Buying GuidesCyclingMountain Biking

How to Choose Your First Mountain Bike on a Budget

posted by Boundless Outdoors February 4, 2020 0 comments

Awesome! You’ve decided to get into mountain biking, but you’ve quickly realized there are a ton of bikes, components, wheels, bars, pedals, and aye yi yi to choose from. How do you make sure you get the right bike for you – and here’s the kicker – without spending too much money? The cool thing is, there are a lot of options to choose from, and we’ve put together a few tips to help you find the right mountain bike without going over your budget.

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Step 1: What To Know About Buying A Mountain Bike.

Mountain bikes can cost upwards of $10,000, but they can also cost significantly less – so don’t worry, your perfect bike is out there.  But seeing all these fancy bikes and ads for upgradeable components in bike magazines can get pretty overwhelming. There are thousands of different components and options for mountain bikes, because – and here’s the important part – there are thousands of different types of riders.  

As you get more experienced on the mountain bike trail, you’ll find you prefer a certain pedal over another, or a different bar size for downhill. You may want to upgrade your brakes for more on-the-fly adjustability. But for now, just remember, you’re a beginner, still getting to know the sport and what kind of rider you will become. The truth is when you’re starting out you probably won’t even use a fraction of the upgrades available to you. More advanced components often mean more parts to maintain and field-fix should they malfunction on the trail. So keep it simple at first and upgrade over time!

Mountain Bike Buying can be separated into the three following considerations:

  1. Bike Style
  2. Bike Fit
  3. Bike Features

For this article, we’ll focus primarily on style and fit, as they are the most crucial when on a limited budget. And remember, we’re trying to keep the feature search simple for now. Let’s get started.

Bike Style:

This is really about what trails you plan to ride and how you plan to ride them. There are multiple styles of mountain bikes that serve different types of riders and trails.  For this article, we’re going to focus on Trail bikes, because they are the most common for hobbyists. There are also Cross-Country, Fat Bikes, Downhill,  and All-Mountain styles of mountain bikes, though unless you’re planning on competing or racing, you’ll most likely be in the “Trail” category. We’ll touch a little on Fat Bikes in the trail section.

Trail Mountain Bikes:

Trail bikes are definitely the most common style of a mountain bike. They’re designed for a variety of trail riding and are highly customizable. If you’re looking to get into mountain biking as a hobby, a Trail bike is in your category. Depending on what your budget is and what riding you’re planning on doing, you’ll want to consider the frame type. Trail mountain bikes come in three primary frame types, as we’ll outline below.

Hardtail: $-$$

Hardtail bikes have a shock system on their front fork system, above the front wheel for reducing the impact as the rider leans over the front bars. However, hardtails have no suspension beneath the seat in the rear of the frame, hence hard-tail. Hardtails are most likely less expensive than full suspension styles of mountain bikes. They also have fewer parts and maintenance required, making them a great choice for beginners.

Niner Air 2-Star Bike - 27.5

Niner Air 2-Star Bike – 27.5 – From Moosejaw

Full Suspension: $$$ – $$$$

Hydraulic shock “suspension” systems in both the front and below the seat of the frame minimize the impact on the rider through rough terrain. The shocks can be adjusted and many turned “rigid” allowing for a more sensitive ride on smoother terrain/roads.

Diamondback Catch 1

Diamondback Catch 1– From Moosejaw

Diamondback Women's Clutch 1

Diamondback Women’s Clutch 1 – From Moosejaw

Rigid + Fat Bikes

Rigid mountain bikes feature no suspension and are not really that common on the trail. That is with the exception of Fat Bikes. Fat bikes have oversized, “fat” tires, and are all the rage with mountain bikers wanting to ride in sand or snow. They can also be used for beginners craving more stability. Fat bikes can be rigid because their large wide tires tend to provide enough shock absorption to reduce impact on the rider. Also because fat bikes are most commonly used on soft surfaces like snow and sand, the need for shock absorption is minimal, and the rigidity actually helps with control!

Bike Fit:

Mountain bikes have standard sizing to keep it simple -S, M, L – with the sizes generally corresponding to your height. Bike manufacturers will offer size charts that tell you what for what height ranges their sizes are intended. If you’re in-between sizes, it’s best to go to the smaller size. There are a lot of size modifications you can make to make your slightly small frame feel larger. However, it’s simply harder and there are fewer modifications available to make a slightly large frame feel smaller. Also, many riders feel they have better control over a slightly smaller frame anyways.

Be sure to get fitted at a bike store like Moosejaw or your local bike shop. Test ride a couple to get a feel for the distance beat the seat and the pedals, and for how balanced your reach is to the handlebars. You’ll begin to get a pretty good sense of a good vs bad fit.


Step 2: Know Your Budget, and Stick to it!

Before shopping, make sure you know what your budget is so you can find the right bike in your price range. Plenty of quality mountain bikes are available for any budget, even if you only have a few hundred dollars to spend. However, going shopping for mountain bikes is often easy to get tempted with upgrades and fancy features. But like we talked about earlier, when you’re starting out you probably won’t even use a fraction of the upgrades available to you anyways. Start mountain biking for the joy of it, worry about the upgrades later. 

For $500 or less, you’ll be restricted to an entry-level hardtail bike. Full-suspension bikes in this price range are likely low quality, we’d recommend staying away. If you have $500 to $1,000 to spend, your options open up into can a nicer hardtail bike or an entry-level full-suspension bike.

More money in your budget allows you to look into bikes that are lighter weight, that have more high-quality parts, or that are expert-level bikes with better suspension or other components. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a sweet spot where tons of higher performing options and brands open up between $1,500 to $2,500 with great components and features you may never want to replace. 

Saving Money on a Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes can be expensive, but if you’re shopping on a budget, there’s still the chance you can get a great deal. Many stores will have the previous year’s model discounted when they start getting in the new models. They want to sell as many as possible and make more room for the new bikes, which means you can save quite a bit of money. You can also look into purchasing a used mountain bike. Check the bike carefully before deciding to purchase it so you don’t get home and realize the frame is irreparable or you need to have the suspension fixed. Buying a bike that needs repairs means you’ll end up spending far more than just the cost for the bike.

Though mountain bikes can be incredibly expensive, there are bargains available that can help you get as much as possible for your money. Start thinking about your budget and the type of bike you need, then shop around to find the best deals. It may take a while before you find the right bike in your budget, but you’ll be able to find an amazing bike without spending too much money on it.

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