- Buyer’s Guide to a Mountain Bike
- Features of Mountain Bikes
- Types of Riding
- Finding the Right Size
- Product Review: Best Mountain Bikes for Under $1000
- Mountain Biking FAQ
Buyer’s Guide to a Mountain Bike
Before you go out to the store or even search on Amazon, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
What features do you need or want?
What type of riding will you do?
What size do you need?
These will help you narrow down your choices from a daunting mound hill to a close-knit circle.
Features of Mountain Bikes
Although mountain bikes look very similar they are built for different uses and for different terrains.
For example, if you’re going to be riding on rough terrain, it’s best to look for one with suspensions. Look for bikes with dual suspensions to give you the most suspension. This will help you handle your bike on unpredictable trails.
For those who will be biking on smooth trails with some bumps, look for one without any suspension. You’ll be on a stiffer and lighter bike that will give you a smooth ride.
Finally, for those who will be biking on “hybrid” roads/terrains, a bike with some suspension will be best. This type of mountain bike will try to balance between stiffness and suspension to give you a comfortable ride.
We mentioned suspension in the previous section but you may be a little confused about what it is.
We’ll clear up any questions you may have before we describe the different mountain bikes.
Typically, suspensions are found in the front fork of the bike. And, the suspensions open up after being compressed. This often happens after you bump into an obstacle on the road.
Front suspensions are either coil or air or both in design. A coil suspension is commonly used for lower-cost bikes and is a great option for downhill bikes. An air suspension is lighter than a coil suspension and can be tuned with a shock pump.
Rear suspensions look different and all try to distinguish braking and pedaling forces from suspension forces.
Rear suspensions come in different forms. The most common is the Four Bar system, which has a chainstay pivot that has a pivot on the bottom bracket and top of the seat stay connected to a leveraged shocked linkage.
There are different rear suspensions to look into but the most common one will be the cheapest. If you’re curious about others, talk to your local bike shop about your cycling needs.
A bike with full suspension will have front and back shock absorbers to lessen the impact of bumps on you. This type of suspension does make you “bounce” out of the saddle more and the energy transfer isn’t the best for going up hills.
A bike with a hardtail has suspension in the front but none in the back, hence the name. This type of bike will be less expensive than a fully suspended bike. Most of these bikes have the option to lock the suspension if a fully rigid bike is desired.
A rigid bike doesn’t have any suspension and is very stiff; very similar to a road bike. This is the cheapest and easiest to maintain of the mountain bikes. However, most riders will want suspension if they’re riding on trails.
Head Tube Angle
The head tube angle also plays a big role in the type of bike you’ll get. For example, a stiff head tube angle (69-71-degrees) is good for handling and climbing. While one with a head tube angle less than 69-degrees will be easier to handle at high speeds.
Another feature you need to consider is the wheel size.
A general rule of thumb is that the bigger the wheel size the more momentum you’ll get from it.
The 26- in. wheels are the standard now and when mountain bikes were first made that was your only option. These wheels are nimble and light but sometimes aren’t the best for the rough trails.
27.5 or 650 B wheels are the “new” 26-in. standard wheels. These are improved from the 26-in. Wheels and have better traction and air volume. These are stronger than the 16-in. wheels but are nimbler than the 29ers.
29-inch wheels or 29ers are great if you’re doing technical obstacles or riding outside a lot. These wheels offer great traction and a smoother ride because of the air volume. These wheels are great on descents. However, they do weigh more since they are bigger which can be frustrating on a small bike. And, suspension options are limited with this type of wheel.
Plus-sized tires are offered for all the tire sizes listed above. Plus-sized tires look to be somewhere between a normal tire and a fat tire size. The goal of these tires is to improve the traction. Any of the previously described tires can be made as plus-sized versions.
Fat Tires are easy to spot since they are extremely oversized and huge. The idea is to offer comfort to riders without suspensions and provide enough traction to get through snow or sand.
Frame material will affect the price, strength, and durability of your ride. In addition to how smooth your ride is. And, if you’ve bought bikes before you’re well aware of this.
But, for those who don’t here’s a simple break down of your options.
Aluminum alloy is the most common material to use since it’s cheap and fairly durable.
Steel is another cheap option for your bike frame although it is more expensive than aluminum. However, it is more durable than the cheapest frame material and more durable.
Titanium is durable and light. However, it can be too expensive for high-end mountain bikes. It would be better to go for a lighter and more flexible material such as carbon fiber for a high-end bike.
Carbon fiber is the lightest and the most expensive of the frame materials you can choose from. It’s best to get carbon fiber if you’re buying a high-end mountain, fat tire or cross-country bike.
