Everything You Need To Know When Buying A Mountain Bike

Who would have thought that buying a mountain bike would be so damn confusing? Seriously, it’s a pushbike for goodness sake! How can there be so many aspects to consider?

Between the mountain of information based around mountain bike types, styles and component specifications, it’s no wonder why so many of us get lost.

Well, have I got excellent news for you.

In this post I have cut through the crap and included only the most important factors, avoiding the unnecessary information scouring the web.

And believe me, there is a lot of it!

All you need to do is sit down, grab a beer and have a long hard think about what trails you want to ride.

It’s as simple as that!

For now, forget about what the best components are and focus solely on the first step…


Sending the bridge gap on the Blue Flow Trail at Dungog MTB Park

Understanding and answering this question without hesitation is the first step towards buying a mountain bike and experiencing everlasting bliss. Too many people overlook this basic procedure and jump straight onto the wrong bike.

I would know, I was one of them.

Without boring you with too much detail, this is my story…

Adrenaline was soaring after my partner, Candace, introduced me to this epic sport. (Yes it was her who introduced me… the truth has finally come out!) I went from a casual ride on my uncle’s trail bike to dropping $3000 on a Giant Trance that same afternoon…

Seriously, some may call me an impulsive idiot.

While I loved the Trance and it was more than capable for my ability as a beginner, recklessly purchasing the first bike I looked at proved the wrong decision.

My obsession grew rapidly, and with that, so did my desire to ride bigger and rougher gravity focused trails. My impulsive nature resulted in needing (wanting) an upgrade within the first year.

Use me as an example. Don’t be too impulsive and buy the wrong mountain bike.

Learn what you love before taking the first leap. Begin in the right direction.

So without further ado, let’s begin your exciting journey of buying a mountain bike.

Walking up the downhill runs in Glenrock Mountain Bike trails while Newcastle mountain Biking

Type Of Bikes

As with most sports, the different styles of trails require different styles of bikes. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of it, a top of the line downhill bike would be bulky, heavy and difficult to manage while riding cross-country trails. And vice versa, a cross country bike would buckle under the pressure of a gnarly downhill run.

While this post is primarily concentrating on figuring out which trail you’ll be riding, it is important to understand the different types of bikes we’ll be explaining for each discipline.

Mountain bikes are generalised into categories based predominantly on suspension. This is due to the fact that suspension is the most important aspect – and difference – between mountain biking disciplines.

Money is a touchy subject in any situation. Everyone has their own opinion of what expensive is and mountain bikes can range between $100 and $20,000, making it a tricky topic to discuss. To resolve this issue, I’m going to be focusing on entry-level bike costs to give you a rough idea of what the average person will be up for. And if you haven’t picked up on my Aussie Bogan language yet, we are talking in AUD $$

Rigid / Gravel Bike

Gravel Bikes are the latest craze in the world of mountain biking and are essentially road bikes designed to withstand a wider variety of terrain. This is accomplished by utilising a unique frame design in conjunction with larger all-terrain tyres.

Gravel bikes aren’t designed to be pushed on rough terrain and fall somewhere in the category of adventure touring, in which gravel roads will be encountered.

Rigid mountain bikes are built to handle tougher terrain when compared with gravel bikes, though still should only be used on beginner singletracks. Aesthetically these bikes look quite different, but both share one common downside when talking mountain biking…

No Suspension!

This makes rigid mountain bikes uncomfortable at the best of times and really limits their capability off-road.

About the only positive of a rigid mountain bike is that they’re generally the lightest and cheapest option, though the savings are not worth the pain.

In my opinion, one rule applies to rigid bikes when it comes to off-road riding. And that is…

Don’t do it to yourself! They belong on the road and the road only!

Entry level budget – <$1000


As the name suggests, hardtails are mountain bikes that have a rigid rear end but introduce suspension on the forks (front suspension). The rigid nature of hardtails creates greater pedalling efficiency and a more responsive feel, mix that with a softer front end to soak up unexpected blows and you have a great entry-level mountain bike.

Hardtails make for a great – cheaper – option if you don’t know whether mountain biking is for you… yet!

Entry level budget – $500 – $1000

Specialized Fuse Hardtail Mountain Bike

Full Suspension

And now we take an almighty leap in both price and capability. Full suspension bikes support both front and rear suspension, allowing for a considerably smoother ride over rough terrain. Many different travel lengths are available to suit each discipline of riding.

Full suspension bikes are the most versatile of the bunch and will treat you well in both the short and long term… Not biased at all!

But of course, better always comes with a higher price tag.

Later in this post, when talking about bikes suited to different styles, I am talking only of the full-suspension option, as they are the bee’s knees of mountain biking.


