Buying a New Mountain Bike

Start line for an Ironman race
December 13, 2016

Mike Ricci


Buying a new bike can be an exciting and confusing proposition. With so many models, options and sizes to choose from the process of selecting the right bike can be daunting. This is especially true with mountain bikes. The rise of Xterra events, as well as the benefit athletes receive from a hard day in the mountains has meant an increase in the popularity of mountain bikes. In this article I will help you create a checklist for you to use as you shop for that new rig.

First, and most important is sizing. Mountain bikes go by inches, and can be even or odd numbers, or even small, medium, large. As with any bike, a proper fit is key, Initially you want to ensure you are on the right size frame, and from there you can dial in the stem length, height and other variable. How do you determine the right size? The best way is to simply ride them. Do you feel well balanced on the bike? Are you too stretched out? Do you knees hit your chest? How you feel on the bike is the best indication of proper sizing. Some athletes like an aggressive position, while others need an upright position to deal with back issues. Take the time to ride multiple bikes, don't buy the first one you sit on!

After fit, the style of the bike is next. By style I mean is it a full suspension bike or a hard tail? I recommend that if you are going to take your mountain biking seriously you go with the full suspension. The weight penalty is minimal these days and the travel allows for better grip when climbing, or when bombing downhill. Most bikes allow for plenty of adjustment so you can dial in both shocks to your personal preference. An all mountain, do everything bike should have four to six inches of travel in both shocks, and will start around $1200.

Next up are the brakes. Mountain bikes will have either V brakes (standard pad to rim type) or disc brakes (rotor to caliper, like a car). As you guessed, the disc brakes are better, but cost more. Disc brakes have better, more consistent stopping power, especially in the wet. The only drawback is the extra maintenance needed for disc brakes, but it's worth it.

Then check out the rest of the components. Is it a high end or low end spec for the derailleurs, crankset and wheels? In most bike lines the frames are the same and the only difference comes in the components on the bike. For instance, a bike may come in a Comp, Pro or Expert level. Usually the frames are the same, it’s simply the components that get better as you move up in price. The biggest component you need to look at is the front shock. Does it have rebound and dampening adjustment? If you are going to be racing Xterra's, bike set up is key. The more adjustments you can make to the bike overall, the better it will handle the course. Take the time to play with the adjustments of the front and rear shock when test riding the bike.

Having the right equipment can make a big difference in your training and on race day. Whether you are looking add variety to your training, or want to stand on the podium, mountain bikes are a fun way to stay in shape. Do your research, know your priorities and find the bike that's right for you.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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