Best Mountain Bikes Under $500: Affordable Picks for 2020

Last updated: October 30, 2020
Best Overall
Durable, Versatile and Great Handling
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Best Budget
Affordable, Durable and High-Quality Tires
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FULL SUSPENSION
Great Build Quality and Wide Gear Range
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BEST FOR KIDS
Stable, Safe, Durable and Fun
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BEST HARDTAIL
High-Quality Tires and Powerful Brakes
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Your guide

Mountain biking is fun and exciting – particularly if you’re just getting started. But it’s an entirely different world if you’re used to bike paths and urban commuting – with mountain biking, your choice of bike won’t just affect the level of performance you can reach, but also your safety.

Simply put, with mountain biking, the stakes are higher. Make the wrong call on a bike path, and you might end up with a flat tire or a scraped knee – but in the case of mountain biking, you don’t want to walk a bike down a craggy, uneven trail.

It’s clear that you should prioritize finding a safe, dependable bike from a reputable source – but can you do that if you’re on a tight budget? You can, and we’re here to help you along – with a list of five great budget mountain bikes.

Top 5 MTBs Under $500

Mountain bikes have to overcome a wide variety of challenges – from inclines and uneven terrain to regular bumps, sharp turns, and steep descents. With those requirements, you don’t want to compromise when it comes to performance.

hardtail mountain biking

If you’re a beginner or looking for a replacement bike, you might be tempted to believe that more money always equals more performance – but that isn’t always the case. Affordable, high-performance mountain bikes are out there – if you know where to look.

We’ve factored in price, materials, build quality, performance, ergonomics, and comfort to bring you this list of the five best mountain bikes – all of which cost less than $500.

1. Best Overall - Giant ATX 3 Disc

Specifications:

  • Gearing → 21 speeds
  • Wheel size → 26/ 27.5 inches
  • Weight capacity → 305 lbs
  • Weight → 30 lbs

Key Features:

  • Aluminum alloy frame
  • Internal cable routing
  • Mechanical disc brakes
  • SR Suntour M3030A front suspension fork

Giant ATX 3 Disc Review

Even at the sub $500 price range, there are plenty of good mountain bikes to be found. However, it isn’t always an easy task. You want to go with a dependable, reputable manufacturer – one that won’t cut any corners or take any shortcuts to keep the price down.

Giant is a renowned industry leader – and their 2020 model of the ATX 3 Disc combines fantastic build quality with great components. If you’re looking for the very best of the best at this price range, it doesn’t get any better than this dependable all-rounder.

Modern, Durable Frame

The 2020 model of the ATX 3 disc uses a light yet sturdy and durable aluminum alloy frame. The proprietary 6061 ALUXX alloy provides plenty of stiffness, and the frame’s maximum weight capacity is 305 lbs.

The ATX 3 disc is available in a few size options (7), and the exact weight of the bike isn’t listed, as per Giant’s policy. However, a medium-sized ATX 3 disc weighs around 30 lbs – so it’s easy to estimate that larger and smaller sizes are a pound or so heavier or easier.

Most of the bike’s cables are internally routed, allowing for a clean, tidy appearance, and providing a little extra in the way of durability. A pair of built-in mounts allow you to accessorize the bike with bags, panniers, or racks.

The flat aluminum alloy handlebar varies in width according to the size option – from 24.4 inches at the low end to 27.6 at the high end. Regardless of which size you choose, the handlebar is quite ergonomic, and it features a pair of comfortable rubber grips.

The bike’s frame geometry, together with the 15-degree angle of the aluminum alloy stem, allows for a fantastic balance of pedaling efficiency and stability. The downside is that the saddle is quite small and a bit uncomfortable – but that can easily be fixed.

Drivetrain, Tires, and Suspension

Giant’s affordable all-rounder uses a 21-speed Shimano drivetrain, giving it plenty of versatility. The 3×7 setup has a very wide gear range, particularly for this price range, and the Shimano EZ Fire 41 shifters change gears crisply and reliably. The drivetrain goes a long way in handling hills and inclines, but it is also supported by a set of high-quality tires.

The grippy Giant QuickCross tires, which are mounted on a pair of light aluminum alloy double-walled rims, are available in two sizes – 26-inch and 27.5-inch, depending on the size option. They boast a solid TPI rating of 30 and have a versatile tread pattern that allows them to meet a variety of challenges.

The ATX 3 disc also has a front suspension fork. The SR Suntour M3030A front suspension has a decent 75mm of travel – quite entry-level, but more than enough to handle moderate bumps and obstacles. The handling is further improved by the powerful Tektro TKB-172 mechanical disc brakes, which provide the bike with plenty of stopping power.

