Best Budget Mountain Bike – Reviews and Buying Guide

Written by

A lot of first-timer riders look for the ‘best budget mountain bike’ for their maiden foray into trail riding.

That’s only fair, isn’t it?

Nobody should be blowing wads of cash on a mountain bike without knowing how committed they are to the sport.

For all you know, you might discover that it’s not your cup of tea. One of my close friends blew $2k on a full suspension mountain bike and never went for his second ride.

On the contrary, you might just discover that you like the exhilaration and the rocky terrain so much that you’ll quickly outgrow this bike and start to yearn for more upgrades. That’s what happened to me. That’s how I became the mountain biker that I am today.

In either scenario, the best affordable mountain bike fits the bill perfectly.

Well, you’d be glad to know that there are tons of options, both hardtail, and full-suspension, for the budget-minded shopper.

Unlike a few years ago, when most decent mountain bikes were priced south of $1000, it’s now very much possible to get an amazing bike for much less.

That’s where I come in.

I will be sharing with you a list of the top five cheap mountain bikes in the market in 2021 that I discovered while researching options for myself.

So, if you’re ã beginner rider who’s looking for the best affordable mountain bike, keep reading, and don’t let my HOURS of research go to waste!

Why Are Mountain Bikes Expensive?

It can be very difficult for people who are limited by their budget to find a good trail bike at a reasonable price. Taking a look at bike launches or trying to take a page from the books of professional racers can end up costing you an arm and a leg.

With that said, it’s not impossible to find a great bike at an affordable price. If you take the time to do some research on mountain bikes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the budget models on offer.

How Are MTBs Getting Cheaper?

The main reason behind mountain bikes becoming more accessible is that manufacturers are always improving their designs rather than just investing in better materials and gimmicks.

Most of the time, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. For instance, a shorter stem, a slacker head angle, or a longer top tube can dramatically enhance the bike’s overall handling experience without impacting the price too much.

Improving the design of a bike is a much better investment as it yields better results at a much lower cost. This also means that the final product will end up costing less.

Which MTB Did I End Up Choosing?

After speaking to several hardcore mountain bikers, I finally narrowed down upon the ‘Schwinn High Timber.’

This is an amazing starter bike with features that are comparable to much higher priced models.

It’s sturdy, resilient, and fast. I have taken it around in a wide range of terrains, right from neighborhood grocery runs to strenuous mountain trails.

I have not had one issue with it so far.

Will share more details in a bit.

Best Budget Mountain Bike – My Picks

For now, here are the top options if you are looking for the best cheap mountain bike in 2021.

#1 – Schwinn High Timber – Best Overall

The Schwinn High Timber features a classic design that’s inspired by MTB frames from the 80s. So says my dad, who coincidentally, also owned a Schwinn Collegiate 5-speed in his teens.

My High Timber, though, is a meaty upgrade as compared to my dad’s bike.

This is a 21-speed hybrid bike that features a tough steel frame that can take an absolute pounding. As I mentioned earlier, I have taken it for a ride on some of the toughest trails around. No problems at all.

That also has to do with the beefy suspension fork and the 29 x 2.1” all-terrain tires with alloy rims and hubs that just glide over rocks and crevices. It’s not heavy either, like some other bikes with suspension forks that I have seen.

Gearing is jitter-free thanks to Schwinn’s alloy cranks, with triple chainrings. I would have preferred trigger shifts instead of the twisters. But that’s a minor quibble.

Every time I want to make a left turn or stop suddenly during a downhill run, the Alloy linear-pull brakes come to my rescue. The precision is immaculate. Certainly not missing disc brakes yet.

Last but not least, I love the quick-release seat post. It makes it so easy to adjust the height when me and my brother swap bikes.

Specs

  • Size: 24-29” wheels
  • Material: Steel and Aluminum
  • Brake style: Alloy Pull Brakes and Disc Break options
  • Suspension: Front Suspension Forks
  • Speeds: 21
  • Weight: 41 lb.
Pros
  • Budget-priced hybrid bike
  • 29” All-terrain wheels
  • Sturdy steel frame
  • Great handling in a variety of terrain
Cons
  • The seat position may be a tad low for users who are taller than 6’3.

