How to Buy a Mountain Bike

how to buy a mountain bike

In part one of our mountain bike buyers guide, consider what type of riding you intend doing as the starting point for how to buy a mountain bike. The buyers guide below identifies some of the main groupings of riders, find the ones that suit you best

Beginners | Entry Level | Social off-road riding

Type of riding – for weekend riding, doing the odd race and maybe one ride during the week
Price Range R3500 – R7500
Top picks: Momsen RX290, Giant Talon, Scott Aspect 940

The bikes – Typical bikes are hard tail with no rear suspension, with a front shock and low spec components. A good bike in this category would be aluminium ideally 24 speed, with disc brakes and 29″ wheels. Suitable for the occasional rider well, these are good entry level bikes. Most of these bikes have similar build quality, availability, backup service and fit.

How to choose – The decision maker in this category is to compare the components on the various bikes. Buy the bike that offers the highest spec components for a comparative price i.e if two bikes cost the same take the one that has the highest spec components.

Cross Country hardtails | Race bikes

Type of riding – Riding a few times a week and attending shorter distance races regularly. Alternatively for serious racers who want high spec components and lowest weight and a harsher ride.
Price Range R7500 – R20 000, top end bikes go up to R60 000
Our top picks Silverback Spectra Comp, GT Zaskar Comp, Merida Big 6000, Giant XTC Advanced 1

The Bikes – The hard tail bikes have 80-100mm travel front shocks. Bikes range from mid through to high end team racing bikes with medium to top of the range components. The top range mountain bikes have super light high grade aluminium or carbon frames. But the mid to high range bikes often have the same frame with different quality level components. Most established brands produce similarly strong frames. Frame sizes and geometries are important, it may be that a manufacturer has a geometry setup that is a perfect fit.

How to choose – The decision maker is to decide on your amount of riding, desired performance and available budget. Then within that budget find the bike that is the best value for money when comparing the components. You may end up paying a bit more but benefit from a higher spec bike.

Endurance Racing | Multi day riding

Type of riding – Regularly participating in marathon race events and multi-day mountain bike races like the Cape Epic.
Price Range – R20000 – R100 000
Top picks Scott Spark 960, Cannondale Scalpel Si Alloy, Specialized Epic Comp Carbon,  PYGA Stage, Santa Cruz Blur

The Bikes – The ideal full suspension marathon bike has 80-100mm front and rear suspension with lockout and relatively low weight. Suspension systems and designs vary greatly and it not quite as easy to compare bikes on a 1:1 basis. All manufacturers claim to have the best and most efficient design. Geometries on these bikes are also quite different to hardtails, so traditional bike fit techniques often don’t apply. Test riding the bikes is the best way to get a feel for what will work for you.  Good bike shops offer this service, or swop bikes on a club ride or a friend to get a feel for the bike.

Weight and suspension efficiency is important if you plan to do long distances and climbs. The bikes are more expensive than a similar spec hard tail, so you will pay for top components and lighter weight. Maintenance is higher due to lots of moving pivots, bushings, bearings and shocks. Higher end models have more efficient shocks that improve handling and pedalling efficiency.

How to choose – The decision maker is going to be a combination of factors. Consider budget, bike fit, suspension efficiency, components spec level, availability and back up service. Also consider the overall package i.e is it a great bike with a poor fork, great frame with poor components, complete group set or mix ‘n match etc

Trail bikes | All mountain | Enduro

Type of riding – For riding mostly technical trails of short to medium distances with the odd long distance race event. These are for serious riders who enjoy their riding but are not race focused.
Price Range – R15000-R100 000
Top picks Merida one-twenty 600, Giant Anthem 29er 3, Santa Cruz Tallboy, Specialized Camber, Santa Cruz High Tower LT

The Bikes – It is all about handling and capability, this bike can climb, descend, handle jumping and technical terrain. Generally a bit heavier and stronger than the marathon race bikes and offer longer travel in the 100-150mm range. In SA most trails are less technical compared to the average US or euro trail. However more technical trails are being developed and enduro races are now more popular.  The buying characteristics are similar to marathon bike, like test riding to find the right sizing, fit and feel.

How to choose – The buying decision is, how much travel you want, what’s the budget, carbon or aluminium and quality of components.

Downhill | Freeride | Jump

Type of riding – These are all really specialized bikes and deserve their own complete buyers guide. A growing trend in mountain biking especially internationally where ski resorts double as mountain bike parks in the summer and offer miles of down hill tracks and lifts back up to the top.

Downhill – The downhill race bikes have with huge travel and strong quality components that offer maximum performance and speed. They are made to go downhill as fast as possible and smooth out the drop offs and jumps.
Freeride – Is more a style of riding rather than a bike. They will have long travel suspension front and back or just back and are built strong and capable.
Jump – Similarly jump bikes are made for jumping so have specific geometries and strengthened frames and components to deal with major abuse.
Gravity junkies out there are welcome to contribute and mail us with your buyers guide

Tips for buying a mountain bike describes some of the differences in components in more detail.