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Best Mountain Bikes Under $500 | 2015 Reviews
Finding the best mountain bike under $500 can be a challenge. You will need to know what makes a good mountain bike (aka an MTB). Also, why there seems to be such a variance in prices, from as little as about $100 to well over $3000.
The more expensive MTBs are worth the extra cost and will likely have better parts, frames, and components. But a more expensive one is not necessarily the best for you. If you are just starting out or are a casual rider, you should be able to find a perfectly good bike among the most affordable mountain bikes, often between $400 and $500.
Since MTBs need to handle many types of off-road terrain; they are made to make riding on rougher surfaces easier. They, therefore, may not be as comfortable on smooth roads, as compared to road, comfort and hybrid bikes. Keep in mind that most of these bikes are more suited to riding dirt, fire trails, and easier cross-country trails. Unless you get a great deal, you're not going to find a downhill MTB or a serious x-country MTB in the sub-$500 price range.
That being said, here are some excellent MTBs for a serious beginner.
The main things to take into consideration
There are an incredible number of mountain bikes to choose from, for different terrains, sizes, and skill levels. Some things to keep in mind are where you live, suspension vs. hardtail, riding preference, and brakes.
- Where do you live?
Regardless of your riding preferences, if you do not have access to rough terrain or trails, you need to modify your choice to the kind of riding you will end up doing. For example, however much you may love riding crazy downhill shuttles, if you live in an area that only has flat and smooth trails, a real downhill bike is probably not going to be your best choice.
- Suspension or Hardtail?
Hardtail mountain bikes have a rigid frame throughout. Full-suspension mountain bikes have front and rear shocks that absorb bumps. There is much debate about whether having full suspension or a hardtail makes the best entry level mountain bike. In general, you will get more quality components for the same cash if you go for a hardtail.
They are also better for building proper riding form and instincts. Bear in mind that in a full suspension bike, the front suspension can be replaced relatively simply (though it's expensive). The rear shocks are simple to replace, but the rear suspension mechanism is very difficult and expensive to replace. So much so that often it is cheaper to buy a new bike then replace them.
- Riding preference?
Are you riding mainly for recreation, exercise, professionally, or as a serious hobbyist? Someone who rides more leisurely will not need as tough of a bike as a rider that rides more challenging trails.
- Hydraulic disc or mechanical brakes?
These different braking systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Cable brakes are more expensive and complicated to maintain. Mechanical brakes are cheaper, lighter, and easier to fix, but they don't operate as well in rainy or muddy conditions.
Size is important. You should get the right size for your height and proportions. If you find you are too stretched out or cramped, it will affect your performance by causing things like leg cramps and fatigue. If you have a bike shop near you, you can get them to help you adjust your bike so that it fits you well.
Mountain Bike Parts that are Easy to Replace
Not every part of a mountain bike needs to be top-of-the-line. These parts can be easily replaced if they break or if you decide to upgrade when you have a bigger budget:
Finally, while color and style might be important to you and aren't easy to change, it's worth compromising for a mechanically superior budget mountain bike.
Video: Mountain Bike Buying Guide
What Are the Different Kinds of Mountain Bikes?
You may not know that there are different categories of mountain bike, but there are! Here are some:
- Cross country (XC):
Cross country bikes are good for all-around use, able to handle both uphill and downhill treks. They do not weigh too much, yet still tough. Weight is a significant factor when making an ascent. For bikes that are under or about $500, and is reasonable bike you would probably have to go for a hardtail bike.
- Trail bikes:
These bike is geared towards riding regular terrain and are made to handle both uphill and downhill riding pretty well. They tend to be lighter than XC mountain bikes with good suspension. Here you will find a greater percentage of MTBs with reasonable quality dual suspension, but again you get a better quality usually with only front suspension if you plan to stay under $500. The aim is more for comfort rather than speed or dealing with challenging, technical trails.
- All-mountain (AM):
Another versatile uphill and downhill bike that will be a little heavier and stronger than an XC bike.
- Downhill (DH):
These bikes are made just for going downhill. They usually have hydraulic disc brakes, full front, and rear suspension, and have heavier frame components.
- Freeride (FR):
Freeriding includes a lot of jumping and technical stunts. Bikes for freeriding are similar to downhill bikes, but with steeper head tube angles and shorter wheelbases for stability. The suspensions is designed for strength and durability.
- Dirt jump:
Bikes for jumping often have rigid hardtail frames and lower standover height, making it easier to maneuver the bike to do all kinds of tricks in the air. They are built to be both strong and lightweight.
Best Cheap Mountain Bike Brands
When looking for bikes in this price range, you'll find that some brands have specialized in selling good-quality merchandise at a lower price range.
Some of the best brands with bikes less than $500 are Diamondback, Schwinn, Giant, and Trek.
Best Affordable Hardtail Mountain Bikes
If your budget is $500 or less, hardtails are generally better quality for your money to a similarly priced full suspension bike.
Best Inexpensive Mountain Bike: Diamondback Overdrive 29'er
At the moment, you can buy the Diamondback Overdrive 29er from just over $400, depending on the size, and it's hard to find a better bike at this price. Its components are better-than-average. They're not top quality, but you'll be happy with them.
The Diamondback Overdrive is a hardtail bike—meaning it has a rigid frame. The frame has a sturdy build with nice clean lines and is probably the best quality frame you will find at this price. The 29-inch wheel gives you greater distance per cycle with less effort, as well as superb clearance of obstacles.
