The easiest way to try mountain biking for the first time is to find a friend who rides, borrow one of their bikes and some of their gear, and follow them around on the easiest singletrack trails you can find. If you don’t know anybody that mountain bikes or they don’t have a spare bike in your size, renting from a bike shop is another great option. Oftentimes, you can also rent all the other gear you’ll need (like a helmet), and your rental bike will come with repair supplies.
But when you’re ready to really get started mountain biking and purchase your own setup, you’ll need to buy a lot more gear than just a bike. Yes, a mountain bike is the most important part of the equation, but you’ll need to acquire a number of other accessories to help you have an enjoyable and safe time out on the trail.
This article is written to give you, the prospective mountain biker, an outline of absolutely all the gear you need to get started mountain biking.
The goal of this article isn’t to tell you how much money you should spend on your gear, because you can always find better deals. It’s also not to say you shouldn’t spend more money on better products. Of course, you might choose to add items to this list as well, and that’s okay. Consider the recommendations here a starting point, allowing you to work down or up from here.
Finally, I’m giving examples of specific products from specific brands so that, again, you have a starting point to work from. If you want to, you can literally click the link in the title for each product and order one online, and a ready-to-ride mountain bike setup will show up on your door step in a matter of days. You can also head down to your local bike shop and use this article as your shopping list, purchasing comparable products while supporting a small local business.
Choosing your first mountain bike is the most difficult buying decision that you’ll have to make. I recommend beginning by setting your price, then working from there to determine what you can afford, and how the various features and types of mountain bikes intersect with how you want to ride your mountain bike.
For my money, it’s tough to beat the value of a hardtail 29er when you’re starting out. While you can spend as much or as little as you want on a hardtail 29er, going below the $500 level will leave you with a bike that’s less than ideal. If you can afford it, I’d recommend looking at the $1,000 level, as a bike of that price point will often have nicer components that will allow the bike to be usable for longer, with fewer upgrades required.
If you can’t swing the $1,000 price or you simply don’t want to spend that much money on a sport you might not enjoy, the Commencal El Camino Black 29er listed here is a quality choice at around $600. The fork still doesn’t have air adjustment and the 3×8 drivetrain could be nicer, but the component brands are respectable and the hydraulic disc brakes are an excellent touch.
For more guidance on choosing your first mountain bike, be sure to check out the following comprehensive buyer’s guides.
- Buyer’s Guide: Budget Hardtail Mountain Bikes
- Buyer’s Guide: Budget Full Suspension Mountain Bikes
- Buyer’s Guide: Budget Fat Bikes
- How To Choose Your First Mountain Bike
- How To Buy a Used Bike Online: A Practical Guide
Mountain Bike Apparel and Protection
In order to have a fun and safe time out in the woods, you’ll need to purchase and bring a surprising amount of apparel, protective gear, and repair supplies. Thankfully, many athletes from other sports will already own some gear that can cross over to mountain biking. Those products are noted below.
Here’s a basic breakdown of all the other gear you need to start mountain biking.
Mountain Bike Helmet: Giant Compel
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You should never go on a mountain bike ride without a helmet. Giant’s Compel helmet is a basic, affordable lid that still offers nice touches like a removable visor and adjustable fit system.
MTB Helmet Upgrade: Bell Traverse MIPS-Equipped
Bell Traverse Mips Helmet
$64.95 Jenson USA AD
Head protection is paramount while mountain biking, and many companies have been making advances in technology to reduce the detrimental effects of rotational head impacts. One of the first such technologies is known as MIPS, and the Bell Traverse MIPS helmet is one of the most affordable helmets with this tech.
For more guidance on choosing the best mountain bike helmet, be sure to read our helmet buyer’s guide.
Padded Shorts: BDI 8-Panel Gel Shorts
A padded bike short–known by its French name, “chamois,” around the world–is a critical component for having a pleasant time mountain biking. Even buying one of the most basic shorts available, such as the BDI 8-Panel Gel shorts, will be a life saver… or should I say “ass saver?” While the BDI short is designed to be worn as an external layer, if you feel self conscious just add a pair of gym shorts over the top.
MTB Shorts Upgrade: Fox Ranger Shorts
Many riders will quickly prefer to upgrade to a pair of “baggy” mountain bike shorts. While baggies protect your dignity better than a lycra outer layer, they also provide pockets to store gear and a little more protection between you and the trail when you crash.
However, you’ll still want to wear some sort of chamois beneath your baggy shorts. When shopping for a pair of baggies, note that not all baggy shorts come with a chamois included. If you’re trying to save cash, look for a short that includes a chamois–like the popular Fox Ranger.
