The Diamondback Sorrento starts at $300.
Spring weather has many people pulling their bikes out of storage and topping off the air in the tires for the first ride of the season -- or realizing it’s going to take a lot more than that to get a once-trusty ride on the road again. If it’s been a while since you looked for a new mountain bike, you may be surprised at the quality you can find in the $150 to $400 range. This segment of the market, once sparsely populated by Frankenstein’s monsters of mountain- and road-bike parts, is now home to nimbler models with many more speeds.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable mountain bikes.
- The Diamondback Sorrento (starting at $300) is lightweight yet heavy-duty, reviewers say, and also easy to put together. Its solid build and impressive performance attract repeat buyers. (Where to buy)
- The Trek 3 Series 3500(starting at $399) is the most expensive bike on our list and one of the only budget models available at specialty bike shops, as opposed to large chains and online outlets. Experts call it stable and agile and riders appreciate the disc brakes, a notable feature at this price. (Where to buy)
- The Schwinn Ridge AL (starting at $225) is a rare find: a low-cost women’s mountain bike that earns mostly positive reviews. The shorter top tube, narrower handlebars, and wider seat might seem like minor variations, but they make the bike safer and more comfortable for female riders. (Where to buy)
- The Genesis V2100(starting at $129) is exclusive to Wal-Mart. It’s the cheapest bike on our list yet the only one with dual suspension, a feature uncommon on budget models. Riders say the full suspension (on both wheels) makes for an exceptionally smooth ride. (Where to buy)
Even though they typically have front-only suspension, the best budget mountain bikes can tackle rough pavement and well-maintained trails. These are entry-level models, however, and many riders caution against pushing the limits of more demanding terrain.
Like most other low-cost mountain bikes these days, the models above have 21 speeds and aluminum frames. Aluminum is lighter but typically no less durable than steel; it’s also rust-resistant. An aluminum frame makes it easier to pick up speed and push, carry, or otherwise transport the bike.
A couple of the models on our list stand out for their brakes. The Trek 3 Series 3500 boasts disc brakes, which are generally reserved for higher-end mountain bikes. While standard V-brakes or linear-pull brakes work by pressing on the rims of the wheels, disc brakes surround the hubs of the wheels. The Genesis V2100 has a disc brake in the front and a linear-pull brake in the back.
One of the biggest trends in mountain bikes is toward “29ers” -- bikes with 29-inch wheels that roll more easily over obstacles. The Coloradoan reports that these now account for nearly a quarter of mountain bike sales, up from 10 percent at the end of 2010. Alas, this is one luxury none of our picks affords; all the budget models above have standard 26-inch wheels.