Conclusion: Looking for the best budget mountain bike that can handle a wide range of terrain, offers a butter-smooth ride, and can take a pounding if need be? You’ve just found it. I highly recommend the Schwinn High Timber to riders who want to wet their toes in mountain biking without spending a lot of money.

#2 – Schwinn Protocol 2.7 – Runner Up

For a long time, I contemplated opting for the Schwinn Protocol instead of the High Timber.

It’s a stunning full-suspension bike with one front fork and a rear shock, along with knobby mountain tires that are 2.25” wide. I got a chance to take it for a spin a while ago, and I took it to Topanga Creek Outpost Loop. The performance was just impressive.

A tad responsive, maybe, but there’s not one bump that jarred my joints.

This is also a 21-speed bike that features EZ-Fire trigger shifters and a rear derailleur from Shimano. Add to that the alloy cranks, and you have effortless gear shifts, every time.

Speed control is equally good as the dual mechanical disc brake system ensures that the bike comes to a standstill in all types of terrain.

Specs:

  • Size: 27.5” wheels
  • Material: Aluminum Frame
  • Brake style: Disc Brake
  • Suspension: Full Suspension Bike
  • Speeds: 21
  • Weight: 48 lb.
Pros
  • Full suspension bike for all-terrain riding
  • Wide knobby mountain tires
  • 21-speed with trigger shifts
  • Precise braking with disc brakes
Cons
  • A little heavy for my liking. That may not be the case with you, though.

Conclusion: If you are looking for a full-suspension bike from Schwinn, then I highly recommend the Protocol 2.7. It ticks all the right boxes that one looks for while shopping for the best entry-level mountain bike.

#3 – Hiland Mountain Bike – Best Full-Suspension Budget MTB

Here’s another full-suspension bike that I really liked. It’s the Hiland 21-speed bike that features a robust steel frame, dual suspensions, and RevoShift twist grip gear shifters.

It’s the perfect hybrid bike that can switch over from city trails to bumpy ones in the blink of an eye. Smooth handling, powerful disc brakes, strong suspension, and easy gear shifts.

Also, it’s a very lightweight bike for a full-suspension. It weighs just 39.6 lb., while most other bikes with similar specs would weigh 50-55 lb. at least.

It’s available in two sizes, 24 and 26”. Taller users would like the 26” over the smaller one.

A rider told me that this bike ships with proprietary valves, which makes the tires impossible to inflate with a regular pump.

That problem’s long been fixed, though. The new ones ship with a regular Schrader valve(A.V).

Specs:

  • Size: 24 & 26″ wheels
  • Material: Steel Frame
  • Brake style: Disc Brakes
  • Suspension: Full Suspension Bike
  • Speeds: 21
  • Weight: 39.6 lb.
Pros
  • Lightweight hybrid bike
  • Excellent handling with easy gear shifts
  • Smooth ride due to the dual suspension
  • Budget-priced full suspension
Cons

A few plastic parts here and there. Like the pedals and the brake handle bodies. That doesn’t bother me too much, though.

Conclusion: A full-suspension mountain bike at this price point is a dream for budget-minded shoppers. If you wanted a full-sus, then I highly recommend the Hiland. You can check the latest price over here.

#4 – Mongoose Argus – Best Cheap Fat Tire MTB

If riding means treacherous terrain for you, or you ride a lot in icy conditions, then check out the Mongoose Argus. This is one of the most inexpensive fat bikes that I have come across.

Usually, when it comes to fat bikes, cheap equals substandard quality. But that’s not the case here.

The Mongoose Argus is a beast of a bike that features 4” wide knobby mountain fat tires on a tough steel frame. These tires provide loads of traction on all kinds of surfaces. The ride is never wobbly.

Be it icy trails or rocky shorelines; you get excellent control and balance.

It’s a 7-speed bike with twist shifters. So gear shifting is effortless. (Why no trigger shifters, though?)

More importantly, it has one of the best quality mechanical disc brakes on this list. The bike comes to a halt instantly, even on wet and slippery roads.

