How to choose a mountain bike

10 tips to help you buy your first mountain bike

Want to buy a mountain bike? Before you do, read our essential advice on how to make sure you make the right purchase. Whether you're looking to commute to work or get going on entry-level downhill declines, these tips will help you make an informed purchase.

1. Three main types of mountain bike are available: rigid (with no suspension), hardtail (with a suspension fork on the front), and full-suspension (with both front and rear shock absorbers). There's some more guidance in our Best Mountain Bikes under $1,000 Buyer's Guide. Pick what makes sense for the terrain you intend to ride.

2. Deciding on the budget you have available – keep in mind that you’ll probably need some accessories to accompany your new bike, such as a helmet, gloves and wicking cycling apparel. These days you can find capable, lightweight mountain bikes with aluminium frames, for less than $1,000. As prices go up, weight goes down thanks to higher-end components.

3. You will also need to factor in a maintenance budget of about $150 a year. This should cover a yearly tune-up, a new chain, brake pads and any tubes or tires that might need to be replaced. Plan to spend a bit more if you plan to do plenty of off-road riding. You could save yourself some of this by doing the work yourself, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and you feel confident enough to give it a try. Click here to learn how to fix a flat and here to learn how to properly clean and lube your bike.

4. Be realistic with how you plan to use the bike. If you're going to be using your mountain bike primarily for commuting with a bit of light off-road use every now and again then you don't need the latest and greatest in suspension technology.

5. Your LBS (that’s local bike shop in trade jargon) is a good place to buy, especially if you take a long-term view on warranty and after-sales service. Person-to-person contact should ensure that you don’t get lost in the bike-purchasing woods.

6. Before you visit your LBS, make sure you have a firm idea of the extent of your budget and what type of riding you plan to do. Keep in mind that most local shops will offer sales and other discounts, depending on the time of the year—they’re always keen to move last year’s stock.

Advice from an independent bike shop can prove invaluable:

7. There’s no doubt that many of the best deals are to be found on the internet. But remember that these deals are offset by the fact that, unless you're going to build the bike up yourself, you'll need to pay a bicycle mechanic to assemble it for you.

8. Steel, aluminum, titanium or carbon? The frame material will largely be dictated by the price, but expect either steel or aluminium to cost up to about $350. From this point onwards, oversized aluminium tubing is pretty much dominant. Each frame material has it's benefits and drawbacks. Steel is affordable but tends to be heavier than aluminum, which generally rides stiffer. Steel frames are also more prone to corrosion if not properly cared for. Titanium is light and resists corrosion, but is very expensive. Carbon frames can be very light and strong but also likely to crack, rather than bend or dent in a crash—in general, an impact hard enough to damage a carbon frame would also ruin a steel or aluminum frame. 

Suspension is only worth getting if you're going to be doing a lot of off-road riding:

9. Which wheelsize do I choose? Modern mountain bikes come with 26in, 27.5in and 29in wheels. Each size has benefits and drawbacks: smaller wheels are generally lighter and more agile, while larger wheels weight more, but roll over larger obstacles and provide more stability. Consider where and how you plan to ride as well as your height—many shorter riders are more comfortable on bikes with 26in and 27.5in wheels.

10. Let the test ride decide. Whenever possible, take a spin on any bike you plan to buy. Pay close attention to how the bike fits: the reach from the saddle to the handlebars shouldn't feel cramped or over extended. Bicycle shop staff are trained to help you find a proper fit.

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