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Are the mountains calling you? Do you dream of miles of trails winding through forests and over foothills? Is it time to hop on your bike and see where the road takes you?
Mountain biking is an amazing way to challenge yourself as you take in the great outdoors. But a basic cruiser or general road bike may not be up to the job. You could find yourself struggling up every hill, burning out long before the ride’s done. Even worse, the wrong sort of bike can cause you to lose traction and control on irregular terrain, loose gravel, and wet conditions. When you’re miles from the main highway, the last thing you want is to get into an accident.
To get the most out of your off-road adventures, you need a bike built for them. Mountain bikes are specifically designed for the challenges and the joy of rough terrain. They need to be rugged, responsive, and women’s models in particular also need to be light. That often translates into a higher price tag than in many other categories of bike. However, budget-friendly bikes are available if you know where to look and if you keep your feature priorities in mind. That’s why we’ve rounded up a list of the best affordable models out there right now. Keep in mind that the prices of these bikes can vary over time, but they should all be close to your $500 budget.
Top Picks for Best Women’s Mountain Bike Under $500
The Trek Women’s 820 is an award-winning all-rounder for beginner to intermediate riders:
You may prefer a more specialized model such as the 27-speed Sirdar S-800:
Or you might be drawn to the Trek Marlin 4 for a more adventurous ride:
It’s tricky to single out the best bikes for riders at every experience level. Mountain bikes in the under-$500 price range tend to have some standout features balanced out by limitations. That’s why we’re covering a dozen different bikes. These offer something for every rider, from raw beginners just getting into the sport to ambitious folk who tackle the roughest trails around.
What’s the Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Mountain Bikes?
There are some distinct design differences between mountain bikes for men versus women. Manufacturers tend to assume that women are lighter, overall smaller, and have proportionally longer legs. To accommodate this, women’s mountain bikes have:
- A downward angled step-through frame, not a horizontal bar. This makes the bike easier to mount.
- Wider saddles for a comfortable, smooth ride.
- A lighter design and smaller frame sizes that are easier for people with less upper body strength to carry.
- Narrower handlebars to work with women’s typically narrower shoulder width.
- A shorter distance between the seat and handlebars, offering smaller riders more control.
Does that mean you have to focus on these kinds of bikes? Not necessarily. We’ll be covering women’s mountain bikes in this article. However, tall and heavy women may find men’s style bikes to be the better fit. If you’re unsure, drop by your local bike shop or bike repair shop and chat with the associates there. They can help you get a feel for which of these two design styles works for you.
Can You Get a Good Women’s Mountain Bike for Under $500?
It depends. Are you looking for a high-performance machine with all the bells and whistles? Something suitable for constant hard use or racing? You’ll struggle to find one for under $1,000. In fact, $2,000 may be a more reasonable budget.
However, mountain biking beginners and weekend enthusiasts will have a lot more luck at the under-$500 price point. There are many trusted bike brands making quality builds for under $500. These bikes might lack certain additional features, but they have all the basics you’ll need to hit the mountains on the regular.
What if you have your heart set on a premium model but your tight budget just won’t stretch past $500? Watch your town’s cycling shops and sign up for local biking groups on social media. Keep your eyes peeled for last year’s premium bikes. Shops may get rid of older stock for a big discount during seasonal sales. Meanwhile, riders who are upgrading or leaving the sport may sell their gently used and well-maintained bikes for a good price.
What Are the Different Types of Mountain Bikes?
Mountain bikes are a pretty broad category. Not every style excels at every use, so it’s worthwhile brushing up on the different types of bikes.
This is the most common style of mountain bike. It’s versatile and great for both fun afternoons and multi-day rides. It really shines during climbing and descents.
Do you love to tackle the steeper hills in your area? An all-mountain bike is designed to help you take on this calf-busting challenge. It’s built lighter than a trail bike, but still has a lot of that versatility.
Let’s move on to mixed-terrain rides. Cross-country bikes can get you over hills, but they’re really built for speed on smoother trails. You can plan out a long ride on these machines and be confident that the bike will hold up on the trek.
Some of the models above work beautifully on smooth surfaces, but when the wilderness gets a little rough, they get hard to control. The sturdy design and rugged wheels of a fat bike help you stay in your seat on wild and bumpy trails, or when you go off-trail across sand and snow.
Can’t decide between a speedy road bike and a rugged mountain bike? Hybrids split the difference between these two styles. You’re compromising a little on both fronts, but you can get a well-designed machine that takes you from urban commutes to casual trails on the weekends. Just make sure you have the right tires for hybrid use.
