Budget Ballers: entry-level suspension bikes
The sole purpose of the best cheap full suspension bikes is to provide the highest-performance bikes at the most competitive prices.
Best cheap full suspension bikes in 2020
Here are what we rate as the current best cheap mountain bikes. Read below for links to full reviews.
- Calibre Bossnut, £1,100
- Vitus Mythique 27 VR, £1,249
- Jamis Dakar A2, £1,100
- Boardman MTR 8.8, £1,200
- Merida One-Twenty 400, £1,500
- Giant Stance 2, £1,399
- Marin Rift Zone, £1,350
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Best cheap full suspension bikes: £1000 to £1500
In many ways it’s at the entry-level that design is truly cutting-edge, the constraints of tighter budgets making every component choice that much more critical to ride quality.
We’re taking a closer look at full suspension bikes that don’t cost the earth, but still promise the world: Calibre Bossnut, Vitus Mythique 27 VR, Jamis Dakar A2, Boardman MTR 8.8, Merida One-Twenty 400, Giant Stance 2 and Marin Rift Zone 1.
Prices range from £1,100 for the Calibre and Jamis up to £1,500 for the Merida.
Selling direct keeps costs down; whether that’s through high street multiples, in the case of retail-specific brands like Calibre and Jamis, or by shipping direct to your door, as Vitus does. But it is no coincidence that there aren’t any proper full-suspension mountain bikes under £1k.
It’s not by chance either, that most of the best cheap full suspension bikes come with 27.5in wheels. Not only are they lighter and stronger; because the fork can be shorter for a given amount of travel, they are also stiffer, so handling can be improved without having to fit a more expensive suspension fork. It’s primarily why we chose the 27.5in version the Vitus Mythique, even though there’s also a 29in option for the exact same money.
We have seven of the best cheap full suspension bikes that are evenly matched and that won’t break the bank. But which one delivers the best bang for your buck?
Calibre Bossnut, £1,100
- Highs: Still the best budget-baller
- Lows: The price has gone up by £100
Sky Ineos would be proud of Calibre’s ability to aggregate marginal gains. So even though subtle changes to the sizing, geometry, shock tune and specification aren’t anything like as obvious as the band new look, taken together they all add up to appreciable benefits. And given how good the previous Bossnut was, we were shocked by how far Calibre has moved things forward again. If you want a quality full suspension bike that’s fast, fun and ridiculously good value, the Calibre Bossnut should be your first choice. It’s certainly ours.
MBR rating: 10/10
Vitus Mythique 27 VR, £1,249
- Highs: Cutting-edge sizing and geometry
- Lows: Needs a better shock tune and a dropper post
Vitus has done an amazing job on the Mythique 27 VR frame. Not only does it look the business, the sizing and geometry wouldn’t look out of place on a bike costing three times the price. That goes for the top-end Schwalbe tyres too. Obviously the 10-speed drivetrain raises a red flag, but in practice the weight saving and durability help offset the slight reduction in gear range. And while Vitus should be commended for thinking outside the box when it comes to suspension components, the X-Fusion rear shock doesn’t deliver the same ride quality from the 130mm suspension as the RockShox equipped Mythique VRX or Calibre Bossut.
MBR rating: 9/10
Jamis Dakar A2, £1,250
- Highs: Great geometry, sizing and finish
- Lows: Needs better suspension and tyres
With the latest Dakar A2, it’s as if Jamis has taken one step forward and two steps back. Sure the 15mm dropouts on the Suntour XCR fork boost stiffness, but the fork’s distinct lack of small bump sensitivity compared to the RockShox unit it replaces makes for an altogether more jarring ride. Taken with the 10 per cent price hike, with no real movement on easy fixes like better tyres and a softer shock tune, two changes that would instantly unlock the frame’s underlying potential, it’s easy to see why the Dakar A2 slips back in the overall ratings.
MBR rating: 7/10
Boardman MTR 8.8, £1,250
- Highs: Good fit and geometry
- Lows: Lacklustre rear suspension
We had high hopes for the latest Boardman full suspension bike, but it didn’t quite deliver. The geometry and sizing are both on the money and it looks stunning, but a rear suspension on the MTR 8.8 felt stodgy and congested, robbing the bike of grip, pop and control. It also came up short on its claimed travel, 131mm instead of the advertised 140mm. With a different shock tune and better tyres we’re confident that the Boardman would have shown the hardtails who’s boss. It really was a missed opportunity though, and because Boardman runs a two-year product cycle it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
MBR rating: 8/10
Merida One-Twenty 400, £1,500
- Highs: Solid and fast
- Lows: Needs a dropper post and better tyres
We were seriously impressed by the overall pace of the entry-level Merida One-Twenty 400, and with a couple of simple changes to the specification is could be a total trail blazer. The rapid initial gains would come from a smaller 30t chaining to keep your legs spinning on the ups, and better tyres to keep the One-Twenty on the fasted lines going downhill. Given the restricted range of saddle height adjustment it also needs a dropper post, which ups the initial layout further, leaving us no choice but to mark the Merida down a point in the ratings on value alone.
