The Mountain Bike: A Comprehensive Guide

The Mountain Bike: A Comprehensive Guide

Depending on your individual needs, you may be stuck wondering if you should be considering a mountain bike or another option such as a road bike. Each style of bike has its unique advantages and disadvantages.

It’s important to consider what you will be using your bike for and to analyze the specifications. Understanding each bike and what options you should be looking for can make a big difference.

Not only can it save you money in the long run, but it can help tailor make a bike for you that can help you meet specific goals.

Some individuals are only looking for a bike for leisure type activities and enjoying a nice ride from time to time, and some individuals have deeper fitness goals or even competitive racing goals. In some cases, you also have individuals who need a bike strictly for commuting to and from work.

That’s what this entire post is all about. Breaking down the mountain bike from beginning to end. By the end of this post, you should understand the different forms of mountain bikes you can purchase, and the specifications to look for when purchasing a mountain bike.

When starting your search for the perfect mountain bike, you should stop and ask yourself a few questions. The answers can help you effectively navigate and find a bike that can best serve your needs.

Ask yourself questions such as the following.

  • What’s Main Purpose of Your Bike? Fitness, Commute or Fun/Hobby?
  • What Kind of Distances and Terrain Do You Plan on Covering?
  • What Makes You Believe a Mountain Bike is The Correct Choice?

Most individuals may understand that a mountain bike is a correct choice, but besides that, they have no idea what to look for. Let’s dive into some of the details.

A Deeper Look into The Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes differ significantly from road bikes. Road bikes are built for speed. Mountain bikes are designed specifically for rough terrain and exploring areas a typical road bike just can’t take you to.

Mountains offer large aggressive tires for handling the rough terrain. If you don’t ride this kind of terrain, they likely aren’t for you. On flat terrain, they are a bulky and heavy option to consider, but when using on rough terrains, they are superior to any other kind of bicycle.

Breaking Down the Positives with Mountain Bikes

As we stated before, the most significant positive mountain bikes offer compared to other biking options comes down merely to the ability to handle rough terrain with ease. Other options and bikes don’t come equipped to handle this.

In addition, mountain bikes offer a more powerful set of brakes and typically have advanced suspension and shock absorption for handling different terrains and allowing you to explore new territory anytime you choose.

Next, if you have decided that a mountain bike is for you, it’s time to choose a mountain bike out of a few different categories.

Mountain bikes are most commonly purchased as either trail bikes, cross-country bikes, and fat bikes. A few other variations exist, but these are by far, the big three or the most common varieties of mountain bikes that you will find at nearly any bike shop.

Let’s break down all three of these mountain bikes to give you a better look.

Trail Mountain Bikes

Trail mountain bikes allow you to explore and enjoy some adventure naturally. Trail mountain bikes are known for being great with uphill and downhill riding. Additionally, trail mountain bikes allow for easy jumps, drops and other rough riding scenarios.

Trail mountain bikes are going to be one of your more robust and complete options. Additionally, trail mountain bikes will feature stiff steering for the ability to make a precise movement. Long story short, trail mountain bikes are built to cut through any rough riding areas while maintaining speed and comfort.

If you plan on climbing and riding downhill often, a trail bike is a sensible option to consider. If, however, you are looking for more speed and less climbing features, you can lean towards one of the other options that we will discuss next.

Cross Country Bikes

Cross country bikes are different in a few ways from trail mountain bikes and fat bikes. Cross country mountain bikes are designed to ride at higher speeds. Cross country bikes also place a heavy emphasis on making sure the bike remains lightweight. Additionally, cross country bikes are designed to allow for comfortable riding from just a few miles to 25 miles plus.

Cross country bikes are basically your “road bikes” of the mountain bikes. Many individuals who prefer to trail race or bike competitively lean on an option such as the cross-country bike.

Fat Bikes

Fat bikes are another version of the mountain bike offering some unique advantages. Fat bikes can be great for a few things. First, they are excellent for beginning bikers due to wide tire tread patterns.

Fat bikes also handle rough terrain perhaps better than any of the other option on this list. Most individuals who choose a fat bike also often ride in snow and sand. The design of the tires and the bike itself, make them especially high performing on these terrains.

Now that we have a basic understanding of three primary mountain biking options, it’s time to break down the components involved when choosing a mountain bike.

