What’s the best mountain bike for me?

Friday, March 6th, 2015 12:54pm
Category: News

Thinking of buying a mountain bike and asking yourself, ‘What’s the best mountain bike for me There are three main questions you should ask yourself:

1. What type of riding will I be doing?
2. What’s my budget?
3. What size frame do I need?

Let’s have a closer look…

1. What type of riding will I be doing, and how regularly?

General riding: commuting or riding on canal towpaths/fireroads
[Photo by Hagbard_ on Flickr]
Your best bet at this level is a hardtail mountain bike – without any rear suspension – and on lower budget bikes, it’s often worth considering a rigid fork over a suspension fork, which might not perform adequately enough to be worth the extra weight.

Typical hardtail mountain bikes aimed at beginner bikers will feature a lightweight aluminium frame and suspension forks with around 100mm travel. Wheels will typically be 26” or 27.5” depending on manufacturer. These bikes will commonly have eight or nine speed cassettes with a triple front chainset to ensure a wide enough range of gears for tackling steep hills, both up and down.

Brakes are an essential consideration – lightweight and easy-to-maintain v-brakes still appear on budget bikes and will be fine for commuting and occasional off-road trips. A few entry level bikes feature disc brakes, and mechanical (cable pull) disc brakes are a great way to experience disc brake function, without the mess of hydraulic fluid and bleeding.

Trail centre/trail riding

Hardtails are an option for trail centre riding, and many have departed from the ‘classic’ design (steep angles, 80-100mm travel) in favour of harder-hitting long-travel machines often classed under the categories of ‘trail’ or ‘All-Mountain’ (AM).

They may feature long-travel forks (up to 140mm or more), beefier construction and components chosen for their ability to take punishment rather than for their gram-shaving weights.

Many modern riders opt for a full-suspension bike at this level and have found 120-140mm travel to be the ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to tackling a huge range of off-road terrain while retaining the capability to pedal uphill.

These trail bikes are built with fun in mind, and are often designed with slightly slacker frame angles for downhill confidence, wider wheels and tyres for extra strength as well as features such as through-axle front forks and oversized brake discs for precision steering and stopping. While older design/budget trail bikes are often found with 26” or 29”wheels, the 27.5” standard has become typical on new models.

These mid-travel trail hounds are the bike of choice for a generation of modern riders who are prepared to sacrifice some of the climbing and pedaling efficiency of more race-bred machines in order to enjoy the fun factor of being able to let rip on fast and challenging singletrack trails.

Full-suspension bikes with more than 160mm of travel are built for the specific demands of downhill (DH) racing and freeride (FR).

Super-slack DH bikes are pure gravity sleds with the singular purpose of getting a rider from the top of a challenging DH course to the bottom quicker than the rest of the field.

These bikes are not expected to be pedaled uphill at all but rather to hurtle through the berms, jumps, drops, roots and rock gardens that make up a typical DH track, and then be pushed or driven back up to the top for another race run. They may typically weigh in excess of 18kg (40lb).

FR bikes meanwhile are built to take the big hits of the most ‘extreme’ branch of the sport, where riders with skill, experience and courage take on the kind of aerial jumps, gaps and drops that would destroy average bikes. Not for beginners, for obvious reasons.

Street, dirt, 4X

DJ and street bikes generally feature overbuilt aluminium or steel frames which are tougher and heavier than those found on their cross-country and trail counterparts, with smaller sizes providing increased agility in the air and ‘chuckability’.

2. What’s my budget?

[Photo courtesy of]
It’s very easy to pick a budget for a bike, only to find you haven’t got the right equipment to make the most of your riding time – it’s worth remembering this and setting yourself a realistic budget before you start your search! This may need to cover riding gear; helmets, pedals, shoes, lights etc if you don’t already have them.

Here’s a quick guide to give you an idea of what you should expect to pay and the bike’s intended use.

Entry level

Expect to pay
– Around £350+ for hardtails (front suspension fork)
– Around £800+ for full-suspension (suspension front and rear)

Intended use
– Leisure rides
– Fire roads
– Beginner trails
– General off-road riding

Components to expect
– Durable, reliable entry-level parts
– Strong, reliable mechanical disc brakes
– Aluminium/steel frame

Geometry and ride feel
– Relaxed, comfortable riding position


Expect to pay
– Around £600+ for hardtails
– Around £1100+ for full-suspension

Intended use
– Versatile all-rounder
– Trail riding
– Natural trails
– Blue/red/black trail centre routes
– Race-capable

Components to expect
– Lighter, higher performance and upgraded components all round
– Lightweight frame with upgrading potential
– Dependable hydraulic disc brakes
– Adjustable forks with 100mm or more travel

Geometry and ride feel
– More gravity friendly, trail-oriented position


Expect to pay
– Around £1400+ for hardtails
– Around £2000+ for full-suspension

Intended use
– At the lightweight end of the scale, the bikes are built for out-and-out speed, suitable for marathon and cross-country racing or all day epic rides
– Downhill and freeride bikes are made for gravity racing, jumping, and are built to takes the biggest hits

Components to expect
– High end, lightweight parts
– Carbon fibre or titanium frames
– Bombproof aluminium frames

Geometry and ride feel
– Steep head and seat angles for optimum seated pedalling position
– More of a ‘stretched’ feel

3. What frame size do I need?

Organise the right measuring instruments first of all. Ideally you will need a folding rule/ rigid tape and a spirit level. If you do not have a spirit level to hand, you can use a book instead.

Now take off your shoes and clothes right down to your underwear (because the cut of your trousers can have too great an influence on the result).

Should you have a spirit level to hand, pull it up horizontally between your legs. This works just as well with a book, but you should then stand against a door or wall so that the top edge of your “measuring instrument” is precisely parallel to the floor.

IMPORTANT: Measure right up to the VERY TOP. Only by calculating the distance between the floor and the top edge of the spirit level or the book correctly can your optimum frame height be best calculated. If possible, ask someone else to help you read off the measurements.

The measurement that you read off is your so-called inside leg length (also known as step length or step height). If the theoretical figure lies between two sizes, then the following rule of thumb should apply:

• for racing/athletic riding, take the smaller frame height
• for touring-based riding, take the next frame height up
– With a full suspension bike, multiply the standover height by 0.225 to calculate the theoretical frame height in inches. One inch equals 2.54 cm.
– With a hardtail mountain bike, the standover height is multiplied by 0.226 to calculate the theoretical frame height in inches. One inch equals 2.54 cm.

Example: For a 26” hardtail mountain bike, if a standover height of 84cm is required, 84 x 0.226 = 18.98, so a 19” frame would be suitable.

29ers: Due to the larger wheel size on 29” MTB bikes, it is usually suggested to take a size smaller than the result given using the above calculation (eg, if you are suggested a 17” frame for a 26” wheeled bike, a 15” in a 29er will likely be sufficient – if changing up from a 26er to a 29er the important measurement to check is the top tube length; picking a 29er with a top tube length close to that of your 26” will return a more natural progression and better riding position on the bike)

Remember: This information is only to be used as a general guide; as everyone is different and skeletal structures can vary dramatically from one person to the next, this guide will not be applicable to everyone.

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