【Mountain Biking Beginner's Guide】How to choose your first MTB?

Compared to road bikes, MTBs offer a more diverse range of riding experiences, including forest trails, river valleys, and dirt roads, bringing riders closer to nature. However, for road bike enthusiasts or MTB beginners, the extensive variety of MTB models can be overwhelming. After being inspired by the previous article and considering venturing into the world of MTB riding pleasure, the following MTB purchasing tips will help you quickly navigate the options.

Having read the previous introduction, are you now intrigued by mountain bikes? If you're eager to experience the unique joy that mountain biking brings, owning your own MTB could be a great idea. In this article, we'll outline several crucial points to consider when purchasing an MTB, guiding you to find the perfect companion for your forest adventures!

#1 Determine Your Riding Terrain and Purpose

Mountain bikes are categorized into XC, Trail, Enduro, and DH based on riding styles. XC routes are relatively simple, and some can even be tackled with gravel bikes. DH involves intense riding with a certain level of danger. In the context of Taiwan, the latter two categories might feel like using a sledgehammer for a simple task. Trail, in the author's view, is the most suitable type for Taiwan's mountain bike routes. It effortlessly handles simple trails, and the suspension travel of Trail bikes is more than enough for over 90% of Taiwan's forest paths. It's the recommended choice for beginners. If you prioritize lightweight and climbing efficiency and only seek mild off-road experiences, then XC is the ideal option.

#2 Getting the Right Size is Crucial

As the saying goes, "Buying a bike is not expensive, but buying the wrong one is the most expensive." After determining your riding style, nothing is more critical than choosing the right size when buying a bike. Don't solely rely on the frame's simple size markings like S, M, L; you must understand the frame size's significance. Different bike frame manufacturers have their own definitions, and an S frame from one may become an M frame from another. In frame markings, focus on two key numbers: Reach (distance from the saddle to the handlebar) and Stack (distance from the crank center to the head tube center). When choosing an MTB frame, for cockpit length, it's advisable to go slightly longer than a road bike. A larger front triangle geometry can lengthen the distance to the front wheel axle, reducing the chance of somersaulting when hitting obstacles and keeping the center of gravity centered while climbing steep slopes.

While a longer cockpit is recommended, the frame should not be excessively large. Ensure you leave enough space for the inseam. Although a shorter seat tube length can provide better maneuverability, pay attention to whether the total length of the seat tube and top tube can meet your own saddle height requirements. The currently popular 29-inch bike models have a larger front triangle design, allowing adjustments in riding posture through changes in the stem, handlebar, and seatpost.

Beyond size markings, the geometry of mountain bikes is also essential!

#3 Choose the Right Wheel Size

MTBs offer three wheel diameters: 26, 27.5, and 29 inches, but 26 inches are almost obsolete. The popular sizes are 27.5 inches (for Trail off-road and downhill races) and 29 inches (suitable for XC and Trail). In addition to wheel size, frame width is crucial, as different widths accommodate different tire types. The type of tires significantly affects your maneuverability and riding experience. In recent years, 29-inch bikes have gained popularity due to their good performance in terms of lightweight.

So, what distinguishes different wheel sizes? Large wheel sizes excel in off-road capabilities, while small wheel sizes are more agile in handling. There's also a mixed approach known as "29/27.5," with a 29-inch front wheel and a 27.5-inch rear wheel, providing increased off-road capability without sacrificing too much agility. Here's a comparison of different wheel sizes:
Acceleration: 26 > 27.5 > 29
Agility in turns: 26 > 27.5 > 29
Contact angle: 26 > 27.5 > 29
Rolling resistance: 29 > 27.5 > 26
Rolling efficiency: 29 > 27.5 > 26
Grip: 29 > 27.5 > 26

Different wheel sizes offer different riding experiences; choose the one that suits your style best!

#4 Hardtail or Full Suspension?