Most of these specifications and components of the bike itself are customizable making it easy to upgrade or switch if you choose to for certain variations based on performance and preference.

All the Components of a Mountain Bike Broken Down

With mountain bikes, you have several different components that are all important to the quality of the ride and your overall comfort and performance. It’s important to treat each component with consideration if you are looking for the optimal comfort, abilities to cover different terrains and perhaps the ability to race your mountain bikes competitively.

Here’s a look at all these options.

Mountain Biking Seats

Everyone has a different view on which mountain bike seat is the best. I suppose this is true. However, you do have considerations that you need to make before deciding which mountain bike seat is going to serve you the best.

Seats or saddles can often be too wide or too narrow for certain individuals. Additionally, looking at the firmness of the seat is important especially when you plan on riding a lot of rough terrains. Other considerations can include the durability and the amount of weight the seat will add to the bike.

Your best bet to find the most ideal seat for your mountain bike is to have it fitted. After your measured to see which seat will provide the most comfort, you can move into deciding if you want to look at a flared seat or a drop wing seat.

Additional, when you are being fitted for the best seat, you can go over further options such as the actual cushion and the length of the nose.

It’s difficult to tell you which seat is going to be the most ideal. This is one component of a mountain bike that is much wiser to have a professional help you find your perfect match. Provide the professional with your desired uses for the bike and let them guide you through the process for optimal results.

It’s all-important to consider.

Mountain Biking Wheels

Mountain biking wheels most commonly either come in 26-inch, 27.5 inch or 29 inches. The larger the wheel often indicates that’s it’s going to accelerate much slower. However, the larger the wheels the more comfortable you can be plowing through various terrains and obstacles.

This is another one of those examples that comes down preference and what you think you will use your mountain bike the most frequently.

If you ride on light terrains with not much to push through, you can stick with the 26 inches or even the 27.5. If, however, you need a bigger wheel to get the job done, you can start with the larger wheel size.

 Just remember, you are adding weight, and the acceleration will be dragged down the more substantial the wheel size you go with.

Mountain Biking Pedals

Mountain biking pedals are just as important as all the other components of the mountain bike. It’s essential that you search for comfort and performance depending on which form of mountain biking you do the most frequently.

Again, to make this easy to understand, there is more to the pedals to consider than just a nice spot to rest your feet when riding.

Most mountain bikes are going to come with cheap pedals when you first purchase them such as plastic. I’d highly recommend upgrading your pedals to either a new flat pedal or something such as clipless pedal.

The options when you lean on something such as aluminum constructed can offer lightweight pedals and be great for adjusting tension, resistance, and even comfort. Some of these options will also include the ability to strap your foot into the pedal or to remain free footed on the pedal.

Pedals, in my opinion, are one of the most overlooked but essential items on a mountain bike to ensure you get done correctly before competitive riding or even hitting some of the rougher terrains.

Mountain Biking Gears

Mountain bikes gears are going to be ready to go with the bike you choose usually. However, before purchasing the mountain bike, you need to make a few additional choices. Which of the following would you prefer?

Grip Shifter or Thumb Shifter?

This is a question you can ask yourself because shockingly enough it will make a difference in your overall comfort and liking towards the mountain bike.

Thumb shifters are the gear set up you use when you have two levers on the handlebar. One for each hand. One of these levels will simply move the chain up through the gears, and the other will adjust the gears down through the chain.

Many individuals prefer these for their shifter because they are easy and take a simple thumb click to get the job done.

On the other hand, you have your grip shifter. The grip shifter is going to be wrapped around the actual handlebar and requires a twisting motion from your hand. This is also ideal if you want to maintain full control when shifting often, but they also require more than your thumb to get the shifting completed.

Perhaps the best approach is for you to sit on a mountain bike, test out both and see what feels the most comfortable for you.

Testing out different items and components is essential when making a large purchase like this. The beautiful thing is that if you can resist a sales rep, you can go demo these options and then come back to order online where you can frequently save money as opposed to purchasing a bike in the store.

Mountain Bike Suspension

With mountain bikes, you are going to have three primary options and choices for your suspension. You can choose from either of the following depending on the specific bike and your specific needs.

Rigid Suspension- The rigid suspension is going to be much more popular than the hardtail suspension. This is the same thing as not having a suspension at all. Mountain biking enthusiast tends to lean towards this option due to price, and they are extremely easy to maintain.

