7 Mountain Bikes Under $3,500, Tested and Reviewed

Thirty-five hundred dollars is a lot of money to spend on a bicycle. It’s also about the average price for a full-suspension, carbon mountain bike with entry-level components in 2020, though some riders happily pay more than that for a new bike.

We did our best to test a variety of mountain, gravel, and fat bike builds this year, including several more affordable options. For those with an entry-level budget and expert-level ambition, here are seven bikes to consider, ordered from least to most expensive.


Schwinn Axum: $398

Naturally the least expensive bike we tested in 2020 was a hardtail, with an aluminum frame.

To keep costs down, the Schwinn Axum is offered in a single size, so riders will want to confirm the bike fits comfortably before buying. This bike has a 67.8° head tube angle, a 435mm-long chainstay, and it’s equipped with 29er wheels and 2.6″ wide tires. A big part of fit is the cockpit setup, and here Schwinn chose a straight, 720mm-wide handlebar paired with a 60mm stem.

Does this bike offer a good value for the price? I think so, but not every rider is the same, and everyone has different goals and expectations when it comes to mountain biking. The Schwinn Axum is a budget bike with a smart build spec that many riders will enjoy. While some things about this bike will annoy riders, it should provides a mostly fun experience overall.

Jeff


Diamondback El Oso Dos: $1,500

The El Oso is another aluminum hardtail, but with a rigid fork and fat tires and wheels designed to tackle the trails year ’round.

The “Dos” build kit on the aluminum El Oso suggests that it is made for mountainous fat biking, from the hydraulic TRP Slate disc brakes to the 26×4.5″ Kenda Juggernaut tires. And for deep-snow riders, the Diamondback Dos Riders can fit up to five-inch-wide tires. In the rear, Diamondback fit a 10-speed, 11-42T cassette while up front buyers will find a front derailleur and 24/36T chainring. There is absolutely no suspension, and no dropper post, so it is a true rigid bike, and the 740mm-wide handlebars and 70mm stem compliment its XC style. On a medium bike, the Dos has a standover height of 804mm, a head tube angle of 68.5°, a seat tube angle of 74°, a wheelbase of 1155mm, a chain stay length of 460mm, and a conservative reach of 434mm.

Fat bikes, for most of us, compliment the other bikes in the garage, rather than define the garage. Like most “unnecessary” items in life, they are meant for fun and entertainment, and the Diamondback El Oso delivers this luxury at a reasonable price. For $1,500, the Diamondback El Oso Dos is a pretty comfortable spend, considering that the fat bike will probably be a third or fourth bike for someone who just wants to get out in the winter. El Oso riders can have a blast with the bike out of the box, or buy a few small upgrades to make an already fun bike even more fun.

Matt


Viathon G1: $2,300

Many riders are looking to add a gravel bike to the stable this year, and at $2,300 the Viathon G1 is the least expensive carbon bike we tested. Like the El Oso, this one is completely rigid but opens up new ride options when the weather turns foul, or for riders who want to make the local singletrack more challenging.

So, what does Viathon say that the G1 is? Basically, just a gravel bike. “Fast as a road racer, rugged as a mountain bike, and priced beyond compare.” The Viathon G1 has a new Shimano GRX 600 groupset made up of an entry-level, gravel-specific drivetrain and a hydraulic brake set. Viathon made the G1 with certain features in mind: Thru-axles, flat mount disc brakes, and dropped seat stays for compliance. Tire clearance is on the narrower side, but it’s wide enough for 700x40c tires, or 2.1″ width tires with a 650B diameter.

Viathon again drives a hard bargain with the G1. To get a full carbon gravel bike with a Shimano GRX600 groupset for $2,300 is a pretty sweet deal, although there are still other great deals on gravel bikes, for those who like steel or aluminum. In this case, carbon doesn’t work entirely to its benefit, and the G1 is a little overly stiff, and calls at least for a more compliant set of handlebars. That said, if carbon is your jam, you want a solid groupset, and don’t spend a lot of time gravel biking on trail, or in real bumpy terrain, the G1 delivers.

