Buying Your First Mountain Bike: What To Think About Before You Shop

So, you’ve decided to buy a mountain bike.  That’s terrific!  Mountain biking is lots of fun and filled with amazing people.  But buying a bike can be intimidating and confusing if you don’t know where to start.

When I first started looking for a bike, I didn’t get far.  I tried to do some on-line research before entering the store, but was overwhelmed with the specs and technical bike jargon.  Reading about suspension options, chain rings and disc brakes was all too complicated.  I just wanted to find a bike and ride.

I walked into a bike shop and was equally overwhelmed with all the different types of expensive bikes, accessories and clothing options.  I didn’t know what questions to ask so I left the store almost as quickly as I entered.  I was beginning to feel that my vision of becoming one of those inspiring women, shredding down mountain trails was fast becoming a dead end.

Finally, with the help of a friend, I bought my first mountain bike.  But I wish I knew then what I know now.  It may not have changed the bike I bought, but the process would have been easier. 

bikes at a bike shop

Buy the Bike You Love

Your bike is an investment in your health and lifestyle, so don’t buy just any bike.  Buy the right bike for you. 

If you love your mountain bike, you’ll love riding too.  So before you hand over your credit card, take some no-risk steps that can help you find the bike you love.

First, Do Some Internet Research

Knowing you want a mountain bike is a good start.  But what type?

There are a few different options.  Melanie Poel, owner and head instructor of Stoked MTB Sessions and sales staff member at Freewheel Cycle in Dundas, Ontario, has suggestions for anyone buying their first bike. 

Before you go into a shop or start searching online, she suggests thinking about what it is you’re looking for.  Ask yourself questions such as:  When you picture yourself riding your bike, where are you?  What does a bike ride look like for you?  Are you on a wide open, tree-lined, gravel path?  Are you racing down steep mountain terrain, or are you riding a smooth, cross-country trail?  You’d be surprised at the variety of possibilities and there’s likely a specific bike for each one.  

Dig into why you want the bike and what your goals are.  Some stores, like Gears with shops in the greater Toronto region, have an on-line survey to help you start the journey. 

They ask questions like:  Is the bike for leisure & exploring, exercise & fitness, or racing & performance? Do you want to ride gravel, or off-road singletrack?   Whatever your vision or goals, it’s important that the sales staff know what mountain biking means to you, so that they can find the best bike and make your picture come to life.

Where Not to Shop

You may be considering buying a mountain bike online.  While there are some benefits to shopping this way, such as convenience and possibly lower prices, buying a bike online is risky for a beginner.

You’ll need extensive knowledge of bike mechanics and desired specs.  To ensure you get a bike that fits, you’ll also want to have accurate measurements of yourself and the bike you want. 

Sizing and fit-of-bike are important to prevent injury and make the bike comfortable enough to ride for an extended period of time.  Getting your bike adjusted and made to fit your unique size and stature is something you’ll get only in-store.

But not just any store.  Department stores or big box stores are not the places I’d recommend you buy your first mountain bike either.  This is an important purchase and you need to be able to ask, and be asked, the right questions so that you make the right decision.  Sure, your bike will be less expensive at a box department store, and you’ll get it fast, but you’ll be giving up quality, expertise, and support along the way.

Why Local Bike Shops Are The Best Place To Shop

There are several reasons why I recommend buying your bike at a store that specializes in bikes.  First and foremost:  the staff.  Most staff that work in these shops love cycling.  They love bikes and know a lot about them.  You are going to get the benefit of their expert advice as well as see their passion for what they do.

Many bike shops are associated with a specific brand of bike. (Example:  Trek, Norco or Specialized). While this may mean less variety in the shop, it ensures that the store has good connections with the bike company and can access parts easier and quicker.

Many bike shops offer service packages when you buy a bike from their store.  Most will offer free adjustments during the first month after purchase.  Some, like Freewheel Cycle, offer free yearly basic tune-ups for as long as you own the bike.  

