When it comes to buying a mountain bike, it can be really confusing, and there are a ton of different factors to take into consideration. To help make things simple, professional XTERRA athlete, Will Kelsay, has boiled it down to just four points to choose a mountain bike - suspension, wheel size, price and gear ratios.
Mountain bikes are available in full suspension, or hardtail. Full suspension bikes have suspension in the front and rear, while hardtail bikes only have suspension in the front.
Full suspension bikes are great for making your ride a little bit smoother over rocks, roots, and bumps. However, they are more expensive and a bit heavier, unless you buy a very high end lightweight full suspension bike.
Hardtail bikes have a suspension fork up front just like a full suspension bike, but they don't have any suspension in the rear. These bikes are lighter and less expensive, but also make for a rougher ride.
Mountain bike wheel diameters come in two sizes: 29 and 27.5.
A 29 inch diameter wheel is larger, and is going to roll over things easier, but it’s heavier, so it doesn’t accelerate quite as fast.
The 27.5 wheel is smaller and lighter, so it is more nimble but it doesn’t roll over big objects quite as well.
When it comes to price point, there are three levels: entry level ($500 - $1000), midlevel ($1000 - $3000), and high end ($3000+). As you go from entry level to midlevel to high level, the performance, braking, and shifting improve the more you spend.
When you look at full suspension and hardtail bikes in the same price range, you’re going to end up getting a little more bang for your buck with the hardtail because the pieces of the bike are going to be better. Whereas, with a full suspension, you will be paying more for the suspension as opposed to all the bike parts.
No matter your price range, a good way to get comfortable on the bike is to add a dropper post, which drops your saddle down and provides safety while going downhill or over big objects.
Gear ratios refer to the number of chainrings on the bike. There are two options: 1x or 2x, meaning one chainring or two chainrings. A 1x is more lightweight and easier to maintain, but doesn't have as many gear options. A 2x provides a lot of gear options, but it is a little bit heavier and there’s more maintenance required.
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Will Kelsay is a seasoned veteran on the XTERRA circuit having raced in more than 20 countries around the world over 17 years. Having raced professionally since 2005, he has accumulated more than 50 overall wins and 75 more top five finishes. Over the years, he has been a coach, race announcer, race director, personal trainer, physiology lab technician, videographer, magazine editor and writer, and countless other professions to supplement his racing career.