Shopping for the perfect mountain bike is no easy task. There are quite a few types out there and you need to keep a few things in mind if you want to get the best fit for your body type.
It is always best to do a bit of research on the right bike to buy. Mountain bikes are not very cheap and making the wrong investment can be quite disappointing. With the right bike, you can perform much better and using the right bike for the right terrain will also prevent unnecessary damage to your equipment.
In this guide, we are going to share some expert advice to help you find the exact bike type to suit your body and your riding needs.
Different Types of Mountain Bikes
Before you decide on the right bike to buy, you need to consider your basic need for the bike.
Do you see yourself riding exclusively on roads? Then a mountain bike probably isn’t the best fit. Do you need a bike for biking trails? Now we’re talking mountain biking! Do you want a bike that can be used to climb rocky mountains? Then you should be looking into something advanced.
There are quite a few different types of mountain bikes out there. Here is a quick look at some of the most common types you can consider:
1. Kids Mountain Bikes
Mountain bikes are the best investment for children because they love to ride on all terrain to explore the world and the thicker wheels are much easier to keep upright compared to regular bikes.
Kids mountain bikes do vary quite a lot in design and in specs. There are basic types that have a simple frame but no suspension or gears, and then you also get more advanced types with suspension and special frames.
Here is a quick look at the most common types of kids mountain bikes:
12” Kids Balance Bikes
These bikes don’t really fall under the mountain bike category but we are listing it here because these bikes do have the thicker wheels than you would normally find in mountain bikes and they are designed for all terrain. Balance bikes do not have any pedals and very few come with brakes. They are ideal for children aged two to four years who are only learning to ride.
16” Kids Mountain Bikes
These are considered entry-level bikes. They are suitable for children aged five to seven years and they do have pedals, brakes, and training wheels. These bikes usually do not come with high tech specs such as gears since little ones cannot yet understand how to use these extra features. Some 16” mountain bikes do come with suspensions but these are usually high-end brands and are a bit unnecessary for little ones that are still learning. The training wheels on these bikes are removable so kids with great balance can ride them as any normal bike.
20” Kids Mountain Bikes
These mountain bikes are ideal for children aged seven to nine years. They usually don’t have training wheels and they are similar to adult bikes, but they are smaller. These bikes are usually single-speed bikes without any extra gears. Parents of adventurous kids can, however, get these bikes with accessories such as suspensions and other accessories to accommodate stunt-bikers in training.
24” Kids or Women’s Mountain Bikes
24” mountain bikes are practical for kids aged nine to 11, or for shorter women. These bikes can be basic or they can have advanced specs such as suspensions or different types of gravitation designs that are suited for children that compete.
2. Cross Country Mountain Bikes
Cross country mountain bikes are designed to go the distance. These bikes are built to give you excellent peddling performance so you can pedal uphill and long distances without feeling like your lungs are about to explode. These bikes greatly simulate road bikes. They have larger wheels, lighter frames, and are ideal for long-distance rides or for climbing heights.
Here is a quick look at some of the top characteristics of cross country mountain bikes:
- These bikes usually have larger wheel sizes. The preferable norm for men is 29”, which is the same diameter as road bikes.
- These bikes are lighter and usually weigh less than 24lbs.
- They mostly come as hardtails (front suspension only).
- These bikes typically have longer chainstays and wheelbases. The steep head angle is also steeper at over 69 degrees, which is ideal for climbing positions.
- These bikes usually offer lighter weight and faster rolling resistance where other mountain bikes are designed to offer more traction and control or are more durable.
3. Trail Mountain Bikes
Trail mountain bikes are the most common version of this type of bike. These bikes are great for climbing and descending from heights. The bikes usually have better suspensions, a more balanced center of gravity, and are ultimately built for relaxation. These bikes are ideal for epic long-distance rides or for cruising around your local trails.
They are the best beginner mountain bikes for those who don’t quite know what they want out of biking expeditions.
Here are a few of the top characteristics of trail mountain bikes:
- They come with slightly smaller wheels, around 27.5” to 29”.
- They usually have front and back suspensions.
- The bike geometry is usually neutral with a head angle between 66 and 68 degrees, which is preferable for different riding styles.
- These bikes are a bit more durable and they offer more traction.
All mountain / Enduro mountain bikes
These bikes are ideal for climbing great heights and they are also excellent for downhill terrains. They are also designed for very rough terrain but can still be used for mountain trails. Of course, durability and strength are key aspects.
