Entry Level Mountain Bikes

Mopac 003If you are in the market for an entry level mountain bike, you have a lot of different options available to you.  When choosing a mountain bike, one of the most important factors to consider is the type of terrain you ride.

Before I continue, let’s get one thing out of the way: if you do a lot of street riding, you probably should not get a mountain bike.  Its not that a mountain bike would be BAD, but you might be better off purchasing a hybrid, road bike, or cyclocross. Why?  Because these types of bikes are going to be a lot faster than most mountain bikes on pavement.

If speed is not one of your concerns, and you just want something a little more rugged for riding on pavement, a mountain bike is fine.  Mountain bikes are also good for riding on gravel roads.  While not as fast as hybrids or cyclocross bikes on gravel, a mountain bike will have much better traction because they use wider tires.  You may also find that a mountain bike is more comfortable, because the wider tires and longer travel forks will soak up more of the bumps.

If you know that a mountain bike is for you, its time to figure out what kind of mountain bike you should buy.  You can find quality mountain bikes in all sorts of price ranges, starting out at about $300 online.  Usually, if you purchase online, you will get much more bike for the money compared to your local bike store, although there are exceptions.  If you do decide to buy locally, the best time to buy is between December and March, when the weather is colder and there aren’t as many people riding.  Bikes are usually marked down during this time period, because many bikes stores have clearance sales on previous year models.

Please note that I DO NOT recommend bikes purchased at most major discount department stores.  These bikes, while cheaply priced, usually also have cheap components, and may fail on the trail.  Imagine your forks falling off after landing hard on a jump!  They also are “once size fits all”, meaning that whether you are tall or short, there is only one size available, and trust me when I say that you do not want to ride a bike that is too small or too big!

Here are some places you can purchase online that frequently have great deals on good quality bikes.  They carry bikes in all different sizes, and they also have bikes in a variety of price ranges.  Bikes purchased online usually come partially assembled, but assembly is usually pretty easy.  You can also learn something during the process!


Hydraulic Brakes vs Mechanical Disc Brakes

Avid Elixir Brakes 3 Avid Elixir Brakes 3

This set includes caliper, 160mm disc rotor, brake lever, and mounting hardware.  Great for all weather riding conditions, including the stopping power you need.

You might be wondering if you should upgrade your mechanical disc brakes in favor of hydraulic brakes.  If you are in this boat, there are several things you need to consider.

Hydraulic brakes have some definite advantages over mechanical disc brakes.  For one, because hydros use an enclosed casing with fluid inside of it, rather than a cable, you don’t have to worry about the performance of the break decreasing because it is clogged with dirt.  This can be effected by the weather you ride in, so hydros definitely get the edge here.  You also get more stopping power with hydros, and your hands won’t get as fatigued from breaking.

However, there are also disadvantages of hydros. For one, they cost more, so you will spend more money on your hydros then you will on mechanical disc brakes.  If you upgrade to hydros, you will will most likely have to pick up a second set of brake levers that are specialized for hydraulic brakes, which means more money.  Secondly, they can be tricky to set up, and depending on the system you buy, they require frequent maintenance.  You literally have to bleed them, like you would for automobile breaks, so there is a certain level of expertise required here.

If you have the money to upgrade to hydros, and are o with bleeding your own brakes, go for it.  If, on the other hand, money is tight and you don’t have a lot of expertise to fix your bike, and don’t want to spend big bucks to pay a bike mechanic to do the work for you, stick with your mechanical disc brakes – or upgrade to a better set!


Fat Tire Snow Bike

Continental Spike Claw Studded Tire Continental Spike Claw Studded Tire

These tires are designed to be ridden in the snow and worked best on packed snow or ice as the studs will dig into the surface. 

If you are reading this, chances are that you like mountain biking so much that you are having a hard time letting go during the Winter months.  Should you invest $1600 in a snow bike?

Well, maybe.  The answer depends on what type of terrain you ride.  If you plan on taking your bike off road, to snow covered places you would normally take your mountain bike to, then yes, you will definitely need a snow bike, since normal sized mountain bike tires will seize up pretty quickly in snow covered mtb trails.

Tires that are equipped on your snow bike are much bigger, and can operate at much lower air pressure than conventional mtb tires, and can therefore handle more types of snow covered terrain.  They also do quite well on dirt in the summer time, which many will tell you is where snow bikes thrive.  The only question is, can you afford one?

If you don’t have the money to invest in a snow bike, there are other alternatives.  You can purchase mtb tires with studs in them, or if you are really brave, you can even make your own snow tires.  You can also purchase wider tires, such as 2.3 WTB Stout tires, that have a wider surface area and are designed to ride through areas where regular tires can’t.

