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When it comes to choosing a beginner mountain bike, you’ll need to make some tough decisions. Unlike the bikes we rode as a kid—which didn’t need much besides a seat and two wheels in order to make us happy—the best mountain bikes for beginners need to adhere to a strict set of criteria.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun when you’re searching for one. With our guide to the best beginner mountain bike, we’ll try to make sure that you choose the right model the first time around.
Best Men’s Beginner Mountain Bike
Best Women's Beginner Mountain Bike
Best Unisex Mountain Bike
Best Mountain Bike for Teenagers
Best Budget Mountain Bike
Things To Think About Before Shopping For a Beginner Mountain Bike
What is a good mountain bike for a beginner?
A good entry level mountain bike should be a hardtail—that is, a bike that’s equipped with just the front suspension fork (see Types of Mountain Bikes, below). Hardtails are less expensive and require less care than full suspension models, but they can be just as much fun to ride.
Moreover, full suspension can be a bad idea when you’re first learning how to ride. Suspension tuning is a tricky business, and it can distract you from having fun on the trail. If you enjoy riding and tuning your beginner mountain bike, you can think about trying a full suspension model the next time around. Just remember that some cheaper bikes don’t allow you to tune the suspension, so make sure you take the time to save up for a decent one.
When buying an entry level mountain bike, you should look for one that will suit your frame—that is, your height and body type. Don’t get a bike that’s too big, or it will be difficult to manage. If you have to decide between a model that’s just a bit too small and another that’s too large, go for the smaller one.
What do you need to know before buying a mountain bike?
First of all, don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you that a lighter bike will be superior to a heavy one. This isn’t necessarily the case. The geometry of the bike is more important than the weight itself. For example, if the angle of the seat tube is improperly designed, you’ll have a hard time pedaling the bike uphill.
One reason why you should look for a hardtail bike when you’re starting out: Even the less expensive hardtail bikes will offer decent suspension forks. A good suspension fork is an invaluable trail companion, so this is something you want to pay extra attention to when you’re choosing a bike.
Check the specifications to find out if the unit in question has an air sprung fork. If it’s unclear, try checking the company website or asking a sales representative. Air sprung forks are much easier to tune than their coil-sprung counterparts, and they’re much lighter to boot.
Finally, while it might seem silly, be sure to choose a bike in a color that you like. If you aren’t a fan of the color, you might not be as motivated to ride it. Because I’ve never cared much about the color of whatever car I might be driving, I was skeptical of this advice at first. Then I remembered that I don’t spend as much time looking at the exterior of the car while I’m driving it.
How much should you spend on your first mountain bike?
As far as pricing is concerned, mountain bikes have quite the range (pun intended). It’s possible to spend several months’ salary on a quality model. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable options available as well.
At minimum, you should have about $500 saved before you start shopping. There are a lot of great mountain bikes for beginners available at around that price. In the $700 to $1000 range, you’ll find bikes that adapt easily to the rapidly shifting standards that the cycling industry is known for.
If you can afford to spend $1000 or more, you can expect the bike to go for several years without needing any repairs or replacements. Many of the top brands are available at this level, and their parts are top-notch.
In the end, how much you spend should depend on a number of factors. How often do you plan to ride the bike? Is this just a starter bike, or do you plan on riding it for many years to come? And most importantly: How much can you comfortably afford to spend?
When you’re setting your budget, make sure to allow for other essentials: a good helmet, appropriate clothing, tools, and spare parts. Don’t use up all your money on the bicycle itself, or you won’t be able to afford to ride it.
Types of Mountain Bikes
With all this talk about hardtail and full suspension bikes, you might be feeling a little bit lost. For those of you who are true novices on the subject, here’s a primer on the three different types of mountain bikes.
These bikes have no suspension on the rear or front forks, hence the term rigid. A rigid bike is not a good beginner mountain bike. If you start out with one of these, there’s a good chance that your first day on the trail will be your last. Choose a different option instead. Both your body and your wallet will be thanking you later.
Again, the term is self-explanatory here: Full suspension bikes are the opposite of rigid models, as they feature suspension on both the front and the rear forks. They provide a comfortable ride and can help you expertly navigate rugged terrain.
That said, it helps if the operator is an expert as well. These models also tend to cost quite a bit more, which is problematic if you’re new to the sport. That’s why these aren’t the best beginner mountain bikes. We would recommend waiting until you’ve had a chance to acclimate to the cycling experience before investing in a full suspension bike.
