Buying your first mountain bike|
Friday, June 04, 2004
For many people buying that very first mountain bike can be a traumatic experience. There are all sorts of new words, unfamiliar technologies and marketing gimmicks to contend with. Also the price alone is enough to send some people into convulsions. This guide is designed to help alleviate some of those anxieties and allow you to make a more educated purchase decision.
There is quite a variety of bikes considered "entry level." The price range for these bikes are $600-800. Yes you can find cheaper bikes, but cheaper is the key word. Also there are hundreds of bikes over $800, but unless you know you will love the sport, these bikes may be more than you need.
Assess Your Needs.
The single most important thing to do before shopping for your first bike is to assess your needs. Are you planning on riding this bike exclusively off road? for commuting to work or school? or a mix of both? Also important is how often you will be riding.
If you're looking for a bike for off-road use, but haven't ridden off road, try renting a bike. Many local bike shops rent bikes and can also recommend trails for you to give you a good idea of the sport. Off-road riding is a very different experience than road riding.
Next read as much about mountain bikes as you can. Reading this story is a great start. Pick up some mountain bike magazines. Most have sections dedicated to the beginner.
How Much to Spend.
Deciding how much to spend is a tough decision. As a general rule, the more you spend the better bike you get. The biggest difference between a $600 bike and a $800 bike is the components (shifters, derailers, brakes). The more expensive, the more durable (at least until you start getting into the high-end where lightweight often reduces durability. Many first time buyers buy a low-end bike and later upgrade the components as necessary. Another school of thought is to buy the best bike you can afford and save the hassles of upgrading. It is cheaper to buy the components on the bike than it is to buy components later and upgrade.
A good way to save some money on a new mountain bike is to buy last years model. Just like cars, bike manufacturers come out with new models every year. There is usually little difference between one year and the next. You can pick up last years model starting around the August and September months. Of course selection is usually fairly limited when buying last years models.
A Good Dealer is as Important as a Good Bike.
When you visit a bike store, it is important you find a sales person who is knowledgeable and you feel comfortable talking to. When you're talking to sales people, ask whenever they use words you don't understand. Try asking them a question you know the answer to see what they say. If their answer isn't to your satisfaction than find someone else to help you. Also ask them what they ride. If they are primarily a road rider than you should probably talk to someone else. A good salesperson will listen to your needs and help you find the best bike for you.
Visit as many different bike stores as you can. Each one carries a different selection of makes and models. The quality of the store is also important. The store you buy your bike from is responsible for assembling it. A poor assembly job can make for a very poor riding bike. Make sure you feel comfortable with the competency of the staff. You want a store that you will feel comfortable brining your bike back to for work in the future.
The Right Bike.
Test ride a variety of bikes. Try bikes in the low end of your price range and the high end and feel the differences. Try bikes with different components to see which you like best. Larger stores have more of a selection and are also more likely to have a model in your size available for a test ride.
When you take a bike for a test ride, try to take it out over more challenging terrain than the parking lot. Ride over curbs, gravel roads, grass, etc. Get a good feel for how each bike handles rough terrain. The dealer should allow you a 15-20 minute test ride. Some dealers are now offering off-road test rides. These are the most helpful.
It is important that when you buy a bike and test ride a bike that the bike fits you properly. For a mountain bike you want at least 2 inches of clearance between the top tube and your crotch when straddling the bike. You also want to make sure the seat is at the right height. You want your leg to be almost straight when sitting on the seat and your foot is on the pedal at its lowest point. If the bike store doesn't have a bike you want to test ride in your size, ask them to assemble one for you. This will take a few days, but it is essential that you test a bike that fits you properly.
The two popular ways for determining a bike's sizes. One way is to measure the seat tube from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube. Another way is to measure from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. Frame sizes will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so try them out to see what is right for you.
The most common materials for mountain bike frame manufacturing is chro-moly and aluminum. Chro-moly offers good weight and strength properties for recreational riding. You may also find some entry level aluminum frames. Aluminum is lighter than chro-moly, but not as strong so you usually find aluminum frames to have larger tube diameters to add strength. Aluminum tends to cost a little more, but also can save around .5 lbs. Both metals make excellent frames. In the higher end bikes, you will find more exotic materials like titanium and carbon fibre. Both offer great weight savings, but neither is cheap.
Make sure the tires on the bike are appropriate for what you want to use it for. If you are going to be riding mostly off road then look for large knobby tires. If you plan on doing a lot of street riding than look for tires with fewer smaller knobbies. A good dual use tire has a ridge in the middle of the tire for low street resistance and has mid sized knobbies on the sides.
There is a big debate over shifters in the mountain bike community. This is really a matter of personal preference. Essentially there are two types of shifters on the market today: Rapidfire and Gripshift. Both shifter types have a strong following so try them both and see which works best for you. Rapidfire shifters use buttons/levers placed under your brake lever. With a flip of your index finger or thumb you can move up and down your gears. Gripshift works like a motorcycle throttle. You change gears by turning the control on the handle bar grip itself.
The seat's comfort is also an issue, especially if you plan to do a lot of road riding. If the seat isn't comfortable you will pay for it on long rides. You can get seat pads and padded bicycle shorts help, but it is best to get a seat that is comfortable in the beginning.
If the seat is uncomfortable, but you like the rest of the bike, ask the dealer to replace it. For that matter if there is anything you don't like on the bike, see if you can swap out different parts. Of course if you're looking for a more expensive part you will have to pay the difference.
It is important that you find a bike that you feel comfortable riding. Once you have a bike you think is the one for you, take it for a couple more test rides. Make sure the ride is smooth, it shifts easily and that the braking is tight and quick.