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Types of Riding
Believe it or not, there are different types of mountain bikes for you to choose from. And, this all depends on the type of riding you’re going to be doing.
If you’re not sure what type of riding, you’d like, you can read the descriptions below to start. And, you can start talking to cyclists and go to your local bike store.
The cross country mountain bike is the “OG” of mountain bikes.
This type of mountain biking is done on trails naturally made or ones that have been purposely rebuilt.
The trails’ terrain range can be hard-packed, muddy, rocky, gravel and full of vegetation. And, there can be naturally occurring obstacles or man-made ones such as bridges or seesaws to go over.
Depending on the trail’s difficulty or grade level you can use any type of bike. Typically, the harder the trail gets and the more obstacles you have, the more suspension you’ll need.
Trail riding is biking to any place where there are a cover trail and these range in technical difficulty.
For this type of riding, you’ll need a bike whose design between cross country and Endurance racing. It needs to support the number of climbs and descents you’ll face on the trails.
It is possible to use a trail bike at a cross country race but the bike will be heavier and may be harder to climb with.
It’s recommended to look for a bike with dual suspension.
An enduro/all mountain is a very unique race where the rider is timed going downhill but not up.
This type of mountain biking is growing very fast. The jumps are very challenging in the race and the drops are steeper. The trail grades are likely to be black and this isn’t usually the first discipline people jump into.
This type of riding requires a bike with 140-170mm suspension between the front and back of the bike. And, the head tube angle shouldn’t be sharp.
If you like downhill skiing or roller coasters, this discipline of mountain biking might be for you.
You only go downhill for this type of mountain biking.
And you often get a lift to the top or ride there.
Some ski resorts are now open year-round for downhill junkies to get their fix on their bikes in the warm weather.
The fun part about this is going downhill at high speeds and managing obstacles and the hill’s natural terrain.
For this type of biking, look for a bike with front and rear suspension with 170-210mm, long wheel base, and secure braking (possibly hydraulic braking). The head tube angle should be the least sharp you can get for the most control.
Of course, be sure to have all the protective gear for the bike. Unlike riding a road bike, you’ll need more than a helmet to do mountain biking. You’ll need at least knee and elbow protection, a full-face helmet (like motor cyclists) and goggles.
Finding the Right Size
It’s absolutely crucial you find the right size for your mountain bike.
It will make your ride more comfortable and pleasant and you can avoid serious injury.
Finding the right frame size is the first part of finding a bike for you. Each brand makes its sizes slightly differently. So a medium on one brand may be a small size on another.
It’s best to go to your local bike store and ask to be fitted. There, you can narrow down your choices. Some bike companies may not make a bike in your size.
Even if it’s your “dream” bike, the one that fits you will ultimately go faster and handle better once you learn how to ride it.
Product Review: Best Mountain Bikes for Under $1000
In this part of the article, we’ve compiled our top ten mountain bikes for under $1000.
Since these are all budget mountain bikes most will be made from aluminum alloy or steel. And, the components are made in-house by the company which is very basic but will serve you well as your “beginner” mountain bike.
Please be sure that if you’re buying a bike from Amazon you find the right size. Otherwise, you’ll be shipping a bike back and forth until you find the right one.
It’s really better to go to a store, get fitted, and have an expert there to answer your questions.
You can buy all the bikes reviewed below on Amazon, or comparable ones. Or, you can buy directly from the company or your local bike shop.
Please note that none of these bikes have full suspension since they are under $1000
1. Tommaso La Forma
The Tommaso La Forma mountain bike is great for cross country racing and biking. It has 27.5-inch wheels for the XS frame and 29-inch wheels for M-XL frames.
It is a reliable choice for beginner trail and mountain bikers since it can be used recreationally as well.
The frame is made from aluminum and it is stiff and responsive to riders as they handle different courses and terrains.
The head tube angle is very slack at 68-68.5-degrees. This allows riders to confidently make sharp turns and to corner quickly on obstacle courses.
The best part of the bike is the drivetrain. It is a basic set up for a beginner mountain biker, but it does give you a wide range of combinations. This means you’re not stuck with “kid” options even though you’re considered a beginner biker.
Although this is a budget bike, Tommaso didn’t go cheap on the brakes and we’re glad they didn’t. The bike has Shimano MT200 Hydraulic brakes, which has great consistent braking ratings.
People who have bought this bike like it because it is great for beginner riders. It provides the right amount of support but is not intimidating with dual suspension and more expensive drive trains. Parts of the bike can be upgraded, but as people have gotten more involved in the sport they’ve upgraded to a new bike.
