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The Best Mountain Bikes For Under $500 Of 2021 Helpful Guide

best mountain bikes for under $500

Mountain biking is a really fun way to spend a few hours riding trails. It can be a relaxing ride down an uncrowded easy flowing trail or it can be an adrenaline pumping exciting trip down a roller coast like flow trail. $500 is a really good price point for finding your first mountain bike. At this level you get real Shimano or SRAM components, suspension forks, disc brakes, and 27.5 or 29 inch wheels. If you are ready to go mountain biking then let’s have a look at the best mountain bikes under $500.

Best Mountain Bikes For Under $500 Buying Guide

Below are my 3 favorite under $500 mountain bikes available today. I run a Meetup that does casual mountain biking events. I get asked several times a year “What bike should I get?” If I was going to buy one today or recommend a bike to my friend I would suggest either the Diamondback Overdrive or Specialized Rockhopper. Both of these represent really good values with the parts spec for $500. My wife and I both have Specialized bikes. I have a Camber and she rides a Rockhopper.

Top Pick

Diamondback Overdrive Hardtail Mountain Bike

Top Pick Bike Shop

Specialized Rockhopper 29

Rockhopper 29

Top Pick Full Suspension

Mongoose Status Mountain Bike

The Top 5 Best Mountain Bikes under $500

Top Pick

Diamondback Overdrive Hardtail Mountain Bike

  • Hand built 6061-T6 aluminum alloy hardtail frame is Classic mountain biking
  • Custom formed and butted tubing combines lightweight and stiffness
  • 27.5 inch wheels roll well over obstacles and offer Quick handling

Summary

The Diamondback Overdrive is our top pick of the best mountain bikes for under $500. It has several component upgrades not found on any other bike in our review. These include Shimano Acera rear derailleur and shifters and a Suntour XCT fork. This bike is an excellent value and ready to go ride some trails.

Components

  • Wheel Size – Sizes 27.5
  • Suspension Fork – SR Suntour XCT
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Acera
  • Shifters – Shimano Acera
  • Brakes – Tektro Aries mechanical disc brakes
  • Chain Rings – 3
  • Rear Cogs – 8
What We Liked
Suntour XCT fork
Shimano Acera rear derailleur
Shimano Acera shifters
27.5 wheels
Mechanical disc brakes

Editor’s Choice

Specialized Rockhopper 29

Rockhopper 29
  • A heart of gold, presented in our lightweight yet durable Premium A1 Aluminum, the Rockhopper features butted aluminum tubes.
  • With Rx Tune on Rockhopper, the SR Suntour XCE brings size-specific travel and spring rates to the show in a performance that’s sure to impress.
  • Radius CX-7 disc brakes offer confident, consistent braking in any trail condition.

Summary

The Specialized Rockhopper 29 is a solid offering by one of the best known bike producers in the world and available at many bike shops across the country. This bike has a mix of Shimano Tourney and Altus components as well as mechanical disc brakes and a Suntour front suspension fork. This bike is ready to put down some miles out in the woods or on your favorite path.

This bike is also available in a 27.5inch wheel version for those who prefer that wheel size.

Specialized has been building mountain bikes for a long time. The Specialized Stumpjumper was one of the original production mountain bikes when it was first introduced in 1981. The Rockhopper has been it’s little brother since sometime in the 1980’s. It has always been a great value for recreational mountain bikers.

Components

  • Wheel Size – 29, 27.5 also available
  • Suspension Fork – SR Suntour XCE
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Altus
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Shifters – microSHIFT
  • Brakes – Radius CX7 mechanical disc
  • Chain Rings – 2
  • Rear Cogs – 8
What We Liked
Shimano Altus and Tourney Driveline
2x driveline with 8 rear cogs
Mechanical disc brakes
29 inch wheels. Also available in a 27.5inch version
Suntour XCE fork

Top Pick Full Suspension

Mongoose Status Mountain Bike

  • Aluminum MTB frame with hydroformed tubing and a powerful front suspension fork is strong and reliable; 26-inch wheels fit riders 64 to 74 inches tall
  • 21-speed shifters make for smooth gear changes on every ride
  • Front and rear V-brakes ensure quick stops out on the trail

Summary

The Mongoose Status Mountain Bike is an inexpensive way to get into a full suspension mountain bike that will smooth out all the ruts and potholes on your favorite dirt roads. It has a multi link rear suspension with an undamped coil spring shock. The lack of damping may make it feel a bit pogo stick like if you try to pedal hard on it. It will be great at making any lumpy dirt road with lots of ruts and pot holes feel great.

