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.
Here are our recommended products for the Best Mountain Bikes Under $500:
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.
Looking to get a solid platform for mountain biking that you can add to later? The Nashbar AT1 29er is a barebones model designed for trail riding without a lot of frills or additional features. Sporting 29-inch wheels for easy riding over just about any terrain, this hardtail mountain bike is built tough out of steel alloy that provides a stable ride regardless of the conditions.
The front fork suspension makes the ride even smoother, and the V-brakes make braking, sliding, and stopping safe and easy.
Add to that the 7 gear Shimano system, and this bike is ready to climb and coast with the best of them. It may not offer a lot of convenience features or creature comforts, but it has the distinct advantage of being easy to modify, so if in the future you decide you are ready for some alloy wheels, disc brakes, and a locking front suspension fork, you can probably add those features yourself.
Nashbar builds an affordable, high-quality hardtail mountain bike that is designed to withstand even the most demanding riding conditions, and despite it being a little light on comfort, it is an exceptional performer on the trail in terms of ride, handling, and overall maneuverability. If you are in need of a good 29-incher that doesn’t cost a fortune, this is a great option for a beginner.
Featuring front fork suspension with lockout, magnesium alloy wheels, and mechanical disc brakes, the Vilano Ridge 2.0 is an excellent hardtail cross country bike with plenty to offer trail riders and casual riders as well. This ultra-lightweight bike handles beautifully both on the way up and on the way down, and its disc braking system makes braking and emergency stopping quick and responsive.
Additionally, the 21-speed drivetrain features easy-shifting Shimano controls and enough variety in power to handle just about any incline or descent imaginable. Furthermore, as a hardtail, this bike is already balanced perfectly for additional power while ascending, and the front suspension can also be locked out to provide additional stability when trying to get the most power out of your pedaling.
Best of all though, the Vilano Ridge 2.0 offers tremendous value for the money, and offers numerous features that beginners will enjoy and appreciate as they begin to master their riding technique.
Another bare bones model that offers limited premium quality features, yet it is built tough and light with wide tires and wheels that make trail riding both fun and exciting without making obstacles and terrain too punishing for beginning riders. Those looking for a high quality 27.5” wheel hardtail that is built to last should definitely check out the Diamondback Overdrive.
The best part about its middle-of-the-road wheel size is that it gives you a lot of the maneuverability of the 26” wheel with the smoother riding advantages of a 29-inch wheel, and with its extra wide tires the Overdrive can more than handle bumpy, sandy, rocky, muddy, or snowy terrain with ease.
Best of all though, this hard tail has a disc brake system that keeps you safer on the trail and makes maneuvering and navigating at controlled speeds intuitive, and mechanical disc brakes are among the most reliable braking solutions available for mountain bikes. While it may lack certain creature comforts and convenience features of more expensive mountain bikes that some riders prefer, this is a bike that is tough and ready to ride. Remember, as you gain experience and learn your riding needs, mountain bikes are very easy to modify and customize, so starting with a high quality bike and adding on later is often the best strategy financially for a mountain bike in the long term.
Looking for the smoothest ride you can get? Like riding through sand, mud, and snow? The GMC Yukon Fat Bike is going to be the best choice ride for handling either rough or messy terrain. In addition to disc brakes and 7-speed Shimano drivetrain, this bike sports monstrous 26” x 4” extra wide tires that make gripping trail and managing shock absorption a non-issue for trail riders.
The chief advantage of wider tires on a mountain bike is the additional surface area provided by fat tires that distributes weight and absorbs impact more efficiently. It’s also easier to maintain traction on wider tires than it is on narrower models, so you have better grip while climbing and better control on descents.
Some riders liken the experience to driving an ATV or off-road motorbike, but without the engine noise. Fat bikes are also significantly more forgiving on newer riders when it comes to handling rough trail, roots, and rocks, too. Beginners concerned about punishing riding conditions should definitely give the GMC Yukon a first look.
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Sizing a mountain bike is often a difficult process, and it largely depends on your height. However, if your height falls in between sizes or your are female, most bike manufacturers don’t always take your size into account. That’s why Raleigh offers the Eva 2 bike designed specially for female riders that take unique heights and rider geometry into account.
The Eva 2 is a hardtail style trail bike that comes with all the basics you need for day on the trails without being overloaded with features and extras most beginners won’t find particularly useful. 27.5-inch wheels with wide tires smooth out the ride and add grip, and overall design is built from the ground up to accommodate female riders comfortably with minimal strain on the neck, hips, and back.
Best of all, the Shimano Revo shifters make it easy to get the gear you want when powering up the hills or riding out descents. OVerall, if you are female and looking for the most comfortable option to get into mountain biking, the Eva 2 is definitely a prime choice.
As one of the pre-eminent names in action sports bikes, Mongoose has a longstanding reputation for building some of the finest mountain bikes on the market. This entry-level model is a no-frills offering for riders who want a reliable ride that gets them down the trail safely and comfortably.
A hardtail bike with just-the-basics gearing in the drivetrain and high-quality disc brakes for responsive and reliable control, the TYAX Compact is definitely an excellent starter bike that can be modified with convenience features as riders begin to find a need for them. The front suspension fork locks out quickly and easily for more powerful ascents, and the Shimano drivetrain is responsive to gear changes when you need them.
Overall, if you are looking for a bike that can take on tough trails without needing to worry about durability or quality, this unquestionably one of the best beginner mountain bikes on the market. It rides smooth on its 27.5-inch wheels, it’s got all the gearing power you need to make those climbs and control your downhills, and the disc brakes make sure you stay in control no matter what kind of trail you ride. First timers looking for top notch quality should definitely give the TYAX Compact a look.
A well built mountain bike that offers tremendous value for the price, the Diamondback Sorrento Hardtail makes a good starter bike for any aspiring trail rider. It’s got a good set of 26-inch wheels with extra-grip trail tires and solid performing v-brakes, and the powertrain offers enough versatility that even experienced riders find it to be more than adequate to their needs.
Additionally, the lightweight aluminum frame makes the bike easier to handle on corners and descents, yet it is sturdy enough to smooth out even the roughest ride. There may not be much in the way of creature comforts or convenience accessories on the Sorrento, but if you want a tough and dependable bike for starting your trail riding adventure, this is definitely an excellent option.
As one of the oldest and most respected manufacturers of bicycles in the world, Schwinn definitely has a lot to offer even with their value priced packages for mountain bikes. The Schwinn Protocol 1.0 for example is a well designed 26-inch wheeled mountain bike with full suspension and wider tires with extra grip.
Every aspect of this bike is built to Schwinn’s exacting standards, and this bike has a lot to offer both experienced riders and beginners alike.
Additionally, the 24-speed drivetrain provides all the power variants you need for managing your climbs and descents, and the disc brakes help you maintain control in any situation safely and reliably. Wheel rims are alloy-based for additional strength without adding weight, and overall frame is a lightweight aluminum alloy construct designed to provide support and durability without making the bike more difficult to handle.
All in all, Schwinn makes an exceptionally well made bicycle that won’t break a new rider’s budget, and it has numerous creature comforts that make it an ideal choice for riders who are just getting used to riding trails and controlling their bike at speed over rough terrain.
For our money, the best of the whole bunch is definitely the Merax Finiss 26”. The combination of locking front suspension fork, lightweight aluminum alloy frame combined with magnesium alloy wheels, quick release convenience features, intelligent gearing system, and efficient and reliable disc brakes make this an ideal choice for anyone who wants to take up mountain biking on a budget. If you are in the market for a starter mountain bike, definitely check out the Merax Finiss 26” first.