If you have your heart on a snow bike and know you will ride a lot during the Winter months, I’d say go for it, because the bike will be a great investment that will last you for years.  One thing I’d recommend, however, is to wait until Winter so that you can feel the Winter air on your skin before buying.  You may decide that you don’t want to be out in the cold weather on your bike after you have tasted Winter’s chilling sting, and if that is the case, buying a snow bike might not be such a great idea.



Convert Bike To Single Speed

Single-Speed Conversion Kit by Nashbar Single Speed Conversion Kit From Nashbar
This kit contains everything you need to convert your mountain bike into a single speed. Includes chain tensioner, spacers, lock ring, and three cogs.   

If you have been around mountain biking for a while, you have probably heard about the single speed craze. So what is the big deal?

Think back to the time when you were a kid, and how much fun it was to ride your BMX bike through the streets, without a care in the world. You weren’t thinking, “this bike doesn’t have any fancy gears”. You were just having fun.

Singlespeed mountain bikes are just that. Fun. They do take a little bit of getting used to, especially on tough climbs. You may also find yourself trying to shift at different places of the mountain bike course. Don’t worry, that’s normal. It takes a few rides to get used to your singlespeed.

Converting your bike to a singlespeed has lots of benefits, the main one being no pesky gears to adjust! You don’t have to worry about things like bending your rear derailleur cage if you take a spill.

There are 3 things you need to convert your bike to a single speed:

1. A Chain Tensioner

2. A Single Speed Conversion Kit With Spacers

3. A Single Speed Chain

Once you have everything set up, take it for a spin! If you decide that a single speed bike is for you, consider upgrading your crakset or chainrings to single speed specific parts. At some point, for better performance, you may wish to upgrade to a singlespeed specific bike or frame. Whatever you do, don’t knock it until you try it! You might find that single speeding is the new love of your life!

Sram vs Shimano Derailleur

Shimano Deore XT M773 Rear Derailleur Shimano Deore XT M773 Rear Derailleur

This awesome derailleur is 10 speed compatible and works great with a Dyna System  drive train. Shifting is incredible smooth, construction is rugged, and you will seldom have to worry about dealing with a dropped chain.

If you are thinking about buying a mountain bike, you might be wondering whether you should go with Sram or Shimano. The truth of the matter is that its a matter of preference, and price.

Shimano has been around a lot longer than Sram. In the case of mountain bike derailleurs, more people know how to work with Shimano to make the proper adjustments so that your bike performs at an optimal level. Some bike mechanics will say that Sram is rather tricky to work with at first, but works awesome once you have gotten used to it.

Shimano is clearly more popular than Sram by a long shot, but Sram is gaining momentum. One of the benefits of going with Sram is that its typically a lot less expensive, especially when you are in the market for a new bike. Because bike parts have recently gone up in price across the board, many bike manufacturers are starting to use Sram as a way of lowering the price of their bikes. In terms of performance, you will find that bikes equipped with Sram X5 components are pretty close in quality to Shimano Deore and XL, but a lot less expensive.

One thing that might be a deal breaker for you is the shifters. Shimano uses trigger shifting, which means that you can use your index finger to quickly downshift, kind of like pulling the trigger of a gun. Sram, on the other hand, uses thumb shifters, so you can only use your thumbs. This isn’t bad by any means, and is easy to get used to, but many riders prefer the Shimano trigger setup over Sram.

Suspension Forks Mountain Bikes

Rock Rhox Recon Silver Suspension Fork Rock Rhox Recon Silver Suspension Fork

This awesome air fork offers 100 mm of travel.  It is light weight and will notice a significant difference in your bike’s performance.  Includes external rebound adjustment and lockout for climbs.

If you have ever visited a mountain bike forum, you will sometimes wonder where people get their ideas from.  In some cases, the general mindset is that unless the fork on your bike cost $600, you need to upgrade it right away.

Well, in most cases, that is utter nonsense.  Now, if you are riding at such a high level where you are jumping off cliffs with 20 foot drops on your mountain bike, then yeah, you might need to upgrade to a fork that is built for that.  But if you are riding basic singletrack, when should you upgrade?

Well, part of that depends on the overall performance of your current fork.  If your fork is acting like a pogo stick every time you hit a bump, then yes, you probably need to upgrade to a better fork.  If your hands are going numb every time you ride, then it might also be a good idea to upgrade.  If you race your mountain bike and want optimal performance in your fork, then its probably a good idea to upgrade as well.  You may also want to consider upgrading to a different fork if you want to increase travel, say from 80mm to 100mm, or if you want to go from a coil fork to an air fork, or to take a pound or so off of your bike.

