Equipment: What You’ll Need

While rentals are available from some locations, buying a mountain bike can make for an important learning experience. For starters, you’ll want a machine that meets your requirements in several key areas. Price alone should not be the sole determinant of what you end up riding—after all, having a bicycle that’s a good fit is much more important than impressing people or skimping to the point where your mountain biking experience is fraught with equipment failure or discomfort. What works for a pro may not be the right rig for a beginner, so make sure you are particular with your selection.

Frame size is the first important item to be sure of. You want two to three inches of clearance between your crotch and the top tube of the frame while standing flat-footed. Frame sizes themselves are measured differently from each manufacturer, so don’t get caught up with numbers themselves.

As far as frame construction goes, there are several choices that have their own strengths and weaknesses. Steel is the oldest, heaviest, most durable, and (usually) least expensive material. Of course, weight is not a virtue in most bikes, but for a beginner or moderate rider, steel is an ideal material. Aluminium presents strong points in being the second-lightest material available; it is cheaper than carbon fibre and titanium; and they make great bikes for climbing. On the downside, the material makes a ride feel rigid, making for an uncomfortable experience on rough terrain. Titanium is one of the more exotic materials used in bicycle construction; it is strong, light, durable, and forgiving. If you have the money (and it will cost plenty), a titanium frame will probably outlast your mountain biking career. Without any hesitation, titanium is the best possible compromise between all the respective attributes that a frame can have—the only drawback is its high cost. Carbon fiber is the ultimate frame material, in that it provides the lightest possible bike while being very forgiving. However, its durability is in question, as some have witnessed the material breakdown under heavy loads and high stress. If you have very deep pockets, go ahead and indulge.

Another equally important consideration is in components. Shimano holds a virtual monopoly on mountain bike components; your only real choice will be between the top-of-the-line XTR, Deore XT, Deore LX, Deore, Saint (excellent for downhill, and based on the XT line), Hone, or the other groupsets that rank below the aforementioned ones.

One of the most sought-after features these days is suspension. Bikes can either come with a front suspension fork, rear suspension, be fully suspended, or none of the above (hard tail). The trade off comes in added weight, while you might have an easier time on downhill sections. Also, price will go up with suspension added to your bicycle’s package. Is it worth it? It all depends on how hard you go; it also should be noted that your body acts as a natural shock absorber system with your arms and legs evening out much of the uneven terrain.

A final point that I feel needs to be impressed is that you might be able to find a bargain in a used bicycle. Be wary, as lemons don’t only come in the form of defective cars. Just be prepared to learn as much as you can and rely on friends in the know in order to avoid getting ripped off.

By Brian J. D’Souza, Trail Canada

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