Which mountain bike should I buy? Seems to be a pretty confounding question that keeps hitting the riders whenever they think about looking for a new one (or their first one), but finding the answer feels like conquering the tallest mountain. After reading this article, this task will definitely become a piece of cake for you.
Each and every factor that should be considered while analyzing a bike, ranging from its performance to reliability and durability, has been emphasized here which helps you to make an informed decision, so that you know how is the strength of a drivetrain judged, which type of frame should be preferred, the bike’s geometry and structure best suited to your comfort, and a lot more.
One more very important factor is the price range, because not everybody has a filled pocket, but they equally deserve hitting the trails with the mightiest mountain bike.
TYPES OF MOUNTAIN BIKES
The first and foremost thing you must know about mountain bikes in general is, what type a particular bike lies in. E.g. Enduro, cross-country, trail etc.
Cross-country bikes: These are generally specified for fast riding and efficient climbing, for which they are especially designed to be lightweight and easy to handle. They are preferred for racing or competitive riding. These can be hardtail or full suspension mountain bikes with 80-100 mm of travel. Cross-country bikes usually have low strength tires that work well on smoother surfaces. They are equipped with a range of gears that helps climbing up steep hills and most of them include hydraulic disc brakes for controlled descending.
Trail bikes: These bikes are the most common and preferable ones, as they are not specified to certain tasks but, give an overall exceptional performance. Each and every feature of these bikes is focused upon and this makes them suitable for commute, as well as hitting the mountain trails. They have a suspension travel between 110-150 mm. Trail bikes have a more comfortable, strategically designed geometry to give you a smoother and relaxed ride.
Downhill bikes: These are the real mountain biking experts that have extreme geometry and are designed to hit the mountains and cross the roughest, rockiest surfaces. Often riders using downhill bikes wear helmet and are fully armored because, this riding style is very aggressive and can be risky and adventurous. Downhill bikes usually have a suspension ranging from 170-200 mm.
24”: This size is generally designed for kids or short-heighted adults to rightfully give them space to pedal and a height easy to climb. Usually, these bikes have an overall simpler structure and are less efficient. If you are a beginner with a short height, you may choose a bike with 24” wheels.
26”: Mountain bike markets were filled with this wheel size some time ago and it had become a standard, but now bigger wheels have replaced them. Although they are helpful while riding downhill and on narrower tracks, but when the road is filled with obstacles like boulders, rolling becomes a bit difficult. Therefore, larger wheels are preferred these days.
27.5”: A nice bargain between 26 and 29ers, giving you a tour of how both of them would feel like, individually. They are better than both in some ways, they’ll provide a much better rolling on complex grounds than the standard 26” wheels, but easier and more comfortable handling than 29ers. The acceleration, however, is just like the 26” ones.
29”: This is the largest wheel size available in the market, and due to its large diameter, it provides a better rolling effect and makes your rides smoother. However, its handling is bit more difficult on narrower trails and it takes longer to gain speed, as compared to smaller wheels.
The two most commonly used mountain bike frame materials are aluminum and carbon and both have their own pros and cons.
Aluminum frames are less expensive than carbon frames because carbon frames, along with being lighter than aluminum ones, are stronger and provide a more dampening effect to vibrations, allowing for a smoother and more comfortable ride.
Carbon fiber frames make the bike sturdy and hence, durable. It becomes more resistant to impact damage by absorbing shocks but, is stiffer. Aluminum bikes have a greater flexibility which allows for easy maneuvering and greater comfort. Pedaling becomes easier, providing easier turning and a quick gain of speed. Therefore, aluminum frames are preferred for more agile riding.
In their own ways, both materials are good and have their drawbacks, but this is up to your choice and your preferences that which one hits you stronger. Other than that, steel frames are a bit heavier yet stronger and titanium frames, being almost perfect in all aspects, come in exceptionally high prices and are very rare.
MOUNTAIN BIKE SUSPENSION TYPES
Rigid: These mountain bikes do not include a suspension, and therefore, are inexpensive, yet rarely preferable. In bikes such as the fat-tire ones, riders believe that the tires are enough to absorb all the bumps and thumps and provide a very smooth ride, but for all other mountain bikes, it is better to have a suspension for the sake of your comfort and safety.
Hardtail: Hardtail bikes have a front suspension only, and are less expensive than full-suspension mountain bikes because these provide a dampening effect only at the front wheel and not the rear one. They also have a locking feature, so that this can be converted into a fully rigid bike, whenever needed. Hardtail bikes are loved by cross-country riders as they allow for a greater transfer of energy, from pedals to the rear tire, but they can prove to be amazing on all-mountain trails. Furthermore, due to the presence of fewer moving parts, the maintenance and tuning of these bikes is much easier and quicker.
