Not every biker wants to be restricted to pavement or city streets. If you plan on tackling rough terrain on your bike ride, then you need a mountain bike. The sport of mountain biking came about in the 1970s, with the invention of the mountain bicycle following shortly after.
In this article, you will learn what a mountain bike is and how it differs from other bikes. You will also learn the key components of a mountain bicycle, guidelines for sizing, and how your bike will change once it is broken in. Finally, you will see several mountain bike reviews for bicycles in different price ranges.
This list will include the best beginner mountain bikes, the best cheap mountain bikes, and the best mountain bikes of 2016.
A mountain bike is a classification for a bicycle designed to ride off-road. This can include anything from woodsy paths to mountainous terrain. These types of bicycles are designed with the parts necessary to handle rougher riding. They can easily tackle loose sand and gravel, steep inclines and declines, rocky terrain, ruts, mountains, boulders, logs, drop-offs, and more.
Mountain bikes are different from hybrid bikes and road bikes for several reasons. First, they have a frame that is more upright than other bicycle types. This is so you can sit more upright, and see and tackle obstacles better that may be on your course. The frame is also more forgiving, which allows you to remain comfortable as you ride.
Another major difference is the tires on the bike. Mountain bikes use wider tires with more traction than those found on other bicycle types. This allows them to handle different terrain types better. In addition, the wider, thicker tires make your bike less susceptible to flats.
Finally, mountain bikes have a higher clearance than others. This high clearance allows them to tackle obstacles such as logs, rugs, and rocks.
When you are choosing a bicycle, you should find the size that is appropriate for your height. However, with mountain bikes, the length of the frame is also something that should be considered.
The first thing to remember is that you should have between one and two inches of clearance when you stand over the top tube of the bike frame.
You should also account for the length of the bike. When the handlebars are positioned at or near the same level as your seat, you should be able to sit upright without stretching too far or feeling as if you must hunch over.
If you are still at a loss as to the appropriate mountain bike size for you, here are some general guidelines that will help you determine the right size based on your height. If the bike does not have a comfortable fit, you may need to go a size up or size down, depending on the length of the frame and your arm length.
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The “breaking in” period of your mountain bike will usually last around 30 days. This may change depending on how frequently you ride your mountain bike, as well as the distances that you ride it. During this period, you will need to break in the disc brake and gears.
When these components are fresh out of the box, they may squeak or work a little rougher than they will once you have broken them in. At the end of this thirty day period, be sure to take your mountain bike into a bike shop for the proper adjustments and re-lubing of certain parts.
The amount you spend on a beginner mountain bike will affect its quality. Make sure to take this into account before making your decision. This section will review the best cheap mountain bikes, the best beginner mountain bikes, and more.
Some of this bicycle’s features include:
For the affordable price, the manufacturer did not choose cheap parts for this bike. The gears and shifters are of high quality, and allow you to travel at 21 different speeds. This is perfect if you plan on riding up- and downhill on paths.
However, it is important to note that this best mountain bike under $200 only comes with a single-pivot suspension frame. If you plan on jumping or tackling tougher environments, it may not be able to withstand as well as you would hope.
Another notable thing about this bike is the frame. It comes with an aluminum frame, which is not quite as forgiving as steel. However, its slight rigidity allows it to be sturdy enough to support tall or heavy frames. Additionally, it is very durable.
There are two different things to take into consideration before purchasing this bike. First, the seat is narrower. This can be very uncomfortable, especially if you are a tall or heavy guy that chose this bike for its sturdy, durable frame.
This, however, should be expected from a lower-priced bike and the seat can easily be upgraded to a more comfortable model.
The second thing to keep an eye on is the brakes. After a few rides, the V-brakes that come with this model may become loose. These can easily be tightened, however, so it is not too much of a problem. Overall, this is an excellent choice for the price you are paying.
Some of this bicycle’s features include:
This mountain bike is a great option if you want a sturdy, lightweight ride. The aluminum frame is designed to be comfortable and comes in a stylish, electric blue color. While it is marketed for men, some women may also be satisfied with the price and performance of this bike.
The wheels are a notable feature, as they work very well to go over rough terrain and obstacles. The brakes and shifters also work well, offering quick response and smooth shifting. The other thing to mention is that the positioning of the gears make them very easy to use as you are riding up- and downhill.
One downside to this bike is that the frame is not designed as comfortable as some others on the market. It may not absorb bumps quite as well as some riders would like. Additionally, this bike is not made for extreme mountain biking, unless you make several upgrades first.
Some of its features include:
The 2015 Overdrive Mountain Bike comes with a sturdy, aluminum frame. Even though aluminum is generally associated with a more rigid ride, the design of the frame, custom butted tubing, and suspension fork allows for it to be very forgiving as you ride across rocks, cracks, gravel, and more.
The Shimano drive-train and shifters are another great feature of this bike. The high-quality components work as well as you would expect them to, smoothly shifting as you climb mountain trails. Additionally, the Tektro disc brakes have a great response time and allow you to brake quickly, even with the high speeds that the Overdrive bicycle can reach.
Additionally, this bike comes with 29” wheels. The large wheels are perfect to tackle obstacles and they offer the traction you need to climb steeper terrain.
One thing to mention about this contender for the best mountain bikes under $500 is that it may need professional assembly. The instructions are not very clear, and those without any previous experience assembling beginner mountain bikes may need assistance. Additionally, the seat is slightly uncomfortable for longer rides and you may want to replace it.
Some of its features include:
This particular bike comes with an aluminum frame. While steel is favored for offering a more comfortable and forgiving ride than aluminum, especially for tough terrain, the geometry of the frame makes up for it.
This trail bike absorbs bumps easily and offers a smooth ride, though this is also affected by the suspension fork. It also offers the added benefits of being more lightweight and weather-resistant, as aluminum is.
Another great thing about this bike is the hardware components. The Diamondback company chose high-quality parts for the shifters, derailleurs, chainring, and bike. They offer an excellent response time and allow you to shift and brake with ease. The 24 speeds makes tackling any mountain trail an option.
While this bike is packed with great features, it is important to consider how you will be using it in the future before purchase. This is a great beginner bike, however, the suspension fork is not designed for large jumps or downhill runs.
The company even warns against this on the packaging. If you plan on using your beginner mountain bike for rougher riding in the future, therefore, this may not be the best option.
This bicycle’s features include:
The first advantage of choosing this bike is its incredible frame. Even being aluminum, the full suspension and fork allow it to absorb bumps and other obstacles for a comfortable ride. It is also lightweight and durable.
This bicycle is in the rankings as one of the best mountain bikes of 2016 for several other reasons as well. It also has high-quality components, including the forks, shocks, derailleurs, shifters, and brakes. Every one of these components operates as it should and allows you to tackle rough terrain easily. The widest and great traction of the wheels is another notable feature that lets you roll over obstacles smoothly.
The only thing to consider before purchasing is that you may want to replace the front fork if you plan on doing extremely rough riding. This is because the front fork is a spring shock instead of air. Either way, this best mountain bike under $1,000 is a steal with all of the high-quality components that are included.
Mountain bicycles, also known as all-terrain bicycles, are primarily designed for off-road cycling. As such, they are generally hardier and have features that can help them cope with rough terrain and still perform well. This includes easily navigating rocks, logs, and loose sand or gravel, as well as many other types of ground and obstacles.
This is achievable thanks to suspension frames and forks, heavy duty wheels that don’t easily tear, tires with a better and knobbier grip, and low gear ratios.
If you are interested in purchasing a mountain bike but aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry! The mountain bike world can be confusing due to all the types and features offered. That’s why we have put together a comprehensive guide to give you an idea of what to expect from mountain bikes and how to choose one that suits your needs.
There are several types of mountain bikes. This section deals with the common varieties.
The most common kind of mountain bike is the cross-country bicycle. This may be due to the fact that cross-country cycling is the only type of mountain biking that is performed during the Olympics.
Cross-country bikes place users in position that is of medium uprightness. They are one of the lightest forms of mountain bike, weighing in at between 7-16 kg, with a good amount of suspension in both the front and sometimes the rear – and with at least 100mm of suspension travel on each side.
Although cross-country bikes began with a 26” wheel model, with the improvement of frames and their sturdier structure with modernization and technology, some bikes now use the 27.5” or 29” wheel models as well.
Trail bicycles are made very similarly to cross-country bikes, but are more for recreational use than race use. They are between 11 and 15kg in weight and are focused on dealing with even tougher terrain that cross-country bikes thanks to better stability and less focus on weight. They can be used for uphill riding and downhill riding at percentages of 60-70% and 30-40% respectively.
Downhill bicycles are, as their name suggests, designed for downhill cycling on even very steep terrain. They are full suspension and focus on stability as well as durability, allowing them to safely ride on downhill terrain at fast speeds. They typically have very strong frames to allow for dropping and jumping over rocky terrain without suffering from the stress.
Downhill bikes have a lot of suspension travel, a high suspension sag, a thicker suspension fork, and very slack head tube angles which are highly adjustable. These bikes will also normally have long wheelbases, with this allowing them to have wheels of up to 3” thick. In addition, downhill bikes make use of hydraulic disc brakes and a chain guide on their drivetrain so that the chains do not come loose easily during rough rides.
Freeride bicycles are well-known and could be considered the most popular type of mountain bike due to the riding that is done with them. Essentially, freeriding entails performing tricks and putting an emphasis on style, speed, control, and trail features. A freeriding trail is the most creative one that can be achieved on a particular – usually unset – trail.
Freeride bikes are typically built smaller than downhill bikes despite many similarities between them, and they are fitted with rear suspension by the means of simple systems to allow uninterrupted suspension travel. These frames are usually lighter and use single-crown suspension forks to allow for a narrower steering diameter so tricks are more easily performed.
These bicycles also make use of one of three kinds of gearing – single speed, short range, and long range. More gears and larger rear rings allow for even slower gears for uphill climbing.
Dirt jumping bikes are often categorized alongside urban and street mountain bikes. A dirt jumping bike is a mix between a freeride bike and a BMX bike and usually has a hardtail construction and a rigid frame coupled with low seatposts and oversized handlebars. They often also have low bottom brackets, a certain amount of front suspension, and short chainstays in order to make the bike easier to maneuver. These features allow riders to perform tricks well.
Most Dirt Jumpers make use of single speed gears, often with no front brake but an extended rear brake cable so that the handle bars can spin without tangling them. Mountain bikes of this variety are usually smaller in size than other bikes and tend to use 24” or 26” wheels.
As their name states, single speed mountain bikes have one set gear ratio which is determined by a chosen terrain, the size of the bike, and the strength and experience of the user. These gears are not adjustable. Most of these bikes are rigid and are made for those with a lot of skill.
Generally, these bikes are cheaper, lighter, and have an efficient drivetrain, making them much simpler than other bicycles. They are usually focused on urban commuting and can work even better than multi-gears for this purpose due to no chain drag.
Of course, single speed bicycles are less versatile and are difficult to pedal on rougher terrain, and especially when going uphill. They can also be slower than other bikes due to the limited gearing.
North Shore bikes get their name from a suburb in Vancouver, British Columbia, a top spot for mountain biking thanks to the challenging and steep terrain. Therefore, the tricks and stunts done with these types of bikes have more drops and descents.
These bikes essentially borrow many components from downhill bikes to handle the slopes and have frame geometry very similar to freeride bikes to allow for stunts. In order to navigate trails as difficult as the place they came from, North Shore bikes are usually easily to maneuver, lightweight, and very nimble with a good amount of suspension travel.
Slopestyle bicycles are a mix of freeride bikes and Dirt Jumpers, the latter of which they share a similar geometry to. These types of bicycles are almost always used by professionals who specialize in the slopestyle discipline of biking, which involves a lot of big jumps at a fast pace. They were designed specifically for the sport.
Slopestyle bikes have around 4” of both front and rear suspension travel, with slack head angles, sturdy frames and incorporate many of the features of Dirt Jumpers and freeride bikes in order to be able to deal with high impact tricks and the high speeds at which they travel. They can also be used for downhill trail riding.
No one buys a bicycle with the intention of replacing it within a few months. That is why it’s important to properly care for and maintain a mountain bicycle so that it doesn’t suffer too much from wear and tear. Here’s a guide on how to perform maintenance on your mountain bike.
Washing is an extremely important part of bike maintenance because dirt acts like sandpaper on moving objects that it touches. An unwashed bike is more susceptible damage and suffering from wear and tear. Washing your bike should be a regular routine, perhaps weekly or after a certain number of rides, but definitely wash after a muddy or dirty trail!
Use a hose set to a normal pressure – not a high pressure! – and make sure to get every corner of the bike. To get into corners and stubborn small spaces, use strong brushes. It might be tedious, but make sure to spend time scrubbing important areas like the suspension components.
After washing, be sure to thoroughly lubricate the bike too! Moving parts like pivots and the seatpost need regular lubrication, or else they will be noisy and may not work properly.
It is important to carefully examine the frame of your bike every once in a while, to make sure no stress marks or signs of damage are visible on rockers or tubing. This includes checking pivots and bolts, even though it sounds like a bit of a drag!
Bolts are important to look over as they must be secure to prevent important components on the bike from moving, unstable rides, or slipping. As a routine, this should be done frequently, every three to five rides. Make sure to tighten any axles or bolts that appear to be loosening.