Full suspension bikes, with rear shocks, pivot links, and turning points, come with a relatively high overall cost. However, with the same budget, hardtail bikes can offer a more aesthetically pleasing design. Additionally, hardtail bikes have lower maintenance costs and can better train the rider's skills and control. Nevertheless, it's undeniable that full suspension bikes have better off-road capabilities. Both hardtail and full suspension bikes have their pros and cons, so the choice depends on the riding situation.

#5 Weight is Not the Primary Concern

With various shocks, wheelsets, and tires, MTBs don't prioritize lightweight as much as road bikes. However, some XC riders still value lightweight. For off-road riding, overall rigidity is more critical. In situations where the riding feel is not firm enough, facing challenging conditions like rocks and tree roots can lead to a loss of control. It also affects precision and cornering. Some uphill sections can be particularly challenging. Therefore, when it comes to choosing between lightweight and rigidity, it's better to prioritize rigidity even if it means a bit more weight.

#6 Make Informed Choices for Components

When selecting a bike, it's advisable to check the official website for the suspension details of the model. Don't be misled by numbers like suspension travel; prioritizing a high-quality damping system and air-sprung shock is crucial. As for the brake and gear system levels, it's relatively straightforward. In off-road conditions, an excellent suspension system's positive feedback surpasses the importance of brakes and gears. For the latter, focus on choosing the caliper type (double or four-piston), speed, and gear ratio range that suits your preferences. The author recommends the SHIMANO system for its cost-effectiveness, low maintenance costs, and the durability of the mineral oil brake system.

Mountain bikes commonly feature a single-disc brake system, and GRAVEL bikes are also adopting this trend.

#7 Consider Compatibility in Specifications

Considering the current core design, mountain bikes differ significantly from road bikes in terms of the complexity of specifications. Specifications such as thru-axles and cassette bodies can be challenging to navigate, and many specifications are not interchangeable. However, prevalent specifications in the market include Boost (front hub width 110 × 15mm, rear hub width 148 × 12mm) and 12-speed (Shimano: Micro Spline cassette body; Sram: XD cassette body). Additionally, the recent popularity of the UDH hanger has standardized specifications for most new bikes on the market. When purchasing a bike, riders can verify these three points for future maintenance and upgrades.

#8 Allocate Funds for Essential Gear, Not Just the Bike

Beyond the bike purchase, it's essential to reserve a budget for personal gear, especially in the mountain biking environment where personal safety is paramount. Invest in helmets, knee and elbow pads, and full-fingered gloves. Consider additional equipment such as mountain bike backpacks, MTB flat/clip pedals, and hard/clip shoes. Riders should also choose mountain bike tires suitable for their riding terrain. Furthermore, having essential tools on hand is crucial for self-rescue on forest trails!

A phone mount suitable for mountain bikes: Bone Bike Tie 4 Pro Max - Once you have your own MTB, your phone becomes an essential companion on intricate forest trails! Bone's "Bone Bike Tie 4 Pro Max" offers unrestricted usage, fitting handlebars of various brands. With its dual-strap design and professional vibration testing, it ensures effective vibration dispersion from the road, providing reliable protection for your phone. The washable silicone material makes it easy to clean off outdoor dirt! Whether you're mountain biking, off-roading, or enjoying a leisure ride, it allows you to journey forward securely with your phone!

Bone Bike Tie 4 Pro Max – Sturdy dual-strap design, providing limitless fastening
For safety-related gear, investing in a helmet and protective equipment is crucial. Having reliable tools ensures you ride confidently on forest trails, free from worries about mechanical issues or flat tires!
For safety-related gear, investing in a helmet and protective equipment is crucial. Having reliable tools ensures you ride confidently on forest trails, free from worries about mechanical issues or flat tires!
For safety-related gear, investing in a helmet and protective equipment is crucial. Having reliable tools ensures you ride confidently on forest trails, free from worries about mechanical issues or flat tires!
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