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Cheap Mountain Bikes Buying Guide

Our research identified cheap mountain bikes that come with desirable features and solid performance evaluations. Topping our list of cheap mountain bikes is the Diamondback Adult Sorrento Mountain Bike 2013 (starting at $259.99), a favorite with users for its light weight and easy ride.

Higher up the Cheapism price ladder is another top pick, the Trek 3 Series 3500 Disc (starting at $399), which draws riders with its comfort and finesse on a variety of surfaces. A worthy option for female riders is the Schwinn Ridge AL Women's Mountain Bike (starting at $225), which users praise for the fit, handling, and smooth ride. The V2100 Dual-Suspension Bicycle (starting at $149) is another decent buy owing to its full-suspension frame and disc brakes, both rare in this price segment, although complaints about the pedals and seat are legion. One cheap mountain bike that doesn't meet expectations despite featuring dual suspension and a front-wheel disc brake is the Huffy DS-7 (starting at $129); riders aren't impressed with the build quality and a ride that seems to drag.

Pricing on mountain bikes covers a very wide range. At the Cheapism end of the market, mountain bikes go for $150 to $500. Experts warn against spending less than that, though, because at super-low prices the parts aren't likely to hold up or provide much riding comfort. Experts at Galttech say the best cheap mountain bikes come from Schwinn, Diamondback, and Mongoose. Huffy also produces budget models and some major retail chains carry proprietary brands. Trek bikes are a step up in performance and price, although several still qualify as cheap mountain bikes. The high end of the mountain bike market starts somewhere around $3,000 and extends all the way to $10,000 and more. Mountain Bike World notes that high-end models are more durable, lighter in weight, and deliver better performance with more speed options and stronger suspensions than lower-priced models. Here you'll find names such as Specialized, Cannondale, and Santa Cruz. These brands are generally found in specialty bike shops rather than in the big box stores that carry cheap mountain bikes.

Mountain bikes have been mass-produced since the 1980s and are intended to be ridden on unpaved terrain and mountain trails. Cheap mountain bikes, however, are really entry-level models that are suitable for less strenuous workouts; that is, light and well-maintained trails and paved (though not necessarily ice-smooth) surfaces. Mountain bikes of any price aren't designed to be fast, and their lack of speed is a trade-off for durability and a more comfortable riding position; riders sit higher and more upright on a mountain bike than on a road bike, which is often a better option for people with back problems.

If you're in the market for a budget choice, most bike shops won't have what you're looking for -- the Trek 3 Series 3500 Disc is one of the few cheap mountain bikes sold by smaller retailers. Most of our best cheap mountain bike picks are available at large national chains and online. Note that online shopping widens the selection considerably -- stores just don't have the floor space to stock and display all that many models. The downsides of an online purchase, however, are the possibility of shipping damage -- a complaint that sometimes surfaces in consumer reviews of cheap mountain bikes -- and the DIY assembly. Regardless where you buy the bike or whether you or the vendor put it together, experts recommend a professional tune-up; minor tweaks will likely be necessary before you're ready to hit the road or trail.

Most cheap mountain bikes come with the basics, including front-wheel suspension, a steel frame, 26-inch wheels, V-brakes, and 21 speeds. Some boast features such as dual suspension, a lightweight carbon or aluminum frame, 29-inch wheels, and disc brakes.

The critical features remain the same whether you're shopping for a men's or women's mountain bike. What distinguishes one from the other are subtle differences in the frame geometry, seat shape, and handlebar size. Women's mountain bikes have a shorter top tube to accommodate a shorter torso. Bikes made for women also feature narrower handlebars and wider seats. Although these variations may seem insignificant, they're important in ensuring a more comfortable and safer ride.

Review continues below

If you're shopping for a youth rider, you'll need a youth-size bike built for a smaller physique and for someone with less riding experience. In this segment, we like the Diamondback Octane Youth Mountain Bike (starting at $196 for 20" model; $222 for 24" model), which comes in two sizes for boys and two sizes for girls.

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