Trail riding on a mountain bike is a great way to enjoy outdoors and keep fit at the same time, and it is an athletic pursuit that can be practiced just about anywhere. If you have always enjoyed bike riding and are ready to take those rides to the next level, you are going to need a mountain bike for cruising along those backwoods trails, but choosing the best bike can be tough if you are new to the sport. For this reason, we’ve compiled a list of the best mountain bikes under $500 that are ideal for beginners. We’ll also go over how to know features you want now and for the future, as well as how to pick out a bike that is the best fit for you. Not sure what you want or need? Check out our buyer’s guide below:
There are three key points to consider when shopping for the best mountain bike for you: Style, Features, and Fit.
There are three primary styles of mountain bike that are usually a good fit for beginners: Trail, Cross-Country, and Fat-Bikes. There are more specialized high-end bikes that are built for trail racing, but they generally cost a great deal more and have features that most beginners would not find particularly useful. Trail bikes are best for all around ascent and descent riding, while cross country bikes are lighter and handle distance riding more efficiently. Fat bikes have 4” wide tires for smoothing out rough trail and adding grip when climbing.
When it comes to features, you want to look at the parts that matter most to your riding experience: Suspension, Wheel Size, Frame Materials, Gears, and Brakes
Rigid suspension mountain bikes (also called no-suspension bikes) are easier to maintain because they have fewer moving parts.
Hardtail suspension has a dual shock front fork that makes the ride smoother without sacrificing power transfer.
Full suspension gives the smoothest ride, but if you don’t have suspension lockouts for climbing you are sacrificing power on climbs since the bike has more “give”.
Mountain bike wheels used to be standardized to 26-inch rims, but there are other popular options now for 27.5 and 29 inch wheels as well. If you a see a “+” next to the wheel size, that means it’s designed for wider tires. Taller is best for distance, wider is best for a smoother ride.
Depending on your budget, lightweight frames are nice for long hauls, but heavier frames offer a smoother ride. Steel, aluminum alloy, titanium, and carbon fiber options are all available, it just depends on how much you plan to spend. Pick what’s best for your personal comfort and your budget.
Simpler is better for beginners. Single-shifters are the way to go when you are starting out, and make sure you’ve got plenty of lower gears for mastering those steep climbs when you are first starting out. Gearing is very easy to modify on any bike, so as your needs change over time it is simple enough to swap them out.
Disc brakes are the best but most expensive option, and they have the added benefit of being self adjusting as they wear down. Cable-actuated brakes are the standard, but they need regular adjustment as the brake pads wear down. Rim brakes are the least expensive and most often included on lower cost bikes, but they wear out your wheel rim over time and they still need to be adjusted regularly. Again, choose what suits your budget and your long term needs.
Sizes are Small, Medium, and Large. Always “try before you buy” if you can. A bike that is not comfortable for you to stand or sit on is not going to be a good fit for you in the long term. If you can’t try the exact model, try something similar at a shop before ordering online. Also, a test ride is always a good idea. Check sizing guides for the bike you want, and if your height falls between sizes, choose the smaller size for the greatest comfort.
An all around excellent trail bike for those who are looking for all the features without significant additional cost, the Gravity FSX 1.0 offers both full front and rear suspension for a more comfortable ride as well as disc brakes and 11 gears that offer the speed and power to let you handle any terrain.
The frame is a hydro-formed aluminum that is both lightweight and strong, and the front and rear suspension system ensures that you stay insulated on even the most rugged of ascents or descents. Additionally, both front and rear wheels are quick release, allowing you to easily stow this bike in smaller vehicles with a minimal amount of effort.
Best of all though, the disc brakes provide superior stopping power with minimal effort on the controls, and they also self-adjust for wear with regular use, saving you time and money. If you have been looking for a high quality mountain bike that provides both value and features, the Gravity FSX 1.0 should definitely be a major contender for your bike money.
This hardtail mountain bike features disc brakes, locking front fork suspension, and ultralight 26” magnesium alloy wheels to keep you rolling fast and smooth regardless of where your trail riding takes you. There are a wide array of premium features on this bike, like a quick release seat for easy adjustment, and Shimano trigger style shifters for quick adjustments when ascending or descending.
Additionally, the tires are medium width for dealing with a wider variety of terrain, and adding versatility to the overall design. Furthermore, the quick release front and rear wheels make fast transport quick and easy, and the lightweight wheels stow easily in even smaller trunk and hatchback vehicles.
The best feature of all though is the safer, faster-response disc brakes. Not only do they allow for faster and safer stopping at higher speed, but the brake pads themselves self-adjust as they wear down, making maintenance easier and less expensive over time. For the beginner who wants a bike that will grow with them the more they ride trails, the Merax Finiss is an excellent choice that provides exceptional value.