Good choice: There aren’t any bad mountain bikes if you stick
to trusted brand names. There are bad choices. We can show
you how not to make them.
weight and your physical condition. If your 29er is closer
to 30 pounds than 26 pounds and you are trying to get
some weight off, go for a 3x10 or 3x9 drivetrain. If you
are spending some serious change (meaning a lighter
bike) or if you are in good shape, a 2x10 drivetrain will
serve you well.
Summary: If you are going for 26-inch wheels, go
2x10. If you are going 29er, go 3x10 or 3x9—unless you
can afford a lightweight bike, in which case a 2x10 drivetrain will work fine.
Beginner’s tip: Play it safe and let others work out the
gearing ratios. Your bike should have a 3x9 or 3x10 drivetrain. Change “should” to “must” if you are going for a
We have included a chart on page 28 that defines the
different types of mountain bikes by their intended use,
weight, travel and the level of abuse they are designed to
take. But which one is right for you?
Trailbikes: Trailbikes are the best choice for the vast
majority of riders. Dual-suspension trailbikes offer 4 to 5
inches of travel, quality tires with a wide contact patch,
and components that are durable and lightweight. Hardtail
trailbikes are equipped with similar tires and components.
The only thing missing is the rear suspension.
Spending the big bucks ($1800 and above) gets you a
lightweight bike with excellent components. Riders with
tighter budgets can still get a solid performer (and remem-
ber, it may have the same frame as the more expensive
model). The components will be heavier and won’t have
the ease of adjustability of the more expensive bikes, but
an inexpensive trailbike will work fine if you take the time
to perform regular maintenance.
Beginner’s tip: If you are buying your first (or only)
mountain bike, limit your shopping to this category.
Cross-country race bikes: Cross-country hardtail race
bikes make horrible trailbikes. They are temperamental,
fragile and can be punishing to any rider who is not in
excellent condition. Dual-suspension cross-country race
bikes can be an excellent choice for a trail rider who rides
flowy trails, rides smoothly and is not a jumper. Still, trailbikes have become so good that riders who used to buy
cross-country race bikes for trail riding are no longer forced
to. One final note: there is no such thing as a great, inexpensive race bike. If you are serious about racing, it will
Beginner’s tip: A good choice if your trails are relatively
mellow without technical drops or terrain that require extra
Jump/pump-track bikes: Mostly hardtails crafted from
aluminum and steel, these bikes are more versatile than you
would expect. The majority sold end up in the hands of
younger riders who use them for daily transportation, trail
riding, pump-tracking and jumping in dirt-jump parks,
skateparks and urban settings. They are heavy (to withstand
abuse), but that doesn’t seem to matter to a 15-year-old who
has energy to spare. You can’t go wrong with a jump frame or
bike from Azonic, Giant, Scott or Specialized.
Beginner’s tip: The best bike for younger riders who want
to try everything from trail riding to downhilling.
Single-speeds: As the name implies, these are one-speed
mountain bikes, stripped down to the basics—although we
are seeing high-tech components like disc brakes being incorporated into single-speedom. The majority are made to more
closely resemble a cross-country race bike than a trailbike,
because weight is a major factor and there is no rear suspension. Most single-speeds are made by custom frame builders
($$$), but production single-speeds like the Redline MonoCog
29er sell for less than $800 (complete) and are a blast.
Be prepared: These guys are ready to assist. We arm you with
the right questions to ask them. These questions will make their
job easier and will get you the correct bike.
The Right Bike