When I still didn’t know much about bikes, I used to frown upon cheap mountain bikes and think that they were good for nothing. As I learned more and more, I realized how wrong I was and how many benefits these affordable models had.
In my Complete Mountain Biking Guide, I explained that there are four types of riders: occasional, beginners, fitness enthusiasts, and experts. Mountain bikes under $500 are perfect for occasional riders and beginners, who do not want to spend too much money but want to get a decent bicycle.
If you are just starting to explore the world of mountain biking and use your bike for weekend rides or staying fit, you will be more than happy with your new 500-dollar bike.
I decided to help you out by creating a list of the best mountain bikes under $500, and use my experience with them to show you what’s good and not so great about them.
Stay with me to find out more.
BikeXchange Top Picks
GT Aggressor is a line of cheap mountain bikes that offers three 27.5” models to choose from. They are called Sport, Comp, and Expert, each costing around 30-40 dollars more than the previous one. These bikes are nice looking – all three models are black with vibrant colors for contrast, which makes them stand out on the road.
When choosing between the three, you can’t go wrong. They are pretty much the same, but with each model, you get more with a little bit of extra money. I love the looks of the cheapest model, but would always cash out the extra 40-70 dollars for the upgrade in specs that you get on the Expert model, which is one of the best budget mountain bikes right now.
Decent Shimano Components on All Models
The biggest differences among these models are seen when you compare the first two models with the third one.
The Sport and Comp both have 21-speed drivetrains, aluminum frames, mechanical disc brakes, and the same fork. The suspended fork has 80mm of travel and has no lockout function, so if that is important to you, you should go for the more expensive model.
The most important difference for me between these two models is the Shimano Altus rear derailleur that you get on the Comp model, compared to the Shimano Tourney on the Sport model, and slightly better disc brakes. You don’t have to worry about the tires since they are identical on all three models – All Terra Cypher 27.5×2.10”.
But, I recommend paying a couple of extra bucks for the Expert model since you will get a Shimano Acera rear derailleur, 24 speeds, and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. Moreover, the Expert model comes with a hydraulic lockout which you can use mid-ride.
This is what makes GT Aggressor Expert a top rated cheap mountain bike and such a good deal. If you want a mountain bike for casual or long rides on local trails, and your expectations are realistic, you’ll be quite happy with this one.
Have you been told before that all cheap mountain bikes are rubbish? I beg to differ, and I can prove it to you on Merax Finiss. This is by far the cheapest mountain bike on this list, and it is perfect for first-timers who are on a really tight budget.
For less than 300 dollars, you’ll get a decent aluminum frame and a bicycle that is easy to assemble, easy to ride, and simple to maintain. Moreover, if your motivation for buying a bicycle is to lose weight, Merax Finiss can handle as much as 240 pounds without any problems.
Perfect for Beginners and First-timers
It’s quite important to point out that a $300 bike comes with some disadvantages and that in the end, you are getting what you pay for. However, depending on your needs, the Merax Finiss can be the best mountain bike under $500 for you.
It has an aluminum frame and a suspended fork with 80mm of travel, which will give you a comfortable ride on rough terrain and will feel decently light. Moreover, the 26” wheels will feel well-balanced and nimble when cornering.
Merax Finiss also comes with mechanical disc brakes, which I think is a big plus at this price range. They provide a much better and reliable braking experience compared to rim brakes. I always feel a lot more confident to go faster and corner more aggressively when the bike has disc brakes.
This bike also has a 3×7 drivetrain, with Shimano components, so it should shift pretty smoothly. You should avoid shifting under tension when riding up big hills, and you will be pretty content with this setup.
I love the money to value ratio you get with Merax Finiss. So, if you want to buy the cheapest mountain bike to start your cycling journey, definitely consider this model.
Giant ARX 2
When I was thinking about the list of best mountain bikes under $500, I considered price, components, user reviews, and looks. The Giant ARX 2 is the bike that ticked all of these boxes without any problems, so I had no doubts about including it.
Giant is a well-known company in the cycling world, and you know you are getting good quality even with the very cheap mountain bikes. Giant ARX 2 falls just under the $500 mark, which is not much to pay for this sturdy 27.5” aluminum bike.
Two Attractive Colors Available
High-end mountain bikes usually come in many colors, so you can choose the one to your liking. That is not the case with many low-end bikes, but the best budget mountain bikes still give you a choice. Giant ARX 2 is available in two color-combinations – Black/Yellow/Blue and White/Red/Charcoal. They look fantastic, which is always a plus when it comes to motivation.
Apart from that, what I like about this model is the bold move to make it rigid. This means that it has no suspension. However, it’s still very comfortable to ride on bumpy tracks because of its 27.5”x1.95” tires and the high-quality ALUXX-grade aluminum frame, which Giant uses for their more expensive models as well.
