Mountain bikes are complex pieces of machinery which can be intimidating to newcomers. There’s no need to feel out of your depth though, it’s really not hard to decide on a bike once you know what to look out for. Bicycles come with a huge range in price, depending on the included features.
Many options can be unaffordable so we’ve compiled the best mountain bikes under 500 dollars, perfect for beginner and intermediate trails. There are dozens of different types of bikes, each used for a different purpose.
WHAT ARE MOUNTAIN BIKES
So what makes a mountain bike different? Mountain bikes are typically slower than road bikes, but are built with larger wheels and suspension features for easier riding on rugged ground. Most low-cost mountain bikes are hardtail models, meaning they have a rigid frame and a front suspension fork.
Full-Suspension bikes on the other hand have both front and rear suspension shocks for extra smooth riding on rough terrain, though they are more expensive models. Straight, wide handlebars allow for greater steering control while lower gears help uphill rides.
Mountain bikes also have better braking systems, which is especially important when going downhill or traveling over unpredictable terrain. You don’t need to buy a specific bike for every purpose though: mountain bikes are more than capable of transporting you around town, and can even cope with curbs, potholes, hills and other cityscape obstacles.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Now that you know what they are, here are some of the important features to consider.
- Wheel size: The size of your wheel should not be based on anything as simple as if you are male or female. Getting the right kind of wheel can make a lot of difference not only to your comfort, but also to your endurance levels and safety. Consider what style of riding you’re going to be doing and what kind of terrains you’re likely to encounter. Of course, the wheels can be changed to fit your cycling style, but if you choose the right fit in the first place, this can save you money down the line.
- Weight: Depending on what type of cycling you’re planning on, choosing the right weighted bike can be one of the most important aspects of your decision. If it’s too heavy, you’ll really feel the weight when you’re on a long trek. However, if the bike is too light, it may not be as sturdy as you need for more intense trails.
- Frame: Much of the weight in mountain bikes comes from the frame, but also the support and flexibility. The heavier bikes tend to have steel frames that are good for rugged terrains. The lighter bikes are often made of aluminum (or heat-treated aluminum)and are great for town riding or trails that aren’t going to take a toll on your bike.
- Braking system: Mountain bikes come with either linear pull brakes or mechanical disk brakes. Both have been around for a while and both work effectively. However, the disk brakes will give you real, sudden stopping power, but they do come with a higher price tag.
TOP PICKS OF MOUNTAIN BIKES
Here is a selection of some of the best mountain bikes under $500.
Dimensions: 16’’, 18’’ and 20’’ frames; 26’’ wheels.
Specific features: MTB Aluminum Hardtail frame; SR Suntour fork; Shimano EF51 shifters; alloy MTB crank; 7 speeds; Shimano front and rear derailleur; Weinmann ZAC19 doublewall 26 hole rims; Alloy QR 36 hole front and rear hub; plastic pedals with reflectors; Promax alloy V-brake.
Best use: Beginner trail riding, mountain biking, dry conditions, town riding.
The Mongoose Switchback Sport Mountain Bike rides well and presents a good introduction for newcomers to mountain bike riding. The MTB aluminum frame is solid and well reinforced with a substantial gusset for support.
There is a Suntour suspension fork which is made of steel and will smooth your ride out a bit. Although not a top-of-the-line fork, it is suitable for beginners. The tires that come with the bike serve well for town riding and dry trail riding, but they don’t have deep tread and may not cope well in wet or muddy conditions.
If you buy this bike online, it comes partially assembles, with the derailleurs already installed, but the brake cables are not. If you don’t feel confident putting a bike together yourself, you may want to take it to a shop to have it checked for safety. This bike is a reasonably priced choice for people who are new to mountain biking, starting out with relatively simple trails and slower speeds.
Related: Mongoose has created a series of Switchback bikes, including the Comp and the Expert. The Comp has Promax alloy linear pull V brakes, whereas the Expert has Promax mechanical disc brakes with 160 mm rotors and Shimano Ef51 brake levers. Both have 24 speeds.
Weight: 41 lb
Dimensions: 17’’ and 20’’ frame; 26’’ wheels.
Specific features: Butted 6061 Aluminum frame; mechanical disc brakes; Shimano EF-51 Easyfire 7sp shifters; Shimano Tourney TZ50 rear derailleur; Shimano TZ30 front derailleur; 21 speeds; suspension fork.
Best use: Starter off-road bike riders, casual rides.
The Vilano Ridge 1.0 Mountain Bike is meant for entry level mountain bikers who are looking to venture out onto trails and dirt roads, as well as riding around the roads. For a reasonable price, this bike has solid features to ease you comfortably into the mountain biking world. It has smooth gear shifters as well as both front and back derailleurs.
The 21 speeds provide plenty of versatility, with speeds to suit both trail and road riding. The mechanical disc brakes are good quality, though you will need to put them together yourself if you purchase online. This bike comes partly assembled, but the instructions are clear and simple – always a plus when it comes to DIY assembly.
