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Best Mountain Bikes for Beginners in 2021: Affordable Quality

Mountain biker on a woodland trail
 
Road cycling is fun, but getting off-road on a thick wheeled mountain bike is even better. Dirt tracks, mountain slopes, forest, and even muddy fields will certainly take you further into the great outdoors and further from motor traffic than asphalt. But, before hitting the nerve testing downhill tracks you’ll want to get some practice of gentler trails. For that, you’re going to need a mountain bike.

As you’ve probably noticed, there are a lot of wallet breaking mountain bikes about. And the high prices might even be putting you off the sport. Fortunately, as a beginner, an entry level hardtail mountain bike with decent gear range and an aluminium frame will be just fine to start out. While experienced mountain bikers will swear by dual suspension and carbon fibre frames, these advanced features will drive the price up at break neck speeds and they’re certainly not necessary on beginner tracks.

So, which is the best entry level mountain bike in 2021?

Here at Cool of the Wild, we’re big biking fans and we know that you are too. If you’re new to the sport then be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to mountain biking.

To make the first step to getting out on the trail as easy as possible, we’ve put together a beginner’s mountain bike buyers guide including our top picks of the best mountain bikes for beginners.

Summary of the best mountain bikes for beginners

Disclaimer: We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

ProductNo. of gearsBrake typeFrameCost
Diamondback Hook24Mechanical discAluminum$$$$
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.121Hydraulic discAluminum$$$
Cannondale Trail 6 Bike16Hydraulic discSmartForm C3 Alloy$$
Raleigh Bike Talus 2 Mountain Bike21Mechanical discAluminum$$$
Vilano Blackjack 3.024Mechanical discAluminum$
Co-op Cycles REV 20 6-Speed Plus Kids' Bike6Mechanical discAluminum$

FAQs when choosing a beginner mountain bike

What is the best mountain bike for a beginner?
Any of the bikes on our list are suitable for beginners but the best mountain bike will depend on the type of riding you want to do, the kind of terrain you’ll ride on, and the amount you’re willing to spend. If you’re interested in tackling rougher trails, the Diamondback Hook might be the right choice for you. The Cannondale Trail 6 offers the best value for money. Meanwhile, for gentle cycles on dirt roads, canal paths, or bridleways, something like the Raleigh Talus 2 should be considered.
How much should I spend on my first mountain bike?
How much you spend depends on what features you want, how often you ride, and how much you want to pay. Top of the range mountain bikes can cost thousands but you don’t need to spend that much, especially if you’re new to the sport. A more realistic price range is $500 to $1000. For under $1000, you can find decent hardtail mountain bikes with aluminium frames and a good range of gears. There are also mountain bikes for under $500 but these budget bikes may not hold up to heavy usage or use on rougher trails.
Why are mountain bikes so expensive?
Mountain bikes are expensive because they need to be carefully engineered, constructed with high-quality parts, and tested for durability and safety.
Is it bad to ride a mountain bike on the road?
Mountain bikes are generally slower on the road than road bikes but riding a mountain bike on the road shouldn’t do any damage to your bike. For speed and comfort, cross country bikes actually do very well on the road.
Do I really need a full suspension mountain bike?
Full suspension makes rough trails more comfortable but it’s not completely necessary. None of the beginner mountain bikes on our list have full suspension. As a beginner, you probably won’t start on technical trails so a hardtail mountain bike will serve you just fine. Additionally, learning to mountain bike with a hardtail can make you a better rider. You’ll have to learn to balance and control the bike on uneven terrain without the comfort of rear suspension.
Why are mountain bikes so slow?
Mountain bikes usually have heavier and less aerodynamic frames than road bikes. The rider’s sitting position also causes more wind resistance while thick and knobby mountain bike tyres generate more friction than thin and smooth road bike tyres. The gear ratio on mountain bikes should help you get up steep climbs instead of allowing you to reach top speeds. Other features like suspension also slow you down. Essentially, they’re designed to tackle challenging terrains that would be impossible (or at least very uncomfortable) with a road bike.

The best mountain bikes for beginners in 2021

Diamondback Hook Mountain Bike

Diamondback Hook Mountain Bike

The Diamondback Hook Mountain Bike is for riders who want to take on more than just unpaved roads and tracks. It’s made with Shimano components and you can rely on the 8-speed SRAM x3 single-ring drive chain for smooth gear shifting. It’s 27.5” wheels and 120mm coil sprung suspension fork, make it suitable for pretty tough terrain. Meanwhile, its wide handlebars enable easy steering. Additionally, the Hook mountain bike is designed with a lower than average, hardtail aluminium frame, which is longer at the front and shorter at the back. This provides the control and manoeuvrability that you need for serious trail riding. There’s no doubt in our mind that the Diamond Hook is right up there with the best mountain bikes under $1000.