Cross country bikes are the ‘smallest’ in the full suspension family. They support an upright riding position with short travel suspension (90-120mm), making them the winners for pedalling efficiency while still providing a smoother ride over bumpy trails compared to hardtails.

Entry level budget – $2,500 – $3000

As you step up in price, the correlating factor of weight will drastically drop. Nearly every component will be made out of carbon fibre to provide maximum strength with minimum weight. The suspension is also stepped-up a notch, allowing bigger hits without adding weight.

Mountain biking through a technical corner on Dungog Common mtb parks cross-country loop

Trail / All-Mountain

Trail bikes are the all-rounders of the mountain biking world. Designed to withstand harsher trails without compromising the ability to pedal uphill. All-Mountain bikes sit somewhere in the middle range of suspension travel (120-160mm) and are great to ride on most trail styles.

A motto to live by – fast on the up, fun and poppy on the down.

Trail bikes are becoming increasingly popular because of their versatility. But this has urged bike manufacturers to start building them bigger and better, erring on the side of an enduro bike. And of course, with this mentality becoming more apparent, expect a larger price tag.

In my opinion, these bikes should be left where they are as the cheapest entry point and built for recreational riding only.

Entry level budget – $2,000 – $3000

A step up in price is going to see a mixture of both increase in strength and weight reduction. Cutting weight where possible but adding strength to suspension, wheels and brakes to accommodate for a wider gravity focus.

Candace smashing the gravity enduro trail at Ourimbah MTB Park, showing off her mountain bike skills


The big brother of all-mountain bikes. Designed with increased suspension travel (150-180mm) and a tough frame to handle large hits and drops. The longer and slacker build sacrifices some pedalling efficiency but improves the downhill performance ten-fold.

Entry level budget – $2500 – $3500

A step up in price will warrant a much tougher companion, able to handle larger hits and rougher terrain with ease. Only at the very high end will weight be noticeably reduced.

flying down a run at Ourimbah mtb park showing how to brake on a mountain bike and how it makes you faster


Downhill bikes – commonly referred to as ‘big bikes’ – sit at the extreme end of full-suspension bikes. They are designed with a super slack frame and extremely large suspension (180mm +). This combination partnered with dual crown forks creates unbelievable stability at high speed and absorbs jarring hits like they’re pebbles.

Downhill mountain bikes are built for one thing and one thing only…

To thrive on extremely steep and rough terrain.

Unfortunately, this beautiful structure leaves downhill bikes extremely heavy and almost impossible to pedal, also compromising control at low speed.

Entry level budget – $2500 – $3500

A step up in price is going to result in the monster of all sleds… so to speak. Bigger. Stronger. Better. Weight reduction isn’t of the highest importance on downhill bikes and again will only become apparent at the very high-end upgrades.

Commencal Downhill Bike in Blue Derby on Air Ya Garn


The electric bike is the newest style of mountain bike on the market and one that has taken the world by storm. A battery-operated motor, located in the bottom bracket (where your cranks connect to the frame), works as an ‘assist’ when the rider begins to pedal. All E-bikes come with several different levels of assist, allowing the rider to choose how hard the motor will drive.

E-bikes come in an array of suspension setups to mirror all the same styles of the standard leg-driven mountain bikes mentioned above.

While I don’t recommend E-bikes to most – especially if you’re young and healthy – there are circumstances that make this type of mountain bike a good choice:

  • If you plan on taking part in massive ride days
  • If you have pre-existing leg injuries

Entry level budget – $3000 (for a hardtail…)

I bet you guessed that these bikes don’t come cheap. Expect to add thousands of dollars on top of any standard mountain bike.

Specialized Turbo Levo SL E-Bike

Types Of Mountain Biking Trails

Now you have an understanding of the basic differences between mountain bike types, we’re ready to learn all about the different disciplines you’ll be riding.

Not only are bikes completely different, but the trails also vary immensely. Each distinct discipline of mountain biking requires a change in bike design. Most noticeably – the bike’s weight, suspension and geometry.

It is important to know that these disciplines cannot be determined by the terrain itself, but more the nature of it. For instance, across each discipline you’re going to be faced with:

  • Hard-packed dirt
  • Loose dirt
  • Rocks
  • Roots
  • Ruts
  • Jumps
  • Mud
  • The list goes on…

So what exactly determines the difference in disciplines?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s the nature of all obstacles combined. The size of the jump, the roughness of the trail, the steepness of the line…

Understanding these differences in trail types will no doubt help you buy the correct mountain bike and begin your quest on the right track.

