Picking mountain bikes for beginners needn't be difficult or confusing. Read our easy to follow need-to-know guide to avoid pitfalls and get the right MTB.
How to choose the best mountain bikes for beginners. From budget advice through to must-have features and specific bike model recommendations, this guide will really help you draw up a shortlist of trail-worthy mountain bikes.
Current best mountain bikes for beginners
- Pinnacle Kapur 2, £515.00 hardtail
- Voodoo Bizango, £675.00 hardtail
- Nukeproof Scout 275 Sport, £1299.99 hardtail
- Marin Rift Zone 29 1, £1565.00 full-suspension
- Whyte T-140 S V1, £2800 full-suspension
- Nukeproof Reactor 290 Comp Alloy, £2999.99 full-suspension
NB: you don’t necessarily have to get the exact version of the bike listed above; usually the more expensive model above or less expensive model below is equally worth considering.
‘View Deal’ links
You will notice that beneath each bike summary is a ‘View Deal’ link. If you click on one of these links then mbr may receive a small amount of money from the retailer should you go to purchase the product from them. Don’t worry, this does not affect the amount you pay.
How much should you spend?
We’re not going to come out with a specific price point that you should be aiming for if you’re just starting out in mountain biking. People are different. Some people will want to spend as little as possible. Other folks will want to less money-mindful and will just want to dive straight in and splash the cash. Then there’ll be the mid-range folk who don’t want to skimp but also don’t want to be wasting their hard-earned on OTT MTBs.
All we would say is that you should be spending at least £400. And be aware that the law of diminishing returns with mountain bike price tags kicks in at around £2500 mark. In other words, bikes do get better and/or lighter if you spend more than £2.5k but the leaps in progress get smaller and smaller the more money you throw it at. You really are get very little more for your money when you enter the realm of bikes costing more than £3k.
Hardtail or full-suspension
It’s often not fashionable to talk about weight and efficiency in mountain bike circles. But they both matter. A lot. Hefty and soggy bikes definitely have their place for experienced riders riding certain types of terrain. But far too many people never get to grips with mountain biking purely because they start out on heavy or inefficient bikes.
Riding mountain bikes uphill off-road is flipping hard work, regardless of what bike you’re on. Don’t make it any worse than it has to be by buying a low-end full-suspension bike. Sure you can get impressive full suspension bikes for a little over £1k these days but they are still significantly heavier than similar priced hardtails.
The other aspect of full suspension bikes is that they absolutely require knowledge and – more importantly – the will to spend time setting them up properly. You can’t just buy a full suspension bike and hit the trails. They require setting up for your weight, your riding style and your terrain. And they require numerous rides to perfect the set-up.
With full-suspension you are buying into greater performance and capability certainly, but you are also committing yourself into considerable set-up sessions as well as more maintenance in general.
We still recommend that beginners go down the hardtail route unless their budget is more than £1500.
Size and geometry
Whatever budget you’re trying to stick to, there are two overriding concerns: frame size and geometry.
Frame size and geometry are related but they are two separate entities. Frame size denotes what height of person best fits it. Geometry denotes what sort of terrain and/or riding discipline the bike is best suited to.
Do not ever buy a bike that is the wrong size because it’s in the sale or a ‘bargain’. A poorly equipped bike that’s the correct size for you will be better than a well-specced bike that is too small or too large. We go into frame size recommendations in this guide.
A quick note about standover. Standover is essentially how low slung the bike’s top tube is (AKA cross bar). The more room you have to straddle your bike’s top tube will do wonders for your confidence when off-road. Having a too high top tube makes you scared of being to get off safely should the worst happen. Basically, look for a bike frame with a very sloping top tube. Avoid bikes that have top tubes that are near-parallel to the ground.
Types of mountain bike
Similarly, don’t be tempted into buying a bike that isn’t going to be best suited to the type of riding you actually will be doing on it. In other words, don’t buy a twitchy XC race bike (like the one pictured above) if you like steep, sketchy, technical trails. And don’t buy a burly long-travel enduro bike if your trails don’t have much in the way of gradient or technicality.
If in doubt go for a trail bike. What is a ‘trail bike’ you ask? It’s a typically woolly and vague description but we’d say a trail bike is any mountain bike with a suspension fork with 120mm to 150mm of travel. Geometry-wise, a trail bike should have a head angle no steeper than 66°.
After frame size and geometry, the second-level concerns are spec related. Namely, brakes and gears. You need hydraulic disc brakes and you need gears that aren’t too steep.
