How To Buy The Right Mountain Bike (What To Look For, Types, Budget, And More)

Are you buying a mountain bike for the first time and are confused about the size, suspension, brakes, wheels, etc.? Then you are in the right place.

From frame size, seat, tires, to bike suspensions, here’s a lowdown on the things that matter for lasting durability, comfort, and, more importantly, value for your money.

What To Look For In A Mountain Bike

Frame size

One of the critical deciding factors to ensure you get the best mountain bike for your money would be the size frame. Mountain bikes come in different frame sizes, and you will need to get one that fits your height. 

The standard mountain bike has an 18-inch frame. It is best to go for a 14-inch or 16-inch frame if you are shorter, while taller riders should look for 20-inch or 24-inch frames.

More often than not, bike shops provide a size guide that will help you determine which mountain bike frame is best for you.

If you do not find a suitable frame size for your height, you can always go for a custom-made bike. These bikes get delivered within 2-3 weeks of your order.

Suspension

Mountain biking is not all about speed and the ability to go as fast as possible. It is all about agility and control. The way you smear through the terrain plays a significant role in your riding experience, and suspension has a lot to do with it.

There are three classifications of suspension systems utilized in mountain bikes: rigid, full-suspension, and hardtail

Rigid mountain bikes are suitable for those looking to use the bike for trail riding and hopping over rocks and roots.

Full-suspension mountain bikes have a rear shock but do not have a front shock. They are excellent for those looking to go through rough terrain or rides where you need to get from one end of the obstacle to another.

Full-suspension design also provides more control over the bike when you ride for an extended period.

Lastly, hardtail MTBs feature a single suspension system. It is deemed the simplest design of mountain bikes and is excellent for off-road biking.

Frame Material

Aluminum, carbon fiber, steel, and titanium are materials bike frames are likely to be made using. Each material comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages:

Aluminum is a cheap option but compromises durability and is also heavier. Wheels can bend or even break under heavy loads. It is for amateurs to intermediate riders.

Carbon fiber and steel are more durable than aluminum and more expensive.

Titanium is the most durable but also the most expensive material. It can be heavy, but we recommend this as your material of choice if durability is a priority for you! However, it’s not for those on a budget.

Saddle

The saddle is where you place your posterior when riding the mountain bike. It is a matter of personal preference, but most people prefer padded saddles. 

Some new riders may find saddles uncomfortable because their position on the bike is somewhat upright. You may want to experiment with different saddles and see what size and shape best fit your riding style.

A saddle should ideally allow you to maintain your posture while riding and put a little strain on your body as you ride over bumps and rocks. 

Budget

How much should you invest in a mountain bike? We recommend going for the most basic and affordable bike if you’re a beginner. The price range for these bikes ranges from $500 to $1500

However, if you are an experienced rider, we recommend going for the more expensive but better models of mountain bikes. It’s all about what kind of experience you want out of your ride. They may cost roughly $2,000 to $5,000 but are worth every penny.

Groupset

You will probably hear a lot about groupsets in mountain bikes. A groupset is a collective term for all the components that make up your bike’s power train. 

It includes shifters, rear derailleur, front derailleur, crankset, and brakes. Common mountain bike groupsets are Shimano, SRAM, and Shimano XT/SLX.

We suggest you go for a Shimano groupset as it is the most popular choice in this category. 

TYPES OF MOUNTAIN BIKE 

HARDTAIL MOUNTAIN BIKE

Hardtails bikes are stiffer and more rigid in the front end than full suspension and speciality models. They are the perfect bike for off-road rides. They can handle the roughest of terrains and are light, making them easy for you to move around.

There are many options to choose from when it comes to hardtail mountain bikes. 

They come with different frame styles such as hardtail 29er, hardtail fat tire, dirt jumper, etc. You can further divide the bikes into sub-categories known as rigid, flex, and dual suspension.

FLEX HARDTAIL

Flex hardtail mountain bikes are a mix of hardtail and full-suspension bikes. They have suspension in the front, which means you’ll be able to tackle rough trails easier than a rigid bike. 

They also come with dual disc brakes and better shocks than the rigid models. 

DUAL SUSPENSION HARDTAIL

Dual suspension mountain bikes are the same as their flex counterparts, except that they also come with rear suspension. 

This gives you much more control while riding on rough terrain because the suspension helps absorb some of the road shocks and bumps, making it easier to handle jumps on the trail.

FULL SUSPENSION BIKES

Full suspension mountain bikes are top of the line bikes because of their unbeatable durability and ease of handling off-road trails. 

This is because they have both a rear shock and fork, which absorb bumps, knocks, and shocks so that you can ride at high speeds without any problems (the suspension). 

The weight is also usually in favor of full-suspension mountain bikes. It has a wide variety since there are 29er full suspensions, downhill full suspensions, and even cross-country full suspensions.

It’s ideal for people who want to ride long distances and tackle steep climbs without problems.

SPECIALTY MOUNTAIN BIKE

Speciality or all-mountain bikes are those mountain bikes designed for longer rides and can handle both the on and off-road. 

