The most commonly asked question on this website is … If I have “X” amount of money, what is the best mountain bike I can afford?
I have also found this question most difficult to answer. If I do not have any information regarding your preferred riding style, your athletic ability, your aggressiveness, and your biking experience, I certainly cannot recommend a specific bike for you. Even if I did know all this information, I would still feel a little hesitant pointing you toward a particular brand and model. The best bike for you might be different than the best bike for your friend. However, I think I can help you narrow down your choices.
The purpose of this page is to help beginners decide what type of bike they might need. Professional riders, semi-pros, or advanced riders have already figured most of these things out (although they always seem to be trying a new bike).
The following statement might sound a bit obvious, but I must stress the idea.
“The most important factor for successful mountain biking is to get a good mountain bike.”
The following statement may not be as obvious, but needs to be said.
If you think you might want to mountain bike once or twice a week and/or go on rides of 10 miles or more, then I don’t recommend any bike from a department store.
Now, let’s learn a few things about mountain bikes.
When I started riding there were two main types of mountain bikes … Cross Country and Downhill. Now there are all kinds of hybrids (often called All Mountain) that share many features of these two types. And what about Cyclocross and Fat Bikes?
A Cross Country rider pedals up hills, down hills, and across level terrain. They will typically cover from 3-to-30 miles on a ride, often stopping to take photos, and studying maps of the terrain.
Cross Country bikes often have suspension which provide 3 to 4 inches of travel. Many cross country riders will ride a hardtail if they don’t encounter drops or rough terrain.
A Downhiller typically rides a ski lift or pedals to the top of a mountain … and then rides down the hills, off jumps, and over natural and man-made obstacles to return to the bottom and start over again.
A downhill bike is set up with heavy shocks (front and rear suspension usually offer 6-8 inches of travel) to absorb the big hits associated with downhill biking. The front forks are generally longer than on a Cross Country bike, which causes the bike to tilt backward (much the same way as a “chopper” motorcycle). The reason for this tilt is so the rider will sit more level on his bike as he rides a steep slope.
A Cyclocross Bike looks much like a road bike with slightly wider tires to ride on pavement and smooth dirt surfaces. I have never been on a cycloross bike and most likely never will.
I have been on a couple of Fat Bikes and found them to be a lot of fun. However, I don’t think you want this to be your first bike unless you plan on doing most of your riding on snow or real soft sand.
I would probably classify myself as an All Mountain rider. I love exploring new territory but I really like the excitement of bursting down an enduro type run.
So, the pages below were constructed by a person with mostly an All Mountain perspective … a lot of Cross country experience mixed with a little downhill. Keep that in mind as you peer through them. My recommendations might not find the best mountain bike for you.
Here are some of the things I think you should think about when selecting a bike:
After reading the pages above I strongly suggest you get some help from the guys at your local bike shop or from some trusted friends who know a lot about mountain biking. Then go try some bikes. Many bike shops have demo bikes you can try on the trails. Keep your eyes open for dealer demo days. Often times a dealer will offer demo rides at a local trail The first 29’er I ever rode was at an event hosted by Intense Bikes at the base of the San Juan Trail (in Southern California).Get to know what you want so you can get a bike you will be happy with.To read about the strategy I have used to shop for bikes (and automobiles), please click Buying a Mountain Bike. A good used rig might be the best mountain bike for you until you gain more experience and positively know you want to make mountain biking one of your main hobbies.