Specs:

  • Size: 26” wheels and 4” wide knobby mountain tires
  • Material: Steel hardtail Frame
  • Brake style: Mechanical Disc Brakes
  • Suspension: Rigid
  • Speeds: 7
  • Weight: 49 lb.
Pros
  • Budget-priced fat bike
  • Excellent traction and control in icy conditions
  • 26” wheels with 4” extra-wide knobby mountain tires
  • Reliable braking
Cons
  • No finger shifters

Conclusion: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better fat bike at this price. The Mongoose Ardus is a winner all the way. If you are looking for a fat bike as your best budget mountain bike, grab the Ardus today.

#5 – Huffy Stone Mountain – Best Affordable Women’s MTB

The Huffy Stone Mountain is a hardtail mountain bike for the ladies, with a full steel frame that’s ready to tackle even the most strenuous terrain.

It’s a 21-speed bike with a single suspension fork in the front, which keeps it lightweight and fast. A micro-shift twist shifter allows you to toggle between 21-speeds effortlessly, allowing you great control irrespective of whether you are climbing uphill or racing downhill.

Talking about control, the bike features Knobby mountain tires, and a Linear Pull alloy braking system that offers reliable stopping any time you need it. The bike stops instantly on a variety of terrain.

Just like most bikes from Huffy, there’s added emphasis on comfort here. The saddle is padded and stitched, and you have a slight-rise handlebar with Crayton grips, all tiny additions that make your ride a more comfortable one.

Irrespective of whether you are a beginner or a seasoned rider, the Stone Mountain will be a great fit.

Specs:

  • Size: 26” wheels and knobby tires
  • Material: Steel hardtail Frame
  • Brake style: Linear Pull Alloy Brakes
  • Suspension: Front
  • Speeds: 21
  • Weight: 42.68 lb.
Pros
  • Lightweight hardtail bike
  • 21-speeds with easy gear shifting
  • Padded and stitched saddle
  • Linear Pull Alloy braking system
Cons
  • Poorly written assembly instructions

Types of Mountain Bikes

A picture showing young people on mountain bikes on top of a hill under a magic sky at sunset

There are several types of MTBs. Here are the main ones:

Trail Bikes

Trail bikes are the most versatile type you can find. You can think of a trail back like a jack of all trades. It’s good in almost every type of racing and provides a fun and relatively smooth riding experience.

However, a jack of all trades is seldom a master at anything.

So, if you’re just looking for a fun experience and you don’t want to specialize in any type of racing, the best budget mountain bike for you might fall into this category.

Trail bikes typically have 120 to 140mm of suspension travel and a 67 to 69° head-tube angle.

Cross-Country Bikes

Since cross-country riding is focused on speed and climbing across long distances (typically 25 miles or more), cross-country bikes are designed to be efficient and light.

If you want to start getting into races and competitions, you might find that a cross-country bike would be the best budget mountain bike for you.

Cross-country bikes typically have 80 to 100mm of suspension travel and 70 to 71° head-tube angle.

Fat-Tire Bikes

If you’re going to be riding on rough terrain, a fat tire bike might be the best affordable mountain bike for you.

Having oversized tires, either 3.7 inches or wider, allows for much better traction. This makes these bikes handle great even in sand or snow. It’s also worth noting that this also makes them great for beginners since they’re easier to handle.

All-Mountain Bikes

All-mountain riding is very similar to trail riding. However, it’s a more extreme version of it. It has steeper climbs and descents. This is why all-mountain bikes are designed to be able to handle descends and climbs efficiently.

All-mountain bikes typically have 140 to 170mm of suspension travel and 65 to 68° head-tube angle.

Downhill/Park Bikes

These bikes are bulky and sturdy. They can handle all kinds of terrain. If you want something to ride harsh terrain with, a downhill/park bike might be the best budget mountain bike to invest in.

Downhill/Park bikes typically have 170 to 200+mm of suspension travel and 65 to 68° head-tube angle.

Electric Mountain Bikes

E-bikes are becoming better and better. They have risen in popularity recently, and there’s more choice than ever before.

