If you’re looking for an affordable mountain bike, the internet can be a confusing place to look. Everyone will want your money. There will be brands you’ve never heard of, with specs that seem to be too good to be true (spoiler: they usually are).

You don’t know what to buy. To help guide you to the correct choice, check our guide to the 8 best mountain bikes under $500 in 2019 2021.

This post might contain affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. Learn more.

Editor’s Note: The article was updated in January 2020 2021. Jake added a few of his recommendations: Trek Marlin 4, Marin Rock Spring 1 and Cannondale Trail 8 which should replace Cannondale Catalyst 3, Cannondale Foray 3 and Fuji Nevada, models from 2019 that are hard to find these days. We still left descriptions of those three in the article.

All of the bikes that we’ve picked will last, they will work exactly as you want them to, and they will perform well.

After the guide to the 8 best bikes, we’ll have a few pointers for you when buying your new bike. The pointers will help guide you to the best bike for your budget.

Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1

Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1
source: rei.com

Key Features 

  • 27.5” wheels
  • SR Suntour XCT 100mm suspension fork
  • Shimano Acera/Altus groupset

Key Specifications

  • Colors: Eclipse blue
  • Gears: 24 speed
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L

The Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1 is part of the in-house brand at REI. By buying one of their models directly from them, you can save yourself a little bit of money on a higher spec bike. As you’ll be able to see the DRT 1.1 comes with a mix of Shimano Acera and Altus.

Shimano Altus is the entry-level mountain bike specific groupset from Shimano. It gives you 1 extra cog at the back compared to Torney. With a triple chainset at the front, you’ll then have 24 gears, rather than 21, from which to pick.

You also get a Shimano Acera rear derailleur, and this derailleur will give you noticeably slicker and smoother gear changes than you get on Tourney.

As well as a boost to your groupset, the bike comes with a fork that is a higher model from SR Suntour. You get the XCT fork on the DRT 1.1.

The XCT fork takes your suspension travel up to 100mm. You’ll then find that the bike will be able to take larger hits than the models before in our review.

The good does not stop there. You also get a set of Tektro hydraulic brakes. Hydraulic brakes will bring you greater stopping power, and once they are fitted, they are almost maintenance free.

Give them a good clean now and then, and all you’ll need to do is change pads as they wear and an occasional bleed. Which is easier to do than you think it is.

2021 Cannondale Trail 8

Cannondale Trail 8
source: rei.com

The Cannondale Trail 8 is freshly updated for 2021. With progressive geometry, this bike will take you from the streets to the trails without a hitch! Whether you are just getting into mountain biking or whether you’ve been riding for a few years and are looking to upgrade to a newer bike, the Trail 8 will treat you well.

A lightweight aluminum frame made from Cannondale’s Smartform C3 aluminum alloy is going to save weight in every place that it can.

What does that mean to you? Well, it means that you’re going to be getting a lighter bike and will be able to ride faster with less effort. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Internal cable routing keeps the cables out of the way, even on the tightest of trails.

Tektro mechanical disc brakes provide the stopping power for this trail boss. They offer great braking performance at an even better price. Combine the disc brakes with the WTB Ranger 29” tires and you’ve got traction for days! Even on the wettest and muddiest rides, you shouldn’t be too worried about getting going or stopping.

The 2021 model of the Cannondale Trail 8 is available at a price of $600. That’s a great price for somebody who is thinking about jumping into the mountain biking world and wants a bike that won’t be letting them down in just a few years.

With 29” wheels, a full Shimano drivetrain, disc brakes, a Suntour suspension fork, and great tires with lots of treads, the Cannondale Trail 8 is perfect for learning how to shred the single-track. Check it out today at REI:

Schwinn High Timber

The Schwinn High Timber is a basic mountain bike but is extremely popular. The High Timber provides a smooth ride and good grip from the off-road tires for commuting and light trail riding.

There are two versions of this bike. The lower-priced version has a steel frame and V-brakes, while the more expensive one features an aluminum frame and mechanical disc brakes.

