Even for the most experienced riders, knowing what to look for in a mountain bike can be a bit head-scratching. When it comes to buying your MTB, it’s truly a ‘sky’s the limit’ sort of scenario. If you want, you can go spend $15,000 on a mountain bike. Conversely, you can run down to Target and scoop up something that looks like a mountain bike for $175. As you might expect, the ideal solution is going to be somewhere in the middle. While you don’t want to get more than you need for your first mountain bike, it’s also not a great idea to get a bike you’ll outgrow in a couple of months. There’s no shortage of options out there, so we’ve put together a handy guide to get you started right. Here’s what to consider when buying a bike.
Sizing it Up
If you don’t get the right sized mountain bike, you’re going to have a bad time. Don’t trust a company’s small/medium/large scale -- there’s no standardization, and you really don’t know what you’ll be in for.
Instead, go to a bike shop and try out a few different options. There are a few measurements/distances you want to keep in mind when you do this. First is the reach. That’s the distance from the saddle to the bars. Second is what’s known as the stack. That’s the distance from the middle of the crank to mid-head tube. Pay attention to these measurements and contrast them against one another to find what feels most comfortable for you.
You can either buy a ‘hardtail’ (with suspension in the front), or a full-suspension bike. Fully rigid models are best if you’re on a budget, but can only accommodate hard pavement and some more easygoing trails. Hardtails are generally seen as a happy medium, and can tackle some moderate-level trail rides. For beginners, we think hardtails are generally best. On the other hand, fully-suspended bikes are the most technically capable and advanced models you can buy. Be warned -- they’re also the most expensive. When looking at full-suspension bikes, consider this: the longer the suspension, the smoother the ride. Meanwhile, shorter suspension is going to create a lighter (albeit more challenging) ride.
Wheel sizes can be either 26-inch, 27.5-inch, or 29-inch. Modern riders generally prefer 29ers, citing that the large diameter creates more momentum while also maximizing stability. Shorter riders, or those looking for a quicker, more responsive ride may look to a 27.5-inch fit. While this size can be more suited to difficult rides, we suggest a 29er for the beginners out there.
BudgetAs we mentioned, you can spend as much money as you please on a bike. Mountain bikes exist for every single imaginable budget (and then some). That being said, we can give you a rough estimate. For a good-quality, hardtail bike, you’ll want to spend between $1,100 and $1,500. Full-suspension bikes are going to run you well over $2,500. But...make sure you under-spend. Mountain bikes are almost endlessly customizable, and you’ll probably want to do some fine-tuning after a few rides to make the bike truly yours. Keep that in mind when establishing a budget.