Buy­ing the Right Moun­tain Bike

Mountain Bike for Her - - Front Page - Words by Jim Bar­ron | Pho­tos by Colin Wil­son

Yes,

you’ve done it, you’ve fi­nally saved enough money to buy your first proper moun­tain bike, or a bet­ter bike, or just a bike for a dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline within the sport. You’re ex­cited, and so you should be. Buy­ing a bike is great, it’s what you’ve aimed for, and it means that you are about to move for­ward in the sport. How­ever, it also has a few prob­lems. Ladies, size does mat­ter! All too of­ten I see peo­ple who have been sold the wrong size of bike, usu­ally too big for them. This can be a re­sult of many fac­tors: • The bike was bought mail or­der with­out hav­ing been tried, • Bought sec­ond hand, • Bought in the hope that they would grow into it, • Bought be­cause it was a “bar­gain”, • Bought be­cause they liked the colour or, in the worst cases, • Bought be­cause that was what the shop rec­om­mended.

I’ll cover each of th­ese rea­sons in more de­tail later. The vast ma­jor­ity of bike shops will give you the cor­rect ad­vice on siz­ing and I would un­re­servedly rec­om­mend that your lo­cal bike shop (LBS) be an early port of call on your jour­ney to buy­ing your dream ma­chine. How­ever, oc­ca­sion­ally peo­ple are sold what a shop has in stock, rather than what the cus­tomer re­ally needed. This is rare and is eas­ily avoided by en­sur­ing you visit sev­eral shops and try sev­eral bikes.

Siz­ing is a slightly sub­jec­tive is­sue, not helped by the amaz­ing dif­fer­ence in the way dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers mea­sure and la­bel bikes. Some show a frame size in inches oth­ers by the small, medium, large etc. Th­ese guides may get you to a ball park size from which to start testing, or at least rule out those sizes that will be ob­vi­ously too big or too small. How­ever, in­creas­ingly, this is only a small part of the big­ger pic­ture.

What is im­por­tant is that the bike fits you well and al­lows you to ride the most tech­ni­cal trail you are likely to be on in the next three years with con­fi­dence. I know that is a con­tentious state­ment and some peo­ple will dis­agree with it, but un­less you are go­ing down the “a bike for each type of rid­ing” route, which most peo­ple can’t af­ford to do, then as a rule of thumb it works well. It does re­quire a bit of guess­work, par­tic­u­larly if you are new to the sport, as your skills will - hope­fully - be im­prov­ing at an ex­po­nen­tial rate.

I pick three years as a bit of an ar­bi­trary fig­ure. I’d say that in most cases peo­ple change their moun­tain bike around ev­ery 3-to-5 years, ei­ther be­cause they have pro­gressed be­yond the com­fort­able lim­its of that bike, be­cause they have worn it out, or like many of us, they just fan­cied a change. Fits You Madam So what does “fits you well” ac­tu­ally mean in prac­tice? Again, it’s a per­sonal thing. Two peo­ple of equal height can have rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent in­side leg mea­sure­ments and will there­fore pos­si­bly re­quire dif­fer­ent size frames. I use the word “pos­si­bly” de­lib­er­ately as seat posts can of­ten ac­com­mo­date a lot of ad­just­ment. This is some­thing to bear in mind when buy­ing a bike, par­tic­u­larly if you are “be­tween sizes”. In cases such as that, it is bet­ter to go down a size than to ride a bike that is too large for you.

There are lots of things you can do to make a bike fit you bet­ter if the bike is slightly small, but there is noth­ing you can do for one that is too big. Bikes that are too big tend to be at best un­com­fort­able and at worst danger­ous. It is best not to buy a mail or­der di­rect sup­ply bike that you have never tried for size, de­spite the ap­par­ent cost sav­ing. I’m cer­tainly not say­ing don’t go down the route of mail or­der at all, merely that you should try to ride the model and size be­fore you buy it. Also be aware that you may not get the same ex­cel­lent per­sonal ser­vice you will get from your LBS. Like­wise, don’t buy a bike that doesn’t fit you well just be­cause it is sell­ing for half the price of new on some fo­rum, or from the friend of a friend. Sec­ond hand bikes can be great value, but only if they fit and have been well main­tained.