Whipping over a hip jump in Glenrock Mountain Bike Trails in my Shimano Am901 SPD Shoes

Trail Difficulty

Jumping a bit off-topic, but something that is important to understand; all the runs in a mountain bike park – no matter what discipline – will be colour coded the same way to determine the difficulty.

  • Green – Easy, family-friendly trails that are generally wider and flatter with no major hazards. Suitable for all levels of riders and bikes (except maybe a downhill bike).
  • Blue – Intermediate runs that take more of a singletrack form and begin to introduce smaller features, steeper descents and technical sections. Blue runs usually come with a B-Line option (easier route) around the larger features, so they are still a great run for beginner mountain bikers.

** Blue runs can vary depending on the location so be careful. Some blues are more like blacks and can hide some nasty surprises.

  • Black – Advanced trails moving to the steeper side of the mountain. Expect big features and be aware that these trails don’t very often support B-Lines.
  • Double-black – Extreme lines that should not be ridden before you’re ready (unless you’re an idiot like me). These trails are designed for the most advanced rider and are filled with blind features that can do more than give you a fright.
  • Red (Pro Lines) – For the absolutely insane. Don’t even think about it unless you’re at a pro-level… trust me, I’ve tried.

And so the question remains…

What are the trail styles and which do you want to ride?

The map of Maydena Bike Park below is the perfect visual example of a well layed out network and different trail difficulties.

Maydena Bike Park Trail Map


Generally speaking, cross-country refers to a slow and easy-going circuit that is suitable for any level of rider (I’ll probably be reprimanded for saying that). A balance of climbing and descending is found and boasting no major obstacles, the main trait required is endurance.

Cross-country trails range anywhere from wide open fire roads to tight technical singletrack, and are more often than not, rated green in difficulty. Making them a great option for an easy pedal, a form of fitness or a family friendly ride.

You’re probably thinking – Why are you going to be reprimanded? Well…

Cross-country or ‘XC’ was the first professional form of mountain biking and still to this day is one of the most competitive. And me describing it as easy is probably going to annoy some people.

In terms of racing, cross-country is brutal. Natural and man-made circuits are purposefully designed to test both the mental and physical stamina of athletes – to the point of breaking. Short sharp bursts of energy throughout an ever increasingly demanding circuit is required for hours on end as these athletes strive to be the best.

What makes a Cross-Country Mountain Bike?

Cross-country mountain bikes are the definition of light-weight and efficiency. Designed with the single aim of positioning the rider in an optimal position to increase endurance and slow speed control. To gain this, cross-country mountain bikes support these features.

  • Short wheelbase
  • Lightweight
  • Upright riding position
  • Short suspension travel (90-120mm)
  • Fixed position seat post
  • Efficient drivetrain

Should you be buying a cross-country mountain bike?

Probably not.

If you’re after the lightest, fastest and most nimble machine on two wheels to begin a cross-country racing career, then by all means, a full suspension XC bike is going to serve you well.


If you’re only liking the sound of cross-country due to the easy-going nature of green trails, a hardtail will be the perfect substitute. And as a bonus, it carries a much cheaper price tag.

If you are entering this sport with the sole purpose of recreational riding or you’re unsure of the correct style yet, I urge you to read on and consider the ‘all-rounder’.

Signage displayed along the cross-country loop at Dungog Common mtb park

Trail / All-Mountain

You want the short answer? Here it is…

Take everything cross country and remove the racing aspect.

All-mountain riding is by far the most common form of recreational mountain biking. Generally, easy flowing singletrack suited to most levels of riders, consisting of slightly larger and more obscure obstacles. These are the sorts of trails you’ll find at your local woods a majority of the time.

All-mountain trails are commonly found as a mixture of green and blue runs providing a perfect introduction to what true mountain biking is all about.

*A comforting fact – most of the larger features come with a B-line.

What makes an All-Mountain Bike?

  • Medium wheelbase
  • On the lighter side
  • Neutral riding position
  • Mid-range suspension travel (lockable)
  • Seat-dropper post
  • Wider tyres

All-mountain bikes are designed to handle rough terrain without compromising the ability to ascend technical climbs fast.

The idea of one bike to do it all.

With the extra stability added, trail bikes are generally heavier and slacker than their smaller brother (cross-country bikes). Perching riders in a neutral position, readying them for whatever the mountain has instore.

Should You Be Buying An All-Mountain Bike?

Definitely, yes!

This idea has created an entry-level, full-suspension bike that has the capability of handling bigger and better things as you progress onto extreme trails.

The all-mountain variety of full suspension bikes are the cheapest and most practical for a wide range of trail styles. Having the ability to climb as well as descend means these bikes are superb for exploring unfamiliar trails.

