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Mountain Bike Buyer's Guide


Are you looking to get off the beaten path or just pedal around the neighborhood? There's no better vehicle than a mountain bike to tackle a variety of terrain. Do you dream of riding remote trails deep in the  backcountry, taking hot laps on the dirt paths in the park, or something in between? There's certainly a mountain bike that can do it, and do it well. The technology is rapidly evolving; full-suspension mountain  bikes, once the realm of the the MTB elite, are becoming ever more  affordable and common. Looking for a ride specifically for women or for a specific trail? There are plenty of choices. If you still have  questions, stop by the shop, shoot us an email or give us a call. We're  here to get you on a bike that fits your needs. After all, the best  mountain bike there is? That's the one you end up riding home.


Types of Mountain Bikes

There are three major mountain bike disciplines: Cross Country (XC),  Trail, and All Mountain (Enduro). Most bikes fit neatly in one of these  disciplines, but some bikes blur the lines. Bikes are usually divided by suspension type, suspension travel, and geometry. For example, a bike  with 100mm of front suspension and nimble handling will fall into the  Cross Country category. A bike with 140mm of front suspension slack  geometry, for comparison, is classified as an all-mountain or trail  bike. There are also other disciplines of mountain biking like Downhill  and Dirt Jumping that fall outside the scope of this guide.

Cross Country

Cross Country contains the widest variety of mountain bikes, though they are predominately focused on speed and climbing ability. They range  from entry level value-spec'd hardtails to ultra-light, full-carbon  World Cup race machines. A cross country bike is built to be light and  efficient: usually featuring around 100mm of suspension travel and  quick-handling geometry. Cross country bikes climb very well, but are  often not the most confident descenders.


Trail bikes sit in the Goldilocks zone of the mountain bike world. Their 120-140mm of suspension travel is not too little and not too big. Trail bikes can be either full-suspension or hardtail, and feature more  relaxed frame geometries to balance climbing with descending  capabilities. Most full suspension bikes fit firmly within the trail  designation. They ride well in most locations, but might feel outgunned  in more technical terrain.

All Mountain

All-mountain bikes are the rowdy, loud, and aggressive big brothers of Trail bikes. With 140-170mm of suspension travel and slack geometry  that's more suited for ripping down hills than going up them. That's not to say these bikes can't climb. Some all-mountain bikes are excellent  climbers, but they are still more focused on speed and descending. They are most commonly full suspension, but there are a few rare hardtails  that fit this category. 

Specialized Turbo Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon
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Santa Cruz Heckler MX CC X01 RSV
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Trek Fuel EX 9.9 X01
$7,499.99 - $7,999.99
Fuel EX 9.9 makes no compromises. Top-shelf suspension, carbon everything, ...
Specialized Turbo S-Works Turbo Levo SL
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Giant Talon 4
Get a feel for the trail with this all-new aluminum hardtail made for aspir...
Orbea RISE M-LTD 20mph
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Orbea MX 50
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Giant Reign Advanced Pro 29 Frame
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Wheel Size

Wheel size will be one of the most important variables to look at when shopping for a new mountain bike. Currently, the most common sizes are 27.5 (650b) and 29-inch wheels. In the past, mountain bikes all ran on 26-inch wheels. Standards have since given way to several wheel options. After the widespread adoption of 29-inch wheels in the late 2000's, manufacturers started to look at wheel size to make performance gains. 27.5 emerged as a great compromise that balances most of the maneuverability of their 26-inch cousins, but delivers much of the efficiency and technical ability of the 29-inch wheel size.



The most common gearing options in the mountain bike world are 1 or 2 chain rings paired with a wide-range 10-speed cassette. The chain is shifted from cog to cog using a front derailleur over the crank and a rear derailleur by the cassette. Value-minded bikes will have fewer cogs (or speeds) on the cassette. A drivetrain with 2 chain rings and 10 cogs on the cassette will have 20 speeds (2 x 10). Additional speeds on a cassette create smaller gaps between shifts: say you're pedaling up a hill and your legs are starting to burn, a downshift on a 10 speed cassette will be less noticeable than a downshift on a 7 speed cassette. The newest trend for drivetrains is a single chain ring paired with an extremely wide-range cassette. This saves weight, reduces complexity, and gives you almost the same range.


Weight, hub engagement, and rim width all have a massive impact on how  well a bike performs. With advances in carbon fiber, aluminum  extrusions, and the rise of disc brakes, rims are getting lighter,  stronger, and wider. A lighter rim decreases the rotational mass of a  wheel, making it easier to accelerate and change direction. Another  factor to consider is rim width. Wider rims give tires more support  while cornering, and change the shape of the tire to improve traction.  The last thing to consider when looking at wheels is rear hub  engagement. Engagement is how many degrees the cassette can turn before  it drives the wheel forward. In technical terrain, a smaller degree of  engagement allows you to keep your pedals where you need for quick power.


Modern mountain bikes use disc brakes to deliver excellent stopping  power and control in a wide variety of conditions. A brake lever actuates a caliper; pistons in the caliper compress the brake pads on to the rotor which, in turn, slows the wheel. There are two types of disc  brakes: mechanical and hydraulic. Mechanical brakes use a cable to actuate the caliper. These brakes are are easy to service, and work  great in cold temperatures. Hydraulic brakes use hydraulic fluid to  actuate the pistons, just like you would find in a car or motorcycle.  They have more stopping power and better lever feel, or modulation, than mechanical brakes. They do require a bit more maintenance and periodically must be "bled" of air, for optimum braking performance. 

Suspension 101


Mountain bikes come in three flavors: rigid (no suspension); hardtail (suspension up front but not in the back); and full suspension (suspension front and rear). Suspension provides a smoother ride, increased  control, and improved handling. The downside is that suspension  components add weight.

Lower-end suspension is often nothing more than a coil spring and a  rudimentary damping circuit that controls pre-load and rebound. More  sophisticated suspension systems use air springs and give you more  adjustments to control and change how it reacts as you roll over bumps,  rocks, and ramps. Usually the more expensive the suspension component,  the better performance you will experience. 

Suspension is measured in millimeters of travel. For example, you  might see that a fork has 100mm of travel. This translates to about 4  inches. Suspension travel in a fork is a measurement of how much the  lowers slide up and down the stanchions. Suspension travel in a frame is determined by the layout and design of the frame itself. More travel  translates to a more capable suspension system.

Size Chart


Tips to Make Your Purchase Perfect 


Now that you have an idea on what mountain bike to get, it's time to come into our store and do some test riding to see how the models compare in person. This will complete the picture and give you a chance to see  what you get at the various price points.

  • Proper fit is much more important than price. No matter how nice the bike, it will be uncomfortable if it doesn't fit you properly. Come in to see us so we can size you and ensure that you get the right bicycle.
  • Buy once. It's almost always less expensive to get the frame, wheels and components you want initially than to upgrade later.
  • Remember, you'll need a few accessories before you head out on a  ride. A water bottle and cage, bike computer, new helmet, and pedals  will complete the package so you can get out on the road!
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Giant AirWay Sport Water Bottle Cage
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Specialized Align II MIPS
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Giro Chronicle MIPS
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Giro Radix MIPS Helmet
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