These are benefits you won’t get from department stores or when you purchase online.  The knowledge and service you’ll get from a bike shop far outweigh the conveniences of other options.

Finding the Right Bike Means Finding the Right Bike Shop  

In his Youtube video, Tips for Buying Your First Mountain Bike, Rob Tavakoli, from SportsRx, says the first piece of advice he gives anyone buying their first bike is to “shop the shop.”   He explains that this is a place you’ll go to ask questions, get help with repairs, or purchase other bike accessories. 

You’ll want to build a relationship with the staff, especially if you’re planning to ride for a long time.  You should be able to trust the people who work there and feel comfortable in the store.

What Makes the Right Shop?

When looking for a bike shop, start local.  In addition to the convenience when a repair is needed, your local bike shop will also know the terrain and trails in the area, which will help create the picture of your future rides.

You should trust the staff and feel welcome when you’re there.  If the staff do most of the talking or aren’t encouraging, take your business somewhere else.

The right shop will take the time to listen to your vision and ask questions.  When the time comes, you’ll be able to test ride your bike before you make a decision, just like a car.  Sometimes it takes several visits to the shop to make your final choice.  The staff should be willing to put in this time and energy so that you are buying a bike that makes you happy and that will make you love mountain biking.

Plan Your Budget

A big factor in your plans to start your riding adventure is price.  You’ll want to decide what you’re willing to spend.  Having an idea of cost can help you set a budget you can manage.  You should plan to spend between $900 and $1500 on an entry-level bike and start-up accessories.

Yup, I said “entry-level.”  If you love mountain biking, it’s likely there will be other bikes in your future.  But you might be thinking,  “I can barely afford this first bike, how am I expected to plan for a second bike already?!”  Fair question.  On one hand, you could go all-in and spend a few thousand dollars on expensive high end components and hope that this is your one and only bike.  I don’t recommend this, and neither do the staff of Speed River Bicycles in Guelph.

When it comes to buying your first mountain bike, Max, a three-year employee of the shop and fellow mountain biker, says it’s important to start with an entry-level bike for a few reasons.  First, if this is your first mountain bike, you may not know that you’re going to love the sport. 

An entry-level bike (and price point) is a good way to find out.  Let’s hope you love it, and if that’s the case, Max adds that you’ll learn riding skills safely and more efficiently with an entry-level bike.  You’ll appreciate this skill development down the road if you decide to upgrade.

From a practical standpoint, these bikes are less expensive because they have fewer mechanical parts and they are cheaper to fix.  This is good news for new riders.

As you start to ride, you’ll experience different terrain and riding conditions.  You’ll learn what you want to get out of a bike, and what type of mountain biking you want to do.  As bikes become more terrain and purpose-specific, the price goes up.  Max recommends giving yourself time to learn about your bike, the trails and yourself first before jumping into unnecessarily high costs.

Save the Jargon for Later

Words like hardtail, full suspension, hydraulic disc brakes and others are thrown around a lot when you’re talking bikes.  My advice:  don’t worry about all the bike components and jargon–yet. 

You’ve got plenty of time to learn about all the ins and outs of suspension options, and how many chain rings you need.  Sales staff like Melanie and Max, are more than happy to talk bikes with you and will explain how different options will impact your ride (and the price)! 

Keep it Simple 

An easy rule to follow is:  the more mechanical components on the bike, the more expensive your bike will be.  It will be heavier and have more parts that can break or need maintenance.  When it comes to purchasing your first mountain bike, keeping it simple is the best way to go.

Budget-Minded Options

I think we can all agree that buying a new bike is expensive.  If the prices are turning you away from the sport, don’t let them.  There are other options out there.  Many experienced riders are ready to sell their used, but well-maintained bikes at lower costs. 

My caution here is to make sure you find a used bike within a trusted bike community.  Often trail associations or mountain bike clubs will have a social network, like Facebook, and will allow members to buy & sell bikes on the site.

