How To Pick The
When our sport was in its infancy, it was easy to decide on your new bike—you built it. It is no longer necessary to own
your own welding shop, but while the buying
experience has become more convenient, it
hasn’t gotten much easier. Mountain biking has
splintered into some well-defined and some not-so-well-defined segments, making it crucial to
pick the right bike for the type of enjoyment you
want to get out of riding. Following our advice,
you will arrive at the trailhead on a bike ideally
suited for the type of riding you want to do.
Think of bicycle companies as frame companies. They
offer their frames in three ways: 1) They sell complete
bikes. The companies make the frame and choose the parts
(called spec’ing) to turn their frame into a ready-to-ride
bike. This is usually the best way to go, value-wise. 2) They
offer the frame with build kits. These kits include most of
the parts you need to build up the bike (and, in some cases,
the company will build it up for you). 3) They sell you the
frame and let you do the rest.
Beginner’s tip: Buy your bike completely assembled. You
can consider building a bike from the frame up once you
have more knowledge and experience.
There are two major materials used for frame construc-
tion: aluminum and carbon fiber. This may surprise you,
but many affordable mountain bikes have the exact same
frame as the ultra-expensive model in the same line. The
price difference is dictated solely by the components chosen
for that model. If you are spending less than $4000 on your
bike, limit your selection to bikes with an aluminum frame.
A carbon fiber frame is a whole different game. Unlike aluminum frames, carbon fiber frames that look identical can be
very different because of the quality of the carbon fiber used
and the method of manufacturing. If you buy the cheapest
carbon fiber version of a model with the plan to upgrade
components later, it may never equal the performance level of
the more expensive versions. Carbon fiber frames on lower-priced models deliver a brutal ride quality. Go for carbon
fiber only if you are willing to invest over $4000 on your new
Summary: Under $4000, go aluminum. Over $5000, go
Simplifying a serious decision
Heart and soul: The frame is your bike’s foundation, but it
doesn’t totally define what the bike will turn out to be. The
suspension and components bolted to the frame determine
how the bike can—and should be—used.
Complete the mission: First-time buyers
should not be building their bikes from scratch.
Limit your choice to completely assembled
production bikes. Leave the building project for
your second or third bike.