Mountain Biking and Mountain Bikes for Africa









Mountain Bike Buyers Guide

Part 1 Go to Part 2


So how do you know which mountain bike to buy? Choosing a mountain bike is becoming quite complicated but our mountain bike buyers guide should make it easier. A couple of years ago in SA you had probably 5 manufacturers to choose from and all you really had to decide was how much do you want to pay and what level of spec will suite you. Well now it is way more complicated to buy mountain bikes. As of 2006 there are at lease 20 brands of mountain bikes to choose from. There are more and more mountain bike brands available and more and more models from each manufacturer Most of them offering upto 5 model ranges. In South Africa we get exposed to bike models from the USA and Europe, but since we fall into the European territories for most companies we predominantly have the euro model versions of the bikes.
Part 1 Part 2
How to buy mountain bikes

Hints and tips for buying a mountain bike

Mountain bike buyers guide links

Understanding mountain bike components 

Brief history of mountain biking technology



How to Buy Mountain Bikes

The starting point for how to buy mountain bikes is to look at what type of riding you are currently doing or intend to do with your new bike. The buyers guide below identifies some of the main groupings of riders, find the ones that suit you best
Beginners | Entry Level | Social off-road riding
Type of riding

for weekend riding, doing the odd race and maybe one ride during the week

The Bikes These bikes are typically hard tail with no rear suspension and short travel front suspension. They have low to medium spec components. A good bike in this category would be aluminium normally 24 speed, and have an enthusiast to sports rated set of components. These are typically good entry level bikes and will serve the occasional rider well.  Most of these bikes have similar build quality, availability, backup service and fit.
Price Range R1500-R4000.
How to choose The decision maker in this category is comparing the component on the various bikes. Try to buy the bike that offers the highest spec components for a comparative price i.e if two bikes cost the same take the one that has the highest spec components.
Our top picks  Giant Upland SE, Marin Bolinas Ridge, GT Avalanche 2.0
Cross Country hardtails | Race bikes
Type of riding

Riding more than 3 times a week and attending races regularly, specifically cross country races or the half marathon type races. Or for serious race types that donít mind the harsh ride and need the high spec components and the lighted bike possible.

The Bikes These bikes are also typically hard tails with 80-100mm travel shocks. This is quite a wide range of bikes from mid range through to high and then top end team racing bikes. They have medium to top of the range spec components with the top end bikes being the lightest mountain bikes available. The top range bikes also have either higher grade aluminium frames or carbon frames. But the mid to high range bikes often have the same frame with different quality level components.
Price Range R4000 - R20 000, top end bikes go up to R40 000
How to choose Frame sizes and geometries can play a part here, and it may be that a particular manufacturer has a geometry setup that is either perfect for you or difficult to find the right sized bike. Weight and spec levels start to play a part as well, with the higher spec bikes weighing significantly less and some manufacturers producing typically light weight frames. Most manufacturers produce similarly strong frames. Some top end bikes are actually not top end, there will be some components that could be better speced or group sets that are incomplete. The decision maker is to decide on your amount of riding and desired performance and available budget. Then within that budget find the bike that is the best value for money when comparing the components. You may end up paying a bit more but benefit from a higher spec bike.
Our top picks  Merida Matts Miami, Trek 6500D, Kona Kula, GT Zaskar Pro, GT Zaskar team, Scott Scale Limited
Endurance Racing | Multi day riding
Type of riding

Regularly participating in marathon race events and multi-day mountain bike races like the Cape Epic.

The Bikes

These full suspension bikes can be similar or the same as the social trailbikes below but are typically lighter, more race orientated with longer top tubes and shorter travel 80-100mm front and back. Suspension systems and designs vary greatly and it not quite as easy to compare bikes on a 1:1 basis. All manufacturers claim to have the best and most efficient design. Geometries on these bikes are also quite different to traditional hard tails, so traditional bike fit techniques often donít apply. Test riding these bikes is probably the best way to get a feel for what will work for you. Test riding is more than a 50 m loop in the parking lot, it means taking it out on a the trail for a couple of hours. Good bike shops will make a plan to organise this for you, or swop bikes on a club ride or with some friends to get a feel for the bike. 

