Mountain biking is relaxing while being high-octane fun, adrenaline-inducing while being like a dose of outdoor therapy.
You know, until your chain falls off, or your seat gives way and the stem comes through. It’s important to know what you’re looking for before you find it.
You need to know what to look for in a mountain bike before you go and blow a single dollar on one.
You’ll find that there are more mountain bike brands to choose from than you expected and that it’s going to take a bit of know-how to spot the good from the bad. This is what you need to know.
How To Choose The Perfect Mountain Bike?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? It’s not super easy to answer, but then again if it was, you wouldn’t be here.
The fact of the matter is that you can’t find the perfect mountain bike, you can only find the one that’s perfect for your specific needs.
You need to know about size, wheel size, suspension systems, and more.
We’re going to break down all the parts of a mountain bike that make it tick so that you can find what appeals to you the most.
Things To Look After?
Not sure what to look for? You’ll notice that when you look at tags on bikes in stores, or you inspect sales pages online, they’re going to stick to certain specifications about the mountain bikes.
These features are what you need to know about before you even think about making a purchase.
We’ll get into wheel size in a moment, but the regular size of the bike refers to the frame. With bike frames, you have to take your own height into account. Cycling can be fantastic for you, or it can cause lower lumbar pain if you have a frame that’s too small.
Your frame size will also dictate the maximum wheel size you can have depending on the configuration of the frame itself.
There are some services where you can get custom-made frames to match your height, and while these have some utility, they’re usually set for those who really enjoy custom bikes or are exceptionally tall and are limited by the normal inventory of frame sizes.
To shop intelligently, first narrow it by your frame size before you do anything else. Identify your budget and see if the available sizes match what you can afford, and meet your height requirement.
Bigger wheels work better for mountain bikes, which is why you’ll see 29ers (a term often used in the mountain biking community) referring to 29” wheels on mountain bikes.
Eventually, as you can imagine, wheels would hit a large enough size where they would no longer be a benefit and they’d just be hard to pedal.
But a set of 24” wheels on a street bike wouldn’t have enough surface space to build up traction and momentum that a 29” mountain bike tire could.
You have to think that these tires are going up against a lot, and in order to rise to the occasion, you need surface space to grind against the terrain and come out on top.
If your wheels were too small, you wouldn’t be able to get out of the ruts and situations that the natural terrain of mountain biking trails has to offer. Not only that, but you could have all the leg power in the world, but still end up just spinning your tire in the dirt if it’s too small.
Street racing bikes are all about being lightweight, right? Lighter frames, thinner tires, lighter wheels, the list goes on and on.
You actually have to hit a sweet spot with the overall bicycle weight when it comes to mountain biking. If you’re not hitting the perfect weight, then one of two things will happen:
- You’ll lose traction while riding, and this is because despite your body weight pressing down on the bike, the bike is light and the suspension system is taking some of your body weight off of the pressure, so it’s not pressing against the ground like it should
- You’re dragging along almost like you’re scraping your way through the dirt, which isn’t good either. That means your bike is too heavy or your shock system is garbage, and you’re sacrificing a ton of speed (whether you know it or not) in exchange for… well, nothing really. There’s no benefit to having a bike that’s too heavy.
There are basically four different types of mountain bikes. You have cross country, trail, downhill, and mountain (technically they’re all mountain bikes though). Depending on your usual cycling areas, the type of bike you choose will be major.
Cross country bikes are better on flat or flat-ish terrain. You can take basic roads, beaten paths, trails, and still have good traction and power on paved areas as well.
Most of the time, hardtail cross country bikes are preferred since you’ll be enduring less shock towards the back of the bike. Trail bikes are best for trails and handling dry, loose dirt.
They tend to have even better traction on the tires than some other bikes because of their even angle on the frame, so you’re not getting extra stopping power, but you’re not lacking any, either.
Downhill bikes are made for downhill travel, in case you didn’t see that one coming.
Yes, you can go uphill, because it wouldn’t be a good mountain bike if you couldn’t but it shines with excellent braking and high mil of travel on the tires when going downhill.
Last but not least, you have mountain bikes. To avoid confusion, these are usually referred to as enduro bikes.
They’re your jack-of-all-trades mountain bike with good stopping power and uphill power as well.
The type you choose is all about where you’re going to be using it, and how you’re going to be using it.
This is critical next to frame and wheel size, so be ready to use it as a heavy-handed factor in the decision-making process.
Suspension is important, but luckily, you’re not going to find any mountain bikes without some form of a suspension system.
That being said, no two suspensions are exactly the same, and their uses can surely be felt depending on how hard you hit the trails.
For a beginner that’s expecting to start mountain biking and upgrade in a year or two, and you’re on a tight budget, you can go with a hardtail mountain bike.
As you might imagine based on the name, this means that they don’t have any rear suspension.
Because most of the impact is happening due to the front suspension system and the kinetic energy that it’s sending through the shocks, the rear shock system isn’t fully necessary.
That being said, it is helpful if you take hard hits and go off of jumps.
Higher-end mountain bikes will use dual suspension to even that out, often called full suspension bikes. One in the back, one in the front, and a silky smooth ride beneath you the entire time.
These are a lot more expensive when you match it dollar for dollar against front suspension bikes, but it’s worth it if you’re serious about mountain biking on a consistent basis.
Isn’t this always going to be a talking point?
Everyone has a different budget, and there’s nothing that irks me more than when someone makes a totally insensitive suggestion or recommendation for a bike because they assume that a rather high number is a moderate or even cheap budget for most people.
Newsflash: it’s not. This is an investment and a choice, not just something you get with extra cash that’s burning a hole in your pocket for the hell of it.
Pricing is tricky. You can go with an up-and-coming brand, although in the world of bicycles, those are few and far between. You can go with Schwinn or Fuji, but you’re going to pay medium to top dollar.
All the bikes we recommend here on Pedal Forward have different price points. They’re designed for different budgets, markets, and people, and that’s okay.
But we always make sure that the bikes we recommend are solid. Finding the right price is hard, so why don’t you check out our buying guides to see just what you can expect from different brands and calibers of mountain bikes?
Go on; I’ll be here when you get back.
Now You Know
From the price down to the features (and how to balance one with the other), you now know how to select the perfect mountain bike for your specific needs.
It’s time to take a look at the best budget mountain bike—as well as the upgrades you could keep in mind for it—and hit the trail.
If you’re new to mountain biking, you’re not going to know until you experience it first-hand. Get out there and tear up the trails.