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Choosing a Mountain Bike

Posted on 17th Jan 2013 @ 3:21 PM

Whether you like charging uphill, flying down downhill or cruising the countryside finding the right mountain bike that meets your needs and riding style is important. Different bikes are design for different requirements and you need to consider several key features when buying a mountain bike.

Key Mountain Bike Features:

Full-suspension or hardtail:

Full-suspension mountain bikes have suspension in the front fork and in the rear of the frame. Full-suspension bikes give maximum shock absorption and comfort while you're riding bumpy trails, but on flat terrain like road or towpaths you will loose power as the frame suspension absorbs some of your pedal power. The design can also make climbing more difficult.

Hardtail mountain bikes tend to be lighter and the front suspension forks help soak up the bumps and, ideal for moderate mountain biking. The suspension forks will soften the jarring in your arms and shoulders.

If comparing both styles of mountain bike at the same price level the components on a hardtail will be of better performance and higher quality.  Full suspension mountain bikes are best for downhill riding where the rear suspension keeps the rear will on the ground better and improves traction but a worthwhile full suspension bike will be more expensive.

Recent advances in adjustable suspension on full suspension and hardtail mountain bikes make them a lot more versatile. So, you can soften the suspension or make it stiffer, as required, to meet your individual needs.

Bike size:

The frame size of a mountain bike isn't as important as you might think because the other components like handlebars and seat post provide adjusted to give you your optimal riding position. But, the reach is important as on the larger frames the reach will be proportionally longer and to be comfortable you do not want to be over reaching. Most mens mountain bikes are 18” to 21” measured form the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube.  Most womens mountain bikes will fit well with a 16” to 19” frame. 

Modern mountain bike geometry is such that you do not need to go for the largest frame available as the seat post is part of the frame and should be approx 3” out of the frame.

It is important to check the stand-over height and this is measured from the ground to the top of top tube. It is a good rule to ensure you have 3” to 5” clearance between your crotch and the top tube when standing over the bike.

To work out your recommended mountain bike frame size you can multiply your inside leg measurement by 0.59. For example, somebody with a 32-inch inside leg trouser measurement would probably want to look at a mountain bike with an 18” to 19” frame (32” x 0.59 = 18.88”). Depending on the size of your upper body the best fit may be within 1" (2 or 3 cms) on either side of this measurement.

V brakes or disc brakes:

A lot will depend on your budget but disc brakes usually provide greater stopping power and work better when mountain biking in wet, muddy conditions. Linear pull V brakes tend to be more affordable and provide sufficient stopping power particularly if you don't typically ride on wet terrain.

With disc brakes you have 2 options – mechanical and hydraulic. Mechanical disc brakes will delivery incredible stopping power and are found on many reasonably priced mountain bikes range front £ 299.99 to £ 499.99.  Hydraulic disc brakes are more expensive and normally found on models over £ 500.

Gear shifter options:

A twist style of shifting is popular on more recreational styled mountain bikes and the shifting mechanism is usually located on the inside part of each handle grip. You simple twist the rotating section forwards or backwards to move up / down the gears.

Lever style shifting is the best option for those looking to switch gear quickly. The shifting levers are located near the brake levers and allow for quick gear shifting with the finger tips.  You can jump up and down the gears very quickly at the flick of a lever. 

Key characteristics

Wider tires, suspension and multiple gears are the three main things that make a mountain bike a mountain bike. You need to consider the tread pattern and ensure it is right for the conditions you normal ride. Deeper tread patterns for muddy conditions, less pronounced tread patterns for gravel tracks and dryer conditions or slick tyres for tarmac or commuting.

The gearing of a mountain bike is designed to tackle the constant changes in slope and terrain.

Quality mountain bikes will have a lightweight frame, usually made of aluminium whereas lower end mountain bikes will normally have a heavier steel frame.  You also have chromoly steel frames for a lightweight very rigid ride and, at the top end, carbon fibre frames normally found on race machines.

Most mountain bikes have 26” wheels but recently 29” wheels (29ers) have become more popular where the benefits of larger wheels means they roll over bumps or through dips easier.

Why buy a mountain bike:

If you’re the type of person who loves the excitement of the outdoors you will love a mountain bike as you will be able to explore further afield.  You will get fun and thrills from your adventures as you hit the trails on a new mountain bike. More and more forest trails are now dedicated to mountain biking and offer great challenges to improve your riding skills in a safe environment.

Are you in the market for a new mountain bike?

Take a look at our exciting new ranges:

Mountain bikes for men

Mountain bikes for ladies


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