What to Look For in Your First Mountain Bike

A mountain bike on top of a hill at sunset

If you’re ready to buy your first mountain bike, I don’t blame you for being excited. Feeling committed enough to a sport to invest in gear is always a great feeling. Make sure that you get the most for your money, and that you get a bike you can use to the fullest by thinking through the issues below.


Before you even darken the door of a bike store, figure out how much money you can spend. You can get a decent bike for a little as $500, though that probably won’t get you everything you want.

Determining your budget before you go shopping will help ensure you don’t fall in love with a bike you can’t afford.

Type of Bike

Man mountain biking down steep rocky path, low angle view

Are you interested in a particular type of mountain biking? Then be sure to get a bike that will allow you to do what you want to do. Options include:

  • Trail Bikes—These are good all-around bikes, perfect for meeting your friends at a trailhead that involves both climbing and descending. They aren’t fancy, but they are fun and affordable.
  • Fat Bikes—These are becoming more and more popular, especially among beginners. The fat tires offer more stability than a narrower tire and better traction on all terrains—like snow or sand—than regular bikes.
  • Cross-Country Bikes—These are faster and lighter than trail bikes. If you want to race (or just to be faster than your friends) this may be what you want.
  • All Mountain Bikes—These are beefed-up trail bikes, made for steeper ascents and scarier descents. If you like to go all out, this could be the bike for you.
  • Downhill Bikes—These are usually used on trails where you ride a lift up, then bike down. They are super tough, but not useful for most trail riding.

Frame Size

Your bike needs to fit you well. The best way to find a bike that’s a good fit is to test it out.

Many stated frame sizes don’t match up well across brands, which can make it hard to choose a bike based on the number on the frame. This is especially true when they are sized small, medium, and large instead of numbered.

Make sure that a bike-sizing expert helps you with this, as it can be hard to get a feel for a bike in a store. You can even whip out your tape measure to help compare reach and stack measurements.

Wheel Size

mountain bike front wheel and the view of some mountains

For regular tires, you’ll most likely be choosing between wheels with a diameter of 27.5” and those at 29”. This is often a matter of personal preference.

In general, choose 27.5s for more aggressive riding (both trail and downhill). Choose 29ers for cross country riding and standard trails.

Fat tires are becoming more and more popular, especially in places where people want to ride on trails that are covered in snow for part of the season. No one is sure if these are here to stay, and you’ll want to try one before you make a decision about buying it.


Do you want to go hardtail or full-suss? Hardtail bikes have a fork in the front that helps absorb impact, but no rear suspension. This means that they have fewer parts, which can mean fewer repairs and less upfront cost.

Full suspension bikes have some sort of rear shock absorption mechanism in addition to that front fork (different manufacturers achieve this in different ways). These bikes are more comfortable, though most come with the ability to lock the rear suspension if you don’t want it for a particular ride.

Just a heads up, full-suss bikes are more expensive and can be more costly and difficult to repair.


Think carefully about any accessories or upgrades that you choose to buy. Some bikes come with a few flashy parts, which can really raise the price of the bike.

For instance, a few mountain bikes come with a better quality mech (derailleur), because that’s the part you see, but they have lower quality shifter and crankshafts.

You may decide to buy a bike with low-end parts because you want to choose your own parts and upgrade it later. That’s a great way to go, as long as you make sure you reserve enough money for these upgrades. You’ll also want to save enough to get a high-quality helmet, specialized sunglasses, mountain bike shoes, and more.

Buying your first mountain bike is exciting. Make sure you continue to be excited about your purchase by choosing your new bike carefully. Get one that will last you for years so you can continue to grow as a mountain bike enthusiast. Investing the time and energy that it takes to get the right bike will pay off as long as you choose to mountain bike.

What are you looking for in a bike? Have any questions that weren’t addressed above? Leave a comment below.

What to look for in your first mountain bike


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