ways to improve gear range and bring
down the cost.
Beginner’s tip: Go for a single-ring
drivetrain if you can afford it and don’t
need the lowest “granny gear.” If you want
the biggest gear range, or are in the market for an entry-level bike, the double-ring
setup still makes sense.
THE RIGHT TOOL
FOR THE JOB
We have included a chart on page 24
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 inexpen-
sive 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: These bikes
go by many names. They can be called
“all-mountain,” “enduro,” or “park” bikes.
They are fairly capable climbers, but have
very aggressive geometry and enough travel to handle nearly any downhill trail. They
are typically too much bike for most riders,
especially if your trails are mostly smooth.
However, if you plan to ride technical
and steep descents, but need a bike that
doesn’t require a chairlift to make it to the
top of the hill, then 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. These bikes have also found some
acceptance in desert areas where the large
tires allow the bike to be ridden in sandy
conditions. They are also fairly capable
trailbikes, although they are typically
heavier and less versatile than other
options due to the bulky tires.
Beginner’s tip: A fat bike is a good
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 you rolling.
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, 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 cost you.
Beginner’s tip: Cross-country race
bikes are a good choice if your trails are
relatively mellow without technical drops
or terrain that requires extra suspension.
Mostly hardtails crafted from aluminum
and steel, these bikes are more versatile
than you would expect, although not a
solid choice for trail riders. 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.
Beginner’s tip: This could be the best
bike for younger riders who want to try
everything from trail riding to downhilling.
Downhill racing bikes: Bike companies pull out all the stops for downhill racing bikes. This means they are
good for one thing—downhill racing. If
you don’t plan to race, pass on these
ultra-specialized race sleds.
Beginner’s tip: A good choice only
if you are sending in an application for a
racing license at the same time, or plan
to spend a good amount of time at a
dedicated bike park. ❏