If you’re after an entry-level mountain bike that won’t break the bank, look no further than a hardtail mountain bike. A hardtail mountain bike is built with a front suspension fork, while a dual-suspension mountain bike is also equipped with a rear shock which adds to the price of the bike and the weight, in reality you’re unlikely to find a reliable dual-suspension mountain bike for under $1000 so a hardtail is clearly your best option.

When you’re looking at a hardtail in this price range almost all bikes will be built with an alloy frame which is durable enough for trail riding but not too heavy that is has a sluggish feel which you can't control. The alloy frame is paired with a suspension fork from a range of brands, but most usually from brands such as FOX, RockShox or Suntour for entry-level bikes. These bikes are usually built for relatively straightforward trail riding and for that reason they will usually have 100mm travel or 120mm at most.

The next most important component is your brakes, mountain bikes come with either mechanical disc brakes or hydraulic disc brakes. Otherwise known as cable disc brakes, mechanical disc brakes are a cheaper option which use a steel cable to apply the braking pressure. While Hydraulic brakes use hydraulic fluid to transfer the braking power and offer a much smoother and reliable feel, meaning that you should always make hydraulic disc brakes your preference on a mountain bike.

Close Up of Hydraulic Disc Brakes on Hardtail Mountain Bike Close Up of Hydraulic Disc Brakes on Hardtail Mountain Bike

Most bikes in this range will have mixed groupset from the lower end of the range, it’s best to look for a bike with the majority of componentry provided by SRAM or Shimano to ensure that you get the most reliable ride possible. Groupsets in this range will run a double or triple chainset for a range of gears to handle a variety of climbs and descents. As mountain bikes get more expensive they are usually outfitted with anything from a 1x10 speed to 1x12 speed drivetrain which requires less maintenance as there are less moving parts.

When it comes to wheels, you’ll get a mix of 27.5” and 29” wheels with some brands changing the size of the wheel for the same model depending on the frame size. The smaller 27.5” wheels are lighter and stronger, typically offering a more agile ride and a lower standover height. While the 29” wheels give you better traction and comfort which is something a lot of entry-level riders look for. This usually comes down to personal preference and your size, if you’re a smaller rider you might just feel more comfortable on a smaller wheel.

Norco Storm 1

The Norco Storm 1 is still one of the best affordable mountain bikes in 2021, designed to be an an incredibly capable bike as Norco have maximised every aspect of this hardtail. The suspension is taken care of with a Suntour XCM HLO DS fork with 100mm travel for finely tuned performance on the trails. Brand new for 2021 is the clear standout feature on the Storm 1, the 1x11 speed Shimano drivetrain offers reliably smooth shifting and together they allow you to tackle tough trails. The 1x setup is simple and efficient and in line with high end bikes which are just a slight step up with a 1x12 speed groupset, however it is still incredibly good as 1x11 speed was top of the ranger until the last few years. The Storm 1 is built with a lightweight and durable X6 alloy frame with longer reach, slacker head tube angle and steep seat tube angle which help you ride with more powerful and efficient pedalling, as well as better climbing traction and control while descending.

You’ll ride in control with the Tektro M275 Hydraulic Disc Brakes with 160mm rotors which give you all of the braking power you need on the trails. The Norco Storm 1 offers similar capabilities to more expensive bikes and is built to impress.

Shop Norco Storm 1 Range Side View of Yellow Norco Storm 1 Hardtail Mountain Bike Side View of Yellow Norco Storm 1 Hardtail Mountain Bike

Cube Aim Pro

The Cube Aim Pro brings advanced German design and technology at an affordable price which doesn't compromise quality. The Aim Pro is built with an Aluminium Lite frame with internal cable routing and a Suntour XCT Disc fork with 100mm travel for agile and snappy performance. One of the highlight are the powerful Tektro M275 Hydraulic Disc Brakes with 160mm rotors and incredibly crisp braking performance so that you can ride with confidence on the dirt. The 3x9 speed Shimano drivetrain and Shimano Rapidfire-Plus Shifters are more than up to the task when it comes to taming trials with the range of gears to tackle any climb or descent. The Aim Pro comes in both 27.5” and 29” wheels with Cube’s size split system which gives you the perfect fit. The bike really earns the Pro tag, built to be super light and perform like a boss without the high price tag, ideal for the entry-level rider who wants to grow into an adventurous rider

Shop Cube Aim SL Range Cyclist riding uphill on Cube Aim SL Hardtail Mountain Bike Cyclist riding uphill on Cube Aim SL Hardtail Mountain Bike

Merida Big Nine 20

Coming in at under $800, the Merida Big Nine 200 is the most affordable bike in the Big Nine range to be equipped with Hydraulic Disc Brakes and this bike packs plenty of heat. Equipped with the Big Nine Speed TFS aluminium frame and relaxed geometry, this bike is lightweight and easy to control while you’re sitting in a more upright position thanks to the relaxed geometry. The internal cable routing is a great touch for a bike in this price range, giving it a sharp and clean look while minimising maintenance. The Suntour XCT 30 HLO Fork with lockout offers the versatility to push the limits and really have some fun even as you’re still learning and improving. While the 2x8 speed Shimano drivetrain is more than capable for entry-level riding on a variety of surfaces. If you like the sound of this bike but are looking for a smaller option, the good news is that this bike comes in a 27.5” wheel with the Big Seven 20D Model. The Big Nine range has a bike for every rider looking for a hardtail, but when it comes to price you just can't beat the bang for buck with the Merida Big Nine 20.

Shop Merida Big Nine 20 Range Cyclist fixing Merida Big Nine 20 Hardtail Mountain Bike Cyclist fixing Merida Big Nine 20 Hardtail Mountain Bike

Merida Matts 6.5V

The Merida Matts 6.5V comes in a range of great colours for both male and female, regarded as one of the most popular bikes in the range. This is a mountain bike very much for the entry-level rider, as the rest of the bikes listed are higher on the spec list but also in cost. The 6.5 comes in under $600 and makes a capable commuter or off-road bike for any rider. You get a lot of the basics right with the light alloy frame, 3x7 speed Shimano drivetrain and a comfortable design. The V-brakes are not built for intense trail riding, but are more than capable for someone starting out or a kids first adult size bike with 26" wheels

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