Looking to get started in the world of mountain biking or just after a budget trail shredder to add to your existing bicycle line-up? There are a confusing number of options on offer that represent fantastic value for money.
With 2020 model year stock beginning to make its way onto showroom floors we’ve sifted through our picks of the best budget hardtail mountain bikes to be had for AU$1,000 or thereabouts and made a short hit-list.
- Related Reading: The Ultimate Mountain Bike Buyers Guide
What to Expect For Your Money
Hardtails are distinctive as they have a rigid frame and a suspension fork at the front wheel, as opposed to dual-suspension bikes that have suspension in the front and rear of the bike. While dual-suspension bikes exist at this price point, we’re yet to find one that is up to the rigours of mountain biking, while the simpler hardtail allows brands to better equip the bike.
All bikes at this price point (AU$800-AU$1000) will have aluminium frames (read about frame materials here). The amount of movement in the suspension is referred to as “travel” and is typically 100mm for the bikes listed below. The greater the travel, typically the greater the control on descents. When comparing front forks, look for a “lock-out”, which will enable you to close off the suspension for use on smooth roads.
The braking system for bikes on this list includes a mix of cable-operated and full hydraulic disc brakes. Cable disc brakes are actuated with the aid of a stainless steel cable, similar to a rim brake bike. On the other hand, hydraulic disc brakes use a fluid system to transfer force from the brake lever to the brake pads and are typically favoured as they’re a sealed system. Hydraulic disc brakes will typically provide a smoother lever feel, more control and lower maintenance than cable disc brakes. On the downside, hydraulic brakes often carry an increased cost.
While many of the bikes listed here have a similar frame, fork and groupset, the real debate lies in the wheel choice. You'll see a mix of 27.5in and 29in diameter options below and you'll get a variety of opinions as to which is better. The trend in recent times has been to opt for larger wheel sizes to improve roll-over ability, traction and comfort (greater tyre volume equals a smoother ride), which is why the original 26in wheels have become all but redundant. 27.5in wheels are lighter, stronger and typically more nimble than 29in options. Riders with a smaller stature or those who like to jump the bike may be well suited to this smaller wheeler size.
In this category, most bikes will be outfitted with a 9-speed groupset paired with a double or triple crankset. The additional gearing offers riders a large range, that’s well suited to tackling steep climbs and with enough at the opposite end to be used on the road.
Considering spending a little extra money and wondering what you’ll get for your money? Hardtails priced in excess of AU$1,000 are typically outfitted with higher performing 10-speed shifting, perhaps with a simpler 1x drivetrain; a stronger wheelset; and better-performing and serviceable suspension, often with an air spring for finite tunability and increased control.
Get to know more about mountain bike groupsets and gearing by reading our in-depth guide.
Polygon Entiat TR6 27.5+ - AU$1199
Indonesian outfit Polygon are no strangers when it comes to the manufacture of high-quality mountain bikes that represent great value for money. With the Entiat TR6, Polygon highlights exactly what upgrades can be had by stretching your budget a little, and looking a little left of centre. The TR6 ships complete with arguably the most capable build kit on this list, with the components of this quality typically found on bikes costing twice as much.
With a quality Shimano 1x10 drivetrain, beefy hydraulic disc brakes, meaty tubeless ready wheels and tyres, capable RockShox air suspension up-front all mated to a quality frameset. The frameset itself is hydroformed aluminium, and features boost spacing front and rear, meaning that the Entiat is capable of swallowing tyres up to a massive 3” wide, something that Polygon offers in the complete build.
Liv Tempt 2 – AU$999
The Sister company of Giant, Liv produces bikes tailored specifically for women with its thoughtful geometry and design. The aluminium framed Tempt 2 embodies this, offering a thoughtfully equipped hardtail, suitable for a wide range of trail use.
Compatible with racks and fenders, this bike is more than just a one trick pony and can be used for commuting or off road touring as well, showing the versatility you can get out of a bike for the price. Many other bikes in this list also have this feature, but Liv makes it a standout point to appeal to more riders.
The Tempt 2 is outfitted with SR Suntour XCM fork offering up 100mm of travel, 27.5in wheels across the sizing spectrum, a Shimano 9-speed Alivio groupset with hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless-ready Giant XC-2 wheels.
Norco Storm 1 – AU$999
Priced at AU$999, the Norco Storm 1 is one of the clear highlights on this list, purely due to the level of the components fitted. Shipping complete with a Rockshox Solo Air 30 fork offering up 100mm of travel, with a capable Shimano 9-speed drivetrain, this is one entry-level mountain bike that is capable of tackling some more serious trails.
The advantages of an air sprung fork over their cheaper coil sprung counterparts is the ability to fine-tune the desired firmness to your weight, making for a more effortless and controlled ride out on the trail. As an extra perk, an air spring is always lighter than a coil.
Additionally, the plush WTB Nine Line 2.25in tyres should provide good levels of traction and roll-over ability, which will help newer riders tackle more demanding trails. Other upgrades for the refreshed Storm 1 include a Prowheel double crankset paired with a 9-speed Shimano Alivio cassette and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes. We are really impressed with what this bike has to offer for the price.
Trek Marlin 7 – AU$879
One of the most popular “big brand” budget hardtails on the market, the 2020 Marlin range from American brand Trek carries on with few changes after a slight overhaul in 2019. A tweaked geometry, specification update and women’s specific models, the Marlin is as at home on potholed city streets as it is on the dirt.