Riding along the flat and climbing steep hills is aided by the 21-speed drivetrain featuring twist shifters. This drivetrain makes changing gears effortless and is low maintenance, making it easy to look after.

If you are looking for an entry-level bike for mild off-road riding and getting around town, the Schwinn High Timber is worth your consideration. It also comes in a wide range of colors to suit your personal preference.

Marin Wildcat Trail 1

wildcat trail 1
source: evo.com

The Marin Wildcat Trail 1 is the entry-level mountain bike in the range. This bike has a geometry that suits women’s physical dimensions better than men’s bikes. Marin has also fitted the Wildcat Trail 1 with women’s specific components, such as grips, saddle short-reach brake levers.

This bike is built around a lightweight 6061 alloy frame with a low standover height. The 27.5” wheels hit the sweet spot between the outgoing 26” and larger 29” wheels, giving low rolling resistance and nimble handling. To soak up the bumps in the terrain, the Wildcat Trail 1 uses an SR Suntour XCE Disc fork with 100mm of travel.

Your pedaling power is transmitted to the back wheel through a Shimano Tourney, 7-Speed drivetrain, perfect for riding undulating trails and just getting around.

Even though the Wildcat Trail 1 is an entry-level bike, it still comes with mechanical disc brakes. These use 160mm rotors, making them very powerful, but they are also straightforward to maintain.

If you want a relatively low-cost way of getting into mountain biking, the Marin Wildcat 1 is an excellent and fun way of doing it.

Trek Marlin 4

Marlin 4
source: idahomountaintouring.com

The Trek Marlin 4 is a 27.5” or 29” (depends on frame size) hardtail mountain bike that is an awesome deal at just a hair under $500.

The Marlin 4 has a lightweight aluminum frame that is both strong and stiff. It also has a Suntour suspension fork to absorb any ruts in the trail. On the smaller frames, the Marlin 4 comes with 27.5” wheels, while the larger frames come with 29” wheels.

With 27.5” wheels, it is the best of both worlds; all the clearance of 29” wheels with the nimbleness of 26” wheels. You still get that rock-solid forward momentum and still feel like you can cruise over anything in your path with the 27.5” wheels, but you don’t suffer from their slow responsiveness.

The Trek Marlin 4 is equipped with Shimano Tourney derailleurs, which should hold up well for this bike’s target audience. It is also equipped with Tektro mechanical disc brakes, which is a nice feature at this price point that not many other bikes can offer.

With 3 chainrings in the front and a 7-speed cassette in the back, you are certain to find a gear ratio that works well for you on your rides. Internal cable routing makes this bike look like it cost twice as much, as this is a feature usually reserved for higher-priced bikes.

Overall, the Trek Marlin 4 is a sweet bike that is definitely going to be a pleasing option to a variety of riders out there. It will be able to handle whatever kind of riding you want to do with it and should bring a smile to your face every time you swing your leg over the saddle. You can purchase the Marlin 4 at the following website.


Marin Rock Spring 1

Marine rock spring
source: performancebike.com

The Marin Rock Spring 1 is a high-performance bike at a tremendous price. With good quality components and a light frame, it would be tough to go wrong with this one!

Marin’s Rock Spring 1 is built from 6061 aluminum, which is going to be tough and sturdy, as well as stiff for excellent power transfer on the trails.

It is a hardtail mountain bike, meaning it has no suspension in the back but it does have suspension built into the fork. The Suntour suspension fork has adjustable compression so you can fine-tune your bike’s suspension response to get it dialed in whether you are riding over monster ruts or just cruising down a bike path.

The Rock Spring 1 comes outfitted with a mix of components from good quality brands. The shifters are Shimano, as are the derailleurs.

The brakes are made by Tektro, a well-known company that makes quality components at affordable prices. The brakes are hydraulic disc brakes which is a really nice touch for a bike at this price point. They are going to perform well for many miles without the need to be fiddling with them like you would with mechanical brakes.