New Cycle Chamois Buttr 10-Pack Skin Lubricant Bicycle Bike Ride Sport Outdor
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While not all mountain bikers use anti-chafe cream, adding lubrication to your chamois can help prevent chafing and saddle sores on longer rides.
Mountain Bike Gloves: Giro DND
Giro DND Glove - Men's Bright Lime/Mil Spec Small
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While some mountain bikers use classic half-finger gloves (which are still generally more affordable than full-finger gloves), most riders opt for a full-finger glove for better grip on the brake lever and more protection during the inevitable crash. While there’s no end of options available, Giro’s gloves are ubiquitous.
For the cost-conscious beginner, it’s possible that you already own a pair of athletic gloves that could double as bike gloves in a pinch–for example, batting gloves from baseball might work.
Sunglasses: Sports Sunglasses
Hopefully you already own a pair of sports sunglasses, which could save you some cash while getting started. If not, you can always purchase a cheap pair of department store sunglasses, but eventually you might want to upgrade.
Upgrade: Ryders Eyewear Saber
Ryders Saber R872-004 Wrap Sunglasses, White with Red Frame, 55 mm
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MTB Shirt: Moisture-Wicking T-Shirt
If you already own a moisture-wicking sports t-shirt, normally made of polyester, grab that and use it for your first few mountain bike rides–$0 invested!
If you don’t own such a t-shirt already, a basic baggy mountain bike jersey like the Royal Core SS will do the trick and won’t break the bank.
MTB Shoes: Tennis Shoes
If you already own a pair of closed-toe athletic shoes, use those for your first few mountain bike rides. However, if you find yourself dissatisfied with your traction on the pedals, you should consider upgrading to a pair of mountain bike-specific shoes.
Shoe Upgrade: Five Ten Freerider
Five Ten Women
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Five Ten’s Freerider shoes are a tried-and-true pair of mountain bike flat pedal shoes that will last a long time and provide incredible purchase on your pedals.
Optional: Non-Cotton Socks: Sock Guy
SockGuy Men's USA Flag Socks, White, Sock Size:10-13/Shoe Size: 6-12
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While not absolutely necessary, I recommend using a sock that’s not made of cotton. One of the most basic and widely-available sock brands is Sock Guy. With hundreds of designs to choose from, there is something for every rider.
MTB Supplies and Hydration
MTB Hydration Pack: Camelbak Classic
CamelBak Rogue Crux Reservoir Hydration Pack, Black/Graphite, 2.5 L/85 oz
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If you already own a hydration pack of some sort, great–begin by using that! The more complex a hydration pack gets, the more it will cost. Most bike-specific hydration packs run upwards of $100 MSRP. However, you can find more basic offerings that still provide enough water storage and space for most rides, for less — like the category-defining Camelbak Classic.
You should always bring a few snacks on your mountain bike rides, and that can be as easy as grabbing a banana off the counter or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Upgrade: 2 CLIF Bars
If you want to upgrade to something a little less messy and easier to throw in your hydration pack quickly, consider a CLIF bar or two.
Optional: Paper Map – $14
If you’ve made a friend who’s willing to show you the ropes and guide you around your local trail system on your first few rides, you might not need a map initially. But if you don’t have such a friend, or when you begin venturing out to explore trails on your own, a high quality paper map can be invaluable. Latitude 40 is currently my favorite map company, but they may or may not have coverage of your local area, so be sure to swing by your local bike shop.
Optional: Rain Jacket: Columbia Diablo Creek Rain Shell
Columbia Men's Diablo Creek Rain Shell
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While a rain jacket might not be necessary for your very first mountain bike rides, eventually it should become a staple in most mountain bikers’ hydration packs. While a rain jacket can keep you dry when an unforeseen storm rolls in, it can also keep you warm if the temperatures drop. The Columbia Diablo Creek Rain Shell listed here is an example of a decent quality, yet reasonably-affordable rain jacket.
Mountain Bike Repair
Every mountain biker should be prepared to handle basic emergency bike repairs on the trail. You will–guaranteed!–get a flat tire and break a chain at some point in your mountain bike career… and probably sooner rather than later.
Mini Pump: Planet Bike Ozone Comp
Planet Bike Ozone Comp mini bike pump
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While some riders opt for a CO2 canister and cracker for quick tire inflation, C02 can be difficult to use, and the canisters themselves aren’t cheap. An affordable mini pump like Planet Bike’s Ozone Comp can inflate tires for years, with no added cost.
