Each year, new MTBs become available providing a wider array of options for this robust, versatile bike. Even for experienced riders, the choices presented when picking a mountain bike can be complex and, oftentimes, confusing. When you're sitting back to consider the frame material, wheel size, suspension (with or without?) and more, it can become a bit much. So, we're going to cover all the main features you need to be considering, all in one guide.
Depending on what you're going to use your mountain bike for, you'll need different components, frames, wheels, rear shocks and so on. Understanding your own specific needs is a must when choosing a mountain bike, and you can think about these questions to help you:
- What type of trails do you plan on riding?
- Do you need a hardtail or full suspension?
- How much suspension do you require?
- Which size wheels?
Our guide takes you through the different types of mountain bikes, the frames, wheels and so on, so you can make the right decision.
What is a mountain bike?
Mountain bikes are designed for off-road biking. They have several specific features that enable them to offer versatility when it comes to biking in rougher terrain. This is in direct contrast to other bike types such as road or gravel bikes, hybrids, or commuter bikes, which tend to have more defined roles and uses.
- Saddle and seat post — getting in and out of the saddle needs to be easy on a mountain bike. This is where the dropper seat post feature comes in handy, allowing you to raise or lower your seat quickly when the need arises.
- Flat bars — wide and flat, mountain bike handlebars are very different to the drop bars found on other bikes. They promote an upright position allowing you more control and accuracy when taking tight corners or when balancing the bike.
- Wide tyres — mountain bike tyres are large, chunky, and knobbly to enable grip across all types of surfaces from gravel to rocks. These large MTB tyres can also hold more air, which means more cushioning when riding over rough terrain providing more comfort. Thicker tyre treads help the bike as a whole withstand collisions with rocks and so on.
- Multiple gears — depending on what you use your mountain bike for, gear numbers can vary wildly. However, most mountain bikes will use the 1x system using a single cog at the front with a wide-ranged cassette at the back. It means fewer gears, a simplified riding experience, but it copes better with mixed terrains.
- Suspension — two types of suspension options are available for mountain bikes — hardtail and full suspension. While the choice depends on the individual and your bike usage, mountain bikes always have suspension in place, unlike some road bikes.
- Frame — MTB frames are more robust, or beefier, than road or hybrid bike frames, as they're designed to withstand the additional stress of being off-road. In addition to using more robust frame materials, MTBs also have a sloping top tube for greater clearance and more manoeuvrability.
By using these various features, MTBs offer high performance when off-road, allowing you to enjoy rougher, steeper terrain. However, these designs, while improving performance off-road, result in a poorer performance on flat, smooth surfaces. Here, their heavier weight makes mountain bikes complicated to use on regular roads.
As such, the best place to use a mountain bike is, as the name suggests, a mountain. The stronger rims and wider tyres give them better purchase and stability on uneven or loose ground. However, in recent years, this has also proved useful in urban settings where potholes, curbs and steps abound.
What to consider when picking a mountain bike as a beginner
Depending on where you intend to ride, and your preferred style of biking, there are different mountain bikes out there. Additionally, there are a variety of components including suspension, gears, wheels and so on that you need to consider before choosing your mountain bike. This list is designed to push you to carefully consider your specific needs before selecting your mountain bike.
Type of mountain bike and frame geometry
Depending on the mountain bike trails you intend to go on, there are various types of mountain bikes you should consider. Of course, while there are different categories, they do have some overlap, which means that even if a bike is designed for one type of mountain biking, it doesn't mean it can't be used for another.
This mountain bike is designed for fast, aerobically demanding biking. It's lighter than standard trail bikes and has more efficient pedalling. For these features to be in place, cross-country MTBs have less suspension travel with a firmer platform for the mountain bike pedals. Additionally, they also have steeper head-tubes for nimbler handling. In easier terrain, they offer fast handling and are not so suited for rougher tracks. Overall, they're better if you want to ride smoother, less technical MTB trails prioritising the climb over the descent.
This is the most common type of mountain bike. It is good for all riders as it provides a versatile, fun bike capable of all-around biking.
The shocks are shorter, which makes this MTB quicker in handling, lighter and with more efficient pedalling. The travel can be a little more than other bikes due to the mountain bike frame geometry as well as a softer suspension. With these in place, steeper descents can be handled more easily. It's really best for recreational singletrack routes with regular changes in elevation.
Similar to a trail bike, the all mountain is simply bulkier. It has more technical features and is designed for excellent performance on descents. However, it's still light and agile enough for ascents to not be hard.
This MTB is named after races where the downhill stages are timed but not the uphill. Enduros have slacker head-tube angles, and large suspension travel. This makes it easier to hit steep, technical descents and this bike can also be used at bike parks. In contrast to downhill bikes, they have gears, good pedalling and a decent weight so that long climbs are possible, albeit tougher and slower, when aiming for those exciting descents. Often dubbed mini downhill bikes, these are great if you want steep downhill rides with drops, jumps and other technical terrain.
