Dual-suspension mountain bikes are designed to use 3. 5
to 6 inches of rear-wheel travel (more for downhill-specific
bikes). If your budget is above $3000, you should be looking
for a bike that offers 4 to 5 inches of travel front and rear. A
cross-country race bike usually has less travel than this, and
a bike designed for downhill usually has more. Be open to a
hardtail bike as an option.
Beginner’s tip: If you are willing to spend $3000 or more,
buy a dual-suspension mountain bike. If you are going to spend
less than $2000, buy a hardtail.
There are three popular wheel sizes to choose from, and
things have sure changed since our “2013 Buyer’s Guide.”
The traditional 26-inch wheel size is on the ropes. The in-between wheel size of 27. 5 (or 650b to bike geeks) has taken
the trail by storm, and the large 29-inch wheel is still going
If you are choosing a hardtail with a budget over $1000,
29- and 27.5-inch wheels add so much to the ride quality
that it is hard to imagine a situation where we could recommend 26-inch wheels. If you are spending $500 (or below),
26ers make sense because their weight (especially wheel
weight) will be lower than that of an inexpensive 29er.
If you are headed down the dual-suspension path, stick to
29- or 27.5-inch wheels for bikes with 4 or fewer inches of
travel. If your riding terrain is rough, rocky and technical
and you are leaning toward more than 4 inches of travel,
limit your selection to 27.5-inch-wheeled bikes.
Beginner’s tip: A twenty-niner or 27. 5 will make you a
better rider faster.
There are three predominant drivetrains available on
most 2014 bikes: 1x11, 2x10 or 3x10. This means the crank
has one, two or three chainrings matched to 10 or 11 cogs
on the rear wheel. When choosing drivetrains, you have to
factor in the wheel size, because that’s what your drivetrain
will be pushing (along with you and your bike’s weight).
If you have chosen to buy a bike with 27.5-inch wheels,
go the 2x10 route. The smaller-diameter wheels and tightly
spaced drivetrain are well matched. If you are going for
29-inch wheels, base your drivetrain decision on the bike’s
weight and your physical condition. If your 29er is close
to 30 pounds, go for a 3x10 or 2x10 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.
Beginner’s tip: Play it safe and let others work out the
gearing ratios. Your bike should have a 3x10 drivetrain; change
“should” to “must” if you are going for a 29er.
Rolling resistance: The traditional 26-inch wheel size (far right) is
on the ropes. The in-between wheel size of 27. 5 (or 650b to bike
geeks) has taken the trail by storm, and the large 29-inch wheel is
still a strong seller.
The right choice: Use our tips to narrow
your search, and remember the bike shop
with the largest selection is not always the
best way to go. The bike shop with the right
bike, like JRA Bikes and Brew in Agoura
Hills, California, is the way to go.