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How to Choose a Mountain Bike

Your mountain bike will be your companion on many adventures, so you may get hung up on finding the perfect match. We prepared a step-by-step guide to help you with that.

Learn your mountain bike jargon.

You may already be familiar with “suspension” and “gearing,” but there are two other important terms to learn before setting out.

Suspension travel is the distance from the bottom to the top of the suspension stroke or the degree to which the suspension fork can compress. It is the part that allows movement. The head tube angle is the angle between the head tube and the ground, easily measured by laying a horizontal line adjacent to the head tube.

Know the bike types.

What kind of trips are you planning? There are many bike types, and the right bike depends on the difficulty of your trip – whether it’s an easygoing trail or a hardcore path.

Bike type Suspension travel Head tube angle
Trail bike 120 (4.7”)-140 (5.5”) mm 67-69°
Cross-country bike 80 (3.15”)-100 (3.9”) mm 70-71°
All-mountain bike 140 (5.5”)-170 (6.7”) mm 65-68°
Downhill bike 170 (6.7”)-200 (7.9”) mm 63-65°

You will find trail bikes in almost every biking enthusiast’s garage, as they are widely used and most appropriate for the typical recreational trip. With mid-range suspension travel and head tube angle, they are ideal for a stress-free ride with your buddies. They are lightweight and have balanced efficiency, so they appeal to a majority of riders.

Fat bikes are traction beasts, with wheels that span from 3.8” to 5” in width. They are a favorite mode of travel in areas with amassed snow or sand but can also be used by beginners, owing to their thick wheels. They have little to no suspension but compensate for it with wide tires and low tire pressure.

Another popular choice among cyclists is the cross-country bike, which is the heart and soul of technical riding. The short suspension travel and large head tube angle are weapons against tricky ascents. While this lightweight bike can be ridden fast, it is only as efficient at around 25 miles max.

Daredevils may find a best friend in either the all-mountain bike or the downhill bike. Both are for extreme activity, but the downhill bike has a tougher reputation. The light and nimble all-mountain bike were made for technical routes with intimidating climbs and descents. The downhill bike, true to its name, is designed specifically for descents. The slack frame and full suspension give the rider more control and resistance to impact as he or she travels down berms, jumps, and cliffs.

Parts of a whole

Frame and frame materials. Many factors contribute to choosing the right material, such as your riding style, weight, and the technicality of your trails. Mountain bikes have light frames that are normally made of an aluminum alloy, but lighter aluminum frames may be used.

Carbon steel is strong and durable but isn’t as light as its more advanced counterpart, Chromoly, which is derived from “chrome molybdenum.” Another carbon-based material is carbon fiber, which is popular in engineering for its robustness, high tensile strength, and low weight, but is somewhat brittle.

Albeit expensive, titanium is also a great material for bike frames; it flexes well to the point where it is considered a shock absorber.

Suspension. Do you bike for good fun or are you an adrenaline addict? The type of action you immerse in determines how much suspension you need on your bike. Rigid bikes are low on suspension so, typically, they are found in the form of fat bikes. The wide tires and low tire pressure of fat bikes are enough to absorb the impact of rocky roads. Consequently, they are easy to maintain and are the least expensive bikes in this category.

Hardtails are aptly named as they lack rear suspension. The suspension fork affects only the front wheel, but this can be locked if you prefer to ride fully rigid. Hardtails require less cash and little maintenance to own. Excluding lift-serviced downhill trails, they can be used for all types of bike rides.

Full suspension bikes come in many variations, often to suit the needs of the rider. With this, you experience little impact, more traction, and a generally smooth ride. Contrary to rigid and hardtail bikes, these cost more and require extensive maintenance.

choose mountain bike

Wheels, tires, and rims. Sizes come in standard 26 in., 27.5 in., and 29 in. diameters, but the 27.5 in. wheels offer both maneuverability and good traction, features that characteristic of 29 in. and 26 in. wheels, respectively. They fit into both hardtail and full suspension bikes. Wheels that are in the 27.5+ inches range is wider. Young children start with 20 in. wheels and gradually move on to wheels as large as 24 in. in diameter.

Gearing and brakes. The general rule for gears is that you need more gears for technical trails. Gearing is easy to adjust, so you don’t have to be very concerned about it when comparing bikes.

There are two types of brakes: disc brakes and rim brakes. Nowadays, however, disc brakes are more common because they are easier to control and exhibit unparalleled performance in technical trails. The brake pads are attached to a brake rotor on the wheel hub and require more maintenance compared to rim brake pads. Disc brakes are available as either hydraulic or cable-activated brakes.

Rim brakes are economical and easy to replace but have less stopping power and require more grip on the levers to stop the bike from moving.

Size matters.

Since bike sizes correspond to your height, you may consult charts that categorize bike sizes per height range. But, of course, nothing beats actually visiting a physical store to try out the frame. While in the shop, you can choose a number of bikes and take them out for test runs. Go with whichever feels most comfortable and just right.

After purchasing your bike, make sure you have the contact details of your trusted workshop. You can ask for the suspension settings to be modified to better fit your body weight. As your bike gets older, it becomes harder to perform proper maintenance and replace parts, so get into the habit of taking care of it as early as you can. Happy biking!

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