Keep in mind that within each bike type, there are various designs with significant differences. For example, if you're shopping for a full-suspension bike, you'll decide whether you want one with long-travel suspension or a model with less pronounced action, whether you want climbing efficiency or a beefy frame and rugged components and wheels to withstand lots of air time and hard landings. If you can tell us where and how you plan to ride your new bike, we'll point out the key differences and explain why you might prefer one over the other. And we won't be surprised if over time you end up with several different mountain bikes. Many people do because they're all so much fun!
Mountain-bike frames today are built of several materials. And, you'll find people who insist that theirs is the only way to go. But, don't put too much stock in one person's opinion. We have bikes at all price points and while their frame materials vary, we're confident you'll find a ride you love. That's what's most important, not what the frame is made of. Keep that in mind and don't decide until you've had a chance test ride some bikes.
Most new mountain-bike buyers purchase a model equipped with suspension. Ironically, even if you buy a rigid bike (one without front or rear shocks), you actually get a certain level of suspension thanks to the cushioning effect of the fat tires, which float over bumps (if you don't pump them up too hard).
Today, most off-road bicycles come equipped with components from the major manufacturers Shimano and SRAM. Shimano makes a full line of components. So does SRAM, however, they make drivetrain components and shifters under the SRAM brand name, while their brakes carry the Avid brand name, and their crankset brand is TruVativ. Our chart below displays the various parts groups these companies offer, how they differ and what level rider each is designed to suit. (To simplify and fit our chart, we show the SRAM group names; please ask us if you have any questions about the components on the bicycle you're interested in and we'll be happy to explain more.)
Keep in mind that bicycle companies don't always use the same level of components on a bike. For example, as a nice upgrade, sometimes they'll put on a Shimano XT rear derailleur on a bike that's mostly equipped with Shimano LX components. And, you may also see bicycles with a mix of SRAM, Avid, TruVativ and Shimano components. Also, the larger bike makers like to "brand" their bikes by installing components made in house. So you'll often find pedals and cranks bearing the company's name or the name of their in-house brand.
Rim Or Disc Brakes
In the past few years there have been impressive advances in brake designs and today you'll find amazing stoppers on every bike you buy. There are two types, rim (usually called "linear-pull," "direct-pull," or "V-brake") and disc (the common types are "mechanical-disc" and "hydraulic-disc"). Rim brakes are the traditional brake design that rubs on the rim to slow and stop the bike. These work great, usually weigh less than alternatives and are simple to service and repair.
Rim brakes have some weaknesses, however. Because they rub on the rims, they gradually wear the rims, which may damage them in time. Also, muddy and wet conditions rapidly wear rim-type brake pads and also reduce gripping power, sometimes significantly.
For these reasons, many off-road bikes today come with disc brakes, which grip a disc attached to the center of the wheel and work similar to some car brakes. These are hardly affected by wet and muddy conditions (so you don't lose braking power) and they don't wear the rims so your wheels will last longer. Some models even utilize hydraulics for awesome modulation, stopping power and reliability.
Like the brake pads on rim brakes, disc-brakes have brake pads (sometimes called shoes), that wear, too, however, these tend to last longer and hold up far better in muddy and wet conditions so your braking never fades and the pads don't need replacing as often. Plus, with hydraulic discs, there are no cables to worry about so with just a little simple maintenance you have amazing brakes always at the ready.
Mountain bikes come with impressively reliable wheels and tires that are designed to withstand the rigors of off-road riding. The rims are wide and shaped for optimum strength. And they're protected by fat tires containing a good cushion of air that prevents impacts from damaging the rims/wheels. Rider weight, terrain and technique are also factors in how long off-road wheels last. With just a little care, they'll run true for years.
Our MTB tires are spec'd by the manufacturer to handle the way they believe you'll ride that bike. So, a rigid mountain bike, which they think will see road and off-road use, might come with a dual-purpose tread that rolls smoothly on pavement but also delivers a decent dirt grip.
You won't ride much if your bike doesn't feel right, which is why we spend time checking you to make sure you're on the perfect frame size before we start recommending bicycles. Three other important considerations are your contact points with the bike, the handlebars, seat and pedals.
We hope this overview helps you pick out a great new mountain bike. Feel free to surf around and kick some virtual knobbies on our website. And, please contact us if you have questions about anything in this article or anything else bicycle related.