Grow­ing into a bike is a con­cept that makes

“[It’s] im­por­tant that the bike fits you well and al­lows you to ride the most tech­ni­cal trail you are likely to be on ...with con­fi­dence.”

sense on pa­per, but in prac­tice doesn’t al­ways work. For kids and teenagers it is a good idea to a limited ex­tent, but my com­ments about rid­ing bikes that are too big still hold true. Bet­ter to have gone the sec­ond hand route, spent less and ac­cept that you may have to change the bike ev­ery year or so un­til they stop grow­ing. If you’ve looked af­ter the bike (naïve, I know, when we are con­sid­er­ing teenagers) then you prob­a­bly won’t lose much money when you come to sell it on again your­self. If you are over 21 it is ex­tremely un­likely you are still grow­ing, so a bike that is too big for you now will prob­a­bly al­ways be too big for you. No An­gle An­gel I’m de­lib­er­ately not go­ing to go into ge­om­e­try in any de­tail. You will see the bike mag­a­zines wax­ing lyri­cal about this, that, or the next thing and the shiny brochures from the man­u­fac­tures will tell you about how their take on ge­om­e­try is the next big thing. They are right! Un­til next year/month/week (delete as ap­pro­pri­ate) when the next gen­er­a­tion of ge­om­e­try hits the mar­ket and we are told what was spot on is now ob­so­lete! Don’t get me wrong, there have been some tremen­dous im­prove­ments in ge­om­e­try over the years, but in­creas­ingly we are into the area of di­min­ish­ing re­turns in im­prove­ment, there are very few truly bad de­signs out there now and that is good for you as a buyer. Are we there yet? So what now? Well as­sum­ing you’ve taken my ad­vice, you’ll have vis­ited lots of shops and seen lots of shiny new bikes in lots of great colours and your cof­fee ta­ble and work desk will be fes­tooned with cat­a­logues and brochures. So you are al­most there, then? Prob­a­bly not, you are prob­a­bly more con­fused than ever! At least three choices of wheel size will have been pitched at you, 26-inch, 27.5-inch (650b) and 29-inch. On top of this you’ll have other choices, hard­tail or full sus­pen­sion. This will then have been bro­ken down fur­ther to how much travel, 80mm, 100mm 120mm, 140mm, 150mm, 160mm, 170mm full on down­hill rig. Then we’ve got the sin­gle chain 10x1 or 11x1 de­bate, the sin­gle, dou­ble or triple chain­set de­bate and lets not even get into the han­dle­bar/stem length ar­gu­ment (ex­cept we

will have to later). Tea & Prosecco Step back from the hype, take a deep breath and find a sheet of blank pa­per and a pen. Make your­self a cuppa and put the Prosecco or beer in the fridge. Sit your­self down and ask your­self th­ese ques­tions and write down your an­swers. 1. What is my ab­so­lute bud­get? Now take $100 off this (I’ll tell you why in a mo­ment). 2. What type of rid­ing do I en­joy most? 3. Where will I do most of my rid­ing? 4. What is the hard­est trail I’m real­is­ti­cally go­ing to be able to ride if I keep im­prov­ing within three years? 5. What height am I? 6. What deal­ers are there lo­cally? From th­ese an­swers we can start to whit­tle down the op­tions.

Dis­card any bike that is more than a few hun­dred dol­lars over your bud­get. Why not the $100 less than the bud­get you wrote down? Easy: sales and dis­count. The re­tail price of bikes, de­pen­dant on make and de­mand, is a lit­tle fluid. Many shops have sales sev­eral times a year; par­tic­u­larly as new model years are about to be launched (which is of­ten mid-sum­mer, weirdly). Like­wise, many cy­cling clubs and coach­ing groups have ne­go­ti­ated dis­counts with the LBS. Con­sider this, but be re­al­is­tic. If your bud­get is $1,500 it’s un­likely you are go­ing to be able to get this year’s $3,500 en­duro beast in bud­get. Re­mem­ber, de­spite the fact it may be the bar­gain of the mil­len­nium, it is only a bar­gain if it ac­tu­ally fits you. Don’t be tempted to buy it just be­cause it is cheap, you will re­gret it in the long term, even if the only per­son that you will ad­mit that to is your­self.

