If you’ve been craving a hearty taste of the outdoors and are sick of urban riding on your road or commuter bike, consider getting a mountain bike: they’ll take you further into the woods than you’d ever get on foot. The majesty of trail riding is a little-known sport, but once you’ve found the right gear, you’ll be craving an adventure every weekend. While urban riding can be social and fun and has great health benefits for cardio, mountain biking is more technical. It’s a totally different beast, and when we say beast, we mean it. A mountain bike on average weighs more and is sturdier than a road bike. You can go with clipped-in pedals or just sneakers — beginners often say sneakers are the way to go. But once you hit those trails and find the sweet, sweet solace of silence within nature, there’s no going back.
Depending on your budget, there are a number of key items available; for less than $800, you can get a decent beginner’s bike with hydraulic disc brakes, which are different from mechanical brakes. They stop on a dime and can literally save your life, especially on rougher terrain where rocks pop up out of nowhere, or a trail snakes around with a sudden S-shaped curve. The best mountain bike has a number of shocks, either on the stem of the handlebars and/or on the seat post, making bumps and rocks smoother than they’d normally be. So depending on your budget, you can go anywhere from $800 to $10,000 depending on the weight, suspension and setup you’re looking for.
You can also level up as you go, trading in one beginner’s bike for a more advanced model. Also note that most online bike retailers will be out of stock due to the pandemic and shortages, so check in with your local bike shop, they can place an order for you directly from the manufacturer. So check your skillset and your pocket, and browse our favorite mountain bikes below.
1. Kona Lava Dome
The Lava Dome is Kona’s best mountain bike for beginners and you’ll want to contact your local bike shop to see if they carry it or contact Kona directly. Since bikes are out of stock this year, you may want a few different options up your sleeve. But the Lava Dome is the perfect beginner bike for the price point and the design. Easy to ride and comfortable to adjust on, the Lava Dome will take you from the streets to the trails with ease. With sleek internal cable routing, bigger wheels than last year’s model, and a 9-speed drivetrain, you’ll be all set to hit the woods. Get into mountain biking with the Kona Lava Dome, you won’t regret it.
2. Kona Unit
A slight upgrade from the Lava Dome, the Kona Unit is a single-speed design with all-around capabilities that will leave you wanting more out of your day. Good luck dismounting the Unit, once you’re on this beast, you won’t want to get off. With a sleek, streamlined design, this bike climbs easily and navigates the tough terrain of the downhill with agile speed. With multiple water bottle cages, you’ll be set to explore the deep wilderness for the entire day. Take off on the Unit and don’t look back.
3. Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
Specialized is a well-known and well-loved cycling brand, making beautiful and functional bikes to suit everyone and their Turbo Levo Comp encompasses all of that: they’ve made a mountain bike with a motor. Now, that might not sound like “biking” but to some, it’s an open door to exploring the wilderness, a possibility some have only dreamed of. This bike can introduce mountain biking to any type of person, whether able-bodied or not, and for that, it’s high on our list. While an expensive bike, as most e-bikes tend to be, this one is worth it for the level of joy it will bring into your life. Tackle trails you’ve never thought possible and see the vistas from the peaks. Enjoy mountain biking with a little help from a motor, but be sure to check your local trail restrictions because this type of bike can be labeled as a motor vehicle and therefore not allowed on some trails.
4. Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon
We couldn’t fail to include another Specialized mountain bike — this one without the motor. The Stumpjumper Comp Carbon is a dream bike, from frame to components, and you won’t regret making the jump from your beginner bike to this iconic beauty. The asymmetrical, 11m carbon fiber frame is just one of the perks: we’re willing to bet just the upgrade from a steel frame to carbon is worth it. And with the Fox DPS Performance rear shock features guarantees that your bike will be dialed-in perfectly. Upgrade to a carbon fiber mountain bike and enjoy all the perks of the trail once you have a ton of weight eased from your shoulders. A great bike for any beginner looking for sturdier stock.
5. Canyon Neuron 5
Canyon specializes in excellent mountain bikes, and the baseline Neuron 5 is a great place to start for beginners looking for a high-quality bike without the expensive price tag. Level up later, but to start, the simplicity of the Neuron 5 will leave you happy and exploring the trails long after the sun has disappeared behind the ridge. With an aluminum frame, this no-nonsense bike has the full suspension you crave without the $10,000 price tag. Take this baby for a spin and enjoy the easy handling and maneuvering that will leave you breathless. Canyon bikes come in a variety of sizes with a very specific sizing chart, so be sure to add up what fits best. Also, note that their website is often out of stock, but it’s always worth the wait.
6. Canyon Lux CF SLX 9
Not your average mountain bike might be an understatement: this is Canyon’s racing bike, with a carbon fiber frame and all the perks you’ll ever need to get ahead. Take this out for your next trail race and smash the competition or if you just like high-end bikes, impress your friends and speed along the trails faster than you ever have before. One of the most expensive bikes on our list, this one is definitely meant for advanced mountain bikers, those interested in racing and winning. Beginners, beware, but also take note — this is mountain biking at its finest. The Canyon Lux CF SLX 9 has all the components to help you win and more; at the end of the day, you won’t want to ride anything else.
7. Specialized S-Works Epic EVO
Another Specialized, you say? Yes, Specialized just has too many great options to not list them here and with their wide range of price points, it’s always worth a dig around their website. From e-bikes to carbon fiber to their esteemed S-works designs, they have plenty to offer and the Epic EVO is a beauty in itself. The Epic Evo was built for endurance: with dropper posts and slightly longer stems, this bike will keep you comfortable on a longer ride or on a multi-day race that other bikes might’ve left you exhausted on. With full suspension and Shimano XTR 12-speed drivetrain, you’ll be left glued to your bike and wondering where the competition went as you head out further onto the trail. A great choice for any serious mid-level to advanced mountain biker.