If you are looking for your first mountain bike or want to upgrade your current ride, it can be bewildering how much of a price difference there is for bikes. These can range from under $100, all the way up to $5000+.
Especially when to the untrained eye, they look very similar. Both bikes have off-road wheels, multiple gears and similar geometry.
So what are the main differences between a cheap and an expensive bike? Let’s dig in to see.
One of the main differences between a cheap and expensive mountain bike is the overall build quality. That is all the small components that make up the bike.
Things are often not very well thought through on a cheap mountain bike and have not gone through the same quality control process as expensive mountain bikes.
Pro Tip: If you have a decent bike mechanic, they may be able to get a cheap mountain bike running smoother than a poorly adjusted expensive mountain bike.
However, the cheaper components will wear quicker in the long run, start to cause problems, and require replacing.
You should definitely note, specifically in this category, that just because something is less expensive, or lower quality does not mean it isn’t for someone.
Mountain biking is a ton of fun, regardless of how much you spent on your bike.
Cheap mountain bikes will be made of thick heavy steel tubing. The steel is not the issue as you can get some high quality and robust steel-framed bikes. However, due to the low cost, the steel quality used on cheap mountain bikes is not quite on par.
That does not mean it is unsafe, but it does mean that they are heavy and not flexible.
On expensive mountain bikes, you will find aluminum and carbon fiber frames. Both of these materials make the bike lighter in addition to giving the frame some flex.
Although the frames may look similar, expensive mountain bikes will also have more attention to detail, with strengthened joints and hold, giving them more strength than cheap frames at the same time as being a fraction of the weight.
Keep in mind though, cheaper bikes have been progressively getting better. You can even own a carbon fiber frame bike for under $500 now.
Ultimately more expensive mountain bike frames are faster and more comfortable to ride.
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On more expensive mountain bikes, you will find that you can make several adjustments to your ride to make it perfect for the conditions you are tackling and your riding style/preference.
This level of customization adds to the enjoyment and comfort of riding a mountain bike on technical trails.
This can easily be found in the front fork (front suspension), where cheaper bikes won’t have any adjustments and can fail once you take them on a more difficult trail than they are meant for.
Another example, is the fact that more expensive bikes will almost always come with disc brakes, instead of rim brakes.
Thankfully, a lot of cheaper bikes like my Schwinn Boundary from Walmart can easily be upgraded.
Keep an eye on cheap bikes that aren’t upgradable… otherwise you likely will be shopping for a new bike again soon.
Which one is better?
The fact of the matter is that you can get cheap mountain bikes that serve their purpose.
If you just want an inexpensive way of traveling in your local area or are new to cycling, then do your research and find a cheaper mountain bike to start with.
However, if you have the budget and are looking for a mountain bike to take off-road and do some trail exploring, it is worth making the investment to either upgrade a less expensive bike, or buy a pre-built mountain bike to get a faster, more comfortable ride.