This model also has full Shimano components on the drivetrain, apart from the ProWheel crankset. You’ll have 24 speeds on your disposal with this setup, which is more than enough for both easy and tough rides.
However, what makes Giant ARX 2 a must-have in my opinion are Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, which are easy to maintain and adjust, so they are great for beginners. On top of that, they perform well when it comes to stopping on a dime anytime.
If you want style, reliability, and versatility for your cycling training and travel rides, the Giant ARX 2 is the perfect investment for you.
Nashbar 27 & 29
I’m not the only one who thinks that cheap mountain bikes can be a great investment, judging by the reviews Nashbar gets online. It has a good reputation among novice riders for its reliability and components, and it’s the perfect model to see why there is so much fuss about mountain biking.
Its greatest attributes are the sleek and simple looks, original high-quality Shimano components, and a comfortable geometry good for longer rides. If you live in an area with tempting single track and gravel routes, you’ll be able to explore them on this Nashbar model.
27.5” and 29” Models Available
It’s not very easy to find a cheap mountain bike with 29” wheels, let alone one that allows you to choose between two sizes. You’ll get that with this Nashbar’s model, which is why it is one of the best-rated mountain bikes under $500.
This model comes with front SR Suntour suspension, with 100mm travel, which is more than many other models at this price range have. This fork has no damping, but it will offer a controlled ride on moderately rough terrain.
Nashbar also comes with a 3×8 drivetrain and Shimano components for shifters, derailleurs, cassette, and crankset. The cassette is an 11-32, so you might need to change it for one with a bigger range of gears if you’re riding uphill a lot.
However, what you will definitely not need to swap in a long time, are Tektro’s hydraulic brakes, which will make a huge change when you’re braking in wet and muddy conditions. And, let’s face it, we all got into mountain biking to be able to feel like kids again and ride through puddles.
If mountain biking is an alien sport to you and you want to wet your feet for the first time and see if you like it (which I am sure you will), Nashbar will be the best mountain bike under $500 for you.
Best Mountain Bikes Under $500 For Women
If you are looking for ladies-specific models, below is a list of best budget mountain bikes for women. Personally, I do not believe in the divide between male and women bikes, because the right fit depends on your physical characteristics.
However, these models have different saddles and a slightly shorter stem and top tube length compared to unisex models, so let’s see what the best pics in this category are.
Co-Op Cycles 1.1W
The Co-Op Cycles 1.1W was designed with women in mind from start to finish! If you didn’t know, the Co-Op Cycles is REI’s bicycle brand, which is well-known for affordable bikes with great characteristics.
This model is available in one color. However, it is a very attractive one. REI has dubbed it Aquarius, but it can be described as a mix of light blue and grey. Under that paint is a lightweight Co-Op Cycles aluminum frame, so you’ll be able to easily lift the bike up and carry it over obstacles if need be.
Best Mix of Components Under $500
Co-Op Cycles 1.1W is priced just shy of $500, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the components it has.
To begin with, the SR Suntour XCT fork is known to be lightweight, and with 100mm of travel, it’s more than enough for a smooth ride even if you push its limits.
Next, you get 24 gears with this model and a great combination of Shimano components. Compared to other models that have Shimano Tourney derailleurs, Co-Op Cycles has gone a step up. This model has a Shimano Altus front derailleur and a Shimano Acera rear derailleur, which will slide up and down the drivetrain like a knife through butter.
Other than that, if I were buying this model, I’d be looking forward to the wide 27.5×2.1” Kenda Kadre tires which have a pretty high profile and offer a huge amount of grip on loose terrain.
Another thing that should put a smile on your face when you ride the Co-Op Cycles 1.1W is its hydraulic disc brakes. I’ve tested numerous mountain bikes with both rim and disc brakes, and the difference is incredible.
So, what are you waiting for? If you’re buying your first bike or even upgrading from a cheap beginner’s model, the Co-Op cycles will improve your rides and let you train harder and longer. It’s without a doubt one of the best mountain bikes under $500.
The Diamondback Lux has all of the features that you would expect getting from a Diamondback model, like a quality build, reliability, and good looks. On top of that, it’s also quite cheap, which makes it a good candidate for my list of best mountain bikes under $500.
Diamondback Lux is a lightweight aluminum 27.5” bicycle, which can be a great commuter or a training buddy for you, depending on what you need it for. The engineers at Diamondback built this model with women in mind, which can be seen in the geometry, as well as ease of maintenance. But, what do the components say?
A Great Bike for Training
The first thing that caught my eye when this bike was revealed by Diamondback was the customizable SR Suntour XCT fork with 80mm of travel. It comes with a preload function, which means that you can change how responsive you want it to be. This makes the bike more versatile, but also suitable for more riders.
