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Mountain bike buying guide


With big knobby tires and air-filled shock absorbers, mountain bikes make easy work of even the toughest terrain. They help you head deeper and faster into the wilderness, sometimes accessing places easier than on foot. Here are a few things you should know before buying a mountain bike.


There are two main types of mountain bikes: full suspension and hardtail. Bikes with full suspension have shock absorbers on both the front and rear for a softer, easier ride on really rough trails. They’re also the most expensive. Hardtails have suspension only on the front fork. This type is generally more durable, requires less maintenance and is a great choice for most riders.

Mountain bikes also come with either rim or disc brakes. Unless you’re an advanced rider, choose a bike with rim-style brakes, the most common and easiest to service.

No matter what sort of bike you’re looking for, here are a few tips to keep in mind:


“Look beyond department store bikes and go to your local bike shop,” says pro rider Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, the reigning mountain bike national champion. “The salespeople there will be so much more knowledgeable and there’s a huge step up in quality of bikes.”

When talking to salespeople, be honest about your biking skills and where you plan to ride. That way, they can point you toward the best bike for your skill level.


Sure, you may see a really cool-looking, full-suspension bicycle for $150 at a department store, but odds are it’ll be really heavy and not very durable. Expect to spend at least $300 to get a good quality, entry-level mountain bike, Kobelski says. For more experienced riders, check out bikes in the $500 to $700 range. Those models will likely be lighter, more durable and outfitted with higher quality gears and components.


As you push the pedals, it’s the bike’s components (gears and other moving parts) that move you down the trail. But if you buy a bike with poor-quality components, you probably won’t get very far. Look for quality component brand names like Shimano, Sun Tour, SRAM and Bontrager.


Someone at the shop should help you find the correct bike for your size.

“The most important measurement is the stand-over height,” Kobelski says. “Stand over the top tube and pick the bike up. See how much clearance you have — how high you can pick it up.”

You should have at least a couple of inches of room, so you can hop on and off easily. It’ll also make the bike more maneuverable. Make sure the salesman gets you fitted perfectly. And look for a bike with an adjustable-height seat so the bike can grow with you.


Before you buy a bike, ride as many different models as you can. Kobelski recommends doing tight turns and sprinting on the bike. Try to ride up a couple of curbs, too. Pay special attention to how the bike turns and shifts.


Don’t leave home for a ride without these important pieces of biking gear:

  • Helmet
  • Water Bottle
  • Tire pump
  • Extra inner tube and/or patch kit
  • Tire and chain tools
  • Bike shorts (optional)
  • Gloves
  • Glasses/goggles (optional)

19 Comments on Mountain bike buying guide

  1. crazytrailman // June 25, 2018 at 4:43 pm // Reply

    i have an old schwinn ranger the brake pads are worn and it won’t change to the third gear should i get a new bike?

    • If you’ve got V brakes and know how to use a hex wrench, the brakes should be a pretty easy fix because replacement pads aren’t expensive. As far as changing to third gear, you might need to adjust the derailleur or the bike might just be getting on in years.

  2. Corndogs for days // December 20, 2015 at 3:36 pm // Reply

    Looking for a new bike, wrote down the essential things for getting a bike. It all sounds like good advice. Any further advice?

  3. I use a trek fuel ex and I love it

    • I ride bikes // December 20, 2020 at 6:48 pm // Reply

      Nice to see someone who knows their bikes on here. I am on a local XC race team, and I am about to buy a Canyon Neuron trail bike.

  4. I’ve got a GT and it does well on both concrete and dirt

  5. whats a shock lockout switch

    • Idaho DH Biker // November 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm // Reply

      A shock lockout switch is a switch that is usually located on the right side of your fork and in the middle of your rear suspension that “locks” the suspension to where it is almost like riding a rigid frame bike. To explain it simply, it makes your shocks lock up so they do not move.

  6. Great all works

  7. pick what you feel you like just like picking a one whick you can put your trust in it( your size )

  8. I ride a Surly Pugsley snowbike. A snowbike has wheels that are about 3-4 inches wide. It has no suspension at all but the huge wheels which are recommended to be at about 10-30 psi work really well in place of the the suspension.

  9. I got a used Giant whith shimano components for $80.

  10. Awesome Rida // December 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm // Reply

    I bought a Yeti and now and able to do a back-flip on it.

  11. I do a lot of down hill and trail but mostly freeride, (basicially BMX on a mountain bike) and I’ve been lookin into getting a new bike, I have a older Gary Fisher Tassajara. The bike has always been good to me, I’m looking into getting a new Specialized Hardrock 29er disc. I’ve test rode one and that bike is sick!!!!

  12. Pacyclist // July 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm // Reply

    Specialized is the BEST!

  13. Hybrid biker // March 6, 2012 at 10:24 pm // Reply

    Look for one with a shock absorber lockout switch, very handy

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