While these bikes are one of the most versatile, they are becoming more expensive. As a beginner, you could manage all-mountain trails on a hardtail, but an extreme performance decline will be noticed and progression made harder.

If you’re serious about mountain biking, you are going to end up with a full-suspension bike sooner or later. So do yourself a favour and cut out the first years of pain on a hardtail.

The beautiful berms on the top of the downhill track at Ourimbah MTB Park

Enduro / Gravity Enduro

Now we are moving into the big kid stuff.

Enduro mountain biking – much like all-mountain – consists of both uphill and downhill sections throughout rugged terrain. However, enduro shifts every ounce of focus on the downhill! There is but one major difference between these two mountain biking disciplines, and that is…

In enduro, everything is bigger!

A combination of rough singletrack, massive features and technical areas bulging throughout steep mountains brings enduro riding up several notches. These trails are built for the more advanced rider and require a higher level of skill to complete.

Due to this nature, enduro runs are commonly found as black in terms of difficulty and usually don’t support B-line options. In certain circumstances (such as resort styled bike parks like Blue Derby or Thredbo) a blue rating can be given to these trails, so a word of advice…

Look before you leap.

Enduro mountain biking (or gravity enduro) is another well-known global racing circuit and in my personal opinion, is the most demanding. Enduro racing consists of a massive circuit – some pushing the 50 km mark – where both uphill and downhill sections are completed. Only the downhill sections are timed, and this is the backbone to why these bikes are designed to thrive downhill.

 What Makes an Enduro Mountain Bike?

Enduro mountain bikes are designed to excel on gravity trails without completely ruling out the uphills. They are built bigger, tougher and, in most cases, heavier due to the amount of stress that comes with riding these extreme trails.

Big hits soaked up by superior suspension and increased stability at high speed are the main traits an enduro bike will showcase.

These bad boys are built to last with these features:

  • Long wheelbase
  • Heavier
  • Slack (laid back) riding position
  • Bigger suspension travel (150-180mm)
  • Seat dropper post
  • Wide tyres
  • Bigger, stronger brakes

Should You Be Buying An Enduro Mountain Bike?

If you are looking to thrive on the downhill, then yes.

Enduro bikes are tough and can handle almost anything you throw at them. Actually, everything you throw at them! If you plan on ripping berms and sending large jumps, I think you have found your match.

The nature of the tough design – of course – brings about a higher price tag. And so, if pushing your skills to the limit on hard descents doesn’t sound appealing, an enduro bike is going to be overkill. An all-mountain bike will suit much better.

Mountain biking down 23 stitches at Blue Derby Mountain Bike Park


As always, I have saved the best for last… well, in my opinion anyway.

Downhill mountain biking has been created for the madman. For people that love verging on the brink of annihilation, enduring high adrenaline rushes and extreme excitement. While downhill requires immense skill, you won’t succeed in this discipline unless you’re a little crazy.

Downhill mountain biking is described perfectly by its name and focuses solely on gravity. Providing the most challenging lines in terms of massive obstacles and features over super steep gradients.

This discipline has only one goal, getting down the mountain as fast as possible.

Downhill is the only discipline to rule out climbing and focus solely on gravity. The idea of using a means of transport – chairlift, shuttle or just walking for the unlucky – to take you up the hill before you crazily shoot back down.

You can guarantee a downhill run will be rated upward from black and are not for novice riders.

 What Makes a Downhill Bike?

Downhill bikes are sleds. They only travel one direction, and that direction is down! These bikes are built to withstand massive shock and extreme hits while providing excellent control at high speeds. Increased stopping power is needed due to the steep terrain and in turn, superb rolling performance.

  • Longest wheel base
  • Heavy
  • Super slack riding position (like recliner chair level)
  • Massive suspension travel (180-210mm)
  • Dual Crown Forks
  • Fixed seat position
  • Wide tyres
  • Big, best brakes

Should You Be Buying A Downhill Mountain Bike?

Probably not.

You should be able to tell from my tone that I love downhill mountain biking, but not even I own one… yet.

Downhill bikes are about as specific as you can get. And due to their massive suspension and slack design, I cannot recommend this bike for anything other than chairlift/shuttle accessible mountain bike parks. They are too impractical and to be honest, more than what you need.

You will not be pedalling this style of bike uphill… Just forget about it!

That being said, if you’re absolutely mad like me and want to enter the world of downhill racing, it may be the bike for you. Just remember you aren’t taking this bad boy anywhere else.

Blue Derby Tasmania sunset on Trouty

Summing Up Mountain Bike Trail Styles

By now you should be at the stage where I can ask…

What type of trails do you want to ride?

