When you are in the market for one of the best entry level mountain bikes there is a lot of advice available to help you choose what’s right for you. Some tips are more important than others but they all help point you in the right direction. If you’re looking for an entry level mountain bike the chances are you are new to the sport or are trying to encourage someone to take their first foray into outdoors biking.
The most important tip in our view is to make sure you get the right size bike. It may sound obvious but being correctly measured and checking that against the stated size of the bike will ensure you get the right frame for you. Then look at the wheel sizes, the larger the wheel the faster you can cover distances and if you couple it to a wide rim then you can get tires that give you exceptional stability and grip ideal in all weathers. But larger wheels aren’t as stiff for very hard riding or heavier riders. Smaller rims are stiffer and more maneuverable and are quick to get up to speed too, which is great for racing on tight trails.
An increasingly popular rim size is the 27.5” that aims to give you the best of both worlds. Our third decision would be in considering the suspension. Do you go for a hard tail (no rear suspension) or full suspension? It comes down to personal choice and which feels right for you and the terrain you’re going to be riding on but remember to look for quality components that will last and perform well – cutting corners on cheap suspension will cost you more in the long run and will leave you dissatisfied with your bike.
In this article we cover the best entry level mountain bikes which give you a great owning experience for the money.
Columbia KM One 26-Inch Hard tail Men’s 24-Speed Mountain Bike
- Manufactured from quality aluminum for long-lasting durability
- Includes a low-rise, threadless steel headset that creates a stiffer more stable contact between the alloy suspension fork and the head tube
- Equipped with quality Shimano components, including 21-speed EZ-Fire Plus shifters, and derailleurs
- Featuring upright geometrics both the saddle (seat) and the style of this bicycle are built for comfort and ease
- Equipped with 26-inch Kenda alloy double wall rim wheels, designed to maximize speed and control
America’s first bicycle company, Columbia, has created this budget-friendly – and rather good – KM One mountain bike. Understandably at this price point it is short on some components that more expensive bikes throw in as a matter of course. So it doesn’t have a sprocket guard, chain guard, fenders or kickstand but it’s got it where it counts: the derailleur and shifters are both good quality Shimano offerings. We always like using the 24-speed EZ-Fire Plus shifters and on this bike that’s no exception. The double-walled rims look great and are paired with better-than-average quality Kendal 26” x 2.1” off-road tires. The front and back brakes are both of the mechanical disc variety and perform well when you want to come to a smooth, controlled stop.
The KM One is a hard tail bike so we only have suspension in the front fork. This makes the ride quality a little harsher on single track terrain. The seat could do with some more padding or springs for those of us who are carrying a bit more weight than we would like but overall it’s good quality and bespoke to this brand. The KM One frame measures 19” and has a 32” stand over height making it ideal for riders between 5’ 10” and 6’ 3”.
What we love about this bike is that its components are all better quality than what you would imagine for the money. The light aluminum frame keeps the overall weight down while its competitors’ would be using heavier steel frames. Safety-wise, the bike has reflectors to the front, rear and on the pedals. We would always advise adding your own lights to a bike if it doesn’t come so equipped.
Out of the (double-boxed) box there wasn’t much assembly to do and the instructions were clear and simple to follow. We only needed to adjust the brakes and inflate the tires and we were ready to go. The KM One is a great entry level mountain bike for the money, looks good and rides well on the road and tracks, which is why we recommend it as an entry –level bike for your consideration.
Vilano Blackjack 3.0 29er Mountain Bike MTB with 29-Inch Wheels
- Hand Built Butted 6061 Alloy 29er Hard Tail Frame
- Mechanical Disc Brakes
- Suspension Fork w/ Lockout
- Double Wall Alloy Rims
- 8 Speed EF-51 Integrated Shifter / Brake Lever
The popular Vilano Blackjack is now on its third iteration and, boy, have they continued to do improvements year on year. This is a hand-built 17” aluminum frame with double-wall alloy rims combining lightness and strength. The Blackjack is the 29” wheel version, arguably the most desirable size today and again it’s a hard tail with front fork suspension. The suspension has 80 mm of travel which, although is a standard distance, it is better damped than some of its competitors making for a more comfortable ride. It also has a lockout facility so you can disable it entirely. Shifting and braking is done by means of the excellent Shimano 8-speed EF-51 integrated shifter that grants the rider 24 gears with a generous range of torque and top speed.