2. Schwinn s29 Mountain Bike
The Schwinn s29 is only available online so I urge you to check out a similar bike in-store before buying one from the site.
This bike is best suited for those who are going to train and race cross country bike races. And, those who do trail riding can also use this bike and will find that the frame and components are adequate.
The frame is made from aluminum and sits on 29-inch tires and is powered by SRAM X5 groupset. These components are good for an entry-level mountain biker.
And, the geometry of the bike is more specialized than a recreation mountain bike. This one is more attuned to what an XC mountain biker needs. It has a 71.5-degree head tube angle, 109mm seat tube (which is short), and finally a 74-degree seat tube angle.
These geometric shapes help new bikers navigate the hills on the course, especially when the hills seem daunting at first.
The one drawback of the bike?
It has a narrow handlebar (660mm) which can make it seem like the rider has to “fight” the bike while dealing with other elements. Fortunately, this can be upgraded for not too much.
People who have bought the bike like it because it helps ease them into the sport without costing them a fortune. The bike is already geometrically tailored to cross country riders, which gives beginners a leg up in the discipline. Most have upgraded from this bike and report that they are happy that this one was their first entry-level bike.
3. Diamondback Overdrive
Diamondback Overdrive built its cross country bike for beginners since it is light, durable and can support you for the first couple seasons of racing and training.
The frame is made from A1 S Aluminum which is lightweight and still provides a sturdy base for you as you ride. The frame’s geometry was designed so you can sure-heartedly rip through the course and corner quickly without fear of falling (even if you do), and go up and down hills.
The geometry, specifically speaking, adjusts its reach, angles, and standover heights to any sized rider. This means more people can reap the benefits of the bike.
The components are a mix between Shimano and Ground Control and Fast Trak to give you a stable base to explore this new biking discipline.
The bike is equipped with the Shimano Deore derailleur that provides smooth and reliable shifting so you’ll be in the right gear in time for whatever obstacle you face. And, the bike has many different gear ratios for you to choose from so you’ll find the right one for what you need.
This bike is at the cusp of Diamondback higher-end bikes. So, you’ll feel like you’re on a nicer bike than you actually are.
People who have bought the bike like it because it is by Specialized who designs great bikes for other specialties. And, has a good reputation. The group set is good and provides a lot of options for beginners and veterans alike. The good news is that it is near the high-end of bikes but it is still under $1000. This would be ideal for someone who thinks they will be serious about the sport without dropping too much money.
4. Diamondback Hardtail Bike
The Diamondback Hardtail is another good option for cross country mountain bikers or those who just want to learn or improve their skills. This will be a bike you can depend on.
It will be there to help build up your confidence in your handling skills and for your first racing season.
This bike is distinguishable because of its “Triple Triangle” hardtail that is supposed to reduce vibrations from the bike.
But what makes this bike beginner friendly?
The 2020 model comes with the “old” and “new” standard-sized wheels so that you can take the bike on trails, cross country races, and even on your morning commute.
The drive train has a 1×12 ratio so you get a wide range of ratios. This will help you learn what works and what doesn’t as you navigate different trails and obstacles.
And, with any good bike, you’ll need a good braking system. You can’t learn to trust yourself on the bike if you don’t have a strong braking system.
This bike has Shimano Hydraulic brakes on both the front and rear which will give you consistent braking power. So no matter where you ride or in what conditions, you’ll be able to stop.
People who have bought the bike like it since it’s like a “rock”. It serves as a solid, reliable base for them as they build up their skills. Most will upgrade from this bike as they get more involved with the sport, but don’t regret buying this bike.
5. Gravity 2020 FSX
This bike can be handled and enjoyed on the mountain range between Utah and Idaho border. This means it is built for you to ride the hills and learn how to navigate tree roots and rocks in your way.
The bike has a 68-degree head tube which gives you a good base to navigate different terrains. But enough flexibility so you can go through more difficult obstacles as you gain more confidence in the sport.
The seat tube comes at a steep 75-degree angle to put you in a powerful position on the bike. You can pedal efficiently and it won’t make your back hurt even after a couple hours in the saddle.
The Wasatch Peak was modeled after the Cascade Peak with a few “upgrades”.
This bike has an internal braking system and derailleur, which keeps the bike looking sharp and more like a higher-end bike.
The bike also has a threaded bottom bracket so you have the option to carry more than two water bottles if you need to.
The bike was outfitted with SR Suntour air forks so that your suspensions are adjustable and lightweight with its air spring.
