Mountain Bike Buyer’s Guide: What to Know Before You Buy

There is a lot of information to take in when you're looking to buy a new mountain bike. If you're a beginner, this can be quite intimidating. There are several features and factors that should be considered before you spend any of your hard earned money.

Mountain bikes are capable of doing several things, whether the bike helps you bring groceries home every week, is your commute to work, is used to help you with your fitness goals, or maybe you just enjoy the extreme sport of downhill biking down a steep slope. 

While I'm not willing to draw specific, hard-and-fast parameters for what constitutes a trail bike, I'll point out that the class generally occupies the space between more XC-oriented machines and those all-mountain or enduro rigs that specialize in putzing around the woods with the occasional interruption of a screaming downhill.

I wanted to include a handful of the staple features to look at when you are shopping around so that you get the best mountain bike for your money. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to get a mountain bike that does what it's designed to, though there is that option if you are interested. 


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When it comes to things to look for when buying a mountain bike, wheels are on the top of that list. There are three different types of mountain bike wheels that are found on most mountain bikes, but there are bigger wheel options available if needed.

Wheels are usually referred to by a number when it comes to bicycles. Let's talk a bit about the different sizes and what exactly they mean. 

26 inch - The first ever wheels for mountain bikes where size 26. These wheels are lightweight, but aren't found a ton this day in age. 26 inch wheels have less traction, so they're not found as often on newer bikes. 

27 inch - Another name for 27" inch wheels is 650B. These wheels are commonly found and have practically replaced 26 inch wheels. They have pretty decent roll-over ability, solid traction and more air volume than the 26 inch wheels. These are lightweight and more durable than most other sizes. Depending on the type of riding you plan on doing, a 27" inch wheel is a good place to start. 

29 inch - This size is also called 29"ers, and because of the larger size, this wheel type is great for traction, roll-over ability and will give you a smoother ride than any of the other tire sizes. This is easily the most popular size for wheels since they provide the rider with a more stable ride, even while descending. One of the most popular 29 incher is the Eurobike.

A downside to 29 inch wheels is that they are heavier and may limit the amount of suspension you can get. If you plan on doing a lot of cross country or trail type riding, this size would be perfect for you.

Just like clothing, mountain bike wheels also have plus size options. These wheels are a bit fatter and give you better control and comfort when using. If you need a lot of traction, fat fires are a great choice. They're available in all the rim diameters listed above and higher. 

On that same note, if you have a fat bike, you're going to need large tires that can take on sand and snow. Try to find tires that are between 3 '' inches to 5 '' inches wide. 

Drive Train

If you're reading this guide, it's safe to assume you're probably pretty passionate about mountain biking. That, or you're trying to soak up all the information on the topic as you can. When it comes to drive train, you have a couple different options and it all boils down to your own preferences. 

If you have a larger gear range, you can have bigger chainrings in the front without having to give up your easier gears. This is important if you're going to be biking on steep terrain, followed by more mellow riding on roads or trails. 


You can get the most expensive bike on the planet, but if it doesn't have good brakes, you may as well throw it in the trash. The ability to safely slow down is crucial when it comes to mountain biking. 

Even the cheapest, most entry-level mountain bikes should have amazing brakes. The best, and most commonly found type is hydraulic disk brakes. Most mountain bike brakes will have calipers that have two or four pistons.

Pistons are the feature that help the brake pads squeeze the tire so that friction is applied enough to the point where the bike can slow down. As you can probably guess, four calipers are much more effective than two. They also require a lot less pressure to engage, but they do weigh a bit more. 

Another thing to consider when talking about brakes is the rotor sizing. Bigger rotors are going to increase the amount of braking power available. It will also improve the amount of heat dissipation if you find yourself going downhill for long periods of time. 


One feature that is an important one to keep in mind are the handlebars. The handlebars on mountain bikes are generally longer and wider than your standard bicycle. This may take a bit of adjusting and getting used to, but don't worry, this process is normal with any new bike! 

Having wider handlebars gives you more control and keeps you stable while you're descending down slopes and hills. The only real downsides are that you may need a bit more clearance to get in between things like posts and trees, and there is a slight bit of added weight. 


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The Right Size

Finding the right size mountain bike makes all the difference. This is one of the most important steps when shopping for a new bike. If you're not comfortable on the bike, you can cause a lot of harm to your body. 

On the other end of things, if you are comfortable on the bike, you'll be more likely to not only ride it more, but at a faster speed. The first thing you need to do when it comes to the right size is to look at the frame. If the frame is the wrong size, it will throw the whole bike off for you.

