Mountain biking is an expensive sport. Putting together a riding kit can cost as much as a new bike, not that it has to. You can easily assemble a trail-worthy mountain bike ensemble for less than the cost of a dropper seatpost. All it takes is some smart shopping.
Like many items in cycling, the more you pay the less you get — weight that is. The difference between a $50 helmet and a $200 helmet is not impact protection, but rather, the engineering that goes into making the more expensive, lighter, often better-ventilated helmet meet the same safety standards as the more affordable brain bucket.
This technology eventually trickles down to more affordable helmets. Today one can easily find an in-molded helmet with a sturdy retention system and relatively good ventilation for $50-$70. It’s hard to justify breaking the bank on an item that’s intended to be disposed of after several seasons of riding.
Eye protection is a close second to head protection in terms of importance. But depending on how careful you are, your shades can be just as disposable. Sure, high-end eyewear from Oakley and Smith have amazing optics. (And you should expect nothing less, given the price tag.) But again, your eyewear will get scratched, possibly stepped on, and will eventually be replaced.
You don’t necessarily “need” lenses that adjust to match the ambient sunlight and you certainly don’t need polarized lenses, which have a tendency to “flatten out” trail obstacles by reducing contrast.
All you really need is a pair of sunglasses that don’t pinch your temples, don’t fall off when you look down or shake your head, and that don’t give you headaches from distortion.
Tifosi has carved out a niche for itself by packing a lot of bang into affordably priced eyewear. The Mast is one of my personal favorites.
If you really want to save cash, you may have luck trying out protective eyewear at your local hardware store. Just be sure to check cheap shades before you buy them to make sure you can get the fit you want and that they don’t have too much distortion.
Smith’s $199 PivLock Overdrive (left) are stellar shades, but these $5 sunglasses (right) I picked up at a truck stop also get the job done
While flannel and tank tops may be in vogue with the gravity crowd, if you’re looking for something a bit more performance-oriented, you don’t have to spend more than you would for a regular T-shirt.
There are plenty of affordable tops made from synthetic fabrics that wick sweat just as name brand mountain bike jerseys for a fraction of the price.
A US$10 synthetic top from a department store can work just as well as a high-tech cycling jersey
My personal favorite baggy jersey: Patagonia's US$29 Capilene 1 Silkweight T-shirt has a performance fit and breathes better than most mountain bike jerseys
Like jerseys, baggy mountain bike shorts can be had from many different sources. Board shorts, with their stretchy materials and lightweight construction, are great stand-ins. Be sure the inseam is not so long that it will snag on the nose of your saddle. While you can cut corners on the shorts themselves, one item you don’t want to skimp on is a quality liner or pair of bib shorts.
These $15 women's 3/4-length shorts are virtually indistinguishable from cycling-specific ones that cost 3x as much
There are a lot of great affordable mountain bike shoes on the market these days. If you’re just getting started in the sport and are making the leap to clipless pedals (you know, the kind you clip into…) look for a shoe that’s not too stiff and has lugs that are soft enough to provide traction on wet rocks and roots.
What do you do to keep the cost of mountain bike gear in check? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.