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Best Beginner Mountain Bikes in 2024: Top Choices for Novice Mountain Bikers

By Sam Millers   /  Last updated - March 11, 2024   /  Best-Of-Reviews, Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes, Hardtail, Mountain Bikes, Reviews
woman riding a best beginner mountain bike

Image: REI.com

Mountain bikes are one of the most versatile types to own and they have come a long way since their beginnings in the 1980s, with a wide range of options to choose from these days.

This makes buying your first bike a daunting task—do you go for full suspension or hardtail? Trail or cross country? How much should you spend?

These are all tough decisions, so we’ve compiled a convenient list of the best beginner mountain bikes to help you choose. Here you’ll find something to suit any budget, from low-cost entry-level bikes around $500 to good quality intermediate bikes above $1,000.

Although a hardtail is probably the best choice for your first MTB, we’ve also included a few full-suspension bikes for you to consider.

The following list of the best beginner mountain bikes is intended for recreational mountain bikers and occasional trail riders who are looking for affordable options.

Important Factors to Consider

Key Components to Look for on Beginner MTBs

mountain bike components - wheels and chainrings

When embarking on the journey of mountain biking, it’s essential to select an MTB with foundational features conducive to a beginner’s experience.

Here are some of the most important features you should consider:

  • Suspension: A suspension fork ensures a smoother ride on rugged terrains. Avoid cheap beginner mountain bikes with low-quality rear suspension as it adds a lot of weight and doesn’t perform well.
  • Frame: An aluminum frame is the optimal choice for beginner mountain bikes. It balances both durability and weight, making it a preferred choice over the more expensive carbon or the heftier steel.
  • Wheel size: The two common sizes to consider are 27.5″ and 29″, providing a good blend of stability and agility. Some fat tire mountain bikes come with 26″ wheels, which can also be a good wheel size if you are a short person.
  • Brakes: Braking is crucial, so opt for hydraulic disc brakes for their superior stopping power but mechanical ones can also suffice. Avoid V-brakes at all costs if you plan to ride off-road as they don’t provide enough stopping power.
  • Gears: A 1x or 2x drivetrain coupled with a wide-range cassette ensures a beginner-friendly gearing range, aiding in tackling diverse trails with ease and climbing steep hills without having to push the bike.

These are the aspects we had in mind when selecting the bikes to include in our list of the best beginner mountain bikes below, so you can choose any one of those with confidence. 

How Much to Spend on a Beginner Mountain Bike?

dollar sign on a blue background Beginner mountain bikers buying their first MTB should expect to spend between $600 to $1,500.

While there are cheaper options, investing in this range ensures you get a bike with reliable components that can withstand regular trail usage without frequent breakdowns. A slightly higher initial investment can save you a lot of money on future repairs and upgrades.

The bikes within this budget come with decent suspension forks, durable aluminum frames, and reliable derailleurs.

A cheaper bike doesn’t necessarily mean it lacks in quality. Instead, many large bike brands produce entry-level bikes that are equipped with great-value components that stand the test of time.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can also consider buying a used mountain bike from The Pro’s Closet. There’s a huge selection of models in good condition that offer excellent value for the money.

Which Type of Mountain Bike Is Best for a Beginner Cyclist?

Salsa rangefinder xc mountain bike

Salsa Rangefinder is a great example of a beginner-friendly XC mountain bike.

A cross-country (XC) mountain bike is an excellent choice for most beginner cyclists.

XC bikes are designed primarily for trail riding and general off-road use, offering a good balance between climbing efficiency and descending capabilities.

They typically feature a more comfortable geometry, which is especially important for those new to the sport, and they come with a suspension system that provides ample shock absorption without being overly complex.

The moderate tread on XC tires ensures traction on a variety of surfaces without excessive resistance. This type of bike allows beginners to get a feel for different terrains while building confidence and skills.

Most of the best beginner mountain bikes you see below are cross-country bikes, with a few exceptions of low-travel trail bikes.


Best Beginner Mountain Bikes

1. Cannondale Trail 5

Winner! Best Beginner XC Mountain Bike

a good cannondale mountain bike

Price: $960

  • Frame: SmartForm C3 alloy
  • Suspension: SR Suntour XCM, 100 mm
  • Drivetrain: microSHIFT Advent X, 10-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc
  • Tire Size: 27.5 or 29 x 2.25″

The Cannondale Trail 5 is a decent beginner mountain bike for those looking to explore a more varied terrain.

