Should I Buy a Cheap Mountain Bike?

Do you like mountain biking, but don’t have the resources to buy an expensive bike? Why spend a fortune on a bike when you can get your hands on one that is more budget-friendly?

Cheap mountain bikes offer many features and benefits which make them ideal for those who are looking to enjoy the trails without breaking the bank.

If you’re like most people, you don’t want to spend too much money but still want the features and quality of an expensive mountain bike.

So what are your options? Are there good cheap mountain bikes out there worth investing in?

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of purchasing a cheap mountain bike, are cheap mountain bikes any good and when should you buy them.

What Is Considered “Cheap” for a Mountain Bike

When it comes to buying a mountain bike, cost can be one of the biggest factors to consider.

What is considered “cheap” for a mountain bike can vary greatly from person to person, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

While you may be able to find a cheap mountain bike for as little as $90 from places like Walmart, it may not hold up to the demands of actual mountain terrain.

For those who plan on hitting the trails, a bike in the $300 range is a better starting point.

However, if you’re looking for a bike with quality components and features, the $500-$900 range is the sweet spot for budget mountain bikes.

Don’t let budget constraints hold you back from getting a bike that suits your needs and can take you on the adventure of a lifetime.

“Cheap but good” should be the mantra when you are out there looking for a bike to tackle even the most challenging of terrains mountain biking.

When It’s Okay To Buy A Cheap Mountain Bike

When it comes to Mountain Bikes, most serious riders will discourage you to invest on cheap mountain bikes.

Ask anyone on these mountain bike community and you will hear the worst about budget mountain bikes. Don’t feel discouraged from these views or suggestions.

If you go by their logic one should always be miles away from budget mountain bikes.

While it’s true that a high-quality bike can make a huge difference in your mountain biking experience, it’s not always necessary.

Especially if you’re just starting out, a cheap mountain bike can actually be a good option.

Sure, it may not have all the bells and whistles, but it’ll get the job done and allow you to get your feet wet in the sport.

The important thing is that you don’t spend thousands of dollars and then decide it’s not for you. Plus, you can always upgrade to a fancier bike later on once you’ve got the basics down.

So don’t let anyone discourage you from trying out mountain biking just because you can’t afford a top-of-the-line bike. A cheap one may just surprise you.

To further help you short these ideas, here is the list of cases when a cheap mountain bike is just fine:

You Are Just Getting Into Mountain Biking

When you first get into mountain biking, you don’t know if your interest will turn into a passion or not.

When that’s the case, there’s no reason to go all out on a high-end bike when you don’t know if you’re going to be using it very often.

A cheaper bike can still manage the low-danger roads of beginner mountain biking trails and you can use them as a platform to get used to the trials before you decide to upgrade.

In fact I personally find them better for learners, who like to ride them anywhere from trails to local park or your neighborhood.

If you need a bike that fits your budget, then it’s okay to buy a cheap mountain bike.

However, it is important to do your research and make sure that the bike meets all safety standards for mountain biking and that it is suitable for beginners.

Buying a Mountain Bike For Your Kid

In the case of buying your kid a bike, a cheap mountain bike is actually one of the superior choices.

Kids don’t always stay on the sidewalk like they’re supposed to and a mountain bike will help ensure that you don’t end up with any scrapes and bruises when they go off the beaten path.

The larger tires of mountain bikes will also help with traction and make it easier for kids who are just getting used to riding bikes to maintain their balance.

Relaxed Riding

When it comes to relaxed riding, a cheap mountain bike can be a great option.

Around the neighborhood and at local parks, it’s not uncommon to see department store mountain bikes on the trails.

In fact, these bikes are often the norm. If you’re just looking to ride for fun or to get some light exercise, there’s really no need to spend a lot of money on a high-end bike.

As long as the terrain you’re riding on is relatively smooth, you should have no problem with a cheap mountain bike.

So go ahead and take it easy, grab a budget-friendly option and hit the trails for some relaxed riding.

You care less about efficiency of your bike

A lot of lower-end mountain bikes are going to come with standard bike parks and not the high-quality gear that comes on a brand-name bike.

What this means is that you’ll get standard breaks, less of an increase in tire size, and a regular suspension a lot of the time.

If you’re used to working with these kinds of bike parts and understand the limits of them then this shouldn’t be an issue for you, but it’s important to keep in mind what you’re missing as well.

Are Cheap Mountain Bikes Worth It?

Affordable or cheap mountain bikes are definitely worth it if you stay within the bounds of casual biking. If you want to take your bike through a dirt path near your neighborhood then that’s fine.

