Should a ‘beginner’ cyclist get a road bike? I’m not very good at cycling; mainly I’m afraid of sharing the road with cars and also tend to overreact to potholes and cracks in the ground. I’m also pretty weak on climbing. On the other hand, it’s my objective to overcome these obstacles and eventually be able to ride long city trails. Should I start with a mountain bike and build up my skills first, or should I just go ahead and get a road bike since that’s my end goal anyway?
Determine Your Price
There is virtually no limit to how much money you can spend on a new mountain bike. To keep your spending under control, figure out what price range you are willing to pay for your new bike and try to only look at bikes within that price range. I do not recommend buying a bike from a mass-merchant store such as Wal-Mart or Costco. Support your local bike shop and get a better product and much better service.
Find Your Style – What Kind of Riding Do You Want To Do
Mountain bikes are designed for several different riding styles and terrain. You will need to figure out what type of riding you’ll be doing most of the time. Is it smooth trail riding, cross-country racing, all mountain cruising or downhill riding? Make sure the bikes you look at fit your riding style and not the sales staff’s.
Full Suspension or Hardtail ? – Comfort vs. Efficiency
I always recommend a full suspension mountain bike if you can afford it. Hardtails, without rear suspension, are lighter weight and pedal more efficiently but full suspension designs offer more comfort and better control. You will want to decide based on your price range, riding style and terrain.
Full suspension mountain bikes are much more comfortable, enjoyable, and better controlled when compared to their hardtail counterparts. The trade offs of a little extra weight and slightly less efficiency are well worth the added benefits.
Some people will disagree with me on this subject. Hardtails do pedal more efficiently especially when the terrain is smooth. Hardtail mountain bikes are also a bit lighter than full suspension designs and require less maintenance.
A good number of cross-country racers still use hardtails for the above reasons, but most endurance and other types of racers have switched over to full suspension. I should also note that hardtails are also especially popular among the dirt jumping crowd where they pump better from jump to jump.
The Component Conundrum – Find Your Favorites
It is nearly impossible to compare mountain bikes component to component. There are simply too many combinations. I recommend finding a few components that are most important to you for comparison and make sure the rest fall within some sort of minimums for your price range. I usually start with the fork and then look at the wheels and rear derailleur. Rim brakes (or V-brakes) are usually cheaper than hydraulic disc brakes but have less stopping power. Depending on your style of riding you might be better off with rim brakes.
Sales, Seasons, and Bonuses – Get a Good Deal
Mountain bike prices can fluctuate significantly during the year. The main buying season is from spring through summer. If you are lucky enough to be able to wait until the right price comes up, usually in the fall and winter, you can save a few hundred dollars. You will also find that a lot of bike shops will offer discounts on accessories or other products and services when you buy from them. There is nothing wrong with buying last years model if it fits your needs.
Find a Good Dealer
Finding a good dealer can be more important than getting a good price. Find a dealer that cares more about selling you the right bike than selling you the more expensive one. A good dealer should have a clean repair shop and you should feel like you can trust them.
Test Ride, and then Test Ride Some More
Test ride as many bikes as you can in your price range and riding style category. You will find that some bikes will just feel right while others don’t. The more bikes you ride the better feel you will have for what you like and what you don’t.
Do Some Research – Read Some Product Reviews
For those of you that are not beginners, this will probably sound very obvious, but for others it can be very useful.
Always commit to a track or line. You need to plan a few steps ahead and choose the line that you want to ride. Once you have chosen your line, be sure to follow it. If you hesitate because of fear of the obstacles ahead of you, frequently things go will go wrong. If you hesitate halfway through a complex section, you will surely fall off, this goes double when heading downhill.
Think 2 to 3 moves ahead. Don’t focus on a single obstacle for too long. Always be aware of the next obstacle.
Slide back on the saddle on steep descents. This will allow for more time to react to unforeseen obstacles. Besides, it doesn’t hurt as much if you fall off the back of a bike than flying over the handlebars.
Don’t just focus on the rider in front of you. You might end up hitting something that the rider in front of you had managed to avoid. Look 5 to 10 feet ahead of you. Don’t focus on your front wheel or the rear wheel of the rider in front of you.
Shift to an easier gear in patches of sand, water or mud. Transfer more weight to the back wheel by leaning back. This will allow your front tires to glide through the soft terrain. Don’t slam on the brakes or you will loose what little traction you have. Relax and spin your way through.
Don’t grip the handlebars too tight. This will only make your upper body tense and you will tire out faster. Loosen up but not too loose.
Do not put your thumb over the handle bar. This will make it easier for you too loose grip if you hit something unexpectedly.
Bend your elbows and loosen your shoulders. This will help to absorb the shocks that you will experience on the trail.