Buyer’s Guide: Budget Hardtail Mountain Bikes

budget hardtail mountain bike buyers guide

Buying a hardtail mountain bike on a budget is a right of passage into the sport of mountain biking. Whether you’re just getting started in the sport, or even if you’re a more accomplished rider who simply wants an affordable mountain bike, everyone wants to get the best value for their money.

This hardtail mountain bike buyer’s guide is designed to help you do just that.

While full suspension mountain bikes are a ton of fun to ride, this list only includes hardtails and, well, if you’re truly strapped for cash or don’t want to shell out a ton of money on a sport that you’re just dabbling in, your best bet is really to buy a hardtail. Full suspension bikes are always going to be more expensive for a comparable parts spec, and often the lower-end FS bikes make sacrifices that, in my opinion, just shouldn’t be made. However, if you’re dead-set on buying a full suspension rig, here’s our roundup of the best budget FS mountain bikes.

This list isn’t designed to be comprehensive; there are dozens upon dozens of hardtail mountain bikes that could be ranked in the “budget” category. While we aren’t naming every single bike available, the bikes included will give you an idea of what’s out there, and what you’ll need to spend to get certain features:

Hardtail Mountain Bikes Under $500

Giant Revel $330

Bikes similar to the Giant Revel are what I’d consider to be the bare-minimum for purchasing a new mountain bike. This is the cheapest bike you’ll be able to buy from a reputable mountain bike company. If this is all you can afford, then great: buy it, ride it, and love it! However, I’d have hard time recommending this or a similar bike (you can find bikes near this price point from most major brands) to any of my friends. With 26″ wheels, rim brakes, and extremely cheap suspension, drivetrain, and other components, this bike just won’t provide a very good ride experience, and you’re likely to break parts quickly.

Gravity G29 SS $350

One great way to save money on a budget mountain bike is to buy the most bare-bones mountain bike possible–namely, a rigid singlespeed. There are a number of affordable rigid singlespeeds on the market today that provide great value for not a lot of money, including the Gravity G29 SS from Bikes Direct. The G29 comes with an alloy frame, chromoly rigid fork, and WTB Speed Disc 29″ wheels.

Motobecane 529 HT $400

With an MSRP of $400, this is probably one of the cheapest 29ers (with a complete drivetrain and suspension fork) that money can buy. While spending a little more can get you some much better components, this $400 29er comes with hydraulic Tektro disc brakes, a SRAM drivetrain, and Suntour fork.

Giant ATX 27.5 2 $415

With disc brakes, upgraded components, and 27.5 wheels, the ATX 27.5 2 is a big step up from the Revel. This might even be the most affordable 27.5″-wheeled bike on the market, so if you’re sold on the tweener wheel size and don’t want to spend much money, this bike could be a decent choice for a starter mountain bike. It’s also worth noting that of the Big 3 (Giant, Specialized, and Trek), Giant’s bikes are usually more affordable than the other two.

That said, there are many other bikes with similar component specs right in there with the ATX, from a variety of brands.

Trek Marlin $439-$830

Starting at $439, the Marlin 4 is Trek’s cheapest 29″/27.5″ offering. I mention both of these wheel sizes because the Marlin (and most other bikes in Trek’s lineup) now features Trek’s “smart wheel size” tech. Essentially, if you buy a smaller frame you’ll get 27.5″ wheels. If you buy a medium or larger frame, you’ll get 29″ wheels. This could be great for you, but if you’re a smaller rider and you’re positive that you want 29″ wheels, you’ll need to look at similarly-priced offerings from a different brand.

The most affordable Marlin sports an SR Suntour M-3030 fork, Bontrager AT-550 wheels, and a 7-speed Shimano drivetrain, similar to the other bikes at this price point. Unfortunately, the base model features rim brakes instead of disc brakes. But as the prices of the other Marlin models go up, the quality of the parts installed on the frame increase correspondingly.

Hardtail Mountain Bikes Under $750

Specialized Rockhopper $490-$1,400

The Specialized Rockhopper is a venerable budget hardtail mountain bike that offers a storied history and an assurance of quality. The budget-basement $490 29er version (down from $700 in 2016) sports an 80mm SR Suntour XCT fork, Shimano BR-M375 mechanical disc brakes, and a Shimano 3×8 drivetrain.

Buy from Jans.com

Diamondback Hook $650

The Diamondback brand is known for low price tags and high quality, with the Hook being just one example of this.

