Finding a mountain bike for under £500 can seem like a bit of a minefield, but fortunately you're in the right place.
It's totally possible to get something that’s up to the task of proper off-road riding without breaking the bank, but there's a big difference between how durable and enjoyable the best budget mountain bikes are compared to the not-so-great.
- Best mountain bike: how to choose the right one for you
- The best mountain bikes under £750
- Cheap bikes: what you should look for
Best value mountain bike: what should I look for?
The heart of any bike is the frame. For an MTB under £500 you’ll generally want to be looking for a frame made of aluminium rather than heavier and cheaper steel.
The next thing you need to think about in your search for a budget mountain bike is the kit that makes it stop and go. The number of gears the bike has isn’t the be all and end all, but a higher number of gears often means smaller steps between shifts and a wider total range, which can be really important when you’re hauling up a big hill.
At £500 or under, having nine gears at the back paired to a crank with three rings up front is ideal, but cheaper bikes may have just eight at the rear.
Getting going is useless unless you can stop, and happily most bikes at this price now come with disc brakes, which offer much better all-conditions performance than brakes that use the rim of the wheel to stop. Brakes that use hydraulic fluid rather than cables are a big plus too because they require less maintenance and give more consistent stopping power.
When it comes to tyres, it’s worth deciding how much time you’re likely to spend actually riding the bike off-road. If you just fancy a bike for getting to work or very occasional off-road use, but don’t fancy the looks or riding position of road bikes or hybrid bikes, then a mountain bike is a good choice, but proper knobbly off-road tyres will make the going hard.
It’s worth asking if the shop doesn’t mind switching the tyres to slicks or hybrid tyres that have a mix of knobbly tread for cornering grip on the edge and a flatter centre for pedalling speed.
Suspension forks are a big plus when it comes to control and comfort off-road, but because many forks can cost £500 (or double that) just on their own, the units fitted at this price can vary wildly in performance and longevity, as well as the adjustment control on offer.
While it seems like a downgrade, a rigid (non suspension) fork can be a good choice on a lower priced bike because the money saved can be used on other areas of the bike that may have a bigger impact on performance.
What should I avoid?
In mountain bikes under £500, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get a full suspension bike that’s any good. Quite simply, it’s going to be significantly heavier and it’s likely to offer very little advantage in comfort or control — in fact, quite the opposite because many will lack any form of damping control, imagine riding a heavy pogo stick with wheels.
Weight is an inevitable side effect of budget mountain bikes, something doubly true for mountain bikes because they need to be able to take a beating. Our reviews will list the weight and the effect it has, but cheaper bikes inevitably take a bit more effort to get up the hills than more expensive machines. It’s not all bad though, just think about how much fitter and faster you’ll be.
Here's a selection of the best, currently available 'budget' MTBs we've reviewed for a mix of on- and off-road use. All these bikes were available to buy online or in store as of 19 July 2018.
If you can afford to spend a little more, check out our Best mountain bikes under £750 article.
The best mountain bikes under £500
- £379 (with discount card, £550 otherwise)
- Amazing kit for the money
- Great handling
- Decent, lightweight aluminium frame
GO Outdoors is slowly making a great name for itself in the mountain biking arena, thanks to its in-house brand Calibre bringing a number of segment leading bikes to the market.
While other brands may be more established, the Two.Two is a seriously impressive bike, with decent kit, a great shape and an overall performance that rivals numerous bikes priced far higher.
While the bike's geometry makes for easy, confident riding, it's the addition of Shimano gears, a RockShox fork and decent tyres that help make this the best bike available for under £400, let alone one of the best under £500.
- Up to date geometry
- Well-controlled suspension fork
- Grippy front tyre
Calibre proves that decent geometry doesn't have to cost any extra. With a long, low and slack geometry the Rake is an easy bike to jump on and shred. Add in a decent suspension fork at the front paired with a grippy 29-inch front tyre and the bike will give you stacks of confidence.
Calibre's pricing means value is high, and its reputation gets better by the year. If you're looking for a confident and capable bike on a budget, the Rake simply has to be near the top of your list.
- Long, relaxed geometry makes for an easy riding bike
- 29in wheels help the Aizan roll over obstacles
- All-round performance
The Aizan is a great option if you're looking for an all-rounder mountain bike. That's because the relative light weight and bigger wheels mean it'll cross ground efficiently, while the geometry is friendly enough that there is plenty of control on offer.
A few choice kit changes can also easily change the character of the bike, so if it's not 100 percent to your tastes, it shouldn't take too much to get it feeling just right, which aids the bike's versatility.
Saracen Tufftrax Comp Disc
- Light, lively feel
- Easy to upgrade
- Fork lacks performance of pricier models
The Tufftrax Comp Disc is one of few bikes at this price point that performs well and is available from a traditional bike shop. While this may make it easier to buy, it also means that value suffers.
The frame's geometry is more traditional than some of the higher-rated bikes, but if you aren't looking to hit anything too gnarly, this may not be an issue. The frame is relatively upgradeable, but it's fair to say that the SR Suntour fork struggles against some of its competitors.
- Modern geometry
- Plus-width tyres give loads of grip
- Often available on offer
The Carrera Vendetta is unique in this list because it uses 'plus tyres'. These are usually 2.8in to 3in wide, meaning you can run them at lower pressures. This gives two distinct benefits, especially at this price: lower pressures mean more grip, which boosts confidence, and it also aids comfort, which makes the bike more enjoyable to ride.
Carrera has also given the Vendetta a great frame geometry, making it a confidence inspiring ride. While we've not done a full review yet, our initial impressions are that this is a far more capable bike than you might imagine.
Don’t forget that the UK's Cycle To Work Scheme allows you to buy a bike worth up to £1,000, so it may be worth checking out our roundup of the best mountain bikes under £1,000.
For more information on buying a new mountain bike, check out our buyer's guide to the best mountain bikes.