How To Choose the Best Mountain Bike for Beginners: 12 Options

As we get a little older, staying in shape is tough. Finding exercises that don’t cause old injuries to flair up, or those that are easier on our joints but still offer some excitement and speed ain’t easy. But, if you want to feel like a kid again, why not consider mountain biking? In fact, it’s one of the best hobbies for men. And if you don’t know which bike to start with, this guide on choosing the best mountain bike for beginners has you covered.

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Best Overall: 2023 Polygon Siskiu D5
Best Budget Pick: Rockhopper Sport 29
Best Upgrade Pick: Nukeproof Reactor 290 Alloy Comp
Best Cross Country Bike: 2023 Polygon Syncline C3
Best Trail Bike: 2023 Polygon Siskiu T7 Dual Suspension Mountain Bike
Best Enduro Bike: Marin Alpine Trail 7 Bike 2023
Best Hardtail: Rocky Mountain Growler 40 Bike 2023
Best Full Suspension: Marin Rift Zone 29 1
Best Downhill: Torque 29 AL 5
Best 27.5-inch: Marin San Quentin Bike 2023
Best 29er: Nukeproof Scout 290 Race
Also Consider: Co-op Cycles DRT 1.3 Mountain Bike

The Best Mountain Bikes For Beginners

The following are some of the best mountain bikes for beginners. Be sure to compare each model, including drivetrain, style, and price tag to make sure you get a new mountain bike that you’ll love.

Type: Hardtail
Style: XCountry
Drivetrain: 2×9
Frame Material: Aluminum

The Polygon Siskiu is the definition of the best mountain bike for beginners. This cross-country model is an impressive build for the price. It has dual suspension, a simple 2×9 drivetrain, and an aluminum frame. This basic mountain bike features 27.5-inch tires to make it more playful, as well. Suspension travel is minimal, meaning it might not be great for big air but it’s efficient for beginner riders who need as much energy in every crank as possible. It also features hydraulic disc brakes—something that’s particularly attractive for an entry-level mountain bike.

Type: Hardtail
Style: XCountry
Drivetrain: 2×9
Frame Material: Aluminum

When it comes to hitting the trails for the first time on a budget, the Specialized Rockhopper Sport 29 is a great choice. This XC hardtail features an aluminum frame, short travel front suspension, disc brakes, and 29-inch tires to make rolling over rough trails easier on a newbie. And, for the price, it’s pretty hard to ignore.

Type: Full suspension
Style: Trail
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

Guys who want to kick their mountain biking habit off in a big way should consider the Nukeproof Reactor 290. This beast of a full suspension bike features medium travel, making it a great choice for hitting trails, but it’s also well-equipped for enduro, if that’s your taste. It features four-piston hydraulic brakes, as well as a seat dropper, a direct 1×12 drivetrain, and big 29-inch wheels for rolling over rough trails.

Type: Hardtail
Style: XCountry
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Carbon

When it comes to speed, and stretching a budget about as far as it can go, check out the Polygon Syncline C3. This XC hardtail bike features a carbon frame to reduce weight and help the rider go as fast as they can go. It features medium-travel front suspension, 1×12 drivetrain, and hydraulic disc brakes, and it’s available in 27.5- or 29-inch variants. If cross-country racing is on the horizon for a beginner, this bike’s impressive build and materials for the price make it a great bike for beginners.

Type: Full suspension
Style: Trail
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

The Polygon Siskiu T7 is another budget-minded-yet-impressive build, and obviously, Polygon builds quality bikes. This trail bike features an aluminum frame designed for trail riding, medium travel front and rear suspension, and hydraulic disc brakes, and it’s available in 27.5- or 29-inch versions. It also features a dropper post for gaining some clearance when jumping or descending. It’s ready for trail riding and won’t break the bank account—something most mountain bikes designed for trail riding can’t say.

Type: Full suspension
Style: Enduro
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

Folks looking for an aluminum frame bike designed for enduro races should give the Marin Alpine Trail 7 some serious thought. This full-suspension bike features a longer-travel front and rear suspension than most of the other bikes on the list, making it easier to control and maintain contact while descending mountain trails, but you can lock the rear shock out for climbing without wasting your energy.