It has a lightweight aluminum frame and an SR Suntour fork with 100 mm of travel, which is more than enough for exploring local dirt roads and forest trails.

Cannondale Trail 5 Review

The Cannondale Trail 5 is a reliable hardtail mountain bike with an entry-level build and a competitive price ...

Although it doesn’t have rear suspension, the Trail 5 benefits from SAVE micro-suspension that absorbs small vibrations and provides a smoother ride.

Cannondale has reduced the cost of the bike with a simple 10-speed microSHIFT drivetrain but has cut no corners with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and WTB rims and tires.

The wheel diameter is frame-size-specific, so smaller frames come with 27.5″ wheels, whereas bigger frames roll on 29″ wheels.

All around, the Cannondale Trail 5 is a high-quality beginner mountain bike that uses some budget parts but delivers the goods where they’re needed most.

Related: Cannondale Trail Series Overview

Buy from REI.com

2. Co-op Cycles DRT 1.2

Second-Choice! Biggest Plus-Size Tires

Co-op Cycles DRT 1.2

Price: $999

  • Frame: MY23 aluminum
  • Suspension: SR Suntour XCM32 Boost, 120 mm
  • Drivetrain: microSHIFT ADVENT X 10-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc
  • Tire Size: 27.5″ or 29″ x 2.4 in. (Size-specific)

Co-op Cycles is REI’s in-house cycling brand known for low-priced but high-quality bikes and cycling gear.

The DRT 1.2 is an entry-level mountain bike perfect for tackling light singletrack and rough forest trails. It’s priced higher than other beginner mountain bikes on our list, but it comes with higher-quality components. 

The SR Suntour XCM32 fork has 120 mm of travel and the Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes will keep you on track come rain or shine.

Co-op Cycles DRT – Series Overview

Co-op Cycles are a perfect alternative to many well-known bike brands by having the same component lineup at a way ...

The DRT 1.2 also boasts a 10-speed microSHIFT Advent X drivetrain that includes a wide-range 11-48t cassette which will allow you to climb some seriously steep hills.

Considering that you also get double-wall tubeless-ready rims and 27.5″ or 29″ x 2.4″ (frame size-specific) Maxxis Rekon tires, you’ll be able to use this bike for almost any type of mountain biking, except enduro and DH.

This bike even comes with dropper post internal routing ports, so you can easily retrofit one if you need it for smoother descents.

Buy from REI.com

3. Rocky Mountain Growler 20

Third Place! Best 29er Mountain Bike for Beginners

Rocky Mountain Growler 20

Price: $1,399

  • Frame: Lightweight aluminum
  • Suspension: Suntour XCM34 DS, 130mm Travel
  • Drivetrain: MicroSHIFT Advent X 10-Speed
  • Brakes: Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Tire Size: 29″ x 2.6″

Rocky Mountain Growler 20 is a beginner hardtail mountain bike perfect as a budget-friendly introductory trail bike. It’s ideal for newcomers to mountain biking and those who are shopping on a tight budget.

The Growler 20 is built around a modern aluminum frame with an SR Suntour XCM34 DS fork that provides a decent 130 mm of travel, which is enough to tackle light off-road terrain and average descents.

The 1×10-speed microSHIFT Advent X drivetrain is matched with hydraulic disc brakes, which provide more than enough stopping power for beginner riders. These are entry-level components, but they have been tried and tested numerous times.

The bike rolls on 29″ x 2.6″ Kenda Amrak tires that are moderately knobby, so they won’t slow you down too much on hardpacked roads and trails.

All in all, the Rocky Mountain Growler 20 is equipped with all the essentials you could ask for to get into mountain biking as a beginner cyclist. 

Buy from JensonUSA.com

4. GT Zaskar LT AI Elite

Best Rear Derailleur with a Clutch

GT Zaskar LT AI Elite

MSRP: $1,000

  • Frame: 6061 Lightweight aluminum
  • Suspension: RockShox 35 Silver R 130mm
  • Drivetrain: SRAM SX Eagle, 12-Speed
  • Brakes: Tektro HD-M520 Hydraulic Disc
  • Tire Size: 29″ x 2.3″

GT Zaskar is a cheap beginner’s hardtail designed for learning the ropes of mountain biking.

