Tips for buying a new mountain bike

June 8th, 2017

This post was originally published at

Purchasing a mountain bike – whether it’s your first mtb, or your 12th mtb -  can be overwhelming today. The myriad of prices, models and types of mountain bikes makes the process as complex as buying a car. This blog will give you everything you need to know to be an informed buyer.


What’s your budget?

Although there are plenty of $10,000 mt bikes on the market, you certainly do not need to spend this kind of money to have a solid bike and a great time on the trails. What do you want to spend? Finding a bike for $500 or less is possible – a name-brand hardtail will do just fine. Avoid full-suspension bikes in this price range as they will be low quality and likely not last more than a few true trail rides. Once you get over $1000, options open up in the clearance and model year close-outs. Several full suspension bikes and really nice hardtails are in this range – they have the same frames as the pricier models, but with lower-end components. Just upgrade as needed with better parts. $2-3000 will start to bring in the carbon frame models that will be great quality and last for years. Again, upgrade the lower-end parts as needed.  Over $3500 and the world is your oyster! Lots to chose from, and you’re now likely to be focusing on a bike to fit your riding style.


What type of riding do you like?

Just for simplicity, let’s stick with 3 categories: cross country, trail, and downhill (fat biking will be a different blog!). If you spend most of your time riding trails that go up and down, some climbing and some descending, buy a decent trail bike – either a hardtail or suspension up to 140mm. If all your riding is shuttled or lift serviced, then a all-mountain or downhill bike makes more sense which has more travel albeit heavier - you may suffer on any climbs that you do, but you’ll have a big smile on your face for the descents!  If you do a mix but more trail riding then downhilling, best to buy a trail bike and rent a downhill bike when you do head to the resorts for lift access fun.


Wheel size…

There are so many wheel sizes these days, however most of my friends and I have owned and ridden every wheel size out there, and we typically love them all. 29ers are a little slower to accelerate, but once you start moving you can conquer considerably more terrain far easier than on 26er. They’re more efficient for longer rides as they keep their momentum up and they have a higher “attack angle,” meaning the wheel rolls over obstacles easier. Each size has benefits and drawbacks: smaller wheels are generally lighter and more agile, while larger wheels weight more, but roll over larger obstacles and provide more stability. Consider where and how you plan to ride as well as your height. Test riding and taking some corners and curb hops will likely tell you which wheel size feels right for you.


Carbon, aluminum, titanium, steel, un-obtainium!

Yes – un-obtainium is the material that the perfect bike is  made from, and it is light, cheap, and strong. Clearly, it doesn’t exist, so pick 2 of the 3 (light, cheap, strong). Carbon seems to have overcome aluminum over the years, however once a carbon bike bumps a tree, hits a rock, or falls in the parking lot, the integrity of the frame starts to decline even if no visual damage has occurred. Carbon has a great dampening quality to it, though – perfect for mtbs, but it’s also more expensive than aluminum. Steel is tough, inexpensive and offers a smooth ride, but is relatively heavy. Titanium is light and strong but very expensive.  Test riding and budget will likely make the decision on frame material for you!


Time to test ride!

This may seem overwhelming, but test riding as many bikes as you can is the best way to determine what bike is for you. Although reading reviews and studying specs of head tube angle and BB height of 10 bikes will educate you, I’ve been surprised by the number of bikes that sound perfect on paper, but are disappointing when I finally saddle up and ride it on trails.


Spend time at local bike shops taking bikes out for short test rides in the parking lot. Once you have narrowed down your choices to a few serious contenders, take them out on a real trail for a real ride (you may need to pay a demo fee, but this is typically subtracted from the purchase of a bike). Lots of shops have “demo days” where bike companies set up at a local trail with different bike models to test.  You may not think that you know enough about bikes to differentiate between them, but riding several bikes will likely prove you wrong – you’ll ‘feel the love’ of the bike that has your name on it!


Go get it!

You’ve picked out your dream bike and it’s in your budget – time to buy it!  But first, check the warranty that comes with the bike. Does the warranty start when you buy it if it’s last years’ model? Are any bike fits or follow-up tune-ups included? You may even be able to negotiate some of this in if it’s not already included.

Happy Bike hunting! 

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