You don’t have to drop a boatload of cash to get into trail riding. Now more than ever, there are tons of great mountain bikes that aren’t just capable, reliable, and fun; they’re affordable, too. Most brands offer at least one, if not many, cheap option in their lineup, and most of the bikes on this list cost under a grand.
See our top picks below, then scroll down for more in-depth reviews of these bikes and other great options, as well as helpful buying tips and advice.
What Kind of Gearing Should I Expect?
Most of the bikes on our list are equipped with one-by (1x) drivetrains, meaning there’s a single chainring on the crank. These drivetrains are simpler, lower maintenance, quieter, and less likely to drop the chain. At the rear, most of these bikes have at least 10 speeds, but a few have 12, which offers more range and tighter jumps between gears. Ironically, 1x drivetrains—which don’t have front derailleurs or front shifters—are pricier than more complex 2x or 3x drivetrains.
The rest of the bikes here are equipped with 2x or 3x drivetrains paired with eight, nine, and 10-speed cassettes (the cluster of cogs at the rear axle). Two or three chainrings up front make up for fewer gears in the back and can expand your range altogether—though the idea behind the 1x is to eliminate gear overlap. Disadvantages include added weight, decreased clearance, more chances for something to break, and less-reliable shifts (because your chain has more front rings to move on).
Basically, the spectrum of chainring and cassette combinations on mountain bikes in the $1,000 price range is so broad and diverse, you’re sure to find something to suit your preference.
Can I Get Suspension at This Price?
Yes. Every bike on this list (save for the Mongoose Argus Sport) comes with at least a suspension fork. You can even find some good full-suspension bikes at affordable prices: The $900 Diamondback Atroz 2 offers full suspension for less than some of the hardtail bikes on this list.
Suspension forks are either coil- or air-sprung, the latter of which provides more tuning options to dial in the resistance level. “Air forks can be an excellent feature, as you can tune them to match the rider weight and riding style, but they do add significant cost to a bike,” says Trek’s hardtail product manager Chris Drewes.
In general, if you compare a hardtail and a full-suspension bike of about the same price, the hardtail will be lighter and built with better parts. Full suspension, however, can offer more comfort and control.
Where’s the Best Place to Shop for My Bike?
Resist the urge to go to a big-box store and pull a mountain bike off the rack. The price tag can be appealing, but those bikes are often poorly built with unreliable components by people who lack the expertise to safely assemble them.
Consider buying from your local bike shop (LBS). A shop will usually let you test ride several bikes, and the mechanics can offer instruction on how to use the bike’s controls and features and help set your riding position. Plus, when you purchase a bike from your LBS, they will often do the first tune-up for free—a good idea as parts often need adjustment after a break-in period—and treat your bike as a regular “patient” thereafter. If you fancy a specific brand, search out an authorized dealer near you using the locator on the brand’s website.
Online retailers can offer compelling-looking prices, but that discount can be negated by shipping charges. You’ll also need to assemble the bike yourself. Most direct-to-consumer brands make their bikes easy to assemble, with tools included and helpful online videos. Or you can pay an LBS to assemble the bike, but that will further erode any price advantage. So be sure you’re factoring in any shipping and assembly costs when comparing prices.
Why It May Be Harder to Find a Bike Right Now
Ever since terms like “shelter in place,” “stay at home,” and “social distancing” took root in our daily lexicon, we’ve had to find alternative forms of entertainment that don’t involve large crowds, indoor activities, or risky situations (such as travel). More people have caught on to the idea that outdoor escapes like hiking, running, and bike riding are safe, sanity-saving ways to get out and do something—away from others. This has led to a surge in bike sales and, thus, a depletion of stock. That’s a good thing, because it means more people have discovered bikes. But it’s also frustrating if your goal today is to place an online order for a shiny new bike only to find out that you may have to wait weeks or even months to get it. If you see something on this list that catches your eye, and you hit the out-of-stock roadblock, patience (waiting until inventory is fulfilled again), perseverance (it may be available somewhere else online or even somewhere locally), or just being proactive (pre-order is available for many out-of-stock models) might be the way to go. We’ll keep our eye on inventory and update links as often as we can.
How We Tested These Bikes
These bikes have been ridden, and ridden hard, by our team of test editors. We built a mountain bike test track with most of the trail elements that you’re likely to encounter. We pushed these bikes hard over flow trails, up and down steep climbs and pucker-worthy rocky descents, and through gnarly rock gardens. Our editors rode these bikes on the terrain best suited for each bike—as well as terrain entirely unsuitable—just to see how far we can push the limits. Most models have been tested by our staff and those that haven’t have been carefully chosen based on their value, quality of parts (most of which we’ve tested separately), our experience riding similar models, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended rider.
Ridden and Reviewed
―BEST CHEAP HARDTAIL―
Specialized Rockhopper Expert
The Rockhopper Expert boasts three components that you don’t always see at this price, and which make the bike as capable as some costing much more: tubeless-ready wheels and tires, a 1x12-speed drivetrain, and an air-spring fork. Just one of these features would set it apart from other bikes in this category. Factor in the wheels and drivetrain, and you have a special bike on your hands. Although it can handle extremely rocky and technical trails, that kind of terrain isn’t the Rockhopper’s forté. But that’s the beauty of this bike. It’s most at home on flow trails and moderately technical terrain, yet it has the chops to get you through the rugged stuff.
