When it comes to riding, taking on trails on the mountain is one of the most exhilarating and thrilling experiences you can have. Whether you’re tearing downhill or climbing over rough and tumble terrain, having the right mountain bike is crucial if you want to get the most out of your ride.
But why do these bikes have to be so expensive?
If you’re really serious about riding, you may think that you have to drop several grand on a high-quality frame and set of wheels. Fortunately, you can still get the performance you want without having to take out a loan to get it.
Today we’re going to be looking at the best mountain bikes under $2000. While they may not be considered “professional-grade,” they will allow you to tear up the trail with little issue.
Marin Rift Zone
Santa Cruz Chameleon
Cross Country, Trail
Banshee Darkside SLX
Orbea Laufey H10
Marin Hawk Hill
How to Choose a Mountain Bike
Before we get into our top picks, we should first cover the essential elements of any mountain bike. If you’re still new to this sport, it’s imperative that you take the time to understand what it takes to get the best riding experience. Here are the features you should pay attention to the most.
Strength and durability are necessary when mountain biking. Unlike riding on paved streets, you have to be sure that your ride can handle a spill or two (or three). Even the most seasoned bikers can land face first after hitting a snag they didn’t see. Thus, you want to pick the best material that will still fit within your budget.
- Aluminum: when it comes to these kinds of bikes, you will usually find aluminum mixed with other metals, creating a more durable alloy. The benefit of aluminum is that it’s both lightweight and sturdy. Granted, it will probably dent if you crash pretty hard, but it will be able to withstand a lot of bumps and scrapes and come out on top.
- Carbon Fiber: for those who want the same lightweight reliability with some extra ruggedness, carbon fiber is a winning pick. Like aluminum, these bikes are going to be relatively easy to carry on your shoulders when necessary, but it will also absorb shock much better. Overall, you can ride harder when you have a carbon fiber frame. However, it can be pricier, so keep that in mind.
- Steel: most mountain bikes these days are not made out of steel unless it’s part of an alloy. The reason that many riders avoid this metal is that it’s too heavy and cumbersome. However, when it comes to durability, you can’t beat the resilience of steel. If you’re a casual rider and you aren’t concerned about weight, this could be an excellent choice.
We’ve already touched on the fact that riders pay attention to the frame material because of its weight, but the bike as a whole should be looked at as well. Here are some reasons why overall weight is critical when picking out a mountain bike.
- Carrying/Transportation: whether you’re putting it on a bike rack on your car or lifting it over a river, you want your bike to be as light as possible.
- Speed: it’s simple physics – the heavier you (and your bike) are, the slower you will go. A lighter frame can help you get to your next point faster.
- Stamina: as with speed, you are going to wear yourself out quicker if you have a massive frame. Because you have to push harder with each pedal, you have to use more energy over the duration of your ride.
If you’re not a mountain bike aficionado, you may wonder if wheel size matters at all. The simple fact is that it does. Larger wheels are easier to ride because you can cover more ground in a single push. Thus, most riders prefer to go as big as possible without overloading their weight. Here are the most common sizes.
- 26”: most new bikes have rejected the old standard of 26 inches, but you can still find a few models that have them. There’s nothing wrong with them, and you probably won’t notice much of a difference between these and the new standard.
- 27.5”: this is the size that’s replaced the 26-inch wheel, and it’s one of the most common. Again, there isn’t much of a difference unless you’re a hardcore rider. However, you will ultimately have an easier time on the trail, so you might as well go with the bigger size anyway.
- 29”: most high-performance mountain bikers will prefer to get 29-inch wheels. As we mentioned a larger surface area makes you more efficient, so you can get better speed and cover more ground in less time.
When we’re talking about the style of your mountain bike, we’re not referring to things like decals and colors. Instead, we’re discussing the type of riding that the bike is built for – its intended use. While you can technically do any kind of riding with any mountain bike, these styles have specialized design elements to make it easier for their category of biking.
- All-Mountain: If you’re not sure what kind of riding you’re going to be doing, then you’ll want to get an all-mountain bike. These models usually have tougher frames and broader wheels to accommodate all kinds of terrain. They aren’t as fast, but they are versatile.