Pros
  • Powerful brakes
  • High-quality frame
  • Versatile drivetrain
  • Great ergonomics
Cons
  • Average saddle
  • Entry-level suspension

2. Best Budget - Schwinn High Timber

Specifications:

  • Gearing → 21 speeds
  • Wheel size → 27.5 inches
  • Weight capacity → 300 lbs
  • Weight → 35 lbs

Key Features:

  • Shimano drivetrain
  • Alloy linear-pull brakes
  • Aluminum alloy rims
  • Internal cable routing

Schwinn High Timber Review

At under $500, all of these bikes are budget bikes, in a sense. But we’ve selected each and every one because of something that makes it stand out. With the Schwinn High Timber, that something is the incredible value that you get for a humble price tag.

Incredibly durable, well made, and with a very versatile drivetrain, the High Timber is an impressive bike – and if it ends up being your choice, you’ll be getting the biggest bang for your buck. Let’s go into greater detail to understand why this is our best budget pick.

Durability and Design

Schwinn’s bike is available in a wide range of sizes and configurations – however, today we’ll be covering the aluminum frame 27.5-inch model, which fits riders from 5’4” to 5’8” tall.

The lightweight aluminum frame is sleek and provides plenty of stiffness. Fully assembled, the bike weighs 35 lbs – but the durability that you’re getting far outweighs the slightly above average weight.

Some assembly is required – thankfully, the instructions are easy to follow, and the entire process shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. The maximum weight capacity of the bike is 300 lbs.

The bike features an internal cable routing system, which further improves the durability and gives it a clean, minimalist aesthetic. The bike features a 600mm wide handlebar that sports a pair of comfortable rubber grips.

The bike’s frame geometry – the stem angle, saddle placement, and handlebar width mesh together quite nicely – allowing for an enjoyable, comfortable ride.

The bike’s saddle is slightly small – this won’t be an issue for all riders, as it is quite well padded, but some might find it uncomfortable. However, the pedals are quite flimsy and average. The saddle isn’t too big of a problem, as the seat post is adjustable – but we recommend finding a set of replacement pedals.

The Schwinn High Timber also features a handy kickstand. The bike’s overall build quality is solid, it’s made from high-quality materials, and the ergonomics are very impressive. We have a few complaints about comfort, but those pale in comparison to the bike’s stronger points.

Versatile, Dependable Performance

One of the Schwinn High Timber’s most impressive features is the 21-speed Shimano drivetrain. The Shimano Tourney rear derailleur provides crisp shifting, and the Revoshift twist shifters are very responsive and easy to use.

The bike’s wide gear range allows it to tackle plenty of challenges – but how do the tires stack up? You’ll be pleased to hear that the tires are quite impressive – at 27.5 x 2.125 inches in size, they provide a great amount of traction, as well as plenty of speed and acceleration. The bike’s aluminum alloy rims are light and durable, and the tires’ knobby tread pattern performs equally well in all conditions.

The Schwinn High Timber makes use of front and rear alloy linear-pull brakes. They do an admirable job – but linear-pull brakes simply aren’t cut out for highly technical trails. Although we would have preferred to see disc brakes, the bike’s handling is still quite good – as good as it gets at this price point.

However, just to be clear, the bike’s handling really is fantastic. The front suspension fork absorbs a lot of road shock, allowing you to almost effortlessly glide over obstacles and small bumps.

The fork lacks a lockout feature and cannot be adjusted – but incorporating a more complex front suspension system would have likely led to a significant increase in price.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Stiff frame
  • Easy assembly
  • Versatile performance
Cons
  • Front suspension isn’t adjustable
  • Lackluster saddle and pedals

3. Best With Full Suspension - Mongoose

Specifications:

  • Gearing → 21 speeds
  • Tire size →  26 inches
  • Weight capacity → 330 lbs
  • Weight → 41.8 lbs

Key Features:

  • Dual suspension
  • Hydroformed aluminum alloy frame
  • Front and rear v-brakes
  • SRAM twist shifters

Mongoose Status Review

Full-suspension bikes cost a noticeable amount more than hardtails. It’s just an inescapable fact of life – the rear suspension always adds a considerable amount to the final asking price.

Full-suspension bikes that cost less than $500 are rare – very rare. And those that aren’t just plain terrible are rarer still. But the Mongoose Status is one of the very bikes that do offer great performance and cost less than $500.

With a versatile drivetrain, a decent amount of suspension travel, and a good set of tires, the Status stands apart – so let’s take a closer look at the details.

Materials and Design

The Mongoose status features a hydroformed aluminum alloy frame that offers plenty of stiffness and durability while keeping the overall weight down. The fully assembled bike weighs in at just under 42 lbs, and it has a maximum weight capacity of 330 lbs.

The bike features an ergonomic riser bar that sports a pair of comfortable, textured rubber grips. The handlebar can also be adjusted – which is a godsend, because the saddle is much less impressive, ergonomics and comfort-wise.

