The best mountain bike for beginners will be different from rider to rider. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a mountain bike. This guide will go through everything you need to know before picking out your first mountain bike. It covers the differences between a hard tail and full suspension bike, how much travel is appropriate in the front fork, and we will even get into advanced features like dropper posts.
I will also give you my list of the 7 best mountain bikes for beginners.
Is A Hardtail Mountain Bike Good For Beginners?
Hardtail mountain bikes are excellent for beginners, and they are a lot of fun for advanced riders too. Hardtail mountain bikes are playful and fun on the trails. With no rear suspension a hardtail weighs less than full suspension bikes. This makes them great on flowy terrain.
Hardtail mountain bikes are capable of getting through some crazy trails, but when things get chunky a full suspension bike is the way to go. Suspension in the front and rear adds a level of control that allows you to go faster and ride more aggressively. Developing your skills on a bike at lower speeds and on safer trails will give you added confidence when you upgrade to your first full suspension bike.
How Much Should Your First Mountain Bike Cost?
Cost is relative to who is paying for the bike. I’ve seen bike racks with $10,000 worth of bikes on them, and others where I am certain the bike rack costs more than the bikes. (Read: Kuat NV 2.0 Review if you are looking for a new bike rack.) In both those scenarios the bike owners have some awesome adventures with their bikes. Spend what you can comfortably afford for a hobby that may not interest you for long.
For those that know mountain biking is in their blood, a good price point for a beginner mountain bike is probably around $1,000. Anything less than that and you are getting a bike that will quickly need to be replaced or upgraded, unless you are looking at used bikes.
When you spend more than $1,000 on your first bike, your skills aren’t good enough to know what you paid for. For example, had I never used caliper brakes, I wouldn’t have known how great disc brakes are. What I am saying is this, you will appreciate the features of your bike more if yo upgrade your bike as your skills progress.
7 Best Mountain Bikes For Beginners
This list includes only hardtail mountain bikes. As stated above, beginners should learn to use the features of their bike as they upgrade. Besides, there probably aren’t many beginners willing to spend more than $1,500 on their first mountain bike, so every bike on this list is below that price. If you think I missed a bike worthy of making this list let me know in the comments.
- Trek Roscoe 6 – For a more in depth review of the Roscoe lineup, read this 2022 Trek Roscoe 6 Review. To briefly summarize, the Roscoe 6 has 120mm of travel with 27.5 x 2.8 inch tires. It includes a dropper post and 1×10 drivetrain. All that with a price tag of $1,379 makes it easy to see why this is the number one best beginner mountain bike.
- Specialized Rockhopper Elite – Coming in at $1,100 the Rockhopper Elite is loaded with awesome parts and features. It comes with Shimano Center Lock disc brakes, Deore groupset, and a RockShox Judy SoloAir front fork. The only thing keeping it in the number two spot below the Roscoe is the lack of a dropper post.
- Diamondback Hatch 3 – For $775 the Hatch 3 is a quality hardtail. The Shimano Tourney groupset is much better than it’s reputation among MTB snobs. This bike comes with a 100mm travel SR Suntour front fork and hydraulic disc brakes. Its everything you need, at a great price, to develop your mountain biking skills.
- Co-op DRT 1.1 – The Co-op DRT 1.2 is the best value mountain bike on this list. The price tag is $999, considerably higher than the 1.1 little brother model, but spec’d with excellent features. You get the SR Suntour XCR dual piston suspension fork with 120mm of travel. Also included are tubeless ready wheels, Shimano Alivio and Altus derailleurs, and Trail Boss tires. Tire sizes vary by frame size. Frames sized XS – M come with 27.5 inch tires, while the L and XL sizes have 29 inch tires.
- Cannondale Trail SE 3 – Coming in at the maximum possible price point ($1,499) the SE 3 is incredibly well equipped. This bike includes a RockShox Judy Silver TK 120mm fork, and a 1×11 drivetrain with Shimano Deore groupset. If that isn’t enough, you also get a TransX dropper seatpost.
- Giant Talon 1 – You can’t have a list of the best beginner mountain bikes without mentioning the brand, Giant. One of the largest bike manufacturers in the world, by revenue, Giant knows what it is doing. The Talon 1 gets you a Shimano Deore groupset, and a RockShox Judy front fork with 100mm of travel. (80mm of travel for XS and S frame sizes.)
- Trek Marlin 8 – The Marlin lineup includes a 6 and 7 model too. They are great beginner mountain bikes, but the best value is on the Marlin 8. I started on a Marlin 6, but the Marlin 8 is much better making it well worth the upgrade costs. The Marlin 8 comes with an air fork, more range, and better componentry than the 6 and 7.