You can do simple things like adjusting your seat or handlebars, but that only does so much when the frame is incorrectly sized. When you're looking at sizing on a mountain bike, the numbers shown represent the distance between the center of the bottom bracket and the top of the seat tube. 

Though it is important to note that different brands have different frames and descriptions. This means you should be referring to the number, instead of a size description such as big or small. Another feature you want to look at when it comes to sizing is the stack. This is the height a bike is from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube.

You'll also need to take a look at the reach. The reach on a mountain bike is the length between the bottom bracket and head tube. The reach should always be measured horizontally. If you know the numbers that correlate to the reach and the stack, it will be much easier to find a mountain bike that correctly fits you.

Something that's less important but still plays a part is the seat. As you probably already know, seat height can be easily adjusted depending on comfort and the type of control you need. The majority of bikes are made to go downhill, which will require you to have a lower seat. 

Having a lower seat changes your center of gravity which makes you as a rider more stable. You can even add a feature on your bike that allows your seat to easily drop and even recline just by touching a button.

Frame Material

Since frame sizing is important, the material it's made out of is just as crucial. Most mountain bikes are from from steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, or a mixture of materials. Each of these materials will change several things about the bike, such as the price, weight and how the bike feels overall. 

Since the mountain bikes frame is so important, I wanted to talk about each material in detail to give you a better idea of what you may want in a frame. Let's start off by talking about aluminum. 

Aluminum - This is the most commonly found material when it comes to bike frames. It is very common to carbon fiber which we will talk about next. Aluminum is more stiff and gives the bike quite a bit of power. If you have an aluminum frame on your bike, it's even more important to have suspension since it's so stiff.

There are between one and three frame tubes that make an aluminum frame even stronger. The tubes can vary in thickness, but will be the thinnest near the center where there isn't as much of a need for strength. 

The more tubes an aluminum frame has, the more it will cost you. 

Carbon Fiber - Believe it or not, this type of material used to be used in professional settings only. It can be quite hard to work with, but is the second most popular material when it comes to bike frames. 

Price is relatively inexpensive and the material has become even easier to work with for those who build and design frames. It's easily molded and is lightweight, while still remaining sturdy. The biggest downfall when it comes to carbon fiber is that it can crack.

It cracks if used too much on rough terrain, or if involved in a wreck. It can be expensive to repair or replace a carbon fiber frame. 

Steel - For cheaper bikes, you're likely going to find a steel frame. Thankfully, steel is strong, durable and pretty cheap to make. The downside of steal is that it's going to weigh much more than a frame made out of something like aluminum. 

Steel used to be the go-to material for both recreational and professional mountain bikes before aluminum and carbon fiber took over. Nowadays, steel framed bikes can be found in just about any bike shop or large retail store. 

Titanium - The last material we' going to talk about is also the most rare: titanium. It's rare before it's pretty expensive. Why does it cost more? Well it's not only lightweight, but titanium is incredibly durable and won't rust or corrode like other materials. 

Titanium is harder to work with, but it can take quite a punch and is much less likely to have damage after a wreck. Titanium frames are comfortable and will keep the overall weight of your bike much lower than a material like steel would. 


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Another thing that you need to consider when buying a new mountain bike is if you need any additional accessories. Depending on where you'll be riding it, you may be required by law to have a helmet and lights on your bike. 

You also may want to have some spare parts such as tubes, a hand pump to fill the tires with air and a multi tool that can help you make last minute adjustments. It's also convenient to have something that will hold water for you, as well as the other accessories just mention. 

You don't want to keep everything on your person, so it's important to have accessories that can work for you on the mountain bike itself. If you're going to be on intense terrain, you're going to need things like eye protection, knee padding, full face helmets and more. 


When it comes to things that play a part when you're shopping for a mountain bike, price is one of the main contenders. You know all about what makes a bike great, but how much is it going to cost you?

Mountain bikes are available at a variety of different price points. There is likely a bike that will fit your budget, but you may have to sacrifice a few features. You can find used mountain bikes across the internet, but a new one can cost you as low as around $200. 

On the other end of things, if you want the absolute best bike with all of the features available, that can cost you just under $10,000. A lot of things play a role in how much a mountain bike will cost you. 

Some things that make a difference are the weight, suspension, shifting ability, comfort and durability. We already talked about how the material of the frame can make quite a difference when it comes to cost as well.  

I thought I'd break down a few different price range options so you can set your budget and see what's available with the price you can afford. Let's start with the lower priced options. 