Some complaints have been made about the shock absorbers in this bike, but as it’s designed for newcomers, this probably isn’t the bike to take for extremely tough or uneven terrain. This bike is relatively feature- rich for a budget mountain bike, without making things too complicated for beginners who want to ride both on the street and try their luck on basic trails.
Related: For an upgrade with only a slight price increase, check out the Vilano Deuce 650B. It’s similar to the Ridge, but with 24 speeds, instead of 21, and the addition of double wall alloy rims.
Dimensions: 17’’, 19’’ and 21’’ frame; 29’’wheels.
Specific features: Steel hardtail 29er MTB frame; Shimano 7-speed drive train; 75mm travel suspension fork; alloy V-brakes.
Best use: Trail riding, mountain bike riding, road riding.
Nashbar’s AT1 29er Mountain Bike has huge wheels for dominating rough ground. The 29-inch wheels are sturdy and allow you to smoothly roll over debris and course terrain. The Drivetrain has 7 speeds for riding on level surfaces as well as performing well uphill. It allows you to choose your own speed on any incline, which gives a real boost when you’re starting out on tougher trails.
The frame is made of steel, which enhances durability and strength, as well as trail responsiveness. This also adds weight however, so be aware that this bike is a bit on the heavy side, especially if you’re going to be riding uphill a lot.
One con of this bike is that it doesn’t come with assembly instructions, leaving inexperienced cyclists clueless about how to put it together. If you’re not used to putting bikes together, have a look at other bikes to see how they are constructed or search online for help. Better yet, take it to a bike shop for a professional job.
The AT1 29er is a great upgrade bike for cyclists who are looking to take the next step and really start to explore backcountry terrain without breaking the bank.
Related: If you’re not looking for a large wheel size, the Nashbar AT1 Mountain Bike has 21’’ wheels. It is the same price as the 29er, but not as big, with a smaller travel suspension fork and smaller frames sizes available.
Weight: 47.6 lb
Dimensions: 18’’ frame; 27.5’’ wheels
Specific features: Schwinn aluminum mountain frame; Schwinn suspension fork; Shimano twist shifters; 21 speeds; Shimano rear derailleur; alloy V brakes; alloy wheels; 3 piece alloy crank; padded seat; Schwinn front shock system; trail ready tires; limited lifetime warranty.
Best use: Gravel, off-road trails, pavement, bike paths.
The 27.5 inch wheels and rugged tires of the Schwinn High Timber Mountain Bike make it versatile enough to use on the road and on the trail alike. Larger than those on many budget mountain bikes, these wheels are big enough to handle obstacles and rough ground, while also being small enough ride comfortably on the road.
Designed for multi-purpose use, it can be used for casual rides with the family, all the way to treks through the backcountry. The frame is aluminum, shaped in classic mountain bike style, with a fairly stiff suspension fork to absorb shocks on the trail. This model offers 21 speeds with Shimano shifters, including 7 speeds on the right hand side and adjustments on the left.
If you’re having trouble deciding which bike to go for, Schwinn’s limited lifetime warranty might be enough to sway you in their direction. It’s valid as long as you own the bike. This is a comprehensive all-around bike with a good range of features and effective use in a range of conditions.
Related: You might not just want a bike for trail riding, you may want something which can take you cruising around the city or riding for fitness on bike paths. The Schwinn Capital 700cc Hybrid Bicycle is a multi-use bike that can take you from the bike path to road riding and even hill climbing.
Weight: 43 lb
Dimensions: 26’’ wheels
Specific features: Steel mountain frame geometry; 3-piece mountain crank; linear pull brakes; SRAM drive twist shifters; alloy rims; suspension fork; 18 speed twist shifters; thick tires.
Best use: Easy-intermediate trails, path riding, town riding.
The only specific women’s bike we’ve chosen, the 26’’ Roadmaster Granite Peak Bike combines an inexpensive price with classic mountain bike features. It’s suited to beginners and seasoned riders alike, for use in town and on the trail. Roadmaster specialize in low-cost bikes.
At under $100, you wouldn’t expect state of the art features, but this bike actually performs well. It has a geometric steel frame for comfort and stability, with 18 speeds and 26 inch wheels. Thick tires and a suspension fork ensure smooth riding on uneven ground.
The steel frame does make it a heavier bike, especially for a women’s option, but this feature takes it a step up from a beginner or road bike. This bike rides well, though the seat can be a little uncomfortable for long rides, and the brakes need to be maintained regularly. If you’re looking for a cheap entry-level to intermediate bike, for a woman’s build, give this one a go.
Related: Roadmaster also sell a men’s version of this bike, the 26’’ Men’s Roadmaster Granite Peak. It is very similar to the women’s version, but the women’s one has more color options.
MERAX FINISS 26’’ ALUMINUM 21-SPEED MOUNTAIN BIKE
Specific features: Heat treated aluminum 6061 mountain frame; lightweight magnesium alloy wheels; aluminum mechanical lock out mountain bike suspension fork; Shimano 21-speed derailleurs and shifters; front and rear mechanical disc brakes system.
Best use: Easy-Moderate trails, bike paths, road riding.
