Two choices: Moving forward, the 26-inch wheel should be
considered only by a select type of rider (and they already know
who they are). Everyone else will be better served going with
27.5- or 29-inch wheels for their next bike.
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, solid 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 ($3000 and above) gets you a lightweight bike with excellent components. Riders with tighter
budgets can still get a versatile performer, but they will pay
a weight tax and will have less suspension adjustability. 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.
Aggressive trailbikes: Once too heavy for trail riding
and too lightweight for bike-park runs and descents,
aggressive trailbikes have evolved to the point where they’ve
pretty much eliminated the need for a black-diamond and are
pushing into trailbike territory as far as weight and climbing
ability are concerned. They are still too much bike for
regular trail riding, but if your thing is downhills and you
ride bike parks, this is your bike.
Beginner’s tip: Aggressive trailbikes are best reserved for
when you have built up your skill set to the point where you
want to ride more challenging terrain.
Fat bikes: Riders in Alaska first made these balloon-tired
mountain bikes popular, and their little secret is out of the
bag. Now riders in any snow-bound area can ride all
winter long using the bike’s big-imprint tires. Mountain Bike
Action’s February 2014 issue had a giant story on fat bikes
that you need to read if you are interested. These bikes have
also found some acceptance in desert areas where the large
tires allow the bike to be ridden in sandy conditions. The
fat-bike segment is still very new, with wheel, drivetrain,
suspension and frame choices changing at an alarming rate.
Beginner’s tip: A fat bike is your second mountain bike. It
will not take the place of a trailbike until the snow starts to fall,
and even then, if too much snow falls, even the fat bike can’t keep
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 physical 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,
The Right Bike
Aluminum flyers: Aluminum is still the number one choice for
mountain bike frames, but carbon fiber is closing the gap. The
aluminum frame used on cheaper models may be the same used
for the more expensive. The same cannot be said for carbon fiber.