How to Choose a Mountain Bike for Beginners

How to choose the next mountain bike for beginners? Many riders prefer clean air and interesting and challenging terrain that can only be experienced by going off-road. Mountain biking is good for your body and good for your mind.

A mountain bike, also known as an MTB, is designed for riding off-road tracks and trails. An upright riding position and stable handling characteristics offer control on uneven ground, chunky tires offer grip on loose surfaces while suspension helps to smooth out the bumps on the trail.

We each have our own style of biking, fitness level, and budget. Mountain bikes have a wider range of gears than road bikes which makes climbing steep hills easier, while braking tends to be more powerful than on their road cousins.

You’ll learn how to differentiate between the various mountain bike types, wheel sizes, and suspension to help you make an informed purchasing decision, and you’ll learn what you can do once you’ve chosen your ideal mountain bike.


Mountain bikes basically come in three flavors: full suspension, front suspension, and rigid. Full suspension bikes have a suspension fork as well as a rear shock. Generally speaking, the more technically demanding the terrain the more suspension travel you will need. Best for Hard rides on rough trails, high-speed descents.

Front suspension bikes (usually called hardtail bikes) have a front suspension fork, but no rear shock. These are the simplest and most affordable mountain bikes but can also be the fastest on certain types of terrain such as relatively smooth trails, XC loops, and efficient hill climbing.

Rigid bikes don’t have suspension forks or rear shocks. The common type is fat tires. Their giant, “fat” tires roll over virtually anything, which makes them an ideal winter mode of transportation.

Suspension Paying for Performance

Suspension compress to absorb impacts from bumps, cracks, ruts, and obstacles. That is the primary indicator for your choice of next mountain bike, suspension quality has a major impact on its price.

Short-travel suspension (less than 120mm) suspension provides all-around riding performance with an emphasis on smooth trails and going uphill. The long-travel suspension (greater than 120mm) is best for descending rough terrain at high speeds with greater control. The longer the front travel, the stronger the emphasis is toward descending.

Adding suspension to a bike is always a trade-off. You get increased comfort and control, but it adds weight and complexity, and it can make the bike pedal-less efficiently. That means the modern suspension is efficient enough, lightweight enough, and reliable enough that, for many people, the benefits of suspension outweigh the downsides.

The suspension on entry-level bikes is often quite harsh as well as being heavy, but as you move up the price points the suspension becomes a progressively plusher and lighter weight. There are major differences between suspension forks and shocks across the various price points. High-end models have superior technical design and construction and offer a longer life with regular maintenance and servicing.

Amount of Suspension

Some of the basic terms to talk about suspension:

  • Fork The thing on the front of your bike that your front wheel attaches to. This could mean a suspension fork (that has a shock built into it) or a rigid fork (that doesn’t have any suspension gadgetry).
  • Shock: The suspension unit that compresses and rebounds. Generally, the term shock is used to refer to the rear suspension unit on a bike.
  • Travel: The amount that a suspension fork or suspension frame can compress.
  • Stroke: The amount that a rear shock can compress, which is distinguishable from how much a frame can compress. Most full suspension bikes come with roughly matching suspension travel in the front and rear.

As bikes became more efficient, the amount of suspension increased. Different suspension amounts handle different rock, roots, and so on bumps terrain. Their technical requirements and prices are also increasing though.

Unlike the road bikes, a mountain bike is a technical product and, with the wildly varying prices and mix-matched groupsets of hardtail and dual suspension bikes, we don’t recommend choosing a bike based on its drivetrain components or groupset.

  • Cross Country Bikes (XC): 80mm – 120mm Travel
    Cross Country riding places more emphasis on fitness and endurance than trail riding, it comprises extended climbing and riding fast rolling terrain. But will be more difficult to ride on technically challenging terrain. Suitable for novice cyclists and families on easy-to-ride surfaces. Most modern full-suspension bikes that are designated for cross country are coming with 100mm-travel suspension. Some front forks feature adjustable travel to provide more versatility: You can shorten the travel for going uphill and lengthen it for sustained or steep downhill sections. The smallest amount of suspension that is commonly available these days is around 80mm.
  • Trail Bikes: 120mm – 160mm Travel
    Around 120mm travel is what most companies would call a “Trail” bike. These are generally designed for all-around riding. They climb pretty well, and they descend pretty well. Suitable for regular cyclists with off-road experience. A hardtail with a 120mm travel suspension fork is a good entry-level option. Full sus MTBs with 120mm – 150mm of suspension travel is ideal for taking on challenging trails.
  • All Mountain Bikes: 160mm – 180mm Travel
    These are designed to go down rough trails quickly, while still maintaining at least some degree of uphill friendliness. They are calling “All Mountain” bikes or Enduro bikes. Suitable for expert mountain bikers who want technical challenges.
  • Freeride & Downhill Bikes: 180mm – 220mm Travel
    Most downhill bikes come with around 200mm of travel. While pedaling efficiency is still important, most downhill bikes aren’t built with any amount of uphill in mind—the frame and suspension designs are focused on making the bike go down rough trails as fast and as smoothly as possible.

Wheel Sizes

The different mountain bike wheel sizes offer different advantages and disadvantages. Historically, mountain bikes had wheels that were 26 inches in diameter. In the late 1990s though, people started to experiment with larger wheel sizes – namely 29 inch wheels (29ers).

