So, you’re thinking of buying a mountain bike. There’s a lot to consider when thinking about the right ride for you, and it’s important you get it spot on. Our mountain bike buying guide will help you find the right cycle for you.
Mountain bikes are famously dependable, durable and robust, but beyond that there are so many other considerations. It can be tough to know which features to look out for, and how to decide which is the right bike for you.
Whether you’re going to be using your mountain bike for commuting, racing or simply weekend trail adventures, your ideal bike is out there. Our mountain bike buying guide - for beginners, cycling experts or those getting back in the saddle - will arm you with all the information you need to make the right choice and enjoy the best mountain bike adventures.
What Is a Mountain Bike?
Specifically designed for off-road adventures, mountain bikes are heavier than road bikes or hybrid bikes, and are made with bumps and scrapes in mind. The best mountain bikes, sometimes referred to as MTBs, have a more robust frame geometry than other bikes, the best bike tyres for shock absorption and powerful brakes you can rely on at a moment’s notice (useful if you’re flying down a hill or along a wobbly track!).
Because you’re likely going to be tackling some rugged trails on your mountain bike, they’re designed with extra comfort in mind. A stable bike fork means you can still sit comfortably on the padded seat, as the frame takes the brunt of the bumps and hits from the track.
Mountain Bike Types
Depending on what kind of cycling you’ll be doing, you’ll want to look into different kinds of bikes. For example, right off the bat, if you’re going to be mostly commuting through urban areas, a mountain bike probably isn’t going to work. You’ll want to look at electric bikes or road bikes - mountain bikes are built more robustly and will be slower and more effort to pedal on smooth roads.
However, if you’re an adventurous type whose idea of a great weekend is one spent exploring off-road, climbing hills and traversing bumpy countryside tracks, a mountain bike is for you. The next thing you need to decide is “which mountain bike is best for me?”.
There are two major varieties of pedal mountain bikes - hardtail and full suspension. As the name suggests, a full suspension bike has both front and rear suspension, while a hardtail mountain bike has suspension only in the front cycling forks. When it comes to the question of hardtail vs full suspension mountain bikes, there are a few variables to consider.
What Is a Hardtail Mountain Bike?
Hardtail mountain bikes are often a more affordable option than a full suspension model, as the build is less expensive. For that reason, they’re a great choice for mountain bike beginners, those getting back into cycling after a while off track, and mountain bikers on a budget. They’re also often fantastic value - a hardtail bike priced at a similar level to a full suspension bike is sometimes likely to have higher quality parts - like brake pads, gear sets and forks - than its counterpart.
Similarly, because there’s only suspension in the front, hardtail mountain bikes can be a more lightweight option; lots of riders who do both off-road and commuting cycling find this an easy compromise. The lightweight can also allow for more versatility in frame and wheel size - if you’re wondering how to choose the right size mountain bike, a hardtail like the Lapierre Edge 3.9 offers exceptional variety for all riders.
What Is a Full Suspension Mountain Bike?
Full suspension bikes are the better shock absorbers, soaking up the bumps, jolts and hits of off-road terrain that much more. Full suspension mountain bikes are for serious adventurers - if you’re going to be doing the vast majority of your riding off-road, on rocky trails, hills and uneven paths, this is the best mountain bike for you.
Though having rear suspension can make them a bit heavier, full suspension mountain bikes provide smoother riding and often pack a bit more speed going through downhill trails. More shock absorption means you’ll be able to speed over bumps and rocks; sturdy yet light models like the classic LaPierre Zesty TR 4.9 help you gain in confidence every time you ride, no matter the setting. However, if you’re going to be cycling on lots of tarmac or even surfaces, you might find there’s too much bounce thanks to the extra rear suspension.
For cyclists with back or knee injuries, a full suspension bike offers greater protection and more cushioning, which can be particularly useful on longer rides.
What Is an Electric Mountain Bike?
In addition to the main choices above, electric mountain bikes are also available. For an extra boost of power if you’re planning on tackling particularly challenging hills, you may want to consider an e-Mountain Bike.
Electric assisted pedalling adds an extra bit of help for the most gruelling climbs, and can make handling that little bit easier. We can all use a little help now and then. Fitted with a powerful electric motor that provides pedal assistance, electric mountain bikes provide all the multi-terrain thrills of a traditional mountain bike and take away some of the effort required. For example, the HardNine 4’s Bosch Performance Line motor makes tackling challenging climbs a breeze, and the AllMtn 5 comes equipped with a remastered Bosch Performance CX motor and an integrated 625Wh battery, so you’ve always got a bit of help with the trickiest of trails.
