How much does it cost to go for a bike ride? If youre like me, you remember tooling around your neighborhood as a kid on a hand-me-down Schwinn, or riding your bike to the park to play ball with your friends, and the answer that pops into your head isNothing! Actually, it never really was free. Someone paid for the bike in the first place, and then there was the occasional tube to be patched or replaced or maybe the purchase of a new chain or seat now and then. But for the most part, it wasnt a very expensive pursuit. Of course, we werent bombing down remote mountain singletrack, sloshing through mud holes half way up to the hubs, or grinding mile after relentless mile up long-abandoned logging roads either.

Todays mountain biking requires a higher-level quality of bike, components, and gear. You can easily spend thousands outfitting yourself in pursuit of the pure joy that is mountain biking. If you follow the blogs, read the magazines, or talk to an enthusiastic salesperson, youll probably get the impression that you need to spend a small fortune before you can even think about hitting the trails. Although I dont begrudge those who want to (and can afford to) buy the best of the best, I know from experience that those of us whose budgets dont allow for such expenditures can still ride the ridges and tear up even the most remote and rugged back-country trails.

I paid about $300 for my `09 Gary Fisher Mako 3 years ago, and have put many, many miles on it over the best singletrack western Oregon has to offer. Granted, the bike is what it is, and isnt what it isnt. It isnt built for hardcore downhill, it isnt built for hard jumps, and it isnt built for racing. But it is light enough to get me to the top of the mountain without busting my heart; nimble enough to traverse the rocks, roots, and creeks typical of the Oregon woods; and strong enough to carry my 200 lb. frame down 3,000 ft. of singletrack decent time after time without a hitch.

Dont get me wrong. This is not a sales pitch for my particular brand or model of bike, nor is it a slam on those who have spent way more money for a comparable experience. What I am trying to point out here is that you can have a whole lot of fun, and ride world-class singletrack on an entry-level MTB. The keys are three-fold: 1) Do your research and buy a good quality product in the first place; 2) Dont abuse your bikeride it; and 3) keep everything greased, oiled, and tight. Typically, in the entry-level bracket, youll find good frames out there with less-than-spectacular components. Dont sweat it. The frame is whats important. You can upgrade derailleur, etc. as your budget allows.

So much for the bike, lets look at basic gear options.

  • Personally I am not a fan of clipless pedals, so I just saved myself a bundle right there. I use aluminum-composite pedals ($14) and plastic mini-clips ($6) to keep my feet in place.
  • Sturdy hiking shoes that grip the pedals and that you dont mind getting filthy work well for biking. Choose wisely and these will give you years of wear.
  • Moisture-wicking, quick-drying polyester is available everywhere nownot just at specialty stores. Good socks are a must and corners really cant be cut here.
  • Hydro-packs are greatespecially those with room for tools, maps, food, etc. There are some fine ones out there for about half the cost of the big brand names. A tight-fitting small backpack or fanny-pack and a water bottle are an even cheaper option.
  • I bought a killer Giro helmet at a second-hand store for $5yes, $5!

Lastly, do your own maintenance and repair work. Usually the price of a tool is less than what it would cost to have a bike shop do the work. You may lay out $30 for a cable cutter, but youll use it many, many times over the years. Ask around and find out if theres a do-it-yourself shop in your area. Here in Eugene, the University of Oregon Outdoor Program runs a cooperative with a full bike repair shop (complete with a part-time mechanic for advice) that anyone can join for $15 a year. We also have the Center for Appropriate Transport that offers very low-cost used parts and access to their repair shop.

In the end I say if you can afford to buy the good stuff, and thats what makes you happymore power to you. No doubt it raises the level of possibility and enhances the experience. But if you cantdont despair. Its entirely possible for you to be able to go out there and tear it up without breaking the bank.

# Comments

  • trek7k

    Good tips and good reminder that it’s not always about having the fanciest mountain bike gear. Of your 3 keys to enjoying an entry-level bike, I think #2 is the one that trips people up the most often. Take care of your bike and it will take care of you. More often than not breakage is due to user error, not “cheap,” faulty components. If you ride within your limits and don’t get lazy on the trail, an entry-level bike will last you for a very long time.

  • stumpyfsr

    Great inspiring post. Gotta give it to a friend for reading – his kinda affraid of getting back to biking because of the prices. 🙁

  • maddslacker

    My first mountain bike was a used Specialized Rockhopper that I got for $150 on Craigslist. I put a couple thousand trail miles on it, and I still ride it to this day as a commuter.

    My only caution would be about used helmets, be very very sure that it hasn’t already been in a crash. Amazon and Performance Bike both tend to have good prices on previous year leftover helmets. Only spend what your brain is worth. 😀

    But anyway, even though I am blessed to afford the bike I really want, if it was the only way I could get on the trail, I’d buy another entry level hardtail in a minute!

  • Scooter13

    Great write up! My first bike was a 2005 Gary Fisher Tassajarra for $585.00. I rode thousands of miles on that from city park trails to the epic trails of Western North Carolina. I have to say the best mountain bikers are not necessarily the ones with the best bikes…but the best riders are the ones that have the most fun. Maddslacker is right about the helmet. I crashed and a friend wanted my old helmet but I would not give it to him. Buy a good helmet.

  • mtbgreg1

    Great post man!! I totally agree with you. I was writing a series on my personal blog for a while on this same topic, and it was called Thrifty Thrashing. ( http://thriftythrashing.com )

    Too often this seems to be a sport just for upper-middle class middle aged men… I would love to see more people from all different demographics get involved in the sport!

  • MarcS

    I just yesterday found a nice GT Avalanche for $250.00 for my brother-in-law. It has a “Judy” Rock Shock, De Ore XT components all the way around and no trail miles on it at all. It’s a sweet bike for not too much money. Just another exaple of doing it cheaply.

  • LoneStarBiker

    Great inspiring post! I feel like everywhere I read people say you need top of line gear to go mountain biking. Now I feel much more contempt with the gear I have on hand.

  • Icyrus

    Great article. It’s too easy to get caught up in the marketing and feel like you need to spend $$$ to ride. Thanks for the reminder. Only thing I wouldn’t skimp on is the helmet. Be very careful buying a used helmet. Your brain won’t heal as easily as an arm or a leg. Spend the money.

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