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Should I Buy a Cheap Mountain Bike? (for Beginners)

Cycling in general, and mountain biking in particular, is an expensive sport. Many mountain bikes are made from extremely high-grade materials and their components are designed to take a beating out on the trails. It is tempting to restrict your initial outlay to a minimum, but should you?

Everyone has a budget in mind when purchasing a mountain bike. A bike that is seemingly expensive to one person may well be considered relatively cheap to another buyer. The answer is always, within reason, to stick to your budget and search around for the best deal available on the bike you want.

It should be said right up front that purchasing a good second-hand bike may be the way to go for many buyers but, for this article, we’re going to concentrate on new mountain bikes only and we’ll discuss ways to get the most bike for your money.

What Is Considered “Cheap” for a Mountain Bike

Perhaps we should kick things off by discussing the cheap Walmart Special type mountain bike. You can pick up a “mountain bike” from your local Walmart for as little as $90 or even less. However, if you are intending to go anywhere near an actual mountain, we would not recommend looking for your trusty steed in the sporting goods section of a big box store.

This video will give you a good idea of exactly why your hard-earned dollars should rather stay in your wallet than in the cash register of Walmart:

$149 Mountain Bike vs Mountain – The Walmart Enduro

Cheap but good” should be the mantra when you are out there looking for a bike to tackle the gnarliest of technical trails, descend the steepest of hills, and then bring everything safely to a halt when you haul on the brake levers. What you should be looking to buy is a bike that has a sturdy frame, durable components, reliable suspension, strong wheels, and good rubber. Too much to ask? No, not really.

We would also recommend you consider buying a hardtail over a full-suspension mountain bike if you are looking for a budget bicycle. There is a very simple reason for this!

A hardtail bike does not have the rear shock absorber or the complicated frame linkages that the full suspension bicycle must have, so the money that the manufacturer spends on making it will be spent on outfitting the bike with better components and better frame materials for the same initial cost.

How much you are looking to spend will depend entirely on the budget that we mentioned earlier but, having said that, we would recommend looking for a bike in the $500-$900 range. This amount of money will get you a decent bicycle with a good 6061 aluminum frame and good quality components from Shimano or Sram.

If you are wondering if you should start with a hardtail or a full-suspension mountain bike, I encourage you to read this article!

The Best Reasons for Buying a Cheap Mountain Bike

  • They cost less to maintain: The chain, derailleur, brake system, forks, wheels, tires, saddle, and every other part fitted to cheap bikes are a lot less costly to replace. Mountain biking places a great deal of strain on all the parts of your bike and they will inevitably wear out and need to be replaced. The owner of an expensive full-carbon bike will not be seen dead replacing his Shimano XTR groupset with Shimano’s Altus components. But you can. And you should.
  • Upgradeability – And on the other side of the components coin is the joy of choice. If you feel that you have set aside enough money that it won’t break the piggy bank, you may wish to opt for upgrading your Shimano Tourney bits for the lighter, slicker shifting Acera or Deore parts. Or better wheels. Or a carbon-railed saddle. The choice is yours.
  • Being less precious about your bike: Mountain bikes are made to be ridden hard in difficult, rocky, and muddy terrain. They will inevitably pick up scratches and scrapes from your adventures. It’s just that it’s a lot easier to accept a small dent on your aluminum frame or a scratch on the paintwork than it is for the owner of the bike costing tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, these little mishaps are further from your mind when you are out there riding.
  • You can lend it to your friends: Mountain biking is a much better activity if you have friends around you to share in the fun. Lending your cheap mountain bike to a mate to introduce him to the sport is a far less harrowing experience than entrusting him with your full-suss, full-carbon, lightweight cross-country race machine. And your friends will like you more.
  • Pride of ownership: It’s all very well that the racing snake living next door to you spends half of his take-home pay on his mountain bike and other biking paraphernalia, but if you are on a budget, and you spend as much as you are able on your bike, then it is more likely to give you greater joy than the man who is in the sport to show off the latest carbon gizmo to his friends.

Check out this video from GMBN

Disadvantages of Buying a Cheap Mountain Bike

It should always be remembered that you get what you pay for in life, and this is just true in the cycling world. As we said previously, we do not recommend that you buy your mountain bike from a big box store. There is a limit to the punishment a mountain bike can withstand if fitted with a crappy frame and poor quality components.

  • Poor build quality: One of the greatest differences between a cheap mountain bike and an expensive one is the build quality of the frame. This factor will even extend to the assembly process in-store. An improperly assembled bike is going to perform badly out on the trail.
  • Longevity and durability: The less a bike costs to buy in-store, the cheaper the quality of the parts used to assemble the bike. It is just a plain fact that the more expensive components are manufactured using materials that are not only lighter but far more durable.
  • Reliability: The frame and components of a cheap mountain bike are designed to allow the bike to work properly and reliably for a certain length of time. Unfortunately, it is wishful thinking to believe that that built-in period will come to the end when you are riding the bike around your garden or going off to the shops, rather than break down when you are 20 miles out in the wilderness.
  • Weight: Mountain bikers are what are known as weight-weenies. They will spend thousands of dollars to save a few grams of weight on a bottle cage. Cheaper bikes are heavy bikes and will make you work harder to get where you are going.

One of the most important components of a mountain bike is the breaks!

How to buy your cheap mountain bike

  • Buy last year’s model – The best tip we can give you in this regard is to buy last season’s model. Manufacturers come out with new models every year with new paint jobs and the latest tech. Your local bike shop may just be wanting to offload year-old stock to make way for the shiny new machines. You can haggle as much as you want because retail floor space is expensive space and the bike you want may just be taking up too much square footage to be viable for the store owner.
  • Wait for a sale – Ask the store when they are going to put certain models on sale and wait for that date. You can pick up an incredible bargain by just being patient.

Maybe you what to know if a mountain bike is good for commuting or for everyday use, then you need to read these two articles.

Final thoughts

If you have managed to purchase a decent frame then, as we have seen, the other components are relatively inexpensive to replace and it is a simple process to upgrade to better quality parts. So, while there are considerable differences between cheap mountain bikes and their expensive counterparts, the main thing is to buy the one you can afford, take it out onto the trails, and have fun.

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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.