Best mountain bike under £500: Take on tough terrain with these bargain bikes

Our pick of the best cheap mountain bikes for beginners and kids

Calibre Two Cubed (Two3)

If you're looking to hit the trails without spending thousands on a fancy off-road steed, our guide to the best cheap mountain bikes available will help get you on the right track.

The good news is that more modest yet perfectly capable MTBs start at around £500, and you can buy better equipped bikes for around a grand – the sweet spot for the government’s Cycle to Work scheme, which allows you to buy a bike at a massively discounted price.

While we’re firmly concentrating on bikes around the £500 mark here, most of them will have others in their model range that boast superior components and are also recommended – if your budget gives you room to spend a little more. Make sure you check out our guide to the best mountain bikes overall, to see what you can get for a bit more money before you make your final decision. 

Read on for some more buying advice, or jump straight to our ranking of the best mountain bikes under £500

The best cheap mountain bike: buying tips

Even at the entry level prices we're looking at here, modern mountain bikes are highly evolved machines that can happily hoover up thousands of miles of single-track and anything you might encounter on a blue run at your local trail centre without complaint.

Modern frame geometry has evolved from short and upright to longer, lower and more relaxed. The vast majority of new bikes have slacker head angles, lower bottom bracket heights and longer wheelbases that give a much more stable and confidence boosting ride.

Changes in componentry have also helped make mountain bikes easier to ride and simpler to use. Wider rims and tyres give improved grip and help remove trail buzz (particularly when set-up tubeless and then run at lower pressures), while wider bars and shorter stems allow for more precise piloting control.

The front mech is almost a thing of the past on the modern trail bike which simplifies gear selection, results in a lighter bike and makes gear indexing far easier to get right. You can get exactly the same range from a gear system with a single front ring and widely spaced 10 or 11-speed cassette as you could with a traditional triple or double front ring and a narrower, 8 or 9-speed cassette. The only real negative is bigger jumps between gears.

At the prices we're looking at here, frames will be constructed with either steel or aluminium alloys. Aluminium frames tend to be lighter, but are also slightly more expensive, so you will likely see lower spec components on aluminium bikes. We've never come across a carbon fibre bike anywhere near the £500 mark, but if such a thing is out there somewhere, it's sure to have cut a lot of corners in its construction, so you'd be wise to give it a very wide berth.

Similarly, while there are plenty of decent bikes equipped with suspension forks at this price, there are also a few fairly horrible full-suspension bikes, so give them the swerve too. Most forks found on £500 bikes are of the heavier and less tunable coil-spring variety, but there are some superior air-sprung fork equipped bikes out there, so keep your eyes peeled for them.

Being way more powerful than their rim-based equivalents, disc brakes are now standard equipment on mountain bikes and they basically come in two forms. Hydraulically controlled disc brakes are the ones to look out for as they provide superior power as well as near-instantaneous control. That said, the stopping power of cable-pull disc brakes vastly improves on anything you'd find on most rim brakes too.

The best mountain bikes under £500

best cheap mountain bike: Calibre Two Cubed

(Image credit: Calibre)

1. Calibre Two Cubed (Two3)

Offering incredible value for money, this is the best mountain bike under £500

Frame: 6061 aluminium alloy
Fork: RockShox XC30 100mm
Gears: Shimano Altus 3x9
Brakes: Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc
Wheel size: 27.5-inch
Weight: 14.5kg
Reasons to buy
+Totally sorted frame geometry+Better fork than its rivals+Astounding value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Old-school gearing-Only comes in three sizes

Costing significantly less than £500, the Calibre Two Cubed (or Two3) is the best cheap mountain bike right now. It continued in Calibre's long standing tradition of making bikes than ride incredibly well at a price that no-one else can come close to matching. With bang up-to-date frame geometry that gives a reach of 465mm (on the size large), a super long wheelbase and 760mm wide handlebars combined with a 60mm stem, the Two Cubed's excellent handling massively helps to instill rider confidence.

The RockShox fork maybe coil sprung and only provide 100mm of travel, but it's still a cut above anything else you're likely to find at this end of the market. Hydraulic Shimano disc brakes (with a 180mm rotor up front) are also vastly superior above the kit you'll find on bikes costing £100 more. On the flip-side, the 3x9 gear system is tech that's now been superseded, but the Shimano Altus system gives loads of range and shifts smoothly.