These bikes can only be used in areas that are serviced by lifts. This is because they aren't suitable for pedalling and will not get you up to the top of the hill. They have huge amounts of travel and very sturdy frames, which makes them stable, but heavy. As such, they're great downhill and for riding over very rough terrain taking on berms, rock gardens, jumps, and drops very well indeed.
One of the main choices you have to make when shopping around for a mountain bike is suspension. A mountain bike full suspension system has a suspension fork at the front and a rear shock. In contrast, hardtails only have a front suspension fork.
With only a front suspension, hardtails are more rigid at the back. With fewer moving parts throughout the bike, they are lighter and more affordable than full-suspension bikes. They also don't need as much maintenance. With a hardtail, these bikes are best suited to less challenging trails or for cross-country riders looking for pedal efficiency. Despite less suspension, they're still comfortable on a variety of terrains except extreme rough downhills.
With full suspension, you're going to get the most comfortable ride across all terrains. Protecting you from rough terrain, this is a great bike for all off-roading. However, having the rear shock can make the bike heavier. There's more bounce throughout the bike, which can be a comfort on longer rides, but it does mean less traction on technical ascents. That being said, the confidence in the extra suspension is often worth it for faster attacks on drop-offs and bumpy terrain.
It's also possible to go to the other end of the spectrum and opt for no suspension. This limits the bike to simple trails as the MTB tyres provide most of the comfort. The benefits are that these bikes are very lightweight and good for budget bikers.
Frame and fork material
Generally, you're going to find that a mountain bike frame is made of either carbon fibre or aluminium. However, which one you choose does depend on your budget as carbon fibre is more expensive. Let's take a look at the two materials to see what they have to offer, as both have different strengths.
Being lighter, these frames are better for cross-country or enduro bikes and riders. This is because a light frame helps to keep the overall weight low on climbs. Carbon fibre frames are stiff, which makes them snappier providing an excellent option for speed on smoother terrain when you hit the MTB pedals hard.
Additionally, carbon frames have a better dampening effect when it comes to rough trails. This can improve comfort over longer rides. Impressively, you don't need to opt for an entire carbon frame, but simply switching out the MTB handlebar and seat post for carbon can make a world of a difference.
Finally, carbon is strong and durable under stress, but it does need some looking after.
A slightly heavier frame than carbon, aluminium is good for downhill mountain biking due to a heavier frame being a positive on the descent. This type of frame is a little more flexible than carbon and on rough terrain or with hard riding, this can make the bike a little more forgiving.
Aluminium frames don't offer quite the same comfort as carbon, but they're not going to make it unpleasant. They just might not be quite as comfortable over long distances. Similar in strength to carbon, there's not much difference between the two though it is seen as the stronger frame of the two overall.
Gearing can be complex on MTBs. Most hardtails have double chainsets with a ten-speed cassette. This provides enough gears for tackling hard, complex terrains. Some newer models have a 1x drivetrain, removing the front derailleur. This results in a reduced risk of dropping the chain during a shift. It's great for hard downhill riding and is often matched with a 12-speed cassette.
Dropper seat post
Going over different terrains means your body is moving across your bike. Lowering, or dropping your saddle, makes this easier. Most MTBs have dropper posts, so you can adjust the seat height via a button in your handlebars. If you don't have it initially, it's an easy upgrade later.
This is where travel comes in. Travel is the distance your fork can compress. Greater shock absorption requires more travel. But, it means using more energy for speed on flat terrain. Long travel bikes are suited for rough downhills, while less travel is ideal for cross-country.
If you've opted for a full suspension bike, then there are two shock options — air or coil. Air forks are better for absorbing impact, which makes handling easier and reduces upper body fatigue. They're lighter and easy to adjust. But, they need regular maintenance as they don't respond to weather changes well.
Coil shocks are found on downhill bikes as they're more consistent and simple to maintain. But, they are heavy and less adjustable so a major weight change will require a new spring to be fitted.
Both disc and rim brakes can be used on mountain bikes. However, disc brakes are more common, and more efficient simply because they are more reliable in inclement weather. Additionally, disc brakes deal with dirt a lot better while rim brakes tend to clog in such conditions.
That being said, beginners can use rim brakes as they're lighter and more affordable. Importantly, checking whether the frame is compatible with disc brakes is a must. The bike can be upgraded later to discs should you have the budget later on.
Which MTB is best for you?
No matter what bike you choose, the first thing you need to check is the bike size. You can check our size chart here as it's important the MTB fits you properly if you want a good ride. A mountain bike for ladies or a mountain bike for men have the same measurements — either by name (XS, S, M etc) or by inches (15", 17", 19"). Sizes correspond with rider heights, which is why it's important to check the chart.
Renting and buying mountain bikes in the Canaries
When looking for mountain bikes for sale, our bike shop is the perfect place to start. Here at Free Motion, we offer top-of-the-line bike and MTB helmet rentals in the Canaries. This makes it incredibly easy for you to try out a variety of different types and brands of mountain bikes before determining which is the best fit for you.
We do all the safety checks for your mountain bike helmet and gear, as well as adjusting the suspension to your body weight. Get in touch today to find out more about the bikes we have on offer.