Whether your bike is black, red or flower printed – all that does not matter. What really matters are the components, the different parts, and the construction: suspension, brakes, tires, gears. And then there are some other aspects to pay attention to when buying a mountain bike. In the end, it’s a pretty big and, to many, a confusing jungle. Our buyer’s guide will help you understand all these different aspects to make sure you know what bike to buy for your upcoming adventures in the mountains! By the way, our experts will gladly assist you with your bike service and check-ups whenever needed.
- The suspension of your mountain bike
- The frame size needs to fit
- Different wheel sizes
- You need those brakes
- The different components form mountain bike groups
The suspension of your mountain bike is what dampens impact, leading to more stability and comfort while biking. This is especially important when you are going downhill and when the trail you are going on is very bumpy. Mountain bikes are equipped with suspension either in the back and front or just in the front. Both let you adapt the suspension to your individual needs, making it stronger or weaker according to your weight and style of riding. The suspension on some mountain bikes can also be locked entirely, which maximizes the transfer of power while going uphill. The suspension travel differentiates the bikes: if you are more downhill oriented, you need a stronger suspension. So finding the right bike and suspension depends on your style, your skills, your desires and also your budget.
Fully (left) vs. hard-tail (right)
Hard-tails: Hard-tails only have suspension in the front. This makes them absorb fewer shocks in uneven terrain, but the transfer of power is more direct. Which means these bikes ask for more skill when encountering obstacles. Or less speed. They are perfect for those who spend the most time on paved roads and trails. Also, these bikes are easier in their maintenance.
Fullys: Short for “full-suspension”, these bikes are equipped with suspension both in the front and in the back. The greatest advantage is the increased shock absorption, which is easier on your body. It also ensures increased control in rough terrain. This is because the back tire is closer to the ground, giving you better riding dynamics. And this leads to more stability and safety while going down faster! But fullys are more work when it comes to maintenance, they weigh more and are generally more expensive.
The size of the frame is crucial, if it does not fit your height and needs properly, you will have less control over your bike and it might also cause pain in your back due to uncomfortable biking positions. Therefore, the bike brands have different sizes and also bikes specially designed for women, you can find all info on this in our mountain bike frame size guide.
The wheel size is the inner diameter of the wheel. There are three set standards on the market, and all of them have their advantages and disadvantages. They differ in their riding characteristics and their weight. The right tire size for you therefore depends on your height and your biking style. Generally, it can be said that the more agile your biking style is and the shorter your are, the smaller your wheels should be.
26 inches: Back in the day, life was easier. Because back then, all mountain bike tires were the same size of 26 inches. These tires usually weigh less (of course this also depends on the material). But the greatest advantage is that these tires are very agile and flexible. Bikers that like to have fun on their bike while going fast and lively, will love 26 inch tires. This size is rarely used.
29 inches: These bikes are a lot larger than the 26 inch ones. Generally, the rolling resistance is smaller, which makes them ride more steadily. Some bikers also say, that the larger tires make going uphill easier and downhill feel safer. On the other hand, these wheels weigh more. Also, they ususally only come with larger frames, which is why it might be difficult for short people to find a well fitting bike with such tires.
27.5 inches: These have been on the market for a couple of years now and are becoming more and more popular! This is the mid size that combines the advantages of both extrenes. It is the ideal mix of light weight, stability and agility!
mountain bike brakes
All things evolve… and now having disc brakes is the standard when it comes to mountain bikes. The other option is rim brakes, however, these are mostly seen on city bikes, road bikes, trekking bikes and on budget-friendly mountain bikes.
The braking power is applied directly to the rim, meaning the outer part of your wheel. The brake linings are thereby pressed onto the rim of the wheel. This traction is what causes the bike to brake. This is why these are great for those who take their bike for a ride every once in a while or mainly stay on a rather flat terrain. But those who have more speed and steeper downhill parts planned in their tour might come to have difficulties with such breaks. Also, rim brakes partially lose their braking power when wet or damp and they can easily overheat when being used continuously for a longer time. The wear is higher and they are more susceptible to dirt. Advantages are easier maintenance and lower costs.
