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Mountain bikes are intricate and diverse bike types. I’ve ridden many over the last 20 years, and I’ve learned one important thing – when choosing one, you can’t just pick any.
There are a lot of aspects to examine, such as bike styles, adaptability, design features, and much more.
Aspects worth thinking about when choosing a mountain bike include wheel size, frame materials, brakes, gearing, suspension, motors, dimensions, weight, future-proofing, handlebars, geometry, and groupset.
That being said, if you’re looking to learn all about the many features of mountain bikes, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll cover all 12 major features of mountain bikes – what to look out for, what’s best for you, and everything else you need to know.
Suspensions are often the most common concern of mountain bikers.
When it comes to mountain bikes, you’d usually only think about hardtail or full suspensions. Both of them can have their benefits and drawbacks.
To be specific, the humble hardtails work for those on a budget. They are bikes that only have a front suspension, and they have much better specs for their value.
Plus, they’re a lot more lightweight than their full-suspension counterparts.
If you’re considering climbing with your bicycle, a hardtail would be the sure winner. They have a direct connection to the crank and axle.
This provides efficient responses for lighter pedaling.
In addition, hardtails are just easier to maintain. They don’t need intensive servicing despite being budget-friendly.
On the other hand, full suspensions are more entry-level. They’re durable enough for rougher trails, but they also work for partial off-road adventures.
Besides that, you may also find air or spring suspensions on some bicycles. But, this is more uncommon.
Before opting for them, you’d need to figure out how much effort and hard work you’d be putting your bike through. Then, accordingly, you should choose a lightweight or heftier design.
A group set consists of your chain, crank, cassette, shifter, chainring, and derailleur. It is often just a closed circuit that improves your bike’s durability, efficiency, and shifting performance.
They can consist of varying materials. Entry-level bikes usually just have low-grade alloys, whereas higher-end bicycles would consist of titanium or carbon fiber.
3. Wheel Sizes
For as long as I could remember, there wasn’t a lot of variation in wheel sizes.
Most often, 26-inch mountain bike wheels were considered the industry standard. The only exception to this is for dirt-jump and slopestyle mountain bikes. In those cases, larger hoops are favored.
However, new adult bikes can also come with 27.5-inch or 29-inch diameter wheels. These have the benefit of being better at carrying momentum.
Plus, larger wheels would help overcome obstacles easily while providing better traction through more lasting contact patches.
Yet, it’s worth knowing that these newer wheels come with some drawbacks.
In particular, they lead to slower accelerations and more challenging turns. Though this won’t be an issue in most instances, it can inhibit dynamic riding styles.
So, unless your 29-inch wheel bike has a unique geometry, it won’t be able to take on twisting, tight, or steep landscapes.
Though not found on all mountain bikes, I always recommend disc brakes as your go-to choice.
They are durable and consistent while offering sufficient stopping power in any condition.
Not to mention, disc brakes can come in various sizes, shapes, or types. You can get cable operated or hydraulic brakes.
Hydraulic brakes are more powerful and reliant, plus they cool down faster during challenging descents. Whereas cable brakes are cheaper and more straightforward.
Handlebars are probably the most noticeable difference you’d see between mountain bikes and road bikes.
You’d find that road bikes usually have curved and narrow handlebars, while mountain bikes’ are flatter and more sizable.
This is because mountain bikes prioritize control and turning more than anything. This makes sense because you’d want as much stability as possible in technical terrains.
Having larger handlebars does just this. By having your hands high above the front of your bike, you can smoothly lift your bike over bumpy grounds.
When looking for mountain bikes, I suggest lower saddles. They encourage smoother movement over rocks and roots.
In contrast, a higher seating position would provide more power and easier climbs.
However, it really depends on the rides you plan on undertaking.
If you just want a pleasant ride across a grassy country path, higher seat posts aren’t going to be a problem. Since you wouldn’t have to worry about your foot on the ground for abrupt braking, there’s not a lot that could go wrong if you have a high seat.
On the contrary, rocky terrains entail adaptability. You have to adjust to diverse grounds, so you’d be expected to jump a lot.
For this reason, higher posts would just be uncomfortable and unnecessary.
You could opt for the best of both worlds with a “dropper post.” These allow for instant saddle height adjustment through a lever on the handlebar.
This is a little pricier, but they’re great for reaching optimal saddle height regardless of the challenge.
Mountain bike gears are determined as a multiple of the number of sprockets within a cassette and the number of front chainrings. Whether the bike has a single speed or more than 30 gears, you can find mountain bikes with it all.
So, when choosing between gears, there are a couple of factors worth examining. These often include thinking about the teeth on a combination of chainrings and cogs.
This explanation can get pretty complex. But, in layman’s terms, you just need to think about your fitness level and preferred terrain.
If you’re tackling steep hills, it’d be challenging to climb without more gears. On the same note, strong mountain bikers or people who prefer flat routes wouldn’t need that many gears.
