Choosing a Mountain Bike – Things to Consider

Mountain Bikes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, tailored to meet the ability, riding styles, and budgets of anyone looking to get out on the trails. For someone just getting started, it can be incredibly confusing, and even frustrating, trying to figure out which bike is the right one for you. This post will provide some guidance, and a place to get you started. However, the best advice I can give is to talk with a knowledgeable person at a reputable bike shop (NOTE: Not all bike shop personnel are knowledgeable). A knowledgeable person will know the features of the models of bikes they sell and can give you more specifics than I can in a single post. Also, buying a bike will not be the last time you interact with your bike shop (think periodic tune-ups, fixes, and maybe upgrades). So, getting chummy with them is not a bad idea.

WHAT’S YOUR BUDGET?:

The first question to ask is how much are you willing to spend. It is important to understand that it is not just the cost of the bike. If you are new to cycling, you may also need to buy accessories like a helmet, riding shoes, padded shorts, water bottles, bike rack, and pedals (WAIT… WHAT… My bike won’t come with pedals! In most cases, higher-end bikes do not come with pedals with the assumption that higher-end riders have their own preferences. And if it does come with pedals, they are just the basic pedals that came on your Huffy when you were a kid, and you will want to change them out, anyway).

Assuming you are not just looking to buy a bike from Target, Most Bike Manufacturers offer Mountain Bikes from a few hundred dollars to, in some cases, over $10,000. If you are reading this post, you probably don’t need a $10,000 ride. However, if your budget allows, you may consider spending anywhere between one to three thousand for a bike that you will be able to keep around for a while, as your skill level increases.

The reason prices vary so dramatically is due to the type of components on the bike, and the material the frame is made of. We will get into these later. For now, know what price range you are looking for. No sense in “Jones’ing” for that bike you would need to remortgage your house to even consider.

WHAT’S YOUR RIDING STYLE?:

What type of terrain are you planning to ride and what is your skill-level. This is important because, these days, Mountain Bikes are designed for specific types of riding and conditions.

TRAIL – Most people just getting into Mountain Biking will want to consider a Trail Bike. These are general-purpose bikes that will ride nicely on everything from dirt roads to singletrack. These generally come in hardtail (front suspension) or full-suspension (front and rear suspension)

CROSS-COUNTRY – These Mountain Bikes are fast and nimble. They are for those looking to compete. They ascend and corner well. However, their clearance and build are not suited for technical rock-gardens or jumps

ALL MOUNTAIN – With heavier built frames and beefier and longer suspension, these Mountain Bikes are built for more technical terrain. They are well suited for steep technical downhill. But, due to their relative weight, are not as fast on the ascent as other categories. This can be overcome with carbon frames and lighter components if you are willing to spend the money.

FREERIDE – If you want to just go downhill fast and jump high… this is the ride for you. Think skier on two wheels. People who Freeride, are often hitting the ski slopes during off season, and are being shuttled to the top. Ascending a Freeride bike is not going to be efficient.

FATTY – A fast growing market in the Mountain Bike Arena are bikes with Fat Tires. These were initially designed to be ridden on snow and sand. However, recent designs are equally as comfortable on trails. Similar to a 4×4 with bloated tires, these rides roll over obstacles, and due to more surface area, grip better than traditional MTB tires. They also provide more cushion, minimizing the need for additional suspension (although, some designs still have it). However, this is not a fast bike, and will be extremely inefficient on hard, smooth surfaces.

HARDTAIL OR FULL-SUSPENSION?:

HARDTAIL – Hardtails are called so due to the fact that they have no suspension in the rear. These are generally cheaper than Full-Suspension bikes. Also, all things being equal, can be more efficient on the ascent.

FULL-SUSPENSION – These bikes have suspension in the front and the rear. This results in a more comfortable ride and reduces fatigue. An other benefit is that, due to less bounce, there is typically more tire contact with the trail. In the past, there was a significant drawback to full-suspension bikes. They were less efficient on the ascent, and one gave up a little control on cornering. These days, these types of bikes provide ways to adjust the amount of suspension (and even lock it out) depending on the conditions you are riding on.

WHAT SIZE WHEEL?:

Want to start an all out ruckus? Stand in the middle of the parking lot of your local Bike Park and yell, “29′ers RULE!!!!”. One of the most heated debates on every MTB Forum, these days, is what size MTB wheel is best. The most common, as of the writing of this post (it’s anybody’s guess where this is going to end up) are 26″, 27.5″, and 29″ wheels. For years, the only size available was 26″. Then, a few years ago 29′ers started showing up on the trails. The argument was that they roll over obstacles easier than 26″ wheels. Also, they hold their momentum longer. Immediately, the battle began between the 26′ers and the 29′ers. Every MTB forum was heating-up with the debate as to which is better. Then, to add fuel to the fire, MTB Manufacturers started offering 27.5″ wheels. Since this is not an article about which is better, I will default to this article from Bike Magazine as a point of reference ( http://www.bikemag.com/news/exclusive-war-of-the-wheel-sizes/ )

FRAME MATERIAL:

Bike frames come in a variety of materials. The things you want to consider are: durability, flexibility, weight, and cost.