Key features:

  • Shimano single-ring drive chain
  • 8-speed
  • 120mm front suspension
  • Aluminium frame
  • Value for money

Find the latest price on:
Backcountry | EMS


Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 Mountain Bike

Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 Mountain Bike

This unisex model of the Co-Op Cycles DRT 1.1 is available in three sizes. However, Co-Op Cycles also offer this mountain bike in specific men’s and women’s versions. It has a 3 x 8 drivetrain, giving you a generous total of 24 gears to ride with. Meanwhile, the Shimano Altus front and rear derailleurs provide accurate shifting.

Another key feature is the responsive hydraulic disk brakes which require less power to use and give more accurate stopping. Hydraulic brakes are something that is rare to find in beginners mountain bikes in this price bracket. Additionally, the DRT 1.1 comes with 100mm coil sprung front suspension which offers more accurate handling as well as a more comfortable ride.

Key features:

  • Tektro hydraulic disc brakes
  • Shimano 8-speed
  • 100mm front suspension
  • Available in various sizes

Find the latest price on:
REI


Cannondale Trail 6 Bike 2021

Cannondale Trail 6 Bike 2021

When it comes to value for money, the Cannondale Trail 6 is one of our top picks. This hardtail mountain bike features a high-quality SmartForm C3 aluminium alloy frame that’s both durable and lightweight. Weighing in at just over 32 lbs (medium version) this is also one of the lightest mountain bikes for beginners on our list. The Trail 6 also features a 100mm SR Suntrail XCT front fork, hydraulic brakes and a 2 x 8-speed drivetrain that’s able to tackle steep climbs. Overall, the Cannondale Trail 6 is an excellent all-rounder for beginners and suitable for anyone progressing to more advanced trails or cross-country routes.

Key features:

  • 16-gears
  • 100mm front suspension
  • Lightweight
  • 29-inch tyres (M, L, XL) / 27.5-inch tyres (XS, S)
  • Available in 5 sizes (XS to XL)

Find the latest price at:
REI


Raleigh Bikes Talus

Raleigh Bikes Talus 2

Well-built, reliable, and available in medium or large frame sizes, the Raleigh Bikes Talus 2, is one of the best beginner mountain bikes for light trails like forest tracks or canal paths. Although it’s not for challenging trails, its 29-inch by 2.25-inch-wide knobby tyres will let you roll over most obstacles. Likewise, it’s SR Suntour XCE-28 front suspension forks offer a reasonable 100mm of travel which is plenty for bumping over tree roots and rocks. When it comes to tackling hills, the Talus 2 offers a 21-gear range which should allow you to peddle moderately steep climbs and build speed on flatter areas.

Key features:

  • Hardtail – 100mm front suspension
  • 3 x 7-speed drivetrain
  • Tatra M280 mechanical disc brakes
  • Aluminium alloy frame
  • 29-inch knobbly

Find the latest price at:
Amazon


Vilano Blackjack 3.0

Vilano Blackjack 3.0

If you’re looking for a versatile hardtail mountain bike which doesn’t break the bank then the Vilano Blackjack 3.0 29er is one of the best mountain bikes under $500. This upgraded version of the Vilano Blackjack, with a handcrafted hydroformed aluminium frame and double walled 29” aluminium wheels, is equally suited to road and off-road usage. The Blackjack 3.0 is fitted with 29”x2.1” tyres, plus an 80mm suspension fork that can also be locked. The result is a fairly smooth ride even when negotiating bumpy obstacles. Likewise, the Shimano 8-speed EF-51 integrated shifters allow for fast and smooth changing and provide a wide gear range.

Key features:

  • Shimano 8-speed EF51 integrated shifters/brake levers
  • Aluminium frame and wheels
  • 80mm Front suspension with lockout

Find the latest price at:
Amazon


Co-op Cycles REV 20 6-Speed Plus Kids' Bike

Co-op Cycles REV 20 6-Speed Plus Kids’ Bike

Suitable for kids aged 6+, the Co-op Cycles REV 20 bike is a superb option for budding trail riders looking for a little bit more out of their off-road escapades. This excellent value bike offers mechanical disc brakes for smooth and reliable stopping power, and a simple 1×6-speed drivechain. This gives plenty of shifting options on gentle trails without overloading riders with gear options. What really makes this kids bike stand out is the plus-size tyres. These provide a load of give and bounce and eliminate the need for front suspension. Plus, their large surface area adds stability and traction to little riders so that they can gain confidence as they progress.

Key features:

  • 6-speed Shimano drivechain
  • No suspension
  • Mechanical disc brakes
  • Extra-wide, 2.6 in. all-terrain tires

Find the latest price on:
REI


Types of riding

When considering which type of mountain bike is right for you, you’ll need to decide what tupe of riding you’ll be mostly doing. Here’s a quick guide:

Trail riding

Most beginners start with trail riding. Trail riding is about cycling for enjoyment rather than speed, endurance or competition. Most trail routes are suitable for beginners and generic hardtail mountain bikes. You don’t need a purpose-built mountain bike for trail riding.

Cross-country riding

Cross-country riding is about going fast off-road, uphill, and downhill. Cross-country bikes optimise pedalling efficiency so the seating position is less upright. They are the lightest type of mountain bike and often have lockable front-suspension or rigid frames.