Since lower gears are plenty for powering up a hill, you can get away with lighter bikes.
Getting a bike that fits you can be more crucial and challenging than you think. You have to realize that geometry and sizing are never consistent among brands.
So, the only reliable method is by checking measurements.
Just because a bike is renowned, it isn’t guaranteed a perfect fit. The tube could be too short or the seat too low. The tiniest physical factors could restrict your riding experience more than any paint job or a fancy suspension fork.
Likewise, if you’re getting a new bike after some time, you’d be surprised by how much longer they’ve gotten over the years.
With new-age technology, it’s been discovered that this design provides slacker head angles for better speeds. So, if you feel uncomfortable maneuvering a more sizable bike, you shouldn’t worry.
This feeling would fade with more experience.
In these modern times, electric mountain bikes are becoming more common than ever.
They follow similar disciplines to traditional mountain bikes while incorporating a motor and battery. They simply grant a level of assistance that makes it easier to boost your pedaling input.
That said, e-bikes have a few drawbacks compared to their non-motorized alternatives. This is due to their heftier build which makes it harder to climb steep gradients.
So, e-bikes aren’t really everyone’s forte. They require some experience to master. And, you often spend more time descending or climbing hills.
Frames are a unique aspect of mountain bikes. They are more robust than your typical bike frame, enabling them to withstand the roughest off-road journeys.
In addition, this durability can further vary with the material.
For instance, mountain bikes made from resistant materials like steel would last longer than cheaper alternatives like aluminum.
Likewise, shapes across bicycles can change too.
Often, you’d find mountain bikes using a sloping top tube for a better upright riding position and clearance. This would also make it easier to overcome obstacles while ensuring comfort.
But, there are a few variants in this design, so it’s worth experimenting and figuring out what works best for you.
There’s no doubt that bicycles are a hefty investment.
So, if you’re considering long-term, you need to pick a bike with a future-proof design. This includes opting for current diameters, spacing, bottom brackets, headsets, and seat posts.
For example, you could choose a ‘stealth’ dropper for a sleek look. But, if you do, you could compromise your bike’s noise and ease of maintenance.
Though weight is a crucial factor in choosing a bike, mountain bikes usually value durability more.
You need to realize that flimsy materials have no place against the ruts, rocks, or roots found on technical terrain.
And, the added weight could have a drastic effect on more lightweight frame materials.
For instance, it can inhibit your bike’s cornering, steering, confidence, and accuracy. And, adding weight in the form of trinkets or accessories can just overall result in unfavorable speeds.
What Counts As A Mountain Bike?
You can think of a mountain bike as a typical bicycle with advantages in off-road cycling. Though the term ‘mountain’ makes the bike sound like it is meant for extreme and rugged terrain, it’s ideal as an all-rounder. These bikes come with features that can improve performance on various surfaces.
When considering the bicycle’s structure, you can often see them with suspensions on their front and rear wheels, knobby tires, and wide handlebars.
What Kind Of Riding Do You Have in Mind?
A purpose is necessary for any bike you pick. Regardless of how popular the cycle might be, there’s no guarantee that it’d be the ideal pick for you.
It’s essential to establish the trails or terrain you expect to ride on. This would help you specify the category of bike you need.
Whether for lightweight cross-country rigs or beefy downhill races, you can find mountain bikes catering to your exact riding style and ability; you just need to look for them!
What Muscles Do We Use When Mountain Biking?
The best part of mountain biking is that it works as an all-around exercise. It benefits the whole body by working on your glutes, calves, and quadriceps simultaneously.
In addition, you would also work on your core. This is done by establishing balance and using your upper body to steer across any obstacles you might encounter.
Simply put, you’re going to make use of every muscle you have when mountain biking!
Maintaining your Bike
Though every manufacturer has a mechanical safety inspection for their bikes before they’re sold, they would still need regular maintenance if they’re expected to last.
Not to mention, you have to ask for the suspension settings on the bike to be adjusted according to your body weight and riding style.
That being said, the following are a few maintenance tips for ensuring your bike’s well-being in the long run:
Opting for a First Tune-up
If you buy your mountain bike from a distinguished shop, you’d most likely receive a free first tune-up. This would help get your bike adjusted to your exact needs. So, try your best to take complete advantage of this offer!
I’m not asking you to learn how to become a mechanic. But, there’s no harm in keeping the bare essentials for repairs and maintenance. These could involve patch kits, tire levers, spare tubes, chain lube, and a multi-tool; and a helmet wouldn’t hurt either!
At the end of it all, mountain biking is a unique activity that utilizes a variety of features to make it work. The slightest changes to these features can result in drastic consequences. Hence, you need to look for the ideal middle ground for these features.
Experimenting is one of the simplest ways to discover what works for you.
If you don’t understand every trinket your bike has to offer, there’s no harm in practicing with your bike until you do. By just going out there to test the waters, you can learn so much more than anything I could ever teach you.
So, with that being said, go forth and happy cycling!