Af­ter find­ing bikes in your price range, you can thin the field again based on the type of rid­ing you en­joy do­ing. If you en­joy en­duro then you can prob­a­bly rule out the car­bon hard­tail and the 20kg down­hill rig.

Now it’s time for a re­al­ity check... If you sel­dom travel to ride, no mat­ter what your dreams are, it is prob­a­bly not a good idea to have your only bike as a 160mm en­duro racer. Fun as it will be, you will only scratch the sur­face of its abil­i­ties and the rest of the time you will be haul­ing round a bike that weights more than it needs to for the rid­ing you’ll be do­ing. Back to the Fu­ture It’s crys­tal ball time, gaze into your fu­ture... There is no point buy­ing a bike that you are go­ing to progress be­yond in no time at all. I’ve seen this hap­pen so many times and is a real shame, as of­ten the peo­ple loose quite a bit of money in the process. This said, there is no point in buy­ing a bike that is way more ca­pa­ble than you will real­is­ti­cally need in the com­ing years. Even if you can af­ford to splash the cash, by the time you are get­ting close to ex­ploit­ing its po­ten­tial the chances are de­sign, tech­nol­ogy and fash­ion will once more have marched on, and you will be han­ker­ing af­ter that shiny new bike you saw in this month’s bike mag­a­zine. Bet­ter to have spent wisely at the start and to have used the money for other pieces of equip­ment or cloth­ing, or even to have started a sav­ings fund for the new bike to come. As hard as this is, you may want to dis­count the top of the line bikes from each of your short lists, this is es­pe­cially true if it is to be

“Af­ter find­ing bikes in your price range, you can thin the field based on the type of rid­ing you en­joy do­ing.”

your first bike. Size Mat­ters: Part II This isn’t a di­rect tie-in to the dis­cus­sion on siz­ing, this is in re­gards to wheel size. If you are 1.50m tall (5 feet in old money) then you re­ally need to con­sider dis­count­ing 29-inch wheel bikes, par­tic­u­larly if they are full sus­pen­sion. Again, some peo­ple will dis­agree with this state­ment, which is fine. The fact re­mains, how­ever, that at this height there are a lot fac­tors act­ing against the 29” wheel de­sign. I’ll not go into th­ese in de­tail as that could fill even more pages, suf­fice it to say all other things be­ing equal, a 26-inch or 27.5-inch bike is likely to be a bet­ter fit and more eas­ily rid­den if you are pe­tite. Con­versely, if you are 2.00m tall (6 feet 6 inches) then whilst you could hap­pily ride a 26-inch wheel bike (and many peo­ple of this height still do) you may well be bet­ter suited to a 29-inch wheel bike or a 27.5inch bike. Once more, this is about get­ting the best fit for you. Buy Lo­cal For the ma­jor­ity of bikes, any de­cent LBS should be able to work on them. How­ever, if you are go­ing for some ex­otic sus­pen­sion sys­tem, or a bike that needs spe­cific tools, for what­ever rea­son, then you re­ally want to con­sider whether you want a 200-mile round trip to have it ser­viced. More im­por­tantly, if you are hav­ing lit­tle is­sues with the bike, or want ad­vice on set up tun­ing, etc., pop­ping into the shop where you bought it will prob­a­bly re­sult in it all be­ing done as part of the ser­vice. This is un­likely to be true if you were to buy it mail or­der and turn up at your LBS look­ing for some free help and ad­vice.