- Cross-Country (XC): efficiency is the name of the game with these bikes. They are lighter and built to cover longer distances while reducing the amount of effort you have to put in. Expect larger wheels (i.e., 29 inches) and lighter frames.
- Downhill: because you have to navigate rough terrain and obstacles while hurtling down the mountain, these bikes have better rear suspension and a sharper angle on the frame. The angle is there to allow you to sit in a balanced position, no matter how steep the slope is.
The final element of mountain bike selection is also one of the most crucial. Riding on a trail means that you will encounter a lot of different terrains, as well as obstacles like tree roots, rocks, and holes.
Because you never know what you may experience out there, you want to get a suspension that can adapt to your needs. Here are the two options you can choose from when making your final selection.
- Full Suspension: in this case, you have two suspension forks – one in the front and one in the back. When comparing models, you want to see how much travel (measured in millimeters) each side has. As a rule, you will need more in the front for uphill and more in the back for downhill, so choose accordingly. If you’re not sure, then get a unit that has the same on both ends.
- Hardtail: one of the downsides of full suspension is that a lot of the energy you produce is lost due to shock absorption. Hardtail bikes just have a fork on the front, making them an ideal choice for smooth terrain and going uphill. However, on the way back down you may have to stay off the seat to avoid getting hurt.
Recommended Mountain Bikes Under $2000
Marin Rift Zone 2
What Marin Says
For 2020 the Rift Zone has been refined so that it represents the most modern 29” short travel trail bike possible. Marin took all the best attributes of the Rift Zone— MultiTrac suspension and the speed and confidence of 29” wheels — and gave it a full platform update to create the best Rift Zone yet.
The Rift Zone is Marin’s most speed oriented MultiTrac bike, created for the rider looking for the speed and roll over capabilities of 29” wheels in a trail capable package. Long, low, and slack trail geometry is more aggressive than an XC race bike for more control at top speed, and more fun while chasing seconds.
- Endurance Rides
- Chasing Personal Records
- Fast Group Rides
- Frame: It features Series 3 aluminum frames, with detailed forgings, highly manipulated tubes, and full internal cable routing, giving the rider the highest-end alloy frame that Marin offers.
- Suspension: MultiTrac is an acclaimed suspension system, fine-tuned to have a balanced ride capable of absorbing big hits with an efficient pedaling platform. The rocker link provides a progressive leverage ratio for the rear shock for small bump sensitivity and the feeling of a long travel system on large drops and rocks.
- Cable Routing: All Rift Zone models sport full internal cable routing in the front triangle with Marin’s all-new internal cable routing grommets, providing a cleaner and rattle free cable set up.
What We Like
You can get a full-suspension, 29’er at an affordable price. It’s great for trail rides and those looking for speed. As expected, it comes with a great 1x drivetrain. You also get features you don’t get in a lower tier bike such as a dropper post, hydraulic disc brakes, and tubeless ready wheels. Few bikes have all of these features in this price range, and for that reason, this is our #1 pick.
Santa Cruz Bicycles Chameleon
What Santa Cruz Says
The aluminum Chameleon is a fun-loving bike with a shreddy spirit and extreme adjustability. It’s a do-it-all hardtail that is as happy making the most of backyard booter (mis)adventures as it is fully-loaded with camp gear and a color-matched dangle mug.
The Chameleon changes to suit its environment. Twenty-niner or 27-plus, geared or single-speed, this adaptable hardtail utilizes a suite of simple, swappable dropouts to convert it from aggro trail charger to single-speed racer to husky bikepacking mule, or anything in between.
Depending on setup and skill level, the Chameleon is capable on a wide range of terrain—aggressive trail riding to jump lines to all-around use. Going for maximum speed and rollability? Go 29er. Riding mostly loose terrain? Get some Plus tires that provide traction for days.
- Cross Country
- Wheel Fitment: While this model ships with 29″ wheels, it can also be fitted with 27.5+ wheels. Thanks to the interchangeable dropouts.
- Longer Front End: the front end is longer, the engineers at Santa Cruz kept the chainstays short at only 16.3 inches, allowing for quick maneuverability and easier lifting of the front over trail impediments standing in your way.
