How to Choose A Mountain Bike
Over the years, mountain biking has evolved and changed to form many different types of riding, demanding bikes that perform incredibly well in their own unique discipline–whether that’s racing cross country, shredding local singletrack, or hitting jumps at the bike park. In turn, the bike industry has responded with frames, components, and whole systems that fit the needs of any rider.
That does come with some difficulties, however, as it gives the general public a plethora of options that can be difficult to choose from when buying a new bike.
1. What kind of riding do you want to do?
That might seem like an obvious question to some, but we actually get a lot of riders who aren’t exactly sure what kind of riding they’ll be doing. With bikes now mostly catering to one style or another, this is probably the most important question to ask.
Buying one style of bike doesn’t mean you can’t ride it in other disciplines. However, if you want a bike to take you on long rides and fast-paced pedaling sessions, for instance, you won’t want a heavy bike with a lot of suspension.
A bike in the “cross country” category is light and pedals efficiently, and would suit a ride as mentioned above. They typically run 29” tires for better climbing and rolling ability and are outfitted with less suspension for efficiency, around 80-120mm of travel.
Just like having fun with friends anywhere you go? A trail bike is designed to be a good all-around ride focused on enough suspension to have fun, but not too much to weigh you down. A trail bike typically has about 120-140mm of travel and 67-69 degree head tube angle, making it just playful enough for any trail.
If you still like to pedal, but find yourself climbing really just to go downhill, you will want to look at bikes in the “all-mountain” category. These bikes can be spec’d with lots of different tire sizes (we’ll come to that part later) but will have more suspension (typically 140-160mm), for stability on technical trails or steep downhills.
If you simply love chunky, steep, or sketchy descents, a bike within the “enduro” category might best suit you. Enduro bikes have even longer travel than all-mountain bikes and a slacked out geometry for increased stability on drops, jumps, and fast downhill sections, but they still have the ability to climb to the top.
If nothing makes you happier than shredding as fast as you can and getting big air as you go, skipping the climb and driving your bike to the top, a downhill might be the bike of choice for you. Odds are though, if you don’t already know what a downhill bike is, it is probably not the kind of bike you are looking for.
2. What size wheels and tires do you want to run?
There’s no wrong answer when it comes to wheel size, and there’s evidence of that in the way trends have changed with the years. Two sizes now dominate the industry–29” and 27.5” (aka 650b).
The larger the wheel diameter, the easier it will roll–making 29ers the favorite among riders who want fast pedaling over a longer ride. 27.5” wheels handle a little tighter and accelerate faster, giving the bike a snappier, more responsive feel. The 27.5” wheels, then, are sometimes preferred by those riding tight, aggressive terrains.
27.5+ tires are popular among riders who want a smooth, confident ride. These are called “plus” tires and are typically 2.8” to 3.0” wide. This larger volume tire allows for a lower air pressure, creating a wide, grippy contact point that won’t slip or spin out while riding. You do lose a little maneuverability with larger tires, but if you like the traction and grip that comes with both wheels solid on the ground, plus size tires might suit you best.
Wheel sizes definitely ride differently so the best way to determine which size you prefer is to simply get out and ride a few bikes and see what you like most!
3. What kind of frame material do you want?
Bikes can be made of several different materials (steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon, bamboo, hardwood, etc.) but most consumers tend towards aluminum or carbon because of their light weights and generally lower costs.
Aluminum bikes are strong and stiff and, for the low-weight and level of performance, are much more affordable than other metals, making it the material of choice for many riders. Carbon fiber is more expensive to work with which bumps up costs quite a bit, but is widely used on higher end builds for a strong and light bike. Unlike metal bikes which can bend and remold into their shape, carbon is sometimes more brittle. If you tend to dent, crash, or otherwise damage other frames, an aluminum bike might be a better choice for you.
4. What’s your budget?
The bike industry isn’t cheap and we all know it. Buying direct from the manufacturer can save you lots of money, but you’ll still want to pay attention to what you are willing to spend on a new bike, as it will greatly influence your buying choices.
The price of a bike largely depends on the materials and technology that were used to manufacture the parts. The difficulty of working with the material (like carbon and titanium) make them more expensive parts, but can shave down weight and add strength. The complexity of the technology and engineering are also reasons frames or components might be more expensive.
Ready to roll?
These questions should have helped you narrow down all your bike options to just a few. Deciding which bike to pick from there now just depends on all the other little details you probably have already considered–color, size, availability, etc.
Still can’t decide which bike is right for you? Try out our Bike Finder and let our experts help you find the perfect bike!