Are retro MTBs a good place for a tight-budget beginner to start?


Retro Newbie
I've borrowed a couple mountain bikes in my time, none of which fit quite right and and my time with each far too short-lived to really solve the question of whether or not I was made for mountain biking. I'm experienced with road biking, but finding myself needing time away from roads and cars. I have a cyclocross bike as well, well equipped for smooth single track but not good for much more than that. I'm really craving some good trail time!

All that being said, I've started looking at used mountain bikes and finding some really fun-looking ones for very reasonable prices. The only problem: they're all old bikes. We're talking 10 years+. The prices range from $250-$750, with the lower prices being older hard tails and the higher prices either being newer or higher tech. I've linked a few postings to give ya'll ideas of what I've been seeing.

The simple question is whether you would suggest retro mtbs for new riders who want to figure out their interest in the sport without shelling out a ton of cash. Second, what should one look out for if they're going this route, in terms of quality and safety?

I would really appreciate some guidance!


GT Fan
My opinion is.....What was good tech then is still good tech. The dirt is still the same dirt I rode 10-20 years ago.

The bikes may have gotten better (a debatable point for new riders) or more sophisticated but, the dirt trails I ride are still the same.

A nice front suspension hardtail can be a capable ride and a nice higher-end bike can be had for a decent price.

I like models from Specialized, GT, Gary Fisher, etc.
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Senior Retro Guru
Quality of components and longevity is far better on older bikes....20 years +. The engineering standards and materials are just better. A cheap bike 30 years ago was £250. A cheap bike now is.....oh.....hang on £250.

How do they do that? Simple cheap new bikes are made of Chinese cheese. Most people on this forum are stamping on 30 year old cranks without a second thought, myself included.....however i have bust a modern xt hollow arm one clean in half taking most if my shin with it!

A trek, specialized, marin etc from 25 to 30 years ago will be just as safe ( if maintained correctly....but thats true of a 2 year old bike too) and just as reliable as a new one.

Plus people stare more on the trails......normally as i ride past them on their boat anchor full suspension horror.

As for your finances, buy well and if you hate it just sell it again for the same money, no loss, no risk.

But i bet you get the bug.

Welcome to the retro world.


Retro Guru
Hard tail, retro-ish components, modern fork. more fun than a heavy chunk with a million mm of travel. :)
not sure I'd agree that the dirt we rode 10 years ago is the same as now, given the modern (5-8 years) proclivity for digging bigger, but I will agree that this modern desire can be avoided for the most part with little effort (bike parks, meh)

if you can find something with a sensible 30.2 seat post while your at it, then your set (grumble grumble grumble, dang on one and your spindly steel frame).

happy riding.


Retrobike Rider
10years are basically new on here not classed as retro.
The websites older than that, think 20 to 30+ years old as retro, I. E. Last millennium.
It was good stuff then, and be perfectly good now.
The only thing to look out for is tyre choice, which seem to be 27.5 or 29ers for tyres now, with a lower supply of 26".

As long as it is not worn, it'll be great, especially XT/STX level stuff.


Retrobike Rider
Gold Trader
It really depends if you are looking at retro bikes or just old bikes if that makes sense? Retro to me are the 80/90's bikes and they are perfectly capable of off road duties and would be the next step on from your cyclocross bike.

If you are talking old bikes, say 10/15 years ago then that's different as tech had moved on and you'll be looking at disc brakes, wider bars, shorter stems and different geometry with the option of decent full suspension. This is the route I'd go down if you are thinking about taking up MTB as the bike will be closer to what you will probably end up buying further down the line.

As for what to look for, if you want to play it safe stick to one of main manufacturers like Giant, Specialized, Trek, etc. and aim for Shimano SLX or XT groupset. If looking at a SRAM equipped bike see if you can get one with 1x11 gears. Suspension either by Fox or Rockshox (as long as the legs are black) should mean decent performance and 27.5" or 29" wheels are the most up to date.

That's the safe option. There are plenty of other great bikes around, fork's by other brands, better quality finishing kit and 26" wheels should not be discounted but you'd be better doing a bit of research if you don't play it safe.

By all means post up options on here for our opinion if you want?


Retrobike Rider
Gold Trader
From my perspective, the biggest factor is how you intend to ride it. If you want to be able to ride as fast as possible and go down every man-made downhill which is now available, then you will need to be more careful with slightly older bikes, especially in terms of long enough travel suspension that works well. If you're not as focused on times and happy to go slower because you need to learn plenty of ATB-specific skills to be able to ride each trail more confidently, then you can buy a 30 year old good quality bike that will be equally as good as a current one for that purpose at a tiny fraction of the price. Equally, the good components from that era were in general made a lot more durable, although some of the boutique, race-oriented stuff can be fragile.


Gold Trader
Roberts Fan
I have an almost new Giant MTB bought through the CTW scheme in a moment of madness, a Steel Kona Explosif, a Roberts White Spider and a few other Retro bikes and have ridden lots of others through the years.

When I ride new, I don't have to think much about what I do, the lines etc etc, let the brakes off and make it home un-bruised but feeling unchallenged ( I guess to some that's good).

Ride the Kona, I go home having felt like I have wrestled a Gorilla, bloodied shins and a great big smile on my face !

And I agree with the above post about components being made of Chinese cheese :)


GT Fan
I may pick up a hardtail as a second bike as a loaner for double rides. If I don't want to ride my GT STS dh and want some more light and nimble a inexpensive bike could fill that void.
A few of bikes I am considering that are local to me. New ones come up weekly.

Marin Bobcat

Breezer Jet Stream-needs work

Haro Extreme


Gold Trader
Overbury's Fan
If it fits you, which it obviously didn't the previous rider that Breezer is a bargain, highly desirable frame in its day with great rigid forks and some nice gear fitted.