Disc brakes are a type of hub brake, as are the backpedal brakes commonly known from kids’ bikes. Other than with rim brakes, the braking power is not applied to the outer part of your tires, but rather on the center of the wheel, which is why these brakes are not influenced by misaligned wheels. The advantage is very clear: The system works equally well when it is wet out, they do not wear out as easily and the discs are – other than rims – actually made for overheating, meaning they will resist the heat applied and not be affected by it. Also, you need less power applied on the brake levers: while rim brakes always lose some of the power transferred from your hands to the brakes, disc brakes do the opposite and actually increase it. But disc brakes are more expensive and weigh more. Also, although there are very easy to maintain, repairing them is a bit more complicated and special tools are needed. These brakes are further divided into two types:
Mechanic disc brakes are the cheaper option. The braking happens using a Bowden cable, very similar to how rim brakes work. A piston pushes the disc onto the brake lining.
The hydraulic disc brake is very similar to how your car brakes, using a brake fluid. Two or four pistons push onto the disc, braking from both sides symmetrically. The advantage of this type of brake is that you barely lose any friction and the braking effect is dosed more efficiently. Also, the braking power is the highest and the most reliable. Due to these brakes being entirely separated and closed, wear and tear due to dirt or rust is minimized. But that all makes the hydraulic brakes the most expensive and although maintenance is minimal, when you do have to repair something, it can get complicated. The brake liquid is either regular car brake liquid or mineral oil. Just be careful and do not mix these up because that would ruin your brakes!
Gearing: Mountain bike groups by Shimano and SRAM
Generally, mountain bikes consist of so-called mountain bike groups. These are formed by the different components of your gearings: pedal crank, bottom bracket bearings, derailleurs, the cassette and gear lever, they are all matched together and adjusted to fit your bike’s needs. Also your brakes are part of these mountain bike groups. That is where the two main producers Shimano and SRAM come into play.
The gear shifter
It is what enables us to go up mountains with our mountain bike. Because not many have the ability to go all the way up with one single gear – and if they do, it would certainly not be efficient. Instead, the gear shifter ensures the best transfer of power possible. When in a low gear, the back wheel is turning less compared to the pedal crank, which enables us to go uphill through steep and difficult terrain. When in a higher gear, the back wheel is turning more, leading to higher speeds going downhill and in the flat. But the number of gears you have does not really give you the power spectrum of your bike. This is depending on the gear range. Meaning the range between the highest and the lowest gear. This is why more and more bikes tend to have fewer chainrings these days (mostly two or just one) because such a high number of gears is simply not necessary and just leads to higher maintenance. The gear range is actually depending on your chainrings. These are equipped with a certain number of teeth. The sum of these teeth, meaning all the sprockets (or gears) added together are the cassette. When you change gears, the derailleur shifts the chain from one chainring onto the next one.
Based on the Eagle Technology, SRAM clearly shows how innovation is done and how all the components of the mountain bike group work together.
Shimano is brand from Japan which, next to a couple of other areas of outdoor sports, focuses mainly on bike components. In 2009, Shimano introduced the first electronic gear change, which makes shifting gears faster and can calibrate itself. The biggest difference to SRAM when shifting gears, is that Shimano typically uses a ratio of 2:1 whereas SRAM shifts on a ratio of 1:1. 1:1 means that the cable is moved further when shifting than it is with a higher ratio, possibly making this type of shift a bit more sensible. Shimano offers mountain bike groups for all target groups, be it beginner or professional. The more professional, the higher the price. The different groups also vary in their components’ materials, weight and needed maintenance. Here you can find current Shimano Models.
This brand, originating in the U.S., develops its products in Schweinfurt, Germany. The brand has decided to equip mountain bikes with one chainring only, meaning not using a front derailleur. Their brand’s different mountain bike groups can be combined as needed. The shifting happens through a so-called Trigger-System. In their high-end gear levers, SRAM uses the Double-Tap System. With this, there is only one lever used both to shift gears up and down. Shimano on the other hand always uses the traditional system of having two levers. In the end, it is all about personal preferences. SRAM as well offers mountain bike groups starting from beginner level and going up to professional groups. With the professional categories, the weight decreases and the shifting becomes smoother, but do not worry – the beginner components as well are of great quality! Here you can find current SRAM models.
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