Beginners Mountain Bike Buying Guide
Owning your first Mountain Bike is probably the most exciting thing you can feel. But the problem is, you don’t know what kind of bike you’re going to get. You hear your friends telling you to get this brand and bike shops saying another.
The trick is to sit down, relax, and figure out what you need. Here are the things you might want to check out before you buy a Mountain bike.
- Budget, Intended Use and Upgrades
- Mountain Bike Frame Sizing
- Mountain Bike Saddle Compatibility
- Mountain Bike Shifting System
- Where to Buy Mountain Bikes
- The Anatomy of the Mountain Bike
Budget, Intended Use and Upgrades
First thing you must do before buying a bike is to set your budget. Entry-level bikes would set you back around $250-$300. Of course, high-end Mountain Bikes could cost as much as $5,000.
Narrowing down your budget range by determining what kind of Mountain Biking you want, would really help a lot.
You wouldn’t need a full-suspension Mountain Bike if you are just going to use it to go to the grocery. Neither should you buy a $250 out-of-the-rack Mountain Bike and go cross-country biking and downhill racing with it.
Usage would definitely help in fixing your budget and getting the right bike.
Another thing, you should look for are the Mountain Bike parts. Mountain Bike parts may be upgraded anytime. Parts may be upgraded one by one or as a groupset.
If you’re a beginner and you would want a Mountain Bike that would look nice and go the distance, a mid-range bike of around $1,500-$2,000 would be ok. At that price, you can get a good Mountain Bike with front suspension and good groupset. As you improve in your skills, so can your Mountain Bike by buying more and more additional bike parts.
When budget is not even the question, by all means, buy the best bike your money can buy. You won’t regret it!
Mountain Bike Frame Sizing
Size is probably the most important thing that one should consider in buying a Mountain Bike. A Mountain Bike Frame is considerably smaller than your average road bike frame. A general rule is to get a Mountain Bike Frame that is approx. 3 inches smaller than your road bike.
An easier way is to put the bike in between your legs. Let the tip of the saddle touch the lower part of your back. Lift the front wheels until the top tube touches your crouch. The front wheel should be 7-13 cm. of the ground.
The Mountain Bike Frame is the most important since comfort and ability to ride your bike will depend on this. Small adjustments are possible by adjusting the length of stem, height and angle of seat post, etc. By the way, don’t forget to check for dents or chips on the paint. You wouldn’t want to get a bike that has been banged up.
Mountain Bike Saddle Compatibility
Mountain Bikers should consider the type of saddle. This is very important since it is something that you will be seating on for a good 2 hours when going out for a ride. Be it on a trail or on a road.
The type of saddle that will be coming with the bike should also be placed into consideration. Does the saddle feel good? If not, it would be better to just replace the saddle with a better one.
Don’t compromise on your saddle.
For women, be sure to have a saddle that is made specifically for women. Women’s saddles are wider and offer more support.
Mountain Bike Shifting System
Before riding out of the store with your new Mountain Bike, be sure to comprehensively check the shifting of the gears. Run through all the gear ratios and see if it shifts smoothly without hesitation.
Pedal also for a time to see if it doesn’t shift while pedalling without you touching the shifters. Also make sure that the cables are caped at the end.
See if the limiting screws are adjusted correctly so you won’t accidentally shift off the chainring or cog. Lastly, invest high-end rear derailleur coupled with good shifters. This is the part that needs more precise shifting than the front.
Check the brakes if they work. You must be able to lock the wheels using two fingers the most. If v-brakes are installed, check the alignment of the pads. See that they do not touch the rims while it rotates. Check also if the pads are of equal distance from the rim.
Spin the wheel and look at the brake pads or one side of the fork. See if the distance between the two stays constant. If it isn’t then it is not aligned.
Have the shop align it for you. This should be for free. Check the tires as well. They should have very, very minimal or no wear at all.
The Front Suspension is found in the fork of a Mountain Bike. Basically, it provides front suspension action. Rear Suspension Systems are available on full suspension Mountain Bikes.
It is incorporated onto the frame and gives additional comfort during an off-road ride. Choosing the right kind of Mountain Bike Suspension is very important.
Here are things to keep in mind when choosing suspensions:
- Amount of travel your suspension has. This could be in the range of 1-4 inches depending on the type of suspension the Mountain Bike has.
- Design of rear suspension system – there are different designs of rear suspensions with different riding characteristics. Be sure to test ride the bike so you know how it feels.
- Adjustments – it would be nice to have adjustable suspension systems. This way, you and your bike will be able to adjust on the different types of terrain.
