Best mountain bike under £500: trail centre-ready machines with bargain price-tags

Our pick of the best budget mountain bikes that are capable of handling proper off-road adventures

Included in this guide:

best under £500 mountain bike: Vitus Nucleus VR
(Image credit: Vitus)

If you're looking for the best mountain bike under £500, then you're in the right price. Despite rising prices of late, £500 (or thereabouts) is still just about enough to budget for when buying an entry level mountain bike. Yes, there are substantially cheaper models around, but you'll almost always be making a significant sacrifice quality-wise, which will soon become apparent after just a few outings to your nearest trail centre or local woods. Full disclosure: there are a few bikes in this guide that cost slightly more than aforementioned price point, but they are just so flipping good that we simply could not leave them out.

Should your budget allow it, each of the bikes featured here also has fancier models in the same range that sport more sophisticated componentry and a lighter overall weight. If you're feeling really flush though, may we suggest you cast your eye over our guide to the best mountain bike guide overall, or perhaps you're unsure as to which type of bike you're after. In which case, our road vs mountain bike explainer will help you make the right choice. Finally, iIf you still can't decide which of these two cycling worlds fits you best, perhaps you'd like to explore a third way and check out our best gravel bike guide? 

We'll start with some important shopping advice, followed by our picks of the best mountain bikes under £500 (or thereabouts) to buy now. 

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Black Friday mountain bike deals
If you're on a tight budget, the winter sales events could be a good time to pick up a new mountain bike for less than RRP. We'll be keeping a keen eye on prices and reporting on any bargains on our best Black Friday deals roundup page.

Tips for buying the best mountain bike under £500

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. For more info on the jargon you might come across on your budget mountain bike hunt, head to our mountain bike FAQ explainer.

The best mountain bike under £500

Vitus Nucleus VR mountain bike

(Image credit: Vitus)

1. Vitus Nucleus VR 2021

The best budget mountain bike for most people

Specifications
Frame: 6061-T6 aluminium alloy
Fork: Suntour XCR32 Air LOR DS 120mm
Gears: Samox/Box Four 1x8
Brakes: Tektro HD
Wheel size: 27 or 29-inch options
Weight: 14.56kg
Reasons to buy
+Long and low frame geometry+Excellent rim and tyre combo+1x drivetrain+Air-sprung fork
Reasons to avoid
-Big gaps between gears

Topping our list of the best budget mountain bike to buy now is the Vitus Nucleus. Okay, okay, it's not quite under £500, but close enough, we think. This line has been picking up best entry-level mountain bike awards for a number of years, and the 2021 model doesn't disappoint. This latest Nucleus is the first to feature 1x gearing consisting of a single 32t chainring up front and a 11-40t cassette at the rear. While a single shifter makes the bike simpler to use and the small, single chainring gives extra clearance over obstacles, the wide-ranging cassette is only 8-speed, so the gaps between gears are fairly large.

Also new for 2021 is a Suntour air-sprung fork with 20mm more travel than the previous model, which allows the Nucleus to soak up heftier hits. While this boosts the bike's capabilities on tougher trails, it's a shame the new fork is not of the wider and more predictable Boost variety found on the 2020 Nucleus. Despite a couple of small spec compromises, the latest Nucleus is still a confidence inspiring and highly capable bike at a seriously competitive price. It comes in four frame sizes, 27.5 and 29 wheel options, a female-specific model and also a VRS version with fancier components for those with deeper pockets.

Voodoo Braag budget mountain bike

(Image credit: Voodoo )

2. Voodoo Braag

A bargain-priced trail bomber that also comes in a female-specific model

Specifications
Frame: Triple-butted aluminium
Fork: Suntour XCM32-NLO 120mm
Gears: Microshift Advent 1x9
Brakes: Clarks Clout hydraulic discs
Wheel size: 29"
Weight: not stated
Reasons to buy
+Excellent value for money+Hydraulic disc brakes+UK-specced components
Reasons to avoid
-Only 9 gears

Voodoo's Bizango has topped many a best budget trail bike guide, but while it still rides just as well as ever and offers great value for money, its price has risen a little too far to make it into this buying guide. However, Voodoo has a number of excellent, lower priced bikes, the cheapest being the Braag and its female equivalent, the Soukri. Admittedly, their RRPs are £550, but the bikes are so good, we just had to include them. Both bikes share very similar specifications, though while the Soukri runs on 27.5-inch wheels, the Braag is a 29er. The frame on the women's bike is a little smaller too, but a relaxed frame design helps keep confidence levels up throughout a wide range of trail conditions.

A nice touch from this US bike brand is the addition of a couple UK-specific component choices which helps the bikes perform better in our squelchier climes. The switch from Kenda Honey Badgers to Maxxis Ardent tyres helps boost wet weather performance, while an additional gel insert in the WTB Volt saddle mitigates the most bruising rides. With powerful hydraulic disc brakes, decent wheelsets and a capable 120mm coil-sprung fork with a bolt-through front axle, both Braag and Soukri are excellent value for money. Crucially, they perform when out on the trail too and are well suited to hammering trail centre blue trails and exploring the reds.

