If you're a road rider who has never tried mountain biking, or a novice MTB enthusiast compared to a seasoned expert, you may be wondering what to expect when you begin hitting the dirt. In order to find the right ride for you, check out these top tips on how to find the perfect MTB for trail-ready riding.
1. Get the Right Size
The right frame size is the most important factor in choosing a bike, followed by everything else. Don't just go by the stated size, as companies have been known to fudge the numbers a bit. Instead, try to test ride the bike or get a feel for what size would be comfortable for you.
The reach and stack measurements refer to the distance from the saddle to the handlebars, and from the center of the crank to the top of the head tube. You want to ensure these numbers are appropriate for your height and riding style. A longer front triangle (the part of the frame that includes the head tube, top tube, and down tube) puts the axle further ahead, which allows you to weight the bike for grip without risking going over the bars at the first impact. It also helps with climbing by keeping your front wheel planted.
Don't go too long without standover clearance. You only need a couple centimeters. A short seat tube gives good standover and the greatest room for maneuver, but ensures you can still get full pedaling height without overextending the seatpost. Note that 29ers have taller fronts, and that riding position can be significantly tweaked with alternative stems, bars, and seatposts.
2. Choose a Wheel Size
If you're new to mountain biking, wheel size will affect how easy it is to handle your bike, how stable it will be at high speeds, and how much suspension travel you'll have.
Smaller wheels are easier to handle when it comes to tackling technical trails, plus they're a lot lighter. However, they won't be as stable or as tough as larger wheels. They're also the only wheels with a smaller contact patch, making them less stable at high speeds and limiting your suspension travel.
Larger wheels will be harder to handle when it comes to tackling technical trails, but they're a lot more stable at high speeds, and they can absorb impacts better thanks to having a wider contact patch. They're also a lot more durable, and can have more suspension travel at the cost of a heavier frame.
3. Choose between a Hardtail or Full Suspension
There are two different methods of suspension in mountain bikes. Hardtails feature a rear suspension with a shock absorber located near the back end of the bike and near the axle that the rear wheel is attached to. This suspension system is typically between 70 and 120mm in size, but the smaller the number, the more travel or movement the suspension will have before it bottoms out.
A full suspension bike will have an additional front suspension, which is typically around 100 mm and is located near the frame and the front wheel. Full suspension bikes will be a lot more expensive than hardtails, but some people argue that they are more comfortable, especially for riders who will be riding on various terrains.
4. Budget for Other Gear
If you're going to be riding off-road, you'll need to decide on a helmet, shoes, and pedals. You can reuse shoes from your road bike, but road bike pedals are almost always incompatible with mountain bike shoes, so a separate pair of mountain bike pedals will be needed.
Road bike helmets are often too heavy and bulky to be practical for mountain biking, so a lighter, ventilated helmet will be needed. Most mountain bikes will also come with some sort of suspension, which means the bike will need a seatpost shock absorber or a second longer seatpost.
5. Shop Around in Different Local Bike Shops
When it comes to choosing a bike, you'll need to find a shop that's close to you, and one that's well-stocked with a wide range of mountain bikes, so that you can get a feel for which type of bike would be best for you.
There are many different sizes and styles of mountain bikes available; you're likely to find more on display in more traditional bike shops rather than in dedicated mountain bike shops. However, it can be worth visiting a few to try out the bikes.
Starting out on a mountain bike is an exciting experience, but finding the right bike for you can be difficult. If you follow these tips, you'll be able to get a bike that will be comfortable and safe for years to come.
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