Good mountain bikes can cost as much as a second hand run around car, but most people don’t have that kind of budget. What about the cheap mountain bikes will they be sufficient for casual riders?
Mountain bikes are designed to meet very different criteria to the traditional road racer. The bikes have a steep head angle and shorter wheelbase making them more maneuverable than their road counterparts with larger head angles and longer wheelbases. Additionally, mountain bikes have wide tires and suspension designed to take rougher terrain, the rougher the terrain the greater the amount of suspension and suspension travel.
As a general rule the cost of a bike will be directly related to the frame materials used and the quality of the components fitted. A heavier and more robust full suspension frame suited for all mountain or downhill riding is going to cost more than a XC hardtail For example, if you intend to downhill and perform stunts then it’s absolutely essential that you choose a bike built for that type of riding. Titanium frames with high butting or a heat-treated chromoly steel is the way to go.
As mentioned earlier, components play a large role in price and functionality of the bike. Precision gears, derailleur’s, and good disc brakes are expensive. But for hard riding along rapidly changing surfaces, they are a must. The high-end gear is made with low tolerances from either brass or titanium which all adds to the overall cost of the components.
High end tires are another factor that needs to be considered in the equation. At the top end are the Kevlar beaded composite rubber tires which provide excellent cornering capability and a must for anyone who intends to do downhill or trail riding. However if you are more into leisurely cross country style, it’s an area of possible compromise.
It’s a balance between what you can afford and what is a must have. I am biased towards XC trail riding, so I prefer a hardtail bike. However regardless of the brand there are a few features that are must haves and some that are nice to have. For me 6061 aluminium frame, 160 mm hydraulic disc brakes and 100 mm travel front forks are a must have. While a 27 speed Shimano SLX and alloy platform pedals are a nice to have. Components can always be upgraded once they wear out.
Choosing a mountain bike that fits
All good mountain bikes will have some things in common regardless of the specific type of riding or terrain you intend to tackle. Choosing a bike that fits you personally is paramount
The first and most important consideration is the stand over height. When riding on irregular terrain you want to be able to stop without crashing against the top tube. Ensure you have at least 100 to 150mm clearance between your inseam and the tube as you straddle the bike.
When sitting on the bike you should be seated in a comfortable riding position, always make sure the reach to the handlebars is adequate and check your comfort. Additionally, the saddle height needs to be set to the right level. As a general rule the bony parts of the pelvis should contact the wide portion of the saddle.
This will allow you to be in a position to accurately check your leg position angles. Put the balls of your feet in the centre of the pedal spindles. Secondly check the leg position one foot to a six o’clock position, the other to twelve. The six o’clock leg should be slightly bent at the knee. The other should be no more than horizontal.
I recommend going for a 15 minute test ride. This will allow you to gauge that the riding position is neither cramped nor too elongated. Make sure you can reach and operate the controls easily. On a side note women riders should consider trying these check on bikes designed especially for women.
Choosing good mountain bikes
These combined checks will guide you to choosing the right mountain bike you need regardless of your desired type of riding. Ultimately you need to take into consideration your budget, the bike materials and design are important but the most important factor is how the bike fits you personally. You will quickly arrive at just the right mountain bike for you. A big brand name with the reputation of being the best mountain bike may not be a good mountain bike for you, it might be the wrong style or fit or even be an overkill for your particular circumstances.
Choosing good mountain bikes is not always about which brand is best or currently in vogue, a lot has to do with fit and fit for purpose meaning that the frame material and components are just as important as the manufactures stickers.