Looking to improve your fitness in a new way or race an XTERRA event? Consider these specs when shopping for your first mountain bike.
With three wheel sizes and numerous suspension options to choose from, choosing the right mountain bike can be confusing. However, a couple of basic considerations outlined here can help you make a confident choice. Plus: We put a range of mountain rides representing various price ranges and styles to the test on the XTERRA East Championship course in Richmond, Va., and picked the standouts.
For anyone who can afford it, especially off-road newbies, full suspension is highly beneficial. While hardtails—bikes without rear suspension—are a bit lighter and quicker while turning and accelerating, full-suspension bikes offer a smoother ride (read: faster) on technical climbs and descents. Plus the body can take a beating on an off-road course, and full suspension will leave you much fresher for the run. For raw speed purists or those on a tight budget, there’s reason to ride a hardtail.
The 26-inch wheel has been all but replaced by larger options. The bigger a wheel’s circumference, the easier it rolls over obstacles and maintains momentum, so almost all bikes now feature 29-inch wheels, with 27.5-inch wheels (or 650B) gaining ground quickly. Get these big wheels rolling and you’ll float over bumpy sections and rip through the flats. While they don’t handle quite as responsively through tighter turns, and take more effort to get up to speed, these are minor drawbacks that most riders will rarely detect. Shorter riders often prefer 27.5 wheels for their lower center of gravity.