Most mountain bikes come with bigger wheels that work well off-road regardless of cost.

You can bike up and down small hills and through the woods without a problem, but taking a bike made with cheaper components on a serious biking endeavor can be an obstruction and even dangerous to you.

Mountain bikes are designed to be able to haul you up steep inclines and to prevent crashes and stoppages while cruising on rough roads.

The consequences of venturing onto mountain paths without the right bike could mean your trip turning into a bust early on when you encounter a hill your bike can’t clime.

Worse, it could mean getting into an accident and hurting yourself because your bike wasn’t prepared to handle all of the bumps and ditches that come with untamed road.

Affordable mountain bikes good for riding through friendly neighborhood, light trails and parks. They really shines in beginners mountain bike trails where the slope is less steep or challenging.

Pros and Cons of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes

Pros of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes

  • A casual experience: Mountain bikes are perfectly fine on the lower end if you just want to ride one around town. They’re actually a great option in this instance as it’s the overall safer choice compared to the hybrid or commuter bikes that you might see around town as they’re better equipped to handle any unexpected bumps in the road or around your local park.
  • Beginners friendly: Budget mountain bikes really shines on beginner friendly mountain bike trails. There are plenty of trails that are designed for folks who are just starting to get into mountain biking and those paths won’t offer obstacles that are so severe that a less expensive bike won’t be able to handle it.
  • Great for kids: A lot of kids don’t like to stick to the road while they’re out on their bikes, and this can lead to a lot of accidents. Mountain bikes are a good choice here for younger kids who like to ride bikes since they won’t fall off their bikes when they hit rough terrain. Grass particularly isn’t a problem here, so no kid riding their bike off the sidewalk and onto the grass won’t brake hard and fly off their bike.
  • Fit in your budget: The best part part about these bikes is that they are …. much cheaper. If you are within a $1000 budget, you can easily buy a cheap mountain bike that will do the job. In most cases they won’t feel much of a difference and often better for learners.

Cons of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes

  • It can be dangerous: Not all budget mountain bikes are safe specially those below $600. The entire purpose of a mountain bike is to keep you safe and comfortable as you take on off-road challenges. If the bike that you’re looking at can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be riding.
  • Not fit for more serious trails: Budget mountain bikes are not meant for serious trails or competitions. You may find them hard to use on the toughest of trails. Even worse, on a higher-end trail, you can potentially hurt yourself or even break a bone rolling down an incline that your bike couldn’t handle. Getting into mountain biking is a serious endeavor and you have to have the right equipment or you’ll be putting yourself at risk.
  • Extended rides: Even if you don’t plan on taking your bike on serious hikes, you will still need a solid machine if you just plan on riding it often. Cheaper bikes don’t have a lot of staying power and won’t last long if you want to ride them every single day or as a source of regular exercise. Tires with a low thread count will break on you when you least expect it, and falls are going to leave heavier dings than you expected.
  • Not Great for Upgrades: Other than safety issues if you are planning to make upgrades to your mountain bike in future, i would strongly suggest to not buy a budget mountain bike. They simply aren’t great for upgrades!
When It's Okay To Buy A budget Mountain Bike

Budget Mountain Bikes: What Do They lack?

Less expensive mountain bikes might seem like an appealing option, especially if you’re on a budget. At first glance, these bicycles might seem quite similar to their more expensive cousins.

When comparing them, however, it’s important to carefully look at the actual differences. Budget-oriented bikes are great for some riders, but they’re definitely very different from their more expensive cousins.

Parts & Components

Bikes are more than just frames and wheels. They’ve got shifters, derailleurs, cassettes, brakes, brake levers, seats, and chains – and more.

When you’re comparing a cheap bike to a more expensive one, these components and parts should be carefully compared and cross-checked to make sure you know what the differences are.

Having quality components can directly translate into a better riding experience. Better cassettes and drivetrains will transfer more of your pedaling power to the wheels, helping you be more efficient.

Better brakes will stop faster. Better derailleurs will keep your chain in good condition for longer and shift more snappily, allowing you to pedal the way you want at a moment’s notice.

Individually, the effect of these components might seem small, but when you spread them across a whole bike worth of parts you’ll quickly notice an inferior ride from some budget bikes.

One additional thing to consider is how you’d go about upgrading a bicycle.

Purchasing a bike with more expensive components might set you back more up front, but if your plan is to upgrade your parts in a couple of years, you might save money long-term.

By starting with the parts you’d purchase, you can enjoy riding on your bike right from the start.

Less Durable Frames

Frames are probably the most important part of any bicycle. While they might seem mundane, the difference between a cheap frame and a more expensive one is nothing to scoff at.

