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7 best mountain bikes under £500 that are perfect for cycling across every terrain

Adventure seekers and avid cyclists alike will love these two-wheeled wonders

Aaron Roe
Thursday 03 March 2022 17:37
<p>Bagging a rip-roaring mountain bike needn’t break the bank</p>

Bagging a rip-roaring mountain bike needn’t break the bank

If you’re looking to have fun exploring the great outdoors, to get a good workout and sharpen your handling skills, a spot of mountain biking is a great idea. If you’re looking for your first off-road bike or are on a tight budget, there are some great models out there for £500 and less, allowing you to try out the sport and build fitness without breaking the bank.

At this price point, we would always recommend going for a hard-tail design – a bike with suspension forks but no rear-suspension – as cheaper, full-suspension models are usually heavy and rather unpleasant to ride.

Most modern mountain bikes have either 27.5in (650B) or 29in wheels. While 29in wheels generally roll over obstacles better and offer better traction, 27.5in wheels accelerate faster and are more manoeuvrable. It’s also worth considering your height when selecting wheel size. Smaller riders will likely find bikes with 27.5in wheels easier to handle, while 29in wheels tend to be favoured by taller riders.

Even at £500 and below, many mountain bikes come with disc brakes rather than older-style V-brakes. While some bikes still offer mechanical disc brakes, which are operated by cables and are more affordable, there are a number of decent cheaper bikes on the market which offer the more powerful hydraulic versions.

How we tested

We tried out a range of mountain bikes on our local trails whenever possible, riding them up and down hills to see how they performed. We also looked at them in terms of value for money – judging them on the mix of components – and tried to use our testers’ experience to judge which were best for beginners or more experienced riders.

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The best mountain bikes under £500 for 2022 are:

GT Aggressor Expert 29

Best: Overall

Rating: 8/10

GT have been making quality bikes since 1972 and are among the most famous names in mountain biking. This one is a great choice for a beginner. With 80mm of travel, the suspension forks do a good job of taking the sting out of rocks and drops, and you can lock them out too for more efficiency when climbing or riding on smoother surfaces. You’ll be able to tackle a variety of terrains thanks to the spread of 24 MicroSHIFT gears. Braking is also good thanks to the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, and the 2.25in tyres on 29in wheels offer reliable grip on rougher terrain. We think the blue and orange colour scheme looks really smart too.

Pinnacle Kapur 1

Best: For handling

Rating: 8/10

This one from Evans’ in-house brand is well worth considering. When you consider it’s got full Shimano gears and hydraulic disc brakes, this machine is superb value. It’s been designed with a long wheelbase and wide (760mm) handlebars to make it more stable, so it’s a great choice for beginners. The aluminium frame is good quality and should stand up to years of use, while the 27.5in wheels with thick 2.25in tyres offer good grip and will suit smaller riders better than their 29in cousins. There are 24 gears, plus a locking suspension fork with 120mm of travel.

Ghost Kato Base

Best: For climbers

Rating: 8/10

For less than £450, here’s a perfect introduction into the world of 29er mountain bikes. Its 21-speed Shimano gears may be a little outdated, but they’re durable and should need less maintenance than more modern 9, 10 or 11-speed offerings. Having 21 gears also means there’s still a good spread for climbing steep hills and riding down fast descents.

Braking performance is excellent thanks to the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and it offers a plush ride thanks to the 100mm of suspension travel in the Suntour fork. The bike also feels stable on corners thanks to the wide (720mm) handlebars. The quality aluminium frame comes in either a stealthy black or olive/grey colour scheme, so it looks the business too.

Merlin Cycles Wizard X-Country 3.7

Best: Gear shifters

Rating: 7/10

Impressively for a bike costing less than £500, this one features Shimano’s brilliant Deore gears for reliable shifting, and with 30 gears you’ll be able to tackle a range of terrains with ease. It’s also got a shock-reducing suspension fork with 100mm of travel and a remote lockout, so you can lock the suspension via a lever on the bars while you ride. The 27.5in wheels make this one nimble and easy to handle and we think its alloy frame should last for many years. It’s got mechanical disc brakes, which aren’t quite as powerful as the other hydraulic models we tested, but we think the other quality components still make it a great deal.

Carrera Vulcan

Best: Value

Rating: 7/10

You’re probably not going to win any races on this bike – at about 15kg, it’s not exactly lightweight. However, if you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of mountain biking this one’s got all the kit you need to tackle the dirt in comfort. Hydraulic disc brakes, a locking suspension fork and tough 27.5in wheels make it the perfect choice for a newbie. Carrera have opted for a double chainset to keep maintenance nice and simple, but there’s still a good range of gears to see you up climbs. The alloy frame is great quality, and comes with a lifetime guarantee. Plus it looks the part too with a smart blue paint job.

Calibre blade

Best: For looks

Rating: 7/10

We really like this one’s vibrant teal paint job – it brightens up murky days and stands out against the sea of dark coloured bikes on the market. It doesn’t just look the part, either, as it’s kitted out with components that betray its low price. Those 27.5in wheels kitted out with wide, knobbly 2.1in tyres make it easy to handle, and with 21 Shimano gears, hydraulic disc brakes and a suspension fork with 100mm of travel, it’s a reliable choice for those looking to ride off-road for the first time, and for £500 it’s a bit of a steal.

Oyama Freedom 2.1

Best: For tight budgets

Rating: 7/10

No, you haven’t fallen off your bike and bumped your head, this bike really is £279 – that’s less than the price of some fancy cycling jackets! Your money buys an alloy frame, suspension forks and Tektro mechanical disc brakes – nothing fancy, but certainly up to lighter use on trails or for commuting.

One giveaway that this isn’t a “serious” mountain bike is the addition of a kick-stand, although if you plan to use this on trips around town or to the shops it could be a very welcome feature. Most of the components are Oyama branded rather than from bigger names like Shimano, and 21-speed gearing comes courtesy of MicroSHIFT. We’d ditch the plastic pedals for a more robust alloy pair, but beyond that this is a remarkably good value ride that should last you for a few years as long as you’re not planning on hammering down hills on it.

The verdict: Mountain bikes under £500

Finding a decent mountain bike around the £500 is no easy task, but it can be done – and if you look hard there are some great machines out there. The Ghost offering is a less modern, but no less capable, affordable option. But it was the GT that offered the best overall package in terms of value, looks and performance.

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