How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike for You

Learn how to choose the right mountain bike for you with these 6 simple steps.  What might seem like a daunting task at first, will become very easy because the best bike for you simply floats to the top of your list.

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.

  • Set aside any money you need for extras, such as a bike seat bag, Hydration pack, waterbottles, Multi-tool, helmet, bike fit fees, shoes, pedals, gloves and dropper seatpost (if not included with bike).
  • Upgrading to better parts on your new bike in 2 months time can be an expensive exercise.  Instead, spend up big now and get all that you need in one bike if possible.
  • You get what you pay for: A better bike means better performance, quality and durability.

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 is a waste of a good bike if all you ride are groomed 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% cross country trails and 20% full-on free-riding or European enduro style trails.  If so you’ll need a mountain bike that can handle all that.
  • 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 120mm of travel.  These style of bikes are the lightest and most efficient pedalers and are ideal for cross country mountain biking. Choose between front suspension only, or the full suspension variety. If you’re crazy you could go fully rigid!
  • 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 or Enduro style mountain bikes usually have 150 – 180mm of travel, bridging the gap between trail and downhill mountain bikes.  These 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 designed 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 the most.  Here are a few questions to get your juices flowing:

  • Do you need a lighter bike to be a more competitive cross country 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 that allows a great deal of suspension tuning, or a bike that has fully position-adjustable brake and shifter controls?
  • 27.5 (650B) or 29 er?   – let Step 4 help you answer that question

Step 4 – Test ride, test ride, test ride.

Why Test Rides are so important:

  • On paper, two similarly priced bikes from different brands may look exactly the same, except for their paint job.  On the trail they may feel completely different and not how you expected.
  • The more mountain bikes you test ride, the more informed you’ll become.  Knowledge is Power!
  • The more bikes you test ride, the more you’ll start noticing subtle differences between bikes, such as differences in frame geometry, and how those differences affect your riding.

Take the time to test ride as many bikes as you need to, on the trails YOU ride, and using tires suited to that terrain.  Do this, and you’ll find that choosing the right bike becomes dead-easy, because the best bike for you simply keeps appearing at the top of your list.

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.

  • A bike fit may involve seat, crank arm length or handlebar and stem length changes, but it can be well worth the extra 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!

The right tires are so important! There’s a good chance your new bike with come fitted with tires that aren’t suited to the terrain you ride. If need be, request a tire swap so you leave the shop with the right tires, matched to your trails and needs.

HERE’s one of my favorite tires that performs great across a wide range of terrain.

Learn How to Choose the Right Tires for You in 5 simple steps HERE.

Where to next:

7 Ways You Can Pedal Smarter to Mountain Bike Faster
3 Secret Tips for Riding Wet and Muddy Obstacles
Choose the Right Tires in 5 Simple Steps

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