Looking for a great mountain bike under $1,000? Then you're in the right place. We tested seven of the best and have laid out our findings below.
As the sport of mountain biking progresses over the years, so does the equipment. Top end features of the past such as suspension lockouts, 27-speed drivetrains and hydraulic brakes are now seen at price-points that were once considered "too cheap" for off-road use.
The argument over wheels sizes was perhaps the hardest part of our testing. Generally, we suggest the larger 29in wheel if you want to do cross-country riding and use the bike on roads too. The slightly smaller, 650b (27.5in) wheel offers greater maneuverability and acceleration, and is often better for being airborne and playing with the bike in technical terrain. And the old standard 26in wheel? Nowhere to be seen at this price-point - it’s been replaced by the 650B.
In the end, the best on test was the Trek X-Caliber 7. It provided the most capable handling and had the nicest frame on test. The drivetrain isn’t the greatest, but it highlights that a good frame, suspension and wheels are the most crucial items.
For absolute value for money, it was the Cell Stromlo 2.0; with factory-direct pricing it raises the argument of online versus local store.
What we found is that it's totally possible to have a great experience and lots of fun on a bike under $1,000. While they do lack the higher level of control, durability and performance of more expensive models, they serve as a perfect platform to get started or as a great casual-use bike. Be sure to read our quick ten tips for choosing a mountain bike. Once you've got a bike, get the most out of it with our top maintenance and upgrade tips.
Trek X-Caliber 7
- Score: 4.5/5
- Price: $899
- Weight: 14.26kg
- Highs: World-class handling, top-notch frame, smart-component choices
- Lows: High weight
The X-Caliber 7 won us over with its top-quality frame and dialed geometry. Featuring many design traits seen in Trek’s World Cup winning models, the X-Caliber is one bike we immediately fell in love with.
Even with the same geometry as a pro-level bike, there’s little hiding the high weight and entry-level drivetrain. But given the price-point, both of these issues are acceptable, if not expected.
Cell Stromlo 2.0
- Score: 4.5/5
- Price: $749
- Weight: 14.09kg
- Highs: Incredible value for money, confident handling
- Lows: Few retailers spells limited aftermarket support for most
The Stromlo is named after one the countries top mountain bike parks, and so it’s fitting that it’s a true trail weapon. Built using the only 10-speed drivetrain components on test, the Stromlo 2.0 feels like a far more expensive bike.
Of course, the drivetrain is only one aspect of the bike (and not the most important) and luckily the rest hasn’t been ignored. The fork is the same SR Suntour XCM as used on most others tested and the remaining parts are all very respectable given the low-price.
The direct-buy nature won’t be for all, but read our full review of the Stromlo 2.0 here.
Malvern Star Switch 27.7
- Score: 4/5
- Price: $819.95
- Weight: 13.75kg
- Highs: Fun riding, stellar value, upgraded fork and lightest on test
- Lows: Not a natural climber
The Switch 27.7 combines an element of fun and flick-able handling with a high-value component spec. If you’re looking for a bike to hit the local mountain bike park and put a smile on your face, the Switch is a worthy contender.
Unfortunately the positioning that makes the Switch so fun on the descents is its Achilles’ heel on the climbs, it will definitely get you back to the top but it lacks an efficient position. Because of this, it’s not the best bike once on the road or for fast fire-trail laps, and this is why it sits in third place.
The Switch 27.7 is the lightest on test, this is partly due to the SR-Suntour XCR fork, which is a lighter version of the XCM seen on other bikes. In addition to testing the 27.7, we did a detailed review of the cheaper Switch 27.3 at $589.95. Everything we disliked about the 27.3 is fixed in the more expensive 27.7 – read our full review of the Switch 27.3 here.
Giant Talon 4
- Score: 4/5
- Price: $849
- Weight: 14.1kg
- Highs: Superb trail handling and durable component spec
- Lows: Lacking suspension quality
The suspension fork is the second most important part to a good mountain bike following the frame. The Giant had us torn over its final score; it’s a spectacular bike for the money, except for one major flaw – the fork.
Beyond the mediocre fork, the Talon has plenty to offer; balanced and confident handling in a 650b package that accelerates and reacts quicker than similar 29in wheeled bikes.
The rest of the component spec functions well and will prove durable too. Read our full review of the Giant Talon 4 here.
Apollo Xpert 29S
- Score: 3.5/5
- Price: $849
- Weight: 14.56kg
- Highs: Nimble handling, fast on road and smoother surfaces
- Lows: Inexplicably heavy and skinny tyres are ill-suited for off-road
The Apollo is less off-road focused than the other bikes tested and is best suited to riders looking for a week-day commuter that can double as an off-road adventurer on the weekend.
The shorter 80mm travel front fork keeps your weight low and well placed on the climbs, but the Apollo lacks the confidence and control of other bikes using the same fork with 100mm travel. Combine this with unusually skinny tyres, and the Expert 29S feels nervous once the ground gets rough and/or loose.
Merida Big Nine 100
- Score: 3/5
- Price: $999
- Weight: 14.01kg
- Highs: Stable handling, frame quality and durable spec
- Lows: Lacks value for money
The Big Nine 100 is the most expensive on test and we can’t understand why. It’s a confident-handling machine with suitable components, but compared to its cheaper 40D brother – which shares the same fork – the price difference seems unwarranted.
In addition to the marginally upgraded frame, the wheels, brakes and drivetrain are also improved with the Big Nine 100. This adds additional durability and refinement compared to the 40D, just not $300 worth.
For us, the Big Nine 40D is fantastic value, and the Big Nine 100 would be a great buy if slightly discounted. Read our full review of the Big Nine 40D here.
Avanti Montari 27.2
- Score: 2.5/5
- Price: $749.95
- Weight: 13.89kg
- Highs: Flickable and confident in technical riding
- Lows: Limited sizing, cramped positioning and poor suspension
Avanti’s New Zealand home turf has some fantastic mountain bike trails, so it’s little surprise that the Montari is completely trail focused. Unfortunately, the basic component spec combined with a cramped riding position means the Montari is too compromised to be real contender.
It has the same basic fork as the Giant Talon, and there’s little control when the going gets rough and the fork quickly starts to imitate a pogo stick. The more balanced rider position on the Giant made this less a problem, in contrast to the rearward positioning on the Avanti.
If you’re a shorter rider seeking a bike to go play on though, and can find the Montari at a discount, it’s worth considering. Read our full review of the Avanti Montari 27.2 here.