The Blackjack needs some adjustment and assembly as is normal for a new bike. This is straightforward and we found that tweaking it to our tastes was a breeze. It comes with mounting points for a bottle holder. It also has a useful kickstand, something we would love to see on all bikes as standard. It’s also quite easy to modify, the only part we would be keen to swap out would be the saddle which has given us mixed feelings over its comfort long term although it might just need some breaking in. If you’re not sure about installing the front disc brake then we would recommend getting a professional to do this task for you as they can be a bit fiddly to make true. Once assembled the bike weighs 30 lbs and feels remarkably sturdy. We are confident you could throw a lot at this bike on the trail and it would emerge triumphant.
Kent Excalibur Men’s Mountain Bike, 29″
- Hand Crafted Aluminum Frame with Alloy Crown 50mm travel Front Shock
- MTB 640mm with 31.8 Alloy Stem 110mm
- Front Disc Brake, rear linear pull brake
- Prowheel Steel Crank 28, 38, 48
- Shimano TX 35D Rear Deraileur
Designed and built here in the States – Kent bikes have a 100 year tradition that they use to inform and constantly improve their mountain bikes. The Excalibur 29er is a perfect example of their art; a hand-crafted 18.5”aluminum frame with an alloy crown leading to the front shock absorbers. The shocks have 50 mm of travel to them. This model has a front disc brake complemented by a rear, linear pull brake which works well in our tests. The ProWheel steel crankset is the 28-38-48 tooth variety and has a great reliability record. The Excalibur uses the popular Shimano TX-35D rear derailleur.
Although it doesn’t have a wallet-hurting ticket price, this mountain bike looks and feels a million dollars. From individual components to build quality the Excalibur seems like it should be in a higher price bracket. Whether on the road or single track, this eats up the miles. It’s a fine bike to ride and is more than adequate as a first MTB or as a spare for low impact excursions. Out of the box it requires an hour or so of assembly and tuning. For the most part it’s a straightforward process although you might need to take a bit more time with the front disc brake as it can be a bit tricky to align.
Mongoose R2780 Impasse Dual Full Suspension Bicycle (29-Inch)
- Aluminum suspension frame maximizes comfort & performance
- Element suspension fork smoothes the bumps and increases control
- 21 speed Shimano rear derailleur with SRAM twist shifters changes gears easily
- Alloy wheels with quick release front
- Alloy front & rear disc brakes
The Mongoose R2780 Impasse is a perfect example of an entry level full suspension mountain bike. It’s a lightweight aluminum frame with an Element Suspension fork that helps reduce the effect of a rapidly undulating track. Its SRAM twist shifters allow for effortless gear changes of its 21-speed Shimano Tourney rear derailleur. The alloy wheels are strong but not heavy and both bear alloy front and rear disc brakes. The front wheel has a handy quick release mechanism. The Mongoose is a 29er, a large bike but we were impressed by the choice of frame and wheel metals that help to keep the weight down.
Out of the box we were surprised to find a hefty owner’s manual that had assembly instructions and information for their main range of bikes, not just the Mongoose. Be prepared to do a little digging to find what you need. A top tip is when you assemble a bike with disc brakes is to spin the wheels as you go to make sure the discs are properly centered in the calipers. These brakes are very responsive and we would happily rely on them in a tight spot.
