Say you want to have a serious mountain bike, but you aren’t totally sure you’ll become an off-road buff (though there’s a strong chance you will!), or your budget isn’t yet as generous as you’d like it to be. What should you opt for then? Well, as a true entry-level mountain bike is rather dedicated to recreational rides in the park, and upper categories represent options for those who really made their minds up, manufacturers came up with a sort of in-between offer. It’s not a category of its own, but the upper models of the entry-level range can usually be regarded as lower mid-level models. It’s kind of a blurred line, actually, yet it may come in hand since one is looking for a bicycle that suits him rather than a bicycle belonging to a clear category. So, in the following we picked out a number of models that revolve around the 600 euro (825$) price range, with the mention that prices may differ according to location.
Corratec X-Vert Motion 2014 (26 inch)
The X-Vert Motion doesn’t feature Corratec’s iconic Super Bow bent frame, relying on a classical mountain bicycle frame with an 1.5 inch head tube, designed to improve overall stiffness. With an 3×9 speed drivetrain, the model is consistent with the entry-level range, and has been fitted with a pair of Tektro hydraulic disk brakes, and a modest RST Gila ML suspension fork, weighing a total of 13.5 kilograms (29.7 lbs.).
Cross GRX 9 2014 (26 inch)
Bulgarian manufacturer Cross has a very tempting proposal in the form of the GRX 9 that features a Shimano Deore drivetrain, with a M590 Hollowtech II crankset, Shimano M395 hydraulic disk brakes, and an 100mm Rock Shox XC30TK suspension fork. Total weight reaches 13.2 kilograms (29.1 lbs.).
CTM Rambler 3.0 2014 (29 inch)
Big wheels come into play, CTM suggesting a 3×9 speed 29er, featuring a Shimano Deore rear derailleur, an Alivio front derailleur and shifters, XCR crankset, a Suntour XCR fork, slightly better than XCM or XCT models, and also Shimano M395 hydraulic disk brakes, with 180mm rotors. Also, it manages to perform well in terms of weight thanks to its 13.8 kilograms (30.4 lbs.).
Cube Analog 2014 (26 inch)
Analog sits exactly one step higher than the entry-level model AIM in Cube’s range. It’s equipped with a Rock Shox XC 28 suspension fork, hydraulic 160mm Shimano M395 brakes, and a Shimano drivetrain composed of a Deore Shadow rear derailleur, Alivio front derailleur, and Altus shifters. Declared weight is of 13.6 kilograms (29.9 lbs.).
Devron Zerga D3 2014 (26 inch)
The lightest model of this guide comes from Romania, where Devron, a recently released brand, presents Zerga D3, a 3×9 speed mountain bike featuring a SRAM X.7 rear derailleur, a SRAM Blaze 3.0 crankset, and a pair of SRAM X.5 shifters. The Rock Shox XC30TK suspension fork rounds up the specification chart, with 100mm of travel, while a pair of Avid Elixir 1 brakes is also present. And now, the figure we’ve all been waiting for: total weight of 12.6 kg (27.7 lbs.).
Decathlon Rockrider 8.1 2012 (26 inch)
Sports supermarket chain Decathlon lags behind in terms of model updating, but it also has a good reason to do so. The Rockrider 8.1 still remains one of the best value models out there, featuring a SRAM X.7 drivetrain, the only exception being the Shimano Deore Hollowtech II crankset, a pair of Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic brakes, and a Rock Shox Recon Silver TK 100mm suspension fork. And it does well in terms of weight, too – 13.1 kg. (28.8 lbs.).
Drag ZX-5 Pro 2012 (26 inch)
We don’t intend to stick to vintage models, but Drag’s ZX-5 Pro model has what it takes to handle its competition despite its age. It’s the only bicycle in this price-range fitted with an air cartridge fork, namely an 100mm Suntour Raidon X3 RL, while the specifications chart is completed by Shimano Deore hydraulic disk brakes, a rear derailleur of the same groupset, and a front Shimano Acera one. Still, weight doesn’t do the ZX-5 justice – 13.7 kg. (30.2 lbs.).
Felt Six 60 2014 (26 inch)
Coming back to present day, premium manufacturer Felt offers a 26er hardtail, that features a Suntour XCM fork, 3×9 drivetrain including Shimano Deore/Acera derailleurs, a pair of Tektro HDC 300 brakes, and a whole lot of weight. 14.1 kilograms (31.1 lbs.) to be accurate.
Focus Whistler 1.0 2014 (26 inch)
It used to be this segment’s sweetheart, but currently Whistler’s spec chart has next to none chances to leave you in awe. With a Suntour XCT suspension fork, a pair of Tektro HDC-300 brakes, and a full Shimano Alivio drivetrain, it won’t get ahead of its competition anytime soon. And the 13.9 kilogram (30.6 lbs.) weight doesn’t help either.
Haibike Attack SL 29 2014 (29 inch)
No to far off Whistler’s spec chart is Haibike Attack Sl’s one, only that the latter has a big advantage in the larger wheels and the Shimano Deore derailleur. It’s equipped with a Suntour XCT fork, Tektro HDC-300 brakes, but another key point is the frame, that has, on one hand, a brilliant appearance, and on the other features that make it a good candidate for upgrades. Declared weight reaches 14.9 kg. (32.8 lbs.).
KTM Chicago 2014 (26 inch)
Maybe the only real entry-level model of this guide is KTM’s Chicago, featuring a Shimano M395 pair of brakes, a Suntour XCT fork, and, rather dissapointing, a 3×8 drivetrain. With a Shimano Alivio rear derailleur, and a Shimano Altus front one, it’s the lowest spec chart so far, to which we add the 13.7 kilogram (30.2 lbs.) weight figure.
Kross Level A4 2014 (26 inch)
A more reasonable Suntour fork, the XCR, is present on the Kross Level A4, that also features basic Avid disk brakes, and a duo composed of Shimano Deore/Acera derailleurs. While the 13.5 kilogram (29.7 lbs.) weight isn’t staggering, the nicely finished frame may appeal to a large number of people.
Merida Big Seven 100 2014 (27.5 inch)
Merida counts as one of the few manufacturers that offers 27.5 inch mountain bicycles in this range. There’s no mention of weight, but the specification chart includes a Suntour XCM suspension fork, Tektro HFC 300 brakes, and Shimano Alivio/ M370 derailleurs.
Scott Aspect 740 2014 (27.5 inch)
Scott has its own 27.5 mountain bicycle in the budget range. Aspect 740 features a Suntour XCM suspension fork, a pair of Shimano M395 brakes, along with a Shimano Acera/ M370 derailleur duo. Still, they should do something about the 14.2 kilogram (31.3 lbs.) weight.
Shockblaze R6 2104 (29er)
Interesting as far as appearance goes, and decent in what regards specifications, the Shockblaze R6 uses a pair of Shimano Deore derailleurs linked to Acera shifters, while having also a pair of Shimano M395 brakes, and a Suntour XCM fork. Taking into account the 14.2 kilogram (31.3 lbs.) weight, the R6 proves to be the best value 29er of this guide.
It’s once again clear that premium manufacturers have a hard time keeping up with smaller brands in terms of best value for this range. However, it’s equally true that clients prefer a premium brand bicycle that they later upgrade. The reasons for this are several, and we only remind some of them: better looks, more carefully crafted frames, and their lower weight. On the other hand, emerging brands didn’t waste any time, and constantly improved their offer and products.
All in all, Cross and Decathlon turn out to be the winners of this guide, but this doesn’t mean that other models or brands should be looked over. The point is that this range has plenty to offer, and it also comes down a lot to personal preferences.