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The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Mountain Bike

September 30, 2016
The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Mountain Bike

With a seemingly overwhelming number of options on offer, buying a mountain bike can seem like a complicated process. Duallys, hardtails, fatties, some with suspension, some without, different wheel sizes and frame materials, and then add in all of those different disciplines. The options seem to know no bounds!

Never fear, we’ve put together this guide to help cut through all the terminology and explain the different types of mountain bikes, the type of riding you can do with them, and just how to choose the right one for you.

Types of mountain bikes

Although mountain bikes fall under one banner like road bikes, the type and purpose of each bike can be worlds apart. Mountain bikes are tailor made for specific terrain and riding styles.

Some bikes feature generous suspension front and rear to deal with big drops and rough trails; others don't have any suspension at all to be lighter and faster on smooth trails; while others have limited suspension in an attempt to find the right balance between speed and support. To throw a little more confusion into the mix, there are also new subclasses of mountain bikes, such as 'Fat' bikes, built for tackling sand and snow.

Below is a description of each three key mountain types and what they are built for.

Dual-suspension / Full suspension

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As the name suggests, dual-suspension or full suspension mountain bikes have suspension connected to the front and rear wheels of the bike. The suspension systems allow for 'travel' which is mountain bike terminology for the amount of suspension movement available. The suspension helps absorb the impact from the trails, reducing the impact on the rider and improving traction and comfort as a result. As the suspension helps to keep the wheels on the ground for traction, typically the rougher the trail, the more suspension required. Typically travel will range from 80 mm - 200 mm front and rear, depending on the intended purpose of the bike.

Downhill bikes for example are built to go down steep, technical tracks as fast as possible, so have large amounts of travel to provide additional traction and support. At the opposite end, cross country bikes need to be light and efficient to pedal and so will typically feature around 100mm of travel. Many suspension systems allow riders to 'lock out' the suspension which effectively renders the shocks inactive, consequently reducing movement and saving energy which is better for climbing back up to the top of the mountain or riding on the road to the trail head.

A quick guide to suspension

The front suspension is located in the forks and is relatively simple in comparison to the rear suspension which comes in a variety of forms.

Suspension in the fork is provided by a spring which compresses in reaction to hitting an obstacle along the trail. The spring can be either air, coil or both. Air springs are lightweight and highly tuneable using a special air pump (shock pump). Coil springs are used on lower cost bikes and also feature on downhill or gravity bikes. Made from either steel or titanium, the coil springs are extremely durable and provide a more responsive feel than air springs due to a lack of tight seals, however, they’re heavier and also require swapping out if the suspension is either too soft or firm.

Rear suspension comes in many forms. All try to achieve similar things, which is to isolate braking and pedalling forces from the suspension action. Rear suspension frames typically allow the rear wheel to float independent of the main frame via a series of pivots from here, the rear frame section is connected with a rear shock that dampens these forces.

The Four Bar system is perhaps the most common rear suspension design and features a chainstay pivot, a pivot behind the bottom bracket and a pivot on top of the seat stay which is connected to a leveraged shock linkage. The Faux Bar system is very similar to the Four Bar but with pivots on the seat stays. A variation on the Four Bar is the Virtual Pivot Point (or VPP) and the DW-Link which both use twin links to isolate the rear end. A Split Pivot has a rear dropout pivot placed in line with the rear wheel axle, and is virtually the same as Trek's Active Braking Pivot (ABP). A single pivot suspension system is the most simple option featuring a swing arm and one main pivot located above and forward of the bottom bracket. The Floating Drivetrain, so called because the drivetrain is positioned on a link between the front and rear triangles, is another popular system.

All of these systems have pro's and con's, which system you'll get is typically dependent upon the manufacturer.

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Hardtail

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Once again the name of the bike gives away its unique feature. Hardtail mountain bikes only have suspension in the front of the bike and no suspension in the rear, creating a 'hard tail'. As hardtails have less moving parts they are typically lighter and more affordable than dual-suspension mountain bikes, and also require less maintenance. As with dual suspension lock out systems, the front suspension mechanism on hardtail bikes can also be locked, effectively creating a fully rigid bike.