Hydraulic disc brakes are relatively easily identified but appropriate gearing can be hard to fathom from just looking at bike spec sheets. The best thing to look at is the cassette ie. the bunch of gear sprockets on the back wheel. The bigger the cassette is, the better. We wouldn’t like to head off-road with a cassette that didn’t have a largest sprocket of at least 42T. Mountain biking is difficult enough as it is without having to heave and strain tall gearing up climbs. To access truly large cassettes you probably need to be looking at bikes with 10-speed drivetrains or higher (11 or 12 speed).
First of all, wheel size does not matter as much as the hype would lead you to believe. It is certainly way less important than frame size and geometry. Wheel size is arguably less important than brakes and gearing in fact.
As MBR testers, we hop between 27.5in and 29in wheel bikes all the time and it’s fine. Arguably, 29ers suit more people best but, again, we’d rather ride a good 27.5in bike than a poor 29er.
Having said that, if you’re over 6ft tall, you might find 27.5in wheel bikes a bit too dinky (you feel a bit too much ‘on top’ of the bike rather than ‘in’ it). And if you’re nearer the 5ft mark, you’ll feel lost in between 29in wheels and you would have a better time on a 27.5 bike.
Is carbon worth it?
There’s nothing wrong with carbon but it certainly is not worth the price premium.
Carbon frames are a bit lighter than aluminium (or steel) frames but not by as much as you might think. How much weight do you save by spending, say, an extra £1000 to get the carbon frame version of a bike model? About 700g. Now then, 700g may be significant on a high end road bike (700g could be approx 10% of overall bike weight) but on MTB trail bikes that weigh 14kg+ it is much more marginal.
Best mountain bikes for beginners
Pinnacle Kapur, £435.00
“With progressive geometry and a top quality frame the Pinnacle Kapur 2 has a really nice feel to it – direct and efficient without any jarring. Lightweight triple-butted frame with great handling.” That’s what we had to say about the slightly better equipped Kapur 2, but while some of the parts are down-graded, the heart and soul remains, with great geometry and a confidence-inspiring riding position. Read the review of the Pinnacle Kapur 2
Voodoo Bizango, £675.00
“There is something magical about the ride quality of the Bizango though. It’s fast and direct when you drop the hammer, but the unique blend of aluminium tubing makes it forgiving too, resulting in a ride quality that it is not as jarring on rough technical terrain, so your body takes less of beating.” Read the review of the Voodoo Bizango
Nukeproof Scout 275 Sport, £999.99
“Quiet running, slack, versatile. Slack head angle and long wheelbase gives it stacks of stability when the going gets steep and rough. Nukeproof Scout really lives up to its name with the kind of versatility that would have Baden-Powell glowing with pride and contentedly stroking his woggle.” Read the review of the Nukeproof Scout 275 Sport
Marin Rift Zone 29 1, £1565.00
“One of the lightest entry level full suspension bikes we’ve tested. And even though it does have the longest reach measurement, thanks to the low BB height and balance geometry it offers great 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.” Read review of Marin Rift Zone
Whyte T-140 S V1, £2800
“Fast and direct, the latest Whyte T-140 is an amazing trail bike. It’s packed with cutting-edge tech too, like the super short offset fork and single-ring frame design. The T-140 uses every millimetre of its travel optimally. It never feels overly soft or too active under power, but hammer into a rough section of trail the red o-ring on the shock will indicate full travel, without a hint of a harsh bottom out.” Read review of the previous Whyte T-130
Nukeproof Reactor 290 Comp Alloy, £2999.99
“Our reaction to the Nukeproof Reactor has been overwhelmingly positive. It talks the talk too. Available with 27.5in or 29in wheels, with bespoke frame designs for each, there’s a Reactor of every style of trail rider. Want the thrill of raw speed? Then it’s the 29er every time. If, however, you want a capable trail bike that you can chuck around more readily, then the 27.5in Reactor should be your first choice. It’s also the first choice for shorter riders, as it’s the only option available in size small.” Read the review of the Nukeproof Reactor
Mail order or bike shop
If you truly are a beginner to mountain biking, then we’re going to nail our colours to the mast here and emphasize the added value of getting your first proper mountain bike from a real bricks-and-mortar bike shop. Bike shops give you knowledge and experience. Two vital things when starting out mountain biking and both worth their weight in gold. Not to mention the fact that in most instances you can sit astride a real bike and potentially even actually go for a test ride on a demo bike.
By all means enjoy the (considerable) money saving of a direct-sales mail-order bike when it comes to future bike purchases but you really need to be visiting a real-world bike shop for buying your first MTB.
Ask around for recommendations on which bike shops to visit. Ask any MTBing friends or family you have. Ask on social media for where the decent bike shops are. Good bike shops won’t let you walk out with the wrong bike. Good bike shops don’t want to fleece you. Good bike shops want you to come back to them again and again. Good bike shops want to have a relationship with their customers.