- These mountain bikes come with 27.5” to 29” wheels (men’s bikes), and some come as mixed or ‘mullet’ sizes where the front wheel is larger than the back.
- They offer more suspension compared to trail bikes.
- The geometry of the head handle is designed for descending and ranges 65 to 67 degrees.
- The tires offer lots of traction with aggressive knobs to offer you good resistance when heading down or uphill.
Downhill Mountain Bikes
Downhill mountain bikes are designed for steep terrains. They are usually the best full suspension mountain bikes since they are designed for climbing and descending. They are also perfect for speedy trips, sudden drops, and small jumps. These bikes are not as great for uphill trails and you do need to be a skillful mountain biker to be able to handle this performance style bike. Here is a quick look at the main characteristics of these bikes:
- Suspension travel in the rear is usually 6.9” to 9.8” in the rear and 7” to 7.8” in the front.
- The best downhill mountain bikes usually have a slack head angle of 65 degrees.
- The tires are designed to offer maximum traction.
- The bikes are extremely durable and usually consist of two-ply casings.
Freeride Mountain Bikes
These bikes are very similar to downhill mountain bikes. They offer the same basic design and specs but are used slightly differently. These bikes are, however, a bit heavier compared to your average downhill bike. They are perfect for jumping and technical stunts. Freeride mountain bikes are very flexible and usually have the best suspension setup at 6.3” to 7”. Here’s a quick look at the main characteristics of these bikes:
- Heavier frame compared to downhill mountain bikes
- The geometry of the head handle is ideal for descending at about 65 degrees
- The bikes offer lots of suspension at 160-180mm
Dirt Jump Mountain Bikes
These bikes are also referred to as urban mountain bikes or street mountain bikes. The bikes usually only offer front suspension and are ideal for riders that love to do lots of aerial stunts. Most of these bikes have single-speed gears, single brakes, large handlebars, smaller frames and low seat posts. Here are the top characteristics of these bikes:
- They have smaller frames.
- They have larger handlebars.
- The suspension is only in the front.
- They usually only have one-speed gears.
Things to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Mountain Bikes
Mountain bikes are the most versatile bikes ever created. These bikes can be used on normal roads and are excellent for riding on rough terrain. You can use these bikes in just about any location. They are perfect for exploring country trails or even going up and down mountains.
Even when you do know what type of bike you prefer (cross country, trail, all-mountain, downhill, freeride, or dirt jump), there are still a few things you should consider when you go shopping for the best bike.
Mountain Bike Brand
It is always best to go with the best mountain bike brands because these bikes have been tried and tested by many athletes and they have proven their worth where unknown brands might not be made of quality parts. The best bike brands to consider if you want to make a foolproof investment are brands like Trek Bikes, Giant Bicycles, Santa Cruz, Cannondale, Diamondback, Yeti Cycles, and Pivot Cycles, but many other reputable brands are a good and steady investment.
Mountain Bike Suspension
Mountain bike suspension comes in 3 different styles:
These bikes have shocks at the front fork of the bike. The best hardtail mountain bikes reduce the impact on your arms and hands which reduces fatigue in these parts of your body. The front suspension also makes it easier to steer your bike on rough terrains.
Full Suspension Bikes
These bikes have shocks at the front and back. Good quality full suspension bikes are usually quite pricey. The ones that do come cheap, usually don’t last very long.
These bikes are very comfortable to ride because they reduce your overall fatigue. The front and back shocks also make it easier to handle your bike while speeding on rough terrains.
Rigid bikes have no shocks at all. Most kids mountain bikes are rigid bikes. For a long while, mountain bikers didn’t invest in these types of bikes. But they did recently become more popular again and the latest designs are much lighter than older models.
Mountain Bike Wheels
Adult mountain bikes typically have 26”, 27.5” or 29” wheels.
This is the most common wheel size for mountain bikes because it is the first mountain bike wheel size ever created. For a long time, this was also the only size available. These wheels are also preferable for downhill bikes because they are much faster on downhill rides.
These wheels are the latest innovation on the market. They combine the best benefits of the 26” and 29” wheels but not too many mountain bikes are sold with these wheels just yet.
These wheels have become quite popular over the past few years. Bikes with these wheels are slower to accelerate but they are faster when riding uphill and offer more momentum. They are ideal for long distance rides as in cross mountain biking or mountain trail biking.
Female VS Male Mountain Bikes
Male and female mountain bikes offer the same features. The main difference usually lies in the frame and geometry of the bike.
Women’s bikes often have a different saddle design and the handlebar does tend to be shorter.