Where to Buy Mountain Bikes
You can find Mountain Bikes in almost all, if not all cycle shops and specialized Mountain Biking Shops. These shops are often ran by biking enthusiasts who know a lot about the sport. They may be of great assistance in buying your first bike. They may recommend their personal favorites and they may recommend value for money Mountain Bikes, parts and accessories.
Do not hesitate to ask silly questions because there is no such thing.
It is always safer to know everything before getting out there and riding. Another good thing with cycle shops is that they let you test ride the bike. Just to be able to give you the Feel and Fit of the Bike.
Cycle shop attendants are very accommodating to first timers. Some of them are rather excited helping first timers since it is a way of promoting how the camaraderie of the sport is. Be sure to ask for free items. It never hurts to ask!
Mail Order or Internet
Purchasing through the Internet may prove to be very convenient especially to bikers who do not have a cycle shop close to their homes. Purchasing through the Internet will also be cheaper since Internet shops don’t pay for overhead such as attendants and rent for the place.
However, of course seeing and fitting an item before purchasing is always more comforting, especially for a bike. What one can do is look around first at cycle shops. If the shop is quite a distance reserve a weekend and go. Ask to see the type of bike you have seen on the Internet. Have a test ride and feel the bike. If you like it, then that’s the time you can purchase it on the Internet for a lower price.
Mountain bike sites are more or less very specific especially when selling their products. Product catalogs are very detailed and very informative.
More often than not, the Internet may offer products not offered at your local Mountain Bike Shop at a very reasonable cost. Check on each component of the bike. Be sure that the components are the same or similar to the components you like. It is often displayed as the specifications of the Mountain Bike.
Beware of buying in supermarkets or department stores! More often than not, they would not know what they’re selling. Supermarkets and department stores relay on volume sales rather than quality. You just get a bike from the rack and it’s your.
You would be actually lucky if they ask you if you want the brakes and gears adjusted. Even if you say yes, it may not be done properly. Furthermore, very few information may be gathered from the store attendants. They may have little or no knowledge of specific parts and components of the bike.
Some supermarkets and department stores may sell an entry-level bike cheaper than a cycle shop, but some of the internal components may not be the same. Play it safe! Buy from experts.
Basically, there are two types of mountain bikes: hardtail with or without front suspension mountain bikes and full-suspension mountain bikes.
Both types have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, due to the increase level of competition and technology, the gap is getting smaller and smaller.
Some full-suspension bikes have the ability to have the characteristics of a hardtail with some simple adjustments. It all boils down to what you want and need.
Hardtail Mountain Bikes are bikes without rear suspension integrated into the frame. However, to improve comfort, suspension forks may be added as an upgrade.
Most mountain bikes nowadays come standard with a suspension fork. Hardtail mountain bikes weigh 2-3 pounds less than the lightest full-suspension mountain bikes.
An advantage that a hardtail has over a full-suspension mountain bike is that during sprints, you don’t waste energy. With full-suspension mountain bikes, you will get this “boink” or bouncing feeling when you get off the saddle. Hardtail frames do have an amount of shock absorbing characteristic due to the improved materials used for the seatstay and chainstay.
Starting out with a hardtail mountain bike is not a bad move. You will save on a lot of extra weight and you will be able to have good pedalling technique without the “boink”. Lastly, hardtails are more durable than full-suspension bikes and require lesser maintenance.
Full-suspension Mountain Bikes come with both front fork suspension and rear suspension that is integrated in the bike frame. A full-suspension mountain bike somewhat resembles a motorcycle.
Full-suspension mountain bikes offer much more riding comfort than hardtail, but weighs more than the mid-weight hardtails.
Due to the increase of technology, full-suspension maintenance has become easier. Some bike suspension companies have come out with suspension lock-outs. This gives a full-suspension bike a stiff rear similar to that of a hardtail. This is advantageous during off the saddle climbs and sprints to the finish.
The Anatomy of the Mountain Bike
Getting to know your Mountain Bike is the most important thing a mountain biker should know. You would look like a fool if you do not know what that metal thing is sticking out the rear part of your bike.
Here are some basic parts of a Mountain Bike:
The Mountain Bike frame is the skeleton of the bike. It is generally smaller than that of a road bike for the same person. The frame is also angled in a way that the rider is in a more relaxed position. These characteristics provide an ideal set-up to make the bike more maneuverable and agile over different types of terrain.
In addition, do check out our section in Mountain Bike Frame Materials. This will give you a bird’s eye view of the different materials used in Mountain Bike Frames and their characteristics.
