How To Choose A Mountain Bike

Jo Taylor | 15 October 2019

Buying a mountain bike is a mystifying experience if you don’t know your 27.5s from your 29ers or enduro from your XC, so we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the right bike for your ability and style of riding.

Selecting The Right Mountain Bike

A mountain bike is an investment in many things from fitness to friendship, so it makes sense to buy something that suits your needs and brings maximum enjoyment.

The terrain you’ll ride on should strongly influence your purchase because MTBs are built for different disciplines.

Frame geometry and suspension are the main contrasts. Frame design influences everything from durability and speed to stability, while suspension affects things like ride comfort, control and pedalling efficiency.

Bikes can cross disciplines somewhat, but perform best when used for their intended purpose. That’s where you need to consider where you will ride, but first let’s cover suspension.

Suspension

Hardtail Bikes:

Hardtails have front suspension forks, but no rear suspension. They’re common as entry-level commuter, XC and trail steeds, and also come as high-end, race-specific XC machines.

They’re fast and often have cheaper price tags. However, they are bumpy over rough ground. These bikes won’t soak up errors the way a full-suspension model can, but some would say this is a good thing because dual-suspension can mask bad habits. Hardtails are also cheaper to maintain and service.

Shop Hardtail MTB

Full Suspension Bikes:

These MTBs have front and rear suspension, and are an excellent choice for beginners looking to ride off road.

They’re more expensive, but a good investment in comfort, confidence and control. The dual suspension gives an easier passage over anything remotely technical, and the rear suspension enhances traction by helping the back wheel stay on the ground.

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Suspension Travel:

Front and rear suspension each have a defined amount of “travel” – the compression and rebound that softens impacts and improves bike handling. There’s less travel on XCs, where weight and efficiency take centre stage, and more on enduro and downhill machines to soak up big bumps and landings as riders charge over jumps, drops and technical sections at speed.

The more travel a bike has, the more cushiony it will feel, but there’s a balance. A bike with a lot of travel won’t be as efficient or easy to pedal on climbs.

This is where we’ll look at disciplines and the sorts of trails you’ll be riding. Let’s begin!

MTB Disciplines

Sport/Recreation: Entry-level hardtail for easy paths

Less a true mountain bike and more a gateway into the world of MTB, these are suitable for commuters or people who want to ride on basic, groomed trails. Their cheap price makes them attractive to those who want the fun of mountain biking without breaking the bank or going too deep into the heart of off-ride riding. Think:

  • City commutes, smooth cycle paths or gravel roads
  • Suits basic riding, but the components aren’t durable enough for rough terrain

Sport/Recreation: Basic parts and components keep the price down and give riders a gateway into MTB over undemanding terrain. 

Shop Sport MTB

Cross country: Fast-rolling bikes for leisure or racing

Cross-country (XC) covers everything from long recreational rides on basic trails to competitive racing over technical singletrack. Hardtails enable maximum power output through the pedals, or you can buy a full-suspension steed for greater comfort and control. XCs have less suspension than their trail, enduro and downhill cousins. They are light, stiff, and built for speed, distance and climbing. Think:

  • Forestry roads through to intermediate trails and moderately technical singletrack
  • Hardtail or full suspension from about 60-120mm travel
  • Tyres usually have less tread to decrease rolling resistance

XC: These nimble, responsive bikes put the rider in a position to easily put power down through the pedals.

Shop XC Bikes

Trail/All-mountain: Do it all bike, from all-day epics to shuttle laps

Trail bikes are fast uphill and fun downhill. These machines are designed for the sweet spot between XC and rowdy enduro, but easily cross over into those areas. They are a great choice for beginners and if you want to ride a wide variety of terrain, they’ve got you covered. Think:

  • Fast and fun single track through to more challenging technical trails
  • Hardtail or full suspension with a more cushiony 120-160mm travel
  • Tyres are typically wider and knobbier than XC tread
  • 27.5” and 29” wheels are both popular options
  • Dropper post allows on-the-go seat height adjustment

Trail: The geometry of a trail bike falls between that of an XC and an enduro. They’re the versatile steed that performs well on most terrain.

