Tips for Buying a Mountain Bike - For the 'Non-Technically Minded'

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December 28th, 2016

Today's guest post is from Robyn Goldsmith.  Follow Robyn on Instragram, or through her blog "Scenes from the Trail."

buying a mountain bike 

Buying a new mountain bike can be an intimidating experience. If you aren’t someone who gets caught up in technical details, it can be downright overwhelming. There are so many things to consider! I went through the process of selecting a new bike this year and thought I’d share a few things that I learned in the hopes it might help others who are totally confused when it comes to bike selection.


If you are buying your first bike and are pretty new to the sport, I would recommend that you buy something inexpensive and fairly general-purpose. That way you can find out what you like to ride and what you might be looking for in a bike. In terms of whether to buy used or new, that is a personal preference. I personally went for new because I am riding regularly, and the shop I went with offers service on their bikes for a year. I also got a lot of helpful advice on bike size and style from the shop.


buying a new mountain bike, used vs new mountain bike, mountain bike tips, Mountain biking tips, mountain bike selection

That being said, a used bike might be a good deal and there are plenty available. If you’re buying used, ask the seller questions about what trails they’ve ridden and how much the bike has been used to get an idea of value. You may also want to check the drive train for wear, and of course make sure it’s in good working order. Signs of worn brakes or poor tuning might indicate that the bike hasn’t been well looked after.


When I started searching for a new bike (check out Pinkbike  for bike listings) , I tried to figure out what the difference between an enduro bike, a cross country bike, a trail bike, and an all-mountain bike might be. It turns out that the difference there is highly subjective depending on the manufacturer. Instead of thinking about what kind of bike you want, think about what kind of terrain you ride, because the answer may not be that straight forward.


Are you looking for one bike that can do it all? Are you riding primarily cross country? Does the idea of downhill riding freak you out? Considering those sorts of questions will help you dial in on the right bike. You may primarily ride on level buff trails, or ride everything from steep ups to technical downs. When I was shopping, I made a point of asking people who I rode with whether they liked their bike and what they liked or didn’t like about it. You will get a lot of useful information and might consider some features that you wouldn’t have thought were important. You can easily get into a world of measurements, parts, and bike geometry, but a few simple considerations are going to really make a bike right or wrong for you.


Above all, you want your bike to fit. There are plenty of bike sizing guides online, but really the feel of simply riding it will be a strong indicator.

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26 inch wheels, 27.5 inch wheels, or 29 inch wheels - does it even make a difference?    Yes. 

A 29er is going to be a machine for rolling over obstacles and climbing hills, but will be significantly less nimble going around corners or doing quick maneuvers.

A 26er is going to be nimble and easier to move around, particularly on technical downhills.

27.5 seems to be the wheel size of choice for those who are looking for an all-rounder, and while I moved to 27.5 and love it, I do find there are times that I miss the responsiveness of a 26er.


There are so many angles and aspects of frame geometry to consider that I found this part of bike selection to be the most intimidating. When I tried out a couple of bikes, though, the aspects of geometry that really stood out to me were the head tube angle and the height of the bottom bracket.


The head tube angle is the angle that the head tube forms with the ground. A steeper angle means that the bike is likely to be a more capable climber, while a lower head tube angle will mean that the bike is more likely to be stable on descents. Most downhill specific bikes have a head tube angle of 63 to 65 degrees, while most cross-country bikes have a head tube angle of around 69 to 71 degrees. Your all mountain and trail bikes will tend to fall in the middle.


The bottom bracket height is how far your bottom bracket is from the ground. Generally, the lower to the ground, the more stable, but the draw back there is that you might hit your pedals easily if it’s too low.

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Lastly, suspension is going to be important in your selection. This is where knowing what you ride and what you aspire to ride is important. When talking about suspension, the important thing is travel - the amount that a suspension fork or suspension frame can compress. If you ride fast on buff cross country trails, 100 mm of travel may be enough. If you plan on descending trails with drops and bumps, you’re going to be looking for longer travel. Having a few set ideas about what you want is going to help you weed through the selection of bikes and dial in on a few. Once you have it narrowed down, ride them all! If you can’t get a demo on the trail, even a cruise around town will help you get an idea of geometry.


Happy Bike hunting... and happy riding! 

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