(Last updated on March 28th, 2023)
These days, cycling is more popular than ever, and people are flocking to mountain biking as a recreational and fitness activity. There are plenty of options out on the market, but this guide is here to help you make sense of what bike is best for you. Take a look at the 9 best mountain bikes of 2023 for beginners.
- What Are Mountain Bikes
- What Makes a Good Beginner Bike
- How I Judged These Bikes to Be the Best
- Beginner Bike Comparison Table
- Size Chart for Mountain Bikes
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Mountain Bikes
Mountain bikes are specifically designed to handle rough terrain and intense riding conditions such as steep hills, jumps, and bumpy descents. Compared to other models, mountain bikes typically have wider tires, more upright frame geometry, and heavier-duty brakes. Other MTBs also include suspension systems and 1x groupset to change gears.
What Makes a Good Beginner Bike
As you’re developing your mountain bike skills, it’s important to start out with the right equipment. Quality beginner mountain bikes are typically more stable, affordable, and have straightforward components so you can focus on riding.
For me, the most crucial elements of a good beginner bike are durable componentry and affordability. Expert level models are too much bike for riders just starting who won’t utilize the extra features. Poor quality budget bikes can be unsafe as riders develop their skills and progress to more gnarly terrain and jumps.
The market for beginner MTBs is huge, so there are plenty of quality bikes out there hidden among the glut of not-so-great options. This round-up does the hard work of research and product comparison, so you don’t have to!
Novice MTBers don’t require the luxury shifting and long-travel suspension that professional riders need to tackle more intense terrain. A hardtail, a bike with front suspension but no rear shock, is the best choice for your first mountain bike, saving on weight and costs. That said, we’ve included a couple of full-suspension models in this list for the more ambitious beginners out there.
How I Judged These Bikes to Be the Best
While formulating this round-up, I considered all the potential options. After analyzing their manufacturer specs, user reviews, and expert opinions, I have combined them with my experience. It helped me choose bikes that are a worthwhile investment and perfect for developing your MTB skills.
My criteria for the best mountain bikes for beginners prioritized durability, value, and performance. Almost every bike manufacturer offers an affordable MTB option, so plenty of quality bikes are available. I gave each model an overall rating and scored them according to the following criteria:
All bikes come equipped with either 27.5” or 29” wheels for better handling, a step up from the old 26” wheel standard.
Reliable groupsets and quality components are a must. Entry levels should be able to take a beating and perform well for years to come.
In beginner categories, bang-for-buck is one of the most important parts of purchasing a new bike. Most of the bikes on this list are priced under $1,000, except for the two full-suspension models.
Beginner Bike Comparison Table
Here are the best bikes that make it to the list with their great features and specifications:
|Model||MTB Type||Wheel size||Price||Where to buy?||Rear suspension?||1x Drivechain?||Hydraulic brakes?|
|Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1||Hardtail||27.5”||$599||Check price||x|
|Rocky Mountain Fusion||Hardtail XC/Trail||29”||$1,150||Check price||x|
|Cannondale Trail SE 4||Hardtail XC/Trail||29”||$919.95||Check price||x||x|
|Giant Talon 29 2||Hardtail||27.5” or 29”||$674.95||Check price||x||x|
|BMC Blast 27||Hardtail||27”||$799||Check price||x||x|
|Marin Rift Zone 1||Full-suspension||29”||$1,518.94||Check price||x||x||x|
|Trek Marlin 4 29||Hardtail||27.5” or 29”||$599||Check price|
|Marin Bolinas Ridge 1||Hardtail||27.5” or 29”||$528.94||Check price|
|Giant Stance 29 2||Full-suspension||29”||$1,619.95||Check price||x||x||x|
Related: Best Mountain Bike Brands 2023
Top 9 Mountain Bikes for Beginners
1. Co-op Cycles DRT 1.1
- Tektro hydraulic brakes
- Solid front fork for the price
- Triple chainring design is outdated
Built by REI’s in-house bike brand Co-op Cycles, the well-known DRT 1.1 is the most affordable model in the range, ideal for MTB newcomers. With REIs all over the country and a solid presence online, it’s easy to take it for a test ride or order it on the web, even with the current bike shortage.Formerly known as Novara, the Co-op brand underwent an overhaul in 2016 and added additional bikes to the DRT lineup. For example, if you’re on a looser budget, check out the Co-op DRT 1.2 model, which has some better features and is a good value as well, priced at $999.