Outfitted with 29in wheels, save for the smallest 15.5in frame size which rolls on 27.5” wheels, the Marlin 7 makes use of Shimano components, and natural, reactive handling, thanks to a slack head tube angle and increased fork offset, a rarity on bikes at this price point. RockShox forks, double-walled Bontrager rims wrapped in Bontrager XR2 tyres, and internally routed cabling, with provisions for a dropper seatpost, round out the quality build kit.
Priced at AU$879, the Marlin is also priced under much of its competition without compromising the build, leaving you with a little extra cash to splash on some quality mountain bike accessories.
Focus Whistler 3.7 – AU$999
Named after the famed Whistler mountain bike park in Canada, an ode to the mountain bike scene, the Focus Whistler Evo is one of a number of bikes on this list outfitted with 29in wheels. In this instance, the larger wheels are ably assisted by quality 2.2in Schwalbe Rapid Rob tyres.
A boxy aluminium frame at the heart of the bike is paired with a 100mm travel Suntour XCM-RL fork that features a handlebar-mounted remote for the lockout. The Shimano triple crankset paired with a 9-speed Deore XT level derailleur and hydraulic disc brakes round out this capable package.
Giant Talon 2 29er – AU$999
The Giant Talon is arguably the biggest selling entry-level hardtail mountain bike in Australia, and when you consider what you get for your money, it’s not hard to see why. After undergoing an extensive update in 2017 that saw the range score a more confidence inspiring geometry, generous specification additions and a welcome weight reduction, the Talon range has continued to grow in popularity
For 2020, The Talon 2 detailed here sits atop the range destined for Australian shores. Outfitted with a 9-speed Shimano groupset mated with a double crankset and wide range 11-36T cassette, the bike looks to have a wide gear range suitable for a variety of terrain. The Talon is the only bike on this list to be set-up tubeless from the factory, which allows for lower tyre pressures to be used, reducing the risk of punctures and increasing traction. An SR Suntour XCM fork with 100m of travel and hydraulic lockout complete the package.
Specialized Rockhopper Comp 2X – AU$975
The RockHopper Comp is another quality 29er option that has a schmick gloss black paint making it look higher-end than its price-point counterparts. The recently revised A1 aluminium frame is paired with an SR Suntour XCM fork with between 80/90/100mm travel depending on frame size. Much of the other components are Specialized's own such as the stem, handlebars, crankset, rims, hubs and tyres, keeping it all neatly within the family. The brakes are ever-reliable Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm centrelock rotors.
The Specialized triple crankset is combined with a mixture of Shimano components. The 9-speed Shimano 11-34T cassette paired with a triple crankset provides 27 gears in total whilst the double walled aluminium wheelset is wrapped in 2.3in and 2.1in tyres (front and rear, respectively), which should provide loads of traction.
Merida Big Nine 100 – AU$949
Merida has long stated that hardtail mountain bikes are the most popular off-road segment for the company. With that in mind, the second largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world has offered up a good range of entry-level hardtails in the Big Nine series.
Our pick for value is the Big Nine 100, which is outfitted with 29er wheels coupled with Maxxis Ikon 2.2in tyres. The 9-speed drivetrain is a Shimano Alivio/Altus medley, popular for bikes at this price point, whilst a Shimano MT100 triple crankset also features. Up front, a Suntour XCM HLO fork provides 100mm of travel with a hydraulic lockout. The narrower 680mm handlebars are equipped with Shimano hydraulic brakes, including a front 180mm rotor for increased stopping power when things get out of control.
Reid Argon 29 – AU$799
The Australian-designed Reid Argon 29 stacks up impressively well compared to other bikes on this list, despite being the most affordable option on this list. The Taiwanese made alloy frame is paired with a relatively high-end SunTour XCR Air fork with 100mm travel, lockout and preload adjustment. A SunTour XCM double crankset combines with the 9-speed Shimano Alivio groupset to provide a versatile gear range. Looking to rolling stock and the Argon is equipped with 29in double-walled aluminium wheels shod with 2.25in tyres.
Reid is able to keep costs down by selling directly to the consumer, which does mean if you order a bike, expect to complete some self-assembly or you can pick it up assembled directly from one of their retail outlets. We’ve previously been critical of these direct to consumer frames in the past, however, we have been assured that for 2020, Reid has moved their manufacturing, resulting in a steep upgrade in quality.
Cannondale Trail 7 – AU$999
After undergoing a major rejuvenation in 2017, the 2020 Cannondale Trail range carries over to the new year with little change save for a new lick of paint and some minor specification changes. Importantly, the trail ready geometry remains, making use of a slacker head angle paired with a shorter stem, and shorter seat stays (decreasing the wheelbase) to make the bike feel more maneuverable, agile and confidence inspiring than its price tag suggests. Add in the wider bars and plusher WTB Ranger 2.25in tyres, and this ride looks ready to offer plenty of control. In line with current wheel size trends, the Trail 7 is available with 27.5in hoops for the smaller sizes, with 29in wheels equipped to larger frame sizes.
We found it pretty impressive that for the price, consumers can get a hardtail that echoes more advanced trail bikes, as seen in its dropper-post ready set-up and option to set-up with a single chainring drivetrain. The front derailleur mount is removable for this reason but comes with a 2x9-speed Shimano Altus groupset. To top it off, the Trail 7 is equipped with Shimano hydraulic brakes and an SR Suntour XCM fork with 100mm travel.
Your first mountain bike is only half the equation. Check out our guide to mountain bike accessories to ensure you get the most out of your off-road ride!