And, the bike has Shimano Hydraulic brakes so that you experiment with new speeds with the assurance you can stop when you need to.
People who have bought the bike like it because they can use it for a few years and learn and grow with it. As it is a beginner bike, most decide to upgrade from this bike or upgrade parts on this bike.
6. Tommaso Gran Sasso
The Tommaso Gran Sasso back is an all-purpose trail mountain bike that can also be used as a commuter bike since there is minimal suspension on it.
This bike has more slack than the typical commuter bike so it can be taken on different terrains. And, can handle jumps well with a smooth landing.
The frame seems to keep you lower to the ground. And, that is partly due to its weight, which is heavy. This is good for mountain and trail riders because you’ll have a stable ride even if you hit a couple bumps.
The bike comes with 27-inch wheels which are good for trails and some rougher mountains. These are nimble tires so they are more “delicate” than cross country bike tires. However, they will serve you well if taken care of. And, the wheels can be used on a variety of surfaces.
Like most mountain bikes, this one also comes with hydraulic disc brakes. This ensures you’ll have a smooth stop every time. Even if you find yourself going downhill too fast.
The bike has SRAM 1×9 speed drivetrain that gives you good options for hills and most terrains. But it won’t have as many gear ratios as a cross country bike. You can do cross country courses on this bike, but if you decide to “specialize” in it, you’ll need another bike.
People who have bought the bike like it because it’s a good trail bike for beginners. It has enough gears that they can get by and can handle most obstacles. The frame is sturdy and people say they feel confident trying new things on it especially since it has a good braking system.
7. Mongoose Impasse
The Mongoose offers riders more traction and control for a highly confident ride on the trails.
The bike’s frame is made with aluminum which is lightweight and durable. It can last for a few years before you need to either upgrade its components or buy a new bike.
The bike can be designed for lighter or women riders. The Women’s Trail geometry makes the frame responsive turns and handling obstacles on the trails. And, the geometry is efficient so that you can easily go up and down hills. All while making sure you have a consistent, low standover height.
And, no matter if you buy a women’s-specific or “regular” frame, 6Fattie tires can fit on the bike. And, it doesn’t compromise the component’s integrity. You’ll still be able to handle the bike well and climb hills.
Going on about the tires, the wheelset has a 45mm width, which is very generous and is made with an alloy construction. This produces a strong and speedy wheel that won’t deflate as frequently as other tire options.
When the tires are fully inflated, it can seem like it adds more suspension to the bike. And, this will help absorb the shocks of the road. It won’t be as effective as suspensions, but it will help a bit.
Since the tires are wide, there is more contact with the surface for traction. You’ll be able to bike across wet and slick, muddy surfaces and it will handle well on the trails.
People who have bought the bike like it because it is a good all-purpose bike that can also be used on trails. It cannot go on rough trails but it is a good starter bike before you decide to “pick” a specialty in mountain biking.
8. Raleigh Bike Talus
The Raleigh Bike Talus is another all-purpose bike that can be a reliable trail bike as you get your feet wet in mountain biking as a sport.
The bike was made with light-weight, sturdy aluminum, which has over-sized and tapered tubing. This design makes the frame stiffer, which is suitable for on-road biking and mild trail riding.
The tapered headtube makes the front of the bike stiff so you can control the bike and steer it at high speeds. This stiffness also makes the wheels less susceptible to wheel deflation. The heat tube is about 1.5-inches which is a lot bigger and heavier than other heat tubes. But, it does make the bike more manageable to handle.
The bike will last a few years since it has thru axles. This design doesn’t put as much pressure on the inside of the fork. This also adds to the bike’s stiffness and handling ability.
The bike saves weight in its drivetrain. The bike has a 1x drivetrain so that it keeps things simple and light and durable.
Unlike other bikes, this one comes with two water bottle holders inside the main frame. This is a convenient spot so you’ll be hydrated throughout your ride.
People who have bought the bike like it because the bike can be used as a commuter bike and on trails. The bike is stiff which is good for beginner mountain bikers. It gives them confidence as they learn their handling skills that their bikes will respond well.
9. Schwinn Bonafide Mountain Bike
The schwinn bonafide mountain bike is a good mountain bike if you find yourself at either extreme of the height spectrum. This bike has the most size offerings ranging from xs to xl.
The bike is a hardtail mountain bike with generous suspension on the front to help you learn how to handle different obstacles.
The bike was made with a Series 2 Aluminum Frame that was butted and hydroformed to give its riders a stiff frame that is responsive to handling. And, it gives its riders a good base as they learn how to bike through different trail obstacles.
