In Search of Good, Budget Mountain Bikes – Part 1

mountain biking in summer
Finding the fun with some other riders at Schultz Creek.
budget mountain bikes
Yes, this crazy-expensive bamboo bike is a real thing.

I might be the world’s weirdest mountain biker: I simply don’t care about super-expensive, shade-grown, organic, gluten-free artisan bikes. There are so many great $5,000 bikes that there’s no possible way to decide between them, even if you divide them into smaller categories – full-suspension, hardtail, steel, carbon fiber, titanium, bamboo (yes, that exists) or what have you. I simply don’t admire anyone’s ability to craft an excellent cost-is-barely-an-object mountain bike.

Instead, show me a $1,500 or less mountain bike that will make a discerning, experienced mountain biker nod in satisfaction. (I realize some people might still find that expensive. Sorry, but every hobby has a price. I realize you can probably find a used car for that price … but it won’t be as good at being a car as this bike should be at being a bike.)

budget mountain bikes
The Rocket 1 is a good-looking, for-real budget mountain bike. (photo borrowed from

This is going to be an ongoing project – to unearth cool, budget mountain bikes and major components that don’t cost a fortune — gear that’s reasonably priced yet high-performance to stand out in this world of $1,000 wheelsets that the mainstream mountain bike media pushes in front of us. I’d love to test these items, if possible. If not, I’ll 1) evaluate the specs and give an opinion or 2) I’ll rely on guest contributors. If you have a budget-priced favorite bike or piece of gear, I want to hear from you. Now, you might love your cheap gear because you don’t know better; if that’s the case, you’re not the contributor I’m looking for. But if you convince me that you know your stuff and a budget items meets your standards, I’m in.

budget mountain bikes
Proof that not all gear needs to be needlessly expensive.

So let’s get this started with the Schwinn Rocket 1, which is priced right at $1,000.

What I Like

  • The frame geometry is aggressive and quick, perfect for real mountain biking. You’re getting a trail-capable bike in the Schwinn Rocket 1, not a paved-path cruiser dressed up to look all bad ass. Its dimensions are not very different from my Raleigh XXIX.
  • I also dig the 27.5 wheels. I have two mountain bikes, one with 26-inch wheels and one with 29ers. The Schwinn Rocket 1 and its 650b/27.5 wheels seems a very smart point right between the two, offering the quicker handling of a smaller wheel, but the smooth rolling of the bigger 29er.
  • Tubeless-ready wheels! At this price, that’s a really nice bonus. I also like that these are WTB rims, which I trust more than some of the no-name rims you’ll often see on many budget mountain bikes. And what’s the deal with tubeless wheels” Used with tire sealant, flats are pretty much a thing of the past. You can also use less tire pressure to increase traction and smooth the ride out. Maybe in a future discussion, we’ll dive into this more.
  • Lots of durable Shimano stuff on this bike. The Deore group is solid if not flashy. You can count on the hydraulic brakes to be awesome for the money, and the drivetrain is bound to perform well for a good, long time.
budget mountain bikes
My Raleigh XXIX started life below $1,000. Budget mountain bikes for the win!

What I’m Curious About

The fork is one of the most-important parts of any mountain bike. If you visit my garage, you’ll find a Rock Shox Recon Gold, an X-Fusion Slide 29 RL, an old Fox Vanilla and – I’m not kidding here – a Marzocchi Atom Bomb. They all work great. The Schwinn Rocket 1 sports an inexpensive Suntour XCR Air. Aside from the 27.5-inch wheels, this is the part of the Rocket that I’d be most interested in trying. Forks are getting crazy-expensive and extravagant. Could today’s budget fork batter the high-end fork of a few years ago” I’d like to find out, especially with my positive experience with the relatively unknown X-Fusion.

What Do You Say”

If you own and ride a Schwinn Rocket 1, let me know what you think of it. Same if you’ve just ridden one enough to get a feel for it. And hey, if you know of other cheap mountain bikes that can still get the job done, pitch in!

This post just might contain affiliate links. Fear not, they’re non-spammy and benign. Hey, I have to keep this thing running somehow!

By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.

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