Also, keep in mind that manufacturers also produce bike frames specifically for women. Be sure to get the right sizing. Always check if it is gender-specific.
For guidance on how to get the right size of your Mountain Bike Frame, please refer to Mountain Bike Frame Sizing for a more comprehensive discussion on correct sizing.
Flat handlebars are a standard in a Mountain Bike. It is usually as wide as the rider’s shoulders. However, this could be wider or narrower according to the rider’s preference.
Riser bars have gained popularity over recent years since it gives the rider a more upright position. For other people, they look better. Bar ends may also be added to the handlebars to allow more hand positions and add to the comfort of the rider.
Shifters and brake levers were later adapted by road bikes in the mid 90’s.
A crank is the component that has chainrings attached to it. This is connected to the bottom bracket of the frame and pedals are attached to the tip of each crank.
The chainrings and gears are equipped with derailleurs. As the term suggests, it derails the chain from one chainring to the other and one gear to the other using the shifters that are placed at the handlebars.
These parts of the shifting system of a Mountain Bike are essential in how well you perform with the bike. The higher quality of the derailleur, the more precise shifting will be.
Mountain Bike shifters are used to activate the front and rear derailleurs in order to move the chain from one gear to the other. These are the basic kinds of shifters:
Thumb shifter – This is the most basic type. Thumb shifters are bolted on top of the handlebars. These are operated by a push of the thumb and the pull of the index finger.
RapidFire shifters – This type of shifters are usually located at the bottom of the handlebar. This is activated by two push-buttons or a push and pull lever for the newer models. Shifters for the rear derailleurs can shift up to a lighter gear up to 3 at a time while shift down to a heavier gear only one at a time. Shifters for the front derailleurs work the opposite way. They shift up to a heavier plate and shift down to a lighter plate. Both up-shift and down-shifts are done one plate at a time.
Grip shifters – this type of shifters operate similar to a motorcycle throttle. Turning the grip shift for the rear derailleur inwards will shift up to lighter gear and turning the grip shift outward will shift down to heavier gear. As for the grip shift for the front derailleur, turning inward will shift up to a heavier gear and turning outward will shift down to lighter gear.
Mountain Bike Gears
In order to climb the steepest hills, Mountain Bikes are equipped with extra-ordinary gear ratios. One example is what Mountain Bikers call the “granny” gear. This is usually a 36×34. This ratio is really helpful climbing steep hills at a high cadence. In order to know more about how to use the Mountain Bike Gears, refer to our section on “Knowing the Mountain Bike Gears”.
Mountain Bike Brake Systems have come a long way from coaster brakes. Nowadays, linear pull-type brakes or “V”- Brakes are standard in all ranges of Mountain Bikes. Options of Disk Brakes are made possible in higher end Mountain Bikes.
Disk Brakes are considered the most efficient braking system since its performance is not hindered by water or mud. However, rim brake system still offers good braking performance. With power comes responsibility, learn how to use you brakes wisely. Timing is everything when it comes to breaking. Refer to our section “Using the Brakes of your Mountain Bike”.
Mountain bikers may use two types of pedals. The first is the toe clip. The toe clip may be made of metal or plastic. This is compatible with any kind of rubber shoe. The toe clip may come with a strap that could be tightened for more support while pedaling.
The second type of pedal is the clipless pedals which require a special kind of shoe. This system will increase transfer of power from rider to bike. The shoe’s linkage with the pedal may be released by turning the heel with an outward motion.
The ease may be adjusted with a simple turn of an allen wrench. A beginner may want to keep the tension low in order to be able to release the clip easily in case of emergency dismounts.
Buying the best Mountain Bike Saddle may prove to be the best investment one can make. Staying comfortable while seating on your Mountain Bike will prove essential after the first hour of biking.
The increases in the number of Women Mountain Bikers have forced manufacturers to come up with special Mountain Bike Saddle designs for women. Be sure to do some research on how each Saddle design may help you in having a better riding feel.
Mountain Bike Wheels & Tires are what connect the bike to the ground. There are high performance wheel sets that are out in the market that are durable and light but be careful not to sacrifice on safety for a few grams of weight. Tires are very important for that’s what provides traction to the Mountain Bike.
This is also another part of your Mountain Bike that you should not compromise on. Good grip may be the difference between staying on-course or ending up in the gutter. Of course, bike handling is always essential.
Mountain Bike suspension has slowly become a standard feature in Mountain Bikes. This holds true for fork suspension systems fitted into hardtail Mountain Bikes. Technology has improved a lot and suspension systems are now easier to maintain and cheaper to buy.