This bike has the standard component offering of Shimano Tourney derailleurs and SRAM twist shifters. For any full suspension bike in this price range there is always compromises. This bike does not have quick release front and rear wheels which means you can’t easily remove a wheel out on the trail to fix a flat. This bike has U-brakes instead of disc brakes and it only has 26inch wheels.

Components

  • Wheel Size – 26inch
  • Suspension Fork – Generic coil spring
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Shifters – SRAM twist shifters
  • Brakes – U-Brakes
  • Chain Rings – 3
  • Rear Cogs – 7
What We Liked
Multi-link rear suspension
Coil spring front suspension
SRAM twist shifters
U-Brakes
3×7 driveline

Trek Marlin 4

Trek Marlin 4
  1. It’s a real mountain bike that’s also perfectly suited to daily commutes, rides around campus, or just getting from A to B on any surface
  2. Rack and fender mounts make it easy to accessorize, so your mountain bike can double as a rugged commuter
  3. Smaller frame sizes (XS and S) have short-reach brake levers that make it easier and more comfortable for riders with smaller hands to brake confidently

Summary

The Trek Marlin 4 is an entry level mountain bike from Trek. One of the most well known bike brands in the world. This bike comes as either a 27.5 inch or 29 inch wheel bike depending on the frame size. Smaller sizes get the smaller wheel size. This bike has a competitive spec level with Shimano Tourney components, Suntour fork, and mechanical disc brakes. This is a great starter bike for someone looking to get into mountain biking at a reasonable price.

Components

  • Wheel Size – 27.5inch for sizes XS and S. 29inch for M-XXL
  • Suspension Fork – SR Suntour XCE
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Shifters – Shimano Altus
  • Brakes – Tektro MD-M280 mechanical disc
  • Chain Rings – 3
  • Rear Cogs – 7
What We Liked
27.5 or 29inch wheel based on frame size
3x driveline with 7 rear cogs
Mechanical disc brakes
Shimano Tourney driveline
Suntour XCE fork

Schwinn Bonafide Mountain Bike

  • The Schwinn bonafied mountain bike features an aluminum mountain frame and a powerful Schwinn suspension fork that soaks up bumps and thumps to provide you with a fun, durable riding experience
  • 24 speed Shimano EZ Fire trigger shifters and front and rear Shimano derailleurs make gear changes easy and smooth
  • Front and rear mechanical disc brakes provide crisp all condition stopping out on the trail; Durable Schwinn alloy cranks provide steady gearing and less pesky maintenance

Summary

Schwinn has been a long time well known builder of quality bikes. In recent years after some bankruptcies they have become more or less a builder of higher end department store and sporting good store level bikes. My original mountain bike back in the late 1980’s was a Schwinn Sierra Comp so I have a bit of a soft spot for them. The Schwinn High Timber represents a good value quality entry level mountain bike. It has Shimano Tourney level components, 26inch wheels and a generic fork. This bike has a steel frame and u-brakes which will make it heavier than a bike with an aluminum frame and u-brakes do not perform as well as disc brakes.

Components

  • Wheel Size – 26inch
  • Suspension Fork – Generic coil spring
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Tourney
  • Shifters – Shimano Tourney
  • Brakes – Mechanical disc brakes
  • Chain Rings – 3
  • Rear Cogs – 8
What We Liked
Shimano Tourney shifting
3×8 driveline
Disc
29 inch wheels
Aluminum frame

What should a $500 Mountain Bike Have?

The better end of $500 mountain bikes should have a few things.

  • An aluminum frame
  • 26inch, 27.5inch or 29inch wheels.
  • A generic coil spring or Suntour XCE or XCT front suspension fork.
  • Shimano Tourney components.
  • Disc Brakes that are mechanical cable pull actuated.
  • 3x driveline meaning it will have 3 chain rings and between 7 and 8 rear cogs.
  • Quick release levers on the front and rear wheels
  • It will weigh between 30 and 35 lbs.

What Won’t A $500 Mountain Bike Have?

Bikes in this price range will not have damping in their suspension which can make them feel a bit pogo stick like when you are pedaling hard. Most will not have hydraulic disc brakes. There are no 2x or 1x drivelines. If you buy a full suspension bike in this price range it will probably have many compromises to get it down to this price. The bike will be on the heavier side.

What Can I Get If I Spend More Than $500?

Going above $500 you will get upgrades to driveline and suspension fork. Parts will get more durable and lighter weight. The suspension will have damping. You’ll move from a 3x driveline to a 2x or 1x. They will also start adding in things like tubeless ready rims and tires and all brakes will be hydraulic disc.