Like many hardtails on this list, the DRT 1.1 features a SR Suntour suspension fork with 100mm of travel. Rather than a fancier 1x system, Co-op keeps the bike affordable with a 3×7 Shimano Tourney drive chain that’s fine enough on the trails. A surprisingly luxurious touch for an entry-level bike, the DRT 1.1 comes equipped with Tektro hydraulic disc brakes rather than cheaper mechanical ones.
With the recent surge in bike prices over the past few years, Co-op Cycles offers a quality set of wheels for an excellent price. An added bonus is that they’re readily available for a test ride since REI stores are all across the country. Head in and talk to the knowledgeable staff to get the inside scoop on the DRT 1.1 and 1.2’s specs! If you live near an REI or just want a great value on your next mountain bike, the DRT 1.1 is a smart choice for enjoying light trails and off-road routes.
2. Rocky Mountain Fusion 40
- Lightweight advanced aluminum frame
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- Low-tier groupset
- Suntour fork could be improved
The Fusion 40 is Rocky Mountain’s flagship entry-level mountain bike that’s ready to hit the trails. This model sits in the middle of the price range and comes with componentry appropriate for the price, but nothing that screams high-tech. At its heart, the Fusion 40 is an aluminum hardtail cross-country bike with 100mm of front suspension and 29” wheels.
The quality frame is probably the best part of the bike. This is paired with RockShox’s Judy forks and an excellent SRAM 12-speed groupset. Riders can take advantage of the SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed gearing that hooks up to a 11/50t cassette for a 455% gear range that’ll get you up and down any route.
At a competitive price of $1150, the hydraulic disc brakes and reliable componentry make it a worthwhile purchase for beginner mountain bikers. The bike opts for Clarks M2 hydraulic brakes instead of brakes from bigger name manufacturers like Shimano or Tektro but I’m okay with that choice to keep the price down while still delivering high performance.
The front fork is a RockShox Judy Silver Fast Black TK Air Fork that’s head and shoulders above the ubiquitous Suntour fork installed on many other entry-level mountain bikes. This high-quality fork is responsive and can handle fast or rough sections, letting you ride bigger trails as you develop your skills.
The 29” wheels boast tubeless-ready rims for fewer flats and smoother ride. The green and black paint job isn’t so common but I’m a big fan along with the gold lettering that’ll fit in on forest trails. If you’re just starting out with MTB, this bike is a smart upgrade that performs great on light off-road terrain.
3. Cannondale Trail SE 4
- Shimano Deore drivetrain
- Well-designed, comfortable frame
- Front suspension settings aren’t easily adjustable
This entry-level mountain bike gives novice MTBers the confidence and right specs to handle moderate trails. Designed by the experts at Cannondale, the aluminum alloy frameset features dropped seat stays for a better ride feel. The tapered headtube and rear SAVE micro-suspension system are smart touches reminiscent of higher-end MTBs. The bike comes with internal cable routing, but I’ve seen reports that it’s prone to rattling.
I’m glad to see the 10-speed Shimano Deore groupset, which offers plenty of performance for beginners and will last a long time. Cannondale opted for Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, a step up from the mechanical option but typical of bikes with this price tag.
A common part among entry-level mountain bikes, there’s a SR Suntour XCR front fork that provides 120mm of travel. That amount of cushion is plenty for moderate trail use and absorbing bumps but I would like to see a higher quality piece of kit— similarly priced bikes such as the Rocky Mountain Fusion 40 has an impressive RockShox Judy fork. The suspension leaves a bit to be desired and lowers my rating slightly.
The Trail SE 4 has a slack head angle and moderate wheelbase, skewing the ride experience more towards stability than playfulness. More confident handling is a plus for beginner mountain bikers still developing their technical skills.