If you’re buying used, you’ll also want to have a good idea of what size bike you need.

Some shops and clubs will have bike and merchandise swaps which are a good option for saving money.  Much like ski swaps, these are a good way to see what affordable options are out there in a trustworthy environment.

If new is what you crave, but the cost is too much all at once, a third option is to find a bike shop that will finance the purchase.  Some offer financing options for up to 36 months.

Beyond the Bike

As you plan your budget, there are a few other important purchases to consider.

giro helmet

Helmet:  This is a must if you are going to be mountain biking.  A good universal mountain bike helmet will be just fine and will cost about $100.  Make sure to get one that fits correctly and is not the old, dusty one hanging in your garage.  Bike helmets need to be replaced every 5 years to maintain their protective qualities.

Race Face Chester Review

Pedals:  Mountain bikes come with basic, smooth, plastic pedals.  You’ll want to upgrade these to pedals that have small spikes on both sides.  This will allow your shoe to grip the pedal so that you have more traction and stability. Studded pedals will cost about $60-$80. We highly recommend the Race Face Chester.

osprey seral hip pack on the trail

Hydration system:  Whether you opt for a water bottle, backpack, or hip pack, you’ll want a system for carrying fluids.  Getting dehydrated on a ride is no fun, and will definitely impact your safety as well as how much you enjoy the sport.  If you get a water bottle, think about purchasing a carrying cage for it.  Both are inexpensive and the shop staff will install the cage when you are picking up your bike. 

giro mtb gloves

Gloves: Gloves are a key safety item as they protect your hands in the event of a crash. Fortunately, they are fairly cheap and you don’t need fancy ones.

Basic repair kit: You’ll want a basic repair kit. This should include a mini pump, a spare tube, tire levers, and a multi-tool. In the beginning, you may want to ride with other riders who can help you if you were to get a flat tire or have another mechanical issue, but it’s still good etiquette to carry the supplies to fix an issue. It also doesn’t hurt to learn how to do some basic bike maintenance so you feel more confident.

Kuat NV 2.0 Bike Rack Review

Bike rack:  Don’t forget to think about how you’ll get yourself (and your bike) to the trails.  If you’re lucky enough that your new bike fits in your car, then you’re all set.  But if you have a smaller vehicle, and do not live near the trails, you’ll want to think about a bike rack.

There are other “nice-to-have” accessories that will make your ride safe, fun and comfortable: mountain bike shorts, shoes, and eye protection; however not having these won’t stop you from getting out on your bike and exploring the trails.  You can purchase these later. For now, make sure to have sturdy, closed toed shoes and any regular sunglasses will help to protect your eyes from dirt or debris.

Ask Questions!

If you’re in the right bike shop, you’ll feel comfortable (and encouraged!) to ask questions along the way.  You should definitely ask about warranties and return policies, as well as service and tune-up packages.  If you want to plan ahead for your budget, ask about expected replacement and repair costs.  

Some shops will offer beginner riding clinics and bike maintenance workshops.  These are valuable learning opportunities and a great way to connect with fellow riders.  I also recommend that you ask where the best beginner trail networks are located.

Your mountain bike is an investment in your health, your fitness, and your social life.  Do some self-research, and then find the right bike shop for you.  By knowing yourself and working with the staff, you’ll be celebrating New Bike Day before you know it.  Happy shopping!

Bad A** Womens Guide to Buying a Bicycle

Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Bike. Get the FREE Guide Now!

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    About The Author

    jane gerritsen

    Jane Gerritsen bought her first mountain bike at age 52 as “retirement prep” and since that time, the mountain bike community has opened up her world to new goals, new adventures and best of all, new friends.  She is most grateful for her time at home, where she is learning to renovate her garage, try new recipes, write, and of course, plan her next mountain bike adventure.

    Leave a Comment