There is a lot that can go into picking your first mountain bike; not only does your height and weight play a huge part, but also your own preferences and what makes you comfortable. There are different handlebar heights, different seat heights, different pedals, and all kinds of things which can sometimes be adjustable but sometimes are not so easy to change depending on the bike you pick.
The first step is to measure your height, preferable while standing with your feet directly underneath your hips, and write this measurement down. When you straddle a bike to see if it is the right size and that it fits comfortably there are a few things you will want to check, but before you do that it can be helpful to have a general guide as to what height mountain bike you should try out first.
Getting a mountain bike that is comfortable is one of the main keys to making sure that you will ride it. Since you will be hardly likely to ride your bike otherwise, this is well worth spending a little more money if needed to make sure that it is a good fit for you. It can also help prevent things like blisters in unwanted areas due to the bike not fitting you right.
This is also why it can often be better to buy a bike from a bike shop where you can actually sit on the bike and see how it feels. It is at the very least advisable when buying a mountain bike online to first go to a store and sit on different bikes to determine what exact size mountain bike works best for you, this way you know what you are looking for instead of assuming that a certain bike will work for you simply because it says it is for people of your height somewhere in its description.
Most of the time if you are between 5’6” and 6’ then an 18” mountain bike would probably be a good fit. Smaller people should of course go for a smaller 16” bike while taller people can handle larger 20” bikes better. Mountain bikes that are 14” do work for people who are relatively short too and in particular those who might be barely 5’ tall or smaller.
Another way that can sometimes be more accurate than measuring your overall height is to measure the length of your leg inseam. This is the measurement from the ground to your crotch on the inside of your leg. The easiest way to tell how high up you are supposed to go when trying to get this measurement is to put a book between your legs as high as it will comfortably go with the binder facing up.
Once you have this measurement you multiply it by 0.66 to get the estimated right number of inches that you want your mountain bike to be. Since this method measures your actual legs instead of your overall height it tends to be much more accurate but it is still not an absolute guarantee.
While some companies label their bikes with letters like XS, S, M, L, or XL, you should always find out the inches – or find out the centimeters and convert that to inches. This is because of the fact that different companies label bikes differently and an M might be an 18” mountain bike for one company but another company might label an 18” as an L.
Once you know what size you should start with, get on one whether at a store or a friend’s bike and make sure that your feet can touch the ground comfortably. Some people who are the same height as each other can have longer or shorter legs, so just because you are supposedly the correct height does not guarantee that a bike will be the right height for you.
The ideal height should have you able to sit on the seat and have to stretch some to reach the ground, but you should be able to be flat-footed on the pedals at their lowest position. While some pedals are adjustable and can be made higher for you, if you have a hard time reaching the ground it will make starting and stopping more difficult, especially if you are a beginner.
If, on the other hand, you can stand flatfooted on the ground while sitting on the mountain bike and your knees come up higher than the height of the handlebars bar when the pedals are at their highest position, then the bike is too small and you should go with a taller size. You should also be able to reach the handlebar and it should feel comfortable, not as though you’re leaning really far forward.
Along with different sizes of mountain bike frames there are also varying sizes of wheels that can go on them. These sizes are: 26”, 27.5”, and 29” wheels. While the different sizes have different advantages and disadvantages it is best for beginners to start off with the standard 26” that is most common. Larger wheel sizes have more traction and can go over small obstacles while letting you feel fewer bumps, but they also tend to be less maneuverable and can be difficult to get the hang of at first.
Finally, if you can’t seem to find a bike that fits you well at all no matter what size you go with, you should consider looking into having a custom mountain bike made for you. These usually involve having all sorts of measurements taken of yourself and all your preferences and all of things you tend to dislike noted down and, while custom bikes do tend to be a bit pricey, they can actually be cheaper than some of the really fancy bikes on the market are.
Understanding Mountain Bike Descriptions
When you look at the size of a mountain bike and see the inches – or centimeters in some places – that it says, perhaps you have wondered what exactly that means and where they get that measurement from. Well, that is actually the measurement of the bar that supports the seat of the bike – also called the seat tube since it is hollow.
If you look at the frame of a mountain bike, ignoring the wheels and other parts, then you would probably see that the seat tube is actually the middle bar of the bike that supports the rest of the frame. So, if you wanted to measure a bike to see what size it is, then you would take a measuring tape and put one end right where the tube starts beneath your seat and underneath any seat-adjusting mechanisms. The other end would go all the way down in a straight line to where that bar ends which is also usually where your pedals are attached. What you get should be the “height” of the bike.