MBR rating: 8/10
Giant Stance 2, £1,449
- Highs: Fun, fast and efficient
- Lows: Chain rattle is deafening
When we tested the Stance 2 back in 2016 we said that all it needed was a burlier fork, shorter stem and a much, much wider bar; and Giant could definitely be back in the mix. Well, Giant has certainly delivered. In fact, it has over delivered. With the wide 2.35in Maxxis tyres, QR Boost rear end and revised geometry the latest Stance is a completely different proposition. Yes, it’s still light and efficient, so it covers ground effortlessly, but the new version will have you smashing every turn, boosting jumps and buzzing with adrenalin, rather than simply beating your riding buddies up the climbs.
MBR rating: 9/10
Marin Rift Zone 1
Marin Rift Zone 1, £1,445
- Highs: Great riding position and handling
- Lows: Needs a shock to match its attitude
Being the cheapest bike in this test the Marin Rift Zone 1 was always going to be the underdog, but at every step of way it proved its worth. At the weigh-in it turned out to be one of the lightest entry level full suspension bikes we’ve tested. And even though it does have one of the longest reach measurement, thanks to the low BB height and balance geometry it offered by far the best fit, making it agile, fast and very capable. There’s nothing quirky about the Marin that you need to ride around, it’s just a solid, well-designed bike with great handling.
MBR rating: 9/10
Best cheap full suspension bikes: conclusion
Before we go any further, we should make it clear that we appreciate how difficult it is to make the best cheap full suspension bikes when restrained by price. Most brands take the easy option, by avoiding it all together. It’s why choice is so limited in the entry-level suspension arena.
Even though some bikes here fall short of the current competition, we know that with a few tweaks to the frame geometry and better decisions with respect to key components, they can be transformed into a great bikes.
One bike that needs no geometry hacks is the Vitus Mythique 27 VR – its sizing is the most progressive in test. It also has the most modern 148x12mm rear hub standard, which means the Mythique frame forms a solid foundation for future upgrades. And while nothing needs changing straight away, not being able to drop the saddle height by more than a few inches really held the Vitus back. Sure, upgrading to a dropper is easy enough, but with the Mythique already being the most expensive bike on test, that didn’t do it any favours in the final ratings. We’d also like to see a lighter, more responsive shock tune. Or, better still, the RockShox Monarch R that impressed us on the £1,599 Mythique VRX.
That just leaves one bike, the latest Calibre Bossnut. And what a bike it is. Calibre has built on the strengths of the original budget baller while improving fundamentals like size and fit. The longer frame proportions and improved standover clearance making the bike more comfortable on big days out while simultaneously easier to chuck around when you get to the fun stuff.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Calibre has also tweaked the geometry and suspension while giving the Bossnut frame a modern makeover. It’s a bike of the times for the times and so much more. Not only is it best in class, the Calibre Bossnut is still the tide that raises all boats in the entry-level suspension category, because now everyone else will have to up their game again.
Calibre Triple B, £1,499
With the Calibre Triple B, Calibre has taken the Bossnut platform and spiced it up by sprinkling in some key upgrades. The extra £400 gets you a 125mm KS Rage-i stealth dropper post, 10mm more travel from the RockShox Sektor fork, more powerful SRAM Guide RE brakes, and the higher volume 2.4in WTB Trail Boss rear tyre. All in, it’s a killer package.
Calibre Sentry, £2,000
If you want more suspension muscle than the test winning Bossnut, then the 150mm travel Calibre Sentry with 29in wheels and cutting-edge geometry is guaranteed to take your riding to the next level. Worried about keeping this monster truck under control? Don’t be, powerful SRAM Guide four-piston brakes and thicker casing tyres will help keep your speed in check.
5 Tips to optimise your suspension bike
You want good support from the fork when descending, so get in the attack position to set the sag. 15-25 per cent travel is ideal.
Measure shock sag (25-35 per cent travel) when seated, because you’ll spend the majority of your time in the saddle pedalling.
Heavier riders need higher tyre pressures. Wider tyres allow you to run lower pressures. Shoot for 2psi more in the rear tyre to reduce pinch flats.
To maximise stopping power, slide your brake levers inboard until your index fingers line up with the ends of the lever blades.
Once you set your preferred saddle height, slide the saddle forward on the head for the seat post so the nose is inline with the BB.