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Enduro: Built for epic descents, then ride back up for more of the same   

Enduro bikes are ideal for anyone who loves drops, jumps and rowdy descents. They’re built for enduro races – timed descents over various tracks with riders then pedalling to the top of their next downhill segment. They’re primarily designed to be fast and stable going down, but they also need to get back uphill. Think:

  • Technical descents with bigger features and obstacles
  • Full suspension, typically with a generous 150-180mm travel
  • A stable ride with tough, grippy, puncture-resistant tyres
  • Dropper post allows on-the-go seat height adjustment

Enduro: These bikes are longer, with a geometry that lends itself to speed and stability downhill before you pedal them back uphill, ready for the next descent.

Shop Enduro Bikes

Downhill: The ultimate, robust bike for steep, demanding descents

These bikes are the the comparative Rolls Royce of comfort for those who love testing their limits on extreme, technical downhill tracks. They’re burly, they’re heavy and they’re going in one direction – straight down.

  • Ride steep, demanding descents, often with jumps and drops. No climbing
  • Full suspension with travel usually upwards of 190mm
  • Built to be strong and stable downhill
  • Tough, grippy, puncture-resistant tyres for increased traction

Downhill: The bikes are long, the seat is well back and out of the way. These robust, capable bikes are primed for downhill speed.

Shop Downhill Bikes

MTB Wheel Size

Adult mountain bikes have three wheel sizes, with traditional 26-inch wheels being phased out in favour of 27.5-inch tyres and the increasingly popular 29ers.

Considered by some as the perfect hybrid, 27.5ers combine the agility and playful handling of a 26-inch wheel with the enhanced stability of a 29er. They’re strong, light and nimble, and their smaller size gives a good “feel” for the terrain. These wheels are a common choice for beginners, and can be easier for older children and small adults to manage.

On the other hand, 29er bikes are longer and harder to manoeuvre, but carry more momentum. The wheels roll faster, with good traction, and they are “planted” – rolling with smooth stability over most anything in their path and instilling confidence over technical terrain. Manufacturers are increasingly putting 29” wheels on race bikes, where efficiency is key.

Frame Material

Carbon, alloy and steel are the main options. A high-end carbon steed is the ultimate machine due to its light, responsive nature. Alloy is cheaper and more durable, but heavier and slightly less comfortable to ride. There’s also steel, which is hardy, but less common. It has a nice ride quality, but carries a weight penalty.

As for weight, that’s a matter of preference. The important things are getting the right size and fit, with the appropriate components, for the riding you’ll do.

Bike Size

Most bikes on our website should have size guides or if you’re shopping in one of our showrooms, ask our crew which size is right for you. You should be able to comfortably stand over the top tube and feel neither too cramped or extended while riding. This applies to your arms and torso, and also your legs once the seat has been adjusted as necessary.

The Benefits Of Buying New

Bikes have changed a lot over the past few years and continue to rapidly evolve, so a new steed is an investment in the latest technology.

In buying new, you’ll know that your MTB won’t have previous wear or tear and an unknown history. E.g. Second-hand carbon frames may have been crashed and it’s hard to see structural damage. Furthermore, you’ll be eligible for manufacturer warranties, and some last years or even a lifetime.

When you buy from Evo, you’ll also be eligible for one of our service plans, which provide significant savings on maintenance and add peace of mind. Then there’s the thrill of a brand-new bike...

Where to from here?

Hopefully you’ll have a better idea of factors to consider when buying an MTB. Obviously you’ll get more bang for your buck the more you spend – think full suspension, lighter weight and components that vastly improve the performance of your ride.

Our current range can be seen here. Or stop in at one of our showrooms if you’d like to buy an MTB, ask about upcoming demo days or receive advice on the best bike for you.