The 650b wheels on this bike are going to allow you to rip up whatever trail is in front of you. They combine the agility of a 26” wheel with the clearance of a 29” wheel. Many mountain bikers agree that the 650b (27.5”) wheel is one of the most versatile wheels you can get on your bike.

If the Marin Rock Spring 1 is sounding like your kind of bike, then you should check it out by clicking on the following link to go to Performance Bike’s website.

Raleigh EVA 3

Key Features 

  • 27.5” wheels
  • SR Suntour XCM 80mm suspension fork
  • Shimano Tourney groupset

Key Specifications

  • Colors: Grey
  • Gears: 21 speed
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L

The Raleigh EVA 3 is Raleigh’s answer to an affordable beginners mountain bike for women. With a grey colorway, Raleigh has gone for function over fashion, something that you ideally want in your first mountain bike.

It is better to know that Raleigh has spent their time designing a bike that works and not just a fancy color scheme or decals.

As with the 2 bikes above in our bike review, the Raleigh comes with 27.5” wheels. 27.5” wheels, also known as 650b wheels, are fast becoming the size for entry-level bikes as we quickly see 26” wheels become obsolete.

You’ll also find a Shimano Tourney groupset, a great choice at this price level, as it works and does its job well. You do though get a suspension upgrade over the Cannondales.

The Raleigh has a fork that sits higher up the SR Suntour hierarchy. You get a set of 80mm travel XCM forks. These forks have been time tested to be one of the most reliable budgets priced suspension forks.

GT Palomar 27.5

gt palomar 27-5
source: the-house.com

The GT Palomar 27.5 is the ideal mountain bike as an introduction to the sport. Its relatively low cost makes it a good choice if you want to start riding trails or have a more fun and versatile bike than a road bike.

Its steel frame is strong, durable, and stiff. The benefit of a stiff frame is that you get efficient power transfer to the back wheel as you pedal. The frame’s geometry makes the GT Palomar fun and comfortable to ride mountain bike trails.

The components GT have fitted to the Palomar include an All Terra CH-565 coil fork with 80mm of travel, a Shimano Tourney 7-speed drivetrain, and v-brakes. This combination gives you a simple bike that is easy to maintain.

The 27.5” wheels give the GT Palomar agile handling while being able to roll over bumps in the terrain easily, making it fast and efficient when riding in a straight line.

For a well-priced entry-level mountain bike, riders will be able to learn the basics while having a tremendous amount of fun riding a GT Palomar 27.5.

Cannondale Catalyst 3 (unavailable)

Cannondale Catalyst 3
source: rei.com

Key Features

  • 27.5” wheels
  • SR Suntour M3030 75mm suspension fork
  • Shimano Tourney groupset

Key Specifications

  • Colors: Acid green, charcoal grey
  • Gears: 21 speed
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL

Cannondale Catalyst 3 is Cannondale’s entry-level mountain bike. It contains various trickle-down ideas from bike’s that are higher in the Cannondale range, such as the C3 SmartForm aluminum frame.

As a product of one of the largest mountain bike companies in the world, the Catalyst 3 rides well on the trail and is worthy of future upgrades.

The Cannondale Catalyst 3 uses 27.5” wheels, and these wheels will help you roll over obstacles on the trail, while still being a good size for allowing you a fun riding experience.

To further help you conquer the trails, you’ll find an SR Suntour M3030 suspension fork. The fork comes with 75mm of travel, and this will help to lower pedal bob when you ride.

Gearing is taken care of by the ever-reliable Shimano Tourney. You’ll find a wide spread in the 21 gears that the Catalyst 3 has on offer. It will be easy to find spares for, should you need them and it is very easy to set up and have your bike running smoothly.