Major Features of Mountain Bikes
Not every mountain bike is built the same. When you’re considering your options, you may have to factor in much more than just the price point. What about the frame material? Drivetrain? Brakes system? These can alter how the bike performs in adverse conditions, how easy it is to ride, how often it could break down, and more. Let’s take a look at the most important features:
At this price point, you’ll need to decide between aluminum and steel bike frames. Aluminum frames are lighter, making them an excellent choice for women’s mountain bikes. However, these tend to be on the more expensive side of the scale. Steel frames are cheaper to produce and can be just as strong. The trade-off here is a heavier weight and possible rusting if the bike isn’t maintained.
You’ll want a suspension designed for the kind of bike trails you prefer. Budget-friendly hardtails lack suspension in the rear wheel. They do perform well if you’re mostly going uphill or sticking to pavement and compacted dirt. Full suspension models offer extra comfort and stability on rougher terrain, but will nudge the price tag up.
If you get a mountain bike with air-sprung suspension, you’ll likely need a shock pump to inject air into the bike’s shocks from time to time.
The drivetrain is vital for efficiently translating your legs’ movement into wheel movement. It gets put under pressure with each pedal, so it’s worth taking a look at the build quality here. Budget-friendly mountain bikes tend to come with 2x and 3x chainrings. This translates to the gear selection and how severe of a jump there is between gears. If you’re a beginner who just wants easy bike operation, look at 2x chainrings. To get the most out of every mile, more experienced riders should consider 3x chainrings.
You have a choice between disc and rim-style brakes. Mechanical disc brakes offer superior stopping power and perform well even in wet and dusty conditions. But they are heavier and tend to up the total cost. Due to their design, rim brakes experience a drop in performance in poor weather and road conditions. However, well-maintained rim brakes perform well enough for casual use and they do help whittle the price down.
Bike Wheel Size
Mountain bikes can be equipped with 26”, 27.5”, and 29” wheels. The 26” wheels are rarely seen on the road. They accelerate a bit faster and may be a good fit for very petite women, but they lack some of the traction and stability of other options. Most people opt for a larger sized tire.
On the other extreme, 29” wheels can work well with riders of average height and even a taller rider. They help you keep a steadier speed and offer more stability and traction than the smallest size. On the minus side, these tires accelerate slower.
What about the 27.5” wheel? This size offers a versatile middle ground. They work with women of most heights and offer good performance on most surfaces.
Top 12 Women’s Mountain Bikes for Under $500
Now that you have a better idea of the types and features of mountain bikes, let’s take a look at what you can get for under half a grand. Some of the models on this list are standouts in one category, while others are general-purpose workhorses that will take you from town to the countryside.
Trek’s male version of the 820 has won awards for offering exceptional value at this price point. Female riders will find that the women’s model has the same attention to detail, high performance, and affordable price. This bike’s WSD, or Women Specific Design, makes for easy mounting and dismounting. The Trek Women’s 820 also features front suspension, seven speeds, and a comfortable and secure Bontrager Sport seat.
Co-op Cycles is REI’s factory brand, and the company has created a mountain bike that holds up under rough road and weather conditions. This one is at the upper end of the budget scale, but you’re getting an aluminum frame, responsive hydraulic disc brakes (hydraulic brakes are amazing), and a women-friendly and sleek ergonomic design. The overall quality and Shimano 3×7 drivetrain makes this a bike that you can grow into, as beginners gain confidence switching among the 21 speeds. The DRT 1.1 weighs a light 31 pounds.
Responsive and consistent handling is key for off-road beginners who want to level up their riding skills quickly. Raleigh’s Talus 3 isn’t the most feature-rich model on the list, but this affordable bike has a reputation for reliability. The 2 ¼ inch wide tires and 100 mm suspension travel fork help you roll smoothly over bumpy rides and dips in rough trails. Its Tektro hydraulic disc brakes can bring you to a stop even on steep hills and in wet conditions. The bike features a few extras such as rack, fender, and bottle mounts. For basic rides, that’s probably all you’ll need.
Do you have a need … a need for speed? The Sirdar S-800 delivers when it comes to fine-tuned control over your gears. The bike has an impressive 27 speeds, enabling experienced riders to get the best performance out of their machine while tackling unpredictable terrain. It has a hybrid construction of aluminum and carbon steel, which brings the weight down while still keeping the unit affordable. Sirdar has included two interchangeable seats: one is designed for everyday comfortable riding, and the other is more streamlined and better for racing and cross-country adventures.
The Marlin 4 is a good fit for adventurous riders who like to head off the beaten track. Its fat bike tires offer excellent grip on uneven trails and float on stretches of sand. The double-wall rims and Alpha Aluminum frame hold up strong under challenging rides. You get smooth handling on the 100 mm Suntour fork, but it unfortunately doesn’t have a fork lockout feature.