- 12-Speed Drivetrain: Being fitted with an SRAM SX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain provides wide range of usable gears
|Frame metal type||Santa Cruz Chameleon, 6000 series aluminum|
|Fork make and model||RockShox Recon RL, 120mm travel, 15 x 110 Boost|
|Rear shock make and model||None (Hardtail)|
|Drivetrain configuration||1×11, SRAM NX|
|Bike Size(s)||Small, Medium, Large, X-Large|
|Overall Weight||28.27 lbs|
For the most part, mountain biking is more about exploring the trail rather than packing gear to head to your next destination. However, the Santa Cruz Chameleon is built for long trips and journeys where you will have to bring more than just the clothes on your back.
What makes this such a good XC bike is that it is the most versatile bike on our list! It was designed to be the “everything” bike for the mid to advanced rider. No longer will you need to buy a 27.5 and a 29 bike, this one can support both wheel sizes. Nor will you have to decide between single or multi-gear setups, you can do both on this frame.
Because it’s a hardtail, you will do best on straightaways and climbing hills. When coming back down, you will want to avoid sitting too hard on the saddle as it can be a bit bouncy and uncomfortable.
Overall, if we has $2000 to spend and plan to own only one mountain bike, this is the one we’d get!
What We Like
High levels of strength and stiffness without incurring the cost of fancier carbon frames. Super upgradeability employing stealth dropper post routing. Threaded bottom bracket (no annoying squeaky noises!). With this frame can use 29-inch wheels or 27.5+ fatties. Interchangeable dropouts allow you to swap out the gears for single speed use. Lifetime frame warranty.
On the downside, it comes with Maxxis Minion and Crossmark tires, but we greatly prefer Continental Mountain King II tires.
Overall, this is an awesome bike that can do it all. With its adjustability, it could be a bike you could customize for the long term and keep forever.
Banshee Darkside SLX – Jenson
From Banshee and Jenson
The ultimate bikepark shred sled. With 180mm of progressive and tuned KS suspension linkage, the Darkside gives a really predictable and confidence inspiring feel.
The Darkside will encourage you to push your limits, launch big jumps and tackle new lines.
The short chainstays make the Darkside incredibly easy to manual and whip, while the slack and low geometry offer surprising stability at speed so that you can leave your mates eating dust while you are grinning ear to ear.
This Jenson USA Exclusive Banshee Darkside bike will arrive on your doorstep outfitted with a hand-selected set of components from our experts.
- It features a Shimano SLX M7000 drivetrain that includes an SLX 11-speed shifter and SLX rear derailleur.
- The SRAM PG1130 cassette has an 11-42-tooth gear range that makes climbing a breeze but doesn’t sacrifice your ability to ride quickly downhill.
- The M6000 hydraulic disc brakes provide excellent stopping power so you can descend with confidence.
- The Spank Spike Race 33 wheelset is paired with Kenda Hellkat 27.5×2.4″ tires for maximum freeriding performance. Both are tubeless ready so you can ditch the tubes, add valves, tape, and sealant for a lower tire pressure that provide a smoother ride, better traction, and fewer puncture flats.
- DVO Onyx suspension soaks up all the bumps on the front and the RockShox Vivid R2C rear shock absorbs the big hits on the rear.
- KS Link Suspension: Suspension kinematics optimized for bikepark and downhill riding
- Linkage Pivots: Utilizing fully sealed high quality bearings
- Frame: Lifetime crash replacement to original owner
|Small||5′ 0″ – 5′ 4″|
|Medium||5′ 5″ – 5″ 9″|
|Large||5′ 9″ – 5′ 11″|
What We Like
The Banshee from Jenson is the most unique bike on this list. It’s a custom build from Jenson that takes a terrific frame and combines it with awesome parts. It’s a terrific package they’ve put together and one that any advanced rider should consider.
Orbea Laufey H10
What Orbea Says
Laufey is our most clever and versatile bike. Instead of saying that Laufey is tailored for one type of rider, we’re going to go ahead and claim this fun-loving machine is perfect for everyone. Laufey is omnipotent: it’s a slack, simple trail bike that relishes new terrain.
