Finding a mountain bike for under £500 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.
Halfords’ Voodoo bikes have always been market leaders in the sub £600 price bracket. The 2018 edition of the legendary Hoodoo will leave competitors cursing as the frame features, handling and overall kit level of the bike put it back into pole position.
The 1×10 Shimano/FSA drivetrain is superb out of the box and the frameset is built around stealth dropper routing.
It’s worth noting that the RRP of this bike is £550 but it’s rarely, if ever, seen at this price, with Halfords usually discounting it to the sub-£500 mark, hence why we have decided to include it in this list.
The Calibre Two Cubed replaced the Two.Two, which formerly came as our top recommendation in this very list.
The Two Cubed builds on this heritage and, while a bike of this price will always have to compromise somewhere, the modern geometry and smooth handling more than makes up for what it may lack in terms of build.
The sub-£500 mountain bike market is a more fiercely fought market than ever before, so when compared to the competition the Two Cubed just misses out on a full five-star score. But if you’re after a bike on a budget, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by this one.
Calibre proves that decent geometry doesn’t have to cost any extra. With a long, low and slack geometry the Rake is an easy bike to jump on and shred. Add in a decent suspension fork at the front paired with a grippy 29-inch front tyre and the bike will give you stacks of confidence.
Calibre’s pricing means value is high, and its reputation gets better by the year. If you’re looking for a confident and capable bike on a budget, the Rake simply has to be near the top of your list.
Long, relaxed geometry makes for an easy riding bike
29in wheels help the Aizan roll over obstacles
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 percent to your tastes, it shouldn’t take too much to get it feeling just right, which aids the bike’s versatility.
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.
The Tufftrax Comp Disc is one of few bikes at this price point that performs well and is available from a traditional bike shop. While this may make it easier to buy, it also means that value suffers.
The frame’s geometry is more traditional than some of the higher-rated bikes, but if you aren’t looking to hit anything too gnarly, this may not be an issue. The frame is relatively upgradeable, but it’s fair to say that the SR Suntour fork struggles against some of its competitors.
The Carrera Vendetta is unique in this list because it uses ‘plus tyres’. These are usually 2.8in to 3in wide, meaning you can run them at lower pressures. This gives two distinct benefits, especially at this price: lower pressures mean more grip, which boosts confidence, and it also aids comfort, which makes the bike more enjoyable to ride.
Carrera has also given the Vendetta a great frame geometry, making it a confidence inspiring ride. While we’ve not done a full review yet, our initial impressions are that this is a far more capable bike than you might imagine.
Trust us, the price of the bike doesn’t always matter — just get out and ride!Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
The heart of any bike is the frame. For an MTB 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 generally speaking best avoided.
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 that 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 — 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 of budget mountain bikes, something doubly true for mountain bikes because they 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.