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Buying a Mountain Bike Part 1 - The Budget

2018 Norco Sight C9.3
The first brand new MTB I've bought since 2004. It was just the best bike I could afford at the time.

From time to time I get asked my opinion on what sort of mountain bike a person should buy. On the surface this seems like a question that should be pretty easy to answer. However, once you get into the details, the whole exercise of buying a mountain bike can quickly become very confusing and somewhat complex.

Hardtail or dual suspension? 27.5 or 29 - and how wide would you like your tyres, with or without tubes? How many gears would you like to have? What sort of riding do you think you'll be doing? Would you like a battery and motor or are you happy to just pedal unassisted? Oh, and what colours do you like?

The list goes on and exactly what you should buy can very quickly become the subject of passionate debates among experienced and even not so experienced riders. So I thought it might be useful to put together a very quick and easy guide for those of you that are new to the whole mountain bike buying process - just to get you started.

There is a very good place to start when it comes to figuring out where to start your mountain bike buying journey: figure out how much you want to spend.

2004 Specialized Hardrock
My first mountain bike purchase of this century - a sub $1000 hardtail (including upgrades) purchased in 2004. It was reliable, needed minimal maintenance and unbreakable - until I broke it late last year.

Let's be clear - buying a mountain bike can be a significant investment for most people. And you can literally just keep burning a larger and larger hole in your pocket when deciding what you'd like to buy. So it's important to know what you're comfortable investing.

But exactly how much is enough? Well, here are some guidelines of what you'll likely be able to buy new for certain amounts of money:

• Less than $500: Probably best not to bother buying a bike under $500. It won't perform well and will probably break as soon as a rock on the trails even glances in its direction.

• $500 - $1000: An entry level hardtail. Solid, reliable and will get you going on the majority of trails. However you may find you outgrow bikes in this category fairly quickly.

• $1000 - $2000: This will get you two types of new bikes - a good hardtail or an entry-level dual suspension bike. I'll talk about the pros and cons of hardtails and dual suspensions in the Part 2 of this series.

• $2000 - $4000: This budget bracket will start getting you into the realms of a top of the line hardtail or a good dual suspension bike. Quality of bike components is what separates most bikes in this category.

• $4000 upwards: Pick a colour. You're going to find that pretty much any bike in this price bracket is going to be a good bike. Electric motors, carbon, high end bike components and boutique brands can be found in this price bracket (which incidentally extends into the five figure area).

2012 Rocky Mountain Altitude
My first ever dual suspension bike which also happened to be my first carbon bike (and still one of my favourites). I picked this up on e-Bay for $1,100. It needed new brake pads almost straight away.

What about second hand bikes? Well, you can definitely save some money by going second hand - there are some occasional bargains to be had out there. Especially if you happen to come across ones that are almost new because someone didn't really take to mountain bike riding. And there are also those riders that take meticulous care of their bikes and present to you an immaculate, well maintained bike with no issues whatsoever for a bargain price.

However, there are also a lot of second hand mountain bikes out there that don't actually represent very good value. Some people sell their old mountain bikes for not much less than what the bike is worth brand new when on sale. The other point to keep in mind is that most manufacturers won't transfer the warranty of a mountain bike from the new owner to the second owner. Any problems you experience will be yours to deal with. And then there's the question of whether or not the bike you're buying has actually been maintained properly.

2013 GT Force
This second hand GT Force replaced my Rocky Mountain after I cracked its frame. I had problems with the rear shock and linkages almost straight away which cost several hundred dollars to remedy.

Cheap isn't always cheap when it comes to second hand and if you're looking at going down this path to stretch your budget further, I generally recommend to people to set aside a $300 - $400 just in case there's some maintenance needed to get a second hand bike trail worthy again. In some cases, this pushes your budget back into new bike territory - territory that comes with a warranty.

So in a nutshell, if you're in the market for a mountain bike, the first thing you need to do is figure out how much you realistically want to invest on your new fun machine. And then decide whether or not you want to run the gauntlet and pick up a second hand bike to stretch your dollars further or if you should play it safe and buy something with a warranty that you know will (or at least should) work without any problems.

I'll talk about the pros and cons of hard tails and dual suspensions in the Part 2.

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I really need a mountain bike


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