Flashback Friday: The Best Bikes for Less Than $3000

The Best Bikes for Less Than $3000

How to Find the Best Value in Mountain Biking

No need for the bankroll: Just because you don’t want to take a second mortgage on your house to afford your next bike, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a bike that will seriously shred. If you’re on a budget, follow our advice and you’ll find the best bang for your buck when buying your next trailbike.

We spend a significant portion of this magazine talking about the newest and most exotic technologies in the cycling world, and those bikes and products regularly carry a hefty price tag—one that most riders aren’t willing to pay. Mountain biking is a gear-intensive sport, but that doesn’t mean it has to be prohibitively expensive. We know there are plenty of riders out there who love reading about the “Ferrari” bikes we regularly test but would never consider buying one. That includes the entire Mountain Bike Action staff—a group of riders who wouldn’t be able to afford much more than a beater rust bucket from a sketchy Craigslist ad if it weren’t for our jobs testing bikes. Fortunately, the technologies that are cutting edge one year regularly trickle down to the bikes that many more riders can afford the following year, result- ing in better bikes for everyone. We set out to sift through the multitude of awesome bikes that are actually affordable to see which ones we would actually spend our hard-earned money on.

Two schools of thought:

When buying a new bike on a budget, there are two distinctly different ways of thinking: The first is to buy the bike with the highest-end components, like wheels, drivetrain, handlebars, stem, etc. The other is to buy a higher-end frame with lower-end components with the notion that they will be upgraded later. Either of these is logical and will work. However, riders should know what they’re getting into before going down either of these paths.

Specialized Epic Comp Carbon: This is a bike by Specialized designed to cater to riders looking for a solid cross-country trailbike. It doesn’t sport any rear suspension, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for with quality components and a very lightweight build. Riders looking for the best bang for the buck in the sub-$3000 price range will typically find the best value by looking to hardtails first. This bike comes with a full-carbon frame construction, a single-ring drivetrain with a huge 11-speed cassette and even high-end Roval wheels. It sells for $2600.

Specialized Epic FSR Comp: This is Specialized’s base-model Epic FSR, which sports 4 inches of rear-wheel travel. It’s a dialed bike with a Fox Brain shock that will help you tame the trails better than the hardtail version. However, you must give up some of the amenities that the similarly priced hardtail Epic has to offer. First off, the frame is built from aluminum instead of carbon, which will make the bike heavier. Second, the linkage and shock add complexity that not only add weight, but also will require more maintenance than the hardtail. Moreover, the suspension bike comes with a lower-end parts spec that includes a 2×10 drivetrain, heavier wheels and lower-end brakes by comparison. This bike also sells for $2800, which is $200 more than the hardtail model. The Epic FSR will undoubtedly be a more capable bike on rougher trails, thanks to the 4 inches of rear-wheel travel. However, you must be willing to give up some of the upgrades afforded by the hardtail version to have it.

Haro FLC 27.5 Comp: Smoke the field, not your wallet with this race bike. The smart money’s on the Flightline Carbon Comp 27.5″, with Haro FL16 Carbon frame, RockShox Recon Gold fork, front/rear thru-axles, Shimano SLX and SunRace 1×11 drive train. $1950.

KHS Zaca 29er: When looking for a new mountain bike, there is a limit to how little you can spend and still find yourself with a “real” bike that’s ready to hit trails. That price is somewhere around $450 to $500 (new). Any bike that sells for less than that, even if it still looks like a mountain bike, is not ready to hit the trails. In fact, bikes that are less expensive than that, like the ones you can buy from a big-box retailer like Walmart or Target, have no business on the trails. Brands like KHS pride themselves on being able to deliver value to the rider on bikes even at the lowest end of the price spectrum. This Zaca 29er features all of the amenities you really need at a price that’s easier to swallow for a beginner. The bike comes with an aluminum frame, cable-actuated disc brakes, a Shimano drivetrain and 29er wheels. It also comes with a very easy-to- swallow $450 price tag. It’s a perfect starter bike for anyone looking to get into the sport.

Bargain buyer tip #1: You don’t know the history of a bike unless you buy it new. Keep in mind that any used-bike “deal” you may find will come without any kind of warranty and likely no support from the person you buy it from. Used bikes purchased from a shop may include some kind of service plan, but individual sales are a big risk.

Trek Procaliber 6: Procaliber 6 is a fast cross country mountain bike and the most affordable MTB model with IsoSpeed—a decoupler at the top tube/seat tube junction that provides additional compliance on rough courses. IsoSpeed gives you a unique and substantial advantage over a traditional hardtail, because it cuts down on the trail’s fatiguing bumps and delivers a smoother, faster ride. Retail $2000.