Type: Hardtail
Style: Trail
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

The Rocky Mountain Growler 40 is a great hardtail mountain bike for beginner trail riders. It has plenty of front suspension travel for aggressive trail riding, a dropper post for comfortable jumping, a 1×12 drivetrain for simplicity, a lightweight aluminum frame, hydraulic disc brakes for control, and 29-inch tires. While most trail bikes are full suspension, this hardtail mountain bike offers plenty of riding prowess for new mountain bikers looking for a first bike to take out on the trails.

Type: Full Suspension
Style: Trail
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

Widely regarded as a top-rated entry-level mountain bike, the Marin Rift Zone might be the best beginner mountain bike for riders headed to the trails. This full-suspension bike features an aluminum frame for strength and weight savings, medium-length travel rear and front suspension, a 1×11 drivetrain, and hydraulic disc brakes. It also features 29-inch wheels and tires for easy roll-over, and a modern geometry designed specifically for the trails.

Type: F/S
Style: Downhill
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

While the Torque 29 Al from Canyon might be too much bike for some new recreational mountain bikers, it could be a great choice for new riders heading downhill. This bike features lots of front and rear suspension travel, as well as dropper seat post for clearance, hydraulic disc brakes, a 1×12 drivetrain, and an aluminum frame designed to hit the most demanding trails and biggest jumps. Downhill’s no joke, but if you’re feeling the itch as a new mountain biker, this Canyon is the way to go.

Type: Hardtail
Style: Trail
Drivetrain: 1×9
Frame Material: Aluminum

The best thing about 27.5-inch wheels and tires is how playful the bike can be, and the San Quentin from Marin makes sure to deliver. This is one of the best hardtail mountain bikes for the trails and even XC riding, featuring medium-travel, hydraulic disc brakes, and an aluminum frame. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a dropper post, but the price is comfortable enough that guys can spend a little extra to outfit their first mountain bike to fit their needs with a dropper post.

Type: Hardtail
Style: Trail
Drivetrain: 1×10
Frame Material: Aluminum

The Nukeproof Scout 290 Race bridges the gap between an XC and a trail mountain bike. This 29-inch hardtail mountain bike features a lightweight aluminum design, a medium travel fork, hydraulic disc brakes, and a simple but effective 1×10 drivetrain. The 29-inch tires have plenty of rollover as well, making this one of the best beginner mountain bikes on the market.

Type: Hardtail
Style: XC
Drivetrain: 1×12
Frame Material: Aluminum

Co-op Cycle DRT 1.3 Mountain Bike is a value-minded XC bike that really deserves some consideration. It comes with 27.5- or 29-inch tires, depending on the frame size, as well as a 1×12 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes. It features short-travel front suspension, as well as a dropper post making it a great first mountain bike for a wide range of potential riders.

How I Chose the Best Mountain Bikes for Beginners

The best mountain bikes don’t cost $200 from Walmart anymore (though some do exist). As expensive as they are, I wanted to make sure that any bike I suggested was the real deal, even if it was made for beginners. That’s why I called upon all of my experience (over 20 years) of mountain biking to pick out some of the most important features that the best beginner mountain bikes should have.

Once I knew exactly what I was looking for in the best beginner mountain bikes, I checked out the best bikes from some of the top brands. I compared their styles, features, and prices to ensure that each model I suggested offered the type of value beginner mountain bike riders are looking for. If they did well, I gave them an award based on their strengths. If they didn’t, I threw them out completely.

How To Choose The Best Beginner Mountain Bike

If you’re about my age, you remember when mountain bikes first became popular in the very early 1990s. Well, a lot has changed since those stiff-forked, rough-shifting bikes hit the market, and you need some background before buying the best model. The following are some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when choosing one of the best mountain bikes for beginners.

Frame Material

There are really three frame materials that beginner mountain bike riders should know about: steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber.

