BUYER’S GUIDE 2015
BUYING THE RIGHT
BIKE THE FIRST TIME
Simplifying the new-bike dilemma
YOUR BIKE’S HEART
Bike manufacturers are really like frame companies that offer you options to complete your machine.
They offer their frames in three different
– The complete bike
The companies make the frames and
choose the parts (called “spec’ing”) to turn
the frame into a ready-to-ride bike. This
option typically results in the best bang for
the buck when it comes to components.
– The semi-custom
Companies offer the frame with several different build-kit options. 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.
– The frame only
For the rider who simply must have the
bike their way, this is the way to go. While
you can plan on spending more on the indi-
vidual components, the customizability is
best with this option. It’s also a great
way to upgrade a dated frame with the
expensive components you’re already
riding, although this can end up costing
more in the long run if your new frame
uses updated standards that will cause
component compatibility issues.
THE SKINNY ON FRAMES
Many bike companies used to use the
exact same frame for their affordable
mountain bikes as their more expensive
models (the price difference was the bike’s
components), but this practice is almost
obsolete. More expensive frames may use
different construction techniques that lower
their weight and increase rigidity. This is
why it is more important than ever to buy
the bike you want rather than buy a less
expensive model with the dream—and it is
a dream—of upgrading it over the coming
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 construction: aluminum and carbon
fiber. The growing acceptance of carbon
fiber has forced designers of aluminum
frames to up their game. Today’s aluminum
frames are a far cry from the oversized
round tubing of old. Aluminum is shaped
and manipulated into designs that look,
well, like carbon fiber.
Two 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,
planning to upgrade components later,
you may never achieve the ride quality 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 in
your new bike.
Beginner’s tip: Under $4000, go aluminum. Over $5000, go carbon fiber.
Most mountain bikes are either dual suspension or hardtail (a suspension fork up
front with no suspension in the rear). If your
budget is under $2000, limit your selection
to hardtail mountain bikes (with aluminum frames). There are similarly priced
dual-suspension bikes, but they will be
heavier, and the suspension components
will lack fine-tune adjustability.
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 “2014 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 strong.
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 still make
sense because of their weight savings,
which will vastly improve the overall ride
quality compared to a comparably priced
27. 5 or 29er.
If you are dead set on a dual-suspension
bike, 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
Beginner’s tip: 29ers or 27.5ers will
make you feel more confident and faster
right out of the gate.
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