STEEL – It used to be that steel frames, while providing good durability and flex, were too heavy. These days, manufacturers are making some relatively lighter steel frames that now nearly eliminate the weight concern. However, the lighter, higher-end steel frames do come at a cost

ALUMINUM – Aluminum frames are significantly lighter than Steel. Also, aluminum frames are relatively affordable. The down side of aluminum is that it is very stiff and lacks flexibility. This can beat up a rider pretty quickly. If you are considering aluminum, also consider full-suspension.

CARBON – Carbon bikes are both light and durable. They also provide a lot of flex. In the past, durability was the concern of carbon MTB’s. However, these days, they are making very durable carbon bikes. As you can imagine… this comes at a premium cost

TITANIUM – The creme de la creme of frame materials is Titanium. Titanium is durable, flexible, and light. However, be prepared to empty your wallet. If you are reading this post, you probably don’t need Titanium.

COMPONENTS

There are really two major players in the Mountain Bike component market… Shimano and SRAM. Both manufacturers offer differing levels of components from entry-level to top-of-the-line. Bike manufacturers will often mix these levels on a particular bike (ex: XTR rear derailleur and Deore XT front derailleur), to fit a bike into a particular price market. What you get with the higher level components is lighter and more durable products that don’t need to be tuned as often.

SUMMARY

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when looking to purchase a Mountain Bike. As mentioned earlier, talk with you local bike shop. Also, most reputable shops will allow you to demo bikes. This is probably the best way to see which bike is most comfortable. Regardless of all the other factors, the best bike is the one that is comfortable. a comfortable bike is a bike that gets ridden. Which brings up a final point. Consider getting your bike fitted. $100 – $300 may seem like a lot. But, a professional fitter will adjust your bike to your body and you will be amazed at the difference.

So, I hope this post was helpful. See you out on the trail!!!

A Look At Some Of The More Common Mountain Bike Designs

Mountain bikes are designed for off-road riding. Whether made for racing or the more leisurely rider, there are four basic frame designs for mountain bikes: rigid, hard-tail, soft-tail, and full suspension.

The rigid (also commonly known as fully rigid) mountain bikes resemble a conventional sort of bike as you would imagine it. A rigid mountain bike has neither a rear suspension nor a front suspension. These used to be the most common kind of mountain bike but they are rapidly being replaced by the more comfortable models which feature some sort of suspension system. Fully rigid bikes tend to be lower-priced than models with a suspension. Many riders still prefer rigid bikes because it’s what they’re accustomed to, and the feel that the rigid design allows them greater control.

Another common mountain bike design is the hard-tail. Hard-tail mountain bikes are so named because they have a conventional rear end without a suspension. Hard-tails differ from fully rigid bikes in that they have a front suspension. The hard-tail is perhaps the most popular mountain bike design. Many professional riders prefer the feel of a hard-tail and the comfort of a front suspension.

The next kind of mountain bike design is the soft-tail. As you probably guessed, soft-tails employ a rear suspension. Rear suspensions are a more recent innovation than front suspension due to the complexities of the design. Soft-tails are often more expensive than hard-tails, but they also tend to be more forgiving.

Finally there’s the full suspension mountain bike. Bikes with this design feature both front and rear suspensions. These bikes are the latest mountain bike design. For a long time riders avoided full suspension bikes because they were heavy and they tended to sag in the middle like an old swayback horse. It took years for engineers and riders to perfect a viable, functional full suspension mountain bike. It was in the 1990’s when these bikes finally reached a point where they were marketable.

In addition to the frame and suspension, there are other differences in mountain bike designs. One key area where bikes differ is the brakes. Mountain bikes either have some form of caliper brakes, which are the kind of brakes typically associated with bikes. This kind of brake squeezes the rims to slow and stop the bike. The other type of brake is the drum brake. Drum brakes on bikes are similar to the braking system on automobiles. Drum brakes are more expensive than caliper brakes but they’re also easier to maintain. Mountain bike braking systems have even been made which utilize hydraulic power.

Another area where you have some choice in mountain bike design is tire size. Mountain bike tires typically range in size from 24″ to 29″. Smaller tires are used when greater maneuverability is required as in stunt-riding and jumping. Larger tires are used when speed is the key.

As with any other important purchase, do your homework before buying a new mountain bike. Think about your needs and your budget. Mountain biking is a terrific past-time. It’s a fun way to get some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors, and improve your health.

