Advice for New Mountainbike Buyers

I sometimes wonder; how many drop mountainbiking after the first few rides? And how often is this the result of an uneducated choice when selecting a new bike?

The first problem is money, and what people are willing to pay for a new mountainbike. Following that, a lack of information and to some extent, personal bias, decides who we’ll see back at the trailhead next weekend.

When entering a new sport, a large amount of consideration involves the starting costs. And like many outdoor activities, mountainbiking has a fairly large initial outlay of funds just to get on the trails. With some sports, the high cost of the necessary equipment is accepted by even the most uninformed beginner. A good example would be hang-gliding. The prospective flyer knows that one can’t just pop on down to Walmart and buy a glider for $100; they understand that a quality (and safe!) hang-glider needs be a lot more expensive than just one Benjamin. But because most people have never seen a bicycle on sale for more than a few hundred dollars, they consider a bike which costs more than that to be extravagant. That a large number of people under the age of 30 consider mountainbikes to be toys does not lend weight to the argument for paying over $100 towards a new bicycle.

A grand majority of beginning riders were raised on bicycles that came from either the local hardware shop, or a big-box department store. These bikes are assembled by a minimum-wage stock person; are not inspected prior to & after assembly by a knowledgable bike mechanic; are manufactured with substandard materials & workmanship, do not have correct frame geometry, and have little quality-control at the factory. Initially, the owner of such a bike will not find many problems; not that they don’t exist, but because the owner doesn’t know what to look for. They will get an unpleasant education very soon, as the shoddy parts & assembly work will begin to show themselves. Not long after, the average $100 mountainbike is thrown in the trash, as it would often cost nearly the initial price of the bike for an experienced bicycle mechanic to rectify the mechanical faults. And instead of seeking a better bike, most consumers will simply buy another $100 bicycle. It is surprising how many bicycles are junked for simple problems like a stretched shifter cable, a derailleur out of adjustment, or a wheel that has lost its true.

I’m not a fan of scare tactics, but considering the price of emergency medical care, and a quality bicycle sold for $1000 (or even $2-3000!) is a bargain. I mention medical bills, because as I stated earlier, all of those hundred-dollar bikes are accidents waiting to happen. Normally, if the rider is a youngster or adult with no intention of doing any serious riding offroad or stunts, a mass-produced bike will not exhibit many serious problems. But a poorly made frame with contaminated welds could fail the minute an adventurous soul decides to hop a couple curbs; or a bike with an improperly assembled headset, stem, or axle could become a unicycle in mid-flight. At that point, one can only hope that the poor rider at least splurged on one thing…… a quality helmet!

Thus, I always make the strong suggestion to any novice rider looking for a quality bike, to buy from a reputable local bike shop. A very large majority of LBS’s will offer a free initial tune-up with the purchase of a new bike, and often discounted follow-up services. A good bike shop salesperson should take the time to educate the buyer on his/her new bike’s features. The salesperson should also make sure that the bike properly fits the rider; frame size, saddle height & fore/aft setting, handlebar width/rise, stem length & spacers, and crank-arm length are all variables that need to be considered. If any of these are incorrect, it could turn a good first ride into a bad one from the rider’s perspective, and thus sour the taste for future mountainbiking. In addition to the high level of customer service that a good LBS has to offer, they often will work with the customer in substituting certain components if the stock parts on a chosen bike aren’t completely to the customer’s liking. As an example, a bike comes equipped with a set of 2.1″ tires, but the rider desires the same tires in a 2.3″ size; the LBS will often trade out the OEM parts for very little (if any) extra cost.

With the huge increase in online shopping, internet mountainbike sales have increased as well. For some, the convenience of locating the ideal bicycle and purchasing it from home is a plus; especially if there are few or no LBS’s in the rider’s vicinity. Prices online are invariably cheaper too. Or it could be that the rider desires a specific brand, type, size, color, etc, of mountainbike, and none of the LBS’s in his/her area carry it. Aside from the price and availability options that the internet offers, I do not recommend that any new rider buy his/her bike off of the web. The reasons being; bicycle & rider fitting is very difficult to do without knowledgable guidance or prior experience; stated frame sizes can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; bikes can get damaged/lost in shipping; or if bought from eBay, the actual bike may conflict with what was stated in the auction description. Buying from an LBS greatly eases the strife, lost trail-time, and general unhappiness which stems from an eBay dispute, shipping-insurance claim, or the wrong size bike.

A great benefit in buying a mid-to-high end mountainbike is the general reliability of modern components used on them. In the past, derailleurs, suspension components, and brake systems were often fragile & unreliable. Top of the line full-suspension mountainbikes represented the cutting edge of bicycle technology. Unlike road bikes, which relied upon exotic frame materials but still used components basically unchanged for fifty-some years; high-end mountainbikes commonly featured frames AND components that were proprietary or untested beyond the scope of tightly controlled race or lab conditions. However, now is possibly the best time ever to buy an enthusiast/pro-level mountainbike. Through competition within the component industry, as well as the adoption of industry-wide standards ( ISCG & ISIS are examples), reliability and quality are a given for almost any given component; be it a derailleur, fork, or bottom-bracket.

In the end, one gets what one pays for, and this is very true with any bicycle, but most particularly with mountainbikes.

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