1x drive trains are wonderful and absolutely worth it if you can up the price a bit more to get one. SRAM Eagle 12 speed systems are incredibly smooth with lots of gear range.

Should I Buy A New Or Used Bike?

There is some great value out there in used bikes. You absolutely can get more bike for the money going used. Beware there is a lot of junk used bikes out there for sale too. If your new to mountain biking and you want to buy a used bike it’s really good advice to seek out the help of an experienced mountain biker to help you find a good used bike.

What To Look For On A Used Bike?

Bikes lose value quickly just like used cars do. Expect a used bike to sell for 30-40% less than new. A bike that was $900 a few years ago may easily sell used for under $500 now. You can find bikes people bought but then never really rode much. There is excellent value in used bikes if you are careful shopping.

There is a good website for used bike values called Bicycle Blue Book.

Where Should I Buy A New Bike At?

There are lots of places you can get a bike. You can go to a bike store and have a look and test ride bikes. You can also go online and buy a bike. In looking at a lot of $400 to $500 bikes for this guide. There are equally good values in bike shops and online. Most major well known bike makers like Specialized, Giant, and Trek all have an entry level $500 mountain bike available.

Shimano and SRAM Components

The 2 main producers of mountain bike components are Shimano and SRAM. The majority of bikes in the $400 to $500 will have Shimano Tourney components. A few rare bikes might have SRAM X3. You might find a Shimano Altus or Acera derailleur here and there. It’s not unusual for bikes to have a couple of parts like the rear derailleur that are upgraded 1 or 2 levels above the rest of the bike.

Shimano mountain bike component levels go in the following order from low end to high end:

  • Tourney
  • Altus
  • Acera
  • Alivio
  • Deore
  • SLX
  • XT
  • XTR

SRAM mountain bike components go in the following order from low end to high end:

  • X3
  • X4
  • X5
  • X7
  • NX
  • GX
  • X01
  • XX1

SRAM Eagle components denote their 12 speed 1x component sets. There are GX and NX components in both 1x with 12 cogs and also 2x with 10 cogs and a few other combinations.

To read more about mountain bike component levels click here.

group of mountain bikers on a trail

Front Suspension Forks

Most bikes in the under $500 range will have either a generic coil spring front suspension fork or low end Suntour XCE fork. Bikes in the next price up category will all start having forks made by Suntour., either XCT or XCM. There are much better forks out there by RockShox, Fox, Manitou and several other brands. You won’t find them on new bikes under $1000. Below is list of the levels of suspension on mountain bikes.

Generic Coil Spring – A very basic front suspension with no damping, adjustments or lockouts.

Suntour XCE – The lowest level Suntour front suspension fork. Basic coil spring with no damping.

Suntour XCT – basic coil spring fork with no damping. Preload is adjustable and they can have a mechanical lockout.

Suntour XCM – a slightly upgraded XCT slightly larger stanctions, and the option of a hydraulic lockout on the top model. Remote lockout is an option.

Suntour XCR – A decent coil spring fork, with dampening and a hydraulic lockout. Adjustable preload and rebound damping. Remote lockout is an option. Also available in an air spring version.

Forks by Rockshox, Fox, etc. – Much stiffer and lighter weight suspension forks with tunable travel, air springs, damping and lockouts.

3x vs 2x vs 1x Drivetrain

1x or 3x refers to the number of chainrings on the bike attached to the pedal cranks. High end mountain bikes all have 1 chainring only and 12 rear cogs. Mid range bikes in the $800 to $1100 range have either 2 chainrings and 10 rear cogs or 1 chainring with 10 or 11 cogs. Under $500 bikes all have 3 chainrings and 7 or 8 rear cogs.

Multiple chainrings require a front derailleur and shifter which adds something to the bike that can brake. Front derailleurs shift the chain on the loaded side when you are pedaling so they get a lot more wear and tear if you shift them while stomping on the pedals which most new riders do. Eventually you learn to downshift chainrings when you are approaching a hill.

Rear cogs and the rear derailleur shift from the unloaded side of the chain so they can shift just fine while your stomping down on the pedal during a climb.

Disc Brakes vs U-Brakes

Disc brakes on mountain bikes were one of the best innovations ever when they started appearing. They have so many advantages and almost no downside. Disc brakes have much more powerful stopping ability. They aren’t as susceptible to getting full of mud. They aren’t affected by a wheel being out of true. You don’t need to unhook a cable or anything else to remove a wheel.

