My birthday is approaching and it's a big round four zero... Not intimidating at all.
Traditionally this is the time to buy a motorbike or a Porsche. I decided that isn't quite my vibe and would rather get a new Mountain bike.
Buying a mountain bike can lead to a long deep rabbit hole of options, decision fatigue and complete overwhelm. After a bit too much research, I've broken it down into the different parts I considered while looking for a set of wheels.
### Type of riding
The first obvious decision is what type of riding are you doing. In my mind, I'm going to do downhill routes like [Greg Minnar](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSqFmJ57paE) , but realistically I'm doing pretty relaxed trail riding with the kids or friends. I do enjoy tackling a few technical sections and jumps. So for me, this falls into the [trail bike](https://cyclingmagazine.ca/mtb/beginners-guide-mountain-bike-types/) A good deep dive into the different styles and bikes is [here](https://www.bikeexchange.com.au/blog/cross-country-trail-enduro-mountain-bikes-explained-comparison-guide)
### Bike size
Getting the size correct is important. Too small and you will feel very cramped on the bike. Too big and you won't have a lot of control on tighter corners and bumps. Each bike brand will have a slightly different sizing and recommendation. [Trek](https://www.trekbikes.com/au/en_AU/mountain_buyers_guide/size/) has a good starting guide to give you an idea of correct sizing. A lot of stores can help you here as well. I typically prefer a medium size but on some bikes, it feels too small. So best to try out a few to see what works.
### Dual suspension versus hard-tail
There is lots of debate over hard-tail versus dual-suspension bikes. A dual-suspension bike has a shock in the front fork and a second one attached to the back. A hardtail has only one in the front fork. There doesn't seem to be one perfect answer here, but each bike behaves slightly differently in different riding situations. In general, dual suspension seems to be what most people recommend. I've broken it down into several factors that can help your decision.
Dual suspension will give a smoother ride and you will feel more in control because the suspension will cushion the bumps and rougher terrain. The hard tail is still enjoyable but the ride is a little bumpier and the tail of your bike can pop out because of the lack of suspension on jarring corners.
With a dual-suspension, some of the pedalling power is absorbed by the suspension, so cycling up a hill can be more effort. So in theory the hard tail is the clear winner here. However, modern dual suspension bikes come with suspension lockout. Which allows you to disable the suspension when riding uphill.
A dual-suspension will be slightly heavier because of the extra suspension in the rear. But we talking about a difference of a few kilograms.
This is a big factor. It is possible to buy a very good hardtail with excellent components for cheaper than buying a dual-suspension with medium components.
[Trek](https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/mountain_buyers_guide/full_suspension_vs_hardtail/) has a nice video overview of this and the [Global Mountain Bike Network](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntoOXWEiJ5A) has a very entertaining video overview.
Dual suspension all the way... I've now moved to a dual suspension bike and I've found it to be a really nice improvement. The ride in general is a lot smoother. Tackling rough terrain is a breeze. My bike has the option to change the level of travel so I can adjust that for tough hills. I only notice the weight difference when lifting the bike onto the bike rack. It is slightly heavier. But now that I've moved to a dual-suspension, I don't see myself switching back to a hard tail.
### Frames - Carbon versus Aluminium
I didn't look into this too much. Carbon frames are a lot lighter and a lot more expensive. A carbon frame is more rigid so all the cycling energy generated by pedalling is pushed into the wheels. Aluminium is cheaper and heavier but a lot stronger. I don't do enough riding to justify a carbon frame.
Most of the time, the price differences in bikes are because of the different components on the bike. This can be because of better shocks, brakes, groupsets and tyres. Most bikes will have a specific range and then in that range, the price increase between bikes is because it comes with better components. I've broken down some of the components and choices below.
## Groupsets and gear-shifting
This is where things get very overwhelming. Groupsets are the gears on the bike along with the derailleur to change gears and then the shifters on the handlebars to change gears. There are two main companies for this, Shimano and SRAM. Each company then has its entry level up to there pro-level which is electronic gear-shifting. Below is a breakdown of the different ranges between the two:
![[Screenshot 2023-12-24 at 13.09.16.png]]
_Taken from [Pro's Closet](https://www.theproscloset.com/blogs/news/shimano-vs-sram)_
My older bike has a Shimano Deore XT and my wife's has an SRAM entry-level set. I won't lie, when riding them I couldn't really tell the difference when shifting gears. Both felt very smooth and responsive. If anything, the SRAM felt just the tiniest bit stickier and I had to maybe push my thumb slightly harder to change gear. I think both manufacturers make excellent components and using either brand is a great choice.
### Shock types and suspension
The big factor in suspension is the amount of travel, meaning how much "shock" the suspension can absorb. Downhill bikes will have up to 150mm of travel, and a cross-country bike will have about 100mm of travel. So less than the downhill but enough to absorb some of the bumps in the road. Most dual-suspension bikes support adjusting the travel on the fly. This seems like a nice option to cater for different situations.
A fun video of Greg Minnar testing out the Fox 36
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RockShox and Fox are the two most popular suspension manufacturers. Both make excellent shocks. [ProCloset](https://www.theproscloset.com/blogs/news/fox-vs-rockshox-mountain-bike-fork-guide) does a deep dive into both brands. From my experience on this, the big factor is making sure you have a good amount of travel and that the amount of travel is adjustable. Anything from 100mm to 130mm travel for trail bikes is excellent.
High-quality brakes are non-negotiable. I've found disk brakes to be so much better than old-school rims. I'm not sure if you can get a semi-decent bike with rim-breaks. Hydraulic disc breaks have an even better feel and response to them as well. [Bike Radar](https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/buyers-guides/best-mountain-bike-disc-brakes) go through a list of their favourites. I've found the default ones on a good bike to be good enough for my use.
Tyres are an important choice and a good upgrade to improve the riding experience. Two factors that I've paid attention to are tyre width and tubeless tyres. For general trails riding a wider tyre is better. This is summed up nicely here:
![[Screenshot 2024-01-01 at 10.10.24.png]]
_Wide tyres pro/con list [from the pro's closet](https://www.theproscloset.com/blogs/news/how-to-choose-the-best-mountain-bike-tire-width)_
[Rei](https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/mountain-bike-tires.html) gives an overview of why wide tyres are better. The general advice is to use a tyre width between 2.35" to 2.4".
Going tubeless should reduce the number of flats that you can get because the tyre has a sealant inside to fill any puncture holes. [Rei](https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/tubed-vs-tubeless.html) has another great article on this.
I've gone with a 2.4" tubeless tire. They have felt very smooth and responsive on trails. Also because they are tubeless it is possible to run them slightly flatter than tube types. This gives an extra amount of grip.
## Finally... The fun factor
Once you have found a few bikes that meet your price range and above requirements. The final and most important part is does it feel fun to ride. Each bike frame and setup feels a little different. Give the bike a go. Does it immediately feel awesome to ride? Does it make you want to go fast and have fun? This is the best part, each bike will have similar parts but subtle design changes on the frame and size will make each one feel a little different. Try them all out. One of them will eventually stand out to you. Let the trail riding begin...
## The final verdict
So after doing my research and looking at a few options, I went and tried out a few bikes to see what fitted the budget, met all the required specifications and was a 10/10 on the fun factor. And the winner was.... [Scott Spark 970](https://www.scott-sports.com/za/en/product/scott-spark-960-bike-black?article=286277006)
As you can see from the smile on my face this bike is great. I tried out a few bikes and this one just felt awesome. I love the dual suspension, it kind of feels like cheating on difficult paths. I went with a medium size and it gives me a nice amount of control. I'm looking forward to more riding this year.