As we mentioned, hardtail bikes feature suspension on the front fork only, with no rear shocks. They’re less expensive as a result, which will free up more of your budget for tools and other equipment. They also have excellent handling, even if you’re a complete newbie. We would highly recommend narrowing your search to include only hardtail mountain bikes when you’re first starting out.
Best Beginner Mountain Bikes
Best Men’s Beginner Mountain Bike: Mongoose Impasse
Take on rough terrain with the Impasse by Mongoose. The Impasse features a lightweight aluminum hardtail frame with front suspension fork that’s ready for the trail. The 21-speed Sram twist shifters with rear derailleur let you adapt to your terrain with ease, while the front and rear disc brakes provide crisp stopping power every time. Plus, the 29-inch knobby tires give you all the traction you need to conquer rugged trail conditions. There’s nothing you can’t do on a Mongoose.
- Reasonable price point
- Thorough owner's manual with good assembly instructions
- Plenty of eye appeal
- Brakes offer superior control
- Coil-sprung suspension fork
- Shoddy packaging
When you hit the trail with one of these stylish units, the other cyclists are sure to take notice. The Mongoose Impasse offers classic lines, a durable frame, and best of all, a comfortable ride. When it comes to mountain bikes for beginners, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The Impasse is a hardtail mountain bike, so it already earns high marks in that department. The rear suspension fork takes the bumps in stride, allowing you superb control even when the going is rough. This bike also offers an aluminum suspension frame, which improves both the comfort and overall performance of the ride.
With the Impasse, you can choose between 21 different speeds, and the twist shifters make it easy to change gears in mid-stride (so to speak). Moreover, the front and rear alloy wheels are outfitted with disc brakes that allow you to stop on a dime. At just 42 pounds, the bike is also simple to maneuver.
The tires measure 29 inches in diameter and feature great traction for slippery conditions. As a bonus, the front wheel offers quick release, so you can easily load up the bike for travel.
Some buyers have complained about the cranks suffering damage during assembly. However, the photo evidence suggests that they fitted the pedals on the wrong sides, thereby destroying the crank threads. If you choose to buy the Mongoose Impasse, remember to put the left-hand pedal on the left crank arm and the right-hand pedal on the opposite side. If you’re doing it correctly, the pedals should fit easily, with no need for excessive force.
Best Women’s Beginner Mountain Bike: Royce Union RMA Women’s 21-Speed All-Terrain Mountain Bike
ROYCE UNION RMA mountain bikes are designed by engineers who ride bikes every day and recognize the importance of dependable quality. Solid reliability is the foundation in every bike we build. Equipped with ZOOM SUSPENSION, SHIMANO SHIFTING, and an ALUMINUM FRAME the RMA is built for your next expedition.
- Easy to assemble
- Lightweight and maneuverable
- Trigger-shift gears
- Efficient braking system
- Generous warranty package
- Does not come with a kickstand
- Some shipping issues reported
If you’re looking specifically for a mountain bike that’s great for women, take a look at the Royce Union RMA Women’s 21-Speed All-Terrain model.
This is another hardtail bike with a rugged, rust-resistant aluminum frame. The aluminum construction makes it lightweight and easy to handle, so you can accelerate with ease. While some mountain bikes are only suitable for the trail, this one is equally at home on pavement and gravel.
At just over 42 pounds, this model is only a touch heavier than the Mongoose Impasse. The Zoom suspension fork is capable of handling tough roots and rocks, as well as any other bumps you might encounter. With the smooth gear shift system, you can choose from any one of the 21 speeds using just your thumb and index finger.
The 27.5-inch wheels are equipped with all-terrain tread, which helps to contribute to the smooth ride. Unlike some mountain bike tires, which can be exceptionally roll-resistant, these make it easier for beginners to log those all-important initial miles.
The alloy wheel rims and linear pull brakes make the stopping process as smooth as the rest of the ride experience. In fact, the bike’s entire construction is geared toward a comfortable outing, from the handlebar grips to the reflective pedals.
Royce Union allows you to choose between a 15-inch frame or a 17-inch alternative, recommending the 15-inch model for anyone with a minimum inseam of around 25 inches. Speaking of body type: The padded seat is adjustable, making it easier to customize the fit to your liking. Additionally, the handlebar is slightly raised, which encourages an upright riding position—a good habit to get into when you’re starting out.
Note that while there is a kickstand available, it isn’t included in the purchase price. However, when you buy this bike, you’ll get all the tools that are required for assembly.
There’s also a limited 10-year warranty on the major components. For full details on the warranty, check the owner’s manual before making the purchase final.
