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.
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.
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.
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!