Weight is still important here especially if you are going to be doing long distances with climbs. These bikes are more expensive for what you get and the lower end bikes are specced lower than an equivalent level and cost hard tail, so you will have to pay if you want top components and lighter weight. Maintenance can be an issue with lots of moving pivots and bushings, better designs have minimised complexity and use durable sealed bearings. Higher end models have more efficient shocks that improve handling and pedaling efficiency.

Cost R8000 - R50 000
How to choose The decision maker is going to be a combination of factors, budget, bike fit, suspension complexity and efficiency, components spec level, availability and back up service from manufacturer and or bike shop. Also consider the overall package i.e is it a great bike with a poor fork, great frame with poor components, complete group set or mix 'n match etc
Our top picks  Raleigh RDS 3.0, GTiDrive4 2.0, Specialized Epic, Raleigh RDS 9.0, Giant Trance 1, Scott Genius RC10, Specialized S-works Epic Carbon
Social trailbikes | All mountain
Type of riding

For riding mostly technical trails of short to medium distances with the odd long distance race event. These are for serious riders who enjoy their riding but are not race focused. The bikes are super capable with more upright (shorter top tube) comfortable geometry.

The Bikes

These bikes are all about handling and capability and can do most things like climb, descend, bit of jumping and handle technical terrain These bikes are generally a bit heavier and stronger than their endurance race counter parts and offer longer travel in the 100-150mm range. In South Africa there are limited trail options for these bikes, with most of our trails being flatter and less technical compared to the average US or euro trail. Consequently this segment is a bit blurred with the endurance race bikes so they share many of their buying characteristics especially related to finding the right sizing, fit and feel. 

Cost R5000-R40 000
How to choose The buying decision in for these bikes is probably more biased towards sturdy design, strength, performance, amount of travel type of shock and quality of components.
Our top picks  Schwinn Rocket Comp, Merida Trans Mission Speed D, Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert, Marin Mount Vision Pro
Downhill | Freeride | Jump
Type of riding

These are all really specialized bikes and deserve their own complete buyers guide. A growing trend in mountain biking especially internationally where ski resorts double as mountain bike parks in the summer and offer miles of down hill tracks and lifts back up to the top.

Downhill The downhill race bikes are specialized machines with strong quality components that offer maximum performance and speed. They are made to go downhill as fast as possible and smooth out the drop offs and jumps as much as possible.
Freeride Freeride is more a style of riding rather than a bike. They will have long travel suspension front and back or just back and are built strong and capable. 
Jump Similarly jump bikes are made for jumping so have specific geometries and strengthened frames and components to deal with major abuse.
Gravity junkies out there are welcome to contribute and mail us with your buyers guide  

FAQs, Hints and Tips for Buying a Mountain Bike

Disc brakes vs Rim Brakes

Disc brakes are definitely the way forward for all but weight saving weenies. They have become affordable, offer improved braking ability and control. Cable discs offer some improvement over v-brakes but it is the hydraulic versions that offer the full benefits. If you are doing any technical descents or long descents in adverse weather then disc brakes are going to be invaluable. On long technical descents they offer feather light control which reduces arm fatigue and pinpoint control that results in improved handling


Full suspension or hard tail

Full suspension is again the way to go for anyone serious about riding. The only reasons you wouldnít ride full suspension are, you are an entry level buyer with limited budget, you are a weight weenie race snake or you are a purist who likes the feel of a hard tail. Other than that everybody will benefit from full suspension. Improved comfort and handling are the major reasons for switching. Hard tail to FS review link.

Mountain Bike Buyers Guides

Mountain Biking Buyers guide -'s buyers guides and reviews

Guide to buying a mountain bike - Guide for buying a bike in Britain



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