Jumping into the purchase of a mountain bike is an investment. Not only does it require a lump sum of cash to enter the hobby at all, it also designates what sort of an experience you may have with your cycle outings. A cheap store-model brand bike may save you money but there's nothing particularly fun about winding up stranded on a trail when the brakes fail or a rim bends unexpectedly. In this case, knowing what you're buying can make a world of difference.
Don’t Spend a Fortune on Your First Mountain Bike
That's not to say you have to throw thousands of dollars at a starter bike, however, and you'd be better off not going that far to begin with. Beginners to the world of biking may find it isn't for them or that they just aren't made to handle off-road terrain and there's nothing wrong with that. If road cycling is your thing, go for it! There is a wide range of inexpensive and high-quality road bikes to choose from. It doesn’t help if you dropped thousands on a specialized mountain bike that doesn't make your morning commute any easier.
Approach your first bike carefully and with realistic goals in mind. You want to learn healthy habits and test out a hobby without spending too much time fixing a cheap bike or without blowing all of your nest egg on a weekend's entertainment. Fantastic bikes may have noticeable differences from cheap ones to an experienced rider, but you probably won't notice any massive differences between a hand-stitched lightweight saddle and a plastic one when you're still trying to figure out how to balance properly.
With that in mind, your first mountain bike is probably going to wind up being a hard-tail cycle under a thousand dollars. With a little luck you might even score something quite nice for under $500, but you may have to give up certain features for others at that point. When choosing the best mountain bike under 500 you need to make sure that it’s durable and comfortable before anything else.
The cheapest of cheap bikes will offer no frills in suspension or brakes, but a bike you spend a little more money on might offer disc brakes not unlike a car's or properly shock-absorbing front fork suspension.
The most important goal to aim for is a bike that is comfortable and fun to ride. If it's not enjoyable, you probably won't stick with the hobby and that's hardly to blame on you. Here are some solid entry-level options that won't bleed you dry but still might introduce you to a love for the sport.
Diamondback is a fairly big-name brand and the Hook is a hard-tail offering for beginners that can even take on courses with bumps and jumps alike. With a lightweight frame, mechanical disc brakes and a price point that sits snugly beneath $700, shelling out for a Hook is a wise first investment for bikers who have a little experience on the trail and want something they won't mind riding several years down the line.
At a solid middle ground is the Giant ATX 27.5, boasting proper suspension, disc brakes and components several steps ahead of what you might expect to get out of a bike below $500. That's the best part, considering it's barely $100 over the third entry in this list, which strips away much of the bells and whistles of a nicer bike to offer a solid entry-level price.
Given the choice, going with something that won't batter you black and blue is the wiser choice for those who would rather work out without hurting in places they'd rather not.
The good news: At under $400, the G29 SS is a solid first choice if budget consciousness is your prime motivating factor in what bike you end up with. It's entirely trail-worthy and will stand up to any trail a beginner could hope to tackle without skipping a beat.
The bad news: The G29 SS is not a bike with any frills. It's a single-gear bike with no suspension and its price point reflects that. Starting off with a bike that requires the rider to adapt to the shock and tear of a trail can be a good wake-up call, but some might find that off-putting and for good reason. You'll be a much stronger rider having tried something that uses your personal strength for a suspension system, but you'll probably wake up sore more often than you'd like, too.
In the end, the mountain bike you choose is less important than the act of sticking with mountain biking as a whole. Find something you enjoy riding at a price you don't mind paying, either in maintenance time or physical cash, and see what the world of cycling is like as you crest hills and mountaintops alike.