Polygon Xtrada 5 budget mountain bike

(Image credit: Polygon)

3. Polygon Xtrada 5

An XC bike that can take on a wide range of trails

Specifications
Frame: 6061 hydro-formed aluminium
Fork: Suntour XCM-HLO 120mm
Gears: Shimano Deore 2 x 10
Brakes: Tektro HD-M275 hydraulic discs
Wheel size: 27.5"
Weight: not stated
Reasons to buy
+Bargain price-tag+Excellent all-rounder+Decent component choices
Reasons to avoid
-Tyres not designed for mud

While Polygon may be a name unfamiliar to some, the Indonesian brand has been making bikes for 25 years with models that regularly compete on the DH and enduro pro circuits. Its Xtrada 5 is a well-balanced entry-level machine that offers plenty of bike for the price, and we've spotted a few deals that take it under the £500 cut off, making it absolutely excellent value for money.  

While designed as a cross-country bike, the Xtrada has a more relaxed geometry than traditional XC machines and is more capable and confidence inspiring over tougher trails as a result. It comes with a choice of wheel sizes, 27.5 or 29-inch – though the bigger wheeled version costs a little more. It's great to see Shimano Deore gears and hydraulic disc brakes on a bike of this price, while the Suntour fork is pretty much par for the course, the Xtrada 5 gets the more capable 120mm version. The fast-rolling Mizt tyres will help you reach warp speeds on smoother, flowing trails, but won't perform as well in greasy conditions. If you're looking for a solid performer that will give you confidence over a wide range of trails, the Xtrada is a solid choice.

Trek Marlin 5 budget mountain bike

(Image credit: Trek)

4. Trek Marlin 5 2022

Tough enough for the trails, yet rapid enough for urban riding

Specifications
Frame: Trek Alpha Silver Aluminium
Fork: Suntour XCM DS HLO 100mm
Gears: Shimano Altus 2 x 8
Brakes: Tektro HD-M276 hydraulic discs
Wheel size: 29"
Weight: 13.9kg
Reasons to buy
+Fast-rolling tyres+Ideal for all-round use+Hydraulic disc brakes
Reasons to avoid
-Poor handling on slippery trails

The aluminium-framed Trek Marlin 5 rolls on 29-inch wheels shod with fast-rolling tyres and provides plenty of speed whether you're hitting well-groomed trails or city Tarmac. A coil-sprung, 100mm Suntour fork takes the sting out of small trail lumps and bumps, while a low, cross-country riding position helps you rack up the miles. Bontrager XR2 Comp tyres give enough traction in dry conditions but they can be a handful on wet or muddy trails. Fortunately, the hydraulic Tektro disc brakes provide plenty of responsive stopping power. The 2022 model has an upgraded gear system with an 8-speed cassette and double chainrings – unlike previous models and their 3x7 set-up. Despite having less gear choice, the new system has a very similar range, gives better obstacle clearance and shaves off a little weight too.

Internally routed cables and brake hoses give the Trek Marlin 5 a clean, uncluttered look and his sleek looking bike is available in a choice of four different paint jobs plus a female-specific version. All in all, this is a well put together all-rounder that's ideal for hitting blue and green graded loops, or exploring trail and Tarmac. A worthy inclusion in our best budget mountain bike ranking. 

Merida Big Nine 15 budget mountain bike

(Image credit: Merida)

5. Merida Big Nine 15 2021

A great all rounder that can cover some serious miles

Specifications
Frame: 6061 aluminium double-butted alloy
Fork: Suntour XCT30 100mm
Gears: Shimano 2x8
Brakes: Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc
Wheel size: 29-inch
Reasons to buy
+Modern frame geometry+Hydraulic disc brakes+Big wheels and fast tyres+Reasons to avoid
Reasons to avoid
-Tyres aren't the grippiest

While Merida's entry-level 29er may be not quite as capable as some of the other bikes here on gnarlier trails, with more cross-country orientated geometry and bigger wheels, this budget mountain bike is definitely the one to go for if you want to hoon it around less threatening trails at serious warp speeds. The 100mm coil-sprung Suntour fork does a good job of smoothing out small trail bumps and isn't bad at handling bigger hits either. The component highlight though is the pair of Shimano hydraulic disk brakes that do a better job than the Tektro equivalents found on many of the Big Nine 15's price rivals. The brakes are nicely matched with a chainset and 2x8-speed gearing which completes a full Shimano groupset. The narrow rims and 2.2in tyres are both Merida branded and like the frame itself, geared towards maximum speed as opposed to tons of stability and grip.

Marin Bobcat Trail 3 budget mountain bike

(Image credit: Marin)

6. Marin Bobcat Trail 3

This versatile all-rounder that's ideal for exploring

Specifications
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

Rounding out our list of the best mountain bikes £500 is Marin's shapeshifting Bobcat Trail 3, 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.