The 5 Best Mountain Bikes for Beginners

Published on 05/12/2023 · 8 min readMountain biking is a great way to explore the outdoors! If you're looking to get into mountain biking, check out these 5 beginner-friendly mountain bike options!
Adam L., Cycling Expert
By Cycling Expert Adam L.

Photo by Jan Muelbach

Mountain biking has rapidly expanded from its Northern California roots to a worldwide phenomenon. Whether you’re an experienced road cyclist or a total cycling newbie, mountain biking is a great way to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and, most of all, have fun.

Of course, you can’t get started without the right bike, and if you’re curious about where to start, you're in the right place! Curated's Cycling Experts have ridden and reviewed all the major options out there. I’ve assembled this list of our most recommended beginner mountain bikes. I’ll cover a few key features to look out for before diving into our most recommended hardtail and full-suspension bikes!

Key Features

Before checking out the bikes, let’s review a few basic mountain bike features. These are some of the most important things to look out for in a new bike, so it’s worth spending a little time defining and explaining each. That said, the suspension type is so important that it’ll get its explanation a little further down this article!

Wheel Size: 27.5”/29”

  • 27.5”
    • Benefits: Smaller size is more agile in technical terrain
    • Be Aware: Not as fast as a larger wheel
  • 29”
    • Benefits: Faster and more easily rolls over obstacles
    • Be Aware: Slightly more challenging for shorter riders

Drivetrain: 2 or 3x/1x

  • 2 or 3x: Multiple front chainrings
    • Benefits: More gear range, lower cost
    • Be Aware: More components and more shifting when riding.
  • 1x
    • Benefits: Simple, one-handed shifting and no front chainrings to worry about.
    • Be Aware: Higher initial cost

Hardtail or Full Suspension

Most high-level riders and racers are on full-suspension bikes, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best choice for all riders. In fact, a hardtail (front suspension only) can be better for several reasons.

Here’s an overview of the benefits and drawbacks of the two major categories:

Hardtail

  • Benefits:
    • Lighter weight
    • Simpler maintenance, no rear suspension to maintain
    • Lower cost for similar components
    • More efficient to pedal
  • Be Aware:
    • Not as capable on rough terrain
    • Not as comfortable for long offroad rides

Full Suspension

  • Benefits:
    • More capable on technical terrain
    • Better for jumps and drops
    • Increased traction on rough climbs
  • Be Aware:
    • Heavier
    • More parts to maintain
    • More expensive for similar components

With these characteristics in mind, I often recommend a hardtail for a first mountain bike. I find this type of bike better fits the needs of most beginning riders. In addition, the lighter weight and simpler maintenance go a long way to making riding more fun and less onerous!

Cheap full suspensions also usually have some compromises in component spec to hit a low price point. That said, we really like a few quality full-suspension bikes in the $1,500+ range, which I’ve included in this guide.

A quick note on model names: Most of these models include a number (or multiple). “29” or “27.5” usually denote the wheel size, but other numbers (like 1, 2, 3, or 4) indicate where the model sits in the brand’s lineup. Of course, brands don’t make it easy to figure this out. Some give their best features to the “1” model while others use “1” to signify the entry-level model, but the upshot is that each bike is available in a slightly different spec and price point as well. If you like the model but need slightly different components or spend a little more or less, there’s a good chance we can find a similar model with the features you need!

Hardtail Bikes

1. Diamondback Hatch 2

Leading off the lineup is Diamondback’s Hatch 2, which is an awesome value for a first mountain bike. Basic features include an aluminum frame and suspension fork featuring 100mm of travel to smooth the ride. In addition, thanks to Diamondback’s Progressive Wheel Sizing, different frame sizes are equipped with 27.5” or 29” wheels to ensure the best fit for riders of any height.

A 3x7/21 speed Shimano Tourney drivetrain offers plenty of gear combinations for all-terrain, while Tektro disc brakes have plenty of stopping power to slow you down safely. The Hatch 2 is a great option for a first bike to take on trails or for mixed singletrack trail, path, and commuting duty.