Steel used to be the material of “choice,” only because choices were limited. It’s less popular today because it’s heavy. However, many affordable mountain bikes from department stores feature hi-tensile steel frames. Better quality frames feature chromoly, and they’re relatively affordable and durable.

An aluminum frame is a better choice. They’re relatively light, they can be affordable, and they’re more comfortable than they used to be. It’s important to note that aluminum frames are actually alloys, or a mixture of metals, because aluminum on its own is too soft. Budget bikes with aluminum frames are a favorite among beginner riders.

Carbon fiber is only worth noting because someday, when you’re no longer a beginner, you might want a carbon frame. These frames are very lightweight and strong, and almost all professional racers (and amateurs with bigger budgets) ride carbon fiber.

Frame and Wheel Size

Getting a bike that fits your body and riding style is important. For example, mountain bike frames come in different sizes. They’re usually extra small, small, medium, large, and extra large. Generally speaking, each manufacturer will list the height for which each of their frame sizes is best suited. But, as a helpful guide, consider:

  • Extra small: Riders between 5′ and 5’3″
  • Small: Riders between 5’2″ and 5’6″
  • Medium: Riders between 5’6″ and 5’10”
  • Large: Riders between 5’10” and 6’1″
  • Extra large: Riders over 6’1″

Also, wheel size is a factor. Modern mountain bikes feature two wheel sizes: 27.5″ and 29″. Bikes with 27.5-inch wheels are great for guys who want a nimble bike that they can jump or hop with. Bikes with 29-inch wheels are great for rolling over larger logs, rocks, and roots. Their great size increases their roll-over capacity. However, if you’re a beginner and haven’t ridden anything since your old 26-inch Raleigh, either size will feel like an improvement.

Hardtail Mountain Bikes Vs Full Suspension Bikes

There are two types of mountain bike suspension that mountain bikers can choose from: a “hardtail” and full suspension mountain bike. Hardtail mountain bikes have a suspension fork in the front and a solid frame in the rear. Full suspension bikes have shocks in the front as well as rear suspension. Each has its pros and cons.

Hardtail mountain bikes are energy-efficient, particularly on steep climbs, since none of the energy is absorbed by the frame. They’re faster while climbing and on smooth trails. They’re also lighter weight and easier to maintain. Many cross-country bikes are hardtails and some experienced riders actually prefer them. A big plus: They’re usually the most affordable.

Full-suspension bikes have their advantages as well. They’re generally more capable and versatile, and they’re excellent for rougher terrain and getting over larger obstacles. They’re much more comfortable and easier to control on descents, and they’re a great choice for enduro, cross-country, and downhill mountain biking racing.

So which is the best when it comes to beginner mountain bikes? It depends. If you’re riding easy trails and it’s just for leisure, the cost savings of a hardtail is probably appealing. However, take it from someone who wishes he went full-suspension from the start, you might want to start with a full-suspension bike for the smoother ride alone.

Riding Style

There are a few different types of mountain bike riding styles, and each has its own category of bike. They are:

  • Cross-country: This riding style covers long distances on trails with shorter climbs and descents. Most cross-country riding requires pedaling, as the downhills are shorter. Cross-country mountain bikes are typically hardtails or full-suspension mountain bikes with shorter suspension travel.
  • Trail riding: Trail riding is essentially just having a good time on a mountain trail. A capable trail bike can jump, descend, carve, turn, and climb. They’re usually full-suspension bikes with medium amounts of suspension travel and lots of fun.
  • Enduro: Enduro, which refers to the amount of endurance the style takes, is a combination of climbing and descending. Riders climb mountains and then bomb down them. These bikes have to be light enough to climb but have enough suspension travel to withstand downhill bumps, turns, and jumps.
  • Downhill: Downhill riding often occurs at ski mountains, and riders take ski lifts to the top and ride as fast as they can downhill. Downhill involves speed and air, and these bikes have a ton of travel. They’re also heavy with beefier frames. Downhill isn’t usually suitable for beginner mountain bikers, but there are affordable versions for guys who want to try their luck.