Laufey may be someone’s first bike or their latest bike. It’s inexpensive and attainable, and it’s a niche bike that feels at home in even the most exclusive bike collection. It’s for first timers and expert shredders. Ride it in lycra, shred it in jeans. Laufey is a jack-of-all-trades and master of fun with 29” wheels and a 140mm fork.
- Suspension: A hardtail bike that is coupled with a 140mm travel fork, 29″ wheels, and wide 2.6″ tires.
- Frame: Hydroformed aluminum tubing to resist flex and strain. Using technologies often seen in advanced carbon fiber bikes to bring some of the strongest frames on the market.
- Wheel Flexibility: The boost axle spacing on the front and rear is what allows this bike to run 27.5+ or 29’er tires.
|Small||4′ 11″ – 5′ 5″|
|Medium||5′ 3″ – 5′ 9″|
|Large||5′ 6″ – 6′ 1″|
|X-Large||5′ 10″ – 6′ 6″|
When talking about mountain bike brands, you have to discuss the quality and reliability of Orbea. The company was started by two brothers in Spain, and it’s grown into one of the most respected brands in the world. Why is Orbea held in such high regard? Because their bikes are incredibly well built.
In this case, we have the Laufey H10, which is considered a beefy all-mountain bike. It can tackle almost any trail with ease. Part of the reason this bike is so good is the care and attention paid to the frame. In 2018 Orbea started shipping bikes with their Orbea OMP carbon frame, which keeps them ultra light while providing great stiffness. In short, you can ride with the utmost confidence on a frame meant for much more expensive bikes.
The other thing that we like about the Laufey is the handling. You get a highly precise drivetrain from Shimano and exceptional fork suspension from Marzzocchi. Whether you’re climbing hills or tearing down them, you won’t feel much from the terrain, and you’ll be able to control yourself much better than you might think.
Overall, this unit is built to last, and it will outpace almost any other all-mountain bike you can find.
What We Like
Aluminum frame using space age carbon fiber forming technologies. More precise drivetrain for better handling. 1×12 drivetrain. Ideal for steep climbs and descents. Lightweight and rugged
Marin Hawk Hill 2
What Marin Says
The Hawk Hill is our most playful trail bike, made for the rider that catches a bit of air off of every root in the trail, is always looking for an alternate line, and ends every ride with a smile. This is an all-around suspension bike with trail performance far out stretching the asking price. It’s known for being one of the best full-suspension bike on a budget.
- All Mountain
- Series 3 Aluminum Frame: The Hawk Hill has a Series 3 6061 butted and hydroformed aluminum frame with 120mm travel MultiTrac suspension technology and playful 27.5” wheels. 27.5” wheels fit most riders better and create a lightweight and responsive bike, the most playful trail bike in the line.
- MultiTrac Suspension: MultiTrac is an acclaimed suspension system, fine-tuned to have a balanced ride capable of absorbing big hits with an efficient pedaling platform. The rocker link provides a progressive leverage ratio for the rear shock for small bump sensitivity and the feeling of a long travel system on large drops and rocks.
- Internal Routing: Hawk Hill models are compatible with internally routed dropper posts, with internal rear derailleur routing for a clean look and snag free ride.
- Thru Axle: Boost front spacing is paired with a 148x12mm Boost rear thru-axle on the Hawk Hill 3 and Hawk Hill 2 for frame and wheel strength, and future wheel upgrade compatibility.
What We Like
The Marin Hawk Hill 2 is one of our favorite mountain bikes in this price range. It’s not our #1 pick, but it is definitely a bike everyone should consider. It’s an affordable full-suspension that has everything you need to be a great rider.
In this $2000 price range, you’re starting to get a serious mountain bike. For a lot of new riders, this is a massive investment. It starts introducing some really cool features without getting too far out there with carbon fiber and other exotic technologies.
For our money, we highly recommend the Marin Rift Zone. It’s been thru the ringer and has stood the test of time as one of the best bikes for the money in this price range.
Our second pick is the Santa Cruz Chameleon. It’s one of the oldest bikes on this list that has gone thru evolutionary changes. The brand is famous for being one of the best, and this bike lives up to that reputation. It doesn’t have the full suspension like the Marin Rift Zone, but it does make up for being an overall winning combination of frame, fork, and parts.