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Mountain Bikes Under $500 - if you find yourself taking mountain biking less seriously, you don't need an expensive bike. If you're riding with your family, or you're a beginner, you're be able to easily find a bike for under $500.

Sometimes mountain bikes that are on the cheaper end aren't actually supposed to be used on rough terrain at all. The frames are usually made of aluminum or steel, but when it comes down to what makes the bikes cheaper, it's actually the smaller parts. 

Bikes in this price range can be used on your everyday paved streets, sidewalks and dirt trails that have regular maintenance. You can find full suspension mountain bikes for under $500, but they aren't recommended.

Go for a hardtail or rigid mountain bike instead if you have a smaller budget. Suspension systems can be incredibly complicated and can take a lot of upkeep to maintain. When you're spending under $500 on a mountain bike, it's best to skip it all together. 

You also have the options of cable rims and disc brakes in this price range. Disc brakes are going to be better if you're in a place where it rains a lot, or you plan on biking in a wet area. It's uncommon to find hydraulic disc brakes for such a cheap price, but if you do, get them while it's available! 

You'll notice that the wheels are a bit heavier in this price range than more expensive options. Lastly, there is less gear and accessories available since bikes under $500 don't need any extra features when they are ridden on tame terrain. 

Mountain Bikes Between $500 and $1,000 - If you have a bit of money to spend and plan on using your mountain bike on different terrain types, you should find a great bike that's less than $1,000. You're more likely to find a high quality hardtail bike at this price range. 

Another thing you'll see in this price bracket is hydraulic brakes. These brakes have less of an upweek and give you more control and power. You're going to be able to afford a mountain bike that is a lot lighter, with a frame that's most likely built from aluminum. 

When you have a bit of a larger budget, you can get a mountain bike with better tires. The tires will have higher quality tread and will perform better on all terrain types. Chances are slim, but you might be able to get a full suspension bike for under $1,000. 

It will be a lot heavier and not as durable as just getting a high quality hardtail for the same price. If you can wait and save up a bit more for a dual suspension mountain bike, I'd suggest doing so. 

Mountain Bikes Between $1,000 and $2,000 - If you've been reading this waiting to find out how much a dual or full suspension mountain bike is going to cost you, this is the low end of the price range for that type of bike. 

You could use this amount of money to get a really high end hardtail or rigid bike, but if you need a lot of suspension, you'll have to stick with a dual suspension mountain bike. You're still be able to find a dual suspension bike that is comfortable and that will perform great on different types of terrain for this price point. 

You'll likely find hydraulic brakes on almost every bike in this budget, along with an aluminum frame. This is a great price range to be in because you have the best of all the words, without spending an insane amount of money. 

Mountain Bikes Between $2,000 and $3,500 - When you have a budget this large, you're able to get a mountain bike with a lot more features. Things like 1x drivetrains and dropper posts are some of the most common features seen in this price range. 

You'll also notice that most frames will be carbon fiber and are better for going downhill. Carbon fiber frames are more lightweight, responsive and a bit more stiff than aluminum. They'll generally more comfortable and give you more control while riding. 

If you liked the sound of a seat that can be adjusted at the bush of a button I mentioned earlier, this is the price range where that feature starts coming into play. If you're going to be doing a lot of gravity biking, this feature is a must have!

This is the budget range where you'll see the 1x drivetrain is introduced. This allows you to reduce the amount of weight you have while biking just by switching a gear. It is good to note that 1x drivetrains can create mechanical issues, which can cause injury and pose a danger threat if biking in the mountains. 

Mountain Bikes Between $3,500 and $6,000 - If you have a budget like this, you can get just about any mountain bike on the market. There are plenty of lightweight framed bikes that have incredible features like tubeless rims, dropper post, hydraulic disc brakes and more for this price. 

You're also going to be able to get bikes with better suspension for this price range. Mountain bikes that cost more will give you better balance and more control than those that are cheaper. If you find yourself on extreme terrain, or climbing steep hills, you may want to spend a bit more on a mountain bike like one you'd find in this price range. 

Mountain Bikes That are $6,000 and More - If you have a ton of money to play with when it comes to buying a mountain bike, you'd find that most frames are lightweight, strong and packed with features. 

Something you'll find about this price range is that the brand plays a huge part. Though differences between bikes that are this expensive and ones that cost a few grand less are actually pretty small, a lot of people like things custom made for them. 

Many professionals will ride mountain bikes that are around this price range because they're incredibly specialized.