Best mountain bike under £500: the best cheap mountain bikes for beginners and kids

Tackle tough terrain with the best MTB for less

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A decent mountain bike may plough through the dirt, but it needn't cost you the earth. Make a few compromises and you can go as low as £500 without putting yourself in mortal peril. We've picked the best cheap mountain bikes, with some under £500 and some skirting a little higher, for reasons we'll go into right after these words from our sponsors.

Buying the best cheap mountain bike: what you need to know

Our pick of the best trail orientated mountain machines actually runs from under £500 to just shy of £600. That's because by spending those few quid more, you do open up a lot of additional options. 

Nobody who's a regular mountain biker would ever wholeheartedly recommend spending just £500 on a mountain bike for an adult, but you will find some perfectly reasonable cheap rides, down in the bargain basement. Of course, that's especially true at sales time…

There are a few pitfalls awaiting the unwitting buyer at the entry level end of the bike market with a number of bikes sporting outdated frame geometry, heavy and/or ancient kit and in the worst cases, components that’s aren't strictly speaking fit for purpose.

With cheaper bikes having smaller profit margins, global and Brexit-aligned price rises have hit this more modest price bracket harder, as manufacturers cut corners and retailers pass their increasing costs to the consumer. 

As a result, though our original plan was to feature bikes well under £500 in this round-up, we’re now unable to find anything that we could completely recommend. That's in stark contrast to just a few years ago, when the pound was stronger. 

Still, go a little higher than £500 and you'll find there are as many great bikes out there as ever, if you know where to look and what to look for. 

Along with the cheap MTB brands we’ve featured here, the likes of Whyte, Giant, Scott, Boardman and Genesis all offer models well worth your consideration, though you may have to pay a little more to get like for like spec when compared to these bargain steeds.

When considering a new off-road steed, as well as more obvious attributes like weight, decent spec and getting a good fit, keep an eye out for confidence inspiring and user friendly modern features such as 1x gear systems, long frames with relaxed angles, wide rimmed wheels and wide bars with a short stem. They may be harder to find at this end of the market, but as we’ve proven with the bicycles here, they are out there, and you can get a seriously capable, bang up to date mountain bike for £500 (or a teensy bit more).

If you're after a cheap mountain bike, you should go for an aluminium frame instead of a carbon one, don't obsess about the number of gears and accept a slightly cheaper finishing set (saddle, handlebars, grips and the rest) and you will be quids in. 

You may even get some suspension for your money. Front suspension, that is. That said, opting for rigid front fork rather than a suspension fork means that a) that money that would have been spent on suspension has hopefully been spent elsewhere on the bike and b) you won't have a cheap suspension fork which could cost you in reliability. The downside is that a rigid fork offers less comfort and off-road controllability.

In terms of rear suspension, if you're riding canal paths and light trails you really don't need it and most bikes at this price point will come without.

One area it's best not to skimp on is the brakes. Hydraulic disk brakes are more efficient than mechanical ones, but perhaps not essential on less arduous descents. 

Just don't get opt for rim brakes if you intend to take on slopes more daunting than the ones in Amsterdam, please – when riding off-road, disc brakes are your friend.

With all that in mind, we’ve scoured the net for the best mountain bikes under £500, with Wiggle and Evans Cycles coming up as the best retailers. 

The best mountain bikes under £500, in order

1. Calibre Gauntlet

The best mountain bike under £500

Specifications
Frame: 6061 hydroformed alloy
Fork: RockShox XC30 Solo Air 120mm
Gears: SRAM X5 2x210
Brakes: Avid Elixir 1
Wheel size: 27.5-inch
Weight: 13.75kg
Reasons to buy
+Tuneable RockShox fork+A confident performer+Great value, clearly
Reasons to avoid
-Gears have a short lifespan-Long-ish stem

This has an RRP of £599 but currently sneaks under the bar at £499, with a Go Outdoors discount card – which is very easy to get.

Sold exclusively through the Go Outdoors chain, the Calibre brand has a garnered an ever growing reputation for producing capable, well thought out and great value bikes. The Gauntlet is no exception, particularly at its current list price.

The mostly SRAM based spec list is a strong one, the Avid brakes giving decent power and feel, while the gear changes on the 2x10 setup are snappy and precise.

The tyre pairing of a WTB Vigilante up front and Trail Boss to the rear gives reliable grip in all conditions. Wide 760mm bars allow for confident control, even if they are slightly hampered by the longish 70mm stem.

The tuneable, air-sprung RockShox fork is superior to the Suntours that usually appear on cheap mountain bikes, and does a solid job of calming trail chatter. A somewhat slack 67.5-degree head angle helps aid pilot confidence when the trails start to point downwards, as does a decent effective top tube length of 596mm.

