When they go to buy their first bike, a lot of beginning riders go out and do one of two things; either they buy the cheapest bike or the most expensive bike. Both are huge mistakes. The cheapest bike, in most stores, isn’t up to the beating it’s going to take out on any serious trail and the most expensive bike is generally built for competition and is more of an investment than most beginners need to be putting in at the outset.
Choosing the right bike should be a process. One of the most important parts of that process should be making sure the bike fits you well.
Stand over height is exactly what it sounds like: how much space is between you and the bike when you stand over it. You might make sure you have plenty of clearance between you and the top tube (or cross bar), otherwise you’ll be doing a little bump and grind every time you stop your bike.
The other side of fitting a bike to your body is finding the right foot and leg positioning. You’ll be changing positions a lot when you’re out on the trail, so you need to be comfortable on the seat, slightly elevated and nearly standing. Also, make sure that you are comfortable with your hands on the handle bars in all these positions. If possible, ask to take the bike for a quick test ride, before you buy it, in order test these things out.
One you know what size bike you want you need to decide what materials you’ll want the bike to made out of. This wear a lot of the difference in price comes in. There are four main choices: high-tensile steel, chromoly steel, aluminum, and titanium. They all have their place.
In general, high tensile steel bikes are heavier and cheaper. They fine for beginners, but the weight means more work out on the trails.
Chromoly steel, is the next step up and will usually run you $300 for a decent frame. chromoly has been in use for a century and will never steer you wrong. It runs lighter than HT Steel and lasts longer. The biggest problem is the wide range of prices and qualities (chomoly can climb over $1600), which is due to how long it’s been used by bike manufactures. If you find a chromoly bike that fits you well, be sure to do some research before you pull the trigger on your purchase.
Aluminum is a great material for making bikes. It runs a little more expensive and little lighter than chromoly. It also presents some of the same challenges when it comes to making your purchase because it’s such a commonly used alloy and that makes for a wide variety of manufacturers making bikes of varying qualities.
Titanium mountain bike frames are expensive. The price tag on them can easily climb to around $5000. The good news is: they’re worth it. Titanium is as tough as you’ve heard and the lightest metal used to make bike frames. Beginners probably shouldn’t drop this kind of coin, but a titanium frame can last a life time.
The next two things you’ll want to look at are the suspension type and the wheels.
The first thing that needs to be addressed when talking about suspension is: you don’t need it. It’s simply not critical. You can ride a mountain bike off road and be just fine without a suspension. However, a good suspension can add a lot to the experience and to your safety, so you should at least consider it when making your purchase.
There are several rear suspension models available, but the most popular is the independent swing arm. Swing arm, rear triangle, and rear fork all refer to the portion of the bike frame that attaches to the wheel. Independent swing arms have the pivot above the above the bottom bracket (which attaches to the frame). Beyond that there are a lot of small technical variants (shock placement, linkages, etc.) that don’t change too much about how the bike rides. But with an independent swing arm suspension you’ll have a suspension that is always active, that is always making your ride a smoother one and that can be a great benefit if you’re just getting started and headed for some rougher terrain.
If you got the frame and you’ve made up your mind about the suspension, the next things you want to think about are the wheels. When you say wheels, and you are talking mountain bikes, you mean: hubs, tires, rims, spokes. To put it simply, your wheels are going to be put through hell. Don’t go cheap or you’ll end up carrying your bike (no matter how expensive the frame and suspension were) all the way down the trail. In addition, nothing will change for better or worse, the way your bike handles than a good set of properly maintained wheels.
There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing a wheel. For starters, you can purchase all the components separately (hub and spokes, tubes, tires, etc.) or together. When you’re just getting started it makes more sense to purchase them together.
You’ll want to talk to an expert about which wheels will work best for your frame, suspension, and the type of riding you’re planning to do. However, one of the same rules applies to choosing a bike frame. The lighter they get, the more expensive they are.
One last note on wheels: make sure to check your tire pressure every time before you get out on the trail. Your tires should always been inflated to between 40 and 50 psi (maybe a little less depending on the type of ride you like).
Follow this guide, always keep your equipment well maintained and enjoy the trails.