combines a quality aluminium hardtail frame with a 120mm suspension fork. Not only does the Bobcat trail 3 look like a more expensive mountain bike with its internal cable routing among other features but it's also hugely capable on the trails, too.
If you're on a tight budget but still want to have a blast on challenging terrain the Bobcat Trail 3 represents a solid choice. Yes, it's hampered by the budget drivetrain and tyres, but it delivers a ride that's a disproportionate amount of fun, with proper, trail-ready geometry and genuine capability when you want to let rip.
- Make sure you read our in-depth review of the Marin Bobcat Trail 3 if you're looking for a solid performer on a budget.
The Carrera Titan X full suspension mountain bike comes equipped with a SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain and a dropper seatpost - all for under £1,000. While the geometry could do with a squeeze of contemporary flair, the rear suspension platform is superb, matching that of vastly more expensive mountain bikes.
The Titan X is a bit of a porker so riders will be thankful for the 50t cog in the cassette making life a little more bearable when the trail points upwards. The cost savings are evident on the rolling stock with unbranded wheel rims laced to no-frills hubs. The tyres are from WTB and well suited to the hard-packed UK trail centres but are not tubeless-ready.
It is evident that the Carrera Titan X is aimed squarely at mountain bike newcomers. Any rider that suits the three sizes Carrera offer will find this bike is nimble in the turns and punching well above its weight with the spec and especially the rear suspension.
GT is a brand that is rich in mountain bike heritage and famed for its unique triple triangle hardtail frame design that adds a compliant ride quality. The Aggressor Expert is not a lavish offering so it gets an 80mm coil-sprung SR Suntour fork and 3x8 gearing courtesy of Shimano. It does, however, get a 29-inch WTB wheel/tyre combination.
The geometry promotes confidence with an inspiring ride, plenty of support and stability enough that it goads you into riding faster which will unlock the bike's best attribute, its agility. All this makes the GT Aggressor Expert a great bike for riders just starting out on their mountain biking journey.
Voodoo has made a handful of changes to the flagship Bizango's geometry in order to make the bike more capable but retain everything we know and love about the bike. As such, the bike gets a slightly stretched and slackened geometry but there are a few bigger updates that help futureproof the bike for newcomers to the sport.
Thanks to Voodoo’s impressive overhaul of the Bizango for 2022, it’s become a solid bed for upgrades and is a bike you can hang onto and build up to become even more capable along with you.
You'll be hard-pressed to find something as confidence-inspiring as the Voodoo Bizango for the money. Its excellently balanced geometry makes for a quick, easy, and pleasurable ride up a hill and an impressively capable blast back down.
Sitting snugly in the mid-travel category, the Rockrider AM 100 S comes kitted with 150mm of travel up front and 140mm at the rear. It rolls on 29-inch hoops but will happily run 650b wheels if that's your style. The 6061/6013-grade aluminium frame uses a mix of external cable routing and an internally routed dropper cable, which strikes a great balance between ease of maintenance and tidiness.
Hidden neatly underneath the top tube is a Manitou McLeod shock. It comes with a four-position compression adjustment and a rebound dial. The cockpit is fairly modern, comprising a 760mm handlebar and 35mm stem. There's not a lot to complain about apart from the grips.
The Rockrider AM 100 S makes a great bike if you're new to mountain biking. It's well-sorted and can handle pretty much everything thrown its way.
How to choose the best cheap mountain bike
It is important to consider what type of riding you will be doing when looking for any new mountain bike purchase. The basis for any mountain bike is the frame. At this price point, you should be on the lookout for an aluminium frame that has the scope to cater for some choice upgrades when your wallet or your skillset is ready. For the most part, an aluminium frame will be considerably lighter than its steel stablemates but heavier than carbon fibre.
It is highly recommended that you try a new bike out for size. You can always find size details on the manufacturer's website as a place to start, but you should at least have a short test ride at your local bike shop. A poorly fitting bike will not give you the support, confidence or comfort needed to get the most out of your mountain biking experience.
Are cheap mountain bikes any good?
The myth that cheap bikes are bad is no longer true. The frame designs and the trickle-down of premium features are more prevalent today than ever before. Modern geometry and frame sizing with adjustable suspension forks and even dropper seatposts are everywhere.
