Cheap mountain bikes are not our specialty at sixthreezero. We can shed some light on the differences between expensive and cheap mountain bikes. This way you can choose which option is worth your hard-earned money.
The first factor to look for is the quality of components used to make each bike. For instance, when you look at a cheap electric bike often the parts used are cheap as well. This results in the use of cheaper derailleurs and seats. As well as greater use of plastic throughout the bike's frame. In its place, you will notice cheaper metal in the build.
When you look at a photo of a product, someone might say, "these look the same to me." Well, that might be true. The difference between these cheaper parts correlates to the durability and the performance.
On the more expensive bikes, more time goes into the design and the production of the components. The purpose of this is to ensure great quality and performance. When you invest in a more expensive mountain bike, it's not only about the bike. It's also about the guaranteed performance you're purchasing.
Now with that said, does that mean that expensive bikes don't have any problems? Of course not. Both sets of bikes will be prone to problems. With high-end mountain bikes, there's more invested in the design of components. And they will perform better than a cheap mountain bike would.
Another big thing that makes mountain bikes expensive are the materials used. Quality mountain bikes consist of either carbon or aluminum. Cheaper mountain bikes are usually made from steel. You can bet that the cheapest mountain bike on the market will feature a steel frame. As a result, they're heavier, harder to maneuver, and are a more durable strength for the frame. This will result in worse performance for riders. Especially if you're an aggressive rider. Which in that case you would you want a light bike, something you can maneuver with ease.
With higher-priced mountain bikes, carbon is the most expensive frame material to use. Steel will be the cheapest. And aluminum will be between the two of those.
Other things that make mountain bikes cheap is if they have rear and front suspension. If they don't, it'll be cheaper than another bike that has a rear suspension. Some of the cheaper mountain bikes have a rear suspension and a front suspension. But if they're not in the $150-$200 range, those are not very high-quality suspension systems. As a result, the performance will be lackluster.
Like in every industry, the bulk of the cost you're paying is for the design of the bike. Expensive mountain bikes need extensive hours for testing, designing, and aerodynamics. From a photograph, two bikes may look the same. But what you have to consider is that the wind resistance and weight might be less. Cheap mountain bikes don't pay attention to these kinds of specifics. It's about whichever parts work at the best possible price. In comparison, they pick parts for expensive mountain bikes that offer better performance.
There are some great cost-effective alternatives to buying a cheap mountain bike. I would say the number one alternative is to buy a mountain bike used. I say that because I myself and many people I know have bought and sold lots of different mountain bikes online. Especially in the mountain bike sector, people buy new products every year or two. Then they turn around and sell their old products when they upgrade. This means you can get a great deal on a very high-end mountain bike. Which might be the same price as buying a newer cheap mountain bike.
My suggestion is to check places like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Letgo. Most of the times you'll see people that have 10 mountain bikes in their garage and want to get rid of their extras. Hence, they're willing to get rid of the ones they've only used one or two times. This way you can get a couple hundred dollars off of what they paid for it. As opposed to going to Wal-Mart and buying a cheap bike for $150. Another great alternative is to check out some of the cycling forums online. And ask people in those communities where you can find a moderate to lightly used mountain bike.
The next best option is to check with your local bike stores. They may have people turning in demos, or they might do buyback programs. This is where they have old mountain bikes coming back to them. They're essentially refurbishments or a used bike. The discount and value you get from buying bikes like this is huge.
I have indeed owned a range of cheap mountain bikes. Growing up in the '80s and '90s, mountain bikes were at their peak of popularity. That's because mountain bikes didn't come out until the until the '70s and the '80s. In my younger days, I had a Venture mountain bike that I got a from an old department store. And for me at the time, it worked great. You know why? Because I wasn't actually mountain biking with it. I was riding it around my neighborhood probably once a week, and not doing any terrain riding.
Now, with that said, I had another friend that actually bought a mountain bike from Walmart. He it on some serious downhill mountain biking terrain. Long story short the handlebars cracked, while he was riding. He ended up fine, but the bike didn't survive.
My final words are: if you are going to be doing very intensive mountain bike riding, then a cheap mountain bike is not the best option for you. However, if you want to buy a mountain bike and ride it around the neighborhood or on the grass, then buying a cheap mountain bike is not a bad idea. From my experience, it worked out for me.