How to choose your first mountain bike
IF ONLY BUYING a bike was as easy as learning to ride, I would have been finished much faster. Now, standing amidst hundreds of mountain bikes in the Austin Bicycle Sport Shop, I felt overwhelmed and unprepared. Not the best start to the bike-buying process.
But I was here to learn. Over the course of several weeks, I continued researching online. Hardtail or full suspension? 26″ wheel base or go full-on 29er? While confusing at first, focusing in on key decisions like these ultimately made the process much easier.
Have a budget
Buying a mountain bike requires choosing a quality frame within budget. Similar to buying a car, a frame is like choosing between a Toyota Corolla or a hulking Ford Super Duty extended cab. A budget-shattering Titanium frame will give you a lightweight, durable, and strong ride. While more-common aluminum frames are inexpensive and lightweight, carbon fiber and chro-moly alloys offer durable, stronger options.
Brand loyalty appears to extend to the biking community as well. Budgeting also helped me avoid the religious brand wars and focused my research on bikes I liked from Gary Fisher, Specialized, and Trek.
I started playing around to see what was working and what wasn’t. Ultimately my friends proved to be the best resources. They were able to help guide me through the process by recommending I rent a bike.
In all the online research and talking to bike specialists, none had recommended renting a bike, but it was the most practical advice. Test driving bikes on the terrain I planned to ride on was the best way to learn how the bikes handled and figure out which bike worked best for my riding style and body type.
After receiving bike shoes from a friend, I experimented with pedals. The Shimano PD-M545 pedals I tried were heavier, but helped me graduate from flat pedals to cleated shoes, which help riders maximize leg power. After taking a few nasty spills, I slowly got used to using cleats.
From personal experience, I suggest avoiding cactus-lined trails when learning to ride with cleats, unless you enjoy spending time at the doctor’s office.
Get a proper fit
A proper fit may not seem all that important when you’re riding around in the store parking lot. The day I purchased my bike, it took five minutes to take my money but another hour and a half to fit the bike and make adjustments.
Taking the time to get properly fitted made a big difference out on the trail. I no longer had to think about the bike’s mechanics. My Gary Fisher 29er HiFi Deluxe became an extension of my body. We moved fluidly together over boulders that had given me trouble on previous bikes.
Bike specialists enthusiastically share their knowledge–you just have to ask. Simply asking got me discounts on necessities. By purchasing from the Austin Bicycle Sport Shop during a promotion, I got a new tool kit filled with Allen wrenches and a bicycle tire pump. The bike shop also applied my rental fees to the overall purchase price.
Essential accessories include:
- Hydration method, a Camelbak or reusable water bottle.
- Bike Repair Tool set
- Extra Tubes and Bike Tire Pump
- Lights, if there is the slightest chance of being on the trail at night
- Helmet Cam (optional), to capture heinous tricks and stunts
Austin has a number of technical, challenging trails. Biking the Barton Creek Greenbelt with it’s transitions from cavernous rock gardens to creek beds, was a real challenge. The Muleshoe Bend Recreational Area 7-mile trail, a 30-minute drive outside of downtown Austin, provides the training wheels for any novice biker with only a few challenging areas.
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