The lightweight and stiff nature of hardtails make them suited to less challenging trails and cross country riders who are chasing pedalling efficiency and low weight. The limited suspension still offers plenty of comfort, so aside from the roughest of trails or steep downhill sections, hardtails are well suited to a variety of different off-road trails.

Rigid

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Mountain bikes with no suspension at all are referred to as 'rigid' bikes. The lack of suspension limits the potential usage of rigid bikes to easier trails, with the tyres providing the majority of the comfort.

Rigid mountain bikes are a great option for riders looking to tackle easier and more accessible trails. Whilst their lack of front or rear suspension suspension limits the potential usage on more technical trails, rigid mountain bikes have the added benefit of being lighter weight and lower maintenance. However, advancements in suspension design and typically lower costs means rigid bikes are becoming less common and are typically now only sold in niche categories.

Wheels

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A hugely topical subject amongst keen riders, there are three main sizes of mountain bike wheels that you will find on the majority of new mountain bikes, plus larger options to cater for specific bikes.

Wheels are referred to by numbers which indicate their size. 26in wheels were the original mountain bike wheel size and are still used sparingly today thanks to being nimble and light. The shift in recent years has been to larger wheels that offer more traction, greater roll-over ability and a better ride quality, meaning 26in wheels are rarely seen on new mountain bikes.

27.5in, also referred to as '650B’ wheels have essentially replaced 26in wheels as the norm in recent years, offering slightly improved roll-over ability, traction and air volume than 26in wheels. 27.5in wheels are lighter, stronger and typically more nimble than 29in wheels so depending on the type of riding you do, these might be a good option.

29in wheels, also called '29ers', provide more traction, greater roll-over ability on technical obstacles and a smoother ride thanks to their increased size and air volume. 29er wheels have become the most popular choice in many mountain bike disciplines. Their increased stability also means they’re good on the descent. They do, however, weigh more than the smaller wheel sizes, can be cumbersome in small frame sizes and are slightly limited in the amount of suspension that can be incorporated around them. For this, 29er bikes are best used in cross country and trail-type riding, where generous suspension travel is usually not needed. – Although, this is fast changing as many of the world's best enduro and even downhill racers are making the switch to 29in wheels too.

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All of the above wheel options also come in plus sized variants. These wheels sit somewhere between normal and fat and claim to offer improved traction, control and comfort over a standard wheel. Offering a large volume 2.8 to 3in width, Plus Sized wheels are available in either 26, 27.5 and 29in rim diameters but add further height beyond that. For example, a 27.5+ tyre measures close in diameter to a standard 29er tyre.

Fat bikes require specific wheels that provide a large enough footprint to float over sand and snow. Fat bikes have increased tyre clearance to handle tyres ranging from 3.5in to 5.5 in in width. Due to the extreme air volume given, the majority of fat bikes are either rigid or hardtail.

Type of riding

The various mountain bike disciplines all require specific features on the bikes to achieve an optimal outcome. For example, lightweight bikes excel in Cross-Country (XC) Racing, so a lightweight frame and components are highly sort after. For other disciplines like Trail, All-mountain or Enduro racing, a bike with longer travel and a dropper seatpost is popular.

Each different riding style will likely score a change in suspension travel and a tweaks to the bike’s geometry. Head tube angles (the angle at which the front fork protrudes from the frame), depending on whether their focus centres around handling or stability, will be the main geometry tweak. Bikes such as those designed for XC will typically feature a steeper angle (where the front wheel sits closer to the frame) providing more responsive handling and are considered better for climbing, whereas a slacker head tube angle (<68 degrees), that places the front wheel further out, will provide more stability at high speed and on steep descents.

To help you decide on what kind of bike you should be looking for and with what kind of features, here's a summary of the common forms of mountain bike riding

Cross-Country

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This is the 'original' form of mountain bike riding and is done on naturally occurring trails or trails that have been purpose-built. The terrain can be almost anything – hard-packed, muddy, rocky, gravel, tree roots, soft from vegetation. Along the way you might come across naturally-occurring obstacles, or in the case of trail centres you’ll also encounter man-made challenges (seesaws, bridges, jumps etc) specifically placed along the path to make things interesting!