Tips For Hill Climbing on a Mountain Bike

Mountain bike riding is a popular pastime and sport for many Americans. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, 28.5 percent of the bicycles sold by specialty bicycle shops in 2008 were mountain bikes. But it is a good bet that few of these riders consider actual mountain bike climbing to be their favorite part of the sport.

Climbing hills, particularly steep hills, is an activity that most riders approach with dread. They know from hard, painful, sometimes humiliating experience that mountain bike climbing leads to the agony of defeat much more often than it leads to the thrill of victory. With the right strategy, however, hill climbing can be done efficiently, without causing undue hardship to the bike or to the body.

Three Ingredients of a Successful Bike Climb

Biking enthusiast Ken Kifer says that there are three ingredients of successful mountain bike climbing:

1. Physical strength of the rider
2. Proper gear selection for the climb
3. Hill climbing strategy employed

Assuming that most people who participate in such a rugged sport as mountain biking are physically fit, the first ingredient should not pose too great an issue. If it is a problem, some rough and tumble rides up and down various hills for a few weeks should eliminate this obstacle.

Items 2 and 3, however, are not quite so easy to master. However, before these aspects are even attempted, one must choose the correct type of bike

Choosing the Correct Type of Bike

There’s a vast difference between a road bike and a mountain bike and not knowing this difference-and perhaps making the wrong choice-can make mountain bike climbing nearly impossible.

In general, one can tell the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike by considering two factors-the framing and tires of the bikes.

Framing.

Because road bikes are built for speed, they typically have lighter frames than do mountain bikes. By contrast, the heavier frames of mountain bikes house suspension systems that are built to withstand the frame-jarring shocks of rough terrains.

Tires.

Road bikes have thinner, smoother tires. The tires of mountain bikes, however, are broad with a significant amount of traction to handle rough terrains.

The Final Ingredients

The final two ingredients-proper gear selection and hill climbing strategy-are indispensable parts of each other. Both are essential ingredients of successful mountain bike climbing. Both involve strategy. And the uses of both are dependent on the different types of hills.

Mountain Bike Climbing Up Different Types of Hills

Most hills or mountains fall into three categories. Each category brings its own unique set of challenges. But each different type of hill can be conquered-with the proper strategy.

1.The concave hill is steepest as the top. Such a hill appears to get taller as the rider approaches.
2. A convex hill is steepest at the bottom. This type of a hill appears to get shorter as the rider approaches.
3. An even grade hill has a sloped, even rise.

To make mountain bike climbing even more challenging, some hills can be a combination of all three types and some can be part of a series of hills. Some can even be mountains. The strategies for climbing the different types of hills must be considered in relation to whether one is climbing an isolated hill, a series of hills, or a mountain, as the strategy is different for each.

This article will address the strategy for mountain bike climbing up an isolated hill.

Climbing an Isolated Hill

An isolated hill is one that “stands alone” without any surrounding hills. The strategy employed in climbing same will depend upon whether the hill is convex or concave.

Convex Hills.

Climbing any hill takes power and speed, two components that must gradually be increased upon approaching a hill. For a convex hill (one that is steeper at the bottom), the timing and the speed of the ascent must be nearly perfect. As odd as it may sound, the way to accelerate up a convex hill is to shift down. This provides more power for the climb. But timing is everything when using this method. Downshift too soon, and exhaustion will plague the rider even before reaching the hill. Downshift too late, and climbing the hill can be too labor intensive.

Concave Hills.

Concave hills are steeper at the apex and, as such, require a different strategy than do convex hills. Two key factors to this strategy are keeping the speed steady, thus conserving energy, at the start the climb. As the hill becomes steeper, the downshifting should begin.

Another strategy to mountain bike climbing of a concave hill is to stand up on the pedals, which creates a more powerful cycle. When standing, make sure the full body is evenly distributed on both pedals. This will create sufficient power to overcome the hill.

A Few Tips for General Technique

One’s pedaling technique is also an important factor in successful mountain bike climbing. The right placement of the feet can have a huge impact on the amount of effort expended while climbing the hill. The feet should be positioned properly and the heel should be kept parallel to the ground. (If the toes are pointed down, the muscular contractions of the leg are minimized which will affect the speed and the stamina of the rider.)

Another point to consider is the cadence of the ride. (Cadence is the number of times that the pedal is rotated, on either side, per minute of cycling.) Aiming for a steady cadence is a healthy goal, whether the surface is flat or is on a hill. Cycling at a cadence of 85 to 105 is an optimum level.

When mountain bike climbing, one’s power to climb the hill will be increased at a higher cadence while downshifting to a lower gear. The effort on the pedal, however, should remain the same on both the upstroke and the down stroke. Maintaining the same amount of pressure throughout the whole pedaling cycle will create a more even stroke, which can help to maintain the energy level needed to climb the hill.

The View from the Top

Mountain bike climbing is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength, stamina, and good technique. But with these tips, you should be able to see the view from the top of the hill (or mountain) sooner than your friends!