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The best mountain bikes for around £500 in 2023

Our pick of the top budget MTBs in the UK

The best mountain bikes under £500

This is a list of the best mountain bikes for around £500 according to the findings of our expert testers.

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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.

This can make the world of budget mountain bikes seem like a bit of a minefield, but you’re in the right place – keep reading for our choice of the best cheap mountain bikes as reviewed by our independent test team, and check out our guide on what to look for and what to avoid at the end.

The best mountain bikes around £500 in 2023

  • Vitus Nucleus 29 VR: £550
  • Marin Bobcat Trail 3: £525
  • Voodoo Aizan: £500

Vitus Nucleus 29 VR

4.5 out of 5 star rating
The Nucleus 29 is trail-ready straight out of the box and wants for nothing.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • £550 as tested
  • Great geometry
  • Particularly good wheelset for the money
  • Easily upgradeable

The Vitus Nucleus 29 VR is a bit more than £500 but it’s a properly trail-ready 29er, built around a superb frame that will delight out of the box and is ripe for upgrades.

The wheels, with WTB’s i29 rims, are properly tubeless-ready, which is rare at this price.

Marin Bobcat Trail 3

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Tektro’s M25 brakes have a powerful feel, with reasonable modulation.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • £525 as tested
  • Well built
  • Efficient brakes and drivetrain
  • Fast-rolling tyres

Although the Marin Bobcat Trail is a little over £500, it offers fantastic value for money and we think it’s well worth stretching to the 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 out for an entirely new rig.

Voodoo Aizan

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Voodoo’s Aizan is a great budget 29er.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £500 as tested
  • 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 lightweight and bigger wheels mean it crosses ground efficiently, while the geometry is friendly enough that there’s 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.

Also consider…

Calibre Rake

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Calibre’s Rake is an awesome trail bike for the money (model tested pictured).
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £450 as tested
  • Long and low geometry
  • Rockshox fork
  • Large 29in wheels, but these are heavy

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.

Saracen Mantra

3.5 out of 5 star rating
Cables are routed internally through the front triangle.
Russell Burton
  • £500 as tested
  • 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 to a bolt-thru system. The bike’s brake and gear cables are internally routed, too.

Although this model is the cheapest bike offered by Saracen, it’s still specced with branded parts. There’s a Shimano groupset, an SR Suntour fork and Tektro hydraulic brakes.

It isn’t the best-performing out there, with the fork’s lack of sensitivity being the biggest issue, but the frame is good and there’s plenty of potential for future upgrades.

Have you found what you’re looking for? 

Has this list got you thinking you could stretch your budget a little further? Our list of the best mountain bikes under £750 has some great bikes in it.

Don’t forget that the UK’s Cycle To Work Scheme no longer has a cap on how much you can spend, so it may be worth checking out our roundup of the best mountain bikes under £1,000 and best mountain bikes under £2,000.

New to mountain biking? Our guide on how to choose the right mountain bike for you provides some great information on what to look for in a mountain bike and the sorts of mountain bikes available. 

Best value mountain bike: what should I look for?

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 a mountain bike priced around £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 look or riding position of a road bike or hybrid bike, then a mountain bike is a good choice, but proper knobbly off-road tyres will make the going harder.

It’s worth asking if the shop or dealer you’re buying from 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 may seem 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.

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It’s not all bad though, just think about how much fitter and faster you’ll be.