Matt


YT Jeffsy Base: $2,299

At $2,299, this is the least expensive full suspension mountain bike we tested in 2020. Like the next two that follow, the YT Jeffsy Base features an aluminum frame.

For those riders toward the all-mountain and enduro end of the trail riding spectrum, the YT Jeffsy Base offers modern geometry at an affordable price. For $/€2,999 buyers get a 1204mm wheelbase (size M), 450mm reach, 435mm chainstays, 66° headtube angle, and a 77° seat tube angle. The Jeffsy also features a predictable and progressive Horst-Link suspension design.

The YT Jeffsy Base is a great value. The few upgrades it does need will last a long time, and with its sweet set of angles, the Jeffsy base should keep its pilot rolling happily for a long while. Vested mountain bikers will want to consider the terrain they plan to ride, and the skills they hope to improve before purchasing this model. For many of us with callused palms and broken bone X-ray collections, this Base model could be a wonderful opportunity to update our frame geo and swap in preferred parts as the paychecks allow.

Gerow

Diamondback Release 29.1: $2,500

The Diamondback Release 29.1 is one of the newest and most affordable full suspension 29ers in the brand’s line. With 130mm of rear travel and a 140mm fork up front, this trail bike is designed to be an everyday driver. Priced at $2,500 the Release 29.1 falls into the budget category for full suspension mountain bikes, which means buyers will find a mix of mostly basic components. To this bike’s credit, the component spec is smart, featuring a 12-speed drivetrain, a dropper post, a comfortable cockpit with a 35mm diameter bar and stem, and even tubeless-ready wheels and tires.

The Release 29.1 is the most affordable Diamondback mountain bike to feature the brand’s Level Link suspension platform. On the trail it works as advertised, serving up a relatively stable pedaling platform while performing well over rough, fast descents. However, I’m not sure the Suntour Edge R shock allows Level Link to work at its full potential, as I did experience some sluggishness from the rear end. […] I dialed up the rebound a bit which improved the responsiveness on descents and even made climbing snappier, but I still left feeling like I wasn’t able to experience the frame’s full potential.

Jeff

Canyon Spectral: $2,899

The Spectral is Canyon’s 27.5″ trail bike with 160mm of travel up front and 150mm in the rear. Overall, the Spectral geometry is fairly standard, with a 66° head tube angle and a 74.5° seat angle with 430mm chainstays. With 150mm of rear travel, Canyon manages to cram plenty of descending capability into this 4-bar suspension design.

Bikes in this price and suspension class are meant to be fun to ride, and on that count the Spectral overwhelmingly delivers. To use the cliché, the 27.5″ wheels add to the bike’s “playfulness,” and what that means in practice is the rider feels inclined to pop off more features; to try more progressive moves; and to avoid taking the ride too seriously. No, I don’t have to have 29er wheels to go fast and to have fun. Yes, it is possible for a $3,000 full suspension bike to feel nearly identical to something much closer to the top of the line.

Jeff


Fezzari Delano Peak: $3,500

Priced right at $3,500, the Fezzari Delano Peak is the cheapest carbon, full suspension mountain bike we reviewed.

The Delano Peak has 135mm of rear travel and is purposefully designed and overforked with 150mm of travel up front. On a medium bike, the progressive geometry features a 77.5° seat tube angle with a 65° head tube angle, paired with a reduced-offset fork.

For anyone out there looking for a new trail bike in this category, you should consider the Delano Peak. The geometry and suspension design fit the trail bike’s intentions perfectly, and with so many different build options offering a ton of value that actually give buyers a choice between Shimano and SRAM, it’s like having your cake and eating it too. The Delano Peak isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn fun trail bike and can hold its own on a lot of terrain.

Matt

Are you considering buying a budget-friendly bike in 2021? Let us know which one and we’ll see if we can test it!

Share This: