If you’re here reading this, it’s likely that you’ve been inspired by the thrill and joy of raw adventure. That or you’re gifting a mountain bike to someone special, but either way, you’re life is going to be enriched by the excitement and reward of fulfilling adventure. It’s an exciting time for you and we’re here to guide you to make a decision that will last you well into the future as well as give you ample reason to reminisce about the great experiences you are about to have. This mountain bike buying guide is guaranteed to give you all the information you need.
Contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t have to be on a mountain to part take in mountain biking. All you need is a rugged dirt trail with or without slope. For starters, scenic cross country trails are ideal and as you get more comfortable with the bike you can work towards riding more challenging all-mountain or downhill trails with bigger drops, jumps, boulders and just a lot more dirt!
1. The first step is to pick your style and terrain
If you’re new to mountain biking, the first thing to do is to find about riding terrain in your vicinity. Join an online community, visit your local IBD (Independent bicycle dealer), hang out near BMX parks and ask around or simply just take a drive and do your dirt trail recon. You might just stumble upon something fantastic.
As we said earlier cross country and trail riding is perhaps the best place to start if you’re new to this. To learn more about the different kinds of trails, visit our mountain bike reviews page to get the big picture.
Purchasing a mountain bike is not a cheap investment unless you’re just buying one to add to the pile of junk that’s collecting in your garage. You need to be realistic about how often you plan on using it. Are you planning on doing family road trips, cycling to work and using it for weekend excursions or to build your fitness level outdoors? Also, whether you’re planning on using it once a week, once a month or once a year is going to impact how much you’re willing to budget on your new bike. In our experience, it pays to answer these questions before you determine your budget.
Another important factor is how you plan on spending your time on your new bike? You may want to able to land tough jumps and drops or negotiate tight corners or do some tricked out stunts like pull wheelies or dirt jump and freeride. However, for the most part, if you’re only starting out and haven’t ridden a bike for a long time, riding scenic forest trails is the way to go.
For Experienced Users and Ballers:
If you’ve been riding for a couple years or this your second bike and you’ve been down this road before, you probably know what your style is; whether it’s cross country, enduro/all-mountain, freeride, north shore or whatever else. Maybe you want to try your hand at a different style, for example, downhill, for which you’ll need a different bike or maybe you want a new MTB for mountain bike touring. You might also be looking to compete, in which case you’re probably going to need a pretty high-end pair of wheels. Whatever your motivation, this guide will help you find the right pair of wheels.
Some Useful Lingo
There are three categories of mountain bikes based on the type of suspension: Rigid, Hardtails and Full Suspension MTB’s (Mountain Bikes).
These bikes have no suspension built into the frames. The only things that provide a degree of cushioning from impacts are the tires. These bikes are okay if you’re planning to ride smooth trails with a little gravel, and you’re at a good level of fitness and strength.
Until the recent upgrades in full suspension design and technology, hardtails were the norm in the world of mountain biking. These bikes have a suspension fork attached to the front wheel, but no rear suspension. As a result, they are lighter than full suspension bikes and are great for negotiating and climbing tough, technical terrain, including boulders and rough surfaces. The higher end models are fitted with air sprung forks while the forks on lower models function by using a wound steel coil spring.
Hardtails are a good option if you’re a beginner, but they work equally well for advanced users and even some pro’s today continue to compete with hardtails.
These mtb’s have both front as well as rear suspension. In the front, they have a suspension (like Hardtails) and in the rear the suspension is usually built into the frame with the use of a pivoting arm that attaches to the rear wheel. This setup usually comes at a greater cost and greater weight. However, full suspension adds comfort and reduces fatigue for the rider.
Full suspension bikes are great on double black trails, enduro, freeriding and especially DH, where there are steep drops, big jumps, and really speedy descents. If you are prone to injury or are looking for a bike that is easier on the joints and muscles, the added suspension is a good option.
2. Decide your Budget
So now that you know what type of riding you want to do and have a rough idea of how often you wish to ride and for what purpose, it will be easier to decide on a budget.
Mountain bikes can cost anywhere between $200 to upwards of $3000! But for most people there is hardly a need to spend that much money unless you’re rolling in piles of cash, or you’re a pro competing at either the Enduro World Series or the UCI MTB World Championships.
Under $500: A very basic bike (Hardtail) that is good for the occasional weekend ride and smooth and easy cross country trails.
Between $500 and $1500: A hardtail or an entry level full suspension bike with a lightweight frame (aluminum or carbon fiber) and high-end component parts suitable for regular use on a good variety of terrains, including different trail grade (red, black and double black), all-mountain riding and enduro.
$1500-$3000: An entry-level full-suspension or hardtail that is competition ready. These bikes will have the best component packages and can be used on every terrain out there.
Above $3000: The crème de la crème of the bike world. You’ll the see pros doing the impossible with these in the Word Series all the while smiling and making it look easy.
3. Different Types of Mountain Bikes
Okay so you know what type of riding you want to do, the suspension you’ll need as well the budget, you’re willing to work with. Let look at which mtb will fit your needs and goals best.
This is a general outline of the types of bikes on the market. You should also keep in mind that within in each category of mountain bike you will find different designs and specifications. This includes the frame design, the different component packages (this is discussed later in the guide), wheels, tires, the saddle, handlebars, peddles and accessories such as bottle holders, seat bags, dropper seat posts and more.
Another important aspect that affects the overall ride is travel. Not every mtb in the same category (DH, freeride, etc.) has the same amount of travel. You’re going to want to pay close attention to this, especially if you’re looking for specific mobility on a specific kind of trail.
Travel indicates the amount of movement you will have on your stanchions (look at the figure on top). In other simpler language, it is the distance the spring (in the fork) compresses before bottoming out. This distance that the spring travels mirrors the distance that the wheel can travel as well. As a general rule, minimum travel is great for cross-country and enduro/all-mountain while maximum travel is great for DH and freeride.
Here is a table showing travel on different types of bikes:
Some bikes come with adjustable travel built into their front forks that allow good versatility and the scope of negotiating various terrains. Travel affects steering and impact control. So as you can imagine, shorter travel is better for climbing and relatively smoother surfaces while a longer travel bike provides greater stability and control for downhill riding.
Components refer to all the parts attached to the bike frame, including:
- Drivetrain (crank arms, front chainrings, rear cassette, chain, derailleurs and gear shifters)
- Wheels (rims, hubs, axles, spokes)
The Frame: The frame of a bike has a huge bearing on strength, weight, overall ride quality and consequently the price. Depending on the price and purpose of the bike, the frame can be made either from aluminum alloy, steel, titanium or carbon fiber. However, the most commonly used material for the frame on most mountain bikes is aluminum alloy.
Titanium is by far one of the most expensive material that you will find on mountain bike frames. Only the top end bikes have titanium frames. Carbon fiber is more common on most cross-country and trail bikes, but owing to its labor-intensive manufacturing, it can also be quite expensive. Steel frames offer a smooth ride, but they are on the heavy side as far as mountain biking is concerned.
5. Component Packages
You should know that bike companies mix and match component parts based on the type of bike (i.e. DH, enduro, freeride, cross-country) its intended purpose (i.e ‘competition-ready’, for leisure , budget etc) the price and the user. Also, bear in mind that companies don’t always use the same level of components on a given bike. For example, a bike that is mostly fitted with Shimano LX components may contain an upgrade consisting of a Shimano XT rear derailleur. And, it is not uncommon to also see bikes fitted with a host of components belonging to different brands. Sometimes companies may even manufacture their component parts (for paddles, derailleurs, etc.) in-house, so you’ll see the company name on those parts.
Here is useful list with Shimano and SRAM (2 of the biggest manufacturers of component groups) at different price levels with their benefits:
6. Gearing and Brakes
Gearing: The range of gearing is more important than the number of gears. The range or width of gearing dictates the efficiency with which you can pedal uphill/downhill without running out of gears. For example, a 20-speed may cover the same range of gears as a 27-speed bike, but with fewer increments/ changes between the lowest and highest. However, it is true that the more gears you have, the wider the range of gearing from low to high.
These days most mountain bikes will come with a standard gearing configuration and unless you have experience with many options and are looking for a specific configuration, gearing arrangement shouldn’t be a major factor in your decision.
Brakes: There are two broad categories for brakes: rim brakes (also called ‘linear-pull’, direct-pull’ or’V-brake’) and Disc brakes (which are of two types: ‘mechanical disc’ and ‘hydraulic disc’).
Rim brakes are old school that isn’t to say they’re inefficient; they just don’t hold up as well under muddy or wet conditions. These brakes work by rubbing on the rims to slow the tire down. Over time, they wear the rims. So, one constantly needs to check and make sure that the rims, as well as the break-pads, are in good shape. Rim brakes can be found on most entry level mountain bikes since they are relatively cheaper.
Disc brakes on bikes work similar to the disc brakes on motorcycles. A disc is attached to the center of the wheel and grips the wheel. The Hydraulic variety offers stronger braking and requires less finger effort and also adjusts for pad wear. This is the best for wet and muddy conditions and the braking never fades. Even though you might need to change the rotor every once in a while, it still beats having to replace the tire. However, hydraulic brakes are expensive to service. Mechanical or cable-adjusted brakes also cause the pads to wear, but they are still more efficient and reliable than rim brakes.
Acceleration, momentum, grip, slide, and speed vary with different wheel sizes. Wheel sizes vary, but the 26″ is the standard size. Just as there are different bikes for different terrains, there are also different wheel sizes that provide the required traction on different terrains.
Nowadays if you venture into a bike shop, you are likely to be asked which wheel size you prefer. However, it is important to bear in mind that the frame and suspension on a bike are designed to cater to a specific wheel size, and the if you’re changing your wheels you’re going to have to change the fork as well.
29ers are slower to pick up momentum because of their larger surface area, but once they get rolling and gather momentum they offer easier progress and a higher “attack angle”—meaning the wheel rolls over trail obstacles easier. They are better for downhill. Also, since 29ers offer up a higher stand over height, they are better suited for taller riders, especially if you are considering riding on both pavement and dirt.
The 27.5″ wheel offers the best of both worlds. They are not as heavy or slow as 29ers, and they offer greater stability than 26ers. They are light enough that they gather speed quickly and sturdy enough to maneuver large obstacles that pose a problem for the 26″ wheel. And, since they have shorter stand over heights, they are better for shorter riders who desire the benefits of larger wheels.
24″ tires are the norm for mountain bikes for kids. The smaller wheel-base and height can better accommodate the shorter legs of kids. The bikes themselves are smaller, less expensive versions of adult bikes and usually suit kids between the ages of 10 and 13. However, as a general rule, you should take into account size over age in determining the correct frame fit for your child.
8. Choose the right frame for your body
Now that you know all about buying a the right bike, you can focus on the frame size. The sales rep at you local Bike dealership would be prepped to guide you to the choose the right frame fit for your dimensions. However. Also, there are a few things that you should keep in mind when test was riding.
Frame geometry has a big impact on the fit. Men are better choosing a bike with a steeply sloping top tube (because of their longer torso’s and shorter legs) while women are better off choosing a bike without a steep slope but with a higher seat position.
Seat to Handlebar reach: You should feel relaxed and in control. Neither reaching too far nor sitting in too tight.
Seat height about the handlebar: Handlebars must not be more than 2” below the seat height and for some riders the seat should be level with the handlebars. For aggressive riding, it is better to have the handlebars lower than the seat, whereas when the bars are higher than the seat it provides a more relaxed riding position.
Armed with all this info, you are now ready to buy the bike that you’ve been dying to ride. Keep in mind that unless you’re looking to ride high-level trails that require specific specs, such as Downhill, the bike you choose will be more than capable of handling various terrain. Also, keep things simple, you have all the information you need. Don’t make a project out of buying this thing and drive everyone crazy including yourself. It’s time to have fun and hit the wild outdoors.
If you have any further questions, please to write to us. We are here to guide you. Good Luck!