And you can shout out your answer with full confidence and no hesitation what so ever!

Answering this question truthfully and knowledgeably is 90% of your journey to buying a mountain bike.

I can’t stress this enough.

You can see that if you want to ride downhill and you purchase a cross-country bike, you’re setting yourself up for failure. And this is why deciding on a preferred trail style is the first step, making up 90% of your decision.

Now for the remaining 10%.

The next section is based around bike specific components and what you need to be looking out for when it comes to buying a mountain bike.

This is where most people get carried away in research and over do it. Choosing high-end gear for no real gain other than bragging rights. This quickly becomes pointless and expensive.

So here goes, these are the most important aspects to understand when talking bike components.

Sram X01 drivetrain mountain bike

Important Components To Consider When Buying A Mountain Bike

Don’t worry, I won’t be boring you with massively detailed descriptions. What you will learn is the essential aspects and what your mountain bike should be equipped with, along with parts that are easily upgraded further down the track.


Brakes make the list of important components for not just one, but two reasons. It’s obvious that a good set of brakes allows riders to stop quicker, but it’s the not so obvious that may come as a surprise…

Brakes allow you to ride faster.

Having the confidence that you can stop suddenly and in control will see your confidence sky-rocket. Trust me, when I jump on a bike with low-quality brakes I immediately ride slowly to maintain control.

Along with supporting superb stopping power, high-quality brakes provide better rider control and work efficiently under extreme heat build-up on large downhill descents. Good brakes are an absolute must if you plan to concentrate on gravity focused disciplines.

Though it’s not all about stopping power. For example, in the eyes of cross-country mountain biking, it’s all about weight. High-end braking systems are built almost entirely from carbon fibre, making for a lightweight but durable design.

What Type Of Brakes To Look For When Buying A Mountain Bike?

In the world of mountain biking, there is really only one choice for a decent braking system.

And that is hydraulic disk brakes.

Hydraulic disk brakes outperform the competition in performance and durability. This means they will be found on nearly every mountain bike available, regardless of the discipline.

Some great brands to look into are:

  • Sram
  • Shimano
  • Hope Tech
  • Magura
  • TRP

While setting yourself up with the correct brakes is one of the most important decisions, upgrading your stopping power further down the track is relatively easy and inexpensive compared to other mountain bike components.

how to brake on a mountain bike using both brakes together


Suspension plays a vital role on your bike and serves a purpose that is unmatched by any other component. The basic idea of suspension is to soak up (dampen) big hits and the roughness in a trail, providing the rider with maximum levels of control and smoothness.

Coinciding with its main purpose, having the correct suspension set up will no doubt increase grip and speed when slashing down the mountain.

However, the bigger the suspension – the harder it is to pedal uphill. This is why compromises need to be made with regard to travel. And why different disciplines require different styles of suspension.

As you step up in the levels of suspension, increased strength and customisation are found due to the wider variety of adjustments and solid build quality.

The best suspension setups will be utilising both front and rear suspension and if you’re serious about mountain biking, I cannot recommend a full-suspension bike highly enough.

Fox DPX2 Rear shock suspension on a Specialized mountain bike

What Suspension For What Style?

Throughout the different riding disciplines, suspension requirements vary immensely and finding the correct setup will increase your rider experience 10 fold.


Cross-country riding requires the least amount of travel and doesn’t perform as well on the descents compared to all other styles. Generally, a stiffer ride to increase pedalling efficiency is accomplished by the small travel gear.

This is perhaps the only discipline where a hardtail will suffice. However, an all-round better experience will be apparent on a dual-suspension bike.

  • Small Travel (90-120mm)
  • Light Weight
  • Small stanchion diameter (30-32mm)

All-Mountain / Trail

Trail riding needs a versatile tool that provides an all-round great experience of both up and downhill performance. This is accomplished by using mid-range travel with the capability of locking the suspension solid for better pedalling efficiency.

  • Mid-range travel (120-150mm)
  • Lockable
  • Medium stanchion diameter (32-36mm)


Enduro riding requires suspension built to withstand large hits and jarring trails. A general rule of thumb is that enduro bikes consist of more travel and are supplied with tougher suspension compared with a trail bike. Utilizing a larger diameter stanchion provides increased resistance to flex and a more direct feel.

  • Large travel (150-180mm)
  • Heavy duty
  • Large stanchion diameter (36-38mm)


Not much needs to be said about downhill other than the obvious – downhill bikes require the biggest of all suspension. Along with a silly amount of travel, the forks found on downhill bikes support a double crown set up, which means the stanchion tubes run all the way to the handlebars.

