Mountain biker on a woodland trail

Best Mountain Bikes for Beginners: Affordable Quality

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 2018?

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 beginners’ guide to mountain biking.

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

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

ProductNo. of gearsBrake typeFrameCost
Cannondale Catalyst 4 27.521Mechanical discSmartForm C3 Alloy$460
Diamondback Hook24Mechanical discAluminum$700
Vilano Blackjack 3.0 29er24Mechanical discHydroformed alloy$300
Co-op Cycles DRT 1.124Hydraulic discAluminum$500
GHOST Kato 1.6 AL 2624Mechanical discAluminum$629
Raleigh Bikes Tekoa24Hydraulic discAluminum$500
GT Stomper Prime 2421PadsKids sizes$500

The best mountain bikes for beginners in 2018

Cannondale Catalyst 4 27.5

Cannondale Catalyst 4 27.5

Cannondale is known for producing reasonably priced mountain bikes which are built to last, and the Catalyst 4 certainly lives up to that expectation. It’s SmartForm C3 aluminium frame is as lightweight as it is durable. The sporty frame style and fast rolling 27.5” wheels give you the agility and control that you need for beginner to intermediate biking. Although the Cannondale Catalyst 4 is designed for beginners its 7-speed drive chain provides a sufficient gear range. The Shimano Tourney front and rear derailleur and disc brakes offer functional and precise gear changing and controlled stopping.

The Catalyst 4 also features front suspension which can handle a variety of terrains. Its components may not be the highest tech, however, the standard size and unisex frame makes it easy to upgrade to an intermediate level bike further down the line. We, therefore, think that Catalyst 4 is one of the best entry level mountain bikes for the money.

Key features:

  • 7-speed
  • Shimano components
  • Front suspension
  • Aluminium frame

Pros

  • Excellent value for money
  • Easy to upgrade
  • Lightweight and durable frame

Cons

  • Tourney derailleurs are not as popular as other Shimano parts

Find the latest price on:
REI


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

Pros

  • Excellent shape for trail riding
  • Good manoeuvrability
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Some users report that the chain frequently comes off

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Vilano Blackjack 3.0

Vilano Blackjack 3.0 29er

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

Pros

  • Versatile usage
  • Lightweight frame
  • Cheap price

Cons

  • This bike must be self-assembled
  • Saddle and handlebar grips are not very comfortable

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


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 disk brakes
  • Shimano 8-speed
  • 100mm front suspension

Pros

  • Available in various sizes
  • Superior braking system
  • Good suspension
  • Lightweight aluminium frame

Cons

  • Suspension is without lockout

Find the latest price on:
REI


GHOST Kato 1.6 AL 26 Bike

GHOST Kato 1.6 AL 26

If you’re looking for the best entry level mountain bike to take cross-country riding for the weekend then the Ghost Kato 1.6 AL 26 would be a wise choice. It’s fitted with an SR Suntour SF16 XCT front fork with a comprehensive 100mm of travel which provides a comfortable ride over an uneven track. When it comes to durability, this bike is made with a hydroformed aluminium alloy frame which is tough enough to withstand off-road biking. The 26” wheels, short chainstays and Kato geometry make it highly nimble and easy to manoeuvre, while the upright seating provides a comfortable seating position. That’s not the only feature we like about the Ghost Kato 1.6 AL. This model also comes with powerful hydraulic disc brakes, 24 gears, and reliable Shimano Tourney front and rear derailleurs. Additionally, this model is dropper post ready so it can easily be adapted for uphill cycling.

Key features:

  • 100mm front fork suspension
  • Hydroformed aluminium alloy frame
  • 8-speed
  • Dropper post ready

Pros

  • Comfortable suspension
  • Durable frame
  • Wide gear range
  • Available in five sizes

Cons

  • Pedals are not included

Find the latest price on:
REI


Raleigh Bikes Tekoa Mountain Bike

Raleigh Tekoa Mountain Bike

If you want to cover a lot of distance then the Tekoa Mountain Bike from Raleigh Bikes is a fast rolling companion. Its 29” wheels, coupled with a Suntour XCT front suspension fork with 100mm of travel, make light work of long distances and bumpy terrain. Likewise, the hydraulic disc brakes give you fast and controlled stopping power even on wet or dusty tracks. It has tough double rim aluminium wheels and a lightweight aluminium frame. The Tekoa Mountain Bike also offers an upright seating position which is more comfortable for longer rides. Aside from its practical design, the Tekoa Mountain Bike is a good-looking bike which comes in way below $1000.

Key features:

  • Tektro Auriga hydraulic disc brakes
  • Suntour XCT front fork
  • 100mm suspension
  • Aluminium frame and wheels

Pros

  • Available in three sizes
  • Durable frame
  • Comfortable to ride
  • Suitable for fast riding

Cons

  • Will require some self-assembly
  • Uncomfortable seat

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


GT Stomper Prime 24

GT Stomper Prime 24

If you’re lucky enough to have children who love getting active in the great outdoors then the GT Stomper Prime 24 is a 7-speed mountain bike which won’t break the bank. Set up with front suspension with 50mm travel, GT BMX flat pedals, GT MTB grips, and a Shimano FW cog set, this bike is ready to take on tricky terrain. Plus, it has Shimano Revo twist Shifters which are specifically designed for smaller hands. It is available in four child-specific sizes with LegitFit frame and shorter drive chains to allow your child to sit correctly and comfortably whilst improving riding posture.

The GT Stomper Prime is made from a combination of aluminium and steel. It’s slightly heavier than a full aluminium bike, however, for the price, the GT Stomper Prime 24 certainly ticks all the right boxes to be one of the best entry level mountain bikes for kids.

Key features:

  • 7-speed
  • Shimano brakes, shifters, and drive chain
  • LegitFit design
  • Front suspension

Pros

  • Specifically designed for kids
  • Available in 4 sizes
  • Durable frame
  • Reasonable price

Cons

  • No disc brakes

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


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.


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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