How To Choose The Perfect Mountain Bike For You

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Mountain biking is huge fun and a great way to enjoy nature.

One thing that sets mountain bikes apart from other cycling disciplines – especially for beginners looking to get started – is that they come in many different shapes and sizes.

Picking the right mountain bike for you is challenging. This article will tell you exactly what you need to think about to find the perfect mountain bike for the riding you want to do.

We’ll be covering:

  • 4 Reasons It’s Essential To Choose The Right Mountain Bike
  • 4 Key Mountain Biking Styles And Bikes 
  • The Mountain Bike Buying Checklist
  • What Makes A Great Mountain Bike?

Let’s dive in!

How To Choose The Perfect Mountain Bike For You: Title Image

4 Reasons It’s Essential To Choose The Right Mountain Bike

When it comes to mountain biking, having the right bike for you is vital to giving you a good experience. If you’re on the wrong bike, you are not going to have much fun.

An incorrect bike is going to affect you in many ways:

#1. Comfort

If the bike isn’t comfortable, then it more than likely is the wrong bike for you.

It could be the sizing or the aggressive nature of the bike. Whatever it may be, you shouldn’t be uncomfortable while out enjoying the trails.

#2. Performance

If you are on the wrong bike for the riding you are doing, then don’t expect the best performance.

Downhill bikes are not made for cross-country, and cross-country bikes are not made for downhill. As your cycling progresses, it’s important to have the right bike to help you perform on the trails you’re riding.

#3. Reliability 

If you’re using the wrong bike, it is easy to push the components too far and end up having to replace parts often.

Using the right bike for the course keeps your bike working as it should. 

#4. Safety

Some mountain bikes are designed to be much more capable than others.

If you’re using a bike without the capabilities for the course you’re on, there’s much more chance of you coming off and hurting yourself.

A cyclist climbs a gravel path on a mountain bike.

4 Key Mountain Biking Styles And Bikes 

Mountain bikes come in all shapes and sizes.

In this next section, we have broken mountain bikes to show you the main types you can expect to find when hunting for your own.

Cross-Country Mountain Bikes

Cross-country mountain bikes – also known as XC bikes – are designed for light off-road terrain. These bikes easily tackle fairly light terrain and go very fast while doing it.

XC is one of the most popular types of mountain biking and is a great entry to more aggressive disciplines.

These bikes are typically either hardtail or full suspension. XC bikes are made to be lightweight, and their suspension travel typically ranges between 80 mm and 130 mm. 

They have a wide range of gears, not just for climbing but also on the high end too. You will always have disc brakes. On better models, they will be hydraulic and not mechanical. 

XC mountain bikes primarily use 29” wheels, but many bikes also come in 27.5” versions. The tires tend to be around 2.2”, so they have enough grip but are not too laggy when going fast.

Two cyclists on XC mountain bikes pause on a hillside.

Trail Bikes

Trail bikes are made for mixed off-road terrain.

They have the ability to be quick like a cross-country bike, but also have more ability when it comes to more challenging terrain. 

Trail bikes are usually full suspension. They’re made to be fairly light, but also have enough ability for rocky terrain. They typically have between 130 mm and 160 mm suspension travel at both the front and rear.

The gearing will be wide-ranging at both the low and high end to make it a great all-rounder. Expect to see disc brakes on a trail bike, which will generally be hydraulic for extra stopping power.

You see both 29” and 27.5” wheels when it comes to trail bikes. The tires will generally be a little larger than XC bikes, often around 2.3”.

Enduro Mountain Bikes

Enduro bikes are made for very challenging terrain.

Enduro is a style of racing in which cyclists race against the clock when going downhill, but are not timed on mandatory uphill sections – so requires a bike that can be ridden uphill, but that prioritizes downhill performance.

Enduro bikes are full suspension and have between 160 mm and 180 mm travel. This makes the bike’s suspension heavy but helps you get over obstacles easily. 

The gearing will give you low-range ratios to spin up hills, as well as higher gears to power downhill. The brakes are very powerful, and it’s in enduro where you can see uprated calipers and discs.

When it comes to enduro, most riders will be on 27.5” wheels – though many are now turning to 29” wheels. Tires are larger than XC and Trail and sit at around 2.5”.