Many bikes at this price point come with smaller 27.5” wheels, but the Trail SE 4 has 29” hoops for extra performance when it comes to big obstacles out on the trails. This bike is ideal for MTB beginners who enjoy recreational paths or gravel roads and growing their skills on low-impact trails.
4. Giant Talon 29 2
- Quality ALUXX aluminum frame
- Choose between wheel sizes
- Tektro hydraulic brakes
- Low-tier groupset
Upgraded from the 2020 version of this bike, the Giant Talon 29 2 features a 1x drive chain and lightweight ALUXX aluminum frame to give a fancier feel at an affordable price. While it has 29 in the name, customers can choose between 27.5” wheels or 29” wheels, depending on their ride preferences. The smaller 27.5” hoops will feel more playful on technical terrain while 29” wheels roll better over big obstacles and are ideal for fast XC riding.
The Suntour XCT30 front fork offers 100mm of travel to soften bumps, and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes reliably stop the bike. As stated earlier, I’m not the biggest fan of the Suntour XC series of suspension forks, but it’s a smart way to provide sufficient performance and keep the Talon’s price one of the most affordable on this list.
For riders looking for an excellent deal, you can’t beat Giant’s behemoth manufacturing process that keeps much of their fabrication in-house and makes big deals with component brands like Shimano to push prices down. This hardtail XC bike is built for budget-conscious MTBers looking to take their off-road skills to the next level.
While still a lower-tier option, the 9-speed microSHIFT Advent groupset comes as a 1x system with a clutch for a bit of a performance boost. 9 gears is enough for tamer trails and singletrack but more developed riders might run out of gears on steeper gradients. If you’re looking for a first mountain bike to kickstart your journey, the Talon is a sure bet.
5. BMC Blast 27
- Shimano Deore groupset
- Great design and paint job
- Shimano hydraulic brakes
- Seatstay and top tube junction is a bit clunky
- Only available with 27.5” wheels
My favorite on this list, the BMC Blast 27 is a beginner hardtail XC bike that punches far above its weight (and price) class. This bike diverges from its rivals with its impressive 10-speed Shimano Deore groupset and flashy paint job. While this model doesn’t have larger 29” wheels, many riders prefer 27.5” hoops for their more agile handling on technical terrain.
Like the other bikes on this list, the Blast has a SunTour XCM front fork with 100mm of travel. It’s not a fork to write home about but will get the job done and, for a sub-$800 mountain bike, keeping the price competitive is important. I’m glad to see at least 10 gears on the 1x drivetrain and the 27.5” wheelset is a playful option.
In a nutshell, the BMC Blast is a 27.5” cross-country bike with upper mid-range components. Perhaps it’s because of the Swiss DNA of the BMC, but the bold design and color choice are perfect complements to the solid componentry. I especially enjoy the dropped seatstays and bright sky blue paint job that give this bike some extra spice.
The Shimano MT2000 hydraulic disc brakes are a slight step up from the common Tektro option in this category. The aluminum frame offers solid performance, although the extra material at the seatstay and top tube junction is a bit unappealing. If you’re set on purchasing a bike with 27.5” wheels, this is one of the best options to get you hitting the trails and riding in style.
6. Marin Rift Zone 1
- 11-speed Shimano Deore groupset
- Name brand suspension
- Awkward frame tube shapes
One of the two full-suspension options on this list, the Marin Rift Zone 1 is for amateurs that want to develop their skills so they can tackle technical terrain and steep slopes. There’s only so much a hardtail model can do without rear suspension, but the Rift Zone 1 brings serious MTB performance.
The 29” wheels and Shimano MT201 hydraulic disc brakes prepare the bike to handle tough conditions and gnarly trails. There are tubeless-ready rims so you upgrade your tire setup to reduce the amount of flats and boost traction on the trail. The Shimano brakes are a step above the other brakes installed on other bikes featured in this product roundup.