Trail centres, which have either been enhanced, altered, maintained by human influence, may be graded as per the degree of technical proficiency required to ride the course. Green gives you a pleasant family-style journey, blue indicates the path is rollable (no major obstacles to get over). Red is for more technical riding and black is for challenging paths – bigger drops, obstacles in your path, gaps, etc – typically the stuff for serious riders and more capable bikes.

XC also refers to common types of racing, with the two most common forms being 'XCM' and 'XCO'. XCO refers to Cross Country Olympic, an Olympic sport that typically consists of 1-2 hour long races held on technical and hilly loop courses. XCM stands for cross country marathon, with races covering varying terrain for distances ranging from 50 to 150+km in length.

Almost any kind of mountain bike is suited to cross country due to the variety of graded trails. Hardtails can easily cover green and blue trails, but as you move further into red and black trails, suspension becomes increasingly important. For these tougher trails, dual-suspension mountain bikes with 90 - 120 mm of travel are great options. Cross country courses require a lot of pedalling, so a drivetrain that is efficient is also an item to be ticked off. Tyre size will also depend on the type of trail you're riding but either 26in, 27.5in or 29in will get the job done. Head tube angles will vary, bikes more focused on speed will have a steeper head tube angle to provide fast, responsive handling.

Trail

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Trail riding is arguably the non-racing aspect of cross country riding. This is simply 'mountain biking' to many and will generally cover trails with greater technical difficulty than those designed for cross country.

A trail bike sits somewhere between a bike designed for cross country and Enduro racing. These are designed to perfectly balance both climbing and descending, a jack of all trades if you will. Many trail bikes can be raced in cross country events, but are likely to be heavier and slower on climbs and flat terrain.

Dual suspension bikes with 120-150 mm of suspension travel will perform well on any trail, and as with cross country riding, 27.5in or 29in wheels will work well. Given the extensive range of trails, you can encounter, a drivetrain with a large gear range is something to look out for. The head tube angle will again vary on the level you plan to be riding at, but generally will be slacker than cross country bikes with angles somewhere between 67 and 69-degrees.

A common feature on trail bikes is a dropper seatpost which allows the lowering of the saddle while on the move. This means you can have the saddle at the right height for comfortable and efficient pedalling and with the flick of a switch, drop it out of the way for descending.

Enduro / All mountain

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Enduro riding is a unique form of mountain biking where downhill sections of a course are timed, but the uphill sections are not. The stage race format rewards the rider with the lowest accumulated time for a set number of downhill runs. Although the uphill sections aren't timed, on many occasions there are time cutoffs to adhere to.

Enduro is one of the fastest growing disciplines in mountain biking. The jumps are more challenging, the drops are bigger, and the trails are more likely to be black level.

Enduro bikes are designed to take the rider uphill but still shine on descents. Look for a bike with 150-180 mm of suspension travel front and rear, a 'dropper (height adjustable) seat post and tyres of 2.3in width or larger. The headtube angle will be slacker than that of trail bikes, but slightly steeper than downhill bikes so that the trek back up with mountain is more manageable.

All mountain bikes are effectively non-race versions of Enduro bikes. While many brands will only offer one or the other, some brands differentiate the two by ensuring the all mountain bike is more well rounded. In these cases, consider an All mountain bike something designed for technical and aggressive trail riding but without the racing ambitions.

Gravity / Downhill

One for the adrenaline junkies, as the name suggests, this type of mountain biking is all about flying down. Riders will either get a lift up to a certain mountain point, or they’ll sometimes even walk up with the bike. Ski resorts around the world are starting to operate chairlifts throughout the year – not just during the snow season – which makes downhill riding more accessible. Once at the top, it’s all about getting down to the bottom of the hill as fast as possible while handling the drops and jumps, gaps and rocks, slips and slides as you go.

