Choosing the right mountain bike to buy can seem like a really daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow the 6 simple steps below and by the end you’ll be confident that you’ll know how to choose the best mountain bike for you.
Step 1 – Set Your Budget
Determine exactly the most amount of money you can spend on your new bike and lock your budget at that. Remember to set aside any money you need for extras, such as a bike seat bag, camelbak, waterbottles, mountain bike tools, helmet, bike fit fees, mountain bike shoes, pedals, gloves, adjustable seatpost…
And when buying that new mountain bike spend more money at the start to get the best possible bike you can afford. You’ll save money in the long run because you’ll have a bike with better quality, longer lasting parts.
Step 2 – Choose Your Style
Be honest with yourself about how you will be using the bike. Have a good think about what you will spend most of your time doing on your new bike, the terrain you’ll be riding, and how often you will race it.
Sure you might daydream about being some unstoppable free riding legend, but a free ride bike with 7-inches of travel won’t be much good to you on the trails if all you do is light cross country mountain biking on nice free flowing trails.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What type of mountain biker are you and what do you have the most fun doing on your bike? Cross country or downhill specific, all mountain, free-ride or street? Stunts? Jumps? Maybe you’re chasing a new mtb for some mountain bike touring. Or maybe all you want a new bike for is Sunday rides on open trails with your young kids.
- Do you intend to compete in mountain bike races with this new bike?
- Are you a mix of two or more styles? Maybe you ride 80% all mountain and 20% free-ride. If so you’ll need a mountain bike that can handle both styles.
- Will you still be happy riding that style of mountain bike in 12 months, or two years’ time?
And don’t stress about suspension travel. If you’re not sure what size travel your new bike should have, let the style of bike determine that for you.
Why? Because these days real mountain bike brands accurately categorize each model bike into the right mountain bike style, with suspension design and travel suited to the needs of that style. Just choose your style correctly, and you’ll be choosing a mountain bike with suspension travel suited to your needs.
But hey, if you need some help…
- Cross Country mountain bikes usually have up to 100mm of travel. These style of bikes are the lightest and most efficient pedalers and are ideal for light cross country or mountain bike racing on smoother trails. Choose between front suspension only, or the full suspension variety.
- All Mountain or Trail mountain bikes usually have 120 – 140mm travel. These are the go-anywhere of mountain bikes, designed to handle the widest variety of situations with the most amount of fun. This is the biggest selling style of mtb.
- Freeride mountain bikes usually have 150 – 180mm of travel, bridging the gap between trail and downhill mountain bikes. Freeride bikes are made for fast and rough trails, with jumps, stunts and ten foot drops never out of the question. And you can ride them uphill, but it takes a bit more work.
- Downhill Specific mountain bikes are as the name suggests, specifically for downhill racing and they usually have 200 – 250mm travel. They’re heavy. Forget pedaling one uphill, we’re talking shuttle runs, baby! They’re only desgined to go down very fast, no matter how rough the terrain is.
Step 3 – Set Your Priorities
Ultimately your budget will determine which mountain bike you end up with, so you may not be able to afford a bike that has everything you want on it. Having said that though, it’s good to set some priorities to help you make your mind up as to what you really need in a mountain bike. And going through a list of priorities might make you re-think your budget…
Ask yourself what areas of your mountain biking you want your new bike to help you improve:
- Do you need a lighter bike to be a more competitive racer?
- Should you stay with front suspension only, or should you go full suspension for increased comfort and control on a wider variety of terrain?
- Do you need a bike that’s more relaxed at higher speeds – something with a 68 degree head tube, instead of a 70 degree head tube angle like your current bike?
- Do you want a bike with pedal platform valving in the fork and shock this time around to improve your pedaling efficiency?
- Are you over six foot tall? Have you considered that a 29 inch wheel size mountain bike might be a better fit for your height?
Step 4 – Test ride, test ride, test ride.
You really do get what you pay for these days when it comes to quality brand mountain bikes. Often there is very little difference between two bikes of the same price point from different manufactureres in terms of the quality and performance of the components that make up the bike.
And that’s what makes test rides so important. Sure it takes time, but the more mountain bikes you test ride, the more informed you’ll become, making it easier for you to tell the difference between what seem to be almost identical bikes from different brands. Take the time to test ride the bikes on the trails you ride, and hopefully on suitable tires, and you’ll end up making a better decision and end up choosing the best mountain bike for you.
- If the only difference is the quality of the wheelset, choose the one with the higher quality wheels.
- If the only difference is fork or shock quality, choose the bike that has the better.
- If the only difference is the brake spec, choose the bike with the higher quality, better performing brakes.
- If the only difference is the drivetrain spec (derailleurs, shifters, etc), choose the bike with higher spec gear.
- If the only difference is that one comes with tubeless wheels and tires, choose that one.
Step 5 – Bike Fit
If possible, get a proper ‘bike fit’ performed to ensure your new mountain bike is perfectly matched to you for size. This may involve seat, crank arm length or handlebar and stem length changes, but the time spent having a professional match you to your bike will be well worth the effort and expense. Not only will you feel even more at home on your new bike, but you’ll pedal more efficiently, because everything is matched to the way your body moves.
Step 6 – Treads Baby Yeah!
Fitting the right mountain bike tires suited to the terrain you ride will make a huge difference to your capabilities on your new bike. Often though, bike manufacturers will fit their bikes with lightweight and cheap tires, particularly on bikes in the lower price ranges, to give the bike a lighter feel a snappier ride during your footpath test ride.
Problem is, these tires may be thin-walled or light on grip and not suited to your riding, so check the tires, google some reviews on them and ask your riding buddies if they are familiar with them. If need be, request a tire swap so that your new mountain bike comes from the shop with high quality mountain bike tires suited to the terrain you ride. Believe me, your mountain biking will be the better for it.