Some other phrases that you might see or hear about mountain bikes are: rigid, hardtail, or full suspension. A rigid mountain bike is one that has no suspension whatsoever and, as its name implies, has a perfectly rigid frame but this is usually considered a good thing in a learning bike.
A hardtail mountain bike is one that has suspension on the front tire only to help absorb the impact of bumps but which has nothing for the back, hence the name hard-tail. Lastly, full suspension mountain bikes are ones which have suspensions on both the wheels. While this does tend to make for a smoother ride, suspension bikes are of course more expensive to match.
There are also two different kinds of brakes: rim brakes and disk brakes. Rim brakes are fairly common and squeeze on the sides of the wheel with replaceable pads that wear down over time. Disk brakes are somewhat more complicated, though they use the same principles, and they are located where the wheel attaches to the frame which makes their grip better but also makes them harder to get at to replace.
Some mountain bike companies sell men’s or women’s mountain bikes, while others do not specify this at all. Basically women tend to have longer legs and shoulders that are a little narrower, so these things are accounted for in women’s bikes. The handles will not be as wide on these bikes and they will be closer to the seat than a men’s bike that is the same height would be.
Since that is for the most part the only difference in men’s and women’s mountain bikes, then you might feel perfectly comfortable on either one. If you are a man who happens to have long legs compared to your overall height then you might actually be a better fit on a bike that says it is for women. The same can be true the other way around.
Getting A Mountain Bike For A Kid
Mountain bikes for kids come in a range of sizes, but the most common sizes are: 12”, 14”, 16”, 20”, 24”, and 26”. While this might make it sound like these kid’s bikes are even bigger than the adult ones, this is because, while adult mountain bikes are measured by their frame, kid’s mountain bikes are actually measured by the size of the tires that go with them. Therefore, a 26” kid’s bike will have a 26” wheel which is what most adult bikes have, and this size is actually comparable to what a small 14” adult bike would look like.
As a general rule of thumb kids that are aged 2-3 or younger should go with the smallest 12” bike; 3-4 year olds should try a 14” bike; 5-6 year olds should try a 16” bike; 7-8 year olds should try a 20” bike; 9-12 year olds should try a 24” bike; and any kid who above that age should either go directly to a small adult bike or a 26” kid’s bike.
This is only a rule of thumb, however, and is only a good place to start. Some kids are way taller than others of their age group while others are very small for their age and this should of course be taken into consideration. A kid should also be taken to a store that sells bikes so that they can sit on a few in order to verify what the right size they need is before a bike is bought.
When you want to dump the training wheels is up to you, but kids can learn at a surprisingly young age how to balance, especially thanks to modern scooters and balance boards that help them learn how. And, while it might be very tempting to get a bike that your kid will “grow into,” this is not really an advisable thing to do.
Not only will this make it harder for them to learn when they are first starting out and make them more accident prone, but it will make them dislike riding a bicycle before they have even learned how enjoyable it can be. This is why it is far better that their first bike should fit them properly while they are learning, and then their next bike can be one that they can “grow into” after they have already had the chance to master the basics.
As a final thought, try to go with as light a frame as possible when choosing a bike for a kid, since a bike that is half of their weight will make certain things like going uphill excessively difficult. Also, pick beginner trails that are fairly short at first so that they get worn out but still have fun.
Signs Your Bike Doesn’t Fit Right And A Few Adjustments Which Can Be Made
There are a variety of problems that can be caused by having a bike that doesn’t fit you correctly. Having a bike that is too big, for example, can make it extra difficult to start and stop and can potentially lead to accidents especially when you are biking around other people. And, should you get into an accident of some kind, you are more likely to be seriously injured than you would be if you were on a bike that fits you correctly. Adjusting your saddle is another option.
When a bike is the right size you will not only find riding to be more enjoyable and causes you fewer aches and pains, but it will also be easier to control your bike. This will make it easier to learn how to ride a bike properly and will let you focus more on perfecting your skills as a mountain biker.
While some problems have nothing to do with the bike being the wrong size and are simply a matter that requires the seat, handlebar, and/or the pedals to be adjusted, if you have to make too many adjustments then it is likely because it is the wrong size. Adjustments can make a bike more comfortable for you and are there to help the bike meet your exact needs whether you have really long arms or prefer your saddle tilting forward.
Riding a mountain bike that is too small can potentially cause your knees to get bruised if they hit the handlebars while you are going uphill. Another sign of a too small bike can be that your legs tend to poke out to the sides some which can make you look like you are a waddling duck. This is sometimes referred to as “Charlie Chaplin Knees”.