There are three big factors to consider when you’re looking at frames: durability, weight, and geometry. These three factors are intertwined, but it’s worth discussing them individually.

Bikes have to support the weight of you and anything else they’re carrying as you ride them. The pressure you exert on a bike isn’t constant. Instead, it goes up and down as you hit bumps, pedal, or (hopefully rarely) crash into things.

Your bike can also get banged around while it’s being transported or even bumped into while it’s stored. This means it’s important for bikes to have strong, sturdy frames.

Bike manufacturers can control all of the aspects of a frame. They can choose how strong to make it, what shape to make it in, and what material to make it out of.

The problem is maximizing all three elements at once. A bike with super-efficient frame geometry made out of material X will have a fixed amount of durability. In order to increase the durability, either the frame geometry or the material must be changed.

Budget bikes usually are made from cheap materials. These materials are heavy and need to be thick to be strong.

This means that cheap bikes tend to weigh more than expensive bikes, require less efficient frame geometry (because the material needs to be thicker), and often STILL aren’t as durable.

Consumers look at the weight of a bicycle before they buy it, so manufacturers will often cut corners and make their bikes less sturdy in order to cut weight.

Are Higher On Weight

As mentioned above, it’s not likely that your budget mountain bike has a carbon fiber or titanium frame. This means that for a given durability or frame geometry, it’ll weigh a decent amount more than a high-end bike.

Budget bikes often use cheaper alloys and less expensive manufacturing techniques, resulting in extra material being used to achieve the same result.

While it’s a giant factor, the weight of the frame isn’t the only thing that affects how much your bike weighs. Remember those components from earlier?

High-end components usually weigh a fair bit less than cheap ones. When combined with the extra weight of the frame, this means a cheap bike can be twice as heavy – or more – than an expensive one.

Less Efficient Frame Geometry

Building a frame is tricky. Building a frame with great geometry while using inexpensive materials and cheap manufacturing techniques is pretty darn hard.

Manufacturers have to make sacrifices in order to lower the cost of their budget bikes, and frame geometry is usually one of the first things to go.

Beyond the cost-cutting basics, however, consider the target audience of the bike. A bike that’s being sold at Walmart isn’t being marketed to a very savvy consumer base.

Terms like “head angle” or “reach” might as well be in a foreign language. Because of this, there’s not a lot of pressure on budget bike makers to get these crucial measurements correct or comfortable.

Consider also that mountain bikes usually aren’t test-ridden on an actual outdoor trail. This means that cheap bikes will have very odd frame geometry for technical riding.

Performance and Build Quality

Cheap bikes aren’t built to last. There’s no way to really mince words around this: a budget mountain bike usually won’t last you very long, while a nice bike might last you a decade or more.

In terms of rides per dollar, you’ll often be better off getting a more expensive bike.

Cheap bikes often have parts, components, and frames that are assembled cheaply with poor quality control, While this sometimes results in bikes that don’t work right the moment you buy them, in most cases, it’ll cause your bike to start to break after a couple of weeks, months, or years of use.

A cheap chain will slip off more easily and break sooner, while cheap brakes might have trouble staying aligned or wear down more quickly.

More expensive parts aren’t always more durable, but the most durable parts tend to be more expensive.

Support and Warranty

The price of an expensive bike can have guarantees, warranties, and incredible customer support built into it. A budget bike might not come with the same backing from the manufacturer.

While you can certainly find some protection available on some budget mountain bikes, you’re not necessarily going to be happy with the level of support you receive from every company.

If a bike tends to last 5 years in the wild, it’s very inexpensive for the manufacturer to offer a 2-year warranty. If a bike tends to start failing after two years, the same warranty becomes very costly to offer.

Consider the baseline warranty offered on different bikes you’re considering and think about what different levels of support might mean for both your peace of mind and the bike’s average longevity.

Budget Mountain Bikes Can Still Be Fun!

There’s nothing wrong with getting a budget bike, especially if you’re a new or less-frequent rider.

While your budget bike will probably be heavier than a pricier bike and won’t have all of the same bells and whistles, you can still have lots of fun tackling trails in a bike that’s well under $1000.

By choosing a durable bike with a good frame, you can gain a long-lasting platform that you can slowly upgrade with more expensive components.

After you’ve got some experience under your belt and you’ve saved a bit of money, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what features and options you want in your next bike, allowing you to get the most out of your money and pick up the perfect bike for your body, riding style, and preferred trails.

Also Read,

Best Affordable Mountain Bikes Under $200

15 Best Mountain Bike Brand in 2022 – Bicycle Guide

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