The saddle is rather large and may seem well-padded at first, but it is inexplicably hard. And while replacing a saddle is no big deal, we’ve got to give the Mongoose a minus for this one.

The bike’s stock platform pedals are decent, but a bad match for trail riding. If you want to use this bike the way it was supposed to be used – as a mountain bike, we highly recommend switching out the pedals before you even take it out for the first time.

The bike does require some assembly on your part – so you might as well save some time and install a decent saddle and some decent pedals right away.

Although we might sound a bit harsh when discussing the bike’s level of comfort, the actual ergonomics are decent, the frame’s build quality is fantastic, and the Mongoose has an impressive level of durability – just do yourself a favor and give it a few adjustments.

Springy, Versatile, and Fast

The main selling point of the Mongoose is the dual-suspension system. The front suspension fork has 75mm of travel, and the rear suspension can also absorb quite a bit of road shock. The suspension system is still entry-level – it can handle regular trails just fine, but we wouldn’t recommend taking on highly-technical trails or steep downhill descents.

The bike’s aluminum alloy rims sport a pair of knobby 26 x 2.125-inch tires. They provide a good amount of traction and handle well, while their size guarantees a good amount of acceleration.

The handling and speed of the bike also benefit from the 21-speed drivetrain. The Shimano rear derailleur is very reliable, while the SRAM twist shifters change gears quite rapidly and smoothly.

The sheer versatility of the drivetrain meshes well with the tires – as 2.125-inches wide is far from what you need for difficult trails. Luckily, the ability to quickly fine-tune your gears counteracts that to a large degree. It also allows you to retain speed more easily.

While we’re on the topic of handling, the front and rear v-brakes are quite satisfactory – offering plenty of stopping power – but still falling short of the needs of highly-technical trails. For the given price point, the Mongoose’s performance is fantastic.

Pros
  • Fantastic build quality
  • Durable frame
  • Springy dual suspension
  • Versatile drivetrain
Cons
  • Average pedals and saddle
  • Entry-level brakes

4. Best For Kids - DB El Oso Niño

Specifications:

  • Gearing → 7 speeds
  • Wheel size → 20 inches
  • Weight capacity → 130 lbs
  • Weight → 35 lbs

Key Features:

  • Mechanical disc brakes
  • High-tensile strength steel frame
  • KMC chain
  • 4-inch wide fat tires

Diamondback El Oso Niño Review

A bike can be a fantastic gift for a child – providing them with a fun pastime that combines both physical activity and entertainment.

But sooner or later (and the former is much more common), the child will outgrow the bike. Compromising on safety is out of the question – but shelling out too large a sum is unreasonable. So where’s the middle ground?

Diamondback’s El Oso Niño is a cool, modern fat tire mountain bike. It provides a fantastic level of performance and covers quite a wide age range – without a large price tag to accompany it.

Modern Design

Diamondback’s small yet sturdy bike has a high-tensile strength steel frame that has a maximum weight capacity of 130 lbs – more than enough to support a growing child. The total weight of the bike is approximately 35 lbs.

While 35 lbs is nothing to scoff at, the payoff is durability – if you end up choosing the El Oso Niño, you can be sure that it will last until it no longer fits your child.

The El Oso Niño can support riders from 44” to 54” tall, which roughly corresponds to ages 4 to 9. The bike features a wide, comfortable, and well-padded saddle, as well as a 560mm wide alloy handlebar.

The riser bar is quite ergonomic, and the textured rubber grips are very comfortable. The 15-degree stem angle makes for an easy to control bike, while the grips do a great job of reducing wrist numbness and fatigue.

The KMC chain is quite low-maintenance and durable (which we suspect will save parents many a headache), while the resin pedals are decent, but nothing extraordinary. As far as comfort and ergonomics go, the pedals are the weakest link – so we recommend finding a suitable replacement.

Performance and Safety

The El Oso Niño is a spirited little bike that can handle quite a few challenges – but when it comes to kids’ bikes, safety is always the prime concern. Luckily, the bike’s design makes sure that performance and safety go hand in hand.

The feature that stands out the most is the 4-inch wide fat tires. With such a wide surface area, and low tire pressure to boot, they can provide an incredible amount of traction – which makes crossing over obstacles a piece of cake.

At 20 inches in size, they also help with maintaining a low center of gravity – while the rather heavy weight of the frame, together with the high-tensile strength steel fork guarantees stability.

The bike’s 7-speed Shimano drivetrain provides more than enough gear range for a child, and the Shimano Tourney RS35 grip shifter changes gears quickly, smoothly, and reliably.

The El Oso Niño prioritizes versatility over speed – but even though it might not be incredibly fast, the bike still has a pair of heavy-duty brakes. The front and rear 160mm rotor mechanical disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power – just in case.