U-Brakes are the traditional bike brake that brakes by clamping on the rim of the wheel. If the rim gets wed or muddy they can quickly lose stopping power. If the wheel gets a little bent and out of true then it causes the brakes to clamp unevenly. To remove your wheel you have to disconnect the cable from the brakes to release them.

Hydraulic vs Cable Pull Disc Brakes

Hydraulic brakes have one big advantage over cable pull disc brakes. Mechanical advantage. With a cable pull disc brake force is limited by how hard you can pull the cable with the brake lever.

With a hydraulic disc brake system the brake calipers are pushed by the hydraulic fluid. The brake actuation cylinder and caliper can multiply the force by several factors. With a cable pull system you may have to squeeze the lever pretty hard to stop quickly.

With a hydraulic system you can screech yourself to a halt with 1 finger effort. The downside is you have to learn to control how much you squeeze your brakes so you don’t send yourself over the handlebars trying to stop.

26inch vs 27.5inch vs 29inch wheels

There are 2 most popular wheel sizes out there right now for mountain bikes. 27.5 inch and 29 inch wheels.

Some bikes may still have 26inch wheels. The first mountain bikes all had 26inch wheels but they are not as good for performance as 27.5 or 29inch wheels. They do not roll over objects as easily and are less efficient than the larger wheel sizes.

29 inch wheels roll a bit faster and are better for cross country riding. They make the bike less likely to endo if you stick the front tire on something. They can make the bike feel a bit sluggish. All cross country race bikes are 29inch wheels.

27.5 inch wheels are a bit lighter and the bike will feel a bit livelier. Some people prefer them for more technical riding. Most downhill race bikes are 27.5 inch wheels. Some Enduro Bikes are 27.5. Some are 29inch.

Front Suspension vs Full Suspension

Front suspension or hardtail bikes only have a front fork with a spring and damping on higher end bikes. They have no rear suspension. Full suspension bikes have a front suspension fork and a rear suspension system.

Front Suspension

Front suspension costs less than full suspension because it has less parts. Front suspension bikes are more efficient to pedal because they don’t have a suspension pivot in the driveline. They are the clear winner in performance for smoother trails or dirt roads. On rough trails they give a rough ride and will transmit every bump up through your seat.

Full Suspension

Full suspension bikes are wonderful on a trail with lots of roots and rocks. They can smooth out a lot of trail chatter. They are good at absorbing jumps and big hits. Full suspension works great when it has damping and multiple pivots and links to let it pedal with high efficiency.

At $500 price point, rear suspensions have only a single pivot and no damping. They are very poor for pedaling efficiency relative to a hardtail. In the $500 and under price range bikes with full suspension you are getting something that is good for smoothing out dirt road pot holes. You are not getting something designed for pedaling efficiency or big hits.

My general thoughts on full suspension are to stay away from it on bikes under about $1500. You won’t get a well designed durable linkage system with damped shock absorber below that.

Mountain Biking FAQ

mountain biker on dirt road

Q: What mountain bike should I get if I have $500 to spend?

Find the bike with the best components, fork, and driveline you can afford. It’s helpful to ride a bike too if you can because different frame geometries feel different when riding.

Q: Should I Just Buy A Really Cheap Mountain Bike From Walmart?

Obviously everyone has a budget. You can get around a lot of mountain bike trails just fine on virtually any bike out there. Once the trails begins to have a lot of roots and rocks to roll over it will start shaking and destroying parts on a cheap bike. There are tons of videos out there on Youtube showing the effects of trail riding on really cheap bikes.

The below video shows some good information on how well very inexpensive Walmart mountain bikes hold up to trail riding.

Q: Should I buy at bike at a bike shop or online?

At the $500 and under price range there really isn’t much of a bargain to be had online. If you look at what bikes are coming with, the bikes sold strictly online have similar component specs as to those being sold at bike shops. The most popular mountain bike brands Specialized, Giant, and Trek all have $500 entry level mountain bikes that are very competitively setup.

Sooner or later the bike will need maintenance or replacement parts and you’ll probably be going to a bike shop at that point whether you bought it there or not.

Q: Should I wear a helmet while mountain biking?

Yes. You should ride a helmet while mountain biking. I have mountain biked for a long time now and have had a few scares along the way. Several of my worst falls were on trails I think are easy. Overconfidence can lead to bad things happening sometimes. Helmets aren’t that expensive and can really save your day sometimes.

Q: What is a 29er?

A 29er is simply a mountain bike with 29 inch wheels. Originally almost all mountain bikes had 26 inch wheels. When 29inch wheels came onto the scene people referred to bikes with 29 inch wheels as “29ers”. Today a majority of mountain bikes have 29inch or 27.5inch wheels and 26inch wheels are virtually non existent.