The frame’s shape was meant for the trails. All Bobcat trail models have “Marin Trail” geometry which has a long reach, low standover height, and a steep seat tube angle. This specific geometry gives riders predictable handling on the bike. This will help build their trust on the bike as they learn the fun of mountain biking.
The bike has a fastback seat stay design that gives the rider vertical stiffness without compromising the power transfer.
People who have bought the bike like it because it is offered in many different sizes. And, it’s really a great option to consider if you are a smaller rider. This bike has a low standover height for that reason. Bikers like the responsive frame and it helps them gain some confidence as they learn to bike on trails and handle more technical obstacles.
10. Raleigh Bicycle Tokul 2
The Raleigh Bicycle Tokul 2 is another trail-specific mountain bike that is one of the better, in our opinion, budget mountain bikes.
What makes this the top of the “budget-line” mountain bike?
For starters, the frame is made from aluminum alloy which has a low, long, and slack geometry with front forks and hydraulic brakes and large, wide-rimmed tires.
All of these features will help you get excited about mountain biking and the bike will grow with you as you develop your turning and handling skills.
The front fork is made from 120mm-travel Suntour Raidon with an air spring which is easy for turning and handling on the roads and beginner-friendly trails.
The hydraulic brakes (Shimano MT400) are reliable and will help beginners become more comfortable at high speeds going downhill. The bike also hosts the Shimano Deore 10-speed groupset for the Suntour crankset. This gives riders a fair number of gear ratios.
People who have bought the bike like it because it provides good traction on up and downhills and even when they have to really put on the brakes. The wheels might be a little heavy for some, but they are very durable and you’re less likely to get a flat. Most felt the handling was balanced well between being flexible and stiff so that they still felt like they were in control of the bike. And, the brakes are reliable and most felt comfortable picking up speeds on the downhill.
It’s recommended to stick to tamer trails since this bike isn’t equipped to handle anything more.
Mountain Biking FAQ
The following questions will hopefully help you navigate the sport as a beginner
- What type of bike should I buy for the sport?
This answer might be obvious, given what we’ve discussed so far. But, it’s best to buy the best bike you can afford at the time. You can always upgrade components and eventually the bike.
- What are the different types of mountain biking?
When the sport first started in the 1960s, bikers changed the components and accessories on Schwinn bikes so they could ride anywhere they wanted. The most common changes were larger and fatter tires, specialized shifting systems and brakes.
Now, there are mountain bikes for the adrenaline junkies such as downhill racing to the casual trail riders and everything in between.
- Are clipless pedals used for mountain biking?
If you’re familiar with road biking, you know very well that clip-less pedals are a “must” for serious or very regular riders.
For mountain biking, it’s not necessary to have clip-less pedals. In fact, most riders prefer wearing sneakers on platform pedals especially on unfamiliar terrain. And, even more for downhill riders. It gives them more flexibility and they won’t be attached to the bike during a fall or crash.
For cyclocross or enduro riders, they might prefer to have clipless pedals
- What other equipment is needed for mountain biking?
Unlike road biking, you don’t need a tight pair of biking shorts and a jersey since you’re not trying to be aerodynamic. The fun of mountain biking is to conquer obstacles and build up your speed through comfort on the bike.
It’s well-advised to wear a helmet, durable pair of sunglasses and fingerless gloves for the sport.
- How do I get started?
Head to your local bike store and ask about riding groups or places with a graded trail. This way you know which trails are beginner-friendly and which ones to work up to.
Practice going up and downhills so you know which gears to shift into, when to shift, and what works for what you’re facing.
Look on Facebook for mountain biking groups, they can be a wealth of information for you. And, you might be able to find more riding groups and new friends.
Our Pick: Diamondback Hardtail Bike
Our top pick is the Cannondale 5. It is a versatile bike with a lot of potentials to be converted into a “full-time” mountain bike. It’s a bike you can “grow” with and you can use it for commuting. So when you decide to upgrade to a more specialized mountain bike, you can still get some use out of the bike. And, if you decide to sell the bike, it will get used as well and you won’t have to part with a nice bike.
Rebecca Friedberg graduated university with a degree in Classical languages (Greek/Latin) in 2017. She has traveled solo extensively and wrote two “How to” books with HowExpert and is published on Amazon.
Her other interests include triathlons, swimming, running, and cycling. She has been able to use her interests to help her find writing gigs through Upwork.
She currently writes for TriGearLab and Freshbikescycling as a ghost writer, which she enjoys.