These bikes are equipped with a motor and battery, which enhance your pedaling input. On the flip side, those extra components add a lot of weight to the bike.

E-bikes are great because they make climbing hills much less strenuous. With that said, just because it has a motor and battery to boost your pedaling input doesn’t mean it won’t provide a good workout. Even the pros train with e-bikes.

Other Types

Don’t be intimidated by the wide variety of available mountain bikes. Once you know what you need, picking the best budget mountain bike will be much easier, especially since every type of riding has a bike for it.

Dirt Kump Bikes

This type of bike is designed for landing jumps and pump tracks. This is ensured by durable frames that are also maneuverable mid-air. Dirt jump bikes are also quite simple to use since they have one gear.

Single Speed Mountain Bikes

As the name suggests, these bikes only have one gear.

The main goal behind the design of single speed mountain bikes is to have as few moving parts as possible. This also means that they’re quite durable and easy to maintain.

Single-speed bikes can also be quite affordable. However, this isn’t a general rule.

Best Budget Mountain Bike – Buying Guide

If you’re looking for the best budget mountain bike, you need to pay close attention to the suspension type and wheel diameter. These attributes will determine which type of terrain the bike is designed to handle.

Other factors also come into play, such as the type of brakes, frame material, and the number of gears. These things can help you narrow down your search for the best budget mountain bike.

Mountain Bike Suspension Types

Rigid

You won’t find many mountain bikes with this type of suspension. In fact, “rigid” mountain bikes are bikes that don’t have any suspension.

The main advantage they offer is that they’re easy to maintain and tend to be more affordable. With that said, you’ll be sacrificing comfort by choosing a rigid mountain bike.

Hardtail

Hardtail mountain bikes have a suspension fork on just the front wheel. These bikes fall in the middle of the spectrum between rigid mountain bikes and full-suspension mountain bikes.

It’s also worth noting that many hardtail bikes allow the rider to completely lock out the front fork if they want a fully rigid bike.

Many cross-country riders prefer hardtail bikes because they are better at transferring power from the pedal stroke to the rear tire.

Hardtails can also handle all-mountain trails, and since they’re easy to maintain and quite affordable, they tend to be a great choice for anyone looking for the best budget mountain bike.

Full-Suspension

Full-suspension bikes have suspension built into both wheels. That’s the overall concept of it. However, you’ll find that there are many different variants of it. The main goal behind this design is to ensure that the rider doesn’t get his crotch destroyed when he rides on rough terrain.

With that said, full-suspension bikes aren’t as efficient at transferring energy into the wheels, especially when going uphill. However, most full-suspension bikes have the option of locking out the rear suspension to increase the efficiency of power transfer and make climbing uphill more efficient.

Mountain Bike Wheel Size

26 Inches

This used to be the standard wheel size for all adult mountain bikes until recently. Now there are more sizes available to choose from, such as 27.5 inches and 29 inches.

27.5 Inches

If you’re looking for a middle-ground solution between 26” and 29”, you can opt for 27.5” wheels. These wheels allow for good handling across a wide variety of terrain while also being maneuverable. These wheels can be found on full-suspension and hardtail bikes alike.

29 Inches

Bikes that are equipped with 29” wheels tend to have worse acceleration. However, they’re excellent when you’re riding on bumpy terrain. They are also very consistent and are great for long rides since you’ll be able to keep a steady rhythm more easily. These wheels can be found in full-suspension, hardtail, and rigid bikes.

27.5+ Inches

The only difference between these tires and the 27.5” ones is that they are wider. The main advantage they offer is smoother rides in harsh terrain.

24 Inches

If you want to get a mountain bike for your 10-13-year-old child, you’ll want to look for bikes with 24-inch wheel size. In general, smaller-sized wheels on bikes are meant to accommodate the shortness of a person’s legs, making them perfect for children. If your child is even younger, you can opt for 20-inch wheel size.

Mountain Bike Frame Materials

The frame of the bike is what influences its weight, durability, strength, and general quality.

Aluminum alloy is the most common material when it comes to mountain bike frames. Some of the more expensive models might have lighter aluminum frames and are generally easier to climb uphill with.

