ADVENTURE BEGINS WHERE THE PAVEMENT ENDS!
It should not come as a surprise that we LOVE biking, mountain biking (MTB) to be specific. Living in such a mountain biking hub we work with loads of folks who share our passion. However, this summer we have had a lot of curious clients asking about getting into the sport and what to look for when buying a bike. We tapped our resident bike expert (my husband) to get his advice on what to consider when looking for a new bike. Whether this is your first bike or you are adding to your fleet we hope these tips help you gain confidence AND excitement when looking for your perfect ride.
SO YOU WANT TO GET A MOUNTAIN BIKE...
Using What You Have
First off, I'd keep in mind that people have been biking gnarly stuff on ill-fitting, heavy, rigid bikes for a few decades now. The adage, "the best bike is the one you've got" applies somewhat to mountain bikes except that there's some limit where a bike is so completely outclassed that 1) you can't keep up with friends on modern equipment and 2) you're at more risk of injury owing to the unforgiving nature of older stuff.
The above factors are a bigger deal for mountain bikes than road/hybrid/cruiser bikes because of the forces being applied with roots, rocks, drops, and all that. All that to say that it's perfectly fine (and in some circles, admired) to pull an ancient steel MTB out of the garage and go for a rip but doing so will present shortcomings that become more evident as trails increase in technicality, distance, and steepness.
If the increased capability, safety, and not being called "that guy or gal" on the trail is sufficient rationale for you to consider something modern, let's talk about options.
Price Versus Performance
When buying your first MTB, you'll be simultaneously shocked and skeptical of the prices you see listed. Surely a $6k bike doesn't provide that much improvement over a $2k bike, right? Well, yeah, sort of. MTBs fit the bill for the rule of diminishing returns. Imagine a line chart that shows steep initial gains in "performance" along the y-axis but tapers off horizontally as you move along "price" on the x-axis. As you spend more, there is less performance gain per dollar.
Most everyone who's new to mountain biking should buy something in the early parts of that chart where the price to performance ratio (bang for your buck) is optimized. You're avoiding the very early section of bikes (low cost, low performance) because they're flat-out shitty with irreplaceable components made in sketchy factories. Think Walmart bikes. You're avoiding the tail of the chart because you, as a beginner (and possibly for your entire biking journey unless you start racing), have no reason to spend 5x per part in order to drop a few grams off your overall weight (this is also only reasonable if your bodyweight is already at its peak of output relative to weight).
What else should you consider at this phase? Resale. If you're like most new mountain bikers, you will replace your first bike within two years once you've honed in on your style of riding and component-specific needs. Resale value is driven by 1) brand reputation/reliability and 2) technology modernity.
OK, so -- we're looking for high bang for your buck while also having strong resale value owing to being a popular brand with somewhat modern tech.
Do You Need a Full Sus (And what in the world is Travel)?
Maybe. It's important to know that suspension comes in varying degrees of "travel" (the amount of movement allowed based on actual length of the stanchion) for both the fork and the rear shock. There are even full suspension gravel bikes that have small amounts of travel to eat up vibration (rather than absorb large compressing factors from drops or biking into roots).
The spectrum of suspension (in increasing order) goes: rigid (no sus front or rear), XC aka Cross Country (80-120mm travel), all mountain (120-150mm travel), enduro (150-180mm travel), downhill (~180+ travel). The travel number can be the same for front and rear (on a full sus) or different, but typically within 20mm.
You can look up pictures of those categories to get a better sense of how they compare, but basically, suspension travel increases with 'slackness' of geometry in order to keep a rider further back relative to the bike's center of mass. The idea being that as you go down steeper and more technical terrain, you gotta get that booty back to avoid being launched over the handlebars. Also, and this is key, increases in suspension in slackness correspond to worse (less efficient) climbing! Biking uphill with massive amounts of suspension is like trying to run up a sand dune.
There's an important caveat to mention here: modern suspension always has a dial that allows you to reduce or increase the amount of compression to allow for. That allows you to almost lock it in a way that feels rigid in order to have an efficient uphill experience (some suspension, typically the expensive stuff, has an actual 'Lockout' feature that truly makes it rigid). But, you're still subject to the physics of the bike being slack in geometry and all that so it's still never fun to bike an enduro or downhill bike uphill. That's why downhill biking uses ski lifts and why enduro races do not measure your time pedaling uphill.