Not only does this mean larger suspension is accomplished, but the dual crown set up increases stability and reduces vibration caused by trail corrugation.

  • Largest travel (180+mm)
  • Heavy duty
  • Dual crown
  • Largest stanchion diameter (38+mm)
Smashing a berm in my Am901 SPD Shoes riding around a berm in Glenrock Mountain Bike Trails

What To Take Away From Mountain Bike Suspension

Generally speaking, more expensive suspension will come with increased strength and the addition of increased adjustability, such as low and high-speed compression and damping rates.

If you want to thrive in a particular mountain biking discipline, you need to set yourself up with the correct suspension. This should be a top consideration when first deciding what mountain bike to buy.

While suspension may be easy to install, upgrading is not cheap!

There are many different methods to achieve the best suspension setups and if you would like to know more, visit Bike Exchange. They explain everything you could possibly need to know about the topic in great detail.

Mat Walker looking calm and collected on Air Ya Garns big jumps in Blue Derby Tasmania


The frame is the base layer of a mountain bike and the structure that determines what style of bike you’re buying. The frame is the only component you can’t upgrade… without pretty well buying a new bike, so do yourself a favour and make sure you can answer the one main question.

What type of trails do you want to ride?

Frame Geometry

There is a lot that goes into the design and geometry of a frame, but right now you don’t need to know specifics. All you need to is this…

A shorter more upright bike will excel in cross-country mountain biking by increasing efficiency due to rider positioning. While a long, slack frame design will improve rider control on steep descents and at high speeds.

Think of a cross-country bike as a straight-backed chair and a downhill bike as a recliner chair.

Again, if you want to learn more about the specifics visit MTBiking. They have a great rundown of the most important considerations.

Frame Size

As well as the changing geometry between different brands and disciplines, mountain bikes also come in size specific applications.

All-mountain bikes will come in an array of sizes from XS to XL and even women-specific bikes. Some brands will fit differently to others, so it’s best to jump on one to test the sizes for yourself.

Manufacturing websites will all have a size guide to help you decide if you can’t get to a shop.

I’m 176 cm tall and comfortably ride a medium.

Frame Material

While the geometry is the most important part about a mountain bikes frame, there are other factors that determine how it performs. And the major decider is the material.

There are two major competitors and they are Aluminium (Alloy) and Carbon Fibre.

Aluminium bike frames – also known as alloy – are without a doubt the most widely used frame in the modern mountain bike industry. With the alloy commonly used for various components on the bike as well, such as; cranks, handlebars, brakes etc…

Aluminium, in general, has a low density and is inexpensive to manufacture. This means frame builders can easily manipulate the soft material and form it into tough, lightweight structures. It’s a no brainer that Aluminium is a perfect candidate for mountain bike frames.

Carbon Fibre is relatively new in the world of mountain biking and only in recent years has it merged as a main competitor for frame material. Gone are the days only professional mountain bikers were seen on these expensive designs, now you’d be lucky not to pass one at your local trails.

Here’s why.

Carbon fibre has an extremely high stiffness to weight ratio – meaning a strong, reliable frame built lighter than any other. Along with a tough design, manufacturer’s are able to manipulate carbon fibre to extreme extents allowing for the creation of unique and high performing machines.

Due to a higher stiffness level, carbon fibre mountain bikes are more responsive under touch, something that some riders prefer while others hate.

Of course, as with anything, the lighter and stronger the material, the more expensive. So expect to pay more in comparison with aluminium.

How To Select The Correct Frame When Buying A Mountain Bike

The most important factor when buying a mountain bike with regards to its frame is getting the geometry correct.

And I DON’T mean being pinpoint with angles and taking on an engineering degree to understand every design aspect.

I mean getting the basic frame shape to suit your preferred style of riding. Remember, Cross-Country equals straight backed chair and Downhill equals recliner.

With regards to material, you can’t go wrong with either carbon fibre or aluminium. In theory, carbon fibre performs better but is more expensive. And if you do crack a carbon fibre frame, there is no repairing. Whereas an alloy frame can be saved and will generally bend or dint before cracking.

Even though I own a carbon fibre bike, my personal preference is an alloy frame. This may seem contradicting but I’ll explain why later in this post.

Carving one of the many great corners on Twisties while mountain biking in Newcastle at Glenrock MTB Park


Don’t underestimate the importance of a good set of wheels. They are the component that literally keeps you rolling and will have a substantial impact on the quality of your ride.

There are loads of arguments around what wheels are best and most have their place. But do yourself a favour and don’t get sucked into these arguments.

Here is the most important aspect and what you need to know to make an informed decision when looking for your first mountain bike.


