When it comes to trying to pick up a good quality, but cheap mountain bike, you're best figuring out what you want together out of it and the features that matter to you the most.
There are some big features that you'll have to consider, suspension, frame composition, gears and brakes, also where you plan on riding and most important of all, the fit of the mountain bike.
So I think it's best to go over some different types of mountain bikes and what brands are best for each discipline. Also whats the best prices for these cheap mountain bikes from Wiggle, Halfords and Evans Cycles.
Hard Trail Bikes This is arguably the most common mountain biking style because the category isn’t grounded in any specific type of racing. If you’re interested in meeting up with friends at the local trailhead and riding a mixture of climbs and descents, then this is the style for you. Bikes in this category place equal emphasis on fun, efficiency and sensible overall weight.
The best brands to look for when it comes to good cheap entry level hard trial mountain bikes are Specialized, GT and you can find some great value for money bikes from Halfords own brand, Carrera.
These bikes are available with a suspension fork in the front to help absorb impact on the front wheel, but the rear of the bike has no suspension. Hard tails are typically less expensive than full-suspension bikes and have fewer moving parts, which often translates into less maintenance. Most hard tails have the ability to lock out the front fork for times when a fully rigid bike is desired.
Cross-country riders and even commuters typically gravitate toward hard tails as these bikes allow more direct transfer of power between the pedal stroke and the rear tire. Hard tails can also be at home on all-mountain trails, and the lower cost and easier maintenance make them a solid option for everything except serious downhill trails.
Full Suspension Mountain Bikes These usually have similar models to hard trial bikes, but with both front and rear suspension. This style of riding typically implies riding fast, with an emphasis on climbing prowess. Distances vary from just a few miles to 25-plus, and bikes tend to focus on efficiency and low weight. These bikes can be great if you’re considering getting competitive or would like a racier ride for your local trails.
Mostly ridden at designated mountain bike trials. Downhill full suspension mountain bikes are big and tough, and riders wear full-face helmets and body armour as they encounter jumps, berms, rock gardens and wooden ladders. Usually lightweight and tough, but with a fairly hefty price tag to boot.
Fat Tyre Mountain Bikes These bikes are essentially hard trail mountain bikes with a wider clearance for wider tyres. The sizes are from 3.7 inch to 5+ inch wide, give these bikes excellent traction, especially in sand or snow. Fat bikes are great for beginners because the wide tires are reassuringly forgiving as a rider picks a line through rough terrain.
They've really come along in popularity in recent years, but make sure you want one for all the right reasons. They are no good whatsoever as a daily computer for example. Wiggle have some great examples of these bikes. The Felt DD 30 from Wiggle is a great example of this style of mountain bike.
These are the 3 main types cheap mountain bikes that you'll find at the biggest stores, like Evans Cycles, Wiggle and Halfords.
Next we'll look at the features you can get on each of these different mountain bikes.
Mountain Bike Wheel Size In the not too-distant past, all adult mountain bikes were equipped with 26 inch wheels. It still is an available wheel size, but now when you walk into a bike shop and inquire about mountain bikes, you can choose from 26 inch, 27.5 inch or 29 inch.
Offering a middle ground between standard 26 inch wheels and 29ers, 27.5 inch bikes apply a “best of both worlds” solution, more easily rolling over terrain than the 26s, but more manoeuvrable than 29ers. 27.5 inch wheels can be found on both full-suspension and hardtail rigs.
Bikes featuring 29 inch wheels that are a little slower to accelerate, but once you start moving you can conquer considerably more terrain far easier than on a bike with 26 inch wheels. They are more efficient for longer rides as they keep their momentum up and they have a higher “attack angle,” meaning the wheel rolls over trail obstacles easier. These bikes have become extremely popular for the cross-country crowd. 29ers can be found in rigid, hardtail and full-suspension rigs.
24 inch wheels are found on kids’ mountain bikes. Most are less expensive versions of adult bikes with simpler components. Generally speaking, these suit kids ages 10 to 13, but this depends more on the size of the child than the age.
Mountain Bike Frame Material The material that your mountain bike is made from can have a big affect on many aspects of your mountain bike, from weight, strength, ride quality and the biggest one of all, price.
Aluminium alloy is the most commonly used material for mountain bike frames. Some higher end models have lighter aluminium frames and can be stronger, so it's best to read up on the reviews.
The other materials that you can come across are steel, titanium and carbon fibre. Steel is tough, inexpensive and offers a smooth ride, but is relatively heavy for a mountain bike. Titanium is light and strong but too expensive for all but top of the line mountain bikes. Carbon fibre is fairly common on cross-country bikes, fat bikes, and high-end trail and all-mountain bikes because of its strength and low weight, but it is relatively expensive because it requires labor-intensive manufacturing. A lot of bikes now feature aluminium frames, with some carbon fibre forces and other components.
Mountain Bike Gears This isn't just the number of gears, which is a result of the number of front chainrings multiplied by the number of sprockets on the cassette, but also the brand of mountain bike gears that you can choose. Mountain bikes are available with everything from a single speed to 30 or more gears. When you factor in the many combinations of chainrings and cogs and the numbers of teeth on them, things can get complex.
As a basic rule, the most important things to consider are your fitness level and the terrain you'll be riding. If you'll be riding lots of steep hills and you find climbing challenging, then you'll want to opt for more gears. If you're a strong mountain biker or you only ride flat terrain, you won't need as many low gears to power up a hill so you can get away with fewer gears, which will also help keep your bike light.
When it comes to which brand, it's best to stick to a well known brand. These are often the cheapest, and most reliable also. Brands like Shimano have been knocking out quality chain sets for as long as we can remember.
Mountain Bike Brakes Disc brakes are now the basic level brakes you should be looking at for your mountain bike. These feature brake pads that grip onto a brake rotor mounted to the wheel hub. Disc brakes come in two versions. Hydraulic disc brakes offer more progressive and stronger braking with less finger effort, and they self-adjust for brake pad wear. Cable-activated brakes need manual adjusting as the pads wear.
Disc brakes are far superior for a number of reasons, more consistent braking in all conditions, much cheaper to replace a worn rotor than a whole wheel, superior performance in steep and wet terrains and less finger strain. Hydraulic disc brakes are more expensive so make sure you'll be getting some good use out of the mountain bike before investing in these.
Mountain Bike Fit The fit of your mountain bike is massively important. You'll want to make sure it's the right fit for your height, flexibility and riding style and is a bike you’ll love riding. A properly fitting bike can improve your handling and confidence on the trail to help you tackle more technical and challenging rides.
All the different cheap mountain bikes and the different features we've mentioned are all available from the stores that we have featured on this page. They are listed in price order so it's easy for you to see who is selling the cheapest mountain bike in the style you are looking for.