- Butted 6061-T6 aluminum frame
- SR Suntour XCT 29" 100mm fork
- 8 speed Shimano Drivetrain with Easy fire Trigger Shifters
- SL-7 Diamondback Double Wall Rims
- Tektro IO Plus Mechanical Disc Brakes with 6" rotors
Diamondback Response Mountain Bike with 29-Inch Wheels
A bestseller, the Diamondback Response is a great all-around trail bike. Not only is this one of the top MTBs under $500, but it is sturdy, with a solid lightweight frame, and quality components. It also has a beautiful sleek look.
Many of the components are pre-assembled, so assembly is relatively smooth, and there should be no difficulty in dealing with the derailleurs. The Diamondback Response is good quality, pretty cheap, and great for both beginners and experienced bikers.
Diamondback Response: Pros and Cons
- Incorporates some of the newest eco-technology to create a lightweight hardtail that is sturdy while minimizing damage to the earth.
- Rides smooth and is well-balanced for jumps and carving turns.
- The lever-activated shifters are authoritative and click into place cleanly and instantly.
- The double-wall rims and alloy linear pull brakes are pretty smooth for non-disc brakes.
- Good, smooth front shocks for the price.
- The saddle can be uncomfortable on a long ride, but this is easy to deal with by getting a good quality seat, such as the Sunlite Cloud-9 Bicycle Suspension Cruiser Saddle.
- The pedals are plastic, but you can upgrade them with better quality all-metal pedals such as the Diamondback Sound Pedal.
- After assembly, it needs a full tuning, preferably at a good bike shop before you can start riding it.
Best Full-Suspension Mountain Bike for Under $500
While a hardtail will give you the most bang for your buck, these days, you can still find a reasonable-quality full-suspension MTB for less than $500. Whether used or new, you can find a worthy bicycle, even if it is not top caliber. They will work for most casual riders. You can enjoy the benefits of full suspension even at this price range.
Here are some of the most affordable ones on the market. Most are pretty hard-wearing with comfortable suspension for the price.
Schwinn Protocol 1.0 Men's Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike
This Schwinn mountain bike is very popular, mostly due to its price point, for having dual suspension. For the price, it's a very sturdy bike that you will have a great time riding.
Consider your personal requirements for a bike before buying this one. The fact that the components are not top quality make this bike more suitable for regular trails rather than rough use. One definite con is the wheels, which are without question of poor quality. All in all, it's a nice starter bike for multi-use, including doing the simpler cross-country trails.
Best Women's Mountain Bikes for Under $500
Mountain bikes made for women have different frame dimensions to accommodate a woman's shorter torso, on average shorter height, and proportionately longer legs. They will also usually have the fork bar at a steeper slope than a men's or unisex bikes.
The reach from seat to handlebars is both shorter and more comfortable than it is on a men's bike, thereby significantly reducing back, shoulder, and neck strain while riding. Sizes can range from 13 inches to 19 inches, with the 15-, 16-, and 17-inch sizes being the most common.
These are especially recommended for shorter women though taller women will also enjoy some of the other distinctive features that make them ideal for women.
Diamondback Lux Women's Mountain Bike
The Diamondback Lux is an amazing women's 27.5-inch mountain bike for a very reasonable price. The components on this bike are awesome for the price. Due to the 80m travel suspension fork and 27.5 inch wheels, you will hardly feel any bumps. The large wheels will help keep all the debris on off-road trails out of your shoes and socks.
A perfect blend of hardtail performance and rugged utility, the Lux is a value-oriented bike ready for any new rider or trail enthusiast looking to jump into the 27.5-inch scene.
Schwinn Women's High Timber Mountain Bike
Another well liked women's MTB bike is the Schwinn Women's High Timber Mountain Bike. It has been one of the best selling mountain bikes for women for the last few years.
It's cheaper than some of the Diamondbacks above, Just keep in mind you do get what you pay for. Some of the components are not the same quality, and it has more plastic parts.
While it is not actually made for much more then the much less challenging timber trails, it is a reliable bike the should last you well if hose are he rails you are looking to riding.
- SRAM trigger shifters for fast gear changes.
- Alloy linear pull brakes which stop precisely.
- 21 speeds with Shimano TX-31.
- Rear derailleur for quick shifts.
Best Used Mountain Bikes Under $500
If you can't find what you're looking for in a new bike, maybe you need one with better specs. If that is the case, your best option is buying a used one.
When buying a used bike online from sites such as eBay, make sure you only buy from a seller who has made a reasonable number of sales and has excellent user feedback. If you can see the bike in person all the better, and whatever you do, don't get one that's a poor fit, even if it looks like it's the best deal ever.
Giant Mountain Bikes: Some of the Best Around
Giant produces some of the most high-quality bikes around. You can find some of their recreational bikes for less than $500, but the performance and competition ones can often cost over $3000.
Sometimes you can find a great deal on eBay for some of the more expensive models, just remember that when buying used you need to be careful about from whom you buy.
Use the Giant Bicycles Bike finder to identify a model and size that is a good fit, and then check for that make on eEbay.
Trek Mountain Bikes
Another well-known brand that you can sometimes get a good deal on if you do not mind getting a used bicycle is Trek. Trek is one of the leaders in MTB technology, incorporating new advances as quickly as they come.
One of the Trek models around $500-$800 are the Trek 4300 series sometimes you can find even better prices on eBay.