Mountain biking can be an expensive sport and it’s easy to look at all the latest and very shiny top-end products and think you need them to get the most out your riding. But that really isn’t the case at all and there are parts of your bike where you can definitely save money without compromising performance.
Bikes and components
An easy place to start when you’re shopping for a new mountain bike is simply to choose one with an aluminium frame. Carbon fibre might be super desirable and it’s very light, but it’s also very expensive and often the weight savings over a good aluminium frame aren’t worth the big price premium.
Aluminium frames also mean more money can be spent on the parts of the bike that really matter, like suspension, wheels and tyres.
Suspension, wheels & tyres
These are the three areas we would advise against skimping on. Tyres are critical to how a bike rides, providing traction in challenging conditions for maximum control. And as they are you one and only contact point with the ground, they are hugely important.
There’s a wealth of choice from widths to compounds, tread patterns to casing types, so choose the ones to suit your riding requirements. Going tubeless is a good idea too, with most mountain bike tyres usually tubeless-ready. Replacing the inner tube with liquid sealant can greatly reduce the risk of puncturing and lets you run lower pressures to maximise grip and control.
A lot of weight can hide in the wheels and a good aluminium wheelset can often be as light as an expensive carbon fibre wheelset. Look for wheels with a generously wide rim, tubeless compatibility and proven reliability in the hubs and freehub bearings. Good wheels are easy to service and maintain as well, from swapping in new bearings to easily replacing spokes.
Suspension is not an area to skimp. Like tyres, the suspension plays a big part in how the bike rides. Fortunately, entry-level suspension forks and shocks now offer very good performance and a sorted set up on a cheap fork is going to outperform a poorly set up expensive high-end fork. So whatever suspension you have, ensure you get it dialled correctly.
The reason for investing more in high-quality suspension is due to a number of factors:
- Higher-end parts will often be lighter, provide a much wider range of adjustment, and will be made from high-grade parts to ensure excellent durability.
- Good suspension can be transformative on a mountain bike, providing more traction, control and confidence on a wide range of trails.
It’s also very important to ensure your suspension is well maintained, so regular servicing is another cost to factor in and definitely not something you want to skimp on.
We’d much rather ride a mountain bike with really good suspension, wheels and tyres and an entry-level groupset, than the latest wireless shifting tech but cheap and heavy wheels, tough tyres and dull suspension. So think carefully about where you invest your money to get the best performance bank for your buck.
Other areas not worth skimping on but where you can be smart about your spend are the main contact points. We’re talking about grips, pedals and saddles.
Saddles aren’t expensive at all but they come in a vast array of shapes and the wrong saddle can cause much discomfort, so if that’s that case be sure to shop for one that fits you.
Pedals are somewhere you can spend wisely too. If you’re using flat pedals you can get some very good pedals for very little money. If you’re clipping in then you might have to spend a bit more, but the cheapest entry-level clipless pedals work just as well as high-end pedals, they’re just a bit heavier.
Another component not worth skimping on is the grips. You’ll spend a lot of time clamping your hands around grips and like a badly fitted saddle, rubbish grips will lead to discomfort and also compromised control. Look for cheap lock-on grips which use aluminium collars on either end to bolt the grip securely in place. That’ll stop the grips moving about. You can choose thin or thick grips to suit your preference.
Top-line mountain bike clothing is made from the latest greatest fabrics with the greatest style, and often strong marketing campaigns linked to star riders and racers. But the best jackets and shorts can cost more than some entry-level bikes. Luckily you can be smart and spend much less with little detriment to performance and comfort on the bike.
You can ride in a regular t-shirt and jeans, but we’d recommend investing in some suitable clothing to keep you comfortable. Technical tops will better wick sweat and stay dry than a clammy cotton tee, and don’t cost a fortune.
While you can ride in jeans or football shorts, we’d advise spending some of your budget on dedicated riding shorts. They’re cut to provide the best comfort when pedalling and many come with a padded liner that will greatly enhance your comfort on the bike.
Likewise with jackets and tops. Mountain bike-specific jackets are designed to work well when riding bikes in all weathers but you can get much cheaper jackets made from windproof, waterproof and breathable fabrics just by shopping at a local outdoor hiking store.
You can wear any old pair of trainers, and waffle soled style trainers are a good match for flat pedals. But they are very flexy and aren’t designed to deal with mud, rain and rocks. Mountain bike shoes are designed to be robust with a sole aimed at providing traction on flat pedals and enough stiffness for pedalling efficiency. If you’re going with clipped in pedals you’ll need to invest in specific shoes with a cleat in the sole, but there are many affordable options available so you don’t have to spend a fortune.
Don’t skimp on a helmet, but because they’re all made to meet the same safety standards, a cheap helmet is going to be just as safe as an expensive one. We’d always recommend gloves and while you could wear your dad’s leather driving gloves, mountain bike-specific gloves are lightweight, breathable and comfortable.