Things You Need To Know Before Getting An MTB
Are you ready to buy your first mountain bike? You will be after reading this essential guide to everything you need to know to buy the right bike for you.
From wheel sizes to gearing choices, frame materials to suspension, this article will shed light on the essential information you need to be armed with before buying your first mountain bike.
Things You Need To Know Before Getting An MTB – at a glance
- There are three main types of mountain bike: rigid, hardtail or full-suspension
- Choose a cross-country mountain bike for those fast fire trails, forest paths or flat-out racing
- Trail and Enduro for trails and big days out
- Downhill for the fast downhill descents
- Choose the wheel size you feel comfortable with
- Frame will be determined by budget
- Gearing depends on the style of riding and fitness level you have
- Decide a budget
Before you rush out and buy a shiny new mountain bike there are a few very important things you should know to ensure you pick the right bike to match the riding you want to do. In the early days of mountain biking all bikes were essentially the same but over the years they have become very specialised, with cross-country race bikes at one end of the spectrum and downhill bikes at the extreme end. You don’t want to turn up to a cross-country race on a downhill bike that’s for certain!
The first choice is suspension and here you have three options. Rigid bikes have no suspension, hardtails have a suspension fork up front and full suspension adds rear suspension to the mix. They each have their pros and cons and their loyal fans and they each suit different types of riders, terrain and intentions. What will determine which is right for you comes down to budget because the more suspension you add the more the price goes up, and the terrain you want to ride over.
If you’re just starting out and you have a small budget, a hardtail is often the smart choice. You get a good balance of components and parts for the money and the suspension fork helps you out on bumpy trails. While the price of full suspension bikes gets lower all the time, the extra cost of the complex suspension can mean other components on the bike are compromised compared to a hardtail while the weight can be higher, which if you’re starting out can really hold you back.
Full suspension bikes are desirable because simply speaking they let you ride more technical terrain with more speed, control and confidence than a hardtail or rigid bike. When you’re starting your journey into the world of mountain biking the suspension can be very beneficial. But if you don’t plan to ride very technical trails and will be sticking to smoother tracks then you might be just fine on a hardtail or even a rigid mountain bike. So think carefully about the riding you aim to do.
What are the different types of mountain bike?
Cross Country Bikes
The other deciding factor is the type of mountain bike. They generally fall into several reasonably easily defined categories ranging from cross-country where speed, low weight and efficiency are primary goals.
Trail bikes cover a huge swathe of bikes are commonly range from 120-150mm travel hardtails and full suspension bikes and aim to be good at climbing and descending and the closest to the goldilocks idea of one bike that can excel everywhere.
Enduro and all-mountain bikes up the travel from 140-170mm and have chunky reinforced frames and components and are intended for extremely technical trails at high speed.
Lastly downhill bikes are, as the name suggests, designed solely for riding down hill and have up to 200mm of travel at both ends and designed for the world’s toughest courses and typically reserved for competition use.
Wheel size is another choice when choosing a mountain bike. They all used to be small 26” wheels but the common size these days is 29” wheels which offer superior rolling benefits compared to the smaller wheels.
Another popular option is 27.5” which is a happy medium that many mountain bikers prefer for the increased agility and handling poise over the bigger wheels. Oftentimes the choice of wheel size is divided by the bicycle manufacturer and most hardtails and short travel full suspension cross-country bikes use 29” wheels while bigger travel enduro bikes often prefer 27.5” wheels.
Your budget will determine the other bike choice you have to make when buying a mountain bike and that’s the frame material. At the lower end of the price range most mountain bikes use aluminium, which is used to make light, stiff and very strong frames that can handle the punishment a mountain bike is expected to take
As your budget increases carbon fibre becomes an option, and prices are gradually falling making it more accessible than ever before. Carbon brings big weight benefits as it’s by far the lightest frame material in current use, and it’s far more flexible than metal allowing bicycle designers much more creative freedom.
Gearing on a mountain bike is often supplied by SRAM or Shimano, and both offer excellent choices at the wide range of prices mountain bikes are sold at. Each company has their loyal following but in reality both make extremely good gears and brakes that offer exceptionally good performance and reliability.
The majority of mountain bikes are increasingly being built around a 1x setup, which combines a single front chainring at the pedals with a wide range cassette on the back wheel to offer a wide spread of gears you need for tackling hilling terrain.
Finally, how much money should you spend. The prevailing wisdom is to spend as much as you can afford because while you can upgrade components on mountain bikes as you get more into the sport and become addicted like many of us have, pushing for the best bike you can in the first place can often save you money in the long run.
At the time of writing this prices have increased due to the changing world we all live in but as a rule of thumb, £500 gets you a solid hardtail mountain bike with a decent suspension fork, good range of gears and disc brakes.
Move up to £1000 and you get better components with more powerful hydraulic disc brakes and the weight of the bike comes down. Full suspension bikes start becoming very credible from about £2000 for a short travel trail bike with 29” wheels and an aluminium frame. Carbon fibre mountain bikes will start from £1500-£2000 for a hardtail while £3000 is the typical starting price for a full suspension carbon fibre mountain bike.