A Buyer’s Guide to Mountain Bikes

A Buyer’s Guide to Mountain Bikes 

In this guide we aim to help you decide whether a mountain bike is the best choice for you and the right fit for the riding you have planned. We discuss the different types of mountain bike and the focus and benefits of these. We will also highlight some of the best-selling mountain bike models here at Bay Cycles.

Like all types of bike, getting the most suitable model for your needs and the correct frame size for a perfect fit, is the key to enjoying your riding. We stock mountain bikes from Trek, a brand that offers a wide choice of models – across all categories – with a comprehensive range of frame sizes and often a choice of colours too.

Once you’ve read this guide you should have an idea of what type of mountain bike will suit you. This is a great starting point for a visit to our St Marychurch store, where we can help you select a model to suit both your budget and performance requirements. We’ll also make sure you get the right frame size for your height and riding style.

A mountain bike isn’t just for riding up mountains. The name is slightly misleading and although the roots of mountain biking started in the mountains of California back in the late ‘70s, this type of bike is versatile and can tackle a wide variety of terrain.

Mountain bikes are ideal for riding on forest fire roads, canal paths and bridleways as well as the more technical terrain of trail centres and bike parks.

Mountain bikes can be split into two main categories: a hardtail (with front suspension) and a full-suspension (with suspension front and rear). Within these two categories there are different types of mountain bike, all with a focus on a certain type of riding – from lighter duty cross country to harder-hitting bike park action.

Electric mountain bikes are a proven option now, with ten years of motor and battery technology evolution from brands such as Bosch – a key partner for Trek when it comes to electric bikes. We have an electric bikes buyer’s guide to inform and help you further.

Trek is our key bike supplier and has a comprehensive model range of both hardtails and full suspension mountain bikes. This is a brand that doesn’t just cover mainstream tastes, so niche areas such as bikepacking and fat bikes reinforce the offering along with premium lightweight hardtails for kids too. These specialist models are not in stock at our shop, so please contact us to check availability at Trek UK.

So, whatever type of off-road riding you have planned, we should be able to supply a mountain bike to suit your needs.

Hardtail is the term used for a mountain bike with a suspension fork up front but no suspension on the rear of the frame. This is the simplest, most reliable approach to building a mountain bike. Most brand’s model line-up will start with a range of well priced hardtails. For Trek – the main brand we stock at Bay Cycles – it’s the Marlin range.

With fewer moving parts to wear out, a hardtail can not only be an affordable bike to buy but potentially cheaper to maintain in the long run. There’s no rear suspension unit (rear shock) and no frame pivots and bearings to wear out.

With no rear suspension, the ride and performance of a hardtail is different to a full suspension bike. On many challenging, technical trails the lack of rear suspension will mean traction, control and rider comfort are compromised. Unless you are an experienced rider who relishes the challenge, a hardtail is best suited to sweeping singletrack, fast forest fire roads and blue or red grade tracks at trail centres. For long distance events, bike packing, cross country racing or more recreational off road riding a hardtail hits the spot.

All but the cheapest Trek hardtails use an air-sprung suspension fork, so your bike can be easily set up for your weight and riding style. A lock out lever on the fork means you can firm up the suspension for road use or easier trails, effectively making a hardtail a fully rigid mountain bike.

With the right tyre choice and some well-chosen accessories a hardtail is a versatile bike. Weekend off road trail centres, daily commuting or a bikepacking adventure are all possible. We can tailor a hardtail mountain bike to suit your needs.

Hardtail Electric Bikes:

We sell plenty of electric hardtails and see them as versatile ‘all terrain’ bikes for multi-surface riding. The Trek Powerfly is our recommendation for this type of riding.

Just like a regular, unassisted hardtail, traction and control are compromised when terrain gets challenging. Add in the extra assistance from the motor and a higher average speed and it soon becomes apparent that full suspension is the way to go for an electric mountain bike in technical terrain. The Trek Rail is a proven choice and a best seller.

As the name suggests, these mountain bikes have suspension at the front and rear. When set up correctly – we will do this for you when you buy your bike from us – it makes for a balanced ride. You get more traction, increased control and a more comfortable ride. You’ll recover from the ride quicker and feel fresh the following day.

A full suspension bike is a touch heavier, has more moving parts and is a more expensive option but the positives outweigh these negatives when riding in rougher terrain. You’ll clear challenging, technical sections of the trail more confidently and in more comfort.

Full suspension bikes usually have an air-sprung suspension fork and rear shock. This means the bike can be easily set up for your weight and style of riding. A lock out lever on the fork and/or rear shock means you can firm up the suspension for road use or easier trails.

Trek’s Fuel EX is an award-winning example of a fully-evolved and proven full-suspension trail bike.

Full-suspension Electric Bikes:

On rough and technical terrain a full-suspension electric bike makes a lot of sense. The increased confidence and control of front and rear suspension combines well with the added boost of a pedal-assisted motor – especially on challenging climbs. The Trek Rail is a proven choice for trail and enduro style riding, whereas the Trek Powerfly FS suits lighter-duty off road trails.

Most modern bikes use either 27.5 inch (also referred to as 650B) or 29 inch wheels. The 26 inch wheel size (for many years the default size on a production mountain bike) is now rarely seen, apart from on larger size kids’ mountain bikes.

The 29 inch wheel size is now the go-to option, especially for mountain bikes with frame sizes from medium upwards. This larger wheel size carries speed well and rolls over bumps and obstacles well. Smaller 27.5 inch wheels are still relevant though – Trek uses this size on its Smart Wheel Sizing system. Here, the 27.5 inch wheel size is used on mountain bikes with smaller frame sizes (such as XS and S), maintaining correct fit proportions and handling characteristics.