Best cheap mountain bike: Vitus Nucleus 29 VR

(Image credit: Vitus)

2. Vitus Nucleus 29 VR

The best bike you can buy for little bit more than £500

Frame: 6061-T6 aluminium alloy
Fork: Suntour XCR32 Boost air 100mm
Gears: Shimano Altus/Microshift 2x9
Brakes: Tektro HD-M290
Wheel size: 29-inch
Weight: 14.56kg
Reasons to buy
+Modern frame geometry+Excellent tyre combo+High spec fork
Reasons to avoid
-Old-school gearing

The Nucleus has been one of the top budget choices for a few years now, but this year Vitus have upped the ante still further with several key upgrades over previously models. The biggest improvement is a Suntour XCR32 fork. While it's only of the short travel 100mm variety, it's air-sprung and Boost-width making it way better than the vast majority of forks found on its rivals

In addition to a frame sporting properly up to date geometry, the Nucleus' High Grip version of the WTB Vigilante is top choice of front tyre that won't let you down even in seriously nasty conditions and is well paired with a WTB Trail Boss to the rear. The flip-side of the grip is that these tyres aren't the fastest, but the bike still rolls at a decent pace aided by the 29" wheels. Handlebar width starts at 760mm on the small sized bike and gets wider on the bigger models, which is a nice touch. When paired with a short 50mm stem and the grip from WTB Vigilante tyre, the bar width really helps to add tons of front end confidence.

best cheap mountain bike: Pinnacle Kapur 2

(Image credit: Pinnacle )

3. Pinnacle Kapur 2

A proper trail ripper at a bargain price

Frame: 6061-T6 triple butted aluminium alloy
Fork: Suntour XCR32 LO-R 120mm
Gears: Shimano Altus 3x9
Brakes: Shimano M315 hydraulic disc
Wheel size: 27.5-inch
Weight: 14.05kg
Reasons to buy
+Excellent frame construction+Powerful hydraulic brakes+Great value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Basic suspension fork-Only available in three sizes

Evans' in-house bike brand, Pinnacle, is renowned for producing great bikes that are serious value for money. The Kapur 2 is a shining example of this and punches well above its price tag, boasting spec well above similarly priced big brand rivals.

The frame's double and triple butting helps reduce unnecessary weight and improves rider comfort. A relatively relaxed headtube angle and low bottom bracket height mean the Kapur's trail-orientated geometry is ideal for hurtling around non-threatening terrain with confidence. The reach is a little on the short side though, so you may want to check out the bikes in one of Evans stores before deciding which size suits you best.

While the Suntour XCR32 fork may be coil-sprung and pretty basic, it is surprising well controlled. If you've got an extra £100 or so though, take a look at the Kapur 3 which comes with a vastly superior air-sprung RockShox Recon RL fork and host of other upgrades.

Marin Bobcat Trail 3

(Image credit: Marin)

4. Marin Bobcat Trail 3

This versatile all-rounder that's ideal for exploring

Frame: Series 2 6061 aluminium alloy
Fork: Suntour XCM HLO 120mm
Gears: Shimano Altus 2x8
Brakes: Tektro M275 hydraulic disc
Wheel size: 27.5/29-inch
Weight: 14.5kg
Reasons to buy
+Hard to beat on the climbs+Stunning looks+Bigger sizes come with bigger wheels
Reasons to avoid
-Flexy fork in 29in versions-Relatively small gear range

Marin's shapeshifting Bobcat Trail 3 is a versatile all-rounder that's ideal for longer days out trail exploring. It comes in four sizes, with the small and medium rolling on 27.5-inch wheels, while the large and XL sized bikes sport 29-inch wheels which is great to see. The aluminium frame features modern and well-balanced geometry that's equally at home on undulating trails as it is on steep climbs. The 120mm coil-sprung fork does its job well enough in the 27.5-inch version, but can get a bit squirrelly when pushing the 29-inch incarnation hard.

The hydraulic Tektro brakes provide more than enough stopping power for the needs of the Bobcat. However, with only an 8-speed cassette, the gaps between gears are fairly large and shifting is a tad clunky. The 25mm Marin rims are built upon unbranded hubs and shod with unbranded tyres. While the low-profile tyres have a rapid rolling speed, they can be a handful on wet trails.

5. Voodoo Wazoo

Best plus-wheeled trail bomber under £500

Frame: 7005 aluminium
Fork: Suntour XCM32 HLO 130mm
Gears: Shimano Acera 2x9
Brakes: Clarks M1
Wheel size: 27.5-inch
Weight: 15.8kg
Reasons to buy
+Plus tyred speeds+130mm fork
Reasons to avoid
-Hefty weight

Plus-sized tyres don't generally come cheap, so you might expect the rest of the Wazoo’s components to be below par to make up for the chunky rubber hoops. Well, think again: somehow Voodoo has sourced decent spec all round. You get Shimano Acera 2x9 gears, a Suntour chainset, Clarks M1 brakes – legendary for punching way above their price point – and more besides.

Plus bikes live or die by the performance of their tyres and happily the 3-inch Kenda Havoc Sports are great all-rounders, giving plenty of grip and shock absorption when run at optimal plus-tyre pressures of 15 to 20 psi. They also do a great job of making any fork feel plusher than it actually is, and the combo of plus-tyres with the 130mm Suntour fork mean you can take decent sized hits in your stride.

One word of warning: while the tyres mean you’ll be able to get the Wazoo up to some proper warp speeds on flat or downward trails, you’re definitely going to be feeling it on the climbs, as you've got almost 16kg of bike to heave uphill. It'll help burn those calories, that's for sure.