Many people do however feel that women should invest in men’s bikes since some of the female bikes are designed with weaker suspensions since women are typically lighter than men.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether you want a women’s bicycle or prefer a men’s mountain bike but we are quite certain that either one will be just as effective for this type of sport.
Mountain Bike Frame Material
Many bikers will first check out the material of the frame before they dive deeper into all the specs of the bike. Most mountain bikes are made from two materials: aluminum alloy and carbon fiber. But there are a few brands that prefer to manufacture bikes from materials like steel or titanium. Bike materials are important because they can impact durability and weight.
Carbon Fiber Bike Frames
Carbon fiber is a light and strong material but is often more expensive.
Aluminum Alloy Bike Frames
Aluminum frames are more affordable and they are highly durable, but they are also heavier than carbon fiber.
Mountain Bike Geometry and Specs
Mountain bike geometry is quite complex but to serious bikers, this can make all the difference in the world. The geometry of the bike has to do with its shape and the measurements of the frame compared to the seat, handles, wheels, and other components. Mountain bike geometry usually differs based on the terrain the bike is designed for.
The most important measurements to keep in mind when you consider biking geometry are the following:
The reach is the distance between the handlebars and seat or pedals. This is the most important figure to consider when you are looking for the right fit. The reach affects the angle of your body when you are sitting on the bike and leaning on the handlebars.
The longer the reach is, the more sloped your position will be, and the shorter the reach is, the more upright your sitting position becomes. If there is too much reach, you might find it hard to steer your bike effectively and too little reach can make it hard for you to pedal effectively.
The stack is the distance between the bike pedals and the head tube of the bike, right where the handlebars are fitted to the frame.
Stack height can be slightly adjusted by changing the headset spacers and handlebar rise. Most mountain bikers love to stand up while taking on rough terrains. As a result, reach is much more important to them compared to stack.
Mountain Bike Sizing
Mountain bikers can differ quite a lot in length. While you can adjust the seat height of these bikes, the adjustments sometimes fall short for extremely tall or short individuals. The right bike size is one of the most important things to consider when you are making the final bike selection.
Most mountain bike dealers work according to a size chart when assisting buyers with finding the right bike. The rider’s height is taken and compared to the frame size. Mountain bike frames come in various sizes such as the following;
These frames are 13” to 14.6” high and are suitable for riders with a height of 58” to 62”.
These frames are 15” to 16.5” high and are suitable for riders with a height of 63” to 66”.
These frames are 16.9” to 18.5” high and are suitable for riders with a height of 66.5” to 70”.
These frames are 18.9 to 20.4” high and are suitable for riders with a height of 70.5” to 72.8”.
These frames are 20.9” to 22.4” high and are suitable for riders with a height of 73” to 76”
These frames are over 22.8” high and are suitable for riders over 76.4” tall.
This frame size does, of course, not signify the full height of the bike. Once standard-sized bicycle wheels, the seat, and handlebars are fitted, the bike will be much higher and if you invested in the right size frame, you should fit perfectly on your new ride.
All of this seems quite confusing to keep in mind when you are shopping for a good quality mountain bike. To make it easier for you to find the best entry-level mountain bike, we have established this quick little guide:
Identify Your Purpose
The first step is to identify the main use for your mountain bike. If you are buying to ride long distances then a cross country bike is ideal. If you want a bike that is flexible and suitable for various routes then you should consider a trail mountain bike. There are quite a few main types to consider and your first task is to identify your main need.
The mountain bike type you choose will automatically have the correct specs (geometric design, suspension, and tires) because these bikes are specially designed to give you optimal performance for the journey at hand.
Choose Your Brand and Color
For many people, a bike brand is one of the most important features to consider. Investing in a trusted brand ensures that you will get a good quality piece of equipment. And if you have a favorite color in mind, then it also helps to shop around a bit to see if your brand offers the type of bike you need in the color you love.
Get the Right Size
The final important thing to do is to invest in the right size. Mountain bikes come in various sizes to accommodate people of all lengths.
When you have the right type of mountain bike, a good brand you trust, and the right size then you should be all set for your big adventure. And if you are still uncertain, it might help to ask around for bikes for sale or to enquire about test driving a bicycle before you make the final purchase. A hands-on feel for your new ride can make it easier to see if the bike suits your body and your cycling needs and you will get a much better feel for the bicycle’s handling.
We do hope that you learned a lot about mountain bikes and if you are in the market for one of these terrific bikes then we welcome you to hop over to some of our buying guides where you can have a look at some of the best mountain bikes available right now.