When it comes to finding a trail-worthy mountain bike on a budget, hitting up your local bike shops during the off-season to find closeout prices on previous year models is generally your best bet. It helps to know what you’re looking at or for though; having a baseline of what you can get for your money for comparison goes a long way.
Recently, a rider wrote in, asking for recommendations on a solid trail thrasher in the $2k price range. For real mountain biking, dual suspension is non-negotiable, but $2k is an interesting price point. Tacking on another $500 makes a significant difference in what you can get, and can make the difference between a bike you might outgrow quickly vs a bike you ride for a few seasons.
Shopping for a used mountain bike
At $2k, you’ll get the most for your money in the used market, where $2k can get you a bike that once retailed for $4k or even more – especially in the off-season when it’s a buyers market. As your dollar stretches further in the used market, you can potentially get a bike that won’t require that much in upgrades. For used bikes, the online classified sections of Craigs List and Pink Bike are common; be aware strong caution is required, as there are plenty of unscrupulous folks looking to part you from your money or sell you stolen property.
Utilizing some of the new online platforms for buying a certified used bike may be a better option; the Pros Closet and Bicycle Blue Book are the best we’ve found to date. (they are also a resource for when you’re looking to sell your own bike and you want to do it quickly)
Used models a few years old will give you the most bang for your buck, though there’s a tipping point where you will get stuck with dated components. Models 2-3 seasons old seem to be a sweet spot; earlier this year I sold my 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad carbon for somewhere in the $2600 range (a bike valued at over $6k new) which was a STEAL for the rider that got it, but it’s a buyers market here in the PNW and those credit cards aren’t going to pay themselves off. There is another downside to a bike 3 seasons old or older; this is the point where brake pistons, suspension pivots, dropper posts and suspension require servicing — especially if its a model that’s never been fully serviced. We bleed and flush our disc brakes, replace the derailleur cables, and perform a fork lower leg service on a yearly basis at the very least — but I am an experienced bike mechanic that used to run a service shop in the bike industry. If you’re tight with your local bike shop, buying your local bike mechanic’s used bike is probably the best bet you could make going used.
Most folks selling their bikes are less likely to have stayed on a frequent maintenance schedule, so you’ll want to take some of the money you saved by buying used to budget for this eventuality.
Shopping for a new mountain bike on a budget
Practically every brand has an entry-level version of their flagship models. These bikes will have an alloy frame, and entry-level componentry; a few things to look for would be a 1-by drive train and hydraulic disc brakes. Some models will feature dropper posts, but the main thing to look for is a model that accepts a 30.9 or 31.6mm seat post, which are the two most common sizes for aftermarket dropper posts. On the entry-level side of things, a bump to the next price point will result in considerable gains in component spec. Like the bike shop experience, shopping in the off-season will net you the best pricing, as models are discounted to make room for the new.
Here are a few standouts currently available — note that at the time of this post, we’re in the holiday shopping season, possibly one of the best times of the year to shop for a new bike on a budget.
Norco Sight A3 — $2313 (discounted)
Norco began offering bikes direct to the consumer this year, with a twist. Bikes are shipped to your local Norco dealer for assembly, providing a bit more value for the consumer.
The Sight is available in 27.5″ and 29″ iterations with 130mm of rear travel (29″) and 140mm rear travel for the 27.5″ version. Both models feature a 160mm travel fork, making them quite capable on the trail. At the time of this post, the 2019 edition of the Sight is significantly discounted from its list price of $2800. As the owner of a Norco DH bike, I’m fond of the platform and handling of these bikes; if you’re in the market, get it while you can.
Canyon Spectral AL — $2500+
27.5″ wheels, 150mm or rear travel and 160mm up from makes the Spectral a capable all mountain trail machine. At the time of this poist, the Spectral AL 6.0 was listed as for sale at $2500, making it a stand out value as it sells for $2900. Being a direct to consumer brand, the components found on the Canyon puts it closer to $3k+ in actual value. A dropper post, Fox suspension and the DT rims are items found on much more expensive bikes. I’ve spent a bit of time on the carbon-framed iteration of the bike and for the price and value, this is a kick-ass steed. This is a definite buy – provided there’s still one available in your size.
YT Jeffsy AL Base — $2400
Available in both 27.5″ and 29″ iterations, the YT Jeffsy is common on our local trails here in the PNW, thanks to serious bang for your budget. Assuming the one you want is actually in stock that is. YT is consistently offering the most bang for the buck, and they’re often sold out, so sign up for that mailing list if you’re itching to join the YT club. Read our review of the Carbon CF Pro Jeffsy here.
Diamondback Release 1 — $2300
27.5″ wheels, An alloy frame with 130mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 150mm travel Suntour Aion fork, tubeless-ready wheels and a Shimano Deore 10-speed Drivetrain. TRP Slate X2 hydraulic disc brakes. No dropper post, but on the upside that means you can spec your own.
As you can see, the $2k-$2500 range is quite competitive — you have to bump up to the Release 2 at $2800 to get a similar spec to the YT.
Here are two other models coming in near that $2k pricepoint: