Breaking into the world of mountain biking can be a daunting task for someone who wants to buy their first bike. There are a few factors you should consider before you go out and buy a bike at your local department store. Do you want to go fully rigid, hardtail, or full suspension? Do you want clipless pedals or flats? How many gears do I want? By answering these questions, you’ll be able to choose the perfect bike.
The first thing you should research before buying a mountain bike is the terrain where you will be riding. Will you be shredding flowy downhill sections with moderate climbs peppered in, or will you be powering through rock gardens on mostly flat terrain? It could also be a mix of both. If you are going to be riding primarily flowy single tracks with a lot of climbing involved, you will want to go with a rigid or hardtail bike to maximize your climbs. With a full suspension bike, you’ll be losing ground each time you pedal and compress your rear shock, which will make your climbs much more labor intensive. If you plan on riding in rocky terrain, a full suspension bike is going to be your best friend. New suspension technology makes riding a mountain bike feel like you are driving a luxury car.
One of the biggest learning curves I experienced when I got serious about mountain biking was learning how to unclip from my pedals. The pros to clipless pedals heavily outweigh the cons. You can feel a dramatic difference in climbs by being able to pull and push with each pedal stroke, essentially doubling your output while you climb. You also have much more control over your bike since you are clipped in and attached to the pedals. Being clipped in is a double-edged sword, and results in the only downside to clipless pedals. If you are not familiar with unclipping, you will easily topple over whenever you go to put your foot down without properly rotating out of the clips. Once you are over the learning curve, you will never go back to flats.
There are a few different options when it comes to the gears on your mountain bike. It seems like most major bike manufacturers are producing one-by mountain bikes in 2017. The mentality behind this transition comes from the idea that most people don’t use all the gears on a 27-speed bike. By eliminating the extra chainrings, bike companies are also able to make bikes lighter. My advice to beginners is to always have more gears. When you’re out on the trail, you may need that extra low gear to get back to your car. As you gain experience, you may find that you no longer need the added weight and opt to convert to a one-by. If you are really feeling adventurous, you could convert your bike to a single-speed, but at that point, I feel like riding is more of a chore than something you are enjoying.
Mountain biking is a great way to spend time outdoors while still getting an intense workout in. The mountain biking community is an accepting and fun crowd that is always up for the next adventure. Do yourself a favor and find your nearest mountain biking club so you’ll never have to ride alone.