Despite the name, mountain bikes of this price point aren't truly built for riding rough off-road trails, instead, they offer a versatile bike for getting around that's capable of tackling smoother, well-maintained trails. Whether it's for a young teenager looking for their first proper bike, a bike to ride with the kids or simply something to trial the sport with, we've got the short list of the best models to consider in 2018.
The frames of all the selected bikes are made from aluminium and can host pannier racks, kickstands, and other popular accessories. Expect a hardtail mountain bike that has a rigid rear triangle and suspension in the front forks with limited travel (the amount of movement in the suspension). This travel provides a comfortable ride and will vary from between 60mm and 100mm on most models at this price.
A few bikes of this price also feature the option to close off the suspension for use on smooth roads, this is known as a lock-out. Most, however, will only offer preload adjustment, which allows a small amount of control over how firm the suspension spring is.
The braking system will be either rim or disc brake, the latter the preferred option as it typically performs better in the wet. At this price point, bikes with rim brakes will be lighter. Both braking systems are likely to be operated by mechanical cables, although a few do offer hydraulic systems (sealed fluid replaces cables).
Tourney and Altus are the introductory groupsets from Shimano that are found on kids mountain bikes and mountain bikes under AU$600. Designed for recreational riding; rough and muddy off-road riding is beyond the design criteria of these two options. From our experience testing bikes of this category, you want to look for bikes with an aluminium, handlebar and it also pays to look for wheels that feature “Double Wall” rims to ensure they stay straight. All bikes chosen here tick these boxes.
So without further adieu, here our picks (in no particular order) of the best budget mountain bikes for 2018 costing AU$500 or thereabouts.
Giant ATX 2
Giant, the world's largest bicycle manufacturer, certainly know a thing or two about quality aluminium frame construction. Rolling on 27.5in wheels, the ATX 2 offers a proven frame matched with a basic, but confidence inspiring, SR Suntour XCT fork with 100mm of travel. Complete with a 21-speed Shimano Tourney drivetrain, the ATX offers a respectable range of gears for fast on-road speeds and tackling steep inclines.
Tektro mechanical disc brakes should aid in keeping a check on speed. Rolling stock comes courtesy of Giant in the form of its double-walled alloy GX28 rims with proprietary Giant Off-Road tyres providing the grip.
Trek Marlin 4
Offering confidently large 29in wheels in all but the smallest frame sizes, the Marlin 4 borrows a number of design characteristics from Trek's proven performance mountain bikes to make it steer with class. A full Shimano 21-speed drivetrain offers a gearing range more suited to off-road and path riding.
There’s a short travel 75mm SR Suntour fork featured up front, whilst stopping power comes courtesy of Tektro. Subsidiary brand Bontrager provide the double walled alloy wheelset and the build is finished off with capable 2.0in wide Bontrager XR2 rubber.
Reid X-Trail 27.5
A brand known for cutting out the middleman and providing great prices direct to the customer, Australian-brand Reid sure packs a punch in the value stakes.
The X-Trail 27.5 features a Suntour XCT 100mm fork with lockout, mechanical disc brakes and wide 2.25in wide tyres to wrap the aluminium 27.5in wheels. Perhaps most notable is the upgrade in drivetrain quality, with this bike featuring a Shimano Altus 24-speed drivetrain providing a wider range of gears than any other found on this list.
Apollo Aspire 20
Known for offering bikes high on value, Australian company Apollo bring a strong budget mountain bike lineup for 2018.
The Aspire 20 featured here rolls on 27.5in wheels shod with Kenda tyres. A proprietary suspension fork with 80mm of travel appears, as do Jak-8 disc brakes.
The Shimano 21-speed groupset with a 12-238 speed cassette offers easy pedalling for those riding on flatter terrain. The bike is finished off with a proprietary aluminium handlebar and stem combination with a Selle Royal saddle providing riders with a comfortable perch.
Norco Storm 4
Based in Canada, Norco is a company with its roots in mountain biking and the Storm 4 offers a surprising amount of off-road capability for its price.
In addition to a SR-Suntour XCT 100mm fork, this bike offers a cassette-style rear hub (a more durable design, know as a freehub), mechanical disc brakes and is available with either 27.5in or 29in wheels. With the cassette-style gearing, the Shimano/Sun-Race 21-speed drivetrain also earns a decent range for tackling both super steep off-road inclines and fast road sections. Finishing off this budget trail shredder build are trail ready WTB 2.25in tyres.
RRP: $549 (27.5) $569 (29er)
Fuji Adventure 27.5
Fuji is a brand well-known for offering wallet-friendly options to consumers and the Adventure 27.5 is a perfect example of that.
The Adventure bolts its 27.5 wheels into a solid aluminium frame and features a Zoom CH-565 fork with 60mm of travel.It’s worth noting that this shorter-travel fork will limit the off-road capabilities of this bike to light-offroad duties and commuting. A freewheel-style rear hub (less durable compared to a freehub) plays host to a Shimano Tourney 21-speed drivetrain, while confidence-inspiring Tektro brakes take care of stopping duties.
Another classic bike company, GT have been offering its identifiable 'triple triangle' hardtails for over two decades. The Aggressor builds on this historic design with an 80mm All Terra CH-565 fork that's equivalent to a SR-Suntour M3030.
Similar to the Giant, Trek, Specialized and Merida, the GT offers a 21-speed Shimano drivetrain with a freewheel-type hub. Mechanical disc brakes fitted with 160mm rotors aid in bringing the bike to a stop whilst, 2.1in All Terra 27.5in rubber provides the Aggressor with all important grip on the trail.
Merida Big.Seven 10-MD
Behind Giant, Merida is the world's second-largest bicycle manufacturer and experts in aluminium frame construction. The Big-Seven 10 features 27.5in wheels and a Zoom HL 389 suspension fork – a model comparable the SR-Suntour M3030 found on the Trek Marlin amongst others on this list. Mechanical disc brakes feature, as does a Shimano 21-speed drivetrain.
We hope this guide has been helpful, for more information on choosing an off road ride to suit your needs, check out our comprehensive guide to buying a Mountain Bike.