For this type of riding, you’re looking at a bike designed for the descents and little more. Look for a bike with front and rear suspension travel between 170 - 210mm, a long wheelbase for high-speed stability and tyres at around 2.5in in width. Gears don't matter as much, with the top pro's typically racing with just seven. 27.5in wheels have overtaken 26in as the new standard for this type of bike. The head tube angle for downhill bikes is the slackest of all mountain bikes, at about 62-65-degrees, to account for the high speed and stability required.

Don't forget to budget for body protection when doing this type of mountain biking. A moto-style full face helmet, goggles, and knee protection are typically minimum investments.

Frame material

Mountain bikes are commonly made from either carbon fibre, aluminium, titanium, steel or a combination of these materials. Each material has different characteristics and will affect the cost, comfort, weight and general 'feel' of the bike. It's worth noting that it's often how the chosen material is used by the engineers and manufacturers that matters most, and this is something that each brand will typically play with. Below is a summary of each type of material, check out our Frame Material Explained Guide for a more in-depth description.

Aluminium is the most common frame material in modern mountain bikes, closely followed by carbon fibre. Aluminium is a metal that can be used to make a light and stiff bike. Compared to carbon fibre, it’s easier and quicker to work with, which makes it a cheaper option. Aluminium bikes have great power transfer thanks to the thickness of the tubes used, but this can lead to a harsh ride if suspension isn't present.

To add strength to an aluminium frame whilst keeping weight down, manufacturers will add 'butting' in single, double or triple variations to the frame tubes. This involves producing tubes with varying wall thicknesses which become thinner in the centre where strength isn't as crucial as it is at the welded ends. For example, a triple butted tube will change wall thickness three times and therefore can be made lighter without a loss in strength, but at an increased cost. Choosing an aluminium frame can provide a cost effective solution for those seeking performance on a budget.

Carbon fibre was once found exclusively in the professional ranks due to its high cost and difficulty to work with. Over time the price has come down, manufacturing processes have improved and carbon fibre is now common in mountain biking. Carbon fibre is directional in its nature and can easily be moulded into any shape enabling manufacturers great freedom with tube profiles and frame shape.The stiffness to weight ratio of carbon fibre is the best of any material used for bikes, as a result, it’s the universally chosen material for bikes in the professional ranks. The downfall of carbon fibre is it can crack under excessive stress to an area such as impact from a crash or over tightening screws. Once the integrity of the carbon has failed, the material can become extremely fragile and dangerous to use. At this point it either needs to be repaired or replaced.

Steel is a common material used in entry-level bikes. Steel is strong and relatively inexpensive but weighs more than aluminium and carbon fibre frames. It’s also susceptible to corrosion. Before aluminium and carbon fibre, steel was the material of choice for mountain bikes, both recreational and professional. Modern, premium steels can be quite expensive and laborious to use and so lost favour with many brands choosing other materials that offered greater stiffness to weight ratios.

Titanium is rarely used on mountain bikes due to its high cost. Titanium is relatively light weight, highly durable and won't corrode like steel. Unlike carbon fibre and aluminium that can easily be molded, titanium is hard to work with which makes it an expensive material choice. Titanium has a distinct advantage over aluminium and carbon fibre in that it's incredibly resilient in the event of a crash. It takes a lot to damage titanium which is why people choose it as a lifetime luxury purchase. As well as being durable, titanium frames are comfortable and with new machining techniques the tubes can be made very thin enabling the weight to be kept low.

Groupset

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A groupset comprises of brakes and the drivetrain which is thought of as the bike's engine room. The drivetrain consists of the cranks, chainrings, chain, cassette, derailleurs, and shifters. The drivetrain is a closed circuit which propels the bike and as you spend more money, the efficiency, durability and shifting performance increases while the weight decreases.

As you work up the groupset hierarchy, the materials change. Entry level groupsets are made up of mostly low-grade alloys which move to the higher-grade alloys, and then the highest-grade alloys, carbon fibre and titanium for the top-of-the-line options. Oddly, the trend these days is for more expensive bikes to feature fewer gears, and so bikes over a certain price will move to a 1x drivetrain (single chainring on the front) option with either 11 or 12 gears at back.Electronic drivetrains are available too.

