Best Bikes for Under $3000

Best Bikes for Under $3000

How to Find the Best Value in Mountain Biking

TenBest-1No 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 Electric 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.

TenBest-2aSpecialized 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.

TenBest-2bSpecialized 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 1Haro 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. $2180.

TenBest-3KHS 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 them- selves 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.

TenBest-14Bargain 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.

TenBest-4Trek Stache 5: Trek builds their Stache line to cater to a huge cross section of riders. The bikes are hardtails that are capable of using 29-inch plus-size wheels and come with solid drivetrains and suspension setups. The advantage of going with a plus-size option at this price is that the large-volume tires act somewhat similar to a short-travel suspension bike without the complexity and added maintenance that the linkage will inevitably require. The Trek Stache 5 comes with an aluminum frame, a single-ring Shimano Deore 11-speed drivetrain, Manitou suspension and SunRingle wheels. You can have all of it for a grand total of $1580 and still have enough left in the bank account to get yourself a new riding kit to match the sweet black-and-blue paint scheme.

TenBest-6GT Zaskar Elite 9R: This bike comes in slightly under 2 grand, but brings a serious parts package to justify the price. In fact, the Zaskar Elite comes with a parts package that would not be out of place on a bike twice its price. The frame is carbon from front to back, and it uses a blend of Shimano XT and SLX components for the drivetrain. It also comes with WTB ST i19 wheels and high-end Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires. Price is $1950. Nice

TenBest-5Jamis Durango Expert: The Jamis Durango Expert comes in with an impressively low weight matched with 29er wheels, a Shimano drivetrain and an RST fork with 100 millimeters of travel. What’s also impressive here is that Jamis has found a way to offer hydraulic disc brakes, which is a considerable upgrade compared to the cable-actuated ones typically found at this price point. Hydraulic brakes offer more stopping power and a more consistent feel. Despite what you may read on the online forums, hydraulic brakes have also proven to be more reliable than their cable-driven brethren, which makes this bike a win in our minds. It costs $730.

TenBest-13Bargain 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.”

TenBest-RaplceDevinci 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.

TenBest-8Cannondale 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 mod- els like the Trail 4. This is a CAAD (Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design) frame that’s built with either 27.5 or 29er wheels depending on your preference. The bike comes with Shimano hydraulic brakes and a Deore/Alivio drivetrain. While the components leave something to be desired for the serious trail rider, there is plenty of wiggle room to upgrade given the $980 price tag.

TenBest-15Bargain 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.”

TenBest-9Scott Big John: Scott’s Big John is a great way to get into the world of fat biking without break- ing 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 with a Shimano Deore drivetrain and hydraulic brakes, it could certainly be pushed into trailbike service for most any rider. It sells for $1600.

TenBest-10Airborne 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 $2200 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 2Haro 27.5 Shift Plus: Gravity-Heads, the Shift 27.5-inch Plus Trail bike is your secret weapon, pushing you toward the drop-hucking and downhill mania. Plush, fast-rolling and incredibly grippy, tubeless 2.8″ WTB Ranger tires increase comfort and confidence over any type of rough terrain. Combine with the Shift 4-Bar Linkage R frame with 130mm of plush front and rear suspension, and you have everything you need to drop-it-in, and rip it up. $2610.

TenBest-12Giant 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-$2000 price range. The XTC Advanced 3 comes with a full-carbon frame and a SRAM NX 11-speed drivetrain. It’s a bike that can be upgraded as you work your way to the top of the podium on your local race circuit. It costs $1850.