One thing that is really important when considering an upgrade is price.  If you really want to see a significant difference in performance, plan on paying at least $200 for your new fork, and that’s on sale.  You might be able to get a better deal than that on clearance sales.  For example, I purchased a $250 2011 Rockshox Recon Silver R for $160 after the price had gone down after the 2012 models arrived.  Not the best fork, but hey, it was only $160, but you get what you pay for…

Ultimately, you should only upgrade your fork when your old fork isn’t cutting it for the type of riding you do.  Don’t just upgrade for the sake of upgrading because everyone else is doing it.  I will say that if you buy a new bike and don’t like the fork on it, upgrade before you take it on any rides, because the resale value of a new, unused fork is a lot better than one that has been used and abused.

650b vs 29er

Nashbar Bee's Knees 2x10 650b Nashbar Bee’s Knees 2×10 650b More maneuverable than most 29ers, and faster than most 26ers, this model comes in an alloy frame,  X-9 shifting, complemented by Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic disc brakes.

If you are reading this, chances are, you know want to upgrade your 26er to a larger wheel size.  You have probably have been considering a 29er for some time, but this 650b craze has got your attention.  At this point, you shouldn’t be asking whether or 29er or 650b is right for you.  Rather, you should be asking what wheel size is right for you.

Depending on which source you get your information from, the 650b wheel size is 39% larger than a 26 inch wheel.  This has some advantages over a 26 inch wheel, because you are going to roll over more obstacles with 650b wheels.  You aren’t going to be quite as fast on a 650b compared to a 29er, but the bike is going to be a lot more nimble.  Some people will say that 29ers handle like trucks, and a 650b is a nice alternative to a 29er.

Some people have upgraded to a 29er from their 26er and felt the 29er was too big and clunky for them.  If this describes you, a 650b might be right for you.  No one has developed a scientific formula to determine whether or not a 650b is the right size for you, but if you are under 5’8″ tall, the 650b wheel size might be a little better for you than a 29er.

One thing to consider when deciding to go with a 650b over a 29er is price.  The main disadvantage of a new 650b mountain bike over a 29er is price.  Because 650b bikes are relatively new and kind of a novelty for some, they are priced a lot higher than 29ers.  So, if you took the parts off of a 650b mountain bike priced at $1400, and put these same arts on a 29er, you would probably pay about $900 for the 29er.  Eventually, prices will drop on 650b mountain bikes, but right now, if you ask me, they are over priced.

Overall, a 650b will be faster than a 26er, and handle better than a 29er.  Its the ultimate happy medium between the two sizes…but, its overpriced, so I’d therefore recommend a 29er until 650b prices go down.

Clipless Pedals vs Platform

Shimano Pedal M520 Shimano Pedal M520

This pedal is a great first clipless pedal at a very affordable price. You can adjust the release tension to your preference for when you need to dismount. Cleats are included.

There are a lot of factors you should look at before upgrading to clipless pedals.  One thing I will say based on my own mountain biking experience is that it would be best to wait at least one year to upgrade.

The reason for this?

It is really important to have confidence in your riding skills before upgrading to clipless, and it is not a bad idea to get familiar with the terrain you ride as well.  The reason for this is that there are times when you may feel the need to plant your feet or jump off your bike, and this is sometimes hard to do when you ride clipless.

Its not like you won’t be able to unclip if you are clipped in, as most of the time you will find that you can unclip very fast when you need to without problems.  Sometimes, however, when you have to make a split second decision and try to unclip, this doesn’t work out so well.  Its always fun when you come to a complete stop, wiggle your leg to get unclipped, can’t get unclipped, and immediately fall over to your left or right while your friends are watching!

You will find that whether or not you are familiar with a trail, there will be times you need to unclip, but the more familiar you are with the trail, the better.  When I’ve ridden in unfamiliar trails, I’ve found that I was unclipping and re-clipping all of the time, so much so that I brought a pair of platform pedals with me to my next new trail in the event I would need to unclip if the terrain was too difficult!

The other factor you need to consider when considering upgrading to clipless pedals for mountain biking is how fit you are.  This is especially important when climbing up hills, when you risk stalling toward the top of the hill.  If you are not as fit as you should be, you risk falling over if you stall at the top of the hill if you aren’t able to unclip fast enough.