The Mongoose rides well; its 29” wheels making such a difference to the owning experience. Even the seat is comfortable! Its suspension is spring loaded rather than hydraulic which helps keep the price down but just be aware that there are better suspension systems available in mid to high range bikes. That said, this bike’s suspension wears in well and after a few hours you will definitely enjoy the benefits it gives you over a hard tail.
Raleigh Bikes Women’s Eva 1 Recreational Mountain Bike
- Made for riding moderate distance on light trails and pavement
- Sizing: xs=5'-5'3", s=5'3"-5'6", m=5'6"-5'9", l=5'9"-6'
- Women's specific features include the frame, saddle, and grips to make sure the EVA better suits a woman's proportions
- Shimano twist shifters will make getting through the 21 gears easy
- 27.5" wheels will roll easily while the 2" wide tires will give you confidence on dirt or pavement
Raleigh has over 130 years of biking history and its pedigree shines through with its latest round of mountain bikes. The Eva model is classed as a ladies’ bike although there is a comparable men’s version. It’s available in two attractive color schemes; a white and a red and in a range of sizes. The 17” medium is for riders with heights between 5’ 6” and 5’ 9”; and the 19” large is for heights between 5’ 9” and 6’. The Eva has been cleverly designed to best suit a woman’s proportions for a more comfortable experience.
This mountain bike is a good entry level mountain bike choice as it is built with an aim of being a light trail devourer, not up to extremes of the sport but a capable dirt track performer. The Shimano Revo 3 x 7 handlebar twist shifters give you responsive and precise feedback when selecting between the 21 gears on the Shimano drivetrain. Like the Tauris 2, it comes with sizable 27.5” rims paired with 2” wide Kenda tires that do a fair job of soaking up the bumps of the course while still giving you a decent running commentary of the surface beneath you.
There’s quite a bit of assembly required and tuning. Raleigh themselves say that an experienced bike mechanic would take around 30 minutes to get it read for the open road while a novice could expect to spend up to two hours. The Eva 1 hard tail is an amazing mountain bike for the money with its really strong frame that will resist deformation under torsion and stress. If you’re looking for a good quality bike to get you started then we would recommend considering the Eva 1.
Raleigh Bikes Talus 2 Mountain Bike
- Made for fun riding on pavement and light dirt trails
- Sizing: xs=5'-5'3", s=5'3"-5'6", m=5'6"-5'9", l=5'9"-6', xl=6'-6'4"
- Designed with a lightweight aluminum frame and upright geometry for a comfortable riding position that's easy on the neck and lower back
- Features Big 27.5" wheels with wide 2" tires to roll fast, smooth and confidently on varied terrain
- Includes 21 speeds to assist you in getting up (and down) hills
The Talus 2 is our last mountain bike on test and it’s available in five sizes from XS to XL. Starting at 5’ 3” and peaking at 6’ 4”, Raleigh accommodates most riders’ heights. The riding position is comfortable, courtesy of its upright geometry that puts your posture first. You can cycle for long periods without neck or lower back pain. Its 27.5” wheels with their 2” wide tires help absorb bumps on the track and roll well and particularly fast on smoother ground. Comfort is further enhanced by the SR Suntour coil suspension fork with its 75 mm of travel. Although the Talus 2 is still an entry level bike it’s a rather special performer. Its Shimano EZ shifters give you smooth and precise access to 21 gears.
Raleigh bikes are among our favorites as they are backed by a great warranty and awesome customer service. They are also very keen to make you happy with your purchase. One of the hardest parts for some new bike owners is the initial build out of the box. Raleigh knows this and releases videos as well as support guides to make sure you know exactly what you are doing. We know you’ll love your Talus 2 as much as we do.
In summary we hope that you’ve found your next bike among our choices. We endeavor to bring you only the best mountain bikes for your approval. Happy trailblazing!
If you are looking for an entry level mountain bike for a child, consider a kids dual suspension mountain bike – there are five different options in that article for every price range.
Image sources: Amazon.com, Raleigh Bikes, Mongoose, Kent Bikes