Some manufacturers also use other materials for their bike frames, such as titanium, steel, or carbon fiber.

Steel is the cheapest material to use since it’s widely available. However, it drastically increases the weight of the bike to its detriment.

Titanium is both light and very durable. However, it’s far too expensive. Unless you have a very high budget, you won’t really be able to afford any model that has a titanium frame.

Carbon fiber tends to be the most common across cross-country bikes, high-end trail, fat-tire, and all-mountain bikes, thanks to its unique combination of strength and lightness. With that said, it can be quite expensive due to how labor-intensive it is to manufacture it.

Mountain Bike Gears

You can find mountain bikes ranging from single speed to 30+ gears. Determining the number of gears comes down to multiplying the number of sprockets on the cassette by the number of front chainrings.

If you don’t know how many gears are best for you, here’s a simple way to look at things. If you’re going to be riding lots of hills and facing many climbing challenges, you might want to get something that has many gears. However, if your legs are strong or you only ride flat terrain, you won’t need that many gears, and you can save up on the weight of the bike as a result.

Most mountain bikes come with two or three chainrings. This should be more than enough whether you’re going to be doing a lot of climbing or not. With that said, single chainring bikes with a wide range cassette with 9 to 11 cogs have been gaining more popularity over time. This is because switching gears becomes much simpler and lighter.

However, keep in mind that you can modify your bike’s gearing if you want, so you shouldn’t prioritize it over wheel size, suspension types, or frame materials.

Mountain Bike Brakes

While rim brakes have been almost completely replaced by rim brakes, some entry-level bikes still have rim brakes. It’s still worth discussing what each type of brake has to offer in terms of pros and cons.

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes have brake pads that grip onto a wheel hub-mounted brake rotor. There are two types of disc brakes: Hydraulic and cable-activated.

Hydraulic disc brakes are easier to use than cable-activated brakes since they don’t require any manual adjustment. It’s also worth mentioning that hydraulic brakes require less finger effort to use.

Compared to rim brakes, disc brakes are more consistent no matter which condition you might be riding your bike in. They are also easier to replace since you only need to change the worn rotor rather than the whole wheel. Disc brakes also require less finger effort to use. However, it’s harder to replace the brake pads. They’re also more expensive than rim brakes.

Rim Brakes

Rim brakes are very rare to find on anything but entry-level mountain bikes. They have pads that grip onto the wheel rims.

The only things going for rim brakes when compared to disc brakes are that it’s easier to inspect the brake pad and replace it in case it becomes worn and that they’re more economical.

The reason they have been mostly replaced by disc brakes is that rim brakes tend to wear out the wheel rim over time. This means that you end up having replaced the whole wheel. They are also not as strong or efficient as disc brakes.

Mountain Bike Size

It’s important that you get a bike that is right for your height and riding style. Being comfortable while riding your bike will allow you to enjoy yourself and be able to feel in control of the bike. This will help you tackle many challenges you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to tackle.

Mountain bikes come in three standard sizes: S, M, and L, respectively stand for small, medium, and large. They are mostly the same no matter which brand you choose to go with.

The size of the bike you should go for is determined by the rider’s height. Most bike manufacturers include size charts that indicate the recommended size for each height range.

If you find yourself between two sizes, it’s best to go for the smaller size. This is because it’s much easier to accommodate for the sizing error with a slightly smaller frame than an oversized one.

Best Affordable Mountain Bike – FAQ

Verdict

That’s it, folks. That sums up my list of the best budget mountain bikes.

To sum things up, my personal recommendation is the Schwinn High Timber. I love the 29” wheels with the 2.1” wide tires. The thing is built like a tank with a heavy-duty steel frame and commercial-grade alloy components.

I have taken it on a multitude of rides that would test the mettle of any top branded bike. It’s performed flawlessly.

But if you do not prefer the Schwinn for whatever reason, do check out some of the other equally good options that I have listed.

Btw, which is the best budget mountain bike according to you? Do give us a holler in the comment box and chime in with your feedback.

References:

Leave a Comment