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Mountain bike groupsets are far more complex than road bikes due to the different demands of each riding style and often groupsets are made up of a mixture of component grades and brands. Choice of frame, wheel size, and type of riding will dictate a number of gears on the cassette, type of crankset, brakes, shifters, and derailleurs.

Cranksets are available as a triple, double or single. A triple crankset will normally have a 44/34/24 or 42/32/22 ratio (the numbers correspond to the number of teeth on each cog) which provides a large range of gears but has considerable cross over and the potential for mechanical issue with more moving parts. A double crankset is more common these days and will normally have a large chain ring with 36 - 42T, and a small chain ring with 24 - 28T. The double crankset offers similar gear ratios to a triple but with fewer parts, and so is lighter and provides improved efficiency. A recent trend is the 1x or 'one-by' drivetrains whereby the front derailleur is removed and there is only a single chain ring on the front. This further reduces moving parts, reduces weight and in some cases still provides similar gear range to a double crankset. These 1x drivetrains have partly shot to success as space is made available for a dropper seatpost remote by removing the left-hand shifter (for the front derailleur).

Given the different crankset options available and different kinds of trails, the cassettes on mountain bikes vary dramatically. Ratios can be similar to a road bike at 11-32, or as large as 10-50 for the latest 1x SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrains. If a 1x drivetrain is in use, expect a larger cassette range to make up the difference.

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Type and quality of brakes will differ from groupset to groupset. There are two common brake types available in modern mountain bikes. These are cable operated disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes. Cable operated disc brakes will typically feature on entry level bikes, while hydraulic disc brakes will typically feature on any mountain bike over AU$800. Hydraulic systems are deemed superior as they're based on automotive technology that produces a lightweight, reliable and low maintenance system with fantastic brake control. As with most other elements of the groupsets, as the price increases so do the quality of materials used, which provides lower weight, better modulation (brake control), durability and reliability. Once the only choice, rim brakes do still exist in mountain bikes, but will only be found on the very cheapest of new bike options.

For a full breakdown on the hierarchy of components offered by Shimano and SRAM, along with a more detailed explanation of how the gears work, check out our complete guide to mountain bike groupsets.

Budget

So now that you know what type of mountain bikes there are to choose from, paired with what type of wheel size will suit you, it's time to find out what kind of budget will get the perfect bike for you.

Mountain bikes start at as little as AU$300 and can extend to over AU$10,000 for all the bells and whistles. Spending more money on a bike will typically (but not always) result in a reduction of weight, better suspension, improved shift quality, increased durability and greater comfort.

The materials of the bike's frame and fork will change as the price increases, typically moving from steel to aluminium to carbon fibre. Groupsets will have a similar progression, as will wheelsets which follow a similar path from aluminium to carbon fibre. Due to additional moving parts and technology required, suspension systems increase the price of a bike, dual-suspension bikes with large amounts of travel are generally the most expensive.

Below is a summary of what you can expect within a set budget.

Under $600

This price range is targeted at recreational riders, families and beginner riders. Often the term 'mountain bike' is a descriptor of the bike's aesthetic. At most, bikes of this price are capable of tackling smoother, well maintained dirt trails. The frame is likely to be made from aluminium or steel and highly durable, but it's the parts that are likely not up to the task.

Although dual-suspension mountain bikes are available at this price it's best to steer clear of them in favour for a hardtail or rigid bike. Suspension systems are highly complicated and require quality components to work reliably and effectively, too much to ask for under AU$600. Any dual-suspension mountain bikes under AU$600 are likely to be much heavier than a hardtail or rigid option and not reliable for off-road use.

Cable rim and disc brakes are both an option here, disc brakes the preferred option as they perform better in wet. It is unlikely to find hydraulic disc brakes at this price, they typically become available in the next price bracket.

Gear ranges will typically be smaller than more expensive bikes as it's assumed you won't be climbing any significant hills. Wheels are typically both heavy and weak at this price point.

