The Best $500 Mountain Bike: Diamondback Overdrive

Diamondback Overdrive     Photo: Courtesy of Diamondback

It is virtually impossible to find an authentic mountain bike for less than $500, but the Overdrive ($600) comes pretty close. This 29er hard tail sports the same aluminum frame as the Overdrive Pro, a $1,750 bike, but it depends on cheaper parts to hit this budget price. The result isn’t a perfect bike, but it’s plenty fun on smooth to semi-technical trails and it would be hard to get more bike for the cost.

THE FRAME
We were impressed with the Overdrive’s geometry. The riding position is lower than most bikes in this realm, which had us nicely stretched out and well centered over the wheels for fast cornering and surprisingly nimble handling. Unfortunately, though the frame is aluminum, when you add up all the lower-priced (read: heavier) parts, you get a pretty hefty bike at 32 pounds.

THE PARTS
Let’s start with the gripes: The Tektro brakes were decent, but not as as grabby as we’d like. (A 180mm rotor up front—as opposed to the 160 that’s spec’d—would help.) And the wheels are pretty heavy. But, considering you can spend thousands of dollars on brakes and wheels alone, neither one is really that bad. It’s the SR Suntour XCT 100mm fork that we had real issues with. The preload dial, which is meant to change the stiffness of the shock, didn’t work, and there’s no rebound adjustment, so the fork simply rockets compression off bumps right back into you at full speed. We understand that the market dictates the inclusion of suspension forks, but we wish that more companies would stand their ground and offer bikes at this price with a rigid fork, which would be cheaper, simpler, and much more fun to ride.

Now, onto the pleasant surprises. In spite of the plasticky feel, the SRAM X4 shifters powered the SRAM/Shimano drivetrain smoothly. The cockpit, with low-rise bars and short stem, was surprisingly comfortable. And the WTB Wolverine tires are some of our favorite all-rounders, cutting a great balance between durability, weight, and traction.

THE BOTTOM LINE
You might not guess it from all those complaints, but the Overdrive is a good bike for the price and is miles better than similarly-priced bikes from big-box stores. On buffed-out singletrack, it carves quite nicely and holds speed very well. And we were perfectly able to keep up with the crew—some of whom were on bikes that cost 10 times as much—on evening spins. The Overdrive would be a great starter bike for those who are just dabbling in the sport, with the caveat that if you decided to carry on mountain biking you’d want a new fork and probably wheels within a year. Another option would be to upgrade right off the bat to the Overdrive Comp ($980), which rides much nicer and will last longer.

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