If you need wheels for hauling, cruising and touring, it’s high time to get your hands on a good mountain bike. Designed mainly for off-road adventures along dirt trails, mountain bikes are extremely versatile. And they come in various styles, wheel sizes and frame materials.
Given the array of options, shopping for the perfect bike can be a bit overwhelming, if not challenging. But with this easy and quick guide, you can breeze through the process with confidence and ride off on your new wheels in no time.
Evaluate your needs
Before you start shopping, think of how you would respond to the following.
- What do you plan to use the mountain bike for? To run errands? Get (and stay) fit? Improve your riding skills? Seek out trails?
- What kind of riding background or experience do you have? Are you suffering from back or joint problems?
- How serious are you about pursuing mountain biking as a hobby? Or will this be more of a pastime?
- What types of trails are you looking to explore or can be found in your area? Narrow or wide? Steep or flat? Bumpy or smooth?
Review your options
The next step is to know and understand the line’s key differentiating factors.
First up: the available types. Trail mountain bikes are general-purpose. All-mountain models are designed for technically challenging trails, so they have longer suspension travel and sturdier frames. Nimble and light, cross-country versions are suited for conquering tight turns and steep ascents during competitions. Free-ride and downhill units are made primarily for speeding downhill on paths with roots, rocks and bumps. And the dirt-jump types are mainly for those who enjoy doing aerial stunts.
Now let’s talk suspension, which makes for a softer and easier-to-control ride. Spot a suspension fork attached to the front wheel? That’s a hardtail. A hardtail will do if you have your eye on an all-purpose bike that can be used to explore trails occasionally and for improving your riding skills.
Is there a suspension fork at the front wheel and a pivoting frame and shock absorber at the rear wheel? You’re looking at a full-suspension bike. It’s priced higher but is a better fit if you intend to ride on dirt trails and difficult terrains or need a unit that goes easy on your muscles and joints.
When it comes to wheel size, you have three main choices. The 26-inch wheel was once the standard in mountain bikes. Now you’ll also find 29-inch wheels, which although heavier and slower to accelerate provide better momentum, more grip, less slide and a higher attack angle for ease in rolling over obstacles. Then there’s the 27.5-inch wheel, which is just as stable as the 29er wheel and as easy to maneuver as the 26-inch wheel.
Also check out the material of the frame, as this affects a bike’s ride quality, strength, longevity and weight. Aluminum alloy is the most popular option, although steel, titanium and carbon fiber frames are also used. Steel frames are relatively heavy but you can count on them to be tough and for smooth rides. Strong and light, titanium and carbon frames are more high-end.
Once you’ve decided on a budget, you can refer to this price guide for a rough idea on what you can expect to get.
The most basic models, which go for $500 to $900, are hardtails for easy to moderate terrain and with 26 or 29- inch wheels. At the $900 to $1,500 price range, hardtails have lighter frames and higher-quality components and can be used on a variety of terrain.
A competition hardtail and a low-end full-suspension model are between $1,500 and $2,500. But if you have your heart set on a race-compatible hardtail or the best-quality full-suspension bike, you’ll need to set aside more than $2,500 for your purchase.
Mountain bikes are a big investment—one that could last you years. So remember to always assess your needs and explore your options to find the wheels that suit you best.