In need of solid, versatile and hybrid bikes!

Wife and I are starting full time camper vanning this coming summer.
We want to purchase some great mountain bikes that can also serve our needs for short term transportation.

We will be selling both of our personal vehicles shortly so we can help cash flow the camper van (have not purchased one yet) as well as the two bikes. We have been shopping around for several months now and we are stuck.

Reasons for being stuck:

  • Mountain bikes are extremely expensive all of a sudden because surge in outdoor activity has picked up, we are willing to pay premium for decent bikes but just seems outrageous in current market
  • A lot of great models out there and we are not experienced enough to settle on one brand
  • We want a bike that can take us around town comfortably as well as rough it 15-20 miles+ on tough trails - obviously can’t have two bikes a piece or we’d run out of room in our camper van

Anyone have any good recommendations and/or can point us in the right direction?


Bikes are a huge target for thieves, for this reason I recommend cheap ones from Walmart. I’ve put thousands of trouble free miles on them, both in town and on rugged trails. An expensive one could not have met my needs one bit better.

My only problem was getting them stolen…


"Beat Murphy's Law with a KISS! (Keep It Stupidly Simple)" ~ Van_Dweller

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I’ve been a serious cyclist since the 1970s and would NOT recommend a cheap Walmart bike - you’ll be constantly frustrated with repairs, adjustments, things breaking, and schlepping/pedaling a heavy and inefficient bike around. Getting something cheap is false economy, and not fun when you’re depending on it to carry you 10, 20, or more miles.

To a certain point you really get what you pay for with bicycles - once you hit the mid-range of around $1000 it’s diminishing returns when you spend more. For $700 to $1000 you should be getting something that’s reliable, reasonably light, and fairly easy to live with. Bikes do however, require more attention than people think. Carry a spare tube and know how to change a flat, and carry a bicycle multitool to make adjustments as needed. If you’re riding in areas with a lot of goat-heads or other tire hazards it’s a good idea to install “Slime” inner tubes to prevent flats.

There are a lot of frame makers out there, but only a few component makers. A quality frame and fork from Trek, Specialized, GT, or one of the myriad of other quality frame makers with mid-grade to higher-grade components made by Shimano (Deore XT or higher), Sram, or Campagnolo, with a good quality wheelset with Mavic rims is a good starting point for looking.

Shop around, talk to a lot of shop owners about their bikes and the components on them, read a lot of reviews, and be honest with yourself in terms of your needs. You won’t need a super expensive cross-country racing mountain bike to do what you describe. A good quality durable chrome-moly steel or aluminum frame is what you’re looking for in this range. Carbon fiber and titanium are for racing or for those who have more money than sense. You’ll also save money by getting what they call a “hard-tail” bike, meaning that it only has front suspension - not full suspension. Hard tails are generally lighter and more efficient. Full suspension bikes are generally for downhill racing or very fast cross-country racers who are willing to pay upwards of $5K for a very specialized design that’s just as light as a hard-tail.

In terms of security, when I bring a bike it’s on a hitch-mount bike carrier that’s locked to the trailer hitch, and the bike itself is secured to the van’s frame or van’s trailer hitch with a heavy-duty chain and tamper-resistant lock. I’ve never had a problem with this setup.

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Both extremely valuable comments. @Axel I am concerned that if I had a high dollar bike (over 500 seems like a lot for us at the moment) that a simple bike chain around it if we are walking around town would not be enough to ease my sense of security as Van_Dweller mentions as I have spoken to a lot of bike owners, and scooter owners as well, that have had theft!

Have you had any recommendations to curb that feeling? I want to generally believe people are honest and friendly but this is the real world we are talking here.

Unless you have room to keep the bikes inside the van and out of sight, my only recommendation is a very heavy duty chain and lock, park in an area with a lot of traffic, and use common sense. The chain I use is designed to secure motorcycles, and is constructed of thick hardened steel links about 2 inches in diameter - weighs more than the bike. You can probably buy insurance too.

You can find bikes in the $500 range, but they’ll be pretty heavy with components that wear fast and quickly go out of adjustment. Anything better in that range and you’re talking about the used market which is a crapshoot. Used bikes can be in almost new condition to completely worn out, but if you know what you’re looking for it’s an option.

Thanks Axel for the replies. Very helpful!

If you don’t mind me asking… what is your current bike setup? (without revealing too much personal information)

Thru, my current ride is a fairly easy to live with bike that I paid around $900 for six or so years ago. It’s a GT Backwoods Expert aluminum frame with RockShox fork, Shimano XT components, and 29-inch wheels (vs. the older 26-inch), which seem to roll over obstacles easier and feels smoother. I don’t race anymore, so this bike is enough for me. I bought it at the now-defunct “Performance Bicycle” shop here in Albuquerque.