How to Buy a Mountain Bike

Buy a Mountain Bike

How to Buy a Mountain Bike

In this guide to buying a mountain bike you’ll learn that It’s much more than simply handing over the cash. Buying a mountain bike can be expensive and confusing. There’s so many to choose from in all price ranges and several disciplines that you may want to ride or not. Watching a recent video of a guy pulling stunts and jumps on a bike park, I froze momentarily when I realized he was riding completely the wrong bike for the job. Seconds later, landing a particularly BIG AIR, the bike crumpled, and he took a trip to hospital. End of ride, end of bike.

Thorough research is crucial and thanks to The Internet you can do it all from the comfort of your computer. There’s no shortage of great advice out there and people love to talk about their bikes too; so, join a couple of forums and ask somebody to talk about the love of their life, their bike. Of course, you might get some bias, but you will get some useful information too.

Like any other sport, you will come across some jargon or MTB speak. I will use it here but never without defining what it means.

Are you male, female, tall, short, average height? Heavy, medium or light? All these factors have some bearing on the bike you end up with.

What discipline will be your common ground? Where I live cross-country, enduro and downhill are great options but one bike will not cover all. Think about your local area and what’s on offer. It will make a difference to the bike you purchase because every bike has strengths and weaknesses, even assorted brands designed for the same type of riding will give different rides.

The purpose of this post isn’t to look at specific bikes, rather, specific types of bike because once you’ve decided on type, your decisions will become a whole lot simpler.


During your research, watch out for BSO’s, short for Bike Shaped Objects, otherwise known as cheap bikes, designed to look like mountain bikes. You will have seen these around, particularly in hypermarkets and non-bike specific stores. Some of these bikes might look OK but are not recommended for off-road use. One review I read even went as far as to say it was unsafe on the roads too.

Cross-Country Bikes (XC)

If you plan on racing and value the weight of your bike over fun and practicality, an XC bike might be for you.

XC isn’t usually considered an extreme branch of MTB and attracts plenty of participants. Racing involves point-to-point courses along marked trail sections aiming for the fastest time possible. Cross-country races typically cover a variety of trail types from flowy singletrack, endurance climbs and technical descents.

XC bikes are often hardtails (usually no rear suspension), although some may have a little rear suspension. Steeper geometry*, a low stem, and firm and unforgiving performance are typical features.

*Geometry refers to the angles a bikes’ three main frame tubes are positioned. Top tube, down tube, and seat tube. The angles affect bike handling.

Riders who prefer smooth trails might enjoy the efficiency of XC bikes but if you ride most where the trails have roots and rocks, these aren’t the best choice unless you’re planning to race. A short-travel trail bike is almost as efficient and offers a fun and capable ride.

Trail Hardtails

Hardtail mountain bikes are a great option if you’d rather get out and ride than attack steep or rough terrain regularly. Simple, modest maintenance, and quick, hardtails don’t have rear suspension but feature more aggressive trail bike geometry. They are efficient and thrill capable. Less experienced riders will gain valuable skills on these bikes, which benefit from excellent line choices and appropriate form. Hardtail trail bikes are versatile but require caution on descents as they tend to be harsh.

My hardtail on a particularly steep and technical local descent insists on a sideways approach to one corner and I’ve given everything I know to correct it. Still, it insists on doing its own thing whereas full suspension enables a much better line through that corner.

If you see yourself taking on steep and challenging terrain regularly, explore full-suspension bikes.

Hardtails have less technology and are usually more affordable than full-suspension bikes. A great option for budget conscious riders.

Before getting into short travel & long travel. . .

What’s all that about? Simple really, it’s the distance that the suspension can travel inside the tube.

Type of Bike Rear Wheel Travel
Short-Travel 110 – 130 mm
Mid-Travel 130 – 150 mm
Long-Travel 150 – 170 mm

Short-Travel Trail Bikes

Short travel bikes are great for a variety of rides. Efficient climbing but not the best for slaying descents. Typically, featuring 110-130 mm of rear-wheel travel. They are practical if you’re looking for full-suspension confidence and comfort without sacrificing efficiency. If you see yourself knocking out long distances you will feel comfortable on one of these. MTB’s in this category are an excellent option on flatter terrain or mountainous areas so long as you don’t expect to ride aggressively on the descents. If you want a better climb and descent, a mid-travel bike might be a better option.

Mid-Travel Trail Bikes

These bikes are perfect for riders who attack descents and value climbing skills. Multipurpose, providing impressive performance in all areas. They balance climbing skills and descending capabilities beautifully and are comfortable on most trails. Mid-travel bikes are just as comfortable making the occasional trip to the bike park as they are doing a 30-mile trail ride. The suspension range works for many riders but might be too much if you ride in a primarily flat or smooth region.

If charging down big descents is your thing, a long-travel / Enduro MTB might be best.

Long Travel / Enduro Bikes

Enduro bikes are superb for technical descents and lower speed climbs. Long-travel bikes are awesome for those who don’t mind carrying some extra bike around in the name of a thrilling ride. They pedal well, but efficiency isn’t the strong point. Not the best for long distances and no prizes for climbing. The focus is high speeds and rough downhills.


What Next?

Once you know what kind of mountain bike suits your experience, riding style and the terrain you plan to ride, you will need to consider frame size and components. This will help you narrow down the bike for you.

If you need help, leave your questions in the comments and you will get a response.

Ride Hard, Ride Fair, Nobody Hurt

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