Which Mountain Bike Is Best for You?
Once you’ve decided on full suspension vs hardtail mountain bikes, you need to start thinking about the best components and styles to suit you.
Best Mountain Bike Frames
A good place to start is with the frame material. Choose between carbon and aluminium mountain bike frames. With a carbon mountain bike frame, you’ll likely end up with a lighter bike; the trade-off is that they’re more expensive and slightly more prone to damage from heavy knocks. For a bike like the Lapierre eZesty AM 9.0, a carbon frame means the combination of a powerful motor and MTB handling without adding on extra kilograms. Carbon frames are ideal for cross-country cycling or speedy rides over more even surfaces in particular.
Aluminium frames - like that of the Lapierre Edge 2.9 - are potentially a little heavier than their carbon alternatives, but are generally more affordable and can take a bit more of a bashing - particularly useful to think about if you’ll be cycling over rocky terrain regularly. Owing to a little bit more heft, aluminium frames can be great for downhill rides. Its strength and in-built flexibility can also prove a real asset for rougher terrain.
Best Mountain Bike Forks
A mountain bike fork is where the front wheel is mounted. The fork is manoeuvred via the handlebars in order to steer. There are a number of different kinds of forks for mountain biking, each offering different benefits.
A mountain bike suspension fork helps absorb shock and big impacts when riding, and holds the front wheel stable. There are also rigid MTB forks, which are lighter and generally easier to maintain. When choosing a mountain bike fork, it’s important to consult the manufacturer’s guidelines, consider your bike’s wheel size and check brake type. You may need to use an adaptor to attach your fork and brake caliper - if you’re unsure, it’s always best to visit your nearest bike specialist for a specialist check up.
Another factor to consider is fork travel (the amount a fork can compress when riding); the optimal size of your fork will differ depending on intended use, and manufacturer’s guidelines. Your bike’s frame geometry will be built for a specific travel amount, and using a frame either too big or too large can interfere with the stability and reliability of your frame.
For example, the Raleigh Strada X operates on the Suntour 80mm fork, which is great for casual mountain biking and trail touring. With a larger 160mm fork, full suspension eMountain bike the AllMtn 5 packs a real punch, and can handle the most uneven of riding surfaces.
Best Mountain Bike Brakes
When it comes to mountain bike brakes, the major debate is usually cable (or mechanical) disc or hydraulic disc brakes. Cable disc brakes use a steel cable to move the braking pistons, like most rim brakes. Mechanical or cable disc brakes (as seen on the Raleigh Strada X) are usually the more economical option, and offer a bit more versatility since they can be used with non-hydraulic levers and shifters.
The other disc brake option is hydraulic. Hydraulic mountain bike brakes are the higher-end choice, and generally offer higher performance and greater reliability for this kind of riding. You need to apply less braking pressure to a hydraulic system, so you get better control and smoother stopping. Because it’s a completely sealed system, a hydraulic brake setup can be better suited to mountain biking too - less worry about splashing through muddy puddles or hitting dusty trails and jamming up your brakes!
More generally, disc brakes vs rim brakes is another question to consider. It’s widely accepted that in modern bikes disc brakes are the more reliable option, particularly for all-weather cycling and wet, dirty or muddy conditions. This is thanks to the fact that disc brakes apply their stopping power to a rotor at the centre of the bike wheel, which is much more reliable when tyres are slick.
However, rim brakes are sometimes a solid choice for beginner mountain bikers, or those looking for a cheaper option. Rim brakes are lighter and require less maintenance, and come with a smaller price tag.
However, the trade-off is less reliable performance when it’s wet.
Best Mountain Bike Wheels
When it comes to mountain bike wheels, size can sometimes matter. Generally, the larger the wheel, the bigger the obstacle it can effortlessly roll over.
Mountain bike wheels usually come in 26”, 27.5” and 29”. 26” wheels are the least common, and though they offer plenty of zip, they are the least reliable when it comes to handling in rocky or uneven surroundings.
Next up, 27.5” wheels (sometimes also called 650b wheels) are the perfect middle ground, best of both worlds solution combining the smaller size’s sharp speed and a larger wheel’s reliability and traction.
29” mountain bike wheels are the premier option for serious off-roading. Their increased surface area promises more grip and plenty of stability even in wet or muddy weather. However, because they’re bigger they’re also heavier, which can sometimes compromise start off speed.
Because every rider is different, some mountain bike models offer a choice between wheel sizes. For example, you can choose between 27.5” and 29” wheels on both the Lapierre Edge 2.9 and Edge 3.9 models.