This $1,000 MTB boasts a range of solid components for beginners, such as a SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed rear derailleur with a clutch, which is a rare sight on low-priced mountain bikes. 

The Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are a great value as well, and the WTB 29 x 2.3″ tires will provide ample traction and grip on a variety of terrains and surfaces. Unfortunately, they are not tubeless.

The GT Zaskar features a lightweight aluminum frame paired with a RockShox 35 Silver R fork that offers 130 mm of travel. This is a coil fork that is heavier than air forks, but it’s good enough for beginner riders. 

Finally, the Zaskar is a great hardtail MTB for weekend warriors who are looking for a reliable bike they can use for recreational riding.

Buy from Jenson USA

5. Marin San Quentin 1

Beginner MTB with Longest Fork Travel 

Marin San Quentin 1 affordable beginner mountain bike

Price: $999

  • Frame: Series 2 6061 Aluminum, Double-butted
  • Suspension: Suntour XCM 34, 130 mm
  • Drivetrain: MicroSHIFT Advent w/Clutch, 9-Speed
  • Brakes: Tektro HDM275 Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 27.5″ x 2.6″

The Marin San Quentin 1 is a great beginner mountain bike for those who want to ride rough descents and more technical trails.

Its Series 2 6061 double-butted aluminum frame has a long wheelbase and slack geometry, which will make you more stable when the surface becomes challenging. 

The Suntour XCM 34 coil fork provides you with 130 mm of travel, which is the highest on our list in this price range. Even though the suspension is coil and not air, the fork performs well and improves stability and performance. 

Another bargain at this price point is the microShift Advent 9-speed rear derailleur with a clutch, which will keep the chain from dropping and prevent chain slap at high speeds. Not only that, but you also get Tektro M275 hydraulic disc brakes, which are more than strong enough for novice mountain bikers.

The wheelset consists of Marin’s double-wall and tubeless-ready rims and Vee Tire Co. Flow Snap 27.5 x 2.6″ tires. The first thing we’d upgrade on this bike in the future would be the tires—switch to a tubeless setup to reduce the rolling resistance and prevent flats. 

Overall, the Marin San Quentin 1 is an excellent choice in the sub-$1,000 category with a few surprisingly good components. 

Buy from Jenson USA

6. Cannondale Trail 6

Best Beginner MTB for Short Riders

Cannondale Trail 6

Price: $860

  • Frame: SmartForm C3 alloy
  • Suspension: SR Suntour XCT, 100 mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Altus/Acera 2×8
  • Brakes: Tektro HDM275 Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 27.5 or 29 x 2.25″

Cannondale Trail 6 is an entry-level aluminum mountain bike that will get you outdoors without breaking the bank. It’s perfect for developing mountain biking skills for riders who want to explore the countryside, gravel roads, or non-technical mountain trails.

The Suntour SR Suntour XCT fork has 100 mm of travel, which is enough to absorb vibrations and minor bumps. Fortunately, the WTB Ranger Comp 27.5/29 x 2.25 tires provide a decent amount of extra padding. 

The drivetrain consists of Shimano Altus and Acera front and rear derailleurs that provide a total of 16 gears with an 11-34t cassette and 36/22t chainrings. You also get Tektro M275 hydraulic disc brakes with solid stopping power.

The Cannondale Trail 6 is perfect for shorter riders as the wheel size is frame-size specific, which makes the smallest XS frame suitable for 4’6″ – 5’2″ heights. 

Get it if you want an affordable cross-country bike from a reputable brand. 

Buy from REI

7. Marin Rift Zone 1 29

Most Affordable Full Suspension Beginner MTB

Marin Rift Zone 1 29

Price: $1,699

  • Frame: Series 3 6061 Aluminum
  • Fork Suspension: X-Fusion Slide Boost 29″, 140mm Travel
  • Rear Shock: X-Fusion O2 Pro R, Custom Tune, 210x55mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1×11
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 29 x 2.35″

The Marin Rift Zone is an entry-level full-suspension beginner mountain bike that opens up new possibilities when it comes to the trails you can ride.

