How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike

Mountain Bike

What is a mountain bike?

Specifically designed for off-road trail use, mountain biking is available in different ranges adapted to different riding locations, cycling styles and mountain biking disciplines.

A mountain bike has a straight handlebar, easy gear ratios and studded tires for maximum traction. Suspensions are used to cushion impacts and maximize bike traction while increasing comfort and performance in the mountains.

Why choose a mountain bike?

A mountain bike is chosen for off-road riding, usually on trails specifically designed for mountain biking. It is possible to use a mountain bike for the same purposes as a hybrid bike, but be aware that it will be heavier, less efficient and generally more expensive than an equivalent hybrid.

How to choose a mountain bike?

If you are reading this text, you are probably sold on the idea of running through the forest on two wheels. We can confirm: mountain biking is great. The purchase of a mountain bike, especially if it is your first, is a highly anticipated moment. Bicycleky’s mountain bike specialists can help you find the right frame for you.

To start, here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for a mountain bike:

  • The type of mountain bike you want to practice: Bicycles are adapted to different kinds of cycling; you will find their descriptions below.
  • How to find the right size bike: A bike that is perfectly adapted to your proportions can make a big difference.
  • Understanding suspension and wheel size: Some advantages and disadvantages to know.
  • Essential equipment for mountain biking: A few basic items to include in your budget.
  • Maintenance of your bike: Advice on bike mechanics.

A quick note to keep in mind when shopping for your bike: you will often see the same bike with different selling prices. Why is that so? Generally, this refers to the different components installed on each model (e. g. fork, suspension, brakes, transmission). A more expensive model = higher quality components.

The different types of configurations

Simple suspension

A simple suspension bike does not have a shock absorber at the rear, only a suspension fork at the front. They are often referred to as “hardtail”.

Double suspension

A dual suspension bike has a suspension fork at the front and a shock absorber at the rear. This is the most common choice among serious mountain cyclists.

Bicycles for different types of cycling

Since today’s mountain bikes are designed for different types of mountain biking, the first step is to determine which one you plan to practice most of the time. There are four main types of mountain biking: cross-country, off-road, enduro and downhill. Fatbike is also gaining in popularity.

If you are a beginner, ask your cycling friends for information about the trails in your area and what types of bikes they ride?

Categories of mountain bikes

Cross-Country

Do you like ascents as much as descents, and do you prefer to time distances rather than intervals? Cross-country skiing focuses more on endurance and fitness than on high-speed downhill skiing. Cross-country bikes are lightweight to make it a little easier to ride long outings where you will pedal a lot.

What to expect from cross-country bikes:

cross country bikesSuspension: These are mainly single suspension bicycles, but there are also double suspension models. The front travel can vary from 100 to 140 mm, while the rear travel can range from 115 to 130 mm.

Wheel sizes: They generally have 29″ wheels to optimize ride, but some have 27.5″ wheels (there are no modern cross-country bikes with 26″ wheels).
Geometry: Designed for ascents, these bicycles have more pronounced steering angles than the others (from 67.5 to 70 degrees).

The cross-country bike is the lightest of the mountain bikes. Its light weight makes it an excellent climber and the perfect bike for rolling trails.

There are single suspension cross country bikes, as well as double suspension bikes depending on the rider’s needs. Because of the rather closed fork angle, these bikes are slower in descent than those of the other categories but compensate by offering incomparable pedalling efficiency. The Trek Marlin, Cannondale Cujo and Giant Talon are good examples of cross-country bikes.

Typical cyclist: A cyclist who is looking for the lightest and most mobile bike, a cross-country runner, a cyclist who is new to the sport.

Off-Road Trail

If you like to ride and ride the trails, the mountain bike is for you. Mountain bikes are versatile machines designed to ride down technical slopes, spin at high speed on smooth surfaces and shout for joy in the forest. Riding this type of bike can be a great way to go downhill (short, but intense) after work, occasionally down a special slope and make long, messy trips over a long weekend.

What to expect from mountain bikes:

Off-Road Trail BicycleSuspension: Dual suspension models are the norm. The front travel can vary from 130 to 140 mm (sometimes a little more), while the rear travel generally ranges from 120 to 130 mm.

Wheel sizes: All-terrain bikes are generally equipped with 27.5″ wheels, but some models have 27.5″+”, 29″ and sometimes even 26″ wheels.

Geometry: Not too relaxed to ensure efficient ascents and stability at high speeds.

All trail bikes are very popular because of their great versatility. Usually with front and rear suspension and 120-130 mm of travel, these bicycles will satisfy the rider who is looking for a bike that performs better in downhill than a pure cross-country, while maintaining good climbing skills. The Trek Fuel EX, Cannondale Habit and Giant Fathom are good examples of cross-country bikes.

Typical cyclist: You like the efficiency and speed of a cross-country up and down, but you want a more agile and faster bike down.

All-mountain / Enduro

Enduro bikeThe Enduro routes are faster, and the descents are steeper and more aggressive. As a result, Enduro bicycles are designed accordingly: they are more robust than mountain bikes in order to cope with rough trails, and absorb large shocks while being able to make steep climbs. In the beginning, Enduro was a race format where the runs were timed (but not the climbs). Today, the term refers to a mountain biking discipline that focuses primarily on downhill riding. However, you will have to pedal to the top of the mountain before you can descend it.

What to expect from Enduro bikes:

Suspension: Dual suspension models are the norm. The front travel can vary from 130 to 160 mm, while the rear travel varies from 130 to 165 mm to allow you to descend ambitious lines.

Wheel sizes: They generally have 27.5″ wheels, but some models have 29″ wheels.
Geometry: Generally, a more relaxed angle at the head tube will help you ensure dynamic maneuverability on steep descents.

With their large travel and more open fork angle, all-mountain/enduro bikes are very comfortable on aggressive downhill runs and very stable when the bike is in the air. These bicycles are more robust and will allow you to cross major obstacles with ease thanks to their stronger suspensions and geometry for stability at high speeds. The Trek Remedy and Giant Reign are good examples of all-mountain/enduro bikes.

Typical cyclist: For you, the real pleasure is during the descents, but you still want a bike that can climb. Cyclists with a history of downhill riding and a love of jumps will appreciate the versatility of bicycles in this category.

Downhill mountain bike

In the world of bicycle parks, downhill bikes (also called “DH” or freeride bikes) are designed to ride down slopes at high speed. Downhill bikes have a very open fork angle and immense travel to cushion the impacts associated with this high speed sport. The bike is heavy, because all components must be very robust. The result is a bike that can’t really climb, which is why we use the ski lift.

What to expect from downhill bikes:

Downhill race mountain bike

Suspension: Double suspension all along the line. The forward travel is impressive. Think 200 mm. And the rear travel is just as much: around 215 to 240 mm.

Wheel sizes: Most are equipped with 27.5″ wheels, but 29″ wheels are gaining in popularity (you can still see models equipped with 26″ wheels).

Geometry: The relaxed angle at the head tube moves your weight backwards to allow you to face impressive lines and have fun in the bike park.

Typical cyclist: A downhill enthusiast.

Sport

Sport bicycle

As this is the first range of mountain bikes, sports mountain bikes are intended for more recreational use. Their components are perfect for learning the sport, but the experienced cyclist or one who plans to ride seriously should turn to a cross-country bike. The Trek 820 is a good example of an all-mountain/enduro bike.

Typical cyclist: You drive in the mountains occasionally, you want to learn about sports, you often drive on paved roads.

Fatbike

FatbikeThe fatbike is a mountain bike with very wide tires. Do you want to drive 365 days a year? Fatbike is the solution. Its tires offer a significant gain in traction, which makes the fatbike very efficient on soft ground. Designed to accommodate oversized wheels, the fatbike is a rather pleasant way to ride in the snow. You will find them on snowshoe trails in the winter as well as on mountain bike trails in the fall. The Trek Farley and Cannondale Fat CAAD are good examples of fat bike bikes.

Typical cyclist: A mountain biker who wants to extend his fall season, a cyclist who wants to keep fit in winter or just have fun in the snow.

Many ski resorts and even national parks are opening trails that can accommodate fatbikes and also offer rental services. Some cyclists ride their fatbike to ride in mud, sand and gravel.

What to expect from fatbikes:

Suspension: Many models have fully rigid frames. There are also fatbikes with single or double suspension (with a small travel).

Wheel sizes: Most models are equipped with 26″ wheels, but it is the width of the tires (up to 5″) that makes fatbikes so unique.
Geometry: It will depend on the bike and the brand. A geometry adapted to trails is becoming more and more common.

How to find the right size bike

Each bike has a list of features and size chart on bicycleky.org. Although the overhang height is important, the wide variety of frame geometries, angles and wheel sizes means that similar bicycles can react in very different ways when you ride. A bike that is too big or too small can be difficult to control, and can also cause back pain. A bike that is perfectly adapted to your body type will be fun to control and manoeuvre.

In the end: try before you buy. Try bicycles to find out how they react and discover what you like best.

Once you have determined the size of the frame, you can talk to a mountain bike specialist to find custom components.