There’s never a bad time to start thinking of getting fit and enjoying the great outdoors. And it’s hard to go past Mountain Biking as a fun activity that almost anyone can pick up, regardless of age. But if you’re looking at buying a new bike, the choices can seem overwhelming. In this article we’ll clarify what to look for to get the best bike for you personally.
First of all, I’d recommend purchasing your bike from a dedicated bike shop. Bike shops provide better quality bikes, good after-sale support (normally they will give you the first maintenance check free) and they generally know what they’re talking about. A good bike shop should also ensure the bike fits you – this is very important as injury can result from an incorrectly set up bike. Marlborough has a number of good bike shops, all with knowledgeable staff. They will gladly allow you to take a bike for a quick test ride prior to making your decision.
Mountain bikes come in a variety of different configurations. Besides your budget, the biggest choice is whether you go with a full suspension bike (suspension on the front and rear wheel), or a hardtail (suspension only on the front). Both have pros and cons. Full suspension bikes absorb a lot more trail shock and are much more comfortable, so if you have a bad back, a ‘full-sus’ bike is probably for you. Hardtail bikes are usually lighter, require less maintenance and, all else being equal, are less expensive.
If you think you are going to ride relatively rough trails, I’d suggest going for a full suspension bike. You’ll experience less fatigue on those epic back country adventures. However if you only occasionally intend to venture off-road, and in areas such as Wither Hills Mountain Bike Park, you’ll get more bang for your buck with a hardtail.
After suspension, the next biggest consideration is wheel size – 29 inch or 27.5 inch. 29 inch wheels will roll over obstacles more easily, which is why they are most popular choice. However, smaller individuals might find large 29” wheels a little unwieldy. 27.5” wheels may get more disrupted by rough terrain, but this is less of an issue if you’re not planning on tackling the real gnarly stuff. Furthermore, smaller wheels are generally a bit more robust, lighter and more agile. Speaking of light weight, like sports cars and America’s cup yachts, light-weight mountain bikes are expensive. But unless you plan to race competitively, a bike’s weight is not hugely important. Be aware though that a heavier bike does require a bit more effort to pedal uphill and handles more sluggishly.
For a beginner, frame material should not be a major consideration. Carbon fibre will be lighter and maybe a touch more comfortable, but you do pay for it. If you are starting out, aluminium or steel is perfectly adequate. Getting a correctly sized bike is a more important consideration. This is where the bike shop will advise you, but basically your initial choice will be that of frame size. Most manufacturers size their mountain bikes from XS (Extra Small) through S, M, L and XL. At 182 cm in height, I ride a large frame. My wife, at 162cm, rides an XS sized frame which she is very comfortable on. Some women may wish to ask the bike shop to replace/upgrade the standard saddle with a women specific version. Most ladies I know find these saddles more comfortable. If you have long or short limbs, a bike shop can also replace the stem or seatpost to account for your proportions.
I have not mentioned brand names as all the major bike brands produce excellent mountain bikes. As long as your bike fits you properly, you can’t really go wrong with any of them.