The chain and drivetrain are both very important for a mountain bicycle, and as such, they need to be maintained well. They are so vital that it is necessary that it is advisable that you clean and wash your chain after every single ride. The chain should also be lubricated very regularly, especially during warmer or drier periods of the year.
The chain should be checked before every ride, and if you spot bent teeth on the chain ring and cassette – or if the teeth are worn down – they need to be replaced to prevent further damage on other components. All of the chain-related components may eventually wear into each other as they break down, so you will likely have to change all of them if one shows signs of damage.
The suspension fork, when functioning incorrectly, can cause a lot of problems for your ride, so it’s important to check it after every ride. To do so, press the fork down. If it doesn’t bounce back in a smooth manner or if gets stuck, then there is probably a buildup of dirt preventing it from working properly.
It’s worth knowing that most suspension forks need special oil-based lubrication. You need to regularly change to oil, so check the oil pressure after a few rides. Oil should be changed every 20 to 30 hours of riding. You should also remember to clean the dust wiper seals on the fork. This will make them last much longer and be great for your mountain bike.
A mountain bike can’t run without wheels. Wheel rims need to be properly tuned and maintained so they do not become unsteady and rub against the brakes. Correctly set wheels will also ensure a uniform and consistent ride, which prevents wear and tear.
In order to make sure the wheels are working, elevate the bike and spin each wheel. Make sure they smoothly turn and do not wobble. If they do, then use a spoke wrench to fix this. If you notice that your wheel rims are dented or damaged, they should be replaced.
Every couple of rides, you should also make time to remove the wheels to clean out dirt from the hubs, and also to take a quick look at the bearings. There should be no cracks or obvious damage on the spokes or on the wheel rims.
Tires need attention too. Tire pressure should be checked before every ride, as bad pressure can result in damage. Inflate tires based on recommendations and needs for the terrain you are riding the bike on. If you have a newer bike with tubeless tires, then be aware that air will leak out over time, so it’s even more important not to skip the pre-ride check. Don’t forget to bring along a spare tube just in case!
Brakes, derailleur, and seat post cables – and all other cables on your mountain bike – should be in good condition. Frayed cables need instant replacement, or else they will result in shifting and braking problems that could be dangerous.
You will need to adjust cables frequently when you have new ones, but over time, they will slowly stretch and begin to stay where they need to. Tighten cables and reset them if needed. To learn how to do this properly, you will need to refer to your personal owner manual as each model may have a different format of doing this.
Which is best for mountain bikes: Hardtail, Full Suspension, or Rigid builds?
There is no set true answer for this. Many people stand by full suspension, but at the end of the day, it comes down to preference.
Hardtail bikes have solid frames with a front suspension fork, so they are like the most balanced option. This makes them great for technical riding, and they are not usually too expensive. Mounts can also be installed on the bike if you choose to need to attach luggage to the bike for long-distance travel.
These types of bikes are lightweight and as such do well climbing, so they are highly agile and can maneuver well. They also do not suffer from rear pedal-bob and the front fork makes sure that your wheels stay on the ground even while you rush over obstacles and bumps.
On the flip side, hardtail bikes are still not the cheapest on the market, even if they are more affordable than full suspension. The front fork may also experience compression on pedal strokes, which can cause some inconvenience. Plus, shock from obstacles go to the rider, making it a less comfortable ride and result in slower speeds on rough terrain.
On the other hand, full suspension bikes have flexible frames armed with suspension, and they are the common favorite. They can easily navigate obstacles and do well with even the fastest downhill rides. They also land better due to the springy suspension, making them more comfortable and safer while reducing stress on joints and back. Impact is easily absorbed as a result.
They promote better safety by preventing the loss of control due to obstacles, allowing wheels to stay firmly on the ground. If they lift off over obstacles, the suspension pushes them back into the ground.
With that being said, full suspension bikes are usually heavier and therefore may be harder to maneuver. They also suffer from pedal bob, and the flexibility of the frame can result in loss of energy as you pedal on flatter terrain, even with the innovation of suspension locks.. Prices are also usually higher and the frames are more complicated to keep track of and care for. You also cannot easily install mounts for bags.
Finally, rigid bikes have frames that are completely solid and have no front or rear suspension. This makes them ideal for better pedaling on hard bike trails and pavements. Rigid bikes are lightweight and therefore can climb more easily, and they don’t have a pedal-bob as there is no reaction from suspension to pedal movements.