GT Bicycles Force Comp: The Force is a 150mm travel, 27.5-inch All Mountain bike that is built for good times on rowdy terrain. Whether you’re getting down and dirty on a high alpine ride, racing your local enduro, or pushing the limits of what you think is possible at the bikepark, this is a Force to reckon with. Retail $2625

Jamis Durango Expert: These may be the most affordable 29’ers in our Jamis stable, but there’s nothing entry-level about the performance of these bikes. Jamis says they’ve taken all new frame styling and married it to their proven XC geometry. Best-in-class performance and big hoops don’t have to mean big bucks, and the Durangos prove it. It costs $850

Bargain buyer tip #2: Be wary of demo bikes. While they may look enticing on the surface, these bikes typically live a very harsh life, being ridden hard during the day and being put away wet at night. Bike shops, resorts and even bike manufacturers will frequently “freshen” these bikes by putting a new set of tires or a new chain on, but will neglect to do the maintenance on suspension and other key parts. If you decide to buy a rental bike, know that there have been many riders who have ridden it while saying, “What do I care? It’s not my bike.”

Devinci Minus RS: Devinci takes one of their more affordable bikes and bolts fat wheels and tires to it with the Minus RS. Fat bikes are very tempting for many riders because they simply look cool. Bottom line: they are a blast to ride but not quite as capable as traditional trailbikes. For riders looking for a specific-use bike—one that can tackle loose conditions, snow, sand, etc.—these are an awesome choice. For those looking for a bike to do it all, there are typically better options than a full-blown fat bike. That said, though, the Minus comes with a very well-designed aluminum frame and fork and enough suspension in the tire volume to keep the ride controlled and comfortable. The bike also comes with Avid BB5 brakes, a Shimano Deore/XT drivetrain and burly aluminum wheels. Price is $1680.

Cannondale Trail 4: Cannondale is one of those brands that’s known for innovation, and that innovation trickles down from their high-end elite race frames to their more basic models like the Trail 4. With its progressive geometry, impressive construction and high-end features, the all-new Trail offers unreal performance and killer value. Retail $1150

Bargain buyer tip #3: If you’re going to buy a used bike, be sure to take a knowledgeable and trustworthy friend with you to inspect the deal. Not only will they offer solid advice about the bike and its condition, but they may also prevent you from pulling the trigger on a bad bike because you’re just so excited about “the deal.”

Scott Big John: Scott’s Big John is a great way to get into the world of fat biking without breaking the bank. The Big John comes with a butted aluminum frame and clearance for huge 5-inch- wide tires. It might not be the best choice for a beginner’s first bike but it could certainly be pushed into trailbike service for most any rider.

Airborne Plague FS Enduro: When talking about “bang for the buck” at this price point, a hardtail will certainly get you the best in components and construction. However, if you’re looking for an aggressive bike, a hardtail simply won’t do. The Airborne Plague is one of the few bikes that delivers the components we look for in a long-travel bike and still comes in at a price that’s reasonable. The $2400 Plague uses a SRAM 11-speed drivetrain and Manitou front and rear suspension. While riding or racing enduro on a budget may be a tall order, this bike proved to us that it’s certainly possible.

Haro Shift Plus: Built on the foundation of a 6000 series 4 bar linkage frame with Plus geometry, the Shift Plus is the ultimate go-anywhere do-anything suspension bike. It features 130mm of travel in the rear, and 140mm of travel in the front with the new Revelation RC 27.5″ Boost fork from RockShox. Add to that WTB Scraper i35 rims paired with WTB Ranger 27.5 x 2.8″ tires and you’ll have so much suspension you’ll barely know the bumps were ever there. Shift Plus features Haro’s Four-Bar linkage Plus design and has a progressive rear function with an additional central linkage and rear wheel pivots that work together to optimize shock performance. In addition, it creates increased rigidity between the front and rear triangle and isolates the rear shock from braking forces while keeping the suspension active when needed. A dropper post by TranzX adds convenience and Shimano SLX 7000 hydraulic disc brakes with fins stops this beast on a dime. Its semi complete Shimano XT 1X11 drive train pairs nicely with an FSA V-Drive Modular Boost crankset with 30T chain ring. Retail $2300

Giant XTC Advanced 29 3: Cross-country race bikes are among the most expensive out there. They use the lightest and most finicky components you can imagine, built from materials that cause the price tags to skyrocket. However, some companies, like Giant, have done their homework to bring competitive bikes to the sub-$2500 price range. With its large-diameter 29-inch wheels, and an option to switch to 27.5+, this lightweight, advanced-grade composite hardtail lets you choose one bike for multiple riding styles. In its 29er form, it’s ready for smooth, fast singletrack or XC racing. For rougher, more adventurous rides, you might choose the added cushion and control of 27.5+ wheels. It features wider Boost hub spacing to improve wheel stiffness and add tire clearance, plus a host of other features that let you dial in its performance for nearly any type of terrain.  Reatil $2100


Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.

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