The easiest way to distinguish wheels is by their diameter, measured in inches. You’ll find this method of sizing common industry-wide.

There are three main sizes of mountain bike wheels; 26in, 27.5in and 29in. That’s not to say these are the only sizes available, they are just the most popular at an adult level.

26 Inch Wheels

26in wheels were originally the bread and butter of mountain biking wheels. Though they are rarely seen on new mountain bikes, their lightweight and nimble nature still cements their place in society.

The apparent shift in recent years continues to see mountain bikes designed with larger wheels offering more traction, greater rolling characteristics, and better riding quality.

27.5 Inch Wheels

27.5in wheels have essentially replaced the 26in, coming standard on almost every new mountain bike being developed. Also referred to as ‘650B’, these wheels provide slightly improved roll-over ability for technical applications, traction and air volume when compared with 26in wheels.

What they don’t do is overcompensate on weight or handling. 27.5in tyres – while being larger – still prove a very nippy counterpart and an impressive tool for mountain bikers that love slashing berms and lapping bike parks.

A very happy middle ground.

29 Inch Wheels

29in wheels – also referred to as ’29ers’ – provide more traction, better braking, greater roll-over ability on technical obstacles and a smoother ride thanks to their increased size and contact points. 29er wheels have taken the world by storm and, in very recent times, most manufacturers are offering a 29in version to all models of mountain bikes. Some are now only supporting the larger 29inch wheel.

Their increased stability also means they’re good, very good on the descent. They do, however, weigh more and prove to be tricky to maneuver in tight trail applications.

Surely 29in wheels are going to be the largest produced? They have to stop getting bigger at some point!

It’s important to note that wheel sizes cannot be changed on most mountain bikes without a major re-design and suspension replacement (with the odd few that support both). Also, there are other factors that make up a wheel such as; the hub, spokes, tyres and rim. But as long as you select the correct size wheel, upgrading these individual parts is relatively cheap and easy.

What Wheel Size Should you buy?

There isn’t really a short answer, but I know you want to hear one, so here goes… If you plan on racing competitively, buy a 29er. If you’re after fun, poppy, responsive and nimble riding, go with 27.5in. But most importantly…

Stay out of the silly arguments!

A highly debated subject among keen mountain bikers and one I’m sure you’ve heard of. If you haven’t, you will…

27.5, or a 29er?

This is one of those arguments I warned you about.

The fact of the matter is, one isn’t better than the other, they are just different. And it’s the differences mentioned above that give each size their pros and cons. You must decide what features will benefit your riding style and go with your gut!

Mountain bike cornering around a excellent berm at Stromlo MTB Park

Groupset (Drivetrain)

A full groupset comprises of a bike’s brakes and drivetrain. But since I’ve categorised brakes on their own – because they’re so darn important – let’s focus on the drivetrain.

This is where the magic happens, so to speak. The drivetrain converts all energy produced by your legs into the torque that drives your rear wheel. This is accomplished by a combination of components working together in operation. These components are known as the:

  • Derailleurs
  • Shifters
  • Cranks
  • Chainrings
  • Chain
  • Cassette

As you move to more advanced gear, greater durability, efficiency and shifting performance will become apparent as the weight minutely decreases.

Groupset components are commonly made of alloy, though as you move towards the high-end gear, carbon fibre will substitute as the main material.

What Groupset To Consider When Buying A Mountain Bike

Again, this is directly related to our main question…

What type of trail do you want to ride?

As an avid cross-country rider, where efficiency and weight are key, your drivetrain is perhaps the most important decision. Whereas a gravity rider will most likely have other priorities.

High-end groupsets are expensive so it’s important to decide whether investing in such a system will benefit your riding. Luckily, most manufacturers make several models that are interchangeable. Meaning, in the event of damaging one component, a cheaper replacement can be added with no modification.

Tightening a bolt on my derailleur after buying a mountain bike

Mountain Bike Components In A Nutshell

If you’ve made it this far and have read everything down to my cheeky little jokes, you are doing well but I could have probably saved you a bit of time…


Here’s a list of my quick reccomendations.

Purchase good quality brakes! Buy a mountain bike with good quality brakes OR upgrade poor quality brakes ASAP. Don’t underestimate the potential for good brakes to improve your riding skills.

Invest in suspension. Spend the initial money on a mountain bike with improved suspension. Upgrading both the forks and rear shock is an expensive exercise.

Don’t fixate on frame material. Both Alloy and Carbon are great choices for a mountain bikes frame. Don’t get stuck procrastinating over this.