Q: Where Can I Get A Bike Fixed At?

You can either take it to a bike shop, find a friend who knows how to fix bikes to fix it for you or learn how to fix it and do it yourself.

Q: How Hard Is It To Fix My Own Bike?

There are a lot of things on your bike that really aren’t that hard to do yourself. Replacing tires, adjusting rear derailleurs and replacing most driveline components (except the bottom bracket) are really not that hard to do. ParkTool a popular brand of bike tools has really really good how to articles and videos for doing almost anything on your bike.

Click here to go to the repair help section of Park Tool’s website.

Q: How Hard Is It To Upgrade A Bike?

Most parts of the bike that are easy to fix and replace are also easy to upgrade. It will require a bit of research to find what parts are compatible. If your bike has 7 rear cogs, almost any Shimano or SRAM rear derailleur, shifter or rear cassette will work. Some things are fairly standardized. There is a Youtube video out showing how to do almost any upgrade you can think of doing.

Some really common upgrades to do on new bikes are the seat, pedals and handlebar grips. Those items are your touch points on the bike and you can really make a bike feel different by changing them.

Buying a cheap bike with the intention to upgrade is not always a great idea. You should look up the prices of parts and see if it’s cheaper to buy a higher level bike to begin with.

Q: Where Can I Find Mountain Biking Trails?

The best place to start on this search is the International Mountain Biking Association. Click here to go to their where to ride page. You can also Google “Mountain Bike trails near me” to get some help on local trails.

Some areas have their own organization. In Michigan we have the Michigan Mountain Biking Association that has very good trail information on their page. You can see it here.

Q: What Phone Apps Are Good For Mountain Biking?

There are several really good Apps to help you out on the trail. The most popular mountain biking app by far is Strava. Strava records your lap at segment times on trails and you can compare them to other rides. Some people take owning the KOM and QOM really seriously. (King and Queen Of the Mountain).

Trailforks is a really good app for finding trails and finding your way around on trails.

MTBProject is another really good app for finding trails and finding your way around.

Q: How Do I Make My Disc Brakes Stop Squealing?

Squealing disc brakes is a fairly common occurrence and pretty easy to fix. It is almost always caused by brake calipers have have gotten out of alignment.

To fix it do the follwing. Loosen the 2 bolts that hold on the brake caliper. Spin your wheel. Squeeze the brake lever as hard as you can. Release the brake. Spin the wheel and squeeze the brake again. Do this a few times. Spin the wheel one final time. Squeeze the brake lever as hard as you can to stop it. While squeezing the brake lever tightly, tighten the brake calipers back up.

Q: What’s the best way to carry water while mountain biking?

Staying hydrated during a bike ride is very important. 2 good options are water bottles and hydration packs. I personally prefer hydration packs because you can carry more water and it gives you some place to carry your tools and spare tube. See my article on hydration packs vs water bottles for mountain biking.

Q: How Do I Fix A Flat Tire?

Fixing a flat is really very easy. Remove the tire, use something to remove the tire bead off the rim, replace the tube and put the tire back on. You can use special tire tools. You can use a flathead screw driver also.

The below video shows how to fix a mountain bike flat tire.

Q: What are Tubeless Tires And Wheels?

Most bikes above about $800 price point have “Tubeless ready wheels”. They are setup so that you can remove the inner tube and use just a tire on the wheel. The tires are filled with some liquid sealant that seals any gaps and can also reseal holes from thorns or nails so you don’t get a flat.

You can ride with lower air pressure without worrying about getting a “pinch flat” where the inner tube gets pinched between the rim and tire and gets a hole in it that looks like a snake bite. You save the weight of having an inner tube in the tire.

Almost any mountain bike wheel can be converted to tubeless. The only real difference between a tubeless ready wheel and a regular wheel is a $15 rim tape going around the inside of the rim.

Q: What are clipless pedals and should I get them?

The term clipless pedals is a bit of an oxymoron. Clipless pedals use cleats on the bottom of the shoe that clip into the pedal. If you are going to race your mountain bike then by all means get clipless pedals and shoes. If you are just riding for fun I strongly recommend avoiding clipless pedals. You will save yourself the agony of occasionally falling over when you stop and you’ll feel more confident to try difficult technical features when you are not worried whether you can get your feet unclipped if you need to.

See my article on clipless vs flat pedals for mountain biking.

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small selfie pic

About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water.  I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions.  I decided to start this Gear Craver as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.

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