So you’ve decided you want to buy your first mountain bike? There is a wide range of choice, so to help you choose the right for one for, here are some tips to get you started.
Type of mountain bike
Mountain bikes come in many shapes and sizes, but there are three key types. They are:
- Rigid – No suspension
- Hardtail – A front suspension fork is added to the rigid frame
- Full-suspension – Front and rear suspension dampers
Most beginner mountain bikers will start with a hardtail. These are very popular bikes with choices starting from a couple of hundred pounds, and rising to £1,500 or more. Hardtails come in many flavours, some are designed for racing and others are designed for trail riding, and will be identified by longer travel suspension forks and relaxed geometry – they are intended to put the fun into riding.
Don’t discount a rigid mountain bike. Basic suspension forks add extra weight and performance isn’t always fantastic on cheap forks, and sometimes a lighter and simpler rigid fork will suit your riding better. If you’re buying a mountain bike for leisure and commuting, a rigid bike could be a good option.
Full suspension mountain bikes have come a long way in the last ten years, and the latest are state-of-the-art bikes with high-tech damping and lots of adjustability. You can pay a handsome price for the top-end full suspension mountain bikes, which can pack as much technology as a motorbike, only without the engine.
A full suspension bike will cover ground, and be more comfortable than either a rigid or hardtail mountain bike if you can afford it. A rigid or hardtail is a really good bike to start with, to learn all the key mountain bike skills and get familiar with riding on trails and dirt, and will be lighter and easier to set up.
Bikes to suit your budget
You need to decide how much money you want to spend on your bike. There are lots of options for sub-£500 mountain bikes, but you can easily spend £5,000 on all carbon fibre framed full-suspension bike.
Most entry-level hardtails will feature an aluminium frame – it’s light and stiff – with a short travel (75-100mm) suspension fork. Basic forks use a coil spring but spend more and air damped forks save weight and are easier to adjust.
Disc brakes are common even on the cheapest bikes, with cable actuated disc brakes at the entry-level and hydraulic (more powerful) disc brakes higher up the price range. Shimano gears are the most common sight on entry-level bikes.
Spending more money gets you higher quality and lighter frames, more advanced suspension forks and hydraulic disc brakes, lighter gear systems and better quality tyres.
Due to their complexity, there are very few good full suspension mountain bike options under £500, with most ranges starting at about £600. If your budget is sub-£500, we’d recommend going with a hardtail because most very cheap full suspension bikes simply aren’t that good, and the high weight will impact your enjoyment of mountain biking.
Where to buy?
We’re fans of visiting your local bike shop. You’ll get some very good advice and the salesperson will take your budget and brief and guide you through the many options available to you.
Most good bike shops will also let you test ride the bikes, which helps you get the right size – it’s really important you get the right size bike as a bike that is too big or small will negatively impact your riding.
Get a demo
Some bike shops run demo days which allow you to take a couple of different bikes for a proper ride on a test track. This can really inform your decision as it’s only on the trail can you determine if a bike is right for you.
Going direct and buying online
There are many bargains to be had if you buy online, with the likes of Canyon and Rose offering amazing value for money. If you’re confident you know what you want and are happy to buy a bike without seeing it first in the flesh, you can make quite a saving buying direct.