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Mountain bike buying guide

With big knobby tires and air-filled shock absorbers, mountain bikes make easy work of even the toughest terrain. They help you head deeper and faster into the wilderness, sometimes accessing places easier than on foot. Here are a few things you should know before buying a mountain bike.

THE LOWDOWN

There are two main types of mountain bikes: full suspension and hardtail. Bikes with full suspension have shock absorbers on both the front and rear for a softer, easier ride on really rough trails. They’re also the most expensive. Hardtails have suspension only on the front fork. This type is generally more durable, requires less maintenance and is a great choice for most riders.

Mountain bikes also come with either rim or disc brakes. Unless you’re an advanced rider, choose a bike with rim-style brakes, the most common and easiest to service.

No matter what sort of bike you’re looking for, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

WHERE TO SHOP

“Look beyond department store bikes and go to your local bike shop,” says pro rider Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, the reigning mountain bike national champion. “The salespeople there will be so much more knowledgeable and there’s a huge step up in quality of bikes.”

When talking to salespeople, be honest about your biking skills and where you plan to ride. That way, they can point you toward the best bike for your skill level.

PRICE

Sure, you may see a really cool-looking, full-suspension bicycle for $150 at a department store, but odds are it’ll be really heavy and not very durable. Expect to spend at least $300 to get a good quality, entry-level mountain bike, Kobelski says. For more experienced riders, check out bikes in the $500 to $700 range. Those models will likely be lighter, more durable and outfitted with higher quality gears and components.

QUALITY

As you push the pedals, it’s the bike’s components (gears and other moving parts) that move you down the trail. But if you buy a bike with poor-quality components, you probably won’t get very far. Look for quality component brand names like Shimano, Sun Tour, SRAM and Bontrager.

FIT

Someone at the shop should help you find the correct bike for your size.

“The most important measurement is the stand-over height,” Kobelski says. “Stand over the top tube and pick the bike up. See how much clearance you have — how high you can pick it up.”

You should have at least a couple of inches of room, so you can hop on and off easily. It’ll also make the bike more maneuverable. Make sure the salesman gets you fitted perfectly. And look for a bike with an adjustable-height seat so the bike can grow with you.

TEST DRIVE

Before you buy a bike, ride as many different models as you can. Kobelski recommends doing tight turns and sprinting on the bike. Try to ride up a couple of curbs, too. Pay special attention to how the bike turns and shifts.

THE BIKER’S ESSENTIALS

Don’t leave home for a ride without these important pieces of biking gear:

  • Helmet
  • Water Bottle
  • Tire pump
  • Extra inner tube and/or patch kit
  • Tire and chain tools
  • Bike shorts (optional)
  • Gloves
  • Glasses/goggles (optional)

76 Comments on Mountain bike buying guide

  1. Got a Schwinn S-60–It’s awesome! I do all sorts of wheelies and bunnyhops on it!

  2. I got a Trek 820… It’s nice. Konas are really amazing, too.

  3. colonel klink // April 17, 2009 at 3:31 pm // Reply

    mountain bikes have great traction

  4. Konas are the best types of bikes. If you get a kona, you’re reallly getting into the area of high performance and durable bikes, with great components.

  5. I have a mongoose. I was on of those $100 Wal-Mart ones, but it’s good enough for me!

    • Dreadspeedkid // May 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm // Reply

      That’s weird. I cant find any boys’ bikes at walmart. I’m assuming you ride my size because if you were any bigger it would probably cost around $200.00, right?

  6. One tip. unless you do SERIOUS riding, never spend too much on a cannondale.

  7. You should never even consider getting a bike from a department. all it will do is break into pieces within a couple of days. Do yourself a favor and spend the extra $. I’m 17 and have purchased all of my bike from bike shops. They have better products and better customer service. I’ve been mountain biking for 6 years. I started out on a Trek 3700 for about $350. Now I have a Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo that cost me about $1500. Money well spent!!!

    • GARY FISHER is the way to go i have a green wahoo i plan to get disc brakes for it works great for beginners looking into mountain biking

  8. Davey Jones // March 20, 2009 at 9:49 am // Reply

    $100.00 bikes from wal-mart are not a very good choice because they are very heavy, fragile, and the suspension is extremely stiff. If you want a good bike you will have to go above $250.00.

  9. You cannot forget the mongoose mountain bikes. They are awesome! I went on a trail with my mongoose spark ( dual suspension, Dual disc brakes, Front and rear fenders, 21 speed and side handle bars and $259.00.) and it didn’t even creak.
    By the way is $259.00 a good price?

  10. Don’t have one yet but I want one.

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