―BEST CHEAP FULL SUSPENSION―
Marin Rift Zone 2
The Rift Zone 2 is the 29er version of the Bicycling Editors’ Choice–winning Marin Hawk Hill. It gets larger wheels, which roll over rocks and other features more easily and add some stability as you pick up speed. With 125mm of travel, it’s great for trail rides, especially on technical terrain, and can even work for some light-duty racing. A 1x drivetrain, dropper post, hydraulic disc brakes, and tubeless-ready wheels make the Rift Zone 2 stand out—few bikes at this price include all these features. But those are only some of the reasons why we fell for it. Marin also got the geometry just right. It simply took the winning dimensions of the Hawk Hill and adapted them for bigger wheels.
―GREAT VALUE AND PERFORMANCE―
Rocky Mountain Growler 20
The Growler 20 isn’t flashy, or extra light, or super fast. But the latest version of this utilitarian aluminum hardtail got some upgrades, including more travel in the form of a 130mm Suntour fork and 29-inch wheels. Add in the 1x9 Shimano drivetrain and you have a bike that performs well above its price. It’s the best, most capable, and most pleasing-to-ride sub-$1,000 mountain bike we’ve ever tested.
―BEST WOMEN-SPECIFIC TRAIL BIKE―
Trek Roscoe 7 Women’s
The Roscoe’s 2.8-inch tubeless-ready tires (wider than what you’ll typically find on a bike at this price) deliver a secure, plush ride that makes beginners feel like they can crush almost any trail. In deep, loose gravel, they maintain grip without forgoing the fun of drifting. Our tester was impressed at the relative ease with which she rolled over rocks and roots. For that, we can also thank the RockShox Judy SL fork, which has plenty of travel for absorbing shock and getting rowdy (100mm on the size XS bike, 120mm on S through L) and can be locked out for more efficient riding when off the trails. The 27.5-inch wheels are good in tight, technical terrain, and the SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain—with a 30t chainring and 10-50 cassette—provides a massive gear range with plenty of low options for climbing. We also love the 100mm dropper post, which is a great addition to a bike at this price. Our tester raved, “When I ride this bike, it makes me want to keep riding and improving my skills so that I can enjoy the trails (and the bike) more.”
―GREAT FIRST TRAIL BIKE―
The Mahuna is an aluminum-framed hardtail with a RockShox Judy Silver TK Solo Air fork that masterfully handled all but the most technical of trails. Given the way it rides, we were surprised to learn that the bike weighs 31 pounds. The 29-inch wheels roll fast and smooth out bumps better than the 27.5-inch kind, and the 2.25-inch tires are light and quick with enough tread to really bite into the trail. Plus-size tires have their place, and they work really well on bikes like the Trek Roscoe 7 Women’s and the Rocky Mountain Growler, but we appreciated the faster tires on this bike. A 1x10-speed drivetrain simplifies shifting decisions and offers plenty of gearing choices at both the low and high end. And the Mahuna comes with flat pedals, so it’s ready to go right out of the box.
―GREAT FIRST RACE BIKE―
Trek Marlin 7
One of the cheapest bikes on this list, The Marlin 7, which also comes in a women’s version, is ideal for aspiring racers, everyday trail riders, and casual commuters alike. Riders who like to pedal fast will appreciate its steep, aggressive head and seat angles, and a high bottom bracket that offers decent pedal clearance on the trail. Its cables are internally routed, too, which isn’t common on bikes at this price. It has a 1x10-speed Shimano drivetrain that provides plenty of gearing options and simplifies shifting decisions. And even though the RockShox Judy 100mm coil-spring fork is heavier than some comparable air-spring models, it does a surprisingly good job on super-rocky trails. Add to that the 2.2-inch-wide Bontrager tires on 29-inch Bontrager Connection rims, which never squirmed too much on sketchy terrain, and you have a bike that not only looks fast but also offers the kind of sharp handling and precise steering you’d expect from higher-priced racing models.
―CHEAPEST RACE–READY HARDTAIL―
Giant Talon 1
This hardtail is an excellent choice for both the dirt-curious wanting to explore singletrack and active riders game to try their hand at racing. The 100mm RockShox Judy fork is one of the best coil-sprung forks you’ll find—it does a remarkable job on rough, rugged trails. The Shimano 1x10 drivetrain comes with an 11-42 cassette and a 32t chainring, giving riders a wide range of gears that’s good for both hauling the mail on pavement and noodling up long, steep climbs. Like the Trek Marlin 7, this bike is equally well-suited to entry-level racing as it is to recreational rides. It shares many of the same attributes as the Marlin, but a shorter reach and lower stack make it a good alternative for riders who want a more upright and comfortable riding position. Possibly the Talon’s best feature, and a big perk on a bike at this price, are the tubeless-ready aluminum rims (although you’ll need new tires, sealant, and valves).
