Red Mountain Bike

The Best Mountain Bike: What is your best option?

by Robb Sutton

What is the best mountain bike for you? This is a question that every single mountain biker asks as they look to replace a current bike or get into the sport for the first time. With all of the available options in today’s market, you have a wide range of possible suspects which is a good thing…but it can be crippling in your search as well.

Here are some things I would consider while searching out the best mountain bike for your trails and budget.

Do you need the support of a local bike shop?

First off, a good local bike shop should work on any bike that was purchased outside of their shop as well as they do for one that was bought onsite. However, the local bike shop will throw in service and accessory perks when you purchase at their store. In some areas of the country, there are a lot of bike shops and brands to choose from. If you live in an area where there are not many shops, finding your best mountain bike might be narrowed down to just a couple of brands if you want to buy locally.

Your bike shop is going to be your lifeline to keeping your mountain bike running. With offers like free tune-ups for a year or discounts on labor for purchasing within their store, that relationship building part of the buying process can be very beneficial to sanity and the wallet over time.

If you are able to work on your own bikes and the support of your LBS is not as important, you have a wider range of options from buying online to searching out high quality used bikes.

Do you have demo days in your area?

Demo days are a time for local shops to bring out demo fleets and let you ride the new bikes out on your trails. This is a great time to get out and actually try the bikes you see in magazines or think might work well for your riding style.

There is no one best mountain bike for everyone. One of the driving forces behind diversification amongst designs and brands (outside of commercial reasons) is because everyone is different and everyone likes different trails. This allows for a lot of different options that have strengths and weaknesses that either benefit your riding style or hold you back. By getting on these bikes and actually trying them out on trails you know, you are able to find out if that particular bike you had your eye on is actually the best mountain bike for you.

I am a huge fan of riding as many bikes as you can before purchasing to figure out exactly what you like the best. Demo days are a great way to get in this saddle time.

The Ironic Truth In Mountain Bike Purchasing

There is one very important thing you need to understand when purchasing your best mountain bike. Mountain bike manufacturers figured out a long time ago that the rear derailleur was the #1 looked at item in component specs among new buyers. For that reason, they spec out the nicest derailleur they possibly can while cheapening up other components on the bike…specifically wheels.

This is not new and it has been going on for years…for one reason…it works. When potential buyers look in the bike shop for their next new ride, most of them look directly at that rear derailleur to see if it is the latest X.0 or XTR completely forgetting about the rest of the spec. If you even look at the latest Specialized Stumpjumper EVO we have in for review, the rear derailleur is the latest X.0 from SRAM but the front derailleur is X.7 and the rest of the shifting components are X.9.

If you are given the choice between models, X.0 and XTR are not worth it. Yes…they will look a little bit nicer and they might be a tad lighter…but on the trail you will notice zero difference between the two and the replacement cost is drastically different (when you step down to SRAM X.9 and Shimano XT…it is most times less than half the price). These days…you even step down to SRAM X.7 and Shimano SLX and get an great performing package at a fraction of the price.

You can use that savings to upgrade areas of the bike that have a drastic affect on how it rides…specifically wheels and suspension. Do not fall for the blingy rear derailleur trap.

Some Golden Rules In Finding Your Best Mountain Bike

As you look for your best mountain bike, keep some of these golden rules of mountain biking in consideration.

  • Money doesn’t buy happiness…but if you try to stay in the $1,000 and up range, you will have a much more trail worthy bike.
  • The 5.5″ rear travel 26″ trail bike and 4-4.5″ 29er is the most popular full suspension bike for a reason right now. This is a great place to start and move up and down in travel from there when testing different options.
  • There is no one mountain bike that will be perfect for 100% of your riding. Try to find the bike that covers 75% of it really well and make adjustments for the remaining 25%…or have multiple bikes.
  • Decreasing weight drastically increases price. It is often easier and cheaper to get into better shape (assuming you are not trying to take a 35+ lbs bike on XC trails). Getting form 28 pounds to 27 pounds could cost you a grand without even being able to feel it on the trail.
  • Shorter travel bikes are better climbers and longer travel bikes are better descenders. Chose a travel range that fits the needs of where you ride…not what you wish you were riding.
  • Correct fit is very important. Consult a local bike shop that is credible and knowledgeable to make sure your best mountain bike is the right size.
  • Just because your friend likes his (or her) shiny new rig, that does not mean it is the best mountain bike for you.
  • Take reviews with a grain of salt…especially on online forums. Most of those guys spend more time online than they do riding. Only you know if a specific bike will be your perfect ride.
  • Last years brand new blowouts are a great way to get a better bike for a lower price.

and most importantly…

Ride the wheels off of it. Once you get a new mountain bike, it is very easy to get obsessed about the details. You can get yourself into a tailspin of trying to get every single components and color perfect…or you could be out riding. I am as much of a gear junkie as anyone, but it is still all about the ride.



Douglas February 21, 2011 - 5:07 pm

If I could afford it right now. I would go for a GF Sawyer. I always like the feel of a rigid frame. Seems to be a little more adventurous.Right now I ride a 29er HT with a 80mm fork. I’ve never really been impressed by components. As long as it gets me up and down the trail

Johnny Lay February 21, 2011 - 1:01 pm

best mtb rigs are the ones, the individual enjoys! it’s always about the ride, not the rig!

Win February 21, 2011 - 12:27 pm

“X.0 and XTR are not worth it.”

While I agree in general with the above statement, I can tell you that XTR shifters are worth it. On a 3×9 setup, the ability to upshift 2 cogs at once equalizes gears when dropping from the big ring to the middle ring. When you’re going fast it helps immensely. When I ride my brother’s bike with XT shifters I miss having this ability – the difference is noticeable. It’s also nice when transitioning from uphill to downhill – you only have to pull (or push) the trigger half as many times.

As far as bikes go, my Banshee Paradox is a rippin’ load of fun.

DJ Papi February 21, 2011 - 7:52 am

The BEST Mountain bike, in my opinion, is a well built 2011 TURNER 5.SPOT. Nothing rides better…. as in, NOTHING!!!

198 February 21, 2011 - 8:05 am

My ’09 has been one of the best bikes I have ever owned. The ’11 improvements just made it even better…

Fenriq February 14, 2011 - 1:03 am

Good article! I wasn’t aware of the derailleur trick but I’m a whole package kind of guy anyway so I’d look well beyond just one component.

I hope you don’t mind but I reposted some of this with links back here.

Boogie February 10, 2011 - 12:11 pm

This article did not address geometry, which I think is the next big discussion. Head angle, seat angle… These numbers are passed over all the time and are large factors on how a bike performs. What is the ideal head angle? I’m not sure, but I know i like mine between 67 and 68, but many 140 mm travel bikes are closer to 70, which seems way to steep to me.

For the masses, i think the IBIS Mojo SL with the SLX kit is hard to beat. 140mm of travel, solid spec, DW suspension, 27 ish pounds and $3,000 ish. Not many bikes can compete with those numbers.

That said, its all about fit, purpose and budget.

I’ve been in the market for a while, and think i still have another year of testing before I pull the trigger. Once you decide to up the anti, its a big investment and a fun process of elimination.

voodoopiles February 10, 2011 - 9:07 am

The best bike in my opinion is the one I already own because without it I wouldn’t be going any where…….Marin Mount Vision 5.7 2009 if anybody really cares 🙂


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