Between $600 - $1,000

Good news for entry level riders looking to cover basic trails. A good hardtail becomes accessible at this price point, as do hydraulic disc brakes. Hydraulic brakes require less maintenance and provide more power and better modulation.

The frame will be a little lighter and likely made of aluminium. You should be looking for an 8-speed cassette as a minimum, most likely paired with a double or triple crankset up front. Tyres will also improve having a better tread profile for proper trails whilst providing improved ride quality and performance.

You may be able to find a dual-suspension mountain bike at this price point, but they will still be far heavier and less durable than a good hardtail, so it's worth holding off until the budget can stretch a little further.

Between $1,000 - $2,000

For those looking for a dual-suspension mountain bike, this is the place to start. The welcome addition of suspension front and back does come at the cost of quality parts. A hardtail at the same price will typically be far lighter and have better quality componentry, but obviously sacrifices the rear suspension. So the question at this price point becomes which do you favour, a dual-suspension for greater control when it gets rough, or a hardtail with higher quality components that is going to perform better on less technical trails. Hydraulic disc brakes are almost standard as is an aluminium frame.

One thing we haven't spoken about is thru-axle fork vs a quick release hub system. Thru-axle forks have a larger diameter axle which improves stiffness and steering at the wheels as a result. You'll find them on bikes at the upper end of this price point, and more commonly above it.

An extra gear or two should be on offer, now 10-speed is common and most likely still paired with either a double or triple crankset.

Tubeless tyres is an interesting topic at this price, Trek supplies 'tubeless-ready’ rims on just about every bike over AU$800 but other brands may require you to spend closer to $4,000 to get them. It's a great upgrade to your bike and so it's worth asking about.

Between $2,000 - $3,500

Things really start to become interesting at this price point with many features becoming accessible such as dropper posts, 1x drivetrains, and we start to see carbon frames. Bikes become distinctively split between disciplines at this stage, and you'll begin to see specific drivetrains for downhill events that don't require the range that cross-country bikes do.

Hardtails become available in carbon creating a lighter, stiffer and more responsive ride. The decision now will be between a carbon hardtail with quality components over a dual-suspension alloy bike with lesser components. No doubt the extra comfort and support on rough trails would be welcome, but a good quality hardtail may do just as good a job depending on the type of riding you have planned.

AU$3,000 is the approximate entry for a bike with a dropper seat post (adjustable seat height at the flick of a switch) which will make descents easier by lowering your centre of gravity.

You'll begin to see many 1x drivetrain options where the front derailleur is removed to reduce weight and simplify the shifting process without sacrificing too much gear range. Having a 1x drivetrain reduces the amount of moving parts and the amount of potential mechanical issues as a result. It also allows manufacturers to experiment with frame design, creating bikes with greater tyre clearance and shorter chain stays which helps create a more nimble bike with better traction and control.

Between $3,500 - $6,000

If the budget will stretch, this is where you get almost everything a mountain bike has to offer; lightweight frame, high quality components, tubeless-ready rims, dropper post, hydraulic disc brakes, thru-axles front and rear, and either a SRAM x1 or Shimano XT drivetrain.

Suspension systems become highly sophisticated allowing you to adjust the feel with external adjusters and an air pump (known as a shock pump). Brakes are likely to provide a perfect balance of modulation and power for extra confidence. Gear ranges are likely to be much larger in this price range to cater for a variety of trails and make even the steepest climbs manageable.

Above $6,000

At this price point mountain bikes go Gucci and highly specialised. Expect a lightweight carbon fibre frame from a desirable brand, light and strong carbon fibre wheels, top-tier components, Shimano electronic drivetrain or SRAM x1 with 12 gears. Splitting performance at this price range becomes difficult as the difference between one bike and another is often minimal, so it really comes down to rider preferences or desires.

Getting the right size

Getting the right size bike is crucial. If you are comfortable on the bike it will provide a more enjoyable experience and you will want to ride it more; plus comfort equals speed. Conversely, the incorrect sized bike will lead to discomfort, potential injury and a negative riding experience.

