Although our present living situation is on the up and up, we’re still a long way off from getting back to our old normal. As such, outdoor activities remain some of the safest and most engaging ways for people to continue to recreate and avoid losing their heads. Among the more popular choices this year has been mountain biking, a sport that eschews the perils of riding on the open road in favor of some high adrenaline solitude ripping through the trees. It’s an experience that’d prove even more popular were it not for one common misconception: cost.
Granted, relative to other hobbies, mountain biking is expensive — especially when you consider that some people will spend as much on a bike as they would on a used car. However, the good news is that there are plenty of capable offerings that come in well under $1,000. And while they do adhere to certain budget constraints, that’s not to say they’re any less fun out on the trail. On the contrary — courtesy of the trickle-down effect, they’re just as enjoyable as their higher-priced siblings (even if they are far more affordable). So have a read and see what we’ve picked for the best mountain bikes under $1,000.
How To Buy A Budget Mountain Bike
Key Features To Keep In Mind
Wheel Size: When it comes to wheel size, there’s not really a right answer. Rather, it’s simply a case of buying the best one for your needs. On the one hand, 27.5″ wheels are lighter, faster-rolling, and much more maneuverable through the narrows. In other words — if you’re the type of trail rider who prefers to carefully pick your line rather than charge through anything in your way, go for 27.5″. But for those who are looking for maximum traction and a more forgiving attack angle, a 29er is going to be your best bet. Sure, the wheels may take a little longer to get up to speed, but what they lack in off-the-line jump, they more than make up for in roll-over obstacle clearance.
Brakes: Although mini-V and cantilevers once reigned supreme, these days, most mountain bikes come equipped with disc brakes. That’s because discs have the advantage of being much more powerful, more modular, and far better in wet weather. Mechanical (those actuated with a cable) are generally cheaper and more user-friendly to maintain. That being said, they’re not self-adjusting, so they require consistent upkeep in order to keep them performing their best. By contrast, hydraulic disc brakes regulate their pad clearance by way of their fluid content. While they do come at a slight premium, they make for a far better set-and-forget option.
Drivetrain: At this price point, drivetrains are a bit of a mixed bag. Two-by drivetrains come with a pair of rings up front and offer a slightly finer adjustment. However, they’re much more liable to suffer chain drops when switching between one and the other. It follows then that a bike with a one-by drivetrain would come with a single chainring up front. And while you might think that it’d make for a significantly reduced range, the difference is actually negligible. So, when you consider the ease of use and the added security that they provide, one-by drivetrains often prove the superior option.
Fork Travel: Most bikes under $1,000 will come with a fork that has a travel of around 80-100mm. In general, it’s best to buy the most that you can afford. Given that each of these options is a hardtail, it’ll be you and your fork taking the brunt of each impact. The more that your suspension can absorb, the less that you yourself will feel. In practice, this means that you’ll not only be able to take more aggressive lines but also be able to carry more speed over obstacles.
If you’re looking for a solid entry into the world of two-wheeled trail shredding, you can’t get much better than the 820. As the most affordable option in Trek’s lineup, it comes well below our $1,000 threshold, making it an ideal option for those who are just starting out or those who want to save some dough. However, with its rugged steel frame, reliable Tektro mini-V brakes, and 75mm of front suspension, you’re getting a whole lotta bang for your buck.
Marin Bobcat Trail 3
For just a little bit more money, it’s worth checking out the Marin Bobcat Trail 3. First of all, you get the choice between 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes, meaning that you can pick your bike based on the terrain you’ll be riding. What’s more, it comes equipped with a set of Tektro hydraulic disc brakes at an incredible price point, giving you far better stopping power and feel. And when you consider that its SR Suntour fork offers 120mm of travel with hydraulic lockout, it makes for an option that’s pretty hard to pass up.
Trek Marlin 6
Given its price, specs, and high-quality construction, the Marlin series is one of Trek’s best-selling mountain bikes. For instance, because of its laid-back cross-country geometry and standard rack and kickstand mounts, it’s as at home doing ripping through the trees as it is on the pavement doing commuter duty. Add to that a smooth-shifting 2×8 Shimano Altus drivetrain, beefy 29″ x 2.2″ tires, as well as a Bontrager Blendr compatible cockpit, and you have a bike that punches well above its weight.
Specialized Rockhopper Comp
First introduced in 1985, the Specialized Rockhopper is one of the longest-running mountain bikes on the market, and it’s for good reason. With its Premium A1 Aluminum tubing and a smooth microSHIFT 1×9 drivetrain, it may come under well under $1,000, but it rides like any of the brand’s more expensive models. But the best part is that because of its Stout Alloy wheelset and 29 x 2.3″ Ground Control Sport tires, it can handle any obstacle in its way.
Giant Talon 1
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value proposition at this price point than Giant’s Talon 1. For starters, it comes fitted with a Shimano Deore 11-42T cassette, an addition that’ll get you up and over even the steepest of climbs. And that’s not all — it also includes a size-specific front ring based on whether you spring for 27.5″ or 29″ wheels, giving you the most range possible for your bike. Topped off with a 100mm Rock Shox Judy fork and a set of Maxxis Rekon tires, it makes for an option that can slay singletrack with the best of em.
Cannondale Trail 5
As one of the first bicycle manufacturers to embrace the use of aluminum, Cannondale is a brand that comes well-equipped to make a quality budget mountain bike. Their Trail 5 is a case in point, pairing a dropper post-compatible SmartForm C3 Alloy frame with a microSHIFT Advent X 10-speed drivetrain in order to deliver a one-two punch in accessible trail-tested performance. And because of its handlebar-mounted fork lockout, you can even alter the extent to which your suspension travels — with just the push of a button.
Of all of the bikes featured here on our list, the Kona Blast is the only one to feature an 11-speed setup. As such, it offers both a wider range as well as much smoother shifting compared to the competition, with smaller jumps between cogs equating to effortless rear derailleur action. What’s more is that even though it ships standard with a set of 27.5 x 2.35″ Maxxis Forekasters, it can clear up to 2.8” tires. To put it another way — the Blast is less of a mountain bike than it is a two-wheeled monster truck.
Rocky Mountain Growler
With 130mm of fork travel, the Rocky Mountain Growler has a broader suspension range than any of our other picks. In practice, this means that you’ll be able to roll over obstacles with far less wear on you and your wheels. And while it doesn’t include the Shimano Deore drivetrain of the above option, it does come with a Microdrive 28T chainring and a Sunrace 11-46T cassette, a combination that gives you a generous 2:1 rear to front ratio. But the best part is that thanks to its Boost wheel spacing, the Growler offers more clearance, stiffer axles, and better handling.
The 12 Best Mountain Bike Trails In America
Now that you’ve found an affordable point of entry into the sport, it’s time that you get out there and get riding. Be sure to head over to our guide to the best mountain bike trails in America for a selection of singletrack that’s sure to have you grinning ear to ear.