Even though the $1,699 price tag is not accessible to everyone, this is a bargain for a quality full-suspension trail bike.

The suspension is built with an X-Fusion Slide Boost 140 mm fork and an X-Fusion O2 Pro rear shock, both of which offer enough travel for moderate descents and flowy singletracks.

Marin Bikes Overview

Marin Bikes is a bike brand founded in Marin County, California in 1986. Marin County is the birthplace of the mountain ...

The Rift Zone 1 is also equipped with an 11-speed Shimano Deore rear derailleur and Shimano MT200 hydraulic brakes, which are proper mountain biking components commonly found on even more expensive bikes.

The only downside is the lack of a dropper post, which is the main upgrade we recommend you make if you decide to buy this bike. It will make your descents a lot more efficient, allowing you to set new PRs on your favorite trails. 

All things considered, you can choose the Marin Rift Zone 1 if you want to be able to climb efficiently and descend with ease on proper trails in mountain bike parks. 

Buy from Jenson USA

8. Co-op Cycles DRT 3.1

Beginner MTB with the Best Suspension

Co-op Cycles DRT 3.1

 Price: $2,499

  • Frame: 6061 aluminum
  • Fork Suspension: RockShox Recon Silver RL Solo Air, 140 mm
  • Rear Shock: RockShox Deluxe Select R
  • Drivetrain: SRAM SX Eagle, 12-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 27.5 or 29 x 2.4″

The DRT 3.1 is Co-op Cycles’ mid-range full-suspension mountain bike, designed to take on serious off-road conditions with 140 mm of front and rear travel.

It features a high-quality RockShox Recon Silver RL Solo Air fork and a RockShox Deluxe Select R rear shock, mounted on a stiff and responsive 6061 aluminum frame.

The 12-speed SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain includes an 11-50t cassette and a 32t crankset, along with Shimano’s low-tier MT200 hydraulic disc brakes.

It’s difficult to find any faults with the DRT 3.1, as it even comes with an X Fusion Manic dropper with 170 mm of travel.

The bike rolls on the tried-and-tested Maxxis Recon 2.4″ tires, whereas the wheels are frame-size-specific, so you’ll get either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels depending on the frame size you choose.

Overall, you’ll struggle to find a better bike for the price, even though the $2,500 price is not necessarily beginner-friendly unless you consider the full-suspension context. 

Buy from REI.com

9. Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29

A Well-Rounded Beginner XC Bike

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29

MSRP: $1,150

  • Frame: Specialized A1 premium butted alloy
  • Suspension: RockShox Judy, Solo Air, TK, 80-100 mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 11-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 29 x 2.35″

The Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 is one of the best beginner mountain bikes for the money. With a price of $1,150, it packs some surprisingly good components that we expect to see on more expensive models.

For example, the Shimano Deore rear derailleur offers 11 speeds and comes with a clutch, which is a very important feature that prevents the chain from dropping on bumpy trails. The drivetrain also features an 11-51t cassette, providing a very low ratio for uphill pedaling.

The Specialized Rockhopper also uses Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes, which are more than sufficient on a hardtail MTB aimed at newcomers to trail riding.

The RockShox Judy Solo Air fork with 80-100 mm of travel (size-specific) offers enough vibration absorption for moderate trail riding, reducing the weight compared to cheaper coil forks. 

After considering all the important aspects, we can say that entry-level Specialized mountain bikes don’t get much better than this and the Rockhopper won’t disappoint even more experienced riders. 

Buy from Specialized.com

10. Niner Air 2-Star

Best Choice for More Demanding Terrain

Niner Air 2-Star

Price: $1,999

  • Frame: Aluminum
  • Suspension: Marzocchi Bomber Z2 Rail, 120mm Travel
  • Drivetrain: SRAM SX Eagle, 12-speed
  • Brakes: SRAM Level Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 29″ x 2.6″ / 2.35″

The Niner Air 9 2-Star is an entry-level hardtail MTB that combines an aluminum frame with high-quality components and plus-size tires.

It features a Marzocchi Bomber Z2 Rail fork with 120 mm of travel and 29″ x 2.6″ and 2.35″ tires, which allows you to tackle more demanding terrains, such as rocky trails or trails with a lot of roots sticking out.