Finding the right frame size is the first step. If your frame is too small or too big it will be virtually impossible to make it fit you perfectly. Moving the seat position and adjusting the handlebars are all easy adjustments to make, but are band-aid solutions if the frame size is incorrect.

The measurement you see on a mountain bike refers to the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube.

  • Each manufacturer will have different sizes and frame descriptions so a small for one brand may be a medium in another brand. Similarly different bike models from the same manufacturer may be different effective sizes with shared descriptions. It's always best to check with the specific manufacturer and bike model to confirm. If cross comparing between brands or models, the most consistent measurement to use is the 'effective top tube length'.

Stack and reach are another two key measures worth knowing. The stack relates to the height of the bike measured vertically from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. The reach relates to the length of the bike measured horizontally from the bottom bracket to the head tube. If you know these two values you'll always be able to find the appropriate sized bike regardless of manufacturer or frame description.

Seat height can be less important in mountain biking than other cycling disciplines because it can change dramatically depending on your chosen type of riding. Bikes that are built to go downhill will generally also require the rider to have a lower seat height. The lower seat height effectively lowers a rider’s centre of gravity creating a more stable platform to work from. This is why 'dropper' seatposts are becoming so popular in mountain biking, offering the best of both worlds.

For more on geometry and how it affects a bike, check out our guide to geometry charts and what they mean.

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Test Ride

Imagine buying a car without taking it for a test drive first. It's just a given that you test drive a car and a bike should be no different. Only by taking a bike for a ride will you get a feel for it's characteristics, size, geometry and intricacies.

When taking a bike for a test ride, don't just go around the block and make a decision. If possible try to get it for the weekend, or at least try to simulate the type of riding you plan to do. Some brands offer demo shows, where they'll bring an entire fleet of bikes to a trail for you to test (ask your shop). Other shops may have their own demo fleets of popular models to test. Not all shops allow this though, and so you may need to buy a bike based on the advice from trusted resources.

As we've mentioned, the different types of mountain bike riding varies so greatly, the bike you chose must be able to cope with what you have planned. There's no point testing a hardtail mountain bike if you only intend on riding downhill. And testing a cross country bike on flat roads around the shop will tell you nothing about how it will handle single track or steep climbs.

And don't be dazzled by a new shiny bike. Look at it constructively and make an informed decision as to whether or not it meets your needs. If you have doubts at the time of purchase, they will only compound over time.

Mountain Bike Accessories

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It's important to know that once you've purchased a bike, the job isn't over. Additional purchases in the form of specific pedals, shoes and helmet will likely be required. It's worth either putting some additional money aside for these items or trying to get them included in the price of the bike.

Other common accessories that are essential for riding your mountain bike are spare tubes, a hand pump and multi tool. Facility to carry water and your spares in the way of a bottle cage or hydration pack are important too. Padded cycling shorts are a great way to improve your riding comfort, with most mountain bikers preferring the casual look of 'baggy' shorts.

The more technical and risky the mountain biking you plan to do, the more ‘armour’ is usually worn. This can include full face helmets, goggles, limb protection and even neck/spine protection, although these accessories are almost exclusively for downhill riders.

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Do some research

To help you make an informed decision, create a list of your top five bikes and do some research.

As well as trawling through cat videos, YouTube can also be used as a quick source of easily consumable information. Look for videos from the manufacturers for specifications and technology information but also look for impartial people or companies providing their opinions.

Look for relevant information that is going to be important to you in the years to come, not just which colour is in vogue at the moment. Weight, comfort and safety are all key considerations. Has the bike had any issues or been recalled? What kind of rider is the bike suited to?

If you are looking for a performance bike, ask if it is raced professionally. If it's not, why not? That's not to say for a bike to be good it needs to be ridden by the pro's, but if it's good enough for the professionals, it's highly likely to be good enough for the rest of us.

Look for reviews from other sources too. Magazines, websites, blogs all provide valuable information, normally in much more detail than an online video. And while you're online, look at forums or reviews for information, and be sure to check the comments section at the bottom.

We hope this buyer’s guide has been helpful and provided some valuable information. You can browse BikeExchange for mountain bikes, or search for your local bike shop for further assistance.

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