―GOOD FOR COMMUTES AND TRAIL RIDES―
Geometry tweaks and component upgrades have modernized the KHS Aguila, keeping pace with current trends in off-road design. The head tube is slacker, the reach is longer, chainstays are shorter, and the bike is equipped with a Shimano 1x11-speed drivetrain. The drivetrain alone makes this bike a unicorn in the sub-$1,000 category. The Aguila also gets new rubber in the form of 2.2-inch Kenda Havok tires wrapped around 27.5-inch wheels on the smallest size and 29-inch hoops for M, L, and XL. Shimano MT400 hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm and 160mm respective front and rear rotors provide good stopping power. The coil-sprung SR Raidon 32 100mm fork isn’t as advanced as the air-sprung forks on some competing bikes, but that’s the trade-off you make with an 11-speed drivetrain at this price. The Aguila is well-equipped to serve dual functions as a rugged commuter and a toy for weekend joy rides. The steering isn’t as sharp as the Marlin 7’s, nor does it have the same lively feel, so this isn’t a super choice for aspiring racers. But it’s more than capable of handling light-duty trail riding and cinder rail trails.
―BEST COMBO OF GRIP AND SPEED―
Giant Stance 29 2
We’ve loved the Stance with 27.5-inch wheels, and we’re stoked to see that Giant is now offering the low-cost full-suspension bike with smoother-rolling 29-inch wheels. The updated geometry is optimized for the larger wheels, and the bike retains the Aluxx aluminum frame and FlexPoint rear-suspension system. The end result is a bike with a 120mm shock, a 130mm fork, 1x12 drivetrain, and tubeless-ready 2.35-inch tires that can roll quick and bite hard into the trail. It’s an excellent combination: The bike rides better than you’d expect out of any $1,600 full-suspension bike, let alone those that cost far more. The suspension is good enough to smooth out rocks and bumps, and the whole thing is damn light—30 pounds for a size small.
Other Options to Consider
―JACK OF ALL TRADES―
Fezzari Wasatch Peak Comp 29er
This race-ready bike makes the list because it’s both a great first XC racer and competent for all-day trail adventures. The 130mm SR Suntour XCR Air is a buy-up fork on a sub-$1,000 bike, and the Shimano 1x10 drivetrain offers simple shifting with a generous gear range. You can outfit the Fezzari with 29-inch wheels and 2.2-inch, tubeless-ready Maxxis Ardent Race tires, but it can also take 27.5-inch wheels and fat, 2.8-inch tires (but you’ll need to buy a different wheelset). Fezzari bikes are sold direct, and the online customization lets you pick options and upgrades.
―BOOST SPACING AND TUBELESS–READY WHEELS―
Cannondale Trail 4
This bike has all of the major elements you need for hitting the trails as well as cruising around town. The Shimano 1x10-speed drivetrain offers crisp and reliable shifting, as well as the simplicity that comes with a single chainring. Hydraulic disc brakes are reliable in all weather conditions, and the RockShox XC30 TK fork works really well on bumpy flow trails and can hold its own on rougher trails. Those parts are hung on a durable aluminum frame outfitted with two water bottle mounts inside the main triangle and eyelet mounts for a rear rack.
―CHEAP, SIMPLE, AND RELIABLE―
The 820 is Trek’s answer to people who just a want solid, reliable, and affordable bike to ride. With a steel frame, a fork with 75mm of travel, and 26x2-inch-wide tires, the 820 is labeled as an entry-level hardtail mountain bike. It would be great for college students looking for a reliable commuter and a way to explore local trails, or a family looking to buy a bike that several people can use for a variety of purposes. A seven-speed Shimano Tourney groupset, with a 42/34/24 crank and a 14-28 cassette, will enable almost any level of rider to get where they’re going.
―PLUS TIRES AND A DROPPER POST―
Motobecane Taz3 Trail 29er Plus
This bruiser of a bike from Motobecane blends ’90s style with modern mountain bike technology. The aluminum frame inspires nostalgia of the early years of mountain bike frame design when brands were experimenting with different configurations for the rear triangle, but this frame touts Boost spacing to add stiffness. The 68.5-degree head angle and 120mm Manitou Machete Comp fork, to say nothing of the massive three-inch-wide Maxxis Minion DHF tires wrapped around 29-inch wheels, appear ready to take on just about anything a trail can throw at you, especially when it comes to descents. A 1x10 drivetrain, with a 28t chainring and 11-42 cassette, provides ample gearing, even if that 28t ring is on the small side. However, the 28x42 lowest combination will come in handy when the trail points up because, at 32.7 pounds (for an XL bike), it has some extra heft you’ll have to haul up the hill.
―AFFORDABLE AND RELIABLE―
Mongoose Argus 26 Sport
This is the only fat bike on this list. It doesn’t have suspension, but it does have 4.8-inch-wide, low-pressure (three to five psi) tires to smooth out the bumps, float over sand, and tractor over most everything else. Its 1x10-speed gear range lets you haul ass on packed snow and plow through the deep stuff. Flat pedals accommodate , and hydraulic disc brakes reliably bring it all to a halt.