With the rise of carbon super bikes as expensive as cars, it’s easy to feel like mountain biking has become the sport of the .001 percent. Yet there are bargains to be had if you look hard enough and in the right places. For the best deal, you can’t beat buying used. There’s always eBay, but demo bikes at your local bike shop are the more reliable way to go, as they’re sure to be in good shape and you’ll have started a relationship with the mechanics for follow-up maintenance.
If you’re set on buying new, consider last year’s closeouts or look for lower-tier bikes from reputable manufactures that benefit from all their R&D. Even highly affordable bikes are still high-quality pieces of engineering these days.
What follows are my suggestions for the best new beginner bike and accompanying kit. I’ve also listed some upgrades you can make down the road.
The choices you’ll face when choosing a bike are overwhelming. Cross country or trail bike? 27.5- or 29-inch wheels? Standard or plus-size tires? And many of these options come down to preferred terrain and riding style.
For starting out, though, I think most people in most places will be best served by a simple, high-quality, alloy bike like the Salsa Timberjack($1,700), which has a mid-length 120mm Rock Shox suspension fork to take the edge off the rough terrain and 2.8-inch tires (a.k.a plus-size) that increase stability, traction, and compliance by virtue of their girth and the lower pressures that allows. Salsa crafts an excellent bike for the money, and the mix of Shimano SLX parts and other nice bits and pieces (think: WTB saddle, Maxxis tires) ensures you won’t be left with a broken-down piece of junk after a few months of riding.
This isn’t just a starter bike that you’ll outgrow quickly, either. Even after years of riding and racing on hundreds of bikes, I’d happily shred the Timberjack as my primary ride.
There are cheaper helmets, but safety is no place to scrimp. And the Giro Chronicle MIPS helmet ($100) packs top-shelf technology and high-end looks into a moderately priced lid. The extended back and sides provide the fullest coverage you can get without a full-face helmet (favored by downhill racers), and the breakaway plastic shell on the interior (the MIPS technology) counteracts rotational forces in case of a crash. The huge, swiveling visor is good for blocking sun and accommodates goggles if you ever go that route.
Mostly, though, I have found that Giro has the broadest and most forgiving fit, meaning that almost anyone will feel good wearing the Chronicle.