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How to Choose a Mountain Bike on a Budget: Complete Guide
  • Author: Erika Oblepias

  • Date Posted:22 March 2024

Summer's over, but the fun doesn't have to stop. Autumn is here with crisp air, landscapes that look straight out of a nature documentary, and trails so epic they deserve their own theme song. ️ 

The temperature is perfect and there's also way less traffic to dodge. Sound like your kind of adventure? It should be.

Basically, it’s the perfect excuse to grab a mountain bike and shred those trails without all the summer crowd. 

This guide will help you find the perfect (and affordable) bike to conquer those fall adventures. Read on for useful tips on how to choose a mountain bike.  

Need for speed vs. rocky roads – 4 types of mountain bikes

Each type of mountain bike has its own features, use, pros, and cons. So before you jump in and grab the first shiny bike you see, let's break it down and pick the one that fits your needs.

1. Cross-country (XC) bikes

A cross-country mountain bike rider in the woods, showing the lightweight design important for how to choose a mountain bike for racing

Cross-country bikes are built for speed. They're lightweight and agile, making them perfect for both uphill climbs and downhill blasts. Think easily zipping through long trails – that’s what these bikes are about.

If you're on a budget, find one with a sturdy aluminium frame that's light and efficient. Remember, the key is keeping it light. You can always upgrade the gears and other components later on. 

XC bikes are simple and less expensive to maintain compared to other types. However, always check the brake pads, tyre pressure, and chain lubricant before you hit the trails. You don’t want a flat tyre or sketchy brakes in the middle of nowhere, right?

2. All-mountain (AM) bikes

A rider on an all-mountain bike, demonstrating features to consider when learning how to choose a mountain bike for varied terrain

Dreaming of conquering new, rugged terrains? All-mountain bikes can get you through. They’re the ultimate explorers of the mountain bike world.

AM bikes are perfectly balanced and stable, so they can handle anything from steep climbs to rough downhill sections. From rocky trails, dirt jumps, and even some paved roads – these bikes can handle them. 

If you're new to mountain biking, an all-mountain bike is also a great way to get started. They offer a good balance of performance and comfort, so you can learn the ropes without feeling overwhelmed.

When choosing an AM bike, prioritise the brake and suspension quality. They affect your comfort and safety in different terrains. It’s tempting to go all-out on fancy components, but you can always upgrade later. Just find the sweet spot between price and performance for now. 

For maintenance, always check the suspension and brakes, especially if you’ve been riding on rough terrains. And for your safety, don't skip those regular bike service appointments. 

3. Downhill (DH) bikes

A downhill biker on a steep trail, highlighting the sturdy build of mountain bikes, crucial for how to choose a mountain bike for downhill riding

Are you a thrill seeker who lives for speed? Downhill bikes are built for shredding trails with maximum speed and control. 

DH bikes have heavy-duty frames and tons of suspension – perfect for soaking up jumps, drops, or rocky sections. Heads up though: they are more on the expensive side. They have a lot of components and gears, so they come with higher price tags. 

If you're on a budget, focus on finding a DH bike with a solid frame and a good suspension system. And don't forget to check out the used market. Sometimes you can find a sweet deal on a pre-loved bike. Just make sure to check it carefully and take it for a spin before handing over your cash. 

4. Foldable mountain bikes

A foldable mountain bike, combining convenience and off-road capability, useful for understanding how to choose a mountain bike that's easy to transport

Do you live in a tiny apartment but crave big adventures? Enter the foldable mountain bike – the ultimate space-saver of the bike world.

Foldable mountain bikes are portable, lightweight, and durable. You can fold them up and stash them away in your garage or even your car trunk.

When looking for foldable mountain bikes, make sure the folding mechanism is smooth and easy to use. You don't want to spend half your time fumbling with a complicated system.  Also, check the overall build quality – you still want a bike that's durable and can handle any ride. 

Remember, even though they fold up small, foldable mountain bikes still need some TLC, especially the folding mechanism. It needs regular lubrication every now and then to keep things moving smoothly. But don't go overboard – too much lube just attracts dirt like a magnet, and cleaning it up becomes a nightmare.

