1. Know your budget
Since mountain bikes could be as much as $12,000, there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend. But we know very well that you don’t need to invest that much to get a bike appropriate for your expectations on the trail. In order to control your budget, think on the price range you want to pay and try to look at bikes only within that range.
2. Types of mountain bikes
Different mountain bikes are designed for different riding techniques and types of terrain. Generally speaking, we can group the main types of mountain bikes available in the market in three:
Rigid: These types are the simplest ones, with no suspension at all.
Hardtail: they have a suspension system in the fork at the front of the bicycle.
Full-suspension: these types are designed to have both, front and rear shock absorbers.
Trail riding/XC (Cross Country): is the most popular style of biking. You either ride in natural trails, or more frequently, on man made trails. It is normally the starting point of mountain biking. Long climbs to the top of the mountains followed by downhill sections are the main characteristics of this style. Trail bikes can be used for almost anything, so they normally have an adequate suspension to fast descents without affecting climbing performance. As a general rule, XC riders start on hardtail bikes and if moving on, they do to a full suspension bike. Ideal wheel sizes are 27.5 inches and 29 inches.
Enduro riding: the difference between enduro riding and trail riding is the more technical difficulty since trails are mixed together with jumps and larger drops. Moreover, enduro could also involve racing. Bikes are generally equipped with wider tires and full suspension, a good level of rear and a longer front travel (between 5 and 7 inches). Enduro bikers normally use additional body armor like knee and ankle protection. Most popular wheel size is 27.5 inches.
Downhill Riding: this type of riding generally involves walking up or driving to the top of a mountain and extremely fast descents, straighter down than those found when trail riding. Keeping the speed high is the most important part of the discipline, while getting over rocks, gaps and jumps. The full suspension of these bikes optimize for traction and support of the rider rather than focusing on the pedaling ability.
4. The frame material
You should have on mind that the price of the bike you are willing to buy depends a lot of the frame material. Frames are normally made of steel, aluminum, carbon or titanium. Steel is the less expensive material, strong, long-lasting, but it isn't very light. Beware of letting it rust. Aluminum is not as expensive as it used to be. It is very widely used, is light, strong and stiff. Carbon fiber is new in the mountain bike market and offers the best performance. It is ultra light, strong, absorbs vibration, but expensive. Any damage from careless use will mean the end of your bike. Titanium is the most expensive material, but its excellent durability makes those frames to come with a life time warranty.
5. Size matters
The best advice here is to go to your local shop and try the bike you have as candidate. Almost every brand offers small, medium and large sized bikes, but remember that if one size fits you on one brand, it will not necessarily happen on another. When possible, ask for a test drive so you can feel the particular bike’s behavior on the trail. When buying online or sales you won’t have the option to try the bike before. Look for shops with strong return policies, so you can do something if you are not happy with the fit or your new bike.
6. Ready to buy, but wait!
Now that you have decided, the bike is in your budget and it fits you, do a little bit more of research. Read product reviews that give you more information about the bike general performance and reliability. Also make sure about the terms of any warranty offered, especially when you are buying a model year hold over. The warranty must start when you buy the bike, rather than when the shop put it on hold.