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Mountain Bike Buying Guide

Mountain bikes are designed to be ridden off road. So a typical bike will come equipped with knobbly tyres, at least some front suspension and a range of gears to suit climbing and flat surfaces.

Below is a general guide on how to choose the best mountain bike to suit your needs.

Discipline

▪ Cross country
 - Perfect for bridleways or general green and blue graded trails. Usually these bikes have around 100mm of travel and no more than 120mm. These bikes tend to struggle on more technical trails that have drops and ruts, these bikes are available as a hardtail and full suspension and are built to be as fast as possible climbing and descending.

▪ Downhill
 - Designed to get down hills as fast as possible hence the name, tackling ruts and hazardous rocks and taking them in their stride. Using over 180mm of suspension, most bikes have 200mm. All downhill bikes are full suspension and are not designed to climb.

▪ Enduro - 
Designed to take on the same trails as a Downhill bike so Black and Red routes but also be able to climb back to the top albeit with a little difficulty. Typically Enduro bikes are full suspension but slacker hardtails are getting released that also fall under the endure bike banner.


▪ All Mountain
 - Designed for general off road use, they can handle any trail that is not full Downhill. Although they can be used on these trails they will not handle them as well. All mountain bikes usually have between 120mm and 160mm of travel and are designed to suit a wide range of riding styles and terrains.

Materials

Carbon


Lightweight yet incredibly stiff this material is quickly becoming a favourite material for all mountain bikes within the upper price bracket. Carbon makes the bike lighter and because carbon is moulded it can be made into different shapes and the weave helps dissipate trail buzz.


Aluminium


Just as lightweight but cheaper than carbon which is why it is one of the most common used materials for mountain bikes. Aluminium does not rust and can be recycled easily should the bike comes to the end of its life. The ride feel is harsh on earlier 90’s bikes but recent innovations have seen the ride feel become more comfortable.


Steel


A bit heavier than Carbon and Aluminium but thanks again to companies like Reynolds and Columbus Steel has had a bit of innovation and now not only has the weight come down but it is a lot less prone to rust. Steel is great for custom builds as it can be welded together quite easily by knowledgeable fabricators; it also has a great ride feel with just the right amount of flex to compensate for harsh terrain.


Titanium


The luxurious choice if you want the lightest and strongest frame possible then Titanium is for you. It is far from cheap so expect to pay over a thousand pounds for just a frame. Titanium bikes are seen as more exotic and share the same material as many aircrafts.


Wheel size

26 inch


The original size that was present on bikes for the last 30 years may soon be phased out on adult mountain bikes. These wheels are nimble and strong but have given way to 27.5 inch wheels. They will most likely be still present on kids’ mountain bikes due to the smaller size.


27.5 inch/650b


Replacing the 26 wheel as the go to wheel on most new bikes the 27.5 wheel is slightly bigger for a better rolling efficiency especially over rough ground. The bigger wheel means you have to put less effort into the pedals to rotate the wheel and in turn it is possible to go faster although how much faster than a 26 setup is still debated.


29 inch


The largest of all the wheel size choices 29er wheels are great for rolling over rough ground at high speed and also roll a lot faster than any other wheel available. The downside is that turning and handling is not as agile as a smaller wheeled bike.


Plus size


Plus size wheels use rims with a wide width to accommodate a bigger tyre, bigger tyres offer better cushioning against trail obstacles and better stability due to a larger surface area especially in mud. Plus size wheels are best for people who want agile handling and the ability to steamroll over anything.


Drivetrain 

1x


One By drivetrains means that there is a single ring at the front and a cassette on the rear usually ranging from between 10 and 12 gears. It keeps the setup simple and does away with a front derailleur allowing the suspension system to utilise the extra space on the frame. It also frees up space on the handlebar where a dropper post trigger can be placed instead.


Double


A chainset that has two chainrings up front and a front derailleur to select the chainrings, a double set up allows for a larger range of gear options and the rear cassette is usually a 9 or 10 speed. The front shifter sits on the bars and offers some symmetry to the cockpit if you prefer that.


Triple


A chainset with three chainrings, this is the optimum amount of chainrings you can find on a mountain bike. Again the rear cassette for a triple set up is usually between 7 gears and 9 as anything bigger than that can be achieved using a double chainset.


Hardtail VS Full Suspension

Hardtail


A great option for buyers on a budget hardtail bikes also offer a great option for people just starting in the sport and people who want to keep riding through winter without worrying about the extra costs of maintaining a suspension system and bearings.


Full Suspension


A great option for buyers who want a more forgiving ride than a hardtail offers, full suspension bikes also inspire more confidence as the rider will not be punished so harshly over rough terrain. The suspension will take the brunt of most mistakes and because of the extra cushioning rider fatigue is less likely to be a problem.