If you are in the market for a good mountain bike, and have found one that is both cheap and good quality, then this article is perfect for you. Here we will discuss how to know if the cheap mountain bike you are looking at buying is good or not.
So how do you know if a cheap bike is good? It comes down to the presence of a trigger shifter, derailleur hanger, matching brakes, good welds and a threadless headset. Sure, not every bike will have these items, however they are a great rule of thumb to give you an idea if a manufacturer is trying to give you a good value, or if they are just trying to get you to buy it.
1. Trigger Shifters
There are two different types of shifters that you will be finding on the big box shelves, trigger shifters and twist shifters.
In the most recent years, trigger shifters have quickly been finding their way onto the lower end bikes, and for a good thing! They are easier to adjust, and higher quality.
Because of this, this is the first thing I look at when I am trying to decide if a cheap mountain bike is going to be higher quality.
These shifters are also extremely easy to remove, and replace onto upgraded handlebars (like these ones) if you ever want to upgrade down the road.
2. Derailleur Hanger
While out mountain biking, you are going to snag on things, you are going to hit things, and you are going to get bumped around. Because of this, so is your derailleur. This is where the derailleur hanger comes into the picture!
If you had an inexpensive mountain (this is an example of how much one should cost) bike without a derailleur hanger, you may find yourself having to buy a completely new bike because you broke the derailleur, or even worse cracking the frame of your bike. Instead with a hanger, you can quickly change out the hanger, and you are back on the road.
If you want to learn more about derailleur hangers, we actually have a full article about it right here!
3. Matching brakes
A common tell tale sign of a bike that is cutting corners is when you see front disc brakes on the front, and rim brakes on the rear.
Sure, rim brakes are not that bad, and honestly some of them grip better on cheaper bikes than their disc brake alternatives.
However having mismatched brakes just screams cutting corners to me.
As for whether you should choose between disc brakes, or rim brakes, this really is up to you!
Both are tried and true options. Sure disc brakes are cooler, however rim brakes are also reliable and common on many lower end bikes.
4. Good welds
Now this isn’t necessarily specific to any bike brand or make, however you should always take a look at all of the major welds on the specific bike you are wanting to buy.
The less expensive a product, the less time and money is spent on quality control, so make sure you are inspecting things even more. If you want to learn about other things that can go wrong with a bike, this is a great read.
5. Threadless Headset
Upgradability of a cheap bike is the name of the game! I personally have a Schwinn Boundary as my primary bike right now, and one of the major reasons for it is the threadless headset (and the geometry of the bike). This threadless headset allows me to easily upgrade the handlebars, as well as adjust them as needed.
The other version, the quill stem, is stationary, and is generally better suited for cruiser bikes rather than a mountain bike.
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Things you shouldn’t pay attention to on cheap mountain bikes
Now that we have talked about the things that make the bike a great value, let’s take a look at the things you should not consider in this price point.
1. The paint
Sure, its nice to have a bike that looks great, however if you don’t have a bike that works right, you won’t use the bike that looks right!
If you can find a great budget bike that has all the great components, then you should go for it, even if it may not have the exact aesthetics that you want.
This is actually one of the main things manufacturers do to trick you into buying a cheaper bike, as they will add extremely cool looking graphics to take your eyes off the mismatching brakes and the quill stem.
2. Full Suspension
While this is an awesome feature in higher end bikes, it is an added cost to add to the bike! If you see a cheap bike with a full suspension, that is an added cost that they had to take from somewhere else. In the end, it has a diminishing return, where you will lose out on getting good components elsewhere to have a cool looking suspension on the rear of the bike.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cheap bikes can actually be a very good value, but you have to know how to spot good quality, and good features. Just like in any industry, there are the products that are trying to look good, and then there are the products that are actually good, and a good value. Because of this, you need to know what to look out for.
Cheap bikes at big box stores can be an awesome value, however you should always budget a tune up at a bike shop into the equation. Unless you know how to tune up your own bike, you will want this done, as inexperienced technicians are putting these bikes together, and are not necessarily experts in their field.
I have personally found, at the current time, that the best bang for the buck in big box mountain bikes right now is $200-$250. This gets you many of the features from more expensive bikes, but allows you to keep it to a reasonable budget. Of course there are decent bikes under this price point, however you start to compromise.
In this budget minded bicycle market, the major manufacturer that is making awesome value bikes is Schwinn! With their Aluminum Comp, and Schwinn Boundary they are making some awesome budget bikes that actually give you the components you need to have fun on the trail, and not have to worry about it breaking down on you.
In conclusion, there are good and bad brands of cheap mountain bikes. However I always recommend spending a little more money on higher quality components like derailleur hangers, matching brakes, good welds, as well as upgradability so that it can last for many years to come!