The Merax Finiss 26’’ Aluminum Mountain Bike has the look of a high end bike, without the price tag of a high end bike. The design is sleek and attractive, with a sporty appearance. The aluminum frame has been heat treated to harden the material and make it less brittle. This increases durability and strength, without adding unwanted weight.
The wheels are made from magnesium alloy, to further cement the light weight of this bike. This makes it not only easy to carry, but also faster when riding on an incline. You are unlikely to get sticks or leaves stuck in the spokes of these wheels, making this a safer choice for backcountry riding.
Both the front and rear have mechanical disc brakes, which also enhance the safety of this bike, as you can reliably stop at any time. The derailleurs and shifters are quality Shimano parts, and there are 21speeds available.
When it comes to assembly, the instructions provided don’t correspond directly to this bike model, so take care when putting it together. There’s certainly no harm in taking it to a shop for a tune up, either. Overall, this lightweight bike looks great and rides well for a reasonable price.
Related: An even more affordable option by Merax is the 26’’ Aluminum 21 Speed Mountain Bike with Disc brakes. The main difference between the two bikes is the wheels; double wall aluminum rims make for easier rolling ad work well on paved trails.
Weight: 39.5 lb
Dimensions: 15’’ and 17’’ frame; 27.5’’ wheels
Specific features:6061-T6 heat-treated aluminum frame; Trail XC suspension fork; 21 gears; replaceable derailleur hanger; Shimano 7-speed derailleurs and shifters; frame eyelets; Tektro alloy linear brakes; MTB Resin pedals; 32h Diamondback XC260 Doublewall rims.
Best use: Mixed-use trails; recreational mountain biking, town riding.
The Diamondback Laurito Hardtail Mountain Bike has slightly larger wheels than most of the bikes we’ve reviewed here. The extra couple of inches in these 27.5 inch wheels make this a good bike for using on a range of different terrains. This versatile bike can be used for street riding as well as trails, with the ability to comfortably manage rocky, gravelly, and uneven ground.
The large wheels provide plenty of grip and smooth riding which can support riders of any weight. The Trail XC front suspension fork helps to smooth out those rocky paths, but make sure to keep your bike tuned up as the fork can be a little sticky. At under 40 pounds, this is a lightweight bike, making it easy to transport and handle, no matter the build of the rider.
Other handy features include an adjustable seat height, a wide, cushioned saddle, 24 speeds and a durable aluminum frame. The Diamondback Laurito is a great choice if you intend to buy one bike for us in a mix of conditions, from town riding to starting out on the trails.
Related: While the Laurito is a solid recreational bike, Diamondback Sorrento Mountain Bike is a step up if you’re looking for a recreational bike which can cope with more challenging conditions. Knobby tires and a 3 inch suspension fork help out when you encounter a bit of rougher riding.
Weight: 43 lb
Dimensions: 26’’ wheels
Specific features: Schwinn aluminum dual suspension frame with steel rear; Shimano Altus 24-spd with Shimano EF-50 trigger shifters; Pro Max front disc brake; Suntour suspension fork; MTB handlebar with Schwinn 4 bolt A-head stem; alloy high profile rims with black bladed spokes; Shimano Altus rear derailleur; 24 speed.
Best use: Single tracks, downhills, uneven terrain, road riding.
Our second choice from Schwinn, the Protocol 1.0 Dual Suspension Mountain Bike is a solid bike with excellent design. Schwinn is the oldest bike seller in the United States and one of the most trusted, and they haven’t disappointed here. This bike is supportive, with great suspension.
The frame is aluminum, with a steel rear triangle for reinforcement under the seat. This keeps the bike lightweight, with the benefit of extra steel support. The dual suspension frame absorbs the shocks you encounter on the trail, while the Suntour front fork protects your arms and shoulders from bumps.
This bike was designed to ride smoothly and with control over rough ground. The suspension is adjustable, but this may be tricky to do by yourself, so you might want to take it to a shop for a professional adjustment. Otherwise, this bike is perhaps the easiest to assemble of all the ones reviewed here.
It comes almost completely put together; all you need to do is screw in the pedals and handlebars then attach the front tire. Simple as pie, this bike is a great choice if you’re not confident with the assembly required by some of the bikes on the market.
All this, plus good quality Shimano parts and disc brakes makes this a good beginner to intermediate mountain bike.
Related: If you’re looking for a larger wheel size, try out Schwinn’s 29’’ Full Wheel Suspension Mountain Bike. A great bike for off-road riding, the huge wheels trample rocks and sticks on the trail. This bike could be an upgrade or a good choice for people who are getting more serious off-road biking.
Are you mainly going to ride the roads with the occasional Sunday trip to the country, or do you need a bike for hardcore mountains and rocky trails? Whether you’re a casual cyclist who wants to get off the road and try riding in the backcountry, or an experienced trail rider looking for a new bike, there’s something to suit you.
You don’t need to save for months to begin your trail adventures; these budget-friendly mountain bikes will serve you well on beginner to intermediate terrain, as well being a convenient option for daily use.
Do you have a favorite mountain bike under 500 dollars? If so, let us know about it in the comments!