If you feel confident in your riding ability and are ready to go clipless, by all means go for it, but realize there are risk.  Also, keep your platform pedals standing by in case you need to unclip.  Don’t forget to buy clipless mountain biking shoes, as you will kick yourself for not doing so when you are ready to hit the trails with your new clipless pedals!

Finally, make sure to pick up a pedal wrench or a set of allen renches to remove your old pedals and put on your new ones.  Most new clipless pedals have an allen key hole on the inside of the pedal.  Before you put on your new pedal, realize there is a right and left pedal.  Failure to do this might mean you will strip the threads out of your cranks, and trust me, you don’t want to do that!

Mountain Bike Wheel Sizes

Mavic Crossride Mountain Wheelset Mavic Crossride Mountain Wheelset

Reliable and durable, this wheelset will hold up on tough trails conditions. Reinforced with H2 compression. Strong enough to meet the demands of off road riding.

There is a lot of debate about which mountain bike size is for you.  There is also a lot of hype.  Well, for some mountain bike enthusiast, they will tell you wheel size doesn’t really matter, but I bet I can prove to you they are wrong.

Picture a 5 year old riding a 29er.  Do you think the 29er would be too big?  You are probably right.

Now picture a 6’5 guy who riding a kid’s bike.  Do you think a 20 inch kids wheel size might be too small?  You are probably right.

Unless there is something I don’t know, there isn’t a scientific study out there with a definitive answer that proves which mountain bike tire size is right for a particular sized  rider.  There is, however, an obvious conclusion that you can make about this:

A 29 inch tire is more likely to fit a guy who is 6’5, and a 20 inch bike tire is more likely to fit a 5 year old kid.  One could argue, then, that there is a correlation between the right mountain bike tire size, and height.

However, that doesn’t mean that you are going to perform better on one tire size then another.  What you are going to find is that you might be equally fast, whether you are riding a 26er, 29er, or 650b.  Having said that, there are certain advantages and disadvantage of each size.

Mountain bikes with 26 inch tires are going to be more agile than bikes that use larger wheels.  29ers are going to roll faster than 26ers.  650b mountain bikes are kind of a compromise between 26ers and 29ers in that they will roll faster than 26ers, and be more maneuverable than 29ers.

While individuals of all heights have had success with the standard 26″ wheel size, it has been said that 29ers are best for individuals over 6 feet tall, but not so great for individuals below 5’8″ tall, in which case a 650b wheel size might be better.


Mountain Bike Types Explained

Mud-Biking-013-150x150[1]There are lots of different types of mountain bikes out there, and the type of mountain bike you should buy is ultimately going to be determined by the type of riding you do.   Make sure to check out which wheel size is best for you before you buy. Here are several different classifications of mountain bikes to consider:

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

If you are getting started with mountain biking, one of the best options to go with is a simple hardtail mountain bike.  Why the hardtail?  Because you can learn a lot of really good habits riding a hardtail, and these types of bikes use a time tested design that has proven itself again and again.  Hardtails are great versatile bikes for all kinds of terrain, and can be very fun to ride.

Full Suspension Mountain Bikes

Full suspension mountain bikes are best for those riding more technical terrain, and in some situations, for those with back problems, as they tend to take less of a beating on your body.  Bike fit, of course, is very important consideration if you have back problems, because even if you ride a full suspension, that doesn’t guarantee that you are not going to be riding in a comfortable riding position.  Some full suspensions designs are more aggressive and use a longer top tube, which means you will be riding in a more aggressive position and lean more forward on the bike, so make sure to check out the geometry of the bike and pay special attention to effective top tube before buying.  One thing to realize about full suspension mountain bikes is that they are typically more expensive than hardtails.


Single Speed Mountain Bikes

Single speed mountain bikes are getting more and more popular.  These bikes are great for those looking for new challenges, or if you just want something different.  The main problem with single speed mountain bikes is that if you have a lot of climbing to do, they will make you work a lot harder, because you are not able to downshift into a gear that makes it easier to climb.  However, they can help you build endurance to get faster up hills over time, so you might actually “wow” some of your friends who ride geared bikes as your endurance gets stronger.  Single speeds are typically less expensive than their geared counterparts, are lighter weight, and have less maintenance since you don’t have to worry about things like adjusting derailleurs or bent derailleur cages.

Downhill Mountain Bikes

Think of downhill mountain bikes as a set of skis, or a snowboard designed for one purpose: to take you downhill fast!   These bikes are best for individuals who spend a lot of their time riding down mountainsides, where gravity is the main force that is propelling you.  If you are going to be doing lots of cross country riding, a downhill bike is probably NOT the best way to go!