With more and more bike racks popping up on cars, last week’s snow notwithstanding, it could mean time for a new toy or an upgrade. This time of year can be a good time to think about a bike purchase. Many bike shops are looking to boost sales around Memorial Day, so keep an eye out for deals as the holiday weekend approaches. Stores often also have a few of last year’s models in stock this time of year, and they’ll mark down prices substantially to unload them.
The mountain bike world can be a complicated one. Chain rings, tire sizes, hardtails, full-suspension, 29’ers, derailers, forks, travel, the terminology alone could make your head spin. Not to mention the few thousand dollar price range. Here are some things to consider.
What’s in a frame?
The first question any bike sales person is going to ask you is what kind of riding you plan on doing. More downhill intensive, gentle trail riding, steep climbing, there’s a bike for that. The first consideration is wether to go for a hardtail, dual-suspension or 29’er.
For an entry-level rider or someone not planning on riding aggressive downhill trails with drops and big rocks, a hardtail, or front-suspension, bike will likely be the best option. They come at a lower price point, and are more efficient to pedal than a dual-suspension. Meaning you don’t lose as much effort pedaling a hard tail as you would a dual-suspension.
“You can get a lighter bike with higher components in a hardtail,” says Scott Wescott, owner of Wilderness Sports in Dillon and Frisco. The drawback is that the back tire will bounce the bike around more riding over bumps or rocks.
“Dual-Suspension bikes are more forgiving for longer rides and downhill,” says Wescott, When considering more aggressive mountain biking, a dual-suspension bike is definitely the way to go, but they come at a cost.
Like buying a car, price can vary a great deal for mountain bikes. While it is certainly possible to get a bike at Walmart for under $200, when it comes to serious mountain biking, that would be the equivalent of driving a 1972 Ford Pinto. The general rule is lighter costs more. Entry-level hardtails typically start at around $500, retail, where as a dual-suspension will cost closer to $1,700, or more.
From there, better components and lighter frames drastically effect cost. Steel frames, for example are much heavier and cheaper than aluminum, carbon fiber or titanium. Avid bikers are likely to spend upwards of $3,000 on a bike.
Another bike consideration is the 29’er, a bike style that has grown in the last five years. 29’ers refer to bikes with 29” tires instead of the traditional 26” wheel rim. “They’re getting a lot more popular,” says Brett Cox of Podium Sports in Frisco. The larger wheels make the bikes more efficient to pedal and also make rolling over rocks easier. Most hardtails sold now are only available as 29’ers, and new designs are starting to make them more common as dual-suspension bikes. The larger wheel does make sharp turning a little more difficult, so downhill bikes continue to have 26” wheels.
If price is an issue, consider getting a bike with lower-end or base-model components and upgrading later. “A Quality wheel set is one of the most important upgrades to a bike,” says Wescott. Better rims and bearings can make riding more efficient and substantially lighten a bike. Upgrading the chain derailer and shifters are also good ideas. They can make gears shift more smoothly.
Brakes used to be more of a cost factor. Traditional V-brakes were a more common option. But now, according to Wescott, most bikes come with either mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes, much like a car.
When buying a bike it’s also important to know that bike dealers have agreements with certain manufactures. So one shop will sell a brand like Specialized almost exclusively, where as another will primarily sell Trek.
The best thing to do is to have an idea of what you are looking for and shop around. Retailers may also demo bikes, so you can try before you buy. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask an expert. They probably know what’s best for you more than you do.