The Air 9 also boasts a SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, which is a solid groupset that delivers decent performance without breaking the bank.

With 12 gears and an 11-50T cassette, you get enough range for easy climbing, and the SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes offer ample stopping power on technical descents.

While some minor sacrifices have been made here to ensure the Niner Air 9 remains affordable, most amateur riders will feel more than confident tackling single track and country lanes on this impressive trail bike.

Buy from Jenson USA

11. Salsa Rangefinder

Best Components for the Price

salsa rangefinder beginner mtb

Price: $1,399

  • Frame: 6061 T-6 Aluminum
  • Suspension: SR Suntour XCR 34 Boost, Air, 120 mm
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore, 12-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 Hydraulic
  • Tire Size: 27.5 x 2.8″

The Salsa Rangefinder is an impressive entry-level cross-country machine that looks and feels like it should cost a lot more than it does.

The Rangefinder boasts some quality components packed on a stiff and responsive aluminum frame, such as the SR Suntour XCR 34 air fork that offers 120 mm of travel.

The biggest highlight is definitely the new Shimano Deore 12-speed rear derailleur paired with a Deore 10-51T cassette and a 30T front chainring. That’s more than enough gear range for the steepest climbs you can find. 

Moreover, with Maxxis Rekon 27.5 x 2.8″ plus-size tires and Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes, you’ll have no trouble keeping traction at high speeds.

To sum up, the Salsa Rangefinder is the ideal bike for quick, nimble off-road riding along singletrack and rocky trails. Get it if you want the best value you can find in a sub-$1,500 model.

Buy from REI

Frequently Asked Questions

How to choose the best beginner mountain bike?

To choose the best beginner mountain bike, we recommend considering the suspension, frame, gears, and brakes. You can’t expect much from a cheap MTB, but the components should be reliable and durable enough for off-road riding. Read our guide at the beginning of this article for more info. 

Is a mountain bike the best all-rounder bicycle?

Although mountain bikes can be ridden on any terrain, the weight and slow-rolling tires mean they are slow and heavy on the tarmac, meaning they aren’t ideal as an all-rounder bicycle. Gravel bikes use lighter frames and thinner tires, making them more suited to both on-road and off-road conditions and better as all-rounder bicycles.

How much to pay for a first mountain bike?

How much you pay for your first mountain bike will probably be determined by your budget, but you should try to aim for as close to $1,000 as possible. Most mountain bikes under $1,000 tend to have cheap components that will either break under heavy use or provide an unsatisfactory cycling experience. 

How do I start mountain biking?

The best way to start mountain biking is to just buy one of the bikes we recommend above and start riding. Moderate mountain biking doesn’t require any special training beyond knowing how to ride a bike. Simply get out there on the trails and start having fun.  Make sure to also check out our mountain biking tips to improve your skills even faster.

What is the best beginner mountain bike?

We’d say that the Co-op Cycles is one of the brands that offer the best value for the money when it comes to beginner mountain bikes. However, Salsa and Kona are great choices as well, so you won’t make a mistake if you get any model from one of these reputable brands.

Is mountain biking difficult?

Professional-level, downhill mountain biking can be extremely difficult and dangerous, but most people don’t take part in that particular discipline. Your average, everyday singletrack or trail ride is only as difficult as you make it, depending on the type of trail you attempt to ride. As long as you start slow and don’t overestimate yourself, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting home safely.

What are the downsides to cheap beginner mountain bikes?

Generally speaking, the main downside of beginner mountain bikes is entry-level components. Very cheap models come with a low-tier derailleur, off-brand mechanical disc brakes, weak wheels, and low-quality tires. That’s why we recommend spending at least $700 on your beginner-friendly MTB to get quality components. 

About the Author

Sam Millers

Sam Millers is the guy behind Bikexchange.com. From the early days of three wheels to conquering challenging mountain trails, Sam's love for cycling knows no bounds. With a background in web development, Sam seamlessly combined two of his greatest passions – cycling and technology. As the creative force behind Bikexchange.com, he shares insightful stories, expert tips, and engaging content for fellow cycling enthusiasts. When he's not exploring new biking routes or tweaking website codes, Alex enjoys sipping on a post-ride espresso and planning his next cycling adventure. 

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