For the love of bikes!

santa cruz nomad

How to choose the right mountain bike

Are you looking to buy your first mountain bike? Walk into any bike shop and you’ll be met with loads of choice, which makes deciding which bike is right for you seem bewildering at first. TWB is here to help, with a guide to the different types of mountain bike available.

Budget – a lot of your choice will come down to your budget. Most entry-level bikes are hardtails (suspension fork, rigid rear-end) while the more you raise the budget, the more your choice increases to include a wide range of full-suspension bikes. So the first step is to figure out how much you want to spend and then see what choices are available at your budget.

Style of bike – What type of riding do you want to do and what sort of terrain do you want to tackle? This is without doubt the biggest factor in what bike you choose. Mountain bikes are available in a wide range of designs, each designed for certain types of riding. This article will guide you through the different choices, so you can make an informed decision.

We’d certainly recommend getting to a demo day to try a few different bikes out, or at least seeking advice from a well-stocked bike shop. So draw up a check list of questions and ask yourself what sort of riding you realistically want to do to help you choose the right bike for your needs.

Wheel size – You can learn more about the wheel size choices in our guide here. Largely, the choice is being removed as each category of bike settles on a favoured wheel size, making choosing a bike a little easier.

Here’s an overview of the different types:

Hardtails

Hardtails have a rigid frame combined with a suspension fork. They’re the most common type of mountain bikes, and your biggest choice if on a budget. Hardtails are ideal for beginners as there is very little setup and maintenance required. They’re not all the same though, and come in many flavours.

Cross-country (XC) hardtails: These are commonly designed to be light and stiff for racing and covering ground quickly. They typically have 29in wheels because they roll fast, and have narrow lightly treaded tyres and short travel forks, between 80-120mm. Frames are generally made from aluminium at the cheaper end, and carbon fibre at the higher end.

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Example: Scott Scale 

Trail hardtails: If you’re not into racing and want a general purpose hardtail that promotes riding fun, a trail hardtail is the best choice. The geometry differs from a XC hardtail in that  it is slacker and forks are usually longer travel (120-150mm) so they’re a lot more fun to ride and good at tackling steep descents. Today, trail hardtails typically use 27.5in wheels.

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Example: Ragley Bluepig

Fat bikes: A niche sector of mountain biking is the fat bike. These are typically rigid bikes, but suspension forks are available. They have modified frames designed to cater for tyres between 4-5in wide. Fat bikes were originally developed for riding in the snow, but they’ve become popular (for reasons we’re still not clear on) with people who say they ride well in the mud and dirt.

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Example: Surly Pugsley

Full-suspension

Full-suspension mountain bikes feature a rear shock damper that combined with the suspension fork, provides a smoother ride, increased traction and better capability to tackle rougher terrain at higher speeds. The extra technology in a full-suspension bike does mean a higher price tag, but they are getting more affordable all the time – just look at the Calibre Bossnut as an example 

Like hardtails, full-suspension bikes come in many different styles. They are generally, but not always, categorised by the rear suspension travel. While that doesn’t always tell the full story of a bikes intentions, it does sometimes help to compare bikes.

Cross-country full-suspension: These are bikes designed for riding fast and covering ground as quickly as possible. If you want to go racing, whether short track XC races or longer distance marathon races, these are a good choice as they focus on being light and efficient. The majority of bikes in this category use 29in wheels and travel is usually between 80-120mm. These aren’t just bikes for racers though, if you want a lightweight bike for getting up and across hills quickly, and your local terrain isn’t that demanding and rough, this might be the right bike for you.

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Example: Giant Anthem X 29er

Trail full-suspension: If a XC full-susser isn’t for you, then a trail hardtail might be the best option. For many places, especially large swathes of the UK, and most mountain bikers, a sorted and well designed trail full-suspension bike is the best all-round choice. Most bikes have between 120-140mm of travel, enough to deal with any technical trails but keep the weight down and the handling tight. There’s a choice of wheel size, most are these days 27.5in but 29in options are still popular. We’d say if you value speed highly, the 29er is going to be quicker, but if fun and agility are high on your agenda, then a 27.5in bike is the way forward.

trek fuel

Example: Trek Fuel 29

Enduro and all-mountain: This is the hottest category in mountain biking. Enduro has become hot right, with a fledgling world enduro race series and popularity across the world, bike manufacturers have risen to the challenge of developing long-travel bikes that are light and climb efficiently. In many ways, they’re like mini downhill bikes. Wheels are usually 27.5in (but there are some 29in options) and travel is 150 to 165mm. They’re designed to be tough and robust, to handle really rough and unpredictable terrain, and have much slacker geometry than a trail bike. They also need to be reliable and light enough to climb at a reasonable pace.  While enduro bikes are undoubtedly popular, many mountain bikers might actually be better off on a trail bike.

santa cruz nomad

Example: Santa Cruz Nomad

Downhill: Downhill bikes are designed solely for racing down the side of a mountain or hill as fast as possible. Travel is 180-200mm and one of the key differences is the use of a triple clamp fork up front, to provide extra stiffness and structural rigidity. Geometry is much slacker than an enduro bike, these are bikes designed to work at high speed on steep descents. Tyre and disc brakes are bigger to deal with the extra forces.

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Example: Mondraker Summum

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