This bike shines with its RockShox Recon Silver front fork with 130mm of travel and X-Fusion O2 Pro R rear shock. This combination allows beginners to explore more serious terrain and test their skills. The Rift Zone 1 also features an 11-speed Shimano Deore, receiving my complete approval.
Another small detail that I appreciate is the rugged chainstay guard that protects the frame from chain slap. The rubberized accessory is more heavy-duty that many others and features an interesting wave pattern. Cables are internally routed and there are ISCG05 tabs in case you want to mount a chainring guard or chain guide.
To expert eyes, the frame design looks a bit dated, but the straightforward design helps keep costs down considering the full-suspension setup. If your wallet can handle it, this full-suspension MTB is a great value and an even better performer on intense trails.
7. Trek Marlin 4 29
- Choose between wheel sizes
- Rack mounts for commuting
- 3×7 outdated groupset
Tied for being the most affordable bike on this list, the 2023 Trek Marlin 4 is a smart and accessible way to get into mountain biking. For the price, it’s obvious that the Marlin 4 won’t come with all the bells and whistles, but it has quality parts that are perfect for beginner riders.
The bike comes with an SR Suntour XCE fork with 100mm travel, similar to other more expensive bikes on this list. Depending on their size and riding preferences, customers can choose between 27.5” and 29” wheels. The larger sizes, however, are only available with 29” wheels.
Trek shaves costs by outfitting the bike with a 3×7 Shimano Tourney groupset, which is a bit disappointing but does perform reliably. Modern mountain biking tech has progressed beyond triple chainrings several years ago— even for budget models— but many beginner riders won’t mind.
The Trek Marlin is a common sighting across campus, neighborhod trails, and bike paths because of its impressive versatility. It’s tough enough navigate dirt and gravel trails and peforms well on smoother surfaces around town. The bike is available in matte black, light teal, and blue.
If you want this bike to double as your commuter, there are internally routed cables for a sleek look and rack mounts. This bike is best suited for riders that care less about shiny componentry and more about great value. That said, for people who want a higher-end bike, feel free to check out the rest of the affordable Marlin range, priced up to $1,329.
8. Marin Bolinas Ridge 1
- 6061 aluminum frame
- Choose between wheel sizes
- Mechanical disc brakes
The third bike in this list at such an affordable price point, the Marin Bolinas Ridge is made for recreational riders looking for a solid MTB from a good brand. Equipped with this reliable entry-level mountain bike, beginner riders can explore singletrack and dirt trails with confidence.
The hardtail setup makes this bike easy on the wallet and capable on the trails, though the short-travel 100mm fork will limit the terrain you can visit. That said, most riders just starting out won’t have any complaints where they’re headed. If you’re looking for a full suspension mountain bike, check out the Rift Zone 1 from the same brand that’s ready for chunkier spots.
This bike has largely the same components as the Trek Marlin 4—a bike included in this list— and is also available in 27.5” and 29” wheel options. The Suntour 100mm fork and Shimano Tourney 3×7-speed groupset are the same, while the Series 1 6061 aluminum frame is a nicer touch than the Trek.
Marin keeps costs low by opting for mechanical disc brakes rather than hydraulic ones, a smart decision since recreational mountain bikers won’t be descending at high speeds. This model also has externally routed cables which isn’t as clean of a look as internally routes cables.
The tires are wide enough and especially knobby for plenty of traction on loose gravel or dirt. If you’re on a tight budget and looking for a dependable MTB to explore off-road routes, this bike is a sure bet.
9. Giant Stance 29 2
- Impressive 12-speed Shimano Deore groupset
- Wide and grippy Maxxis tires
- Shimano hydraulic brakes
- Could improve the rear shock here
As the second full-suspension option in this list, the Giant Stance 29 2 is a decked-out bike at a fair price. This Giant model is similar in performance to the Marin Rift Zone 1, but I like the frame design a lot more, and it squeezes another gear in with the 12-speed version of the Shimano Deore groupset.