The Hook comes spec’ed with an alloy frame, 27.5″ wheels, an SR Suntour XCM 120mm-travel fork, a SRAM X3/X4 1×8 drivetrain, and Tektro Aries mechanical disc brakes. With a roller chain guide in place of a front derailleur and slack geometry, the Hook leans towards the trail/AM category.

Buy from Aventuron

Commencal Meta HT Trail $700-$880

Commencal is a direct-to-consumer bike company that produces quality mountain bikes, but at a very affordable price since they don’t have to pay for all of the overhead of a bigger company. Generally speaking, when you compare the specs of most direct-to-consumer companies to their similarly-priced competitors, the brands like Commencal will offer better parts for the same amount of money–or less! It’s still a good idea to shop around, because your LBS will often offer great deals on previous model years and demo bikes, but Commencal’s value proposition makes them a great choice for a budget mountain bike buy. Of course, there are tradeoffs when buying a bike off the internet… but it’s hard to argue with the numbers.

The base model of the Commencal Meta HT Trail comes spec’ed with an alloy frame, 27.5″ wheels wrapped with high-quality Maxxis Ardent 2.25″ tires, a RockShox XC30 120mm fork with turnkey lockout, a SRAM X4 3×9 drivetrain, and Tektro HD-M 285 hydraulic disc brakes.

Stepping up to the $880 model gets you, among other things, a RockShox Recon Silver RL Solo Air fork with 120mm of travel, with rebound and lockout control.

Hardtail Mountain Bikes Under $1,000

Airborne Seeker $930

As a direct-to-consumer company similar to Commencal above, “Airborne Bicycles” is a name you should get to know if you’re looking for top value for your money.

The Airborne Seeker comes stock with an alloy frame and 29″ wheels. But most notably, it’s spec’ed with a RockShox ReconTK GOLD Solo Air fork with lockout–the nicest suspension fork on this list so far. The drivetrain is SRAM X5 2×10 and the brakes are Shimano BR-M445 hydraulic disc.

For an even more affordable Airborne, be sure to check out the Guardian at $600.

Cannondale Cujo $699-$1,410

The Cannondale Cujo is one of the most affordable 27.5+ rigs that I’ve spotted for sale from a well-established brand. The base-model Cujo 3 is spec’ed with an alloy frame, Cannondale Beast 40mm rims, Kenda Havok 27.5×3″ tires, a SR Suntour XCR LO Boost 27+ fork with 120mm of travel, a Shimano Altus/Deore 2×9-speed drivetrian, and Tektro Auriga hydraulic disc brakes.

Buy from Tree Fort Bikes

Commencal Meta AM HT $999-$2,000

So far this list has been filled with cross country/trail hardtail mountain bikes. However, there are many riders out there who are searching for a bike on a budget, but they don’t want classic XC geometry. For riders who don’t have a lot to spend but still want aggressive all-mountain geometry, an all-mountain hardtail is a great compromise!

The Commencal Meta AM HT is one of the most affordable all mountain hardtails on the market, and the base model comes spec’ed with an alloy frame, a RockShox Sektor Silver RL Air fork with 140mm of travel, a SRAM X5 2×9 drivetrain, Tektro HD-M 285 hydraulic disc brakes, and wide 27.5×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent EXO tires.

Technically, the $650 Diamondback Hook above may be considered an all-mountain hardtail by some, but the 140mm fork on the Meta AM beats out the 120mm fork on the Hook handily.

Salsa Timberjack $999-$1,400

Salsa has rolled out several affordable and well-spec’ed bikes within the last year, with the base model of the Timberjack being especially notable. This rig features an aluminum frame, 29″ wheels, a Manitou M30 120mm fork, Tektro Auriga Hydraulic disc brakes, and most notably–a SRAM NX 1×11 drivetrain, the only 11-speed drivetrain on this list.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, this list is far from comprehensive. But with these key models, you can easily compare the hardtail mountain bike you’re considering buying to the bikes on this list to see how it stacks up and compares.

And remember, be sure to shop around! While some of these bikes might be the best at MSRP in their category, that’s not to say that you can’t find a killer deal in a hole-in-the-wall bike shop downtown.

More Hardtails Information

Hardtails are super-fun, if your budget allows consider these 10 hardcore hardtails and even more hardtails.

Check out the hardtails archive for even more info and the latest news about these bikes.

Your turn: Know of a great budget hardtail mountain bike that we didn’t include? Talk it up in the comments below!

Last Updated on May 29, 2017, at 7:55am MDT by Greg Heil.

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