Best Mountain Bike Tyres
Naturally, mountain biking is rugged, uneven, non-uniform and generally a bit unreliable. That’s why mountain bike tyres are made with good grip in mind. The best mountain bike tyres will provide plenty of grip to guide you up over obstacles, as well as some bounce or cushioning to help ease the brunt when you come down.
Mountain bike tyres are made with a rough surface - raised ‘knobs’ or ‘lugs’ dig into the ground and provide plenty of traction for those bumpy rides. Different tread types are available depending on the type of riding you’ll be doing. As a general rule, tyres with a lower profile tread (smaller and more closely fitted knobs on the tyre) will be faster, but less grippy. So, these are ideal for hard tracks and other smoother surfaces, but if you’re likely to encounter loose trails, lots of mud or particularly uneven terrain, it’s usually best to go for something with a more open or ‘aggressive’ tread pattern.
Just like wheels, mountain bike tyres come in different sizes; this is measured by width across the rim. Make sure to check your bike’s manufacturer guide to check which tyres your model takes. Wider tyres offer more stability and increased grip, however they do also impact speed. So, which tyre type do you need?
If you’re going to be riding cross country (XC), you’ll likely be looking for faster, narrower tyres with smoother knobs on the tread. This kind of tyre is ideal for flatter surfaces like trails and level grassy areas. Serious cross country cyclists often switch up their tyres in wet or muddy conditions, by opting for something with thicker treads and a narrower width to allow more mud clearance between tyre and frame.
Trail riding requires a durable tyre with plenty of grip. A wide mountain bike tyre is best for this kind of riding, offering better handling and more grip on rugged terrain. Softer tyre materials are often preferred for trail or ‘enduro’ mountain biking, because they tend to grip or stick to rocks and other challenging surfaces.
Getting the Right Mountain Bike Accessories
Once you’ve decided on the right mountain bike for you - full suspension vs hardtail, wheel width and brake type - it’s time to start kitting it out. Mountain biking is exhilarating, but can also be quite unpredictable - you never know when you’ll be in need of wet weather gear or a quick puncture repair. Arm yourself with the right tools and turn any ride into an epic adventure. From storing all the bits you might need to protect you and your bike, here are some of the most essential mountain bike accessories.
Mountain Bike Helmets
Bike helmets are always top of the list of the most crucial accessories for any cyclist. While in years past helmets might have been uncomfortable and clunky, these days streamlined helmets are designed to protect your head, provide a bit of aerodynamism, and look good - all at the same time.
There are lots of features and preferences to consider, so make sure you take the time to think about the kind of cycling you’ll be doing. Pinch buckles make for easy adjustment and removal, while having plenty of breathable cooling vents is ideal for adventurous, challenging rides. Of course, having a helmet is one thing, but making sure it fits correctly is just as important. Make sure that the helmet touches your whole head when you’re wearing it, and ensure that it stays level and doesn’t slip or cover your eyes. Getting the right fit may involve adjusting the straps so that the helmet is stable - you want it to stay as level as possible, and not move any more than an inch.
Mountain Bike Clothing
If you love mountain biking, chances are you’re an outdoors person. But being an outdoor enthusiast doesn’t mean you have to get soaked by the rain or caked in mud. Choosing the right cycling clothes for mountain biking means you can cycle comfortably and be fully prepared for whatever the elements throw at you.
Pack a waterproof cycling poncho so you never get caught out by a sudden downpour, or suit up in waterproof cycling trousers so you’re not defeated by splashes of mud. As well as providing weatherproofing, the right bike clothing can offer protection against friction and general wear and tear on your adventures.
Mountain Bike Gloves
Whether it’s for gripping on tightly as you hurtle down a mountainside, or for turning the handlebars at just the right moment on a windy track, proper bike gloves are essential for any serious mountain biker. Choose a pair that combines comfort with durability and you’ll be all set. You might want to stock your gear collection with a dedicated pair of winter cycling gloves, which protect against frost and those biting wind chills, as well as a more general pair you can wear all year round.
Mountain Bike Tools
From picking up a puncture on a rocky mountain path to needing to tighten a bolt after a particularly rugged trail, having the right mountain bike tools in your pocket can be the difference between a decent ride and disaster. Stick a bike multitool and a puncture kit in your cycling bag and make sure you’re prepared for whatever happens out there.
Mountain Bike Mudguards
Mud and mountain biking often come as a pair, so having a properly fitted mudguard for your bike can be a real lifesaver. It will help save you from excessive splashes as you’re riding through the countryside, but will also protect the mechanics of your bike from getting corroded and clogged up.