While bicycling like this might not feel particularly uncomfortable, it takes a lot more energy when mountain biking and will wear you out faster. It will also eventually wear on your knees and the ligaments in them, causing you knee pain earlier in life than you would otherwise have had. This can sometimes be fixed by raising the seat some, but if you have to raise the seat too much you should probably consider just going with a bigger bike.
Keep in mind that your legs should be going straight up and down with little to no side movement whatsoever. If it causes strain to do this, then you should also look at the placement of the pedals. If you have wide hips you may need to place your pedals on your mountain bike further apart. Toes pointing either in or out likely require some adjustment of the pedals as well.
On the other hand, if your legs are going straight up and down but your hips rock from side to side on the tough climbs and make your back hurt, then it is possible that your seat is too high and you should try lowering it a bit to see if that helps. This same thing can be tried if your knees feel strained. Remember you should be pushing through your heel and not pedaling as though you’re on tiptoe.
If your hands or wrists are aching or feel strained, the cause is also likely to be your seat. Some people prefer their saddles to tilt forward, but this can throw weight onto your hands which is what makes them hurt and can also cause your fingers to get a numb feeling and strain your shoulders as well. So, if you saddle is tilting forward try to make it just a little more horizontal. Riding without fixing this can be really dangerous since if you get into a collision you are much more likely to damage or even break your wrists.
If your neck is hurting and/or feeling strained in addition to your hands, then it might be a simple matter of raising your handlebars a little higher. The cause of the strain might very well be that you have to crane your neck up to see because your handlebars are too low. However, this can also be caused by being on a bike that has too large of a frame, causing you to have to reach forward too far to grasp the handles.
Keep in mind that the purpose of adjusting your seat forward or backward should be to make sure that it is positioned over the spindles of your pedals and is the right height for your legs. You should be able to power pedal with your legs going straight down and not either forward or back at all. If you are having a hard time reaching your handlebar you should never adjust your seat to fix it since that will affect your legs – that is why the handlebar is adjustable.
Always make any adjustment in increments to see what happens and only make one change at a time. If you overcompensate or change several things at once you will be less likely to know if you fixed the problem and much more likely to give yourself a new one in its place. A sign that your bike is adjusted right is a reduced amount of “hot feet” where you feet start to feel hot after you have been cycling for a while.
All of these fine tuning’s of your bike will make it more personal to you and your body. This is why avid mountain bikers often dislike riding any bike but their own because they are used to having just the right fit which they have perfected over time on their own bike.
Other Things To Keep In Mind
First and foremost, always keep in mind that a mountain bike is not the same as a road bike. Though the two of them have many things in common, a road bike is made for riding on paved streets and concrete and will not stand the wear and tear that comes with the bumps and hills of a bumpy dirt trail. All in all, practically every part of a mountain bike is more durable, from its frame down to the wheels and brakes.
Another thing you will likely want to research is what kind of frame you want. Most mountain bike frames tend to be made out of aluminum as it is a durable yet lightweight option; however, other bikers prefer steel, carbon fiber, or even titanium. If you are just getting started and don’t have a clue what best suits your riding style, then a simple aluminum frame is probably the best way to go. But, if you happen to know that you are a bit on the heavyweight side, then you could consider picking a stronger framed mountain bike.
While you definitely want to ask questions and to try out a bike at a store, it is better to ask questions of a biking person who does not own or work in a bike shop themselves. In the bicycling world people are considered very rude if they take up the time of a bike expert at a shop by asking them a lot of questions until they figure out what bike they want, and then go and buy that bike online instead of buying the bike from the shop.
When you are budgeting for your bike, don’t forget to include money for all the extras you will need to get with it. Things like a helmet, a spare tire, a tire inflator, and a bottle cage to carry your water are all necessities that you should get along with your bike, plus things like bike lights if you are going to be riding at all on public streets.
Many bike shops offer a bike-fitting service, which is where they look at you and your bike and then adjust your bike’s seat, handles, pedals, etc to better fit you. They also take into consideration your own preferences and usually do a pretty good job. This can be a great option if you feel like something is off and in need of being adjusted but can’t quite figure out what it is or if you are afraid of doing something wrong if you try to adjust something.
Once you get a bike to fit you just right and you know that you don’t want anything changed, then you should immediately use a marker to mark lines on the adjustable part of your seat and handlebars. This way, if your bike gets jostled a lot during over a number of rough rides, you have a way of checking to make sure that nothing slid a little out of your ideal placement.
Another service that bike shops sometimes offer is offer a free tune-up for the first 30 days after you buy a bike from them, and some shops will even take care of any adjustments that you need done for free for a year. This being the case, don’t plan on buying a bike from a shop and never going back there again and feel free to ask them any questions about what you need to do for regular bike maintenance.