5 essential things to look for when buying a £500 mountain bike

Here's how to make sure you get the best bike for your money

When choosing your first new mountain bike, budgeting to spend £500 on the bike alone is a good place to start (you’ll also need money for a helmet, other essentials and perhaps the odd upgrade). There’s a wide range of decent bikes to choose from at this price and you’ll be certain to avoid the dreaded ‘bike shaped object’ that you can see available for hundreds of pounds less in supermarkets and the like.

To aid you in making the right choice, we consulted the bike buying experts at What Mountain Bike magazine for their advice. Here are their top five £500 bike buying tips…

1. The weight

The Canyon Grand Canyon AL 3.9
The Canyon Grand Canyon AL 3.9

As cheaper mountain bikes are constructed using less fancy frame materials and weightier components, entry-level bikes tend to be on the heavier side.

A trail or cross country bike weighing much in excess of 14kg (31lbs) will likely feel heavy and cumbersome when riding (particularly uphill!) and be difficult to manhandle over stiles, fences or up stairs.

Fortunately there are a fair few bikes that tip the scales around the 13.5kg mark even at £500, such as the 13.6kg Canyon Grand Canyon AL 3.9.

2. The suspension system

Avoid full suspension bikes at this price bracket
Avoid full suspension bikes at this price bracket

If you’re spending £500 on a bike, when it comes to suspension, the rule of less being more is generally a good one to follow. Avoid bikes that have full-suspension at this price, as hardtails will give you much better value for money.

The suspension forks available here may not be as plush or as lightweight as those found on more expensive bikes and will probably be coil sprung rather than fancier and lighter air-based systems. Better forks will have rebound settings (usually found at the bottom of a fork leg) as well as the standard pre-load adjustment.

3. The wheelsize

29in wheels generally result in a heavier bike
29in wheels generally result in a heavier bike

On full sized adult bikes, wheels will either be 27.5in or 29in in diameter, though you will still find the older 26in wheelsize on kids’ bikes.

In theory, 29in wheels roll over small bumps and holes more easily than 27.5in wheels due to their larger circumference and make for a faster ride. Being bigger though, 29in wheels are slower to get going and can feel like more effort to turn when moving slowly. Their size also means they are generally heavier and you need longer forks etc, which in turn increases the overall bike weight.

We recommend that small to medium sized riders stick with 27.5in wheels.

4. The frame design

Many £500 bikes adopt the frame design of more expensive bikes
Many £500 bikes adopt the frame design of more expensive bikes

We’re moving past the days when entry-level bikes had poor geometry. More expensive, modern trail bikes are long and low with slacker frame angles and there are many £500 bikes that adopt the same approach.

While all MTBs vary, look for bikes with a top tube that’s over 600mm on a medium sized frame, a head tube angle between 66 and 68 degrees and a bottom bracket height that’s not far in excess of 300mm.

5. The components

Cheaper components are often easy to upgrade
Cheaper components are often easy to upgrade

To lower prices, some manufacturers hide older, cheaper, or heavier parts where you might not initially notice them. £500 bikes will typically have 3x8 or 3x9 chainsets, the cheapest versions of branded tyres (often called ‘performance’ or ‘sport’) and heavier bars, stems and seatposts. 

These are all fairly easy to upgrade, though, and it’s worth keeping back £70 to £100 of your budget to immediately spend on good quality tyres, or have a word with the shop to see if you can upgrade them when purchasing the bike.

What Mountain Bike’s Big Budget Bike Test issue is on sale now:
What Mountain Bike’s Big Budget Bike Test issue is on sale now:

You can find reviews of 24 of the best bikes from £500 to £1500 in What Mountain Bike’s Big Budget Bike Test issue on sale now.

You can buy the magazine in selected branches of WHSmith, Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda, Easons (in ROI) or online from Mags Direct.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine – what to ride, when to ride, and how to ride. Try your first five issues for £5 when you subscribe today.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Location: Bristol, UK
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