Pros
  • Safe and stable
  • Durable
  • Powerful brakes
  • Wide gear range
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Flimsy pedals

5. Best Hardtail - Merax Finiss

Specifications:

  • Gearing → 24 speed
  • Wheel size →  26 inches
  • Weight capacity → 330 lbs
  • Weight → 40 lbs

Key Features:

  • Front suspension fork
  • Adjustable saddle height
  • Aluminum alloy frame
  • Mechanical disc brakes

Merax Finiss Review

Hardtails are simple, reliable bikes – and for most of us, they’re the quintessential mountain bike. Straightforward and uncomplicated, with only a front suspension fork to absorb road shock, hardtails offer a unique way to experience trails and offroading.

Although they’re much more affordable than full-suspension setups, finding a hardtail that costs less than $500 and offers decent performance is a bit tricky.

But the Merax Finiss hits the mark perfectly. It’s very reasonably priced, and offers a solid front suspension, good brakes, and an impressive overall level of build quality – so let’s have a closer look.

Design and Materials

The Merax Finiss weighs 40 lbs and has a maximum weight capacity of 330 lbs, owing to its high-quality aluminum alloy frame. The frame’s build quality is very impressive – with clean welds and sleek, elegant tubing. The frame’s top tube is also curved, giving it a distinct appearance.

At 40 lbs, the Finiss isn’t light – but the stiffness and durability of the frame make the added weight worthwhile. The bike does require some assembly, and the instructions aren’t all that well written – so have some tools and a few guides on hand.

The bike’s handlebar features a classic riser bar design and has a pair of comfortable rubber grips. The handlebar is very ergonomic, while the grips do a great job of combatting wrist fatigue.

The bike’s saddle isn’t too small – but it is quite hard. The saddle height is adjustable, which helps alleviate this issue somewhat. Thankfully, the bike’s heavy-duty nylon pedals provide a decent amount of solid footing.

Besides the saddle and the fact that the handlebars aren’t adjustable, the bike’s comfort and ergonomics are very solid. Any issues that the Finiss might have are easily fixable. But all of this is just a prelude to the Finiss’s true strength – and that is performance.

Versatility, Speed, Handling, and Control

The Merax Finiss uses a 24-speed Shimano drivetrain, which gives it an incredible amount of versatility. The drivetrain uses high-quality components – a Shimano FD-TY500 front derailleur, and an RD-TY300 rear derailleur, as well as an EF-500 shifters/brake levers.

The 3×8 setup is quite adaptive but still easy to use, while the derailleurs and shifter provide crisp, responsive, and rapid shifting.

A good drivetrain allows you to stay in proper gear at all times – this also allows you to retain speed more easily. And the Finiss is quite a fast bike – with the 26-inch Kenda tires providing a good mix of top speed and acceleration.

The tires are 1.95 inches wide – and although speed is obviously the main priority, they still provide a decent amount of traction. Their size also goes a long way in helping you overcome any obstacles you might come across.

The bike’s speed is balanced out by a pair of powerful mechanical disc brakes that provide plenty of stopping power. Adjusting speed or coming to a complete stop is very easy with the Finiss. The bike also features a front suspension fork, allowing it to absorb even more road shock. Factor in the stiff frame and large wheel size, and you’ve got a very stable bike on your hands.

Pros
  • High-quality tires
  • Good brakes
  • Versatile drivetrain
  • Durable
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Uncomfortable saddle

What Components Should I Focus on When Getting a Mountain Bike?

Many bike components can be replaced and upgraded, so you’ll want to focus on those that can’t be replaced or those that are difficult to replace.

A good frame with a high level of build quality, a versatile drivetrain, and a set of powerful brakes are your priorities. Pedals, saddles, and tires can be replaced without too much hassle.

Are Budget Mountain Bikes Safe?

Yes - as long as you choose a high-quality bike from a reputable manufacturer. Of course, your safety primarily depends on your skill as a cyclist and observing the rules of the road - but budget mountain bikes aren’t any less safe than their more expensive counterparts.

What Is the Difference Between Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes and Hardtails?

Full-suspension bikes have both a front and a rear suspension, while hardtails only have a front suspension.

That might sound simple on its own, but it encompasses a lot of differences. Full-suspension bikes are heavier, more expensive, and more difficult to maintain - but they can handle much rougher terrain. In comparison, hardtails are lighter, more affordable, and require much less upkeep.

Can Mountain Bikes Be Used in Urban Areas?

Yes - in fact, mountain bikes will perform fantastically well in urban areas. Although they can’t match the speed of a road bike, the beefier tires and suspension systems make this a fair tradeoff.

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Best Mountain Bikes Under $500: Affordable Picks for 2020 — Bike Hacks