July 19, 2024

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Where Innovation Lives

The 10 Best Cheap Bikes for Every Kind of Ride

10 min read

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Photo credit: Staff

Photo credit: Staff

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Only a few years ago, most low-cost bikes were often too shoddy to recommend for road rides, mountain biking, or even heavy commuting use. Today, however, it’s not unusual to find affordable bikes with good brakes, intuitive shifting, and reliable parts—and that offer real performance and a quality ride experience.

Check out quick reviews below of five cheap bikes that top our list, then scroll deeper for more in-depth reviews of these and other options, plus buying advice.

Best Cheap Bikes

Pay Only for What You Need

One easy way to save money on a bike is to avoid paying for features you don’t need. Just as you don’t need to spend $200 a month on a gazillion cable channels you don’t watch, you similarly don’t need to overpay for bike features and components you won’t use. Think about exactly how you want to use your bike. If racing or going for long, hilly rides isn’t in your future, you can get by with fewer gears and heavier, more reliable parts. If you don’t plan to ride your mountain bike on technical trails, skip the rear suspension. Not a wet-weather commuter? Go with rim brakes instead of discs. All of these trade-offs result in cost savings.

What Does Cheap Really Mean?

To get the best experience, you want a bike with quality components. This means our picks for “cheap” won’t necessarily be in the ultra-low-cost price range you might be thinking of. We worked to strike a balance between choosing more relatively affordable options and still listing models that our editors would back and that will last you season after season. For instance, a “cheap” carbon-frame bike will have a higher price point than an aluminum frame. We found the best options relative to style, build, intended use, and components.

Look for models with SRAM or Shimano shifters and derailleurs, stainless steel or aluminum parts that won’t rust, and brand-name brakes and tires. Aluminum frames will typically ride nicer than lower-cost steel options. And unless weight is super important to you, wheels with a higher spoke count, like 28 or 32, will last longer and require less maintenance.

Also, make sure the bike fits. Typically, the lower a bike’s price, the fewer available sizes there are from the manufacturer. While a top-end model might have seven or more size options, lower-cost versions might have only two or three. If you can swing it, test ride the model you like or research the geometry and hop onto something similar to get a sense of it.

Get the Right Number of Gears

For kids’ bikes, commuter bikes, and some mountain bikes, look for a model with a single front chainring, which simplifies shifting and ditches the front derailleur so there’s one less part to maintain. On road and fitness or hybrid bikes, models with two chainrings are ideal because they offer the best balance between easy shifting and still providing an efficient range of gears. Many cheap models skimp on the number of gears on the rear wheel. If you want to go far, look for models with at least eight or nine rear cogs. Again, you’ll start paying more for more complex builds, so this is all about priority.

Where to Get the Best Deal

Big-box retailers often tempt shoppers with insanely low prices, but those bikes are generally poorly (and sometimes very unsafely) assembled and have parts that rust and break quickly.

You’ll typically find good service at your local bike shops, but they tend to carry bikes that are higher in price. Internet retailers like Bikes Direct and Amazon, as well as consumer-direct brands like Diamondback, offer quality products at lower prices, but you’ll need to do some assembly yourself or pay extra to have someone do it for you.

Why It’s Been Harder to Find Bikes Over the Past Few Years

In the past few years, more people have caught on to the idea that outdoor escapes like hiking, running, and bike riding are safe, sanity-saving ways to get out and do something that doesn’t involve being indoors in crowds. This has led to a surge in bike sales and, thus, a depletion of stock. That’s a good thing, because it means more people have discovered bikes. But it’s also frustrating if your goal today is to place an online order for a shiny new bike only to find out that you may have to wait weeks or even months to get it.

If you see something on this list that catches your eye, and you hit the out-of-stock roadblock, patience (waiting until inventory is fulfilled again), perseverance (it may be available somewhere else online or even somewhere locally), or just being proactive (pre-order is available for many out-of-stock models) might be the way to go.

How We Selected

Every bike on this list has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors, who have spent countless hours riding, commuting, enjoying leisurely jaunts, and even racing on some of these bikes. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience riding these products to determine the best options. On bikes we haven’t tested, we rely on our experience riding similar models and using the individual components to make our decisions. You can find cheaper bikes than the options below, but these are the ones we’ve found that offer the best mix of low price, good parts, durability, and an excellent ride.

―BEST CHEAP ROAD BIKE―

Giant Contend 3

Key Specs

By combining an aluminum frame and fork with name- and house-brand components, Giant has built a dependable bike suitable for most types of road riding. An 8-speed cassette includes a 34t cog that’s smaller than what you’ll usually find on comparable bikes and that’s great for new or seasoned riders who like an extra gear when climbing. The 28mm tires help make the bike fee
l more stable and the ride smooth. Shimano Claris dual-action brake levers double as gear shifters, a design that’s also found on more expensive groupsets. The bike shifts smoothly, too, and the shape of the hoods provides a comfortable position for your hands.

READ FULL REVIEW

―BEST CHEAP HARDTAIL MOUNTAIN BIKE―

Trek Marlin 7

Key Specs

The Marlin 7, which also comes in a women’s version, is ideal for aspiring racers, everyday trail riders, and casual commuters alike. Riders who like to pedal fast will appreciate its steep, aggressive head and seat angles, and a high bottom bracket that offers decent pedal clearance on the trail. Its cables are internally routed, too, which isn’t common on bikes at this price. It has a 1×10-speed Shimano drivetrain, which provides plenty of gearing options as well as the simplicity of a single front chainring. And even though the RockShox XC30 100mm coil-spring fork is heavier than some comparable air-spring models, it does a surprisingly good job on super-rocky trails.