What's the deal with hardtails, then? Think of them as having zero travel in the rear with a variable amount in the front (typically 80 - 140 mm). What's that mean? The stiff rear is better for climbing but less forgiving, requiring more finesse when finding lines and generally avoiding slamming your wheel in any direction (also, you'll really feel the brake bumps that your pesky full-sus friend won't notice). Having a non-dynamic frame triangle (the actual frame of the bike where you have waterbottle cages) also means it's easier to get a framebag and there's less stuff to break, making hardtails much more suitable for bikepacking and biking in remote destinations. They're also lighter due to less hardware and being constructed to be less beefy. Finally, they will pedal more efficiently in all contexts because there's no 'bob' to the pedal stroke. Oh, and they're cheaper!
Getting to the point
If you want a single mountain bike to do it all, including roots, rocky stuff, gnar-gnar a la drops and kickers, and generally don't want to feel like your bike is holding you back, get an All-Mountain Full Sus. This is especially true for anyone in loamy/rooty terrain like the wet part of the PNW or New England (or who plans to travel there frequently).
If you are in a drier place with sandier, likely flatter terrain without many roots to bump your rear around (like Bend) then consider either an All-Mountain Full-Sus, XC Full-Sus, or Hardtail with 100 - 140mm of fork travel. The hardtail being the best option if your focus is more on bikepacking than on ripping descents.
If the prices scare you for the Full-Sus options or you aren't certain that mountain biking is for you, buy a Hardtail or even a rigid MTB.
That's pretty much it as far as suspension goes. Don't buy an enduro or downhill bike unless you're absolutely certain that's the type of biking you'll be doing.
TL;DR -- What You Should Look For
Here are the key attributes to look for in your new bike:
The right size
The appropriate amount of suspension (or lack thereof) for your needs
A well-known brand that manufactures in Taiwan (where all quality modern bikes come from with the exception of small US and Canadian boutique framemakers)
An air suspension fork (as opposed to coil) made by either RockShox, Fox, or Manitou
29" or 27.5" wheels (the latter is also called 650b)
A dropper post (easy to add after, but a mark of a decent quality bike when browsing)
A drivetrain that is either 1x11 or 1x12 (the latter being preferred)
If you go hardtail, a solid entry-level model will be around $1,200 while a medium-range option with minimal upgrades needed in the next few years is $2k. This new bike from Canyon is a great example, having a package at each of those price points: https://www.canyon.com/en-us/mountain-bikes/trail-bikes/stoic/
If full suspension, the entry price is around $2,500 with modern parts and often gets up to $4k for medium-range builds! The YT Jeffsy is regarded as a great option (it also comes in multiple packages that increase in both price and performance): https://us.yt-industries.com/detail/index/sArticle/378/sPreview/1?number=101385
You could also head over to your local bike shop with the above criteria in mind and find plenty of good options. The big brands (Specialized, Trek, Giant, etc) will cost more than YT and Canyon because the latter are direct to consumer (D2C). The perk of buying non-D2C is that you get to test ride, support a local shop, and often will get a lifetime discount around 10% at the shop you purchase a bike from.
A Note on Buying Used
Used is totally great but bring along someone with an eye for component wear as overhaul/replacement costs will be:
Suspension $150 - $1,500
Brakes $150 - $400
Drivetrain $100 - $1,000
Wheels $150 - $700
WORKOUT OF THE WEEK
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SHEJUMPS WOMEN'S WEDNESDAYS GROUP RIDE!
July 27, 2022
Crowsfeet is partnering up with SheJumps for and monthly ladies only MOUNTAIN BIKE group ride! All levels of shred and stoke are welcome to join the party!
-When: Every last Wednesday of the month meeting at 5:30pm -Where: Crowsfeet, a Mountain Collective (Part of the Embark Coworking Community Buildling). -What to be prepared for: A 1.5-2 hour MOUNTAIN BIKE group ride leaving from Crowsfeet and ripping around the trails of Phils or shuttling to a different location to ride. These rides are "no drop" and we will split into smaller groups if needed to make sure everyone is feeling supported and having a great time! Beers from Bend Brewing and snacks will be provided by She Jumps and Crowsfeet! -Extra things: Don't have a bike but want to try out mountain biking with a rad group of women? No worries, we want you to still join us! Call Crowsfeet the day of the ride to secure your demo bike!
OH WHAT A FEELING!
When you finally purchase that new bike, you'll likely feel just like Kermit above! Ready to take the leap? Have more questions or want training tips? Reach out today! 🏔➕🚵🏻 = 😁,
Nicole and the OMPT team Want workouts specific to your activity? Reach out for a customized plan. Is there a particular sport or activity you'd like us to highlight? If so, please click here to give us your ideas!