The as­tute amongst you will have no­ticed that none of the ques­tions in­volved “Is it avail­able in my favourite colour?” Whilst I ad­mit it is great to have a bike that looks fan­tas­tic, that is way down the list of fac­tors you should be con­sid­er­ing when you buy it. Demo Derby Okay, we are mak­ing progress. For the sake of ar­gu­ment, let’s say you now have a short list of six bikes from four man­u­fac­tures, what now? Easy, the fun part! Have some demos set up. By this I don’t mean get­ting to ride it round the car park next to the bike shop for three min­utes, whilst dressed in your jeans and a t-shirt. I mean re­ally

“Keep an eye out for demo days. There are loads of th­ese around and the ad­van­tage is you may well get to test sev­eral of the bikes on your short list back-to-back.”

demo it! Most shops will have some demo bikes; don’t be put off if th­ese are not the right size or model for you. Ask the shop to get a demo bike in for you in the size you want to try. Most will be able to con­tact the dis­tributer and ar­range for the cor­rect sized demo bike to be de­liv­ered or at least which other shop you could go to demo it. Some shops treat the demo bikes as rental bikes and may charge you to ride them. Don’t be put off by this, in most cases they will dis­count the cost of the rental from the pur­chase price of the bike if you buy it from them. Even if they don’t dis­count the charge, it is bet­ter to have paid a few dol­lars to ride the bike rather than pur­chas­ing a bike that you find isn’t to your lik­ing. If your lo­cal shop isn’t help­ful in this re­gard then you may wish to con­sider go­ing else­where.

Also keep an eye out for demo days. There are loads of th­ese around and the ad­van­tage is you may well get to test sev­eral of the bikes on your short list back-to-back, which will give you a real idea of which you like best. Be aware many of th­ese demo days are im­mensely popular, so you may have to book in ad­vance rather than just turn up and hope you get a shot on the bikes you want to try.

The other way of try­ing bikes out is to see what your friends are rid­ing. Most will be quite happy to give you a shot of their beloved bike as long as you don’t break it. Those with less ego will also be can­did about what they like and more im­por­tantly, don’t like about them.

My fi­nal piece of ad­vice in this sec­tion would be to ride as many dif­fer­ent bikes for as long as you can be­fore mak­ing your mind up. Make sure you in­clude climbs, de­scents and as many tech­ni­cal fea­tures as you can in your test rides. Change for the Bet­ter When get­ting down to your fi­nal choices, don’t judge a bike on the fol­low­ing fea­tures: tires, sad­dle, ped­als, grips, stem length or han­dle­bars. In the grand scheme of things, th­ese are dis­pos­ables. I ac­cept if you end up hav­ing to pay to swap all of th­ese out it can add up to a rea­son­able amount of cash, and in that case, on bal­ance pos­si­bly a dif­fer­ent bike would be bet­ter. But many shops will swap some of th­ese items out at point of sale. In fact th­ese days, very few bikes are sold with ped­als. This takes me back to the $100 I sug­gested you take off your bud­get at the start. This will make a con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tion to­wards swap­ping out any item you have to pay for.

“Sad­dles are a per­sonal choice.”

Sad­dle Up Sad­dles are a per­sonal choice and par­tic­u­larly so for women. Mod­ern sad­dles are in­creas­ingly tai­lored to be sex spe­cific. That’s not to say that if you find a gents sad­dle re­ally com­fort­able you shouldn’t use it, just that the spacing of the “sit” bones is dif­fer­ent for men and women and the sad­dles have sup­port and pad­ding to ac­com­mo­date this. Hope­fully, you found a sad­dle that was par­tic­u­larly com­fort­able dur­ing your test rides; this may be the sad­dle to buy or to swap to. Get a grip! Up­grad­ing your tires can make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence to the ride and the con­fi­dence you get. Many tire man­u­fac­tur­ers sup­ply OEM tires to the bike man­u­fac­tur­ers. Some of th­ese tires look ex­actly like af­ter-mar­ket ver­sions but are made with cheaper ma­te­ri­als and less grippy rub­ber. You will of­ten find that bikes are fit­ted with tires that are not re­ally suited to their in­tended use for your rid­ing con­di­tions. Th­ese will of­ten be light­weight tires with lit­tle tread and it is done to bring the over­all weight of the bike down for com­par­i­son pur­poses.