Select the correct frame design. Be sure to select a frame with the correct geometry. This is the one thing you cannot change! Remember, a short and steep design (straight-backed chair) is good for efficiency and slow speed control, while a long and slack design (recliner chair) excels in downhill and high-speeds.

Make an informed decision about wheel size. Does more grip, better roll-over ability and increased control appeal? Go a 29er. Does fun, poppy, responsive and nimble sound better? Go 27.5in.

Changing wheel size isn’t as easy as just swapping it out, most bikes are designed to only support one specific size and if you want to change you may need new suspension and an extended chain stay… So choose wisely.

Understand if a high-end drivetrain will benefit your riding. Don’t buy the golden SRAM drivetrain because it looks good… Understand what makes it more expensive and decide if you will benefit from the upgrade.

Don’t get sucked into silly arguments. There are positives and negatives to basically every mountain biking argument, and the way to avoid becoming apart of it is to do your own research. Think long and hard about what it is you want from your mountain bike and back your decision.

Weighting your outside foot for cornering as a great beginner mountain biking tip

The Next Step In Buying A Mountain Bike

By now you know what sort of trails you want to shred and whether you will be a full-blown sender or a casual weekend warrior.

It’s time to try some mountain bikes out!

Get yourself down to the local bike shop and take a test ride. There is no better way to know if a bike feels good, rides well, performs as you want and is comfortable than trying it in person.

If you didn’t already know, most – if not all – bike shops will have a demo model that will be lent out for test ride purposes free of charge. And in the case there is a charge, only a small fee will be required.

Another great source of testing is your mates. Surely someone you know rides mountain bikes and I bet they’ll be happy to give you a whirl.

If you’re only looking for budget options and think a hardtail will suit, I urge you to test ride a full-suspension bike regardless.

You will love me for it!

Sending a rock drop on Krushkas descent in Blue Derby mtb trails Tasmania

The Future Of Buying A Mountain Bike

Personally, I believe there is and always will be a place for local bike shops selling bikes… with one catch.

They must be willing to grow their online presence.

The Global Pandemic of 2020 has shown exactly why this is important and I know some people probably don’t want to hear it, but online shopping is, in my opinion, the way of the future.

One thing I hope that’s introduced, as a result, is the option to fully customise and tailor a bike exactly to what you want.

What I mean is pick a frame and add the components you’re after. We currently live in the frustrating situation that if you want the best suspension set up, you must purchase the top model supplied with all the bells and whistles. For example; carbon frame, top groupset, expensive wheels, the list goes on.

What I want to see is the ability to downgrade certain components in order to save money.

Shit, I may have just given away a million dollar business idea.

My ideal bike would consist of:

  • Top-quality brakes
  • Top-notch suspension
  • Top of the line Aluminium wheels
  • Slack, aluminium frame
  • The absolute cheapest drivetrain applicable

Why? beacuse I know the answer to the most important question.

What type of trail do I want to ride?

Easy, downhill.

I need an extremely tough mountain bike, designed for speed and stability down rough terrain with the ability to soak up harsh impacts and not fail when I make mistakes… Trust me, I make a lot of them.

So straight away you can see from my component selection that I don’t care much for lightweight and efficiency. I would be able to save cost in the frame material and drivechain without sacrificing reliability. As an added bonus, in the event I ruin a drivechain component – a common occurrence with me – a cheap replacement can slip straight on.

Sunset glow on Trouty rock slab in Blue Derby Mountain bike trails

Summing Up How To Buy A Mountain Bike

With all of this information and assuming you take my advice, you’ll be overly satisfied with the mountain bike you purchase.

How do I know?

It worked for me 🙂

You have learnt more than is necessary to acquire that ideal bike. But If you’re still umming and ahhing as to which bike to go for, here are my suggestions for each level you may be.

Best Mountain Bike For Tight Budgets

Hardtail – If your sole purpose for buying a bike is a chilled recreational ride through fun and cruisy cross-country trails and you’re on a budget, the hardtail is for you.

That being said, I urge you to consider spending a little more dough and try a trail bike.

Most Versatile Mountain Bike For Beginners

Trail bike – Unless you know you’re going to be riding as much gravity enduro as you can, a trail bike will be sufficient for any beginner wanting to try all types of trails.

Best Mountain Bike For Thrill Seekers

Enduro bike – If you’re like me and know you will be wanting an upgrade within a year, don’t waste your time or money and go straight for the enduro bike. It will suffice for the smaller stuff and kick arse in the heavy situations.

Now stop reading!

Go and buy the mountain bike you desire and get out there.

Also, I’d love to know if this post helped and if you found any challenges in the process I didn’t cover. But most of all, I want to hear all about your mountain biking adventures!

Happy riding.