Larger wheels roll over obstacles more easily, and although they are slightly heavier and a bit less responsive, the new standard quickly grew in popularity, this was because of its ability to provide better traction and speed. 29ers are ideal for hardtails and are popular with cross country racers.

Although 29-inch wheels became popular with cross-country riders, downhill racers largely stuck with 26-inch wheels. This split was because of the nature of downhill riding, which demands ‘snappier’ handling — 26” wheels met these demands best — it is strong, nimble, and quick to accelerate but is significantly slower rolling over bumpy terrain.

Then, in the mid-2000s, bike manufacturers brought in a halfway-house option… the 27.5 inches (650b) wheeled bike. This new standard has become the most popular with Trail, Enduro, and Downhill bikes, as it offers the ideal balance between rapid rolling performance and nimble handling characteristics.

29er (two-niners) are mountain bikes that are built to use two 700c (622 mm ISO, inside rim diameter) wheels, and an outside tire diameter of about 28 inches. The name “29er” comes from a bicycle called the Two Niner, which was offered by the Fisher bike company in 2001, according to 1998 Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee Don Cook.


From the above generalizations, we can know that if you are a beginner who wants to enter mountain cycling, and are looking for an entry-level mountain bike then you should be choice a 27.5″ or 29er size cross-country bike with 80mm ~ 100mm travel. While Choice the full or hardtail that according to the terrain smooth or rough whether or not.

Of course, you can also choose a 120mm travel hardtail mountain bike to avoid after your level of promotion to spend more money. Good news, our another article that has collected some that is good for the bike there, you can save your wallet and time.


Despite we don’t recommend choosing a bike based on its drivetrain components or groupset, it is one of the factors contributing to the price of mountain bikes (The other two are bike frame material and suspensions). So let’s take a little comprehend the mountain bike groupsets hierarchy and its price.

It is more common to see complete groupsets on road bikes. When it comes to mountain bikes, however, brands usually mix and match parts from various groups — and in some cases, different brands — to suit the bike’s intended use and meet a specific price point.

Mountain bike groupsets are divided into two major brands: Shimano and SRAM, with each one offering a plentiful lineup of choices. Like most components, groupsets vary in price a great deal. The different groupsets can be described in three distinct aspects: Quality, Purpose, and Price.


Both Shimano and SRAM have groupsets to cater to all levels, and the manufacturing quality is equally the best going around. In addition to the benefits of reduced weight, more expensive MTB groupsets find other ways of increasing performance. Most noticeably, higher-priced options provide a smoother, more precise, and quicker shift between gears.


Recreational gear is for a rider who wants quality components but doesn’t do a lot of serious off-road riding. The trail is the more ‘everyday’ and feature-packed option. Trail components are good quality, robust, and are heavy enough to maintain reliability. “Race” is the lightest and priciest. They may not be suited to more aggressive trail riders who don’t necessarily need to count every gram on their bikes.


The number-crunching part of this discussion is usually where readers will pay close attention, so that means you! You can pay more (a lot more) for race-level components. This is probably unnecessary unless you have to be first to the top of the climb, are simply looking for the best you can get, or are seriously into racing.

The more expensive technical components are built with greater precision, refinement, and materials that lend themselves to greater longevity. If you’re spending more money on a mountain bike groupset, you’d expect it to outlast a cheaper option. A good price indicator for Shimano and SRAM would be around the Shimano XT – SRAM X9 pricepoint.

Either way, there is seemingly no clear-cut way of declaring a winner between Shimano and SRAM other than by going with your own personal preference… If you haven’t yet ridden enough to have a personal preference, then you’ll not be missing out by going for either of these component brands!

Traditionally mountain bikes had triple chainrings on the front in order to offer such comprehensive gearing. However, as the number and size of the cogs on the rear cassette have increased, the need for multiple chainrings up front has diminished.

So most high-end MTBs now only feature a single ring up front, the advantage of a single chainring up front is that it simplifies shifting, reduces weight, and offers improved chain security when riding over rough terrain. The theory is that more experienced riders use gears based on ‘feel’ and don’t need numbers or indicators to help them.

This table is just a rough guide to get you started.

Shimano SRAM Purpose Quality Price
Acera (catalogue number M390, 9-speeds) Pre-entry level General $
Alivio (M430, 9sp) X4 Entry level Average $$
Deore (M610, 10sp) X5 RECREATION Good $$+
SLX (M700, 10sp) X7 Trail Better $$$
Deore XT (M8000, 11sp) X9 Trail/PERFORMANCE Excellent $$$+
Deore XTR (M9000, 11sp) XX/X0 RACE Best $$$$$


We consider Shimano’s Alivio starting point if you’re seeking a focused mountain bike. Shimano Deore is a fine groupset for dedicated and serious off-roaders, widely considered to be the Japanese company’s first performance-ready off-road groupset. Its marks the point where things start to get interesting and much more mountain bike-specific.


SRAM’s mountain bike groupset range is split into two, with single-chainring groupsets (many of which get a ‘1’ featured in the name) separate to the double and triple options. It Just confuses us a bit more!

An entry-level model in SRAM’s drivetrain selection, X5 is by no means one to ignore. It’s inspired by the company’s more race-ready offerings and delivers smooth and precise shifting to take your off-road riding to the next level. X4 isn’t a true groupset, you’ll often see it mixed with other brands.

Jonathan Tim
Jonathan Tim
A bicycle geek since early childhood spent his twenties as a mechanic in bike shops. His passions include flatland BMX, unicycles, cycle touring, mountain biking, and road riding.