Also, be careful when folding and unfolding your mountain bike to avoid bending or breaking the locking mechanism. If you can spare a few bucks, a protective cover on the mechanism would be a good buy. 

Beyond the frame – must-have features to look for

Now, let's talk about features. These are the things that'll make your fall adventures epic (and keep you comfy on the trails).

Frame material

Most budget mountain bikes come with bodies made out of aluminium. It’s a workhorse material that is strong and light. Aluminium bikes are also perfect if you're just starting out and don't want to drop a tonne of cash right away. 

There are also mountain bikes made from carbon fibre. But here's the deal: carbon fibre comes with a steeper price tag. 

So, unless you're a seasoned rider or have money to burn, stick with the aluminium – it's a solid choice that’ll do the job. 


Suspension is basically the shock absorber of your mountain bike, keeping you comfy and in control on those bumpy trails. 

There are 2 types: 

  • Hardtail – Think of this as the "no-frills" option. Suspension in the front not only keeps things smooth on easier trails, but it's easier on your wallet and easier to maintain. Hardtail mountain bikes are ideal if you're riding mostly smooth terrain.
  • Full Suspension – These full suspension bikes have shocks both at the front and back. Of course, that extra tech comes with a bigger price tag. But, if your priority is control and comfort on rough terrain, go for full-suspension bikes.

So, which one's right for you? It all comes down to where you plan to ride. Mostly smooth trails? Hardtail might be just fine. Craving some serious adventure? Full suspension might be your best bet.

Wheel size

Here's the lowdown: mountain bike wheels come in different sizes, each with its own pros and cons. Think of it like picking the right shoes for your rides. 

  • 29" wheels roll over obstacles while maintaining better momentum 
  • 27.5" wheels offer more agility and quicker acceleration
  • 26" wheels are light and swift, making them perfect for tight trails (they’re rare but you might still find them on some budget-friendly mountain bikes)

Think about your riding style and the terrain you'll be tackling. Just remember, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. It's all about finding what feels best for you.


A mountain bike can have 1 to more than 30 gears. But remember, more gears don't always equal a better bike. (Just like that time you bought that jacket with 20 pockets and never used half of them, right?)

A red and black mountain bike, showcasing the style and function one should look for in how to choose a mountain bike for off-road use

The number of gears depends on where you'll be riding.

Going through steep hills? You'll need those extra gears. For flat terrains, you won’t need a lot. Remember though: more gears also mean a bit more maintenance and a slightly heavier bike. So pick the setup that best suits your riding style and the terrain you'll be conquering. 


When it comes to stopping power, you don't want to mess around. Mountain bikes come with two main braking systems.  

Let's break them down: 

  • Disc brakes are consistent and powerful, and they work in all weather conditions (rain, mud, no problem). Plus, disc brakes require less muscle power when braking, making them ideal for long rides. They come in two types: mechanical or hydraulic.
  • Rim brakes are the old-school stoppers. They're easier on the wallet, but that's about it. Rim brakes can be finicky in wet or muddy conditions, and they require more muscle power to get the bike to a full stop.

Your comfort

Comfort is king when it comes to mountain biking.

Here's the deal:  Your bike should feel like an extension of your body, not a medieval torture device. You won’t have a good time if it feels like you're mounting a wild horse every time you use it.

So, test different sizes and adjust the seat and handlebars until you find the perfect fit. Take a few bikes for a spin and see which one feels most comfortable. Remember, a good fit will make your rides way more enjoyable (and prevent any potential aches and pains later). 

Get out there and get riding 

Feeling overwhelmed by all the different mountain bikes out there? Don't sweat it. There are plenty of options in the market. They come in different sizes, types, features, and prices – so take your time and browse around. 

Here's the key: when making your choice, think about your comfort level, where you plan to ride, and of course, your budget. 

Remember, a tight budget doesn't have to hold you back. There are plenty of amazing bikes out there that won't break the bank. 

The most important thing is to have fun and explore. So grab your helmet, find some friends (or just crank your favourite tunes), and hit the trails.

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