How to Choose a Mountain Bike

Use this guide to help choose the right wheel sizes and suspension system for your new mountain bike.

Mountain bikes are for cyclists who want to head off the beaten path. Choose a mountain bike if you plan to trek off-road and encounter mud, rocks and debris along the way.

There are two basic types of mountain bikes:

  1. Trail Bikes are a versatile, general-purpose take on the traditional mountain bike. They’re great for riding on packed trails, dirt roads and uneven ground.
  2. All-Mountain Bikes have sturdy frames and full suspension for riding steeper descents in more challenging environment

Mountain Bike Wheel Sizes 

26-Inch Wheel: Basic mountain bike models are equipped with this compact and agile wheel size.

27.5-Inch Wheel: Now considered the industry-standard, this wheel size bridges the gap between 26 and 29-inch wheels. It offers the same rollover resistance as the 29er, without compromising the maneuverability of the 26-inch wheel.

29-Inch Wheel: Also known as the “29er”, this wheel offers superior momentum, rollover resistance and traction. It also best accommodates larger riders.

Mountain Bike Suspension Systems

  • Disc Brakes use a hard, metallic-based pad attached to the wheel hub, ensuring that the brake is not easily affected by debris on the trail. There is also a large clearance area beneath the brake, so it’s great for taking on muddy terrain. Disc brakes come in mechanical and hydraulic models. Hydraulic provides more control while breaking.
  • Linear Brakes, also called “v-brakes,” are a side-breaking mechanism that draws together a bike’s cable housing arms to bring the machine to a stop.

Gender & Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are built in “adult” and “women’s” models. What’s the difference? Most adult bikes are designed for an average man’s body size, while women’s-specific bikes are built to better accommodate a woman’s smaller frame. Keep in mind, women can ride both adult and women’s-specific bikes. Children’s bikes also come in smaller frames with a variety of colors and designers for young cyclists.

Common Frame Materials

  • Aluminum is the most common frame material on mountain bikes. It’s lightweight yet durable—an ideal combination for taking on technical terrain.
  • Steel-Frame mountain bikes are sturdy and offer a smooth, fluid ride, though this material may be too heavy for some cyclists.

Bike Suspension Systems

  • Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes have front and rear-wheel suspension that performs well on more rugged, technical terrain. This option is ideal for bikers who want a ride that’s easier on muscles and joints.
  • Front-Suspension Mountain Bikes have a suspension fork attached to the front wheel to improve steering and reduce fatigue while riding.