A cyclist on a black downhill mountain bike leaps off a gravel jump.

Downhill Mountain Bikes

Finally, we have downhill bikes.

A downhill bike is made for going downhill as quickly as possible on technical courses. They require incredible capability and need to be able to get around and over obstacles very efficiently.

Unlike enduro racing, the downhill discipline doesn’t involve any climbing, so there’s no need to focus on weight. As a result, downhill mountain bikes tend to be fairly heavy.

Downhill bikes are full-suspension bikes. Suspension travel on a downhill bike is anywhere between 180mm to 210mm, which is a lot of bounce.

The gearing on downhill bikes is very unique. It can have as few as 7 to 10 speeds on a cassette with ratios for higher speeds. It’s a limited range, but you don’t need many climbing gears when you’re going downhill.

The brakes on these bikes are the most powerful disc brakes you will find, as downhill riding requires incredible stopping power. Most modern downhill bikes use 27.5” wheels and fairly large tires of around 2.4”.

Two cyclists cruise along a rocky hilltop trail on mountain bikes.

What To Look For When Buying A Mountain Bike

So now you know about the types of mountain bikes, what else do you need to consider?

Here’s our mountain bike buying checklist, with a printable version and explanations of the importance of ticking each box!

What’s My Budget?

The first question to ask yourself is: How much money do you want to spend on this mountain bike?

If you spend more, you get better components and performance, but that doesn’t always relate to the experience.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a bike that will be great fun to ride, especially as a beginner. Some great bikes for less than $1000 will do everything you need.

If you want high performance, however, that’s where you need to invest more. 

What Type Of Mountain Bike Do I Want?

You may know the main mountain bike categories now, but many of us don’t know what type of riding we want to do.

If you fall into this category, then consider going for a great all-around bike such as a trail bike. This means you have fun on light terrain while still having the ability for rough rides.

A mountain biker descends into a valley with snow-capped peaks in the background.

Is It Going To Offer Enough Comfort?

One of the most important factors when it comes to cycling – especially for casual riding – is comfort.

Looking at the bike’s geometry and understanding its design is good practice for getting a comfortable bike. A good indicator is how upright the riding position is going to be. 

The more upright the bike’s riding position – usually – the more comfortable.

Some bikes, such as enduro and downhill bikes, are made to be very aggressive and are different from the kind of bike you will want to ride long distances on. Most XC bikes have a much more relaxed geometry and are more forgiving because of it. 

Do They Have It In Your Size?

Now you might have found the bike for you – but do they make it in a size to fit you? If so, is that size available to buy?

One thing you never want to compromise on is size. You will always end up regretting it later if you do, as it will make you uncomfortable at some point.

However much you love the bike you’ve found or think you’re getting a great deal: If it’s not the right size, it’s not the right bike.

If you’re planning on riding regularly, we’d also recommend a bike fit after buying the bike too. This is great for cycling efficiency, injury prevention, and comfort.

Close-up of the rear wheel of a black full-suspension mountain bike.

Does It Have The Right Components?

Many companies offer different levels of components when selling the same bike. The cheaper versions have budget components, and the expensive ones have high-end components.

Cheaper components will be heavier and offer less performance and reliability. However, that doesn’t mean you have to blow thousands on a high-end groupset to enjoy your ride.

If you just want to get started and do some casual riding, relatively basic components will do the job fine! 

Has It got The Special Features You Want?

Many mountain bikes have extra special features that can improve the experience.

Parts such as dropper posts, fork lockouts, and adjustable geometry can add to the riding experience and save you money buying them later. 

They are worth checking out, as many bikes come with excellent features that give you extra value for money.

One feature we highly recommend for mountain biking is tubeless tires. It means your bike can self-heal from punctures, and you can run much lower pressures than is possible using inner tubes.

A checklist to help choose the right mountain bike.

What Makes A Good Mountain Bike?

A good mountain bike doesn’t come from spending a lot of money. It comes from getting the right bike for you.

Having the right size bike that suits your riding will always give you the best experience over anything. 

It’s important to do your research and understand what you’re getting and if it will work for you. Asking an experienced mountain biker will go a long way, or even popping into your local bike shop and speaking to them for some advice!

Found this guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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