The shifting system is a cluster of three Shimano groupsets – Altus shifters, Tourney front derailleur, and Acera rear derailleur. However, they are all compatible with each other and will work nicely through the 24 speeds.
Disc brakes are an important feature that distinguishes the best budget mountain bikes from the rest, and Diamondback Lux has them. These are Tektro Aries mechanical brakes, which I like pretty much because they are a good upgrade from V brakes.
From my experience, saddle plays a significant role in whether you’ll enjoy your bicycle or not. Diamondback Lux comes with a Devine Edition MTB, which has pretty positive reviews online. It’s a female-specific mountain biking saddle, so your long rides will be comfy and without soreness.
So, if you are thinking about buying a women’s bike for commuting, training, or just for occasional fun rides, the Diamondback Lux will give you all that. Plus, it will save you money since it’s a pretty cheap mountain bike.
Fat Bike Top Pick
Not only are fat bikes practically indestructible, but they are also lots of fun to ride! Check out why Gravity Bullseye is the best mountain bike under $500 when it comes to fat bikes!
Gravity Bullseye 27 Fat Bike
Fat bikes are certainly one of the best things that happened to the cycling world. When I rode my first fat bike, I had more fun than ever, as I could ride completely carefree! The Gravity Bullseye looks just as fun and costs only $500.
It’s one of the best budget mountain bikes that you can get right now if you are looking for a fat bike. It has an aluminum frame and a set of decent components for beginners. If you like the bike enough, you can always swap some components and upgrade them. However, I think that is not necessary, as the bike is perfect as is. You can abuse it and use it for what it is made without worrying too much.
The Best Fat Bike Under $500
On Amazon, the Gravity Bullseye has a very high rating, as most comments are positive. It seems as if Gravity has really hit a bullseye with this model.
Those who have made the good decision to buy it say they love how the bike handles and how unstoppable it feels on any terrain. When I rode a fat bike, the wide tires gave me a feeling of stability, and I felt a surge of confidence to try new things.
Gravity Bullseye comes with a lightweight aluminum frame and weighs around 35 lbs, but it does not feel sluggish.
The components on the bike are quite decent as well. The rear derailleur is a SRAM X4, the front derailleur is a Shimano Alivio, and there are 24 speeds in total. For beginners, this number of speeds and this setup will be more than enough.
The Tektro mechanical brakes are great as well, though they require a bit more brute force to engage fully, but when adjusted properly they’ll stop on a dime.
So, if you want to have loads of fun riding through mud and inaccessible terrain on a fat bike, don’t hesitate to buy Gravity Bullseye. I guarantee you’ll have a blast on it!
Are you willing to spend an additional $100 for a big upgrade in components and quality? (You Should!) If you are, check out our bonus model and your extra money will be well-spent.
Bonus: Diamondback Overdrive 1 29er
The first thing that crossed my mind when I saw this bike was how beautiful it was. Then I took a closer look at the components and decided that I had to include it into this review for anyone who has another $100 to spend.
The Overdrive 1 has an aluminum frame and a bulletproof build which is so characteristic for Diamondback bicycles. The big 29 inch wheels make it unstoppable on rough terrain and gravel simply stands no chance.
The Best 29er for the Price
The most noticeable upgrade you’ll get by choosing this one over the other models is the Suntour XCT fork with 100mm of travel. A better fork greatly increases the capabilities of a bike and makes the overall impression much better.
The SRAM X4 rear derailleur is also worth the extra money since it is a class higher than most Shimano components fitted on even the best mountain bikes under $500. This is still an entry-level quality group, but from my experience, the change is substantial.
Other than that, Diamondback Overdrive 1 29er has 24 speeds and Tektro mechanical disc brakes. I’d love to see hydraulic discs here, but that’s an easy upgrade that you can make if you are not content with the mechanical ones.
Reviewers online say the WTB Wolverine tires are one of the high points on the bike and the wheelset has stayed true even after long and arduous rides.
Some claim the saddle is not the best on the bike, but that is an individual thing. I’ve had the most comfortable rides on low-end saddles and the most grueling times on high-end tables.
The Diamondback Overdrive 1 29er is a great bike for those who plan to train and ride for longer, as well as for any beginner who is just exploring their surroundings. It’s great for those who want to lose weight as well since it can bear the extra weight!
As you can see, when it comes to cheap mountain bikes, cheap does not equal bad. There are some amazing bikes at this price range, which will serve you well for years if you take good care of them. If you thought otherwise, I hope I changed your mind.
Therefore, in case you’re looking for an entry-level bicycle to get fit, stay fit, commute, workout, or just escape into nature, why not choose one of the best mountain bikes under $500?
They’re perfect for beginners and occasional riders, and I promise they are loads of fun!