Best Unisex Mountain Bike: Schwinn Protocol 2.7 Mens and Womens Mountain Bike
Lightweight, durable and ready for action, trail mountain bikes are built to handle tough, rocky trails and soak up all the bumps along the way. If you love the crisp air and natural beauty of the great outdoors, a trail MTB is the ride for you. Do more, ride harder and rip faster on these capable bikes that are itching to hit the trail.
- Generously sized tires provide a nice grip
- Great shock absorption
- Affordable price point
- A good choice for rugged terrain
- Seat could be more comfortable
- Misleading advertising (bike doesn't look the way it does in most promotional photos)
- Not suitable for heavier riders
If you suspect that hilly terrain is in your future, take a closer look at the Schwinn Protocol 2.7.
Even novices are sure to recognize the Schwinn name, which has been virtually synonymous with cycling since its inception in 1895. This beginner mountain bike serves as an excellent example of everything that the company does best.
Like most of the quality bikes on our list, this unit features a quality aluminum frame that’s both lightweight (at 49 pounds) and durable. However, this one comes outfitted with dual suspension, with both a front fork and a coil-sprung component in the rear. While we typically espouse the virtues of hardtail riding, this one does provide excellent cushioning when you’re navigating those bumpy trails.
The 27.5-inch tires are geared toward riders measuring 64 to 74 inches tall, which is a decent range. Shorter or taller individuals would probably do better to check out a different model.
The Schwinn Protocol 2.7 offers 21 speeds, which are governed by feather-touch trigger shifters. You won’t have to worry about losing sight of the road ahead when it’s time to switch gears on this bike. The alloy cranks are well-built, too, which will help to cut down on your long-term maintenance.
Both the front and the rear are equipped with mechanical disc brakes for easy stops, no matter what the trail conditions are like that day. Because the tires have extra-wide double wall alloy rims and a tough tread, they’re up to the challenge. The tires also measure 2.25 inches wide, providing extra cushioning and greater durability.
Best Mountain Bike for Teenagers: Schwinn High Timber Youth/Adult Mountain Bike
The Schwinn High Timber is ideal for riders who want to take on a variety of terrain. The steel or aluminum frame optionsoffers durability for those tough courses. The wheels feature alloy rims for lightweight strength and all terrain tires. And like all Schwinn bikes, the High Timber comes with a limited lifetime warranty for as long as you own the bike. From pavement to trails, get out and ride with the High Timber. Enjoy the freedom of riding a Schwinn.
- Compact design makes it a good fit for teenagers
- Durable steel construction
- Easy to assemble
- Extra-knobby tires
- Can be uncomfortable to ride if you're a person of size
- Features some components that are rapidly becoming outdated
Teenagers who want to try their hand at mountain biking should check out this second offering from Schwinn. The High Timber Youth/Adult Mountain Bike is suitable for riders of all ages, but it has features that are specifically attractive to younger ones.
The bike features 21 speeds, and the gear shifting is precise and responsive, even on steep inclines. Furthermore, the suspension fork gives riders a reliable and comfortable experience, even if they’re new to the sport.
Powerful front and rear linear alloy pull brakes contribute to the precise nature of the ride. With a wheel diameter of 20 inches, the bike is well-suited for shorter riders, but the all-terrain tires are ready to tackle any conditions that should come their way.
Schwinn’s well-designed alloy crank allows for easy gearing and low maintenance, both of which are excellent perks for teenagers who just want to enjoy their bikes without the hassle.
The company offers a choice between steel or aluminum frames for the High Timber. It’s worth noting that the steel model is advertised as a girls’ model, while the aluminum frame gets grouped into the boys’ department.
Best Budget Mountain Bike: Roadmaster Mountain Bike
Roadmaster Granite Peak Men's Mountain Bike, 26 In. wheels, Black/Blue: Designed with 26
- Very inexpensive
- Fast and reliable
- Tires have a nice tread but still provide a quiet ride
- Instructions are somewhat difficult to follow
- Some secondary components might need frequent replacements
After looking over our earlier primer on choosing the best beginner mountain bike, you might have become discouraged at the pricing brackets we listed. Fear not—the Roadmaster Granite Peak model can be purchased at a price far below the $500 mark.
The 26-inch alloy wheels are designed for riders measuring 64 to 74 inches tall, which is fairly standard. They feature front and rear linear pull brakes for quick stopping, and the tread is knobby enough to keep the bike stable on muddy terrain.