2. Diamondback Overdrive 29 1

We’ll stick with Diamondback for the next recommendation: the Overdrive 29 1. This shares some specs with the Hatch 2 but is a more aggressive and performance-oriented mountain bike overall. It has an aluminum frame, Tektro mechanical disc brakes, a 100mm travel fork, and 29” wheels for maximum speed and rollover. A Shimano Altus 2x8 speed drivetrain is also a nice upgrade from the Hatch 2.

As its name suggests, the Overdrive 29 is only offered in 29” wheels. However, Diamondback also offers a 27.5” version of the same bike called the Lux, which is a great option for shorter riders. The Lux also has a lowered top tube, making mounting and dismounting easy. The Overdrive and the Lux are great trail and cross-country riding options.

3. Cannondale Trail SE 4

The Trail SE 4 is a bit pricier but is a great choice for riders who know they’ll be spending a lot of time on the bike and want a higher-end beginner bike that won’t hold them back as they develop their skills. The SE shares much of its geometry with Cannondale’s top-end Scalpel HT carbon fiber race bike, including dropped seat stays, but it has a more durable C2 aluminum frame material.

The Trail SE 4 features a 120mm Suntour XCR fork, along with Boost 148 spacing and thru-axles, which are standard on higher-end bikes and increase stiffness and ride quality. Shifting is provided by a Shimano Deore 1x10 speed drivetrain, while Tektro hydraulic disc brakes do deceleration duties. While the SE 4 is only offered with 29” wheels, the modern geometry and lowered top tube makes it relatively easy for riders of all sizes to find a good fit on this frame. The slack front end and longer travel fork are especially beneficial for steeper and technical descents since they improve control and weight placement.

Full Suspension Bikes

4. Diamondback Atroz 2

The Atroz 2 is an incredible full-suspension bike for under $1,500. It’s packed with features that you usually find on much pricier bikes and can’t really be beaten for a first full-suspension bike at this price point.

The Atroz 2 has an aluminum frame with 120/110mm of front and rear travel with Suntour suspension components (and an air rear shock). It also packs brand-name components, including Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, which are great for secure stopping power in all conditions, and a Shimano 1x9 drivetrain with a wide-range cassette.

The Atroz 2 is a great choice for serious trail riding and for riders who want to take on trails that feature roots, rocks, jumps, and drops. It’s probably not the best choice for riding gravel or dirt roads, though.

5. Marin Rift Zone 29 1

The Marin Rift Zone 29 1 is one of our most recommended beginner full-suspension bikes and probably my favorite full-squish bike available for under $2,000. It has an aluminum frameset, an 130mm travel RockShox Recon Silver RL fork, 125mm of rear travel, and 29” wheels wrapped in Vee tires. The other components are a great spec, including Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes and a 1x11 speed Shimano drivetrain.

The MultiTrac suspension platform the Rift Zone is designed around is a great choice for beginners since it offers plenty of travel for trail riding but is still efficient, so your energy isn’t wasted on the trail. This is a really nice all-around package, but Marin also offers several other models in the Rift Series, including 27.5” wheel choices and higher-end components.

You may have noticed that many of our recommendations are from Marin and Diamondback. While these might not be the biggest brands in the industry, they’re both long-established and United States-based brands that focus on delivering the best bikes at the best price. Dollar for dollar, they have more features and better specs than similar bikes from the bigger brands you might be more familiar with.

There’s also no difference in quality. These companies both make excellent bikes, and they’re built up with components from major manufacturers like Shimano, microSHIFT, Suntour, and RockShox. So for beginners just getting started, I often turn to these brands to deliver the best balance of quality and value possible.

Ready to Hit the Trails?

Finding your first mountain bike can feel like trying to learn multiple new languages while desperately trying to avoid spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on a hobby you’re not sure you’ll love. A hardtail mountain bike (front-suspension only) is the best option for most new riders. Still, riders who know they’ll rapidly develop or be riding really rough trails can benefit from starting on a full-suspension bike.

Thanks for spending some time with the Curated Expert team as we shared our most recommended beginner mountain bikes. I hope you’ve enjoyed finding a few hidden gems from smaller brands and traditional major industry players. I’m confident that one of these bikes will be a great choice for a first, or first in a while, mountain bike.

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