Inner Tube: Duro Mountain Presta Valve Tube
Duro Mountain Presta Valve Tube
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Always carry a spare inner tube for the inevitable flat tire. Just ensure that you have the right size for your bike, and that the type of valve you choose works with your mini pump. An added bonus of the Ozone Comp pump above: it can work with either Presta or Schrader valves.
Patch Kit: Park Tool VP-1C
Park Tool Vulcanizing Patch Kit
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I carry a patch kit as a “just in case, hopefully I never have to use it” emergency supply. If–heaven forbid–you get more than one flat tire on your ride, hopefully you can utilize your patch kit to get your out of the woods. For just two bucks and weighing just a couple of grams, there’s no reason not to carry one.
Optional: Tire Levers: Innovations 2 Pack
While it’s not guaranteed that you’ll need tire levers to change your flat tire, sometimes they can make a difficult job easier and less painful. For under a buck, and weighing next to nothing, they’re worth adding to your hydration pack.
Multi-Tool with Chain Tool:JensonUSA 287
JensonUSA 287 Folding Multi Tool
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While you can purchase more affordable multi-tools than this one, since you will inevitably break a chain at some point, it only makes sense to always carry a chain tool with you. This is one of the most affordable, relatively comprehensive multi-tools with a chain tool that I could find online. The JensonUSA 287 should get you through most on-trail repairs that you’ll have to make.
Quick Link: SRAM PowerLock Silver
Sram Powerlock Silver 11 Speed Chain Link (Pair)
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After you’ve used the chain tool above to remove the damaged chain link from your broken chain, the easiest way to get moving again is to carry a spare quick link to snap onto your chain. Just make sure that you have the proper size link to match the chain on your bike. The one linked above is an 8-speed link, which is compatible with the 8-speed drivetrain on the Commencal El Camino mentioned in this article.
Duct tape can serve a myriad of emergency repair purposes out on the trail. Hopefully you already have a roll of it at home–I usually wrap some around the handle of my mini pump so I always have a little tape with me.
If you don’t already own some, go to the store, buy a few zip ties, and throw them in your hydration pack. They’ll come in handy–trust me.
Mountain Bike Transportation
While some mountain bikers have the luxury of living within pedaling distance of the trailhead, most riders will have to transport their bike to the trailhead using a vehicle.
Fit Your Bike in Your Vehicle
If you don’t have a friend with a bike rack, the most affordable way to haul your mountain bike is to find a way to fit it in your vehicle. If you own a pickup truck, you have it made. Riders who own an SUV, crossover, or a van can often fit their bike in the back of their vehicle easily, sometimes requiring the removal of the front wheel.
If you own a sedan, you have your work cut out for you. However, you can often fit a mountain bike in either the back seat, the trunk, or a combination of the two, by removing one or both wheels from the bicycle.
Prorack 3-Bike Trunk Carrier
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If you do own a sedan, the most affordable and easiest rack to install is a hanging-style trunk rack. At $124 MSRP, the Yakima HangOut is one of the most affordable trunk racks from a reputable brand. You don’t want to cut too many corners with a trunk rack, as you can cause damage to your car with a poorly-designed rack. While a trunk rack isn’t the best bike-hauling solution, it doesn’t require a cross bar system or a hitch, and it will work well with a hardtail mountain bike (like the Commencal recommended above).
This list isn’t designed to scare you away from mountain biking. On the contrary, hopefully by outlining all of the various pieces of gear that you need–and ways that you can substitute from existing household supplies–you now have a realistic picture of just what it takes to get into mountain biking.
Based on this list, at the most basic level, the base cost to get into the sport of mountain biking is approximately $800. That includes all of the sale prices listed above, as you can usually come by deals on many of these products. Remember, $599 of that total is the bike–leaving about $200 in accessories and gear. And of course, your total barrier to entry could be lower–for example, if your purchase a used bike, already own a bike helmet or athletic gloves, or are transitioning to mountain biking from road biking.
If you choose to purchase a nicer $1,000 mountain bike, along with all of the upgrades and options mentioned in the article, total start up cost with upgrades is $1,640. ($1,000 for the bike, $640 in accessories in gear).
While these totals are much more than the cost of entry for, say, running or most stick-and-ball sports, compared to sports like downhill skiing where a season pass alone could easily cost $1,000 or the high cost of motor sports, mountain biking falls somewhere in the middle of the overall spectrum.
As entry-level mountain bikes, accessories, and gear continue to get better while also dropping in price, hopefully it will only get easier and more affordable to get started in the sport of mountain biking.