However, the tradeoff is that you have nothing to absorb rough rides and won’t be capable of providing the same comfort on certain terrains. It’s important to distinguish where you will perform most of your riding before selecting one suspension or the other.

Hardtail Suspension- The hardtail suspension is going to have the physical fork in the front of the bike. The primary purpose is to absorb any impact that is transferred through the front wheel of the bike.

While hardtails are more expensive than a rigid suspension, they are typically cheaper than a full-suspension mountain bike.

It basically falls right in the middle of price and weight for your mountain biking suspension options. In many circumstances, your cross-country riders will prefer a hardtail suspension.  Hard-tail suspensions are a fantastic option as long as you are not planning on riding in rough uphill a downhill environment.

Full Suspension- Full suspension is going to be the heaviest option and the costliest. Additionally, it’s harder to maintain and may need components replaced more frequently.

These mountain bikes are going to feature front and rear shocks and are best suited for riders who are going to be riding the roughest terrains and need the additional shock absorption and comfort throughout the ride.

Mountain Biking Braking Options

Well, if you enjoy going downhill, uphill, jumping rocks and cruising at high speeds through a wooded area on a mountain bike, you still have one big component to consider. How are you going to stop the bike and what’s the best brakes for mountain bikes to get the job done?

Let’s cover some of those details now.

First, I think we are all aware of the basics. The front brake on mountain bikes stops the bike, and the rear brakes are used to slow down the mountain bike. Usually, you only must make the decision on two options with your mountain biking brakes.

Do you want to use hydraulic brakes or mechanical disc brakes?

Mechanical brakes are going to cost less and are easy to maintain, replace or even diagnose common problems with. Hydraulic breaks, on the other hand, offer much more stopping power, but they also cost more money than your mechanical disc brakes. I suppose this is when the budget will come into play and how much stopping power you really need.

If you are hitting some heavy trails or dangerous terrain, I’d vote for the hydraulic breaks for safety and performance but if you are newer to mountain biking and don’t know what you plan on doing yet, stick with some easy such as the mechanical breaks.

Both options will surely get the job done and bring the bike to a stop, but when you start getting into more adventurous scenery or even competing, you need to be aware and start considering options such as your breaks and even your rotors.

Riding my Mountain Bike Down Rocky Hill at Sunset.

The Different Kinds of Mountain Bikes Frames that Are Available

Well, we have covered all the small components about the mountain bike, when you would use a mountain bike and even some of the key features of a mountain bike, but we haven’t covered 1 big topic yet.

Which frame are you going to choose for your mountain bike? Once again, like always, this is going to depend significantly on what you intend on using your mountain bike for and your overall budget, but this could easily be, single-handedly the biggest consideration to cover when purchasing a mountain bike.

Especially if you are competing or a real daredevil hitting hills, rocks and various forms of terrains.

Let’s dive into your options now. With mountain bikes, you are going to have 4 primary options that are most frequently used. This applies to nearly all bikes, not just mountain bikes.

The four most common options you will encounter for mountain bikes will be steel, aluminum, titanium or carbon. Let’s touch on all four of these options and let you be the judge of which one will work best for you.

The Carbon Mountain Bike- Carbon Fiber mountain bikes are going to be one of the more expensive options, but they are nice bikes. They are going to be lightweight, and extremely easy to work with. They are often used by professionals as the frame of choice.

However, carbon fiber is going to be one of the more fragile options which can cause one issue. When you are mountain biking, it’s likely to take a beating. When you are spending a lot of money on a frame such as carbon fiber and putting the bike through hell and back, it may not be the best option.

However, if money is not an issue, you can take proper care of your bike, then carbon may be the elite choice compared to the other options on this list.

The Steel Mountain Bike- This is one of the most common frame materials used for mountain biking. It’s going to be extremely strong and durable, but it’s also one of the heavier options you can pick.

If you don’t use your mountain bike to ride competitively, you can get away with a steel-framed mountain bike, but if you need to reduce weight where possible, this may not be the best pick for you. Steel bikes are also a bit more difficult to replace or fix when something does go wrong.

Clearly, steel-framed mountain bikes can offer some advantages, but at the same time, you need to think twice about the capabilities of changing components, making repairs and the overall weight that steel bikes will come with. 

