This is a list of the best mountain bikes for under £500 according to the findings of our expert testers. The world of budget mountain bikes can seem like a bit of a minefield, but fortunately, you’re in the right place.
It’s totally possible to get something that’s up to the task of proper off-road riding without breaking the bank, but there’s a big difference between how durable and enjoyable the best budget mountain bikes are compared to the not-so-great.
If you can afford to spend a little more, check out our best mountain bikes under £750. Otherwise, these are the best bikes we’ve reviewed around the £500 mark.
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The best mountain bikes under £500 in 2020
- Vitus Nucleus 29 VR: £500
- Voodoo Aizan: £500
- Marin Bobcat Trail 3: £525
Vitus Nucleus 29 VR
- Great geometry
- Particularly good wheelset for the money
- Easily upgradeable
The Vitus Nucleus 29 VR is a properly trail-ready 29er that is built around a superb frame that will delight out of the box, but is ripe for upgrades.
The wheels, built with WTB’s i29 rims, are properly tubeless ready, which is rare at this price.
Marin Bobcat Trail 3
Although the Marin’s a little over £500, it offers fantastic value for money and we think it’s well worth stretching yourself an extra £25 if you can.
With a few key upgrades, the bike will be even more capable which means as you get better you’ll be able to increase the bike’s scope without shelling for an entirely new rig.
- Long, relaxed geometry makes for an easy riding bike
- 29in wheels help the Aizan roll over obstacles
- All-round performance
The Aizan is a great option if you’re looking for an all-rounder mountain bike. That’s because the relative light weight and bigger wheels mean it’ll cross ground efficiently, while the geometry is friendly enough that there is plenty of control on offer.
A few choice kit upgrades can also easily change the character of the bike, so if it’s not 100 per cent to your tastes, it shouldn’t take too much to get it feeling just right, which aids the bike’s versatility.
Calibre is renowned for offering quality bikes at impressive prices and the Rake is the brand’s budget hardtail 29er.
We gave the Calibre Rake 4.5 stars out of 5 when we reviewed it in 2018, however that was the previous version of the bike (hence why it’s not included in our main list above).
The Rake has a modern, long and low geometry, and quality components from RockShox, Shimano and WTB.
Pinnacle Kapur 2
- Confidence-inspiring modern cockpit
- Decent Shimano groupset for the money
- An otherwise great bike let down by outdated geometry
The Kapur 2 is the mid-priced option in Evans’ budget hardtail range.
It has a spec that is superior to many similarly-priced bikes – its fork is better than expected and its steering control makes it ready for some rowdy riding – but the frameset features fairly outdated geometry.
- Plenty of upgrade potential
- Contemporary geometry
- Fork doesn’t offer amazing performance
With decent, modern geometry, the Mantra is Saracen’s budget-friendly entry into the trail bike market.
The frame’s made from alloy and the standard quick release rear dropouts can be upgraded for a bolt-through system. The bike’s brake and gear cables are internally routed, too.
Although this model is the cheapest bike Saracen offers, it’s still specced with branded parts. There’s a Shimano groupset, an SR Suntour fork and Tektro hydraulic brakes.
For £500 it isn’t the best-performing out there, with the fork’s lack of sensitivity being the biggest issue.
For more information on buying a new mountain bike, check out our buyer’s guide to the best mountain bikes.
Best value mountain bike: what should I look for?
The heart of any bike is the frame. For a mountain bike under £500, you’ll generally want to be looking for a frame made of aluminium rather than heavier and cheaper steel. Steel can be a great material to make bikes from, but at this price point, it’s best avoided, generally speaking.
The next thing you need to think about in your search for a budget mountain bike is the kit that makes it stop and go.
The number of gears the bike has isn’t the be all and end all, but a higher number of gears often means smaller steps between shifts and a wider total range, which can be really important when you’re hauling up a big hill.
At £500 or under, having nine gears at the back paired to a crank with three rings up front is ideal, but cheaper bikes may have just eight at the rear.
Getting going is useless unless you can stop, and happily most bikes at this price now come with disc brakes, which offer much better, all-conditions performance than brakes that use the rim of the wheel to stop.
Brakes that use hydraulic fluid rather than cables are a big plus too because they require less maintenance and give more consistent stopping power.
When it comes to tyres, it’s worth deciding how much time you’re likely to spend actually riding the bike off-road.
If you just fancy a bike for getting to work or very occasional off-road use, but don’t fancy the looks or riding position of road bikes or hybrid bikes, then a mountain bike is a good choice, but proper knobbly off-road tyres will make the going hard.
It’s worth asking if the shop doesn’t mind switching the tyres to slicks or hybrid tyres, which have a mix of knobbly tread for cornering grip on the edge and a flatter centre for pedalling speed.
Suspension forks are a big plus when it comes to control and comfort off-road, but because many forks can cost £500 (or double that) just on their own, the units fitted at this price can vary wildly in performance and longevity – as well as the adjustment control on offer. So pay particular attention to this.
While it seems like a downgrade, a rigid (non-suspension) fork can be a good choice on a lower priced bike because the money saved can be used on other areas of the bike that may have a bigger impact on performance.
What should I avoid?
In mountain bikes under £500 it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get a full suspension bike that’s any good.
Quite simply, it’s going to be significantly heavier and it’s likely to offer very little advantage in comfort or control.
In fact, quite the opposite, because many will lack any form of damping control – imagine riding a heavy pogo stick with wheels.
Weight is an inevitable side-effect with budget mountain bikes, especially because mountain bikes need to be able to take a beating. Our reviews will list the weight and the effect it has, but cheaper bikes inevitably take a bit more effort to get up the hills than more expensive machines.
It’s not all bad though, just think about how much fitter and faster you’ll be.