The Stance 29 2 is manufactured by Giant and features a full suspension setup compared to the brand’s Talon 1 hardtail mountain bike that also made this list. Ambitious riders who want a machine that’s able to handle tough spots and rough trails will enjoy the extra travel provided by the plush rear shock. I’m also impressed by the inclusion of a dropper post— an accessory that advanced riders consider necessary and a piece of kit that can elevate your trail experience. The exact specifications are a remote-actuated Giant Contact Switch dropper post.
The large 29” wheels are matched with some serious Maxxis Forkaster 2.35” tires for plenty of grip on the steeper and more technical terrain that suits this bike. The proprietary Giant Crest front fork offers 130mm of travel, and the Suntour Raidon R provides 120mm of cushion, the same stats as the Rift Zone.
Ride confidently using the Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes for sufficient stopping power on long descents. If you’re willing to drop a little more cash, this full-suspension setup packs a big punch in a fairly priced package. From light to moderate terrain, this bike comes prepared to tackle it.
Size Chart for Mountain Bikes
Mountain bike frame geometry is different from hybrids, cruisers, and road models, so it’s crucial to study mountain bike-specific charts when determining the right size for you.
|Height (ft/in)||Height (cm)||Leg inseam (inches)||Leg inseam (cm)||Suggested Frame Size (in)||Suggested Wheel Size|
|4’10 – 5’3″||147-160cm||25 – 28″||62-70 cm||13 – 14″||26″|
|5’4 “- 5’7”||160 – 170cm||25 – 30″||63 – 76 cm||15 – 16″||26″|
|5’5″ – 5’9″||165 – 175cm||26 – 31″||66 – 78 cm||16 – 17″||27.5″|
|5’9″ – 6’0″||175 – 183cm||27 – 32″||68 – 81 cm||17 – 18″||27.5″|
|6’0″ – 6’3″||183 – 190cm||28 – 33″||71 – 83 cm||18 – 19″||29″|
|6’1″ – 6’6″||190 – 200cm||29 – 34″||73 – 86 cm||19″ +||29″|
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Frequently Asked Questions
Beginner mountain bikes should include front suspension, disc brakes, and wide gearing. They should be affordable but not cheaply built. Full suspension is a feature on fancier bikes, but it isn’t necessary when you are starting out. My overall favorite pick is the BMC Blast 27.
With so much competition among bike manufacturers, plenty of affordable, quality MTBs are on the market. You can purchase a good mountain bike for between $599 and $1,100. Of course, the value depends on what type of riding you’re looking to do. If you expect especially rough terrain or steep climbs, it’s worth spending some extra cash on getting higher quality components suited to those riding conditions.
Mountain biking is a great way to support your general fitness and mental health. Riding MTB is a full-body workout and can improve your hand-eye coordination and reaction time, especially as your speed increases. Steep climbs and descents require you to be present in the moment, allowing you to set your stress aside and enjoy being outdoors— and the adrenaline boost is just a bonus.
The best mountain bike for you depends on personal preferences and needs, but each of the MTBs in this round-up are worthwhile investments to start your mountain biking journey. My favorite of the list is the BMC Blast 27 because of it’s impressive groupset and the flashy paint job for the price.
You typically get what you pay for in the lower tier of mountain bikes. That said, there are plenty of affordable options equipped with impressive componentry packages and thoughtful design. If you are just starting out, I recommend spending at least $600 for a bike that will handle tougher terrain as your skills advance.
Mountain bikes are typically sized according to their frame size, measured in inches. When browsing online, you can refer to the manufacturer’s model-specific size chart for the most accurate recommendation. Scroll up to the mountain bike size chart included in this article for a more general idea.
More questions about the best beginner mountain bikes in 2023? Let us know!
Jeffrey Brown is a writer, editor, and professional bike mechanic with over 7 years of experience working in full-service and community-based bike shops. As a bicycle educator, he has supported youth programs across the US that teach bike mechanics and life skills to prepare the next generation of cyclists.
Jeffrey began his professional mechanic career at his university bike co-op, so he recognizes the grassroots power of the cycling community. Initially self-trained as a mechanic, his subsequent positions as manager and lead educator gave him official training. He has won various awards and grants for his role as a bicycle and environmental advocate.