Guide To Buying The Best Mountain Bike For You

Learn how to shop for a mountain bike and find the right model, configuration and options for you.

Since mountain bikes can be very expensive, it's a good thing to determine your price range before going shopping. As a rough guide, an "entry level" bike runs from $600 - $800 (you can find cheaper, but they probably won't hold up.) Secondly, a bike shop is probably a better place to look than a huge department store - you'll find better quality bikes there, and the personnel are generally more knowledgeable and can help you find a bike suited to your needs. Finally, there is a wide spectrum of bike classifications between road and mountain bikes (for example: city, hybrid, touring and comfort types), so make sure you're looking for the correct type of bike. If you're into hard, strictly off-road riding, then a mountain bike is for you; if you split your time between exploring country roads and trails and off-road, then a hybrid bike may be more practical. This is where the store personnel can help. In this guide, we'll concentrate on mountain bikes.

In buying a mountain bike, the first thing to look at is the frame. It's the heart of a mountain bike; you can replace other parts as you progress, but not the frame. As a beginner, you should look at a "hardtail" (a bike with front suspension only) or a rigid bike (one with no suspension fork.) A bike with a full suspension is generally too expensive for the beginning rider, but if you've got the money, consider it as well.


To determine the correct size of bike, remember that you want at least two inches of clearance above the top tube while standing straddling the bike. When sitting on the seat with your foot on the petal at its lowest point, your leg should be almost straight. Bike sizes are determined in two ways: measure the seat tube from the center of the top tube to the center of the bottom bracket. The other method measures from the TOP of the top tube to the center of the bottom bracket. Like clothing, sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so be sure and check the fit in any case.


The most common frames are made of chro-moly or aluminum. Chro-moly has good weight and strength for casual riding. Aluminum is lighter but weaker, so the frames will have larger diameter tubes. Aluminum costs a little more, but can save about half a pound overall. Both metals make good frames. In the more expensive bikes, you will see frames constructed of titanium or carbon fiber.


For off-road riding, knobby tires are best; on the street, fewer and smaller knobs are better. For dual use, look for a tire with a ridge in the middle (for low street resistance) and midsized knobs on the side.


Two types of shifters are found on mountain bikes, and there is heated debate over which is best. Rapidfire shifters have controls ("triggers") under the brake lever, while Gripshift shifters work like a motorcycle throttle, twisting the handgrip. Both types have a strong following, although the more experienced riders usually like the Rapidfire system. Try both to determine your personal preference.


The decision point here is disc brakes vs. rim brakes. Disc brakes give you the best, most consistent braking over a variety of conditions. Rim brakes give you the lightest setup and lower cost. Rim brakes do have small variations in performance, depending on the environment (for example, in wet conditions).

Test Rides

Once you've narrowed down the choices, take a few bikes for a test ride. The dealer should allow a 15-minute ride, and some even offer off-road test rides. Try bikes at the low and high ends of your price range to see if you can detect the difference. Make sure to ride over curbs, grass, gravel, etc., if you know how to do so. Check the seat for comfort - although padded shorts are available, it's better to get a comfortable seat to begin with. If you like the bike except for the seat (or any component, for that matter), ask the dealer to swap it out.

© High Speed Ventures 2011