Cannondale Foray 3 (unavailable)

Cannondale Foray 3
source: rei.com

Key Features 

  • 27.5” wheels
  • SR Suntour M3030 75mm suspension fork
  • Shimano Tourney groupset

Key Specifications

  • Colors: Deep purple
  • Gears: 21 speed
  • Sizes: XS, S

The Cannondale Foray 3 is the women’s specific version of Catalyst 3. Thankfully Cannondale has not just “shrunk it, and pink’d it,” a common bike company solution to making female specific designs.

The Foray 3 comes in quite a nice purple color, and even though I’m a guy, I love the colorway.

You get the same spec as the Catalyst 3, but you get a women’s specific saddle and a narrower handlebar. The narrower handlebar is because, generally, women have narrower shoulders than guys.

The bar then will allow your arms and wrists to be in a more neutral position. They are stopping you getting fatigued too quickly, and allowing you to be in total control of the bike.

Both the Foray 3 and the Catalyst 3 feature Tektro feature mechanical disc brakes. These brakes are pretty simple to set up, and while they lack the power of hydraulic disc brakes, they will have more than enough stopping power for you out on the trails.

Fuji Nevada 29 1.9 (unavailable)

Fuji Nevada 29 1.9
source: performancebike.com

Key Features 

  • 29” wheels
  • SR Suntour SF19-XCE 100mm suspension fork
  • Shimano Tourney

Key Specifications

  • Colors: Satin khaki green
  • Gears: 21 speed
  • Sizes: 17”, 19”, 21”

The Fuji Nevada 9 1.9 is the first bike in our reviews to come with 29” wheels. 29er wheels will bring you a lot of speed and will roll over most obstacles on the trail.

Which, all sounds good, but you will lose a bit of the maneuverability of the smaller 27.5” wheels. If you’re a big guy though, you’ll find them to be more fun and slightly more size specific.

You’ll find the 29er specific SR Suntour SF19-XCE suspension fork is on bump taming duty. 100mm with 29er wheels makes the Nevada 1.9 a great XC rig.

You can use it to see if the idea of XC racing is something you would like to pursue or if you’d rather ride for pleasure.

With the widespread of 21 gears provided by the Shimano Tourney groupset and the larger wheels, you should find climbing to be a little bit easier. If your goal is fitness, then the Fuji Nevada 1.9 might just be the bike for you.

5 tips for buying a mountain bike under $500

1. Don’t buy a full suspension bike. Full suspension bikes under $500 won’t work, they will be heavy, and you’ll get a very low specification.

The bike will never work as it should, and ultimately it will put you off mountain biking. Buy one of the hardtails listed above, and you’ll have a lighter bike, that will work, and more importantly, be fun to ride.

2. Get the correct size. Don’t lie to yourself about how tall you are, and don’t buy the wrong size just because it is on offer and a bargain. If a bike doesn’t fit you, it is not a bargain. Riding a bike the wrong size on a trail can be dangerous, and you can also do yourself some longterm damage.

Use the manufacturer’s sizing guide and try and be in the middle of a size range. If you fit between 2 sizes, then get the smaller one. It is easier to make a smaller bike larger than vice versa.

3. Get a color you like. Yes, getting a bike with a good spec for your money makes sense, but if it is in a color, you don’t like then you might not want to ride it.

You can always buy the color you like and slowly upgrade it to the spec that you want. A bike that you want to ride is a better way to spend your money than on a bike you won’t ride.

4. Don’t max out your budget. Don’t spend all your budget on a bike. You’ll need to buy things to go with it, items that will make riding safer or help you fix broken parts. You’ll definitely need a helmet if you’re going mountain biking, you might also want some specific clothing.

You’ll be wanting spare tubes, a pump, tools, and some cleaning gear. You’ll also need to keep money aside for any repairs that may crop up.

5. Learn how to fix your bike. Fixing a bike is not complicated. If you can learn how to fix the basics, you’ll save yourself a lot of money in the long run, and more importantly, you’ll be able to fend for yourself out in the wild.

We have guides on this site to help you learn; you can also watch Youtube videos or find a lot of other guides on the net.