Full suspension: Full-suspension mountain bikes are comprised of the parts: the front fork and the rear suspension. They very efficiently absorb all bumps and thumps and cross all obstacles like a breeze. They are pretty good for vibration dampening and providing increased comfort during the ride, but the presence of a lot of moving parts, maintenance becomes difficult. In addition, full suspension bikes often reduce the power transfer and therefore, usually come with a rear-lock feature. In this way, you can lock the rear suspension and have a better transfer of power while climbing uphill. These are the most preferred type of mountain bikes due to the amount of shock-absorption, traction and comfort they provide.
Rim brakes are inexpensive and good for beginners, as they are easier to maintain and lighter than others but, they would not work efficiently in bad weather conditions as grasping the wheel is difficult for them and more power is required for immediate stopping. They would also get clogged up with dirt and grime and hence, cause problems. You can choose them only if you are a beginner, intending for safer rides and are on a budget. Otherwise, this would not be a wise choice.
Hydraulic disc brakes are the most expensive ones, owing to their efficient performance. They are better than all other kinds of brakes, as the hydraulic system requires you to apply a very small amount of force from the finger, to experience the same level of braking as you would see in other bikes on your maximum strength. They provide a greater stopping power and are much more reliable and durable than other brakes. Their performance remains unaffected by the weather conditions.
Mechanical or Cable-activated brakes are cheaper than hydraulic disc, and are more difficult to maintain. However, they also provide smooth stopping with less force required. You can easily replace them yourself, in case of pad wear or any kind of malfunctioning. Though not as good as hydraulic ones, mechanical disc brakes have a considerably impressive performance in all weathers and on all surfaces.
If you are looking for economical mountain bikes that have the best features, you can have a look at my articles: ‘Best mountain bikes under 500’ and ‘Best Mountain Bikes under 400’
Q. WHY TUBELESS MOUNTAIN BIKE TIRES?
With tubeless mountain bike tires, riders expect a smoother ride, as their ability to maintain traction in rough terrain is greatly increased. It is essential to keep the tire on the ground as much as possible – not bouncing off objects. While suspension plays a huge part in absorbing impact and keeping the tires on the ground, so tire pressure is a secondary but one of the most important factors.
In a tubeless mountain bike system, the ability to run a lower tire pressure means you can maintain more ground contact and the tire can wrap around objects. With the lower pressure, technical climbing also becomes more fun, mainly because the tread of the tire grips obstacles and the impact is better absorbed and displaced. In this instance, with the tire firmly on the object, you get more of the power you’re putting into the climb directly into the tire.
Q. WHICH MOUNTAIN BIKE BRAND IS BEST?
Nowadays, it is not a wise decision to buy any product without looking at its brand. When you are exploring the web, or the markets to buy something as salient as a mountain bike, you must know what brands are the most preferable and proffer the most reliable products.
The names that follow represent the most reliable brands that produce mountain bikes these days:
YETI: Located in Colorado, Yeti Cycles was founded in 1985 and has been working since the beginning of mountain biking. The factor which makes them distinct, is that they do not follow a pattern while making their bikes, instead they try to modify their products so that they suit the riders and the terrain perfectly. They use the latest technology to give you the best riding experience.
KONA: Kona Bicycle Company was founded in 1988. Its original owners Dan Gerhard and Jacob Heilbron, still own it proudly as one of the world’s best brands for mountain bikes. Interestingly, their designers are passionate cyclists who use their experience to formulate the best designs, and offer a wide variety to choose from.
GT: Gary Turner, the founder of GT Bicycles, was very popular for having invented the modern BMX bikes. The Triple triangle designs became the identity of GT Bicycles, as they allowed for the most testing rides due to their firm rear sides. GT Bicycles sells the fastest mountain bikes that are very durable.
CANNONDALE: Earliest of all these, founded in 1971, Cannondale Bicycle Corporation is believed to be the pioneer of Carbon fiber frames, and comes under the banner of Canadian conglomerate Dorel Industries. They make large-scale use of carbon fiber as well as aluminum, in creating the best bikes. Cannondale has also given considerable attention to producing bikes that show the same performance while riding up or down the hill, with the use of latest technology.
TREK: Founded in 1975, in US, by Richard Burke and Bevill Hogg, Trek Bicycle Corporation began as a small-scale company, and they gained inclination from all over the world in no time. They are listed among the best mountain bike brands and their bikes are renowned for their tolerance and fortitude. They produce hybrid bikes by combining a lot of characteristics to make one that is flawless. Among their hybrids, MultiTrack was the most successful.