I spent a year researching mountain bikes and found the process significantly more complicated than buying a car. My first bike was a fully rigid 2003 Giant Boulder, which I rode for six years. It was better suited for paved trails and dirt roads than single track. In my six years of riding it on rugged trails, I replaced a bent rear derailleur, replaced a broken rear axle, added a 2.35 inch front tire, added a 2.10 inch back tire, and switched from platform pedals to clipless pedals. All of those improvements were futile. And, without a doubt, I was ready to switch from my often faulty cantilever brakes to disc brakes.
I wanted to be able to ride all kinds of trails and participate in a few races a year. I purchased from a local bike shop so that I could test ride it and be properly fitted. I got a lot of value out of a custom fitting. It should include adjustments to the pedals and shoes, modifications for handlebar height and stem length, vertical and horizontal positioning of seat, and identification of frame size.
Bikes I considered:
The features I considered:
After a year of riding on them, I am sold on the idea of 29 inch wheels. Absorbing energy from bumps and rolling over rough terrain with ease are benefits. 29 inch wheels do not negate the need for rear suspension on uber-rugged trails but I'm fine without it. Also, I chose tubeless tires and they have worked great.
I love the concept of a single-speed: lighter weight, less maintenance, and increased durability. It requires less maintenance because there are less components (i.e., gear shifters, derailleurs). In addition, they are lighter weight and more durable. They are more durable because you do not have to worry about your chain popping off because of derailleur misalignment or having your rear derailleur bent after slamming it into a rock. On the other hand, a single speed is unable to ride up a steep slopes whereas a multi-speed bike's granny chain ring can make almost any slope possible. I recommend reviewing gear ratio options with your local bike shop because they can customize it to match the trails you plan to ride. Lastly, I converted an old geared bike to single speed and had fun with it but it is not as reliable as riding a bike designed to be a single speed.
I am done riding a fully rigid bike because my back and neck can't handle the bumps and I spent too much time and energy braking over rough terrain. Hardtails (i.e., front suspension only) are more economical than full suspension and can provide a smooth ride on rough terrain. Full suspension bikes require premium components and a more complex frame so it is advocated to pay considerably more for one than you would for a hardtail. Moreover, rear suspension can be installed in a various ways so maintenance and durability need to be considered. A hardtail with 29 inch wheels is a cheaper, simpler, and conserves power on climbs. On the other hand, full-suspension should be considered for racing because it makes it easier to fly over rugged terrain.
The primary feature to examine in selecting a mountain bike is its frame material: aluminum, steel, or carbon. Aluminum frames are popular because they are rigid, rust-free, and lightweight. Unfortunately, they are not as long lasting as steel or carbon. Steel frames are durable, a little heavier, and can be vulnerable to rust. Carbon fiber is usually employed for high-end, custom designed frames. I chose a Reynolds 853 steel frame because all of its reviews were positive.
ristretto.rb on Jun 23, 2016 said:
Hi, nice post. I totally agree with your choices and explanation. I prefer steel too, don't totally trust carbon, nor want to pay for it for the frame. Though I am considering carbon wheels. Just not sure if they're a good choice for day to day riding on a rigid frame. Where do you live? I'm in the Sacramento, CA area - perfect for Singlespeeding. I'm currently riding a heavy steel SS with steel HEAVEY rigid fork, but added Stan's tubeless wheels, and XT hydro brakes. It's heavy, but I love it. Ride it all the time. Amazes me how much a simple bike is so much fun. I'm wondering if I would like front suspension or not. I'm concerned I'll miss the railing corner feeling. I road at Tahoe over the week, and now feel having a full suspension bike in the shed is a good idea.
twoknobbytires on Jun 25, 2016 said:
I used to live in Iowa where its rolling hills were super fun to ride with a single speed. Now, I live in the bay area and am in the process of adding gears so I can make it up steep, prolonged climbs. I highly recommend front suspension if your local terrain features any amount of rocks and/or fallen trees.