How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike for You

The most important thing to consider in how to choose a mountain bike is what type of terrain you will be riding on. Not all mountain bikes are made equal – some are specifically designed for racing daring mountainous trails, while others have the versatility to ride through a forest or to the grocery store.

The first step in learning how to choose a mountain bike for you is selecting the right type of bike. Then, you’ll want to consider its size, geometry, parts, materials, and pricing. Once narrowed down, the best thing to do is get out there and test ride some mountain bikes.

Selecting the Right Type of Mountain Bike

There are five types of mountain bikes to choose from:

  • Cross-country
  • Downhill
  • All mountain
  • Fat
  • Freeride

Each option has either a hardtail or full suspension. Knowing which suspension system better fits your needs will help you select a type of mountain bike.

A full-suspension bike means both the front and back wheel have suspension. These wheels work to absorb shocks on uneven terrain, allowing the front wheel to stay on the ground when pedaling uphill. Full suspension bikes are made for steep, rough terrain, high speeds, drops, and jumps. Disadvantages include being heavy, expensive, and maintenance-intensive. 

If you’re wondering how to choose a mountain bike for agility, a hardtail bike if your best bet. Hardtail suspension means only the front wheel has suspension.

This type of bike is great if you want to move quickly on a paved road, forest trail, or flat tracks. This is cheaper than full suspension, with less required maintenance, but it would be a struggle to maneuver on challenging terrain.

Cross-Country Mountain Bikes

Cross-country mountain bikes are made for cross-country races that take place on even terrains such as paths, fields, and level forests. The focus here is maneuverability with hardtail suspension.

These bikes are all about speed and climbing over long distances. They are lightweight and shift smoothly. If your goal is to pedal for many miles on relatively smooth, uphill terrain, this is the bike for you.

Downhill Mountain Bikes

Downhill bikes are made for those exploring how to choose a mountain bike for downhill speed. This type of bike is made for those whose goal is to fly down a steep, challenging hill as fast as possible.

The downside is riding uphill, which is almost impossible with this heavy bike. The tires are thick with a stable grip and full suspension made to take the shock of big jumps and drops.

These bikes are usually handled by highly skilled riders who can be shuttled to the top of a mountain trail. From there they handle extremely high speeds and airtime.

All-Mountain Bikes

This bike is perfect for the mountains, but also for any longer easy to medium-difficulty trails with ascents and descents. With its full suspension, you can even take this bike on small drops and jumps.

This bike is best for riding downhill and can handle bumpy terrain and airtime. Unlike the downhill mountain bike, it is light enough to also easily pedal uphill or take around the neighborhood. If you do want to challenge yourself on shuttle-accessed terrain, this bike can handle the downhill descent.

Fat Bikes

You can spot a fat bike by its thick, wide tires. If you are looking for a bike to get you through sand, ice, or snow, look no further. Fat bikes don’t usually have suspension systems, so instead, you can keep the tires below normal pressure levels to absorb shock.

Freeride Mountain Bikes

For those stuck on how to choose a mountain bike, a freeride bike may be the answer. This fully-suspended bike is a mix between a cross-country bike and a downhill bike. They are designed for extremely steep terrain, challenging obstacles and trails, and long, high drops and jumps.

This bike is lighter than the downhill bike and more expensive. Its stable parts ensure it can withstand extreme drops and jumps up to 20 meters.

If you believe this is the bike for you, knowing how to adjust your suspension will let you maximize your performance on the tracks.

Other Factors to Consider

Once you have narrowed down the type of mountain bike you want, you’ll need to consider other factors like:

  • Sizing and geometry
  • Bike parts and materials
  • Pricing

Sizing/Geometry

Finding the right size bike is important. Remember that mountain bike sizes are different from road bikes. Mountain bike sizes run from XS to XXL depending on height. You can find size charts online, but sizes vary depending on the bike’s manufacturer, so it’s better to look at each specific brand’s size charts on their website.

A mountain bike’s geometry refers to its shape. This is made up of several measurements that will affect the style, feel, and fit of your bike. The two main measurements to know are reach and stack.

The reach measurement is arguably the most important for finding the best fit. This is the horizontal distance from the bottom bracket to the center of the head tube. Too long of a reach and you’ll be uncomfortably stretched out. Too short of a reach and you’ll be too upright.

The stack measurement is the vertical distance from the bottom bracket to the center of the head tube. This will affect your seated pedaling position and the height of your handlebar.

Bike Parts and Materials

Mountain bikes are made up of smaller parts that have an impact on the performance of the ride. Most companies offer “build kits” that come with the bike’s frame and its components. A bike model usually has several build kits to choose from that satisfy various price points and performance levels.

The frame of a mountain bike is either made from carbon fiber or aluminum. Carbon fiber is stronger and lighter, but more expensive and fragile. Aluminum is durable and cheap, but heavier.

Pricing

When deciding how to choose a mountain bike, your budget will greatly affect your choice.

Generally, prices increase as parts become lighter since this leads to better adjustability and performance. You can still buy good-quality build kits at a lower budget and opt for cheaper aluminum over carbon fiber.

Summary

There are a ton of factors that go into how to choose a mountain bike for you. Ultimately, you need to determine what type of terrain you want to ride to choose the bike type.

You’ll then need to determine the proper size and geometry to fit your body. Next, factor in materials, parts, and your budget. The only thing left to do is get on that trail and ride.

Paul Tuthill

When Paul isn't riding through the mountainous terrain he's writing posts for Conquer the Bike (or gaming). He loves hardtail bikes.

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