TL;DR? This is as near to a 'proper' mountain bike as you'll find for under £500.

2. Diamondback Heist 0.0

Best mountain bike not quite under £500

Specifications
Frame: Butted hydroformed alloy
Fork: Suntour XCM23-HLO 120mm
Gears: Shimano Deore 1x10
Brakes: Shimano AM315
Wheel size: 27.5-inch
Weight: 14.05kg
Reasons to buy
+Impressive component list+Available in five sizes (14- to 22-inch)
Reasons to avoid
-Old school geometry-Front tyre isn’t great in the mud

Okay, as stated above, some of these are a little more than £500, but you get what you pay a little more for. This entry-level, 0.0 version of the Diamondback Heist, like the rest of the Heist range delivers more bangs per buck than you’ll find on other bikes on the market. 

The impressive component selection includes a Shimano 1x10 Deore gearset and wide 11-42t cassette which gives slick shifting and plenty of range with a 32t chainring up front. Likewise, the Shimano AM315 disc brakes are smooth operators that afford decent stopping power.

While the ride is stable and assured, a conventional 69-degree head angle, average 580mm top tube length (on an 18-inch frame) and long 80mm stem mean the Heist is better suited to all-round trail exploration than properly blasting the descents. A cracking bike, nonetheless.

3. Vitus Nucleus 29 VR HT

Bargain MTB that begs to be ridden hard

Specifications
Frame: 6061-T6 aluminium
Fork: Suntour XCR LO-R 100mm
Gears: Shimano Altus/Microshift 3x9
Brakes: Tektro HD-M290
Wheel size: 29-inch or 27.5-inch
Weight: 14.3kg
Reasons to buy
+Modern frame geometry+Excellent tyres
Reasons to avoid
-Some uninspiring spec

The Nucleus’ latest frame design is based upon that of its swankier Vitus stablemate, the Sentier. Its newly tweaked arrangement of aluminium tubes makes the 2018 Nucleus longer and slacker than in previous incarnations and better suited to more aggressive trail riding as a result.

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 flipside 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.

The combo of 740mm bars and short 50mm stem helps add front end confidence in spite of the slightly under-gunned fork with only 100mm of travel. With more modestly powered Tektro brakes and old school 3x9 gearing, the spec is better suited to more circumspect (or skilled) riders on a budget than some of the options here.

The smaller-wheeled model (Vitus 275 VR HT) is another excellent choice.

4. Voodoo Wazoo

Best plus-wheeled trail bomber under £500

Specifications
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.

Properly cheap bikes for road riding or a gentle intro to MTB

5. Giant ATX 2 27.5 2018

A cheap, fit for purpose mountain bike that will get you on your way

Specifications
Best for: Cross country and gravel
Brakes: Mechanical disc
Frame: Aluminium
Wheel size: 27.5
Reasons to buy
+Design based on cross country bikes+Size-specific wheel diameters
Reasons to avoid
-Only 7 gears 

This bike firmly sits within the MTB under £500 price bracket – it can usually be had for under £400 in fact – however it still pays has enough Giant DNA to deliver a solid experience on trails and gravel tracks. 

There are numerous compromises here, of course, but the frame geometry is decent, and it's a good bike for less challenging off-road terrain or potholed city streets.

6. GT Aggressor Sport 27.5 2018

The cheapest of the lot

Specifications
Best for: Everyday comfort
Brakes: Mechanical disc
Frame: Aluminium alloy
Wheel size: 27.5
Reasons to buy
+Cheap+Good enough for trails
Reasons to avoid
-Not for regular mountain biking 

The cheapest on our cheap list, this budget buy is by no means advisable if you’re looking to get serious. However it’s adequate if you’re looking to dabble, or just want a stable urban ride that can easily tackle kerbs, and looks butch.

With a geometric aluminium frame, 7 gear speed and mechanical brake system, this bike has everything you need for a comfortable ride.

7. Specialized Pitch 650B 2018 Mountain Bike

A decent, entry-level mountain bike with suspension and damping

Specifications
Best for: Great starting point
Brakes: Mechanical disc
Frame: Aluminium alloy
Wheel size: 27.5
Reasons to buy
+8 speed gears+Hydraulic suspension with damping
Reasons to avoid
-Mechanical brakes 

This mountain bike features full suspension, although as you'd imagine for 400 quid it’s coil sprung, rather than air, which adds additional weight. The mechanical brakes are also not going to bring you to a dead halt any time soon when taking on a downhill.

Specialized's frame geometry is still much admired by riders who've bought this, and it's probably a decent starting point if you’re dipping a toe in the MTB world for the first time, or looking to fit out your offspring.