Many bikes on the budget end of the game have a single suspension. For easy trail riding, that doesn’t matter as much. But if you do have your heart set on a dual suspension, the Mongoose Status is worth a closer look. Along with its suspension setup, this 21-speed aluminum bike offers front and rear v-brakes and durable alloy rims. You’ll be in for a more comfortable ride with this bike, although it can slow down on hills as this bike weighs around 42 pounds.
If you like the idea of dual suspension but aren’t sold on the Mongoose Status, take a look at Hiland’s budget-friendly mountain bike. The Hiland has a carbon steel frame, a suspension fork, high-performance Shimano trigger shifters, and a choice between 18 and 21 gears. The 21 gear model is slightly more expensive. Beginners may prefer to keep it simple on the road and save a few dollars with the 18 gear version.
The Cannondale Tango 6 focuses on durability and smart design over luxurious accents and advanced bells and whistles. Beginner riders won’t notice the difference, but they will appreciate the handling. The disc brakes and rugged 27.5” wheelset keeps you in control on gravel roads and lower impact trails and tracks. This bike’s alloy frame is strong but light, coming in at a maneuverable 31.4 pounds.
Having trouble deciding between a Trek and a Cannondale bike? See our comparison of the two brands here.
If you want a low-maintenance bike that will last for years of casual, weekend use, the Royce Union RMT may be the right fit. Its suspension and smart design are up to the challenge of rough bike paths and muddy trails, but this bike performs on pavement as well. The RMT features a durable hardtail frame, alloy wheel rims, and a high-performance Shimano 21-speed drivetrain.
Do you want to tackle rough roads without suffering through a rough ride? The Scott Contessa Active 50 Mountain Bike is designed for comfort. Its ergonomic frame helps keep your back at a healthy angle, and the Suntour 100 mm travel fork and tire design minimize the impact of uneven roads. Its alloy frame is quite lightweight at 32.6 pounds, making the bike easy to carry if you need to walk a stretch.
A lot of kids grew up riding their Huffys around, so this brand has that nostalgia factor. The Escalate is a fun bike at an approachable price point. The aluminum mountain bike has responsive ATB resin pedals, Krayton grips, and an ergonomic handlebar design. It handles fairly well on more challenging terrain thanks to knobby tires. The bike also offers good acceleration and easy pedal speed under ideal road conditions.
Accessories aren’t the most important factor on this list, but riders just starting out may appreciate the convenience of getting a decent and affordable mountain bike that comes with the accessories they want. Redfire’s Mountain Bike has a sleek design with internal cables routing through an aluminum frame. It offers 21 speeds and disc style brakes. These are mid-range stats for this list, but the bike gets additional points for including accessories such as a bike lock and bags.
How Do You Take Care of Your Mountain Bike for Durability?
Just like cars and boats, bikes need a little TLC to run better and last longer. This is particularly true for mountain bikes, which may get exposed to rain, grit, falls on gravel, rough paths riddled with potholes, and more. After you’ve selected a women’s mountain bike from this list, take a look at these dos and don’ts for keeping your bike in good condition:
DO keep the bike clean. After every run, take a minute to wipe the structure down with a clean microfiber cloth. This will dislodge grit and keep corrosion at bay.
DON’T live in the water. Riding straight through that creek can be the most expedient (not to mention fun) way to get from point A to B, but don’t make a habit out of it. The more you splash your bike, the more corrosion and damage it can incur.
DO use the right cleaners. Look for biodegradable cleansing products designed for this use. Clean the frame, chainrings, pedals, breaks, and saddle. Responsibly dispose of any cleaning-solution-soaked paper towels.
DON’T go casual. Shorts and t-shirts can reduce your performance. Flapping hems might get caught in the chain. Scratchy denim can irritate your inner thighs. You don’t necessarily need specialized bike clothing for casual rides, but at least go for fitted athletic wear made with sweat-wicking materials. If you’re interested, check out our post on the best padded bike shorts for women. And if you want to combine comfort with safety, consider investing in a bike helmet for ponytails.
DO keep an eye on your bike. Give your wheels, cables, and brakes a lookover. Does something seem off? Err on the side of caution. It’s better to walk your bike into a repair shop than to break down 30 miles from civilization.
DON’T get distracted. Watch the road. Put your earbuds away so you can listen to your surroundings. You’ll be safer and get more out of your mountain biking adventure if you maintain your focus.
Each bike for women that made this list offers a good balance of features for the price or has standout functionality that you rarely see under $1,000. The best bike for beginners may well be the Trek Women’s 820, beloved by riders and reviewers alike. It’s hard to beat this amazing bike’s meticulous balance of value and beginner-friendly performance.
However, more experienced riders may find the 820 is holding them back from maximum performance on the trail. In that case, you may want to look at the Sirdar S-800, with its 27 speeds, or the Trek Marlin 4, which excels in poor trail conditions.
Finally, if you think you’ll be going uphill a lot, consider investing in some bar ends for your mountain bike.