Grips are an easy and cheap re­place­ment to make, but can make a dra­matic dif­fer­ence to the feel of the bike. Most women have smaller hands than men so a smaller di­am­e­ter grip will fit bet­ter. Buy a grip that feels good to you.

A good set of ped­als is es­sen­tial, be it flat or cli­p­less. If you are go­ing the cli­p­less route for the first time, be care­ful. Start with them at their slack­est set­ting and pre­pare for some com­edy falls. Flat ped­als are ex­cel­lent if rid­den with a good set of cy­cling spe­cific shoes de­signed for use with flats. Get some with pins that thread in from un­der­neath and that have a con­cave shape to re­ally grip your shoes. Mind the Gap Re­cently, we have all been hit with a choice of wider han­dle­bars. Hey, it’s the fash­ion and they must make our rid­ing bet­ter, right? Well, not nec­es­sar­ily. If you are 1.75m (5 feet 10 inches) tall or more and ride nice wide-open trails most of the time, they may well be for you. If you ride re­ally tight trails in amongst trees most of the time they are less of an ad­van­tage. Take it from me, as I’ve still got bruised lit­tle fin­gers from the last gap I was sure I’d fit through but didn’t! Fur­ther­more, if you are of shorter stature then the wider bars de­signed gen­er­ally for guys of medium build and medium height will push your arms out in to a dis­pro­por­tion­ally wide stance. All other things be­ing equal, this will bring more of your weight for­ward on the bike, pos­si­bly com­pro­mis­ing com­fort and han­dling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not propos­ing go­ing back to retro nar­row bars, but con­sider that you may be bet­ter cut­ting your bars down, or get­ting slightly nar­rower bars, to keep pro­por­tions in bal­ance. Stem Cell Treat­ment Stems and han­dle­bars should nor­mally be con­sid­ered to­gether. Too many bikes are still be­ing sup­plied with stems that are too long! Again, it is a per­sonal choice as to what length of stem you run but your LBS should be able to ad­vise you about this when you are testing the bike. It will also de­pend on what type of rid­ing you will be do­ing. If you are go­ing to be rac­ing cross coun­try (XC) then you will prob­a­bly want

“The stem is also a good way of fine-tun­ing the fit of the bike.”

a longer stem than if you are go­ing to be rid­ing steep en­duro lines. The stem is also a good way of fine-tun­ing the fit of the bike. Many fe­male rid­ers have pro­por­tion­ally shorter tor­sos and arms than equiv­a­lently sized males. There­fore, it fol­lows that you will want your han­dle­bars a bit closer to you then the guy sit­ting on the same bike next to you. A New Model Army Sev­eral of the is­sues dis­cussed above are now be­ing rolled into the man­u­fac­turer’s fe­male spe­cific mod­els (or brands). Th­ese bikes may be a good start­ing point, par­tic­u­larly if you are pe­tite, how­ever, be aware some man­u­fac­tures merely dress up the stan­dard bike in a dif­fer­ent colour of paint, pink grips and a woman’s sad­dle. The bet­ter man­u­fac­tur­ers will have tweaked the ge­om­e­try to suit fe­male anatomy, will have a shock pos­si­bly tuned to the lighter weight of many of the rid­ers, have fit­ted slightly shorter cranks, nar­rower di­am­e­ter grips and will have en­sured that the brake levers ad­just to fit women’s hand sizes. They may also have put on shorter stems and/or nar­rower bars. As man­u­fac­tur­ers in­creas­ingly be­come aware that the fe­male side or the sport is ex­pand­ing rapidly, I’m sure there will be more and more fe­male spe­cific mod­els. And they all lived hap­pily ever af­ter... So as­sum­ing you are still read­ing this, you’ve cut your ini­tial list of pos­si­ble bikes down to just a few. You’ll have rid­den them all and will be happy with the ma­jor­ity of the com­po­nents but should be un­com­pro­mis­ing in choos­ing the one that fits both you and your fu­ture needs best. So how do you get down to just one bike as­sum­ing you still have a few on your short list? Well, that’s easy, pick the one that looks best of course!

“The bet­ter man­u­fac­tur­ers will have tweaked the ge­om­e­try to suit fe­male anatomy...”

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