Backpackers who use bicycles to get around – are usually quite fond of rigid bikes due to the fact that bike will not compress under the weight of cargo or luggage. As such, it’s fairly easy to find mounts of rigid bikes. They are also quite inexpensive and can be challenging to use, keeping your biking skill in top shape.
However, rigid bikes can bounce quite a lot on bumps and obstacles, making them a less proven choice for mountain biking. This can cause slipping, loss of traction, and a startling decline in efficiency. They are admittedly quite specialized and aren’t a common favorite.
Should I choose a bike with 26” wheels or 29” wheels?
Mountain bikes originally made use of 26” wheels, but as time has progressed, new 29” 700c wheels and tires have been incorporated into their makeup. Neither is better than the other, so choosing one is all about your needs.
26” wheels’ smaller circumference means that its rims are stronger and don’t deform or become damaged very easily. This means that they can easily take a bit of rough landing without suffering terribly from the impact. They are also easier to maneuver with precision, even at low speeds, and do very well in technical-riding competitions.
On top of that, the fact that 26” wheels are smaller means that they are also more lightweight, making them easier to use on uphill climbs and for getting to high speeds in an agile and fast way. As such, they offer great acceleration. And of course, the fact that they are the more common size means spares are never hard to find.
However, 26” wheels aren’t as stable as a bigger wheel would be, and being smaller also means that obstacles aren’t as easy to get over and can cause a slow-down. This sluggishness can be annoying in a competitive setting.
Meanwhile, 29” wheels are better for traction and stability thanks to their larger size and thicker rim that matches up with road bikes, or racing bikes. This is due to the longer contact between the tire and the ground, allowing for more grip.
There is also less rolling resistance, which means that once the wheels begin to turn, they travel better with each spin. This makes them great for racing and also for long-distance riding. In addition, due to the size of the wheels, obstacles are rolled over as they are hit at a shallow angle, so 29” wheels aren’t hindered by holes or rocks as much. The fact that they
Although 29” wheels are less durable than their smaller counterparts, modern bicycles counter that thanks to improved material strength and carbon fiber. With that being said, these wheels are still less durable and definitely more difficult to maneuver. 29” wheels are also heavier due to their size, so they are less nimble, and also take longer to pick up speed – especially on upward hills – so they can be slow for some.
In summary, if you want to quickly go over smoother, narrower trails with a lightweight bike or want strong wheels, especially on a downhill bike, then 26” might be the better bet. If you are more into easily getting through rough terrain and know you can hold momentum with minimal stops during rides, then a 29” wheel may be the right choice.
Should I choose a bike with a carbon frame or an aluminum frame?
Aluminum frames are definitely more traditional than carbon frames, but just because the latter seems more modern and new doesn’t mean that they both don’t have their pros and cons. Aluminum frames aren’t fully aluminum, per se – they are more than 95% aluminum mixed with other metals. Bikes use different kinds of alloys, with the most common being one easy to weld known as 6061.
Aluminum frames are very durable and are both light and stiff when made correctly. They can also handle damage better due to the fact that impact will likely only result in dents or bends which do not get in the way of usability. Generally, this is why aluminum frames are recommended for beginners. They are also more affordable.
With that being said, aluminum frames are also usually slightly heavier and harsher than the more modern carbon fiber iterations. This is due to the lack of vertical flex allowed by the material in conventional bike frames, so it will have to be compromised for with better tire width and pressure. In addition, modern technology allows for aluminum frames to be made in more unconventional forms.
On the other hand, carbon fiber frames are more modern. Once, they were known for being high end and difficult to afford, but as they have become more commonplace, they have begun to become less expensive.
Carbon fiber is versatile and can easily be shaped and formed into a wide variety of interesting conversions, and as such, is a go-to for many professionals. This means they are very lightweight and has different properties in different directions, so that the stiffness can be engineered to be more pliable where it needs to be.
The downside to carbon fiber is, firstly, the price, and secondly, the fact that impact is likely to shatter them. Although newer models have been able to improve durability, they are still less strong than aluminum frames. You will also have to be careful about not purchasing counterfeit carbon components, as these are of poor quality. Make sure to go to a legitimate dealer!
Hopefully, this guide has provided you with all of the information you need to purchase a beginner mountain bike.
You should now be ready to move forward with the knowledge of what a mountain bike is for, the individual components that make it run, and the sizing of the bicycle. Additionally, this article should have provided you with mountain bike reviews for the best beginner mountain bikes, the best cheap mountain bikes, and more.