One huge benefit of steel bikes, however, is that they are cheaper than your fiber bikes which is a nice bonus.

Titanium Mountain Bikes- This is another top pick for your frame material for a mountain bike. Titanium is going to offer lightweight and extremely durable and corrosion-resistant. However, titanium frame mountain bikes are once again, going to come with the high price tag associated with them.

For a budget shopper or first-timer, the titanium bike likely isn’t going to be your best pick, but for someone who understands mountain biking more in-depth and has the budget to work with, titanium can be a top choice just like the carbon fiber option we discussed previously.

Aluminum Mount Bikes- Aluminum mountain bikes are one of the most popular versions of the mountain bikes you will see. It’s the most commonly used material in the world. Carbon fiber comes in second by a small margin, but nonetheless, aluminum is used with the most frequency.

Aluminum framed mountain bikes are going to offer lightweight construction, stiffness and are very easy to work with when damage or issues occur. Aluminum mountain bikes also offer great power due to the stiffness that we discussed previously in this post.

They will hold up against weather elements and are a much more cost-effective way to break into a new hobby and begin mountain biking.

Ultimately, when choosing the best, the frame choice for your mountain bike you need to consider it from every angle as we discussed previously.

  • Weight
  • Cost
  • Durability
  • Ride
  • Ability to Fix or Troubleshoot

All the items on this list above are big things to consider if you are spending any substantial amount of money so be sure to take a breath, jot down these pros and cons of each bike and make an informed decision before clicking purchase on Amazon or any other website.

After reading about all these components, you may be thinking to yourself, why do I even need a mountain bike or what’s the added benefits in general. I wanted to make this simple to understand and re-emphasize on the crucial characteristics that mountain bikes can offer.

The Positives of Choosing a Mountain Bike

Again, mountain bikes should not be purchased for commuting or frequently using on flat terrain. Mountain bikes offer the unique benefits of getting down and dirty and finding some much-needed adrenaline and more exciting trails.

They offer the ability to jump rocks, plow through sand and climb rough hills, descend steep hills and overall create an adventure of a lifetime.

They are heavier than a road bike, and the tires are designed to have much comfort speed or efficiency for a rough ride through the hills and other adventurous routes.

The Negatives to Choosing a Mountain Bike

Like we just stated. You are wasting your money if you opt to purchase a mountain bike for anything such as commuting to work, speed riding on flat surfaces or even just a fun family bike to ride around the neighborhood.

Mountain bikes are called mountain bikes for a reason. They signify exploring, excitement and uncovering new paths and adventures. If this isn’t your intentions, I recommend looking into another form of the bicycle such as a cruiser or even a road bike.

If, however, you are looking for that adventure, you clearly landed on the correct post because mountain bikes will deliver just that for you. Adventure, excitement, and adrenaline. It doesn’t get much better than that.

How Much Will Mountain Bikes Cost Me?

This is going to range vary greatly. Some mountain bikes you can get for a few hundred dollars, and other mountain bikes can run your multiple thousands of dollars. It’s going to depend heavily on the brand you choose, the frame you select and the additional custom upgrades you opt to purchase for the bike.

Unfortunately, that’s the best answer to this question. They can either be extremely budget-friendly or put quite the sizeable dent into your bank account. That’s why it’s always important to learn about which components you need and will serve you best before deciding to just outright to purchase a mountain bike.

That’s my take at least.

What Should I Do Next When Searching for A Mountain Bike?

If you are now convinced that a mountain bike is for you, I recommend going over the additional options you can consider, visiting a professional and discussing your needs and then budget shopping for your desired bike online and across multiple channels. Sometimes we need the professional’s advice or even measurements but can land a better deal elsewhere.

Take the free advice and find the best deal possible is the advice I have for you and what I would recommend you do next during this process.

Putting It All Together, Mountain Bikes Come in Many Shapes and Sizes. Choose Carefully

At the end of the day, mountain bikes come with many options, various frame choices and there is a lot you can do to make these mountain warriors ready for any challenge.

Mountain biking is also an adrenaline rush amazing activity and hobby so finding a bike that truly fits your needs can provide you with a much-needed new hobby and a good workout in the process.

The choice is ultimately yours? What are you going to do about it?