Keep an eye out for a frame that has up-to-date angles (have a look at our bike geometry guide) and can easily be upgraded. Attributes such as dropper-post compatibility with neat routing, ample clearance for wider grippy tyres and possibly even tubeless-ready wheels/tyres.
What kind of money can I expect to pay for a mountain bike?
As a general rule of thumb, we advise that if you are spending £1,000 or under, you will have more choices and a better-specced mountain bike, most likely a hardtail. That is not to say that you can't get a full-suspension mountain bike - take the Carrera Titan X as an example.
With the amount of development and additional cost of a shock, hardware and moving parts full suspension bikes generally start at the £1,500 mark. Below this point, the frame will be considerably heavier with a compromised specification when compared to a hardtail of the same ilk.
Is it worth looking at second-hand mountain bikes?
Trawling the second-hand market for mountain bikes might be exciting but it does come with added risk - you will lose any warranties and money-back returns policy. It's impossible to tell how the bike was cared for and what type of terrain and conditions it was exposed to during the previous ownership.
If you're unsure about the pre-owned bike, we recommend that you visit an authorised dealer at your local bike shop and buy a new bike. They are a friendly bunch that often have years of experience selling and riding bikes. They will be able to recommend and fit you out on the correct size bike which is the best place to start for the ultimate trail experience. You can talk about budgets and your expected type of use, their feedback will often help your buying decision to ensure you have the right bike for your needs.
Hardtail vs full suspension - which one should I buy?
For the most part, you will have realised that at the entry-level end of the market the hardtail rules when it comes to value. That's not to say you can't buy a full suspension bike at this price, but the choice will be limited and often have a compromised spec to bring the price down. If you are on a tighter budget, a hardtail mountain bike will give you a better spec.
The modern hardtail will likely have more up-to-date geometry that will boost your confidence when out on the trail. The biggest names in mountain biking often won't risk their reputation on a budget full suspension bike because of the inherent compromises and low-cost componentry to get the bike under a particular price point.
As you can see from our list above, there are some brands that can piece together the puzzle of full-suspension mountain bike design for the budget-minded consumer. These performed astonishingly well during our tests with little or no sacrificing the overall performance when out on the trail.
Will I need to make any upgrades?
As evidenced from the list above of our best-performing cheap mountain bikes, they are often upgrade-ready out of the box. Every mountain biker loves to customise and make upgrades to their steed - the whole industry is based on it to some extent.
Even at the lowest point of the market, bikes will have routing for a dropper seatpost. Wide rims and acres of clearance for some serious rubber. Occasionally some will even spec tubeless-ready rims for when the cheap rubber finally wears down. We will get into tubeless upgrades in more depth later, but the best mountain bike tyres are in contact with the trail and will make some of the biggest differences to a bike's ride characteristics and handling for relatively little dosh.
The other area that will also tweak your overall experience is the three main rider contact points with the bike. The saddle, the cockpit (bars, stem and grips) and the best mountain bike pedals can make a huge difference to the feel and confidence.
Before you go spending hundreds of pounds on upgrading your mountain bike you should most definitely consider learning from a coach. We are fortunate to have some of the best and most experienced mountain bike athletes in the world residing in the UK, and many offer coaching so why not book a session to tidy up or improve on the very basic skills needed to make the most out of your mountain bike?
Should I convert my cheap mountain bike to tubeless?
Upgrading or investing in the best tubeless tyre system is one of the most cost-effective ways to transform your mountain bike and improve its performance on the trail.
You will need a tubeless-ready tyre, a tubeless valve, a sealed airtight wheel rim and of course sealant to configure a tubeless setup successfully which depending on your bike could prove costly. We have a whole guide detailing how to convert your bike's tyres to tubeless.
The main benefits of using a tubeless setup are the reduced overall rational mass of the wheels without tubes. They almost solve the problem of punctures from trail side nasties like thorns and sharp rocks and also provide more grip thanks to being able to run lower tyre pressures without the need to worry about pinch flats.
Of course, there are some things that you need to consider with a tubeless system. The sealant can make for a messy tyre change and you should still always carry at least a spare tube just in case. The sealant doesn't last forever and typically will need to be topped up every six months so. Also, it is worth remembering that running tyre pressures too low could leave you vulnerable to damaging your wheels in a heavy impact.