The Roadmaster features 18 speeds, so beginners can experiment with the different gears without getting overwhelmed. Shifting is smooth and simple, and the three-piece crank is sturdy and well-designed.
Riders can adjust the seat post to make allowances for differences in height. The seat is padded and provides a decent amount of comfort during long rides. The handlebars are easy to grip, too, so you can focus on the trail without fidgeting.
The Roadmaster has a steel frame, which typically denotes a heavier bike. However, the specs list the weight as just under 41 pounds. It also comes with a front suspension fork, so if you want a hardtail bike, it might not be the right fit for you.
Additionally, female riders should be forewarned that this is a men’s bike. If you’re looking for something similar, try the Roadmaster Granite Peak Women’s Bike, which also features 26-inch wheels and a hardy steel frame.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike
Do beginner mountain bikes perform as well as the more expensive models?
Entry level mountain bikes are designed to get you excited about the sport. So yes, as a rule, they perform well on the trail.
That said, the reason why many beginner bikes use a hardtail suspension system is because they’ll teach you how to ride better. Full suspension bikes will compensate for the inevitable errors that you’ll make as you’re learning, whereas a hardtail bike will teach you how to take a fall. If you don’t know how to bail out when you’ve made a mistake, you could end up with a serious injury in the event of a crash.
Is it cheaper to build or buy a mountain bike?
Some riders prefer to customize their experience by building their own mountain bike instead of buying one. This option has its benefits, but it’s not for everyone.
When you build your own bike, you can tailor it to include all the components that you want and none of the ones that you don’t. If you’ve been riding for a while, there’s a good chance that you have a few spare parts lying around, and building a mountain bike will ensure that they’re put to good use.
As far as cost is concerned, you’re better off buying a ready-made bike, especially if you’re a beginner. Bike companies typically get bulk discounts on parts, which means that they can charge less for the finished product. When you attempt to buy the parts yourself, you’ll end up spending significantly more. When you take the labor and requisite tools into account, it’s far cheaper to buy a mountain bike than to build one.
What are the most important features to look at when buying a mountain bike?
The suspension is the first aspect to consider. As we’ve mentioned, hardtail bikes are better for beginners than full suspension models. Once you’ve become a more proficient rider, you can trade up for a full suspension bike and enjoy the extra burst of speed.
Next, consider the wheel size. You don’t want a bike that’s too tall or too short for you to ride comfortably. Remember to take your own height into account when you’re shopping. Fortunately, many bike manufacturers will list height recommendations in their literature.
Look at the frame materials. Is the bike constructed of steel or aluminum? In either case, how much does it weigh? Are you confident that you’ll be able to handle it during transport and on the trail itself?
A good beginner mountain bike should also shift gears easily and have an efficient braking system. If it checks all of these boxes, you’re looking at a quality model.
Quick Tips for Bike Beginners
What to Wear
Moisture-wicking top-Never wear cotton when exercising, as it will weigh you down and lower your body temperature when it gets wet. Look for a tech shirt that’s specifically geared toward cyclists.
Bike shorts-Tight-fitting lycra spandex is your best bet.
Socks-Stick to polyester or nylon, again avoiding cotton at all costs.
Mountain bike shoes-Yes, they exist, and they have a rigid shank that makes pedaling easier.
Helmet-The most important piece of apparel in a biker’s wardrobe, and a possible life-saver. Make sure it’s well-vented and that it fits snugly, without covering your ears.
Gloves-Full-fingered gloves offer the best protection, but half-finger gloves will keep your hands cooler during the warmer months. If you opt for padded full-fingered gloves, make sure the padding isn’t so thick as to promote numbness.
Sunglasses-Invest in a good pair for protection against debris as well as sunlight. Make sure they fit comfortably around your helmet.
After every ride, take about ten minutes to wipe off any excess mud and debris, and take a look at the frame and wheels to ensure that everything is in good working order.
Also, make sure to perform a weekly cleaning routine on your mountain bike, especially if you ride often. Use a bike cleaner so you won’t damage the finish. Adjust the cranks, headset, pedals, seat chain, and hubs as needed, applying grease when necessary.
Also, check the brakes by inspecting the pads and replacing them if they’ve worn through. Try spinning the wheel and then lightly applying the brake to make sure it’s working properly. If the wheel doesn’t spin evenly, then it’s time for a replacement.
When you buy a beginner mountain bike, you’re embarking on a marvelous journey. Getting back to nature while improving the overall state of your body and your frame of mind–could there be a more enjoyable pastime?