Add to that the 2.2-inch-wide Bontrager tires on 29-inch Bontrager Connection rims, which never squirmed too much on sketchy terrain, and you have a bike that not only looks fast but also offers the kind of sharp handling and precise steering you’d expect from higher-priced racing models.

READ FULL REVIEW VIEW 27 IMAGES

―BEST CHEAP FULL-SUSPENSION MOUNTAIN BIKE―

Marin Rift Zone 29 2

Key Specs

The Rift Zone 29 2 is the 29er version of the Bicycling Editors’ Choice award-winning Marin Hawk Hill—a 27.5-inch-wheel bike we love for its quality build, modern geometry, and excellent value. The Rift Zone 2 gets larger wheels, which roll over rocks and other features more easily and add some stability as speeds pick up. With 125mm of travel, it’s great for trail rides, especially on technical terrain, and can even work for some light-duty racing, or just going fast on any trail that doesn’t require a load of suspension.

READ FULL REVIEW VIEW 38 IMAGES

―BEST KID’S BALANCE BIKE―

Strider 12 Classic

Key Specs

This is the most popular model of Strider, designed for kids between 18 months and five years old. Everything is scaled to young kids, from the smaller grips to the light frame (just 6.7 pounds complete). The 12-inch wheels are made from EVA polymer, so they’ll never go flat, though you’ll find them to be noisier than rubber tires. The bike has an extra-long seatpost, so you get the most out of it when your kid hits that growth spurt.

―BEST CHEAP COMMUTER BIKE―

Co-op Cycles CTY 1.1 Step-Through Bike

Key Specs

This stable, durable bike uses quality Shimano components, but since the bike is built and labeled under REI’s Co-op Cycles brand, it’s incredibly reasonably priced. With a smooth 3×8 drivetrain and grippy 700 x 40c tires, this bike will hold up on in-town trails and sections of gravel without feeling bulky or slow on pavement. The moderate geometry allows for efficient riding position without sacrificing balance, and the bike is compatible with racks and fenders, though they aren’t included.

―BEST CHEAP E-BIKE―

Aventon Pace 350

Key Specs

Drop below the $1,000 price level and e-bikes start to get sketchy. Most use lithium-ion battery technology, which is still pricey, and including it could mean cutting corners elsewhere if the overall price is that low.

At $1,099, the Aventon Pace 350 gets close, but our test revealed it’s not too cheap to be high-quality. The Class 2 e-bike tops the assistance out at 20 mph, whether you get there by pedal-assist or a throttle. There’s a 7-speed Shimano Tourney drivetrain and five levels of e-assist, giving you various pedaling options. Of the e-bikes we put through our handling circuit, the Pace 350 is one of the most balanced and planted on pavement and dirt. You don’t get lights or fenders, but the Pace 350 feels totally viable for daily commuting.

READ FULL REVIEW VIEW 40 IMAGES

―BEST CHEAP GRAVEL BIKE―

Diamondback Haanjo 3

Key Specs

For a thousand bucks, you get an aluminum frame and fork, 700c wheels, and 37mm-wide WTB Riddler tires with a low-profile center tread and higher cornering knobs, meaning you can tackle gravel rides and cyclocross courses but still keep up on casual road rides.

A Shimano Sora 2×9 drivetrain with an 11-32 cassette and 46/30 chainrings—a notch above the Shimano Claris 8-speed group often found on bikes at this price—provides a large range of gears on both the high and low ends. The 46×11 combo lets you pedal downhill and pick up the pace on flats, and the 30×32 is easy enough to help you get up and over just about any hill.

READ FULL REVIEW VIEW 32 IMAGES

―BEST CHEAP CITY BIKE―

Vilano City Bike 7-Speed Retro Urban Commuter

Key Specs

This retro-cool, upright bike is the perfect affordable option for riding around town, light commuting, or in-town bike paths. This bike is built with a stylish throwback saddle and handlebar grips with twist-level controls for the seven speeds, and it has grippy 700c wheels for light riding on in-town trail systems. The bike doesn’t come with racks or water bottle cages, but does have standard mounts for commuting gear.

―BEST CHEAP BEACH CRUISER―

Tuesday June 7 LS

Key Specs

The aptly named June 7 lives for carefree summer days and sandy surfaces. Its huge,
sweeping Big Bend Cruiser handlebar and textured rubber grips need nothing more than a light touch and relaxed arms to keep the front wheel on course. When your feet aren’t on the barefoot-friendly, rubber-coated pedals cranking forward, they can easily touch down for a quick stop to grab a shot of the sunset.

Like any capable cruiser, the June 7 comes with 2.35-inch balloon tires, ideal for mixed surfaces. A seven-speed drivetrain with a 44t chainring and 14-34t cassette opens this bike up to more variety of exploring in areas that aren’t mostly flat. Want more hauling capability? Add a rear rack.

READ FULL REVIEW

―BEST CHEAP CARBON ROAD BIKE―

Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105

Key Specs

This is one of the best—and least expensive—carbon-fiber road race bikes we’ve tried. The Cannondale SuperSix Evo 105 is a budget-priced offering that is good for serious racing or any long, fast ride. It’s built around a BallisTec carbon fiber frame and fork, and is hung with Shimano’s durable and affordable 105 components. Outfitted with wide gears (36/52 x 11-28) and 25mm Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Slick tires on Fulcrum Racing 900 wheels, the SuperSix Evo sports components that are light and durable enough to stand the test of time—and tons of miles. Bonus: It can be upgraded as you demand even more performance from your bike.

READ FULL REVIEW

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