Seven Suggestions for Buying Your First MTB

There’s a lot for a new rider to think about when getting into mountain biking. Now that we’ve busted a few myths about how to ride, let’s talk about getting your very own whip. Buying that first bike can be a challenge, especially dealing with the technical jargon surrounding components, wheel sizes, suspension, and so on. Here is a simple guide to help newer riders buy a bike they won’t want to sell six months later when they realize they got the wrong thing.

One – Fit is Everything

Buy the right size bike. Don’t be tempted to buy your buddy’s bike that’s a size too big or small, no matter how good a deal he’s giving you. A bike too small will be downright miserable to ride, while one that’s too big can feel dangerous or hard to control. Take the time to figure out your size and stick with it. Now, all that said, the bike industry has made this process more challenging as bike shapes and geometries have changed. Some riders may find themselves between sizes due to their height, and the choice to go up or down may be dictated by the bike brand’s individual dimensions as well as the rider’s own physiology. For example, a rider at 5’10” with long legs and a shorter torso may be more comfortable on the size medium from bike brand A, which has a longer reach to the handlebars. While also feel just as good on a size large from bike brand B, which has a shorter reach. And all of that leads me to the next rule of bike buying…

Two – Ride It

Never buy a bike you haven’t ridden. Think of them like shoes — most of us would never buy a pair of shoes without trying them on. Even if it’s just a spin around a parking lot, get on the bike and see how it fits and feels. If you’re buying a new bike, many shops offer a demo program where the money you spend to take the bike out on a trail ride is applied to your purchase. Another great approach is to attend a consumer demo event where you can ride dozens of bikes in a single weekend. This will be hugely educational in helping you figure out what you like, and with the cost of new bicycles, this is time well spent to avoid making the wrong purchase. Alternatively, if you’re buying a used bike, a test ride is, of course, your only chance to make sure the bike is in the condition it was advertised. Either way, don’t skip this step. Buying blind is one of the biggest errors made by new riders, and the other is settling on the first bike you try. It’s highly likely that you need to ride quite a few before you find the winner.

Shane of Smart Cycling Service helping a rider at a demo bike event.

Three – Brand New vs. Experienced

This is the big decision in our seemingly expensive sport, where many people want to save money by purchasing secondhand. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with buying a used bike, but like buying a used car, it does require that you are much more patient and willing to do some homework. Let’s break this down a bit. If you buy a used bike, you’ll need to budget some additional money for the necessary maintenance that will need to be done. Many people sell their bikes without servicing the suspension or replacing worn-out parts, and you can’t ignore those issues for very long. And of course, you have to beware of being swindled in some way. While I hope for the best in people, I’m sure there are scammers out there who would sell a used bike with a cracked or damaged frame, which you absolutely shouldn’t ride. Or a stolen bike. Now, before you get discouraged, there are ways to minimize the headache of buying used. Check out options like The Pro’s Closet, an online seller with a constantly-changing selection of pre-owned bikes. They go over each bike with a fine-toothed comb and recondition it, then sweeten the deal with a 30-day return guarantee. The only issue here is that buying this way violates the cardinal rule of “Ride Before You Buy.” If you see a bike you like on The Pro’s Closet, do everything in your power to figure out how the bike will ride. Get a buddy to help you look at geometry charts for the bike (found on the manufacturer websites), then go ride the new version of the same bike if the numbers are close enough, etc. Find as much of a similar bike as possible to make sure you even come close to liking the fit and ride.

Four – LBS or Interwebs?

Now, what if you’ve decided to buy a new bike…should you buy from a local shop or from a direct-to-consumer brand like Canyon or YT? (Cue the comments section banter in three, two, one…) I feel like all of this depends on what bike you’ve fallen in love with after a demo ride. If that YT fits and rides perfect for you, buy it! Alternatively, if the bike you love can be purchased through a shop, by all means, support your local bike dealer. A good shop that values its customers through friendly service, sound advice, support, and community is worth every penny. Help them stay in business, and they’ll help you enjoy the sport for years to come. Direct-to-consumer is a great way to save some money on a new bike since the prices are generally lower than buying through shops, but there might be unforeseen costs that might pop up. And be forewarned that some shops are still resistant to this direct-buy model, and those spots may refuse to assemble the bike for you. If that happens, don’t be deterred. There will be another shop or a mobile repair service who will be happy to have you as a customer.

Five – You Said How Much?

So, speaking of money, how do I create a budget for a bike that will cover everything I need without forcing me to overspend? It’s way too easy to think, “I have $3,500 to spend on a new bike,” and once you buy the bike, feel a little shell-shocked to realize you still need to buy shoes, pedals, multitool, pump, hydration pack, etc. There are a couple of ways to approach this. One is to allocate a few hundred dollars of your budget to these items, and then start looking at bikes in the $3,200 range. This is where buying from a shop can be helpful since they often offer a nice discount on accessories when you buy a new bike. You can buy everything in one trip and stay in your total budget of $3,500. But what happens if the bike you really want is $3,500, and the next cheapest build is a lot heavier and lower-quality? That’s a compromise that usually isn’t worth it. Instead, stick with your chosen bike and ponder some other options around budgeting. Many bike manufacturers, like the YT mentioned above and Intense Cycles, for example, offer monthly financing as a way to buy a bike. Or you can get creative about how to acquire your accessories — find older shoes on closeout; get a riding buddy to give/sell you a used set of pedals, etc. And finally, the one thing no one ever seems to mention is the bike seat, referred to as a saddle. Almost everyone hates the saddle that comes on a new or used bike, and feeling forced to ride it because you’re out of money can be an actual painful situation. So, keep in mind that you may need to replace it, and they can be surprisingly expensive. That said, though, the one you’ve got might be perfect for someone else. Recoup some money by selling yours on eBay or other online bike swaps. For the new one, the saddle-fitting systems from several brands found in many bike shops are a great place to start looking. Some shops even offer saddle demos or return guarantees. +1 for that local shop.

Six – So many numbers!

Hey! You haven’t said anything about wheel sizes! How am I supposed to decide between them? Here’s my thought: I think when people are first learning to ride, there are too many new sensations for them to really grasp the specific contribution made by wheel size. And if they ARE able to do that, they’ll figure out their preference for themselves during the demo process. My best advice to new riders is this: don’t listen to all the hype from your friends, friends of friends or the internet. Ride a bunch of bikes and decide for yourself. There are a lot of really great options out there these days.

Does this hit everything to consider when getting a new bike? Well, no! I’m trying to make this as simple as possible to get those new riders amped on riding and not worrying about the latest and greatest _____. Which carries us to the last point…

Seven – #NEWBIKEDAY

Be stoked you have a new bike! You’re going to have a blast out there!

Yay bikes!!
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Marty is a bike mechanic who uses the noun "flowgnar" like it's an actual word, while at the same time correcting people for saying "irregardless." She loves alpine sunrises, long descents, and fixing broken things to get people back riding. Her stoke level is high, as is her tendency to make "that's what she said" jokes. #ridesmarter #traillife

Mechanic & Contributor

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