These bikes are for the hardcore mountain biker who likes being off the beaten path. They usually have a lightweight frame, 21-speed gears, hydraulic disc brakes, and rigid front forks.

It’s also important to know that this mountain bike is harder to repair if one breaks. It’s also only for those who love the sport and want to do it right. They have great brakes that work well even on steep and rocky trails.

MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDING DISCIPLINES

Are you into racing? Or do you prefer technical riding? Perhaps, you want to be a recreational rider. It’s important to understand these things before buying a mountain bike.

Remember that every mountain bike discipline demands a unique set of features. With that, here is a quick rundown of the kind of riding:

CROSS COUNTRY RIDING

Cross-country is a strain on the mountain bike. It forces the bike to cover long distances quickly and minimize pedaling by keeping the weight low, often with a lighter frame.

Cross-country mountain bikes also need to handle a lot of rough terrains, so a cross-country bike will usually have shock absorbers and robust frames for manoeuvring over rocks and other obstacles.

TRAIL RIDING

Trail riding is about long days of continuous pedaling and traveling over many different terrains.

These bikes need to be comfortable so you can push on, and the bike needs to be agile enough to grind challenging trails. It also needs to be stiff enough to handle more significant drops and jumps.

Usually, trail bikes have dropper seat post suspension, often with a lockout button to stop the suspension from bottoming out. They also have wide tires and rigid forks for confident handling over loose ground.

Many trail bikes have disc brakes to prevent wheel lock-up.

RACING 

Racing is about going as fast as possible down the trails. These bikes will have shock absorbers that can be set up for a more supple ride but stiffen for descending so you can shred the downhill.

You want a stiff frame that lets you crank the pedals over rock gardens without flexing in the frame.

A race bike also needs to be very light since every gram counts when racing against your mates to the bottom of the trail.

DOWNHILL

Downhill riding is about hurling down steep hills as quickly as possible. You need a bike that can sustain big jumps and slides without flexing. Downhill bikes also need to be very stiff because you are riding at high speeds and want a bike that isn’t flexing or wobbling underneath you. 

A downhill bike needs to be lightweight and has strong frame tubes that are resistant to bending (many downhill bikes use double-butted aluminum tubing, whereby the wall thickness in the middle of the tube is lesser to shave weight).

ALL-MOUNTAIN

For this, your mountain bikes need to handle rough terrain easily. They also need a suspension design to soak up impacts that traditional hardtail mountain bikes are ill-equipped to handle.

The frame geometry for an all-mountain bike is somewhere in between a race bike and a freeride bike, with a longer wheelbase and a larger diameter rear triangle for manoeuvrability.

TIPS FOR BUYING A MOUNTAIN BIKE

1. Pick the right suspension: If you know you’ll be riding on rough terrain, choose a bike with at least 100mm suspension travel.

2. Allot a budget for replacement parts and service: The mountain bike parts and upkeep costs can add up. You should budget somewhere between $150 to $500 for replacement parts and service. This will allow you to maintain your bike in good condition and avoid problems later.

3. Choose a bike that fits you: Try to test it before buying it. Also, compare the seat and handlebar placements of different models and determine if they are adjustable. You also want to get a bike size that matches your height.

4. Determine your riding style: Different riding styles require different equipment and bikes. The right gears and components will let you tackle whatever situation you may find yourself in.

5. Pick a bike designed for your skill level and intended purposes.

6. Consider how much storage space your rear cargo rack will require when deciding bike size.

7. Choose a bike with an upright riding position to increase handling and visibility.

8. Opt for at least a 27-speed drivetrain for rough terrain or long-distance riding.

9. Consider a front derailleur on mountain bikes with three or more chainrings on the crank.

10. Consider the bottom bracket height to figure out whether or not your knees will hit the crank arms while pedaling. Each time your pedals make a revolution, your knees extend. The less clearance between the bottom of the crank and chainstays, the more likely you will strike your knees against them when pedaling. 

EXPERT-RECOMMENDED MOUNTAIN BIKE BRANDS

Here are some of the best mountain bike brands for beginners. These are good places to start looking if you want a solid, reliable bike at a reasonable price.

  • GIANT
  • SPECIALIZED
  • Trek Bikes
  • Transition
  • Canondale
  • Canyon
  • Rocky Mountain Bike
  • Santa Cruz Bicycles
  • Yeti
  • Ibis Cycles

Some of these will be a bit on the pricey side, but they are made of high-quality materials and components and have a low center of gravity too. The aluminum frame is lightweight, robust, durable, and responsive to handling commands from the rider.

Conclusion

To wrap it up, you should now understand what makes a good mountain bike. You should also be able to recognize the different parts of the bike and how they can affect your riding experience.

Remember that it can take some time to find and ride the perfect mountain bike. But don’t give up! The experience you have at first will determine if you enjoy the sport.

Photo of author
Written By Robert Gibbons
From riding to school since the age of 13, attending BMX races and events with his dad to himself conquering 50+ trails across the globe. For Rob, his Giant Stance 29 2 2020 is the friend that makes everything better. He is also a proud member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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