Mountain Bike Tips

How to Buy Your First Mountain Bike — 4 Tips

July 29, 2014

The fol­low­ing is a guest post by our friend Corey Mad­docks at If you’re look­ing for more infor­ma­tion like this, check out our 66-page Begin­ner’s Guide to Moun­tain Bik­ing e‑book — down­load it for free using the form at right!


Soon after get­ting bit­ten by the moun­tain bik­ing bug, you will be ready to pur­chase your first ‘real’ moun­tain bike. The myr­i­ad of prices, mod­els and types of moun­tain bikes avail­able makes the process not unlike buy­ing a car. This guide will give you the info you need to be an informed buy­er with real­is­tic expec­ta­tions about what you need and what you can afford. 


Mod­ern moun­tain bikes can cost as much as $10,000, and while these bikes are super cool, there is no need to spend that much to get a bike that will allow you to have a safe and fun ride on the trail. Pen­ny Pinch­er: $500 or less.While you will have some pret­ty strict lim­i­ta­tions in this price range, the good news is that you can find a decent bike for less than $500. In this class, you will want to look for an entry-lev­el hard­tail from a name brand. You can also look for a mid-lev­el hard­tail that is used or a pre­vi­ous mod­el year left­over. Avoid full sus­pen­sion bikes in this price range. If they are new they will be a low qual­i­ty “store” brand, and if they are used they will like­ly be beat up and end up cost­ing you more in repairs than if you had just bought a nicer new one. My first real moun­tain bike was a Spe­cial­ized Rock­hop­per hard­tail pur­chased off Craigslist for $150. One year lat­er I had to replace the fork, but I am still rid­ing it as my work com­muter to this day, 8 years and thou­sands of miles lat­er. Bud­get-Mind­ed: $500 – $1,000In this range you can score a pret­ty nice hard­tail, per­haps even a 29er, or even start look­ing at entry lev­el full sus­pen­sion bikes. Watch for used rentals or Craigslist deals to get even more bike for your mon­ey. Mid-range: $1,000 – $1,500Once you get over $1000, options open up in the clear­ance and mod­el year close-out choic­es. There are a num­ber of full sus­pen­sion bikes and real­ly nice hard­tails in this range. These bikes will start to have the same frames as the prici­er mod­els, just with cheap­er com­po­nents. Choos­ing one of these sets you up to upgrade-as-need­ed with bet­ter parts. Upper mid-range: $1,500 – $3,500With a lit­tle shop­ping around, you can buy a bike in this cat­e­go­ry that will last you for years. Most local shops will have race-ready hard­tails and decent all moun­tain or trail full sus­pen­sion mod­els in this price range. You will also start to see car­bon fiber mod­els. Rides with Mark Zucker­berg: $3500+If you have this kind of mon­ey to drop on a bike, you don’t real­ly need to wor­ry about price per se. You will be more con­cerned with get­ting a bike that exact­ly match­es your rid­ing style, or per­haps even two bikes for dif­fer­ent rid­ing disciplines. 


For sim­plic­i­ty, we’ll break moun­tain bikes down into three main cat­e­gories:
• XC• All Moun­tain / Trail
• Down­hill Be real­is­tic about your needs here. If you spend most of your time rid­ing local trails and make 1–3 trips to lift ser­viced trail areas per year, then buy­ing a down­hill bike might not be the best idea. A bet­ter approach would be to buy a decent trail bike and rent a down­hill bike as need­ed. Again, don’t wor­ry too much if your bud­get is thin. For most rid­ing on marked trails, any good qual­i­ty hard­tail will get you out there and back safe­ly. Just remem­ber, many of rid­ers hit a lot of trails before full sus­pen­sion was ever invent­ed! On the flip­side, if all your rid­ing is shut­tled or lift ser­viced, then a freeride or down­hill bike makes per­fect sense, assum­ing you have the bud­get for it. 


Once you have your bud­get estab­lished, and your rid­ing style defined, it’s time to try out some bikes! For this pur­chase it is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed to buy local and avoid mail order. Whether you buy new, used, or deal­er left­over stock, it is imper­a­tive that you throw a leg over your first bike before you drop your hard-earned coin. Spend time at local bike shops tak­ing stuff out for short test rides in the park­ing lot. Once you have nar­rowed down your choic­es to a few seri­ous con­tenders, see if you can do a paid demo on a real trail for a real ride. Also check with the local shop for “Demo Days” where the ven­dors will set up at a local trail with dif­fer­ent mod­el bikes to test. If you are buy­ing used, you may have to judge the best you can by rid­ing the bike around a park­ing lot. 


So you have found the per­fect bike! It fits you, it’s with­in your bud­get, and you can’t wait to bring it home. Before get­ting all gid­dy and hand­ing over your mon­ey, do just one more bit of research. New: Make sure to get the terms of any war­ran­ty that comes with the bike. If it’s a mod­el year hold over, make sure the war­ran­ty starts when you buy it, rather than when the shop put it in inven­to­ry. Also ask about any fol­low-up tune-ups. Most shops offer free tune-ups 30 to 90 days after the pur­chase date in order to help you with any­thing that may have shift­ed dur­ing the break-in process. Used: On any used bike, even from a friend, look the bike over very care­ful­ly. Inspect the frame for any cracks. Make sure the wheels are true. Look for weath­er cracks on the tires. Check for frayed or stretched cables. Make sure the sus­pen­sion is smooth and doesn’t creak, squeak, or leak. Check all fit­tings, bear­ings and sus­pen­sion link­ages for any play that shouldn’t be there. If pos­si­ble, it’s not a bad idea to have a local shop look over a used bike for you. The impor­tant thing is to avoid spend­ing all the mon­ey you have on a bike, only to find out it needs a sev­er­al hun­dred dol­lar repair. Hope­ful­ly this helps take some of the mys­tery out of bike shop­ping. Just remem­ber to estab­lish your bud­get, be real­is­tic about your rid­ing style, and ask lots of ques­tions from the shop or pri­vate sell­er. And once you have that per­fect first bike, get out and ride it! 


Orig­i­nal­ly from Maine, I dis­cov­ered moun­tain bik­ing after mov­ing to Col­orado in 2004. Since then I have rid­den a vari­ety of bikes on trails in five states. I pre­fer fat bik­ing, XC rid­ing, and all day epic trails, with the occa­sion­al gnarly down­hill run thrown in to spice things up. When not rid­ing, I enjoy wrench­ing on bikes and I have designed a line of 650b hard­tail race bikes that are going into pro­duc­tion in 2014. p.s. Once you buy your first moun­tain bike, the next step is to take it on its first big adventure.