According to recent studies, mountain biking is a very popular activity in the U.S., with nearly 40 million+ participants, annually.
Mountain bikes are best characterized by their light, sturdy frames, stronger wheels, and ability to traverse rough mountain terrain. These bikes are specially designed to handle all sorts of rough terrain, including the rough trails leading up into mountains around the world.
Many types of mountain bikes exist, though the most common carry lighter frame, strong tires characteristics that most people look for when searching for a mountain bike. You might be in the market for a mountain bike if you simply need a stronger bicycle for powering through different types of terrain in your daily life. Some might need a mountain bike if they hike on a regular basis and require a bicycle to travel greater distances when on the mountain trail.
Whatever the reason, it is important to know what to look for when you’re looking to buy a brand-new mountain bike.
Before You Buy A Mountain Bike: What Are You Looking For?
There are many factors to consider if you’re in the market for a mountain bike. Besides the style of bike, you might need other features like wheels, suspension, gearing, and the bike fit matter too.
If you’re in the market for a mountain bike, you’re going to immediately look at three different types that are on the market: rigid, hardtail, and full suspension mountain bikes.
Full suspension mountain bikes come in different types, however, they’re all designed in the same way. Both rear shock and front fork of the bike feature full suspensions attached to the mechanical parts there. These bikes are designed to absorb a lot of the rough and tumble of an unstable bike trail, making them ideal for handling tougher bike rides.
Hardtail mountain bikes take on most trails, except for the toughest. They’re more of a middle of the road model favored by cross-country riders for their smoother riding experience. Although they handle smoothly, these bikes don’t have a suspension on the rear part of the bike.
Rigid mountain bikes don’t have any type of suspension on the bike; instead, these bikes often have wider tires and lower tire pressure to help absorb and withstand the instability of most terrain. These bikes are also relatively lower in both cost and maintenance when compared to full suspension and hardtail mountain bikes.
The most important parts of the mountain help both bike and rider maneuver tough terrain. Mechanical features in a mountain bike are usually the gears, the brakes, the suspension (if it has any), and the bike frame itself.
A mountain bike frame influences its strength, weight, durability, handling, and even its price. Most mountain bikes are made from an aluminum alloy frame; the weight and feel of an aluminum frame depend on what the manufacturer may spend to produce better quality aluminum.
Other bike frames may be made from materials like steel, carbon fiber, and titanium. Steel is very durable, inexpensive, and produces smoother handling; however, steel is considered to be heavy for most mountain bikes.
Titanium, on the other hand, is lighter and strong, but it’s more expensive than steel. For this reason, titanium frames are usually reserved for higher-end mountain bikes. Carbon fiber frames are usually used for cross-country mountain bikes for its relatively low weight and high durability. Carbon fiber, however, is expensive because of its intensive manufacturing process.
The gears of the mountain bike heavily influence the handling of the ride. This part of the bike is made of the front chainrings and the sprockets that wind around the cassette, and are controlled by the familiar pedals of the bike. The number of gears on a mountain bike, anywhere from just one or as many as 30, influences the bike’s handling and the ride quality. Tougher terrain traversal generally requires more gears, while easier terrain needs fewer gears.
Many mountain bikes were first manufactured with two to three chainrings, which made handling much easier on most terrain. Modern mountain bikes usually have single chainrings with wider cassettes these days, reducing bike weight and making handling the bike much easier for most riders. The gears can even be modified after buying a mountain bike, though beginner riders are advised to wait until they’re comfortable with their chosen bike.
The brakes of a mountain bike are essential. They have also evolved over the years: disc brakes are installed on today’s entry-level mountain bikes instead of rim brakes.
Disc brakes have brake pads that attach to a brake rotor, which is mounted to the wheel hub. The advantages of disc brakes include their braking consistency on all terrains, they’re cheaper to replace, and they place less strain on rider’s fingers.
They also come in two different types: hydraulic and cable-activated or mechanical brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes allow stronger and progressive braking with less input from the rider. These brakes also self-adjust if the brake pad begins wearing down. Cable-activated or mechanical brakes are a little trickier to operate: they require manual adjusting once the brake pads wear down.
Rim brakes are installed on some entry-level mountain bikes. These brakes have brake pads that are installed on the rims of the wheels. They’re much easier to replace than disc brakes since it’s easier to spot eroding brake pads.
The fit of a mountain bike is important—and may arguably be the most important factor to get right before you make that purchase. A mountain bike should fit you as well as well-tailored clothing. A mountain bike that fits your body type, height, riding style, and flexibility is the difference between having a great time on a trail versus a bad time.
Mountain bikes generally come in three different sizes: small, medium, and large. These sizes often correspond with the height of a rider, which is usually indicated on the sizing charts offered by many bike manufacturers.
To find out the correct fit for you, it’s highly advised to head to a bike store to test out the bikes yourself. A sales associate can also give you advice about which bike might suit your body type and frame the best.