Purchasing Your First Mountain Bike

A Quick Guide

Chattanooga is one of the Southeast’s top destinations for mountain biking, so if you’ve ever thought about owning a mountain bike, you’ve come to the right place. But before you run out and buy the first bike you see, there are a few things you need to consider to make sure you’re getting the right bike for you. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know.

First, you need to choose your bike style.

There are four main categories of mountain bikes. Each type is designed to suit a specific environment or riding style. 

An all-purpose trail bike is incredibly versatile, making it the go-to pick for many mountain bikers. With more suspension and gravity-oriented components, it can hold its own on most terrains – climbing or descending. If you’re not sure which type of mountain bike you need, a trail bike is a good place to start.

Lightweight and efficient, a cross-country bike is built for speed. Its geometry makes this bike ideal for racing and all-day rides, as well as traveling uphill, but it falls short when it comes to downhill terrain.

Also referred to as enduro mountain bikes, an all-mountain bike is the burlier cousin of the trail bike. While its downhill-oriented design requires more pedaling when going uphill, this bike shines when traversing more technical, demanding terrain and steep descents.

As the name implies, a downhill bike is made for going downhill fast. These durable, sturdy bikes are especially adept at mastering rough terrain, and they’re typically reserved for steep trails that can be accessed via lift or shuttle.

Next, you’ll need to consider suspension.

There are two types: hardtail and full suspension. When deciding between the two, think about where you’ll be riding and how much money you want to spend.

With a lower price point and less maintenance required, there are several advantages to a hardtail bike. This type of bike has a rear end with no suspension, making it faster on ascents and smooth trails, more efficient when pedaling, and lighter weight. A hardtail is usually the natural choice for cross-country bikers.

A full-suspension bike features both a suspension fork up front and a rear shock, making for a smoother, more enjoyable ride. Comfort aside, beginners will appreciate the extra stability this bike provides, especially on bumps and descents. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time on technical trails, and you have a little more money to spend, a full suspension bike is the way to go.

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After that, look at wheel size.

Choosing a wheel size used to be easy; there was only one size on the market for years. That’s all changed in the last couple of decades. Now you have three options, and there are pros and cons to each.

While 26-inch wheels were once your only option for wheel size, these days, this size isn’t as common. Generally speaking, the 26 incher is lighter and great for maneuverability – just don’t expect to conquer any tough, obstacle-ridden trails.

If you’re navigating rough terrain, 29-inch wheels will give you the confidence and prowess to power through. This size rolls over obstacles with ease compared to your smaller diameter options. Of course, there’s a flip slide – a larger diameter translates to a heavier bike that’s slower to accelerate. Another factor to consider is rider height, as tall riders tend to benefit from the extra height of the 29ers. 

Boasting the best of both worlds, 27.5-inch wheels – also known as 650b – can handle trail obstacles better than a 26 incher, and it’s more agile than a 29er. If you’re a shorter rider, or if the trails you’ll be riding on are tight and twisty, 27.5-inch wheels may be better suited for you.

Finally, select your frame size.

The majority of mountain bike manufacturers use standard sizes (small, medium, and large), with sizes generally corresponding to the rider’s height. Many manufacturers have a sizing chart that can help you identify the best fit for you. That said, it’s always best to ride before you buy – a thorough test drive can tell you if the bike fits and is comfortable to ride!

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