Buying the right bike can be tricky, but there's
loads of choice out there so it should be fun! If you're new
to mountain biking, get yourself the best all-rounder you
can afford. A good, light-ish bike with front-suspension (a
hardtail ) will cover pretty much all bases.There are a lot
of full-suspension bikes out there, starting from about £150,
but there will always be a weight penalty and the quality
of the componentry will be compromised, because the money
is being spent on rear shocks, pivots, swingarms etc.
As a first bike, you'll do better to steer clear
of full-sus altogether, unless you can spend around £500
or more. Below this price bracket, the compromises are really
too great, and you'll be a much better rider if you learn
the groundwork on a hardtail or even a rigid bike first.
There are several key things to think about
when buying your mountain bike:
The Frame. This is number one. A decent
frame that warrants upgrading the other componets at a later
date is a great investment. When you've been riding a while
you'll be in a position to see how much riding you do and
so how much you're willing to spend on getting you're bike
You'll also have an idea of what kind of riding you like best
and adapt key areas of your bike for it. For example- really
getting into trials and tricks? Maybe you'll want to fit wider
bars or a chain device. Thinking about racing cross-country?
Could be time to fit some stronger, lighter wheels.
Get the right frame and you leave these and
many more options open to you.
The main consideration when it comes to frames is weight vs.
strength. The lighest, strongest frame is what you want, and
generally this means Aluminium. Don't rule out Steel frames,
though. Steel is heavier than Aluminium, but it does have
the advantage of being repairable and is slightly less stiff,
and more 'springy'.
With all frame materials, look for butting (varying the thickness
of the tubes at stategic points to save weight).
The second most important consideration. They don't always
look much, but a light, straight wheel transforms a bike and
lets you really appreciate the frame. A heavy, bent wheelset
can ruin it.
Now for the science bit. Rims, hubs, inner tubes
and tyres make up a fair part of the bike's weight. But where
wheels are concerned there is also the issue of rotational
mass. Without getting too technical, this means that when
the wheel is rotating it weighs more that if it were standing
still- so this is a crucial place to save weight.
Unfortunately, this is also the point where
bike meets ground, so it needs to be strong, too. A good,
hand-built set of wheels (where each spoke is tensioned by
hand, not machine) is the best, but when you're checking out
the bike in the shop give the spokes a quick tweak- do they
feel tight and even? Does the wheel run true? You'll notice
it on the trail if they aren't.
The Components. Very important, but it's lot cheaper
to replace a derailleur than the frame. The beauty of mountain
bike running gear these days is uniformity- nearly all bikes
feature Shimano mechanicals, and the ones that don't have
SRAM (gripshift). Which you prefer is entirely down to you,
though twist grip systems are a lot easier to get your head
around if you're just starting. Either way it's all good quality
and smooth running, and you can't really go wrong, but the
higher up the range it gets, the lighter and stonger it gets,
and the higher the price tag.
Here we're talking about saddles, handlebars etc. As with
so much when it comes to bikes, lightness and strength are
the keys issues. But make sure it's comfortable and feels
good to start with. You can adjust and change things later,
but in the beginning you should at least be able to work with
There are two types here- rim brakes or disc brakes, and three
On sub-£500 bikes you'll generally only
find V-brakes. These work on a cable system that pulls the
brake pads against the wheel rims when you pull on the lever.
The V-brake system works so well you may never look any further,
though cables do eventually stretch.
Then there's hydraulic rim-brakes, a favourite
of trials riders, where hydraulic fluid rather than cbles
activate the brake pads. Offer a better 'feel' and no cable
stretch, but are much more expensive and don't really outperform
a well sep-up V brake.
Finally, there are disc brakes. These operate
by applying the pad to a metal disc around the wheel axle.
This cuts out the problems of mud, water and wobbly wheels
affecting the rims, and thus reducing the effectivensss of
rim-brakes. They are the most effective and provide the best
feel, but you really need to spend money on them.
On a first bike, I wouldn't look beyond
V-brakes. Like full-suspension, cheap disc brakes are often
offered on lower priced bikes because of their image, not
their performance, and money spent on flash but poor brakes
is money not spent on the frame, wheels, gears etc.