In the last few years mixed wheel mountain bikes have arrived, mostly on models with a gravity riding focus. These bikes use a 29 inch wheel up front (helping with rollover and cornering traction) and a 27.5 inch wheel at the rear. This smaller, stronger rear wheel gives more clearance for your backside when descending and can sharpen up the bike’s dynamics a touch – especially in tight corners. This type of wheel size mix is referred to as a ‘mullet’ or ‘MX’ set up.

Hardtail mountain bikes:

For a cross country focused hardtail – such as the Marlin or Procaliber – the travel on the suspension fork will be 100-120mm. This is ample travel for the terrain these hardtails will be used on and keeps the weight low too. 120mm forks are also used on the Powerfly electric hardtails.

A trail focused hardtail, such as the Trek Roscoe uses a 140mm travel suspension fork to deal with more challenging and technical terrain.

Trek often uses a shorter travel fork (usually by 10-20mm) on size XS and S mountain bikes. This, along with the smaller 27.5 inch wheel size, keeps proportions and fit correct.

Full suspension mountain bikes:

Suspension travel is usually matched front and rear to give a balanced ride. On some bikes the fork travel will be more – usually by 10-20mm – to deal with rougher terrain. Suspension travel will depend on the type of full-suspension mountain bike and its intended use – see the following examples below:

XC race bikes: Front 110mm. Rear 80mm. Bike example: Trek Supercaliber

XC down country bikes: Front 130mm. Rear 120mm. Bike example: Trek Top Fuel

Trail bikes: Front 150mm. Rear 140mm. Bike example: Trek Fuel EX

Enduro bikes: Front 170mm. Rear 170mm. Bike example: Trek Slash

Downhill bikes: Front 200mm. Rear 200mm. Bike example: Trek Session

Electric full-suspension: Front 160mm. Rear 150mm. Bike example: Trek Rail

Hardtail Mountain Bike:

A hardtail with a recreational focus is the entry point for a quality mountain bike. We stock Trek mountain bikes and the Marlin 4 (Gen 2) is this brand’s most affordable model at £500. This bike is available in a choice of colours and 7 frame size, so a good fit is guaranteed, without being ‘stuck between sizes’ – an issue with some chainstore brands.

We can help with sizing, adjust the bike to fit you on collection, and make sure you’re getting the best bike for your needs and budget. We fully inspect and assemble your new bike so you are guaranteed it’s running smoothly and safely straight from the shop.

For an enthusiast-level hardtail you’ll need to step up to the Marlin 8 (Gen 3) at £1025 or the Procaliber 8 at £1400. These bikes are fitted with higher quality parts, a 1x transmission and air sprung suspension forks. For regular riders on more technical tracks, hardtail mountain bikes such as these will function better, last longer and handle the terrain confidently.

Full-suspension Mountain Bike:

Trek understands that to make a full suspension mountain bike that performs well and is reliable in the long run, corners can’t be cut. With this in mind, Trek’s entry point to a full-suspension bike is £2325, with two model options: the Fuel EX 5 (Gen 5) trail bike and the Top Fuel 5 which has a lighter-duty, more cross-country focus.

Both models use an aluminium frame, a fully-evolved suspension design and an air sprung suspension fork and rear shock. Quality components are fitted throughout, dropper seatposts are standard kit, and the wheels and tyres are tubeless compatible. These bikes will enhance your ride and go the distance. And just like all Trek mountain bikes, they’re available in a wide range of frame sizes for a perfect fit.

Electric Hardtail Mountain Bike:

We recommend the Trek Powerfly for an electric hardtail mountain bike. The Powerfly models aren’t the cheapest Trek electric hardtail mountain bikes but they all use the Bosch Performance CX motor, so there’s plenty of power and torque to deal with the steep hills of Devon as well as proven reliability and ease of servicing. The cheaper Marlin+ electric hardtails use a motor with a lower torque and power rating and a smaller capacity battery, so work on flatter terrain but we feel are a compromise for local riding.

The entry point for a Trek Powerfly is the Powerfly 4 625Wh (Gen 4) at £3700. This has a large-capacity 625Wh battery – that unlike the Marlin+ is easily removable – along with a top spec Bosch motor and controller. It’s a great multi-surface electric mountain bike that will go the distance.

Electric Full-suspension Mountain Bike:

We recommend the full power Trek Rail electric full-suspension mountain bike. Like the Trek Powerfly, the Rail is a Bosch powered electric bike and that means a no-compromise approach: the motor, battery and controller are all from Bosch. The Rail electric mountain bikes will cope with local off-road paths as well as bike park and trail centre riding.

The range starts with the Rail 5 625Wh (Gen 3) at £5300. This model uses an aluminium frame, air sprung RockShox suspension, durable 12 speed Shimano transmission, powerful hydraulic disc brakes and a dropper seatpost. A powerful 625Wh battery is easily removable for charging.

In general, the more you spend on a mountain bike, the more focus it has on a particular type of riding. A full suspension enduro-style mountain bike with heavy duty, soft compound tyres, for example, will not be ideal on the road, whereas a more affordable hardtail will have versatility built in as standard.

If multi-surface riding is on your agenda we can steer you towards an appropriate model and make some upgrades to dial it in for better performance. With a change of tyres and some mudguards and lights fitted, a Trek Marlin, Procaliber or electric Powerfly can make an excellent and robust bike for commuting or local riding. Yes, with a single-chainring transmission and only 10,11 or 12 gears the gear ratios are limited. This means for faster road riding you can potentially ‘run out of gears’, so it’s worth discussing other multi-surface bike options other than mountain bikes. For example, Trek has the Dual Sport (DS) range that may suit you better.