Any hobby or activity can cost a pretty penny depending on how much time and energy is put into it. Sporting activities can be notoriously expensive but that should not be a deterrent for the budget-conscious. Hopping on a good mountain bike, whether for the adrenaline rush or simply having a good mode of transportation, does not have to set you back. There are still certain qualities and aspects to consider when looking for a good, inexpensive bike to ensure things like safety, durability, and efficiency.
The actual function
Before all other things fall into place, consider what you will be using the bike for and where you will be taking it. Rugged mountain paths will require slightly different (and possibly more expensive) specs than if you’re simply going leisurely around paved town roads or back and forth to work. That’s not to say that you can’t find the best of both worlds. Just be aware that handling capabilities may be affected and understand what aspects will limit performance.
It’s difficult to say exactly which component is more important than any other. The tires, though, are what holds not only the weight of the frame but the weight of you as well. There are a couple of things to keep in mind about tires, the first being the size of the tire itself. Sizes typically range from 26 inches (typically allowing for more agility) to 29 inches (more stability) in diameter.
The second thing is the type of tire. Just as the tread on your car tires helps car performance so does that of those on your bike. Thick, deep treads are more suited for uneven, rugged terrain. They also may hinder you a little bit if you don’t plan on going on such trails. Hybrid tires are an option as a good middle ground between super treaded mountain tires and smooth sailing on paved paths.
Additionally, what good is it to get going without the ability to stop? Traditional braking usually involves a piece rubbing on the rim of your tire. You may find a disc brake system to be more efficient and have better-stopping capabilities.
Some of the best (and most expensive) mountain bikes have frames made of aluminum. As a lighter material, it offers easier portability and arguably easier handling. Steel is a cheaper medium and can weigh the bike down more, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Even riding around town, you can rest easy knowing you have more durability.
The frame should also match your frame. You don’t want to be overreaching just to get a full pedal nor do you want to feel like you’re practically lying down to reach your handlebars. This is where shopping in person will be far better than shopping online but if you must, pay attention to sizing charts.
The overall design of the frame should be current in terms of industry standards. Look at measurement specs of components and research available upgrades or replacements should you feel the need to make after-market adjustments.
Suspension or hardtail?
For being on a budget, this aspect is more about preference. Suspension tends to be more expensive but as you could guess, bumpy rides could be much less uncomfortable. Hardtails use a lot fewer parts and can help even out the overall bike, as they are typically a lighter system.
Because of how a full-suspension frame is built (essentially two separate pieces joined by pivots) it can provide a little more bang for your buck, but that buck will most likely be larger than comfortable for the budget conscious. Hardtail frames are one piece and can offer better overall control and power, but the shock absorption will come mostly from you.
Shifting to the Extras
As a final side note, the number of gears won’t really help or hinder you in any major way. Just keep in mind that the more gears there are, the less of a big shift you’ll have to make (and feel). This can make a big difference when you’re bouncing around rocks and roots or trying to pump your way up a big incline.
If you want to spend your entire budget on the mountain bike itself that is most certainly your prerogative, it might not hurt to set aside a little more or build into your existing budget the cost of proper safety equipment and any fun extras. Protect your head with the proper helmet, consider added creature comforts like gloves and UV-rated sunglasses, water bottles, packs for extended rides, and a multitude of other things. The trail’s the limit!