Downhill mountaining biking

For adrenaline seekers, downhill mountain biking is the most dangerous type of riding. As the name suggests, you start at the top of a hill or mountain and finish at the bottom, negotiating obstacles on the route down. For this reason, downhill bikes need to be durable. Most have full suspension with a larger travel range than typical mountain bikes. As there’s not much pedalling and almost no uphill, downhill bikes have fewer gears.

All-mountain and enduro riding

All-mountain riding and enduro riding are essentially trail riding but with more challenging climbs and extreme descents. In terms of frame geometry, all-mountain and enduro bikes optimise pedal efficiency but the seating position is more upright than a cross-country bike. They’re also lightweight but most have full suspension. The terms all-mountain and enduro are often used interchangeably. However, enduro riding specifically referrers to racing.

What to look for in the best mountain bikes for beginners

Number of gears

It’s important to check the number of gears your bike has. A wider gear range will give you more options and make uphill riding considerably easier. Most mountain bikes will come with a minimum of 21 gears (7-speed) which is usually split into 7 gears on the rear cog and three gears on the front. 24 gears (8-speed) should be sufficient for an entry level mountain bike. More than this will add weight to the bike and require more maintenance and cleaning.

Size of bike

When it comes to the frame size, longer is generally better for hardcore riders and travelling at speed. A longer frame centres the rider and distributes the weight more evenly between the wheels. It thereby offers more stable riding on uneven terrain. An upright seating position, on the other hand, is more comfortable and easier to balance at lower speeds.

You’ll also need to know what wheel size to choose. The most commonly available sizes are 26” to 29” in diameter. The size of the wheel will affect the speed at which you can move and larger tyres can cover more distance with less physical effort. Durable 29” wheels are generally considered the best for mountain biking. Once moving you’ll fly over all types of rugged terrain, however, they can take a little more pedal power to accelerate. It’s worth noting too, that the height can make balancing and manoeuvring the bike more difficult at slow speeds. For this reason, beginners may prefer smaller 26” or 27.5” tyres.

Consider the type of trails you’ll be biking on before choosing the frame and wheel size. Mountain bikes are often available in more than one size so you can check your measurements against the bikes before making your purchase.

Brake types

We believe that the best brake types for mountain bikes are hydraulic disc brakes rather than the more traditional V-brakes or rim breaks that you tend to find on road bikes. These work by squeezing the disc (rotor) in the centre of the wheel rather than the wheel itself. Although disc brakes can be slightly heavier and can interfere with luggage racks, they provide considerably better control when stopping.

Rigid vs hardtail vs full-suspension

The type of suspension you need depends on what terrain you’ll be riding on and how much comfort you want. Suspension absorbs some of the impact from drops and bumps but also makes the bike heavier. Although it’s less common, some mountain bikes have rigid frames (without suspension). This setup is fine for beginners on gentle trails but you’ll sacrifice comfort and may need to walk the bumpier sections.

Hardtail bikes are the most common type for beginners. These have suspension on the front forks only, which brings down the cost as well as the weight. Hardtail bikes are popular for cross-country and trail riding but also suitable for some all-mountain tracks.

If you’re interested in downhill racing or all-mountain riding and you’re prepared to spend a bit more, a full-suspension bike might be right for you. These bikes have suspension at the front and rear of the bike.

Frame size

One bike certainly doesn’t fit all. That’s why mountain bikes often come in different sizes – typically XS, S, M, L, or XL – although not all models will be available in the full range of sizes. It’s essential to check the specific measurements as these can vary between brands. Most bike brands will have a size chart that lists measurements for each bike.

The most important measurements to look for are:

  • Height range: this indicates how tall/short the rider should be for the frame size.
  • Reach: the horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the headtube. A shorter reach means a more upright seated position.
  • Stack: the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the headtube. A longer stack length means a more relaxed position, while a shorter stack with longer reach means a more aerodynamic position.
  • Stand over height: this measures the distance from the top tube to the ground. To be able to mount and dismount comfortably, the stand over height needs to be less than your inseam (inner leg) measurement.

Frame material

Most affordable mountain bikes are made from an aluminium alloy, meaning that other elements are added to improve the bikes strength, durability, or corrosion-resistance. Top of the range mountain bikes may have carbon fibre or titanium frames; but for most beginners the high cost of these materials isn’t worthwhile. Another option is steel which is more durable than aluminium but also heavier. Aluminium frames provide a balance of durability and weight.


Getting off road on your bike is a superb way to get further into the wild and explore more. Whether you’re hitting the beginner routes at your local trail centre or exploring cross-country tracks, we’re sure you’ll find the perfect bike for you in our selection of the best mountain bikes for beginners.

Happy peddaling, happy bikers!

About the author

author-beth

Originally from the UK and currently based in Turkey, Beth Carter is a full-time adventurer, former scout, and vegan traveller. When she’s not hiking long-distance trails with an oversized pack on her shoulders, you’ll probably find her peddling up and down scenic roads, or pitching a tent in a far-off mountain range. On the odd occasion, you might even see her sitting at a keyboard, coffee at the ready, typing about her latest outdoor pursuit.

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