This is our review of the best mountain bikes for beginners in 2023.
Mountain biking is an incredibly fulfilling hobby, with benefits for your body and mind. The physical exertion of cycling combined with the beauty and fun of navigating an intense single-track trail will get you hooked instantly! Like many other hobbies, though, mountain biking can have a step entry cost, with plenty of bikes in the $5-10k range.
If you’re curious about mountain biking, but don’t have that sort of budget, buying a bike of your own requires a little more research. Don’t be intimidated though! There are plenty of mountain bikes that can give you a great time on the trail, even for just a few hundred dollars!
In the end, I found that the Schwinn Axum is the best overall mountain bike for beginners.
I compiled a shortlist of the best MTBs for beginners, so you can save time and hit the ground rolling on your first mountain bike. At the end of the article, I’ll also discuss some other creative ways to find yourself the right set of wheels to jumpstart your new favorite weekend activity.
Let’s get started.
Our Best Entry-Level Mountain Bikes
- Motorgenic MTB 26” 21-Speed Mountain Bike
- Schwinn Axum 8-Speed (Personal favorite)
- Nikishi Pueblo
- Kent Airflex
- Huffy Trail Runner
5 Best Mountain Bikes For Beginners
This exciting mountain bike makes a very strong case for itself and keeps its price tag well under $300. Motorgenic sets their entry-level mountain bike apart from the rest of the pack by including mechanical disc brakes in the MTB 26”. Mechanical disc brakes clamp onto a rotor at the center of the wheel to stop the bike, instead of the rims of the tires. This results in much better stopping power, without wearing down your wheels.
The 21-speed drivetrain will let you tackle steep uphills, which is almost a certainty with mountain biking. Thick, knobby tires pair well with the built-in front suspension, allowing you to absorb the rugged terrain of your local trail without losing control on tight turns. They’ll even throw in a bike lock and pump, which is an absolute steal at this price!
You can purchase the Motorgenic MTB 26” 21-Speed Mountain Bike on their website.
There are an incredible amount of bike manufacturers out there, and it’s easy to get a raw deal on a bike if it doesn’t come from a trusted brand. Schwinn is a quality vendor, and their bikes have been a sure bet since they opened in 1895. With the Schwinn Axum, you can nab some high-quality components for a fraction of the cost of other companies’ models.
The Axum comes with an aluminum frame, which is lighter than its steel counterparts. The drivetrain is made with Shimano components, which is the gold standard of bike parts. Getting name-brand components on a bike at this cost is an incredibly good deal.
This budget bike is also equipped with mechanical disc brakes and superior stopping power. A modest front suspension will take the edge of the trail, and their extra-wide 2.6” tire width will help you handle the bike comfortably on the rockiest terrains. Of all the bikes I reviewed, the Schwinn Axum is a personal favorite, delivering excellent components at a price you wouldn’t expect.
You can purchase the Schwinn Axum 8-Speed Mountain Bike through Walmart’s website.
Nikishi is another stalwart American brand, and the acquisition of its licensing rights by Dick’s Sporting Goods in 2010 paved the way for them to manufacture high-quality bikes at a budget cost. The Pueblo is a good all-around trail-riding bike and comes with some nice benefits because of its manufacturer.
The Pueblo comes equipped with a 7-speed Shimano Tourney drivetrain, which gives you plenty of gear range for handling hills. Shimano is a trusted name in bike components, and the Tourney gear set has already proven to be durable and high-quality. The steel frame may be slightly heavier than its aluminum counterparts, but it lends the bike some additional bump absorption on top of its 60mm travel front suspension fork.
One of the main draws to the Nikishi Pueblo is the support that comes with Nikishi’s partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods. When you buy this bike, you can have it assembled for free in the store! This saves you the trouble of assembling it yourself or paying a local bike shop to do it. Even better, you’ll be able to go back to Dick’s for any future maintenance and get the feeling of security that comes with having a bike backed by one of the largest retail chains in the country.
You can purchase the Nikishi Pueblo 26” Mountain Bike at your local Dick’s Sporting Goods, or on their website.
The Kent Airflex is a great choice for an entry-level mountain bike and is easily accessible thanks to Target’s massive reach. Coming in at $250, this bike is perfect for dipping your toes in the water of mountain biking without breaking the bank.
The highly-absorbent steel frame and front rigid fork of this bike will soak up the bumps in the road, and help make up for the lack of suspension on this bike model. A 21-speed drivetrain makes this a great choice for riders in hilly areas and will let you alternate between crushing steep mountains up hills and flying down your local hill.
Kent’s collaboration with Target, and its massive reach as a bike company, mean that you have access to an unusually high level of support from their customer service team. Whether you need help with assembly, finding parts, or getting service, there is a dedicated service line to help you get started. This level of support can make or break your new bike experience, especially for brand-new riders.
You can purchase the Kent Men’s Airflex 26″ Mountain Bike at your local Target, or on their website.
Our final entry onto this shortlist of the best entry-level MTBs is another American classic. Huffy has been a huge name in entry-level bicycles for years, and the Trail Runner is an exceptional model for the new mountain biker.
The Huffy Trail Runner is the only budget bike on our list with dual suspension- this model combines robust front suspension with a floating seat suspension, which offers powerful support and comfort on the toughest of trails. This is a surprising find on a <$300 bike since the dual suspension is usually only included on high-end bike builds. This model allows a smooth ride, but can’t be compared to high-end models obviously.
The 18-speed drivetrain will give you plenty of gear range for hilly terrain, and a Shimano derailleur means that your shifts will be butter-smooth. This bike comes in at a higher weight than other entries, at 43 pounds, but the additional suspension makes it well worth the weight. This bike is another very strong entry on our list and will give you a little hint at what you can expect on the higher-end mountain bikes in your future.
You can purchase the Huffy 26″ Trail Runner Mountain Bike at your local Walmart, or on their website.
Honorable Mention: Buying Second-Hand
One of the best qualities of bicycles is that they are durable machines. A well-made bicycle frame can last decades, and the components that go on it will last for years with the proper care. If you’re looking to buy a mountain bike for a steal, looking on places like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist is a great idea, provided you have some patience and do your due diligence.
Buying a bike second-hand is a great way to gain access to high-quality components like carbon fiber, better suspension setups, or dropper seatposts, all for a fraction of the cost. The sellers on secondhand marketplaces have a variety of reasons for selling, and their desire to clear some space in their ever-growing bike stable may mean you getting a fantastic deal on your next bike.
As always, it’s important to make sure that you’re not buying a stolen bike. You can usually determine the authenticity of the owner and the bike by asking about its history- what maintenance have you done on this bike? When? Get the serial number of the bike and run it through websites like bikeindex.org to make sure it hasn’t been reported stolen. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
When you’re shopping be on the lookout for some of these classics brands and models:
- Specialized – Stumpjumper, RockHopper
- Trek – Marlin, X-Caliber
- Schwinn – Mesa, High Timber
The Beginning of the Rest of Your Cycling Life
While we understand that dropping a lot of money on your first mountain bike is a difficult decision, it’s clear to every fanatic that mountain biking is a sport that pulls you in over time.
Once you get out on the trail and reap the benefits of this exciting, healthy hobby, you’ll be hooked. From there, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about what you need from your next mountain bike and feel much better about spending the money.
The budget bikes on this list will all be able to give you a taste of the mountain biking experience and start you off with a solid bike for beginner trail riding. In time, you can choose to upgrade one of these bikes with new components or pass it along to the next person who hasn’t gotten to try mountain biking yet. As your skill grows, you’ll find yourself justifying a more expensive bike, and making someone else’s day by giving them your starter bike.