Drivetrain Options

The chain, pedals, cranks, gears, and derailleurs that propel the bike is known as the drivetrain. There are several options for beginner mountain bikes’ drivetrains, but there are a few things to know—specifically about the crankset.

The crankset is the set of gears that are attached to the pedals and cranks. There are three popular varieties: triple, double, and single, and this refers to the number of gears in the crankset. Triple is a traditional choice and it offers a lot of gearing choices, but many of the combinations are fairly redundant and unnecessary. Doubles can also be redundant. For beginners and pros alike, single is the way to go.

Single cranksets are lighter (and when it comes to rotating mass, weight matters). Also, they’re easier to maintain. A double or triple crankset shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but a single is optimal and most modern beginner mountain bikes have adopted them.

Dropper or No Dropper?

A dropper is a mechanism that allows the seat on the bike to quickly drop into the frame. This allows for more room over the frame of the bike for jumps and bumps. But, droppers also automatically drive the seat back up, making them an excellent choice for racers, trail riders, and enduro riders who might have to switch between climbing and jumping often.

Do you need a dropper? Not at all, but they are incredibly convenient. Beginner mountain bikes often don’t have them, so they can be kind of a badge of honor and status symbol.

Where To Start Mountain Biking

Getting started in mountain biking doesn’t take a whole hell of a lot more than finding some dirt or gravel trails and giving it a shot. But, there are some places where beginners might consider taking their first mountain bike rides. Here’s what you should know.

Rail Trails

If you have local rail trails to ride, that’s the best first stop for beginner riders. These trails are usually laid back and relaxed, and they’re typically flat with mild inclines and declines. My suggestion is if you need to get into the woods on your mountain bike for the first time, give a rail trail a shot.

Forest Trails

Once you’ve mastered the rail trails and built up some endurance, give some forest trails a shot. These trails often weave through state parks and consist of fire roads and single-track paths. They may consist of climbs, descents, some jumps, and some technical trails. It’s best to have a bit of an idea of what you’re doing before hitting forest trails, but once you do, they’re a blast.

Bike Parks

Bike parks are great places to head for technical terrain and jumps. These trails and tracks usually wind through wooded areas and consist of pump tracks, jumps, and tight turns and berms. They may also contain obstacles, bridges, and other fun apparatus to ride, but that requires a bit of experience.

Ski Mountains

A lot of ski mountains open their alpine trails during the warmer months, allowing riders to take their trail, enduro, or downhill bikes to the top and ride them down. Some have lifts, others require riding uphill.


Once you have an idea of the type of riding you enjoy, you might want to enter into some races. Races are an excellent way to test yourself, see how you stack up against other riders, and just marvel at how good dedicated riders really are.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts? Do you have a mountain bike you think is a better first for beginners? Are you ready to hit the trails and found this post helpful? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list below so you don’t any new articles—I send them right to your email!

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FAQs About Best Mountain Bike for Beginners

What is the best beginner mountain bike brand?

In my opinion, the best beginner mountain bike brands are Polygon and Marin. They offer a lot of value for their prices.

How do I choose a beginner mountain bike?

When you’re looking for a new mountain bike, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the bike has to fit the type of riding you plan to do. Bikes are all designed for different purposes, such as XC, enduro, trail riding, and more.

What’s a good beginner trail bike?

In my opinion, the Polygon Siskiu T7 is the best beginner trail bike. For the price, it’s built better than any other mountain bike out there.

What are the 4 types of mountain bikes?

The four types of mountain bikes are:

  • XC
  • Trail
  • Enduro
  • Downhill

What is the difference between cheap mountain bikes and an expensive mountain bike?

A lot goes into designing a bike, and the prices often reflect that. A cheaper bike will have inferior parts and design, while a more expensive bike will feature cutting-edge design and high-quality materials.

Is it easier to ride a mountain bike or a normal bike?

It’s often easier to ride a mountain bike than a regular bike. This is because mountain bikes have large wheels that can roll over objects, but also because larger wheels naturally want to stay upright while spinning, making mountain bikes a great choice for new riders.

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