With so many different brands and types of mountain bike to choose from, picking the best one for you can be a difficult decision – especially if it’s your first off-road bike.
To aid you in making the right choice we’ve come up eight key points to consider when buying your new steed…
Choosing a bike type
While there are specialised bikes for pretty much any riding occasion, you’re likely only going to have one steed, so it’s a good idea to go for something that’s as versatile as possible for your first bike – particularly as you’re less likely to want to specialise in certain kind of mountain biking (cross-country, downhill, enduro, etc) at this stage.
We’d recommend going for a trail bike as they’re good all-rounders and capable enough to take on the majority of regular trails. However, even within trail bikes there’s a wide spectrum to choose from, with those more akin to speed hungry cross-county machines at one end and bikes almost as capable as proper enduro rigs at the other.
While it’s well worth hunting for late season bargains at the end of the summer, we’d recommend spending at least £500 on a full price bike. While you won’t be getting any bells and whistles for this kind of outlay (in fact less is definitely more here), you can expect a durable and upgradeable hardtail that won’t let you down.
Having £1000 at your disposal opens up a lot more options and you can expect the bikes available to be lighter and have better quality components. Bar a couple of notable exceptions (see next tip) it’s still best to stick to hardtail bikes at this price.
If you’re able to spend £1500 or more though, you’ll be getting a really well equipped hardtail and there’s a decent array of full-suspension bikes to choose from.
The majority of mountain bikes are either hardtails (front suspension only) or full-suspension bikes (front and rear suspension) and there are pros and cons for each.
Given their simpler designs, hardtails are easier to maintain and set up, and are usually lighter. With less suspension to soak up your pedal input, they tend to be faster on flatter trails, but start to struggle on more demanding terrain where full suspension is an advantage.
With more complicated frame designs and a rear shock, full-suspension bikes are usually weightier than hardtails. Rock and drop strewn technical trails are where they are most at home as their extra suspension allows them to glide over obstacles rather than clang into them – though this also usually makes them harder to ride uphill.
As already mentioned, if your budget is tight, a trail hardtail is definitely the best choice. If you can stretch to £1000 though, Go Outdoors’ Calibre Bossnut is an excellent full-sus bike for the money (and is currently £899), as is the Boardman Team Full Suspension from Halfords.
Which wheel size?
Until a few years ago the 26-inch wheel dominated the MTB world, these days however, new bikes with 26in wheels are rare.
The majority of bikes now come with one of three wheel sizes – 27.5in (also known as 650b), 29in and 27.5 plus – and like suspension, there are pros and cons for each.
You’ll find that most bikes come with 27.5in wheels and they are usually the lightest, stiffest and most responsive of the three wheel sizes. 29in wheels roll slightly faster than 27.5in, but accelerate at little slower. 27.5 plus wheels are the heftiest of the lot and are made weightier still with their large, wide profile tyres. The bigger rims and tyres can give fantastic grip and speed in drier conditions, but don’t perform particularly well in mud or on precise, technical trails.
Check the weight
Cheaper bikes tend to have frames made from cheaper materials and sport cheaper components. While cheaper stuff usually performs less well than more spendy equivalents, it is pretty much guaranteed to be heavier.
But how heavy is heavy? Well anything much over 14kg (30lbs) will feel draggy on the climbs and require more effort to pilot along the trail, while anything under 12kg (26.5lbs) is generally considered to be light. Most bikes weigh in somewhere between the two.
Get the right size
Most mountain bikes come sized small, medium, large and (usually) extra large, though what these sizes actually translate to in reality can vary across different brands and bikes. Every bike brand will have a size chart and list of bike dimensions that should give you a good idea of what will fit best, but as always, it’s best to try before you buy to ensure a good fit.
Different bikes have different drivetrains and different numbers of gears. While front derailleurs are rare on higher priced bikes these days (as most have wide range 11 or 12-speed cassettes), many cheaper bikes still run them. While double or triple front rings give you more gears to choose from, a single ringed system is lighter and simpler to use.
Tyres at the lower end of the market tend to be made from harder single compound rubber, which is durable, but less grippy than superior double or triple compound tyres.
Where to buy
These days there’s a wide range of places to buy decent bikes of all kinds. While you can get serious bargains online, you usually miss out on after sales support and, more crucially still, the opportunity to try before you buy.
Big stores such as Decathlon, Halfords or Go Outdoors have some proper bikes in their ranges, though you won’t necessarily have knowledgeable staff to guide you through the options. The best options for in-store buying advice are specialist chains such as Evans and Cycle Surgery, or of course your local bike shop.