MOUNTAIN BIKE BUYING GUIDE
Mountain bikes are tough, capable bikes built to perform over all kinds of terrain. A mountain bike will let you have fun hitting bush singletrack, purpose built off-road trails and paths, gravel roads and even the urban jungle. If you need one bike to do it all, a mountain bike could be a great way to go as they’re versatile, robust and reliable.
Mountain bikes vary, but their common characteristics are wide tyres and wheels, a strong frame, wide range of gears, riser handlebars and powerful brakes. Most mountain bikes feature a front suspension fork, which will soak up the bumps and keep the front wheel on the ground for comfort and control when speeding over variable terrain. This style of bike is called a hardtail, because it has front suspension, but a rigid rear frame.
Mountain bikes are also available with dual suspension, having a suspension fork and a rear shock absorber. This style of mountain bike is most appropriate to more technical down-hill riding or Cross Country (XC) racing. It’s commonly accepted that you need to spend well over $2,000 to get a dual-suspension bike that is worth the added complexity of the rear shock, pivot points and other components. This style of bike can be great for highly technical terrain, provided that you’re ready to pay for the extra upkeep and maintenance. Under this price point, the rear suspension may look the business, but won’t provide the required efficiency – it will instead just bounce you over the ground you’re trying to keep traction with. For most riders, a hardtail provides all the suspension you’ll need at a much more reasonable price. Hardtails are also generally more efficient and better at climbing.
The main things to look at with a mountain bike are the frame size, wheels and tyres, gears, brakes, suspension fork and the key accessories.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MOUNTAIN BIKE
Sizing is important for all bikes, but especially for mountain bikes and road bikes that you’ll be pedalling under increased pressure as you climb hills or whip through technical descents. We provide a size guide for each model of mountain bike, but if you’re on the border of two sizes, think about the type of riding you might be doing. If it’s more technical, with manoeuvrability being the highest priority, going to a smaller size may suit you. For more cross-country riding, a larger frame that allows you to stretch out and really put the power down might be the best option.
WHEEL SIZE - 26", 27.5”, 29?
Until recently, mountain bikes used to run 26” wheels as standard (this measure is the approximate diameter of the wheel and tyre). This smaller wheel size offers good manoeuvrability and acceleration, but the standard is becoming harder to come by now as the market has largely moved on to new sizes. Our MTB Sport is available in the 26” wheel size as a good all-rounder for beginners.
29” wheels were the next popular standard after 26” as riders found this size rolled over bumps and obstacles more freely, as well as rolling faster on open, flowy tracks. This wheel size, called 29” or 29er, is actually the same diameter as the 700c wheels used on road bikes, but the rims are wider to suit bigger tyres. Our Xenon mountain bikes feature this larger wheel size. It remains a popular choice and will be easy to find spare tyres and tubes to suit.
The current size of choice for most new bikes however is 27.5” (aka 650B). To give much of the rollover capability of a 29er with the agility of a 26er was the aim and this standard has now largely taken over as the preferred diameter. All of our other current range of MTBs run this wheel size.
In any wheel size though, great tyres make all the difference. Off-road, knobby tyres give traction and control over the rough stuff. Our off-road series MTBs have an intermediate tread pattern good for diverse terrain. Larger, more widely spaced knobs specifically suit wet and muddy conditions, while smaller, more closely spaced knobs are suited to hard-packed dirt, shale and gravel.
IS BIGGER BETTER? FAT AND PLUS BIKES
Fat bikes run huge tyres (our range are fitted with 4”) on big rims. All this rubber equals ridiculous amounts of traction to allow riding on new terrain including soft, unstable ground like snow, sand and gloopy mud. These bikes are heaps of fun but you do lose some rolling speed and feel. Most fat bike riders are too busy blasting over new ground to really give a damn though.
Is there a way to get the best of all worlds - good speed, climbing ability, crazy amounts of traction and a nimble feel on the trails? The answer is the Plus, or ‘mid-fat’ bike. This is the new buzz word in the MTB industry and all the big players are filling their ranges with these bikes.
Stable and grippy without a huge weight penalty or loss in handling feel, reviewers are unanimous that this new platform is perfect for really boosting the skills and confidence of all riders looking to take on more technical trails. These are fun bikes that push the rider to go faster and brake less.
For a full run down on the benefits of more rubber, check out this article on the benefits of plus bikes.
A GUIDE TO GEARING
Mountain bikes usually feature a wide range of gears to suit the varied terrain they traverse. The standard crankset will usually feature triple chainrings, giving an ultra-low range to suit hill climbing, a medium range for flat areas and then a high range for fast descents. On the rear, you’ll find 7 to 10 gears. This is called a cluster of sprockets. A 7-speed cluster, combined with the triple chainrings gives 21-gears, an 8-speed gives 24-gears and so on.
Single chainring drivetrains are starting to appear on high-end trail bikes and feature on our Vice 2.0 and 3.0 Plus bikes. The benefits of this are mostly around mechanical reliability, weight savings and better chain wear. They do cost more though, and mean bigger steps between each gear. This is not such an issue on a Plus bike though as they already climb like a mountain goat.
Shimano gearing is very common on mountain bikes. First level MTBs usually come with Shimano Tourney gears, which are reliable and hard wearing. Going up from there, you have Shimano Altus, then Shimano Acera gears. Higher levels of bike will come with Deore LX, Shimano SLX or Deore XT groupsets, which are lighter, with even more gears and more range. Racing mountain bikes will come equipped with Shimano XTR components, while downhill racers will choose Shimano Zee or Saint components, which are built for strength rather than low weight.
Brakes are a critical choice on a Mountain Bike. You want the most power and control your budget will allow for, especially as your riding level improves and you start asking more of the bike. When just getting started, V-brakes will be fine. MTB V-brakes are usually specced for good stopping power and will give you reliable performance for getting out and about.
As you start hitting singletrack and pushing your bike a bit harder though, you will start to value the benefits of disc brakes. Disc brakes are more expensive, but they do provide amazing stopping power even when wet and muddy or full of dirt, plus they give you much finer modulation and control. Disc brakes also require less frequent maintenance.
Suspension forks are a great addition to an off-road bike and will soak up the bumps and keep the front wheel in contact with the ground for better comfort and control (traction is key!).
A measurement of ‘travel’ shows how much the fork can compress. A bigger, longer travel fork will soak up bigger bumps which is great on a downhill bike, but at the cost of reducing efficiency and added weight which is not so great on a cross-country racing bike.
A serious downhill racing machine might have 140 millimetres of travel or more, because pedalling efficiency isn’t as important as the ability to survive big hits and jumps. Forks around 100 millimetre travel are used in general all-mountain and cross-country style riding. Forks less than 100 millimetres are best suited to increasing control and comfort over broken ground and trails, while maximising efficiency.
The other great feature to have is a lock-out, which locks the fork off and prevents it from compressing at all. Most of our MTB range use lock-out forks, which are great for climbing, flat tracks or other situations where speed and efficiency is the highest priority. When the trail points down again and going gets rough, you just unlock the fork and let the bike loose.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ACCESSORIESS
The best accessories that you can add to a mountain bike is a good saddle bag with a few extra tools, a spare tube, some patches and a high-volume mini-pump. When mountain biking, you’ll want to run low pressure in the tyres for extra grip and control, then pump them back up for the ride home from the trailhead. Given the tougher conditions, you need to be prepared for punctures and running adjustments. Clipless pedals also increase your power and control off-road. Mountain bikers usually use a recessed cleat system such as Shimano SPD. The smaller, recessed cleats don’t poke out from the bottom of the shoe, making them ideal for off-road use.
If you’re heading off-road we also recommend you consider a helmet designed for this purpose. MTB helmets are heavy duty and offer more protection to the rear of your skull than standard road and commuting style helmets. The venting is also spaced to optimise air flow at slower speeds. Check out this video to find out more about what to look for in an MTB helmet.
SHOP REID